Sunday, May 21, 2017

SUP Race Report: Sup & Run 5k

Men's winner Brad Ward with his new 14x25 Sunova dugout board.

Matt Kearney's track as recorded by his GPS watch. Total distance 10.1 km

Me and Matt Kearney posing with our boards after the race

Race: The 3rd annual 5k SUP & Run

Date it happened: 20 May 2017

Host: The Sarasota Athletic Association, led by Felicia Cox. The event was a benefit for Operation Second Chance, which is an organization supporting wounded military veterans.

Location: Nathan Benderson Park, Sarasota, FL. The park is built around a big artificial lake, which is set up with buoys, breakwaters, bleachers etc. to facilitate various rowing and paddling events. There are also paved running / biking paths around the perimeter of the lake. This is the same place where Seychelle Hattingh and Robert Norman set their 24 hour sup distance world records.

Distance: The main event was a 5 km run leading into a 5 km SUP race. They also offered the run and the sup "a la carte" for those who just wanted to do one or the other. I did the combo. This year they had us run through the timing gate three times (once at the start, once finishing the run, and once finishing the paddle) which allowed them to report our run times and paddle times separately. Very cool.

Conditions: The weather was sunny, warm and humid, with a SE wind in the 5-10 knot range. The lake surface had some light ripples.

Participants and Gear: This event has grown every year since its inception, and had 599 total participants this year. Many just did the run or the sup, but 100 did both. There might have been greater numbers of elite sup racers were this race not on the same day as the Florida Cup sup race in Tampa. The sup+run winners from last year, Brad Ward and Katherine Pyne, both returned, but with different boards. Brad recently got sponsored by Sunova boards, and was on their 14x25 flatwater model. It's an unmistakably unique SUP with a wood finish, neon green nose, deep dug-out standing area, and scale-like protrusions over the one-way valves that drain water out of the standing area. Brad let me try it after the race and it felt pretty fast and extremely stable. Katherine was on a 12'6 Bark Contender. Other multi-sport talented competitors who returned this year included Jason Casuga on a sleek 14x26.4 Bark D2, Brandon Taaffe on a 14x25 Riviera RP, and my CGT teammate Matt Kearney on his 14x24 404 v3. I used my usual 14x23 Riviera RP. There was a wide diversity of sup gear among the other competitors, from full carbon Hovie Comets to clunky, beginner-style rental boards. There were also some interesting modified sups and paddles for people with disabilities, and some high-tech racing wheelchairs for the run portion.

Results: Brad Ward won the men's division again this year, with 54:54 total (21:04 run, 33:50 sup). I was second with 57:19 (22:46 run, 34:34 sup), Jason Casuga was third with 58:40 (23:19 run, 35:20 sup), Matt Kearney was fourth with 1:00:23.4 (22:39 run, 37:45 sup), just ahead of Brandon Taaffe 1:00:48 (20:31 run, 40:17 sup). It was Matt's personal best 5k time. Katherine Pyne again won the women's in 1:02:07 (22:50 run, 39:18 sup). The next fastest female was Amber Crowley, who won the masters' division with 1:14:12 (25:16 run, 48:56 sup). It was interesting that there were some people who went MINUTES faster in the run than the overall sup+run winners, but didn't place particularly well because their sup times were over par. For example, 17 year old Dylan Hull ran a blistering 18:38, but took 46:14 to complete the sup.

Play by play: Since the race started at 8 am, I had to get up at 4:30 am to pack and drive to Sarasota. It's probably better to get more sleep before a race, but I don't think it made a huge difference. While setting up my stuff at the event site I had a scare when my board disappeared off the beach. Somebody had mistaken it for a rental board (I don't know how; it didn't look anything like the rental boards), separated it from my paddle, taken it for a spin, and deposited it at the far end of the beach. Fortunately I found it and sorted things out. The only damage was a minor nick in the fin where the dude had set it on the rocky ground without the appropriate tenderness. I'm going to put a sticker with my name on it on the board to avoid future confusion.

The running portion of the race was first. A few minutes before the start they corralled us behind the inflatable timing gate, gave us some last minute instructions, and two young women sang the Star Spangled Banner beautifully. The start happened, as advertised, at exactly 8 am. I was fairly near the gate, but still found myself in a traffic jam, unable to move until the layers of people ahead of me got moving. It was OK, though, because the timing chip corrected for when I passed through the start gate, which was about 10 seconds after the gun went off. Somewhere in that traffic Matt Kearney busted out ahead of me. I knew from our practice runs that we were similar speed on foot, so I tried to keep him at the same range as we proceeded along the path. Katherine Pyne seemed to be our speed, as well, so she was another good landmark. I passed Jason Casuga, who I think was pacing himself to save energy for the sup. (Last year Jason beat Matt and I in the run.) I felt OK until halfway through the run, at which point my inadequate running training manifested as increasing difficulty matching Matt and Katherine's pace. My feet and calves felt weird, and I alternated between toe-first and heel-first running styles trying to figure out which gave the most speed with the least effort. With about 500 m left I started to slip behind, but I wasn't more than about 10 seconds behind Matt at the end of the run.

The run transitioned directly into the sup; no break. I hustled to the water's edge, pulled off my shoes and socks, and hopped on the board with a running start. I think I did that part better than last year, although in some video that Matt's parent's took you can see that I bobble awkwardly on my third stroke, still finding my sea legs. Since I was close behind Matt and Katherine, and I paddle a little faster than them, it didn't take me long to pass them. Then it was just a long grind to get around the lake. I could see Brad Ward far ahead but I knew I'd never catch him. I was more concerned with whether or not I could catch the fast runner / slow paddler guys before the end of the race. I was worried that some of them might have practiced their paddling since last year and become a lot harder to catch. With some relief, I got up to Brandon Taaffe before the mid-point of the sup circuit, which was earlier than I'd caught up to him the previous year.

I made a big mistake on the short side of the rectangular lake, though, when I paddled most of the way straight across, into the wind and the sun glare, before realizing that the buoy was actually about 100 meters north of where I thought it was. (You can see the diagonal on Matt's GPS track.) As a result I ended up paddling an elbow instead of a shorter diagonal, probably adding 20 or 30 seconds to my time. Oh, well. The second half of the paddle had more favorable winds, and I got in a good rhythm, putting more distance on Jason and Matt. Brad Ward was finishing just as I rounded the final corner of the lake. I tried to keep good speed all the way to the beach. For some reason I decided to carry my board with me with me as I ran through the finish line. Maybe I was feeling possessive of it after that pre-race incident.

Overall, I felt pretty good about the race and my result, despite some regret over my navigational error and unnecessary board carry. I'd like to do some more running cross-training to see if it can help me with my SUP, and to see how much faster I can get. Many professional sup athletes like Annabelle Anderson and Michael Booth incorporate a lot of running in their training, and I think it might help their "pep," endurance, and leg strength for rough water. I sure feel "worked out" today after that race yesterday (plus a sweet 20 knot wind windsurfing session when I got home in the afternoon).

Other race intrigues: It was excitingly close between Jason Casuga, Matt Kearney, Katherine Pyne, Brandon Taaffe, and Dave Thorne. Matt didn't pass Brandon Taaffe until the very last ~200 m of the race, making for a nail-biting finish. After the race there was a nice, festive atmosphere with a good MC doing the awards, good free food, and some inspiring words spoken recognizing the brave, wounded veterans who are the focus of Operation Second Chance.

What's Next: The CGT Race Series next local race is coming up May 28th in Bonita Springs. Next big race is also relatively local, the Battle on the Blueway June 10th at Fort Myers Beach.

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