Shark Bite Challenge 2014

Four and a half weeks into my nine week training program for the Florida Cup, I decided to do the Shark Bite Challenge. This was my first elite distance race on my new Jimmy Lewis Stiletto race board, and the furthest distance I have ever SUP raced. I was nervous regarding the eight mile distance on the open water…it wasn’t the thought of not being able to complete the eight miles, it was the thought of going as fast and as hard as possible for eight miles that concerned me. The week before I did an eight mile training session on the glassy Hillsborough River, but my nerves still danced around my tummy like butterflies. Luckily, I had my awesome friend and client, Eric Winsburg with me who had registered for the four miler. Helping him quell his nerves regarding his first ever open water race (let alone his second race ever), was a welcome distraction to calm myself.

Sharkbite Intro

It was a picture perfect Florida day at Honeymoon Island- white sand, blinding sunshine, and green and blue shades of rolling water. Water conditions were not exactly flat, but not too choppy either. The tiny swells were just enough to give you a little bump to ride, or just enough to throw you off your balance. The race route itself was a four mile loop, each segment two miles long. The eight mile race consisted of completing two laps around the course. Knowing the two mile distance was marked by buoys was a blessing and later during the race, a psychological curse. The kayak and outrigger canoe divisions opened the race with their start. I was up next and anxious to get going.

OC and Kayak Start

I am very aware of my heartbeat moments before the sound of any race start. The start of the Sharkbite Challenge seemed even more acute to me. Maybe it was my nerves regarding the distance, or the fact that I was sick the day before and I was a little unsure on how I was going to hold out cardiovascular wise. Anyways, the bullhorn went off like a shot of adrenaline straight to my heart and there I was stabbing the water with furious, short fast strokes to propel me forward. I counted 10 fast strokes on each side and then transitioned into a longer deeper pull. When I felt myself glide, and as I felt my heart drop back down from my throat to my chest, I tried to settle into my race pace.

8 Mile Start

The distance WAS hard. No joke.

Each of the two mile segments of the course, elicited different feelings and also a distinct internal dialogue with myself. The first two miles of the race was like, “Calm down, find your groove. Holy shit, this is the longest two miles ever. Where is the turnaround?”

My inner conversation during miles three and four went like this, “You are in your groove now, GIRLFRIEND, you got this ALL day! This is what we train for!” One of the best things about SUP racing is the friendly and motivating cheers by fellow paddlers as you pass each other. Bailey Rosen, junior SUP phenom (that’s under 17 years old), who also ended up winning female overall for the 12’6 division in this race, looked at me and yelled as we passed each other along the course, “GO JUNIOR PADDLERS!!!” Despite her being ahead of me, this comment made me smile as I took it as a compliment. I’ll just say it’s been a while since I was considered a “junior.”

The amusement and flattery of being mistaken as junior paddler was soon replaced with “I’m going to die, my lungs are burning, I can’t maintain this tempo, my right foot is cramping, my mouth tastes like sand, I don’t want to lose time to take a sip of water from my camelback. My back feels numb. My body is on fire,” were my thoughts as I struggled to overcome the overwhelming fatigue throughout my entire body. I was grunting audibly and making strange animal like sounds as I gasped for air with each stroke. Miles five and six just plain out sucked and hurt real bad.

Finally, I rounded the buoy which marked the final stretch, miles seven and eight. I was invigorated mentally as I rounded the buoy, but then, “BOOM!” my mental rejuviantion was soon jolted into, “get your ass in gear,” motivation. Another woman was gaining ground on me as I came out of the the turnaround. That lit a huge fire under my ass. My internal dialogue went something like, “You gotta pick it up. That woman behind you is catching up. Ignore the pain. Stroke.”

As I approached the shore I could hear the cheers from my friends. I paddled through the finish line and unsure if my legs could even support me, jumped off my board into the water. Luckily and thankfully, Eric was there for me. I asked him to please take my board. I was toast. I was elated. This is the moment that I love about racing and competing.

The award ceremony was in full swing at Marker 8 in Dunedin. It was a great post party, filled with celebratory tequila, great friends, and an awesome buffet line for the racers. The atmosphere was friendly and the people were laid back. I placed 2nd in my division and my internal dialogue screamed, “Hells yeah!”

Hells Yeah!

Despite the outcome, I know I need to get better. My experience racing the Shark Bite Challenge showed me that my strength/cardio endurance needs improvement. I can also fine tune my stroke technique. Until my next race, it’s back to training in the gym and on the water. I’m really no “junior paddler” after all, and need all the proper training I can get!