29 May 2016

A Love – Hate – Love Relationship: My Garmin GPS (R. Peevor)

This month's guest article for the PSK Journal comes from Richard Peevor. Out of the winter gloom a few years ago I received a string of emails from a guy who wanted to take up sea kayaking. He'd not paddled one before of course, but he was a sailor (yeah...) - he had been a runner too in the past, his name was Richard, and, oh yeah, he had a heart problem. What could possibly go wrong I thought? He wouldn't leave me alone though, and so in the end I took him out for a paddle, aiming for a bit of email peace and quiet. A couple of years later he's a regular in our training sessions; I've given him little leeway nor made allowance for his lack of experience, he's endured the weather and survived 'big-boy' sessions, he's suffered straight-talking and my grumpiness. I can't put him off...

My Garmin GPS: A love – hate – love relationship.

(Getting in to Performance Sea Kayaking)

by Richard Peevor

It’s 05:15 on a Sunday morning when the alarm goes off… Despite struggling to get to sleep last night and probably only sleeping for four hours (thanks to simply going over and over how I am going to go round a red buoy and get back to a slipway) I'm wide awake. I'm into the car and on the road by 05:45, in the dark. I've got an excited but nervous feeling in my stomach. All this is just to get on the water early enough to get the ideal tidal window to do the Menai Challenge. We are in a high pressure at the moment, it's the first weekend of decent weather in ages, with no wind forecast... perfect conditions. To most people this challenge will mean nothing and getting up to do it at silly o'clock on a Sunday, even more of a waste of time; but to me, it means a lot.

Perfect conditions for the Menai Challenge

A couple of minutes after 08:00 I press the button to stop my Garmin, job done! I'm pretty chuffed with my time, but not 100% satisfied. In a way that’s good, as it’s the drive you need to improve in the future. During the drive home I have that satisfied feeling and a smile on my face, it reminds me of the feelings I had after completing running races and triathlons five or six years ago. The difference is, with these paddling challenges I have a blank canvas of personal bests and I don’t have to compare my achievement (or lack of) to times from that period in my life when I was two stone lighter, a lot fitter and when I had a fully functioning mitral valve in my heart!

And that’s where all of this comes from…

For a week or two in September 2013 I was panicked with worry, I’d gone for a run, felt rubbish, out of breath and not able to run more than about half a mile. I got my stethoscope out of my bag and listened to my chest and heartbeat… Oh f*ck! I heard a heart murmur. Five minutes later I’d written myself off and booked myself in for open heart surgery. Thankfully, the cardiologists knew a bit more than me and after a few stressful weeks of investigations and consultations I found out my mitral regurgitation was mild to moderate and hopefully would improve with some medication. I even took a photo of my first pack of tablets knowing that for the rest of my life I’d be taking pills… oh joy, aged 36!

The first year was tough, not physically, but 100% psychologically. I knew medically I was fine but I was panicking that I’d get worse and no Google search term could tell me how quickly, slowly, or not at all, that my condition would change. The doctor had told me it was good to be fit and the only thing I should avoid was lifting heavy weights. I had many months off running and every time I tried to start again my performance was so shocking to me I couldn't do more than 3-4 runs before I stopped again. Struggling to run 11 minute miles when 8 minute miles were comfortable previously was a killer… My Garmin wasn't lying it was telling me the truth: my fitness was atrocious.

Five years earlier I loved my Garmin, I remember running races, not particularly well, but glancing down at my Garmin every few seconds to see I was still on track for a personal best. It didn't lie then either, it was just a kinder truth than the truth it was telling me in 2013.

After months of inactivity I knew I had to take the cardiologists advice and get off my backside and try to get fitter. I just had to work out how to do it.

One of my first kayaking sessions
I commute up and down the A55 and I had seen plenty of sea kayaks heading to and from Anglesey. I was intrigued, so I started to look into it. I realised that Anglesey was one of THE places to paddle in the UK; so, during Winter, a good time to think about starting sea kayaking, I decided that’s what I was going to do. I started getting to grips with the local Anglesey Sea Kayaking providers and got myself booked onto one of Phil Clegg’s courses for the Spring, May 2014. I immersed myself into Google searches on paddling and I stumbled across Simon Willis' website ( www.seakayakpodcasts.com) and I listened to a podcast by John (Willacy) on Performance Sea Kayaking and I wondered, even though I couldn't paddle, and had never sat in a sea kayak, if this was something I could get into. I found the PSK website (www.performanceseakayaking.com) and I emailed John to enquire about the possibility of some 1-2-1 coaching. After a load of emails back and forth I had my first sit in a sea kayak in April 2014. I paddled John’s old P+H Quest and even though it was a stable boat, I remember how unstable I felt just sitting in it, BUT my eggs were all in this one basket and I was going to give this my all, I needed to psychologically.

John knew my motivation, where I was coming from and what I was hoping for. I am still not sure what he made of me in those early days but he was happy to keep coaching me so I was happy with that.

In the Spring of 2014 I had had a few days of coaching with John, Phil Clegg and Barry Shaw, I was enjoying getting out on the water. I was getting good coaching but it was an expensive pastime doing courses knowing that I wasn't safe getting out on the water without a coach. I had enquired with local clubs but many didn't have boats, or boats that I could fit into! I'm 6’5” and although not that fat, I couldn't fit in most boats. I've never felt such a freak. I turned up to one club paddle, got fully kitted up and found I couldn't get in a club boat and had to go home again…. Demoralised to say the least!! I think clubs need to invest in a few boats that prospective members can use to try out paddling prior to taking the expensive plunge into buying a boat, otherwise it’s a huge leap of faith.

Finally with my own boat (and borrowed paddle!)
Because I wasn't getting out paddling enough I decided I needed to buy a boat, it took months to find an appropriate boat but eventually I bought an Explorer HV from Nigel Dennis, even then my troubles weren't over,  his paddle making machine broke… I was potentially on the creek but without the paddle! Luckily Phil Clegg was fab and he gave me a long term loan of a paddle, I was so grateful. After three months waiting I cancelled my paddle order and went to see Lance Mitchell in Chester instead, he made me two paddles and was a nice bloke to boot… things were coming together! After about six months I’d managed to get a set of paddling kit together. If I hadn't been so motivated to make this succeed, I suspect with all of this hassle I’d have given up.

During that first Summer of paddling I managed to get out once a week, often just a quick evening paddle but trying to work on skills and getting used to being in a boat as well as just having fun. Looking back through my emails though I can see that my mind was always on the performance side of things. I kept hassling John about the upcoming weather to see if we could do the Menai Challenge on one of our coaching sessions. My first Menai Challenge came on 9th November 2014. John followed me round pointing me in the general direction I needed to go, shouting words of encouragement like, “stop paddling like a girl” and was poised, ready to scoop me up if I fell in. It wasn't pretty but it was 1hr 11min…. and I’d done it. My first bit of hard exercise in 2 years and that psychological wall had just had the top course of bricks knocked off it. I’d loved it!

Safety boat presence and words of 'encouragement'

My first goal had been reached, my first season had shown me I enjoyed sea kayaking and I’d got to the point where I could stay in my boat long enough to do a Menai challenge.  Over that Winter, as well as continuing to try to develop my paddling, my mind started to think of what my next challenge could be. One of the benefits of Anglesey paddling is that you get to meet the big boys and girls of paddling and it’s a pleasure to chat to so many experienced paddlers who have done so many amazing trips. I work full time and can’t do big trips and I certainly don’t have the paddling skill to do them safely either so I had to think of what I could do as a challenge to myself. My next attempt at getting that psychological wall knocked down…

I’d seen the route people had done paddling around Wales, I’d read Roger Chandler’s articles and Roger Pyves’ blog of his trip. This was still too big a trip for me but I wondered if I could do the North - South paddle down the inland waterways, this was still a good trip 240 km and I thought it would take me a week. This was going to be relatively safe but would still be an adventure and an achievement for me if I could do it. I planned to raise money for one of my work charities, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. The whole trip went well. I finished in five days, pushing on each day, coping with lugging my boat and kit around the 90 or so locks and finished without any injuries. I also raised just over £3000 so that was amazing.

The Route
I was well chuffed. I really felt at this point I was getting back to normal and my heart problem was starting to slip to the back of my mind.

After my Wales trip and being in my second season, I felt like a paddler, not a good one, not an experienced one, but, still a paddler. My plan that started from those December emails was working. I was enjoying exercising again and I was proving to myself that the heart valve abnormality was mainly a psychological, and not a physical barrier to fitness (for the moment anyway).

Evening Training Session
Now that I am training, my Garmin comes out on the water with me regularly, I'm starting to work out what’s good and what’s not. Unlike running, the road isn't fixed, it moves as well, so if you are having a bad day you can always blame the water and not your own fitness / skill if the numbers aren’t looking so good.

On a serious note however it makes it quite hard to judge progress because paddling on the same stretch of sea each hour of the day will give you different speeds and heart rates and it makes assessment of overall training progress much harder. When running its relatively easy to look at pace and heart rate, compare it to your perceived effort and you can see if you are getting fitter or if you are having a bad day. Also, if you decide to run a 10K or a half marathon a quick Google search will bring up 12 week training plans, 16 week training plans each telling you when to go hard when to go easy and how far to run each day of the week to almost guarantee you a successful day out at a race. I used to follow these to the letter and reap the reward 3 or 4 months later. It’s a bit different with Performance Sea Kayaking! There are no training plans and no textbooks. Maybe it’s time for a first book John?

I'm looking forward to 2016, I'm hoping to train regularly and build my fitness. I'm just trying to finalise what this year’s challenges are going to be but it will be something. One thing that’s in the plan is a Taran,  – I loved paddling it for my most recent Menai Challenge. It’s a boat that puts a smile on your face! And without trying too hard it gives you that 6th gear.

The main reason for writing this article is that it will hopefully show that a novice paddler (I'm just starting my third year of paddling) can make a start in Performance Sea Kayaking. It isn't elitist, the good paddlers will happily chat to the less able paddlers to try to help them on their way. Sea kayaking is a great hobby but if you move those paddles a bit harder/quicker through the water it can also be a good way to increase fitness and add another dimension to your paddling. Challenges are personal and with this sport it’s easy to set yourself an achievable goal.

I’d encourage anyone to have a go.

Richard Peevor - May 2016

Core Boat Sessions (J.Willacy)

by John Willacy

These Boat Sessions involve a proportion of Interval training Sessions, so we'll take a brief look at Interval Training to put things into context a little.

Interval sessions make up a large proportion of many a training programme, across a variety of sports, including paddling.
An’ Interval Session’ is basically a physical training session where the athlete performs for a relatively short period of time at a high intensity and then follows this with a lower intensity recovery period, before repeating the cycle. This is in contrast to continuous steady-state or ‘endurance’ sessions. Here the session is made up of usually one (or only a few) periods of activity, undertaken at a constant pace over a longer distance/time. Recovery takes place at the end of the session.

The Up-Side of Interval Training?

The higher intensity, and so hopefully higher speeds, encountered within an interval session helps ‘train’ us to paddle at faster speeds. We will learn to adapt to the faster movements of both body and boat. A predominance of long slow miles will make us good at long slow paddling.

This exposure to higher intensity paddling has a number of benefits:
It exposes us to, and familiarises us with higher boat and blade speeds – useful for racing, chasing surf waves, downwind runs etc.
Intervals working at higher intensity exposes us to a different kind of discomfort than steady-state paddling. As always, this familiarisation is very important – both body and mind will start to accept and compensate from this exposure.

The higher paddle load, due to the changing boat speeds, will also have a more beneficial muscular strengthening effect than steady-state distance paddling.

Interval training also means we can work ourselves hard in a relatively short session time. A hard interval session may only take 45-60 mins, whereas useful steady state paddling sessions are likely to be longer. An interval session means you can get back on the couch sooner!

 At a practical level, for group paddling it is easier to hold a training group together throughout an interval session.  The recovery periods allows paddlers to re-group throughout the session, rather than the ‘see you again at the finish’ mechanics of steady-paddles.

A surprising distance can be covered within an interval session, with active recovery. This distance and time in a boat do have a certain endurance training benefit too, from the point of view that all time in a boat (with the arms going around) is useful. However steady-state paddling has only a limited effect on speed/strength improvement.

High-intensity interval training gives us more bang for the buck. It helps us to ‘get fit’ quick, to raise a level of fitness in a relatively short calendar time. If time is short, say 6-8 weeks, then an interval training programme is likely to be more useful as a ‘crash’ programme and have a more noticeable training effect than an aerobic biased programme. Of course it is exactly that, only a crash programme.

A high-level training programme can more easily accommodate a mixture of ‘contrasting’ back-to-back interval sessions rather than sequential aerobic sessions. Though both can be fatiguing, a high level of long-distance sessions can be difficult to recover from.

Interval Training is also a good way to increase our heart stroke volume, and encourage other physiological changes, but we are going a bit deep there.

The down-side:

While interval training will get us fit, fast and strong – it does give a benefit to our aerobic/endurance fitness, but this is only a limited benefit. To gain long-mile fitness we still have got to do, well you've guessed it, lots of long miles too.

It hurts - oh boy does it... On the whole the high intensity bouts of exercise can be unpleasant. The older you get the lower the proportion of interval training you seem to do!

Getting Started:

The following example sessions are aimed to provide a core selection of sessions for fitness and technique work that can be used for year round training, these may be paddled on either flat or moving water.

Get the feel of these sessions, find how many efforts, what rest etc. works for you. Don’t be afraid to tweak or experiment with them. The numbers here are aimed at paddlers who are, and have been, training at a level for a period of time. As with any other new sessions you should enter into them gently to begin with, reduce the number of reps and sets given here. You should finish your early sessions wanting more, not collapsed on the slipway - that is for later. Do not go too hard until you are familiar with these session, or you risk strain, repetitive or over-use injuries – these will spoil your future training sessions for weeks, or even months. Trust me! If you go too hard you will also reduce the quality of your next sessions due to fatigue.

Make sure of a good, structured warm-up before starting any session - especially so for colder weather and high intensity efforts. Don’t forget a structured warm-down also. The shorter work (on) intervals combined with longer recovery (off)  intervals can cause cooling in the winter – so practicalities may dictate to some extent the length of the recovery periods to match the weather/temperature – so higher work to rest ratios in the winter maybe necessary.

All sessions can be worked in just about any kind of boat – sea kayak, slalom boat, WWR or sprint/marathon boat.

All off/rest intervals are active rest i.e. continuous steady state paddling at a lower intensity – once the session starts, the paddling/boat doesn't stop unless stated or you reach the finish. No slacking!


Obviously the usual rules apply: The BCU recommend that you do not padde alone, do not paddle after dark and do wear a buoyancy aid at all times on the water. Let someone know what you are up to, where you’re doing it and when you’ll be back.


1 rep (short for repetition) = 1 work effort  i.e. 1 sprint.  Also known as an ‘effort’ or ‘on’ time, as in - 60 seconds ‘on’ =  60" on = 60 seconds of work.

Sets = a group of reps i.e. 2 sets of 5 reps would mean 2 lots of 5 sprints. Also written as 2 x 5

‘Off’ = rest/recovery time i.e. 3 x 60” on / 120” off  - would mean 3 sprints of 60 secs each, with 2 minutes rest between each effort. Rest between reps is gentle paddling – do not stop. Rest between sets is usually longer - 3-5 minutes.

Paddle Strokes are counted on one side only, i.e. every time the right-hand blade enters, that is one stroke. (If you really need to know how many ‘total’ strokes you have made then try multiplying the figure by two, it seems to work.)

2 x 10 x 60”on / 60” off with 3-5’ between sets

Translated: 2 sets of 10 reps of a 60 second sprint, with 60 seconds of rest between each sprint – the whole lot is repeated twice (i.e. a total of 20 sprints) with 3-5 ‘minutes’ of rest between each set of 10. The rest between sets allows the work in the second set to be of a higher intensity and higher quality than if 20 reps were just attempted in one go. Phew! Did you get all that?

The Sessions:

8 minutes on

8 minutes on, followed by 2 minutes off - repeat
Repeats: 5-8 efforts

Intensity: This session works best with a heart rate monitor (HRM). The On interval is worked at 75-80% max heart rate (for me I start at 150 beats per minute (bpm )) with the Off interval paddled at an easy steady pace, but not less than 120 bpm.
Rest: 2 minutes steady paddling between efforts

Lift the intensity by 5bpm per effort for the 5x8’ session i.e. 150, 155, 160, 165 etc.

Do 8-10 efforts
Keep raising the intensity by 5bpm for an 8x session; when you can’t raise it anymore then hold that intensity for each of whatever ‘on’ efforts remain(probably 3x)

Good for:
To improve base paddling fitness, forward stroke fitness and fwd stroke technique.
Pacing - Learning to lift to a pace and to maintain a constant pace.
Feeling tired the next day.

A watch alarm set to repeat on 2’ intervals helps, and when synchronised with a stopwatch will help you to keep count of the intervals – if you start on 10’ then you need to work until an 8 is showing on the watch minutes and then start again when a zero is showing! i.e. start on 10, finish on 18 start on 20, finish on 28, start on 30 etc.

Heart rate should be held within a 5bpm band i.e. a 150 effort will mean a heart rate between 150 and 155, 160 – between 160 and 165 – no higher or lower.

At the start of each effort don’t suddenly go up to the hard pace, work smoothly and steadily up to that pace – you should be able to get there within 1 minute or so. This will help you last the distance and keep in control – too fast a rise will bring in lactic problems.
Place a lot of attention on your stroke technique; this is a good session for working forward paddling technique and fitness. The 80% pace is low enough to be in control but high enough to be working well. At higher levels you’ll need an efficient stroke just to last the distance.


60 seconds on, 60 seconds off
Repeats:  1 set of 10x efforts

Intensity:  Max – paddle as hard as you can for 60” on – no pacing -  go hairy-bears, balls out from the start and just hang in there until the end.
Rest: 60 seconds off - steady paddling. 3-5 minutes off between sets

Alter the length of the rest interval – 30” off will make things much more lactic, with an ongoing lactic build up as the session progresses – good lactic tolerance work; 90-120" off will put emphasis more on speed endurance.
2 sets of 6-8x
Stop fully just before the start of each effort and make it a standing start instead of a rolling one.

2 sets of 10x with standing starts

Good For:
Speed endurance
Or lactic tolerance – can alter emphasis by altering rest
Getting out of breath and running out of steam

Use a watch set on a 60” repeat alarm and go Pavlovian, when the watch beeps you instinctively go – go as hard as possible from the start and just hang in there. Ease off when it beeps again. This is a speed endurance sess. designed to make you hurt and get used to the feeling of pushing the boat when things are hurting. Make a concerted effort to push the pace as things start to tie up towards the end of each effort. This session works best in a small group (2-3) of equally matched, hard working paddlers – push hard to stay out in front!

Stroke Pyramid 

An equal stroke pyramid, counting strokes on one side:
10 strokes on 10 strokes off, 20 on 20 off, 30 on 30 off, 40 on 40 off, 50 on 50 off, 40 on 40 off ... continue down to 10 on 10 off

Intensity: Max for all on efforts
Rest: Steady paddling rest for number of strokes required. 3-5 minutes off between pyramids

Lengthen with a ‘flat top’ pyramid i.e. do 2 x 50 on/off at top of pyramid before coming down again
Finish with a 5x 10 on 20-50 secs off at bottom, for a little speed work
Turn into a ‘Locomoter’ sess, with fixed stroke rest i.e. 30 stroke rest throughout but still with rising/falling pyramid for the ‘on’ efforts i.e. 10 on 30 off, 20 on 30 off, 30 on 30 off etc.
Standing starts

2-3 flat top pyramids with standing starts
Locomoter  with 10 stroke rest throughout

Good For:
A good mixture session that covers a little of everything at the speed end of the spectrum.

Count your strokes on one side.

5 on 5

15 seconds on 45 seconds off
Repeats: 5 sets of 5 efforts (5 on 5)

Intensity: ‘Beyond Max’ – as fast as you can possibly make the boat go – thrashy and splashy
Rest: 3-5 minutes between sets

The 15” on – 45” off  gives a 3x rest ratio – lift this to 5x rest ratio i.e. 15” on 75” off
Drop the work period to 12”
Standing starts
One set of 5 of these is good to tag onto the end of just about any other sess as a warm down/pre-warm down – no matter how hard you worked you should usually be able to manage a set of these at a reasonable quality level. Do this with sessions throughout the winter and you will have a head start when you start to emphasise speed as the season draws near.

This is a pure speed sess or even a recovery sess and as such is not really designed for ‘Monster work’, but can be extended to 2 x (5 on 5) – but you probably wouldn't.

Good for:
Developing speed/strength
Developing acceleration
Learning how to ‘change gears’
A Recovery sess

Learn how many strokes you make in the 15” on (probably 12-15 strokes) then set a watch alarm to repeat on the minute. Go very hairy bears on that minute beep, counting strokes, then once you've reached your stroke number, paddle gently until the watch beeps again. This sess is about moving the boat and blades (and reacting to the beep!) as fast as you possibly can; absolutely at max – don’t get too stressed about splashing etc. just shift that boat! ABSOLUTE MAX!

140 Paddle

45-75 minutes steady at a reasonable constant pace (140-150 bpm) – do not push too hard.

Good for:
Endurance/aerobic fitness
Fwd paddling technique.
Learning and maintaining pace and concentration
Recovery session after a heavy training load/mild injury
Re-introduction session after a training break

Should be looking for good rotation; using full body (feet, legs, hips, trunk, shoulders and arms) to deliver the power. Looking to make stroke entry and exit smooth with little splash or water lifting and looking for a smooth boat glide with little pitching or yawing. This is not a time trial, set a good pace and learn how to maintain it, but don’t work too hard – watch for losing concentration, do not allow the pace to drop later on in the session.

Time Trials

15-60 minute time trials – can be longer

Good For:
Endurance/aerobic fitness
Fwd paddling technique.
Learning and maintaining pace and concentration at higher intensity
Holding it together when things hurt
Performance confidence
A good old ding-dong with your paddling buddies and then for bragging rights later
Surprisingly rewarding

Find yourself a time trial course (usually an out and back course) that you can repeat in reasonably repeatable conditions.  Start your watch and work hard until you get back! Learn how to pace so you can last the distance. Record the time you take in your training diary/time trial book.  Try to repeat regularly – fortnightly, monthly or so. Your records will give a guide to developing trends in base/paddling fitness. Can be paddled solo but you will go faster when you are chasing or being chased.  A number of different length time trials are useful.  (See PSK Journal March 2016 for more TT details)

Paddle hard, try not to be sick.

John Willacy - May 2016

Random Shot

Downwind Run