SUP race pacing is as much about mental toughness as it is about physical ability. Follow these guidelines to help reach your goals and avoid burning out during your SUP training and racing.
After the start horn goes off, your competition will likely sprint ahead at full speed. Should you follow at the same pace, or stay behind and focus on your own race? The answer to this question depends on your individual goals and SUP racing experience.
It has been well proven that using an even or negative split pacing strategy is the most effective approach to winning races in endurance sports. There is not currently enough data to support this strategy in SUP racing, but nearly every long distance running world record has been set while running even or negative splits. An even split means that the time for each kilometer or mile paddled is about the same. Paddling a negative split means that you are paddling faster as the race progresses.
Paddling with even splits is not the same as paddling with an even effort. When paddling with an even effort, your level of exertion will feel the same throughout the race but your pace will slow. When paddling at an even pace, your level of exertion will seem easier early in the race and then gradually become more difficult but your pace will remain the same.
The Science Of SUP Race Pacing
An athlete can paddle at his or her lactate threshold pace for about an hour. Most paddlers can complete a four to five mile race at or above their lactate threshold as long as they are finishing in less than an hour. If paddling at or above your lactate threshold, lactic acid accumulates throughout the paddle session, with a slight increase in blood lactate as well.
Pushing too hard and setting a pace that is faster than your body’s ability to handle it will cause an unsustainable increase in lactic acid. The only way to clear this additional lactic acid is to slow down. Paddling too fast causes lactic acid to flood your muscles and interferes with muscle contraction. Even if you wanted to maintain a faster pace, it would be impossible to contract your muscles as forcefully and therefore you would slow down. If you push too hard at any point in a race your body will literally force you to slow down.
SUP Race Pacing
In order to properly set a pace, you must establish a goal for your race. Previous SUP training and racing will be your best reference point for setting your pacing goals. If you have trouble determining a goal, start recording your training and race result times. This will give you an estimate of your current abilities and help you to develop a pacing strategy. Read the post on setting goals to learn how to properly set SUP training and racing goals.
The beginning of a SUP race is a critical time to get to clean water, avoid slower paddlers and find your draft train. For these reasons, your SUP race pace for the first mile may actually be slightly faster than for subsequent miles. Form your start strategy before the race and be sure not to burn out by sprinting too hard or for too long from the start. Learn why the start of a race can be so critical in this article on the importance of SUP race starts.
If your goal is to finish in the top 50% of the field, then your SUP race pacing strategy will almost always need to involve a sprint at the beginning of the race. The amount of time and effort expended on this sprint depends on the distance of the race, the course layout and your specific goals.
If your goal is to simply finish the race, you should not worry too much about sprinting at the start. It will be difficult to hold back during the first mile when you are the most motivated, perceived effort is low and everyone is paddling fast. In order to reach your goal, you must follow your plan and not worry about the pace of the paddlers around you.
You are approaching the end of an hour-long race and the finish line is in sight. The draft train begins to jockey for position and you can anticipate a sprint to the finish. Did you save enough energy for this last push?
A good SUP race plan includes the knowledge that there will be a final surge in pace for the last leg of the race. The timing and distance of this final sprint depends on the individual paddlers in the draft train, race distance, course layout and water conditions. This last push can range in distance from a mile, to a few hundred feet before the finish. If you start your sprint too early, you’ll burn out before the finish; start it too late and you may not give yourself a chance to exhaust all of your energy reserves.
To perform at your maximum potential, your goal should be to time your finish to “leave nothing on the table” with your energy stores depleted once you cross the finish line. This of course assumes that you don’t have any concerning health issues! If your goal is to simply finish the race, then you may concentrate on maintaining an even pace to the finish. However, if your goal is to make it onto the podium or beat the paddlers in your pack, you will need to time your sprint so that you exhaust all of your power and energy right at the finish line.
The exact timing of this final sprint involves training and experience in race situations. Make sure you are using proper nutrition to ensure you have the nutrients to allow your body to perform at the end of a race. Nutrition, quality training and a solid SUP race plan are all important considerations to finish your race strong.
Changes In Pace
Be prepared to alter your plan depending on race day conditions and different course layouts. Hot and humid conditions will require that you lower your goal pace. Early pacing mistakes are especially costly in the heat so try to be conservative in these conditions. On a windy and choppy course it is unlikely that you will be paddling even splits. Upwind pace will be much slower than your downwind pace. Avoid any tendencies to push too hard during upwind legs. The more you train and race, the more comfortable you will be with adjusting pacing strategy according to the conditions.
Paddling even splits and forming a solid pacing plan take practice and patience. Dedicate yourself to recording your times, feeling your level of exertion and forming a plan so that pacing becomes second nature. With more experience and a solid plan, you will begin to naturally understand the pace you need to reach your goals.