Wednesday, May 29, 2013

California 100 SUP Race

On Saturday I participated in the inaugural California 100 paddling race from Redding to Chico on the Sacramento river.  100 miles of continuous paddling is a challenge for anyone in any discipline and I opted to do the course on a standup board.  I anticipated a conservative, consistent pace down the river and was shooting for a time under 14 hours 24 minutes.

Michael Melville & I started the race in the adventure class at 6am with 50 or so other racers.  The relay teams and competitive class racers would start one hour later at 7am.  We both positioned for a front of the pack upriver start, rounded the buoy and took off downriver towards the first rapid on river left.  That rapid helped break the pack up, and gave me a quick lesson on how the Starboard K-15 would handle rough water - just fine.  My fin clipped a rock in the first bend, sending me to my knees quickly.  The river was flying in sections and the pillowy whirlpools following almost every rapid could easily grab a rail and roll the board.  After recovering from the fall and paddling a few more minutes I found myself next to Michael again.  Minutes later the pack started to head river right, across a flat lagoon towards a point that cut off a significant stretch of water.  Dropping into the large standing waves at the far end we both went to one knee to negotiate the rough water.  Later that day Michael confessed he didn't want to take that cut-off because he knew how big those waves were.  He did it anyways so he wouldn't lose ground.  

I landed at checkpoint number one about 2 seconds ahead, jumped off the board, carried it up the embankment and began filling water and dropping layers.  Michael turned in his number, and jumped back on the board.  I didn't know what to make of it and continued to finish my refueling & resting.  Fewer than five minutes later I re-launched and couldn't catch a glimpse of him - he was gone.  Only 25 miles in and I thought it was decided.  Michael is a fast paddler and I wasn't sure I'd be able to catch him.  He had a couple falls, and I paddled like mad.  After another 25 miles of continuous paddling, I had somehow made up a considerable distance and was slowly reeling him in.  By the time I entered checkpoint number two around mile number 55, I was about 20 seconds behind him.

Just behind Michael for the first 90 miles.  Photo by Lisa Thomas

The stop lasted about 2-3 minutes and we were back on the water.  I took a few seconds longer than him to refuel and was just behind him heading downriver for another 25 mile stretch.  I made up at least 10-15 seconds at that checkpoint and was determined to not let him gain too much more of a lead.  I did everything I could to match his pace and at one particular river diversion I chose the faster line on river left and made up another 2-3 seconds.  We were matching pace with each other so well that our positions were being determined by the lines we were taking and by whoever could stay in the fastest current long enough.  It came down to river reading to find the fast lines and constant calculations to decide what would be faster, the outside line with stronger current or the inside line with less distance.  I was 2 seconds behind him when we landed at checkpoint number three.

We both turned in numbers, raced to fill water and then got back to the boards.  Luckily I had a friend at this stop who grabbed me some gu, opened some energy gels for me and tossed them onto my foredeck as I was re-launching.  I had taken some other food from my bag and tossed it on my deck, but never had enough time to open it, nevermind eat it.  While floating downriver on my knees I was able to slam some almonds and beef jerky, Clif energy products and water as I watched Michael increase the distance between us.  If I didn't eat there was no way I'd catch him.

Michael Melville at Jelly Ferry Bridge looking strong.  photo by Lisa Thomas

About 10 miles later, around the 90-mile mark, I somehow passed him and for the first time was able to stay in front.  I gained a couple boardlengths per mile for the next hour and slowly increased the distance between us.  I was completely weary by this time and looked back every once in awhile expecting him to be right there.  In the end I edged him out by a very slim margin and finished in 12 hours, 33 minutes averaging 7.57 mph.  We had a clean, honest race that wasn't determined until the very end and I'm still stoked that a 100 mile race was that close for that long.

I was seriously honored to race along Michael.  If we hadn't had this friendly rivalry on the river there's no way I would've finished in that time.  He pushed me to go faster and for that I'm grateful.  Big respect to an amazing paddler, competitor and athlete!  Nice race Michael!

Michael Melville & I at the finish

The Starboard K-15 is awesome..

coming into checkpoint 3.  photo by Lisa Thomas

The California 100 is the only paddle-sport ultrathon in the state and is produced by Rivers for Change, a not for profit organization founded in California in 2011 dedicated to engaging, collaborating & promoting conservation through Source to Sea adventures.  They did an incredible job on this event!  Check out their website and consider joining one of their events.

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