Coaches Corner

Using events like the New Zealand Kayak Marathon Champs (April 10-11) that fall between now and sprint nationals is also a good way to keep focused on racing and rack up valuable kilometres in training. CRNZ Development Coach Craig Mustard, who has a strong background in marathon racing having worked with a clutch of the world’s best marathon paddlers in South Africa, offers his four key marathon racing tips.

1 Practice wash riding

One of the main reason to practice your wash riding is to help you conserve as much energy as possible over the racing distance that can be then used to your advantage when hoping to make a breakaway from your group when leading into a portage, corner or for the sprint finish. 

You need to practise your wash riding as the wave of the lead kayak naturally pulls your kayak towards the lead kayak. This could lead to you to potentially crash into the kayak or into the paddlers paddle. Which could then lead you to be penalised or disqualified, if you were deemed to have caused the collision.

Riding the wash conserves energy, however, at key moments it needs to be remembered you need to keep your wits about as riding the wash continually can also allow you to become suckered in to the lead paddlers game plan and movements. Coming into a portage or into the sprint finish is the only time when you do not want to be on the wash if it can be avoided.

I would say to most marathon paddlers to practise wash riding around twice a week when doing longer efforts. The ongoing New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships is a great way to practise wash-riding, jump in a 12km session and post a time!

2 – Practise using the kayak pump

Typically, marathon boats have a small pump by the feet in order to discharge water which gathers in the boat. Paddling with the pump can take a wee while to become accustomed to, In a K2 inconsistent pumping can lead to added boat instability, it is important to have that rhythm that follows your leg work (simply when you catch on your right you use your right foot to push down on the right foot pump). It is important not to neglect your leg drive and also to ensure that the angle of the pump is right, so it can be controlled by using the ball of the foot.  

3 – Portage efficiently 

On average in a marathon you will have anywhere from three to six portages. If you lose five seconds on your take out and again on the re-entry you could find yourself behind and have to work harder to catch back up to your bunch. Capsizing is also a danger, more so on the re-entry. So key to having a good race is to make sure you practice and have a well-oiled portage routine.

There are two types of portages; the beach portage or the trickier pontoon jetty and for the latter type of portage in particular It is important to practise the skill of getting in and out of the water efficiently without getting caught up on the mayhem which might be going on around you!

A common mistake made by paddlers is to come into the portages too quickly and this can then lead to silly mistakes. Sometimes the paddler will exit the boat impressively run quickly and then rush the process of climbing back into the boat – which can also lead to problems.   

My best advice is to take both entry and exit cautiously. By all means run hard between but when you are climbing in and out of the boat take time to take an extra breath to make sure the skill is completed calmly. 

Paddlers can enter the portage with water in the boat but a common mistake is to run with the water in the boat which can lead to nosedives, pegs into the ground and spins. I highly recommend emptying any water in the boat before running. Many races are won and lost in the portage through errors, so it is very important to make a clean entry and exit. 


4 – Race strategies and learning to make clear constructive decisions

It is important to put in place a pre-race strategy. So if you are a strong in the portage it will pay to focus on this area to gain or pull back some ground on the field. If you are strong at the turns, work on capitalising on  this area during the race. 

Make a clear nutritional plan like taking on board fluids every second lap of the race at the portage. Don’t come up with a plan on the day. Prepare in advance with your team to ensure the race runs as smoothly as possible.

Many paddlers make emotional mistakes while paddling (in the heat of the moment). One example being, the paddler who has become a little too enthusiastic and tried to keep up with a group at a pace they can’t sustain. 

Another emotional error paddlers sometimes make is if they lose time at the portage from trying a different unrehearsed technique through this area and they then try to work too hard too quickly to plug the gap. However, by paddling a pace that is too high will come back to haunt a paddler in later in the race. If you find yourself behind from where you should be, I recommend taking a controlled consistent approach to catching the field. This will put the least stress on the body. If you are on the last lap and find yourself a few seconds down this then would be the time that you would have to go all in in an effort to close the gap as quickly as possible otherwise you will run out of racing distance.

Practice your race strategy as well as contingency plans that you might need to call upon during your marathon. 

More on the 2021 New Zealand Kayak Marathon Championships in Bay of Plenty and entry details here