Straits Sess Reminder



5 on 5
60 ons
Arches Climbs
Cardinal Crosses
Cardinal Pyramid
Church Islands
Cribbin Crosses
Downstream Sprintss
GG Climbs
GG Buoys
MB Buoys
Perch Ferries
Perch WOT Sprints
Snowdonia Diagonals
Snowdonia 8’s


8′ on
BB Loops
BB Wind Ferries
Benlas-Cardinal-Welltog 8’s
Cardinal Ferries
Cribbin Laps
Ferry to C Wave
GG-Cardinal Efforts
GG Laps
GG Pyramid
GG Big Laps
Killer Islands (Ang)
Killer Island (Bangor)
Killer Islands Big
Swellies Zig-Zags


140 Cruise
Arches Laps
BB/GG Loops
GG laps
PM Paddle
Puffin Loops
Swelly Laps


Bridges TT
Full TT
MC Legacy
MC Challenge
MC Sea Zoo
PM Paddle
Puffin Loop
Puffin TT


Cardinal Surf
Swelly Main Surf
Swelly Rock Surf
Wind Ferries

Race Preparations

By Andy Raspin

Previously Andy was a GB Team slalom paddler, gaining medals at World and European Championship level. He has also acted as a coach for the Canoe Wales Slalom Squad.



More than 1 month to go…
    • Physical Review – Am I where I want to be?
    • Technical Review – Are all my moves/techniques working for me?
    • Mental Review – Getting in the correct head space, with my progress and performances.
    • Venue Review – Make sure to practice as many moves as possible at race sites.
    • Make sure Race Entries have been sent and accepted.


  • 1 Month to go…
    • Equipment Choices made and happy with choices. (Boat, paddles, clothing etc.)
    • Boat should meet regulations and be in good working order.
    • Accommodation arrangements made for race weekends.
    • Start to practice your Race Preparations, in pre-races and also in training with Delivery Fulls.
    • Start to Taper your training.


  • 2/3 Weeks to go…
    • Stop reviewing your progress, work with what you have and deliver to the best of your ability.
    • Travel arrangement to races arranged.
    • Start to practice Course Visualisation of the site you will be racing at. Also be able to watch videos for specific sites.
    • Pre-plan Solutions to possible race-day problems, be prepared for some eventualities eg. Race running late, paddles damaged during warm-up etc.
    • Get a Start List – To plan The Day (course walks, time to change etc).
    • Tapering continued.


  • 1 Week to go…
    • Race-Day Food organised and chosen, food you like and food that works for you.
    • Plan Warm-Up – site dependent, how long, type of exercises and the location of your warm-up.
    • Socialising and Relaxation in the run-up can be a good way to de-stress.
    • Good Sleep for the whole week running up to the race, try to avoid late nights.
    • Feel Good in yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally.
    • Be Ready To Race!


Andy Raspin

A Look at Warm-Ups – Canoe Slalom

By John Willacy

These are the accompanying notes for a presentation given on the topic of Warm-Ups for Canoe Slalom paddlers.


  • Why?
  • When?
  • What?
  • How?
  • Where?
  • Practicalities of warm-up
  • Warm-up Clever

Why we warm-up

  • To improve race performance
  • To improve training session efficiency
  • To minimise risk of injury
  • Tune in to “today’s body”
  • Increase Confidence

When we warm-up

  • Before a race
  • Before a training session
  • Before any activity

What we warm-up

  • Mind
    • Focus
    • Deal with Distractions
    • Visualisation/Rehearsal
    • Setting Strategy
  • Body
    • Prepare body for work
    • Take feedback from body
  • Skills
    • Refresh Skills
    • Boost Confidence

How we warm-Up

  • Stretching / Mobility
    • Land and Boat
    • Dynamic versus Static
  • Continuous Paddling
  • Boat Handling / Awareness
  • Stroke Mobility
  • Gates
  • Sprints
  • Mental Preparation
  • Off the water
    • Run/Walk
    • ‘Home Gym’ Equipment
  • Relaxation

Training Warm-Up – Intensity Session

  • Mobility
    • Light dynamic stretching/flexibility out of boat, short steady run (5 – 10 min)
  • Continuous paddling
    • Easy start, steadily increase pace (10 min)
  • Boat handling/stroke drills
    • Enders, turns, slicing, cross-bow, reverse paddling  – (5 min)
  • Specific Stretching within boat
    • Dynamic
    • Not too strenuous  – (5 min)
  • Short Sprints
  • Mental Preparation/Visualisation throughout the process

Training Warm-Up – Endurance Session

  • As per Intensity W.U. but bring heart rate gradually up to required level.
  • Stay below Lactic Threshold
  • Continuous paddling
  • Boat handling/stroke drills
  • Stroke/Boat/Body Mobility
  • Specific Stretching within boat
  • Aerobic Efforts
  • Replace sprints with 2-3 x 3 – 4 mins efforts at Aerobic threshold
  • Mental Preparation/Visualisation throughout the process

Race Warm-Up – Double W.U.

  • Detailed (initial)Warm-up
  • Followed by time for:
    • Mental Preparation
    • Strategy
    • Relax
    • Quiet Time
    • Allow 45-60 min rest before race run
    • Try to maintain moderate activity so warm-up effect not lost
  • Pre-Start Warm-up (immediately before race run)
    • Sprints, Stroke Drills, Gate Work, Mental Prep.
    • Short — 10 – 15 mins
  • For Single Warm-up days – use abbreviated form of Detailed W.U.

Example Race Warm-Up (Detailed Warm-Up for a Double Warm-Up day)

  • Mobility
    • Light dynamic stretching/flexibility out of boat (5 – 10 min) – short steady run
  • Aerobic Continuous paddling
    • Easy start, steadily increase pace (10 min)
  • Specific Stretching within boat
    • Not too strenuous  – (5 min)
  • Boat handling/stroke drills
    • Enders, turns, slicing, cross-bow, reverse paddling  – (5 min)
  • Gate Technique Warm-up
    • Short courses (20-30 sec), race pace, cover all moves required – don’t go lactic (10 mins)
  • Sprints (ATP-CP)
    • 5 x 10-12 sec — 5 x rest (5 – 7 mins)
  • ‘Full run’
    •  Simulation run – flat-water, imaginary gates (enhanced visualisation), close to race pace  (below race pace for Single W.U. day)
  • Anaerobic Sprints/Gates
    • 2 – 3 x 30 – 45 sec, max pace with 3 – 4 min between (on double warm-ups only, Note: differing opinions on pros/cons of this stage )
  • Moderate paddling / ‘Specifics’
    • Whatever you feel needs more time/detail
  • Mental preparation/Tune in

Warm-Up Practicalities

  • Not always possible to do exactly what you want –
    • Lack of facilities
    • Different venue
    • Interaction with others – working as a team
    • Aim for the optimum but be prepared to accept less
  • Be flexible in your approach
    • Have an ideal but be prepared to go with less/different
    • Train your routine and your ‘flexibility’
  • Training Session Warm-up shorter than race day W.U.

Not a Warm-Up!

  • Floating around the eddy chatting to your buddies
  • Paddling around aimlessly and doing a few dips
  • Etc…

Your Warm-Up

  • Make it structured
  • Learn a routine and use it
  • Train your Warm-up
    • Experiment/Trial and Error
  • Improve your Warm-up
  • Enjoy your Warm-up
  • Use Confidence Boosters
  • Be prepared to be flexible

Warm-Up Clever

  • High Intensity Sessions require a more detailed Warm-up
  • Technical Sessions require a more detailed Warm-up
  • Injury Recovery requires a more detailed Warm-up
  • The fitter you, are the longer it takes
  • The colder the weather, the longer it takes (use pogies!)
  • The earlier in the day, the longer it takes
  • The older you are, the longer it takes
  • Stick to a routine – but be prepared to adapt

John Willacy
Dec 2014

Don’t Hang Up Your Paddles Over The Winter Months

By Brian Turnbull

A cold winter’s day on the reservoir (Image courtesy of Alan Hunter)

The days are growing shorter, temperatures are on the decrease, the sea and rivers are losing some of the gentility they showed us over the past few months. This usually means we start to get that urge to stay in and ease off on the paddling – but why stop paddling over the winter? If we do then we are likely to have lose a lot of the physical conditioning we had built up towards the end of the previous summer. With a little imagination and some enthusiasm I believe it’s not that difficult to keep a degree of fitness over the winter months. Lots of things get in the way though and seem to conspire against us to prevent any sort of regular paddling activity, the weather, floods on the river, boisterous seas, long dark nights not to mention an 8 to 5 job! The excuse are endless. With all this going on it is all to easy to say stuff it and just get parked in a comfy chair in front of the tv! We need to try and overcome this desire to vegetate and get out there and work with the elements, use the adversity to advantage and turn it round to use it as a positive and constructive element to our training and enjoy what the weather gods give us.

Getting motivated and staying motivated can be very difficult but need not be an insurmountable obstacle, making the activity interesting and something that we can look forward to as much as we do our fair weather paddling I find helps hugely. Winter training needn’t always be in a kayak, there are many ways to keep a decent level of fitness up. I am not a lover of the gym but wouldn’t knock this if it suits and is convenient. Winter activities for me consist of cycling indoors on rollers, cycling outdoors and of course paddling when I can, I mix in a bit of core strengthening exercise as well. Time constraints prevent any more than 2 to 3 sessions during the week with a longer session at the weekend, the evening sessions during the week are usually no more than 1 to 1 ½ hours. To be able to get the session in with a minimum of fuss it helps if it can be done without any excess travelling, to have to travel somewhere to train can be an excuse not  to go, so whenever possible my sessions take place at home or within 20 minutes travel time.

I find it helps to have a sort of flexible schedule to my training, in other words I know my time commitment for the week and when I would like to fit my training in but equally happy to move this around to fit with the weather or other things going on. Training buddies have both advantages and disadvantages; it usually means some discussion has taken place about where when and what is to be done but it can also add an element of inflexibility to the equation. Having someone to train with though can be a great motivator and help drive things on when you would otherwise start to slack a bit. I don’t believe training needs to be overly complicated or very scientific for the level that I paddle at, I am not aiming to compete at the Olympics, but,  like most folks I simply want to enjoy my paddling. To have a decent level of fitness that allows me to get the best out of my paddling is good enough for me, in fact if it becomes too serious then some of the pleasure would be lost.

Of all the activities that I use as training tools indoor cycling on rollers is probably the least exciting, but there are things that I use to make it more interesting. Probably my most important tool to keep things interesting and fresh is to use a sports watch that will display and store various data. I find this piece of kit indispensable, this display of data during exercise can in itself be a great motivator. Some watches have training buddies to gee things along a bit, or you can simply try and improve on previous efforts. This data can include things such as heart rate, forward speed and pedal cadence. Having this information to hand allows us to experiment with different gears and cadence to find our optimum zone. Interval sessions are much easier to manage with this type of information to hand. These watches allow us to store and view data on a pc and compare efforts. When you think about it what a great motivator this is; next time on the rollers I will try and get to 10km in a quicker time, basic I know, but I find it a challenge and a reason to get back on. Using this watch as a training aid can be made as complex or as simple as is desired, the important part as I see it is its ability to motivate. You can link up this information with others as well and compare results which inevitably means a bit of competition will creep into the game; why not set up a 10k contest with your buddies!

Rollers also allow us to just dump the bike on them and get pedalling; no faffing with clamps such as are found on turbo trainers, no hassle from traffic and no need for lights. An added bonus is the balance element – we are subconsciously working on our core strength. How often we do this really depends on how much time we have at our disposal but because it is so convenient even several 15 to 20 minute sessions would see us improving on cardiovascular ability, indeed short sessions of about 3 mins duration at high intensity have been shown to produce improvements in cardio ability and also in fat burning. I find I do fewer road cycling sessions over the winter months but again when I do, the sports watch or the phone app Strava allows comparisons to be made between sessions and also to compare our times with others over the same segments on or off the road. What could be better than being a few seconds behind a segment time of another rider to get you back out there and try a bit harder next time?

The sessions I look forward to most are the paddling ones. I suppose I am fortunate in that the River Tweed is on my doorstep and so I use this for my training sessions when the sea is venting its anger and can be heard before it can be seen. I shouldn’t really call them training sessions because I don’t see them like that, they are just another paddling trip, or not just another paddling trip but more of a little mini adventure!

The  winter months usually see the river levels fluctuate wildly; recent months have seen it swing between 2’ and 10 +’ above normal levels, having the river on my doorstep allows me to keep an eye on the level and so pick the best times. Any level works but it is probably wise to avoid the rising river as this will usually see logs and the occasional dead sheep getting washed downstream. River paddling can be very good for improving our skill level as well as keeping up fitness; it is a very dynamic environment and can teach us many of the skills we need in sea paddling, once we have these skills the river is a great place to hone them. To be able to read a bit of water and to feel how the boat interacts with a bit of moving water is invaluable. Not only is this training it is also great fun and challenging. We might not think of it as training but if we learn how to handle a back eddy on the river we can use this skill to anticipate potential flows and counter flows when working along a rocky headland on the sea. Experience on the river with moving water and reading surface textures will help us greatly when we transfer these skills to the ocean.

On the River

The stretch I use for winter evening sessions is about 8km total, this consists of a 4k upstream paddle against the current followed by the return. I try to get 1 or 2 of these in on weekday evenings. Keeping an eye on the river levels and weather I will select the best evening for the job and it would normally go a bit like this ….

The river is high but steady at about 7’ above normal flow, the weather is half decent in that it’s not raining and about 3 degrees C, the moon would be visible but blotted out with cloud at the moment, I get the boat off the roof as a dog walker passes by and gives me a puzzled look, I dither a while until the dog walker disappears all the while wondering what they must have been thinking…..  I get myself organised. I launch about 50 metres up into a small tributary of the main river which allows a few minutes to just check everything is in place and functioning, I head off towards the main river, my eyes adjusting to the darkness as I progress, I have the backlight on the Garmin set low and will  try not to use the light as this spoils night vision. I press start on the timer and ready myself for the main flow by adjusting the boat angle to slice out upstream into the main flow, the first few hundred metres in the main river are fairly benign with only one or two minor back eddies. I glance down at the Garmin which reads out at 8.5 km hr, this speed varies a bit as I make progress up the side trying to make use of all the little eddies that I  know are there… I can see a semi submerged bush up ahead and the sound of water rushing through it becomes louder as I approach it…this is an area where I know a small croy sticks out into the river and disturbs the flow a bit…my speed drops a bit as I pass the bush all the while keeping clear enough to avoid mishaps. I make steady progress towards the first bend where I know there is a very narrow and well defined back eddy….I think about paddle technique as I glance at the Garmin to view paddle cadence, it is just a glance as I feel the boat moving easy under me and the left paddle strokes are very easy suggesting I’m right on the fence of the eddy…. I must ready myself…the boat will be fired out of this back eddy at over twelve km hr to be met with a head on flow of something in the order of 6km hr……I get the angle right and the boat shoots out into the main flow… feels like the boat has started to go faster….this is something I notice with the Taran which is probably a result of the higher water speed over the hull helping it up onto the plane….Oh if only I could generate that sort of speed with the paddle! Safely over this section I work my way up the side using the eddies when I can.

Soon I reach a fairly major bend in the river which when lower can be difficult to paddle upstream because it looses a bit of height here. My nostrils are filled with the stench of rotting flesh – this area on the inside of what is a large horseshoe bend has a fairly thick willow growth, the smell is from rotting salmon flesh, these are fish that have completed their spawning and have failed on their return journey to the sea or have succumbed to the “ fungal” disease that so many salmon die of, the inside of the bend here being a bit slower allows things to drop out of the flow and get tangled in the willow bushes. I think when our vision has been impaired our other senses become heightened, had this been daylight I probably wouldn’t pay much notice of the stench!

Moving water practice (Image courtesy of Neil Turnbull)

Safely round the bend where progress was slow I now make steady time up towards a metal pole where the salmon cobles get tied up on… stands out against the filtered light in the sky. Being a prominent mark I usually glance at the Garmin to get an indicator of how  well or otherwise I have done to this point, it has just gone 19 minutes, I’m happy with that. Progress from here through the next few hundred metres can be slow….the eddies are very skinny and the river relatively steep but with the higher river level I get good depth on the paddle blades and so concentrate a bit on technique. The flow eases off a bit as I approach a series of croys and then a weir across the river with a chute slightly off centre to river right….this bit of river can be confused in terms of flow and sharpens the senses, at this river level I know if I move across to river left from my position here on the right I know I will be able to paddle over the top of the weir… I find myself easing off a bit and getting my heart rate and breathing down a bit in case of mishaps during the traverse! The main chute safely negotiated I head over to the left bank where I use a good back eddy to propel the boat towards the weir – over it goes with no fuss. When the river is lower this part usually means getting out and wrestling the boat over the weir and past some bushes! I glance at the Garmin again….it shows 30 minutes, not particularly quick to this point but I am happy. Progress to the turn point is now a case of following the left bank using back eddies when I can, I push things on a bit from here. I can make out the shape of some Swans up ahead and begin to curse them under my breath…. They fly a few hundred metres upstream only to be disturbed again….they eventually follow the only sensible one in the flock and turn downstream! I like to get to the turn point inside of 45 minutes, not always achievable, sometimes it ticks past the 50 minute marker. Destination reached I press the timer stop button and rest for a few minutes.

The return journey can be under 15 minutes as opposed to the 45 minutes it took to get up here, speeds on the return can be as much as 20 km hr. I ready myself and swing the bow out where the flow of the current helps with the turn, the anticipation of the roller coaster return seems to get the adrenaline pumping and I seem to be paddling harder….I temper things a bit and try to concentrate on technique…..I aim the boat towards the faster runs to take advantage of any assistance from the river. The weir looms up very quickly and I try to judge the position of the main chute to take advantage of the main flow and to avoid punching through the stopper behind and the resulting back tow which would slow things down……I get the chute and slide through to be met by some confused waves and very boily bits that see a few bracing strokes being used…..nearing the tail I glance at the Garmin and it shows 19 and a bit km hr. Staying with the main flow I reach the horseshoe bend again but his time I just career through the main run where if things fall into place 20km hr is possible. I am now into the last few hundred metres and the lights from the town reflect from the surface and help with the boat position in the main flow….very near the end and I glance at the timer which shows 59 mins….it’s a good time but I am not going to get a PB even although I push things on a bit towards the finish point. The end is reached and the timer is stopped, I save the data and look forward to analysing the information later.

Chart showing an example of the information available to the paddler when using a sports watch paired with a cadence sensor

Loading the boat onto the van I feel content from the physical toil, the activity seems to clear the mind of the days clutter… I think about the hour that has just passed and already I am looking forward to the next time and run it all over again. A session such as this one can do so much for us from a training point of view… has given us intervals of intense activity mixed with more relaxed parts, it lets us concentrate on paddle technique, not only just good efficient forward technique but also a whole gamut of other strokes to keep the boat moving in the right direction and prevent the paddler from getting a wet face! It has been a paddling activity in a real paddling environment and as such brings to use all the skills we need that will ultimately help us to get the best from our paddling.

Finding a paddle venue suitable for use over the winter months that can be considered a safe training environment during darkness as well as well as daylight is not easy, obviously it very much depends on distance to travel and as I mentioned earlier if any great distances are involved then this can deter us from making the effort. So finding a place within a few minutes travel is best. It is also advisable to build up an intimate knowledge of your training venue; almost to the stage where it could be paddled blindfold. If its deep enough to float a boat then it could probably be used for training …….sheltered estuaries, rivers, canals and reservoirs can all be used. Perhaps the most important thing of all is that the activity must be made to be enjoyable so get out and have a look around your patch and see what’s available and work with the elements and conditions, include them in your training ventures. It might be raining with a horrible headwind, don’t let it defeat you, look on it as something that makes us stronger and fitter and ready for the better days ahead.

Brian Turnbull – Nov 2016

Self Confidence and the Psychological Fundamentals

By Jonathan Males

Jonathan Males is a sport psychologist and executive coach, who I met through our mutual work with the Canoe Wales Slalom Team. He has been kayaking since 1975, covering pretty much every aspect of the sport. Over the years his delight in paddling has been interwoven with a fascination for the inner world, the psychology of Performance. Perhaps this was kicked off when he first realised how much his own performance as a slalom paddler was influenced by his thoughts and feelings. Jonathan offered to write an article for the PSK Journal after we had a lengthy discussion about the role of Self-Confidence in my 2012 and 2015 UK Circumnavigation trips. This article is based on writings from within Jonathan’s book – In The Flow.  PSK

My own performance paddling has tended to take place on slalom courses, but growing up in Tasmania provided plenty of opportunities to paddle on the sea. In fact one of the best days I’ve ever spent in a kayak was trip around Cape Pillar on Tasmania’s exposed and beautiful south-east tip.  100 metre high cliffs, a touch of sea-sickness, a tricky landing on Tasman Island, and a total distance of 50+ km made it quite an adventure.

I’ve learned that self-confidence is the single most important psychological factor in successful sports performance.  Self-confidence is based on how you think about a situation and assess your chances of success.  It’s the realistic knowledge and belief that you are capable of achieving what you set out to do. Self-confidence is more than bravado or naïve optimism – although it’s easily confused with both. Truly self-confident paddlers don’t need to talk themselves up or talk their competitors down.  Truly self-confident paddlers know how to weigh up the risks, and understand that some crossings are better left to another day. They also understand that no matter how confident they are in their own ability, that the force of the ocean remains outside their control, so results or safety are never guaranteed. Being self-confident doesn’t mean you never feel anxious or scared, but it does mean you can deal with these feelings productively rather than them hampering your performance. While some paddlers seem to possess natural self-confidence, the reality is that everyone’s self-confidence fluctuates – whether you’re a veteran sea kayaker or a raw beginner.  So it’s important to understand where self-confidence comes from and how you can develop it.

Through my research and over twenty-five years practical experience with top class competitors and coaches in a wide range of sports, I’ve identified the four core psychological capabilities that any paddler needs in order to be self-confident. Self-confidence comes when you have the right attitude and goals, know that you have planned and prepared well, you know how to focus under pressure and you trust the people around you.  I call each of these factors the Psychological Fundamentals and each has an important role to play by itself and as one of the foundations of self-confidence.

The Fundamentals that underpin Self-Confidence

Here is a brief explanation of these terms and their significance for sea kayaking:

Mastery Motivation

This is your attitude, determination and commitment to achieve mastery over yourself, your competitors and your environment. Mastery Motivation underpins your fierce will to win and provides the drive to challenge yourself to find the limits of your ability.

Decision Making

This is the ability to plan ahead, think clearly and to learn from experience.  Making good decisions means more than whether you break a record – at sea they can be a matter of life or death.


This the ability to remain totally focused so you can perform under pressure.  Being able to execute your skills automatically will help you when you’re tired, facing an un-expected change in conditions or when you need to dig deep on a long stretch.


This allows you to build effective relationships and get the support your need from coaches or paddling buddies.  Having a good relationship with your coach, for example, helps sustain your competitive career, and getting on well with your mates on a multi-day self support sea kayaking expedition is pretty useful too.

The Fundamentals work together to support your ability to paddle confidently, and developing competence in one area will have a positive knock-on in other areas. The quality of your Decision Making influences your ability to Execute well, especially when these two components are powered by Mastery Motivation. When good Teamwork is in place too, all four Fundamentals come together to create self-confidence.

In my book In the Flow I look at each Fundamental in turn, and help you understand what it is and how it helps performance, the warning signs that suggest you need to work on it, and some practical things you and your coach (if you have one) can do to improve.

Jonathan Males – Jun 2016


In the Flow is available from Amazon, or directly from


Training Dirty

By Joe Leach

Prior to my 2015 solo Ireland circumnavigation I took some time to reflect on how best to train for expedition kayaking. What we sea paddlers do on expedition requires honing a peculiar set of skills and yet, like the coastline itself, our journeys are shaped by environmental factors beyond our control.


Partly through circumstance and partly through a purist love of fast paddling, I have done much of my winter training in a flatwater racing kayak. The freedom of movement, and outright speed available, feels like the kayaking equivalent of driving a Ferrari. Sessions are quick, involve minimal faff and because I paddle so close to land, I need to carry little in the way of safety kit. Because of the freedom of movement, I achieve a higher cadence, higher work rate, and pack a hard session into a shorter time frame.

The trouble is…no amount of carefully measured and maximal-effort k1 sessions will prepare the sea kayaker for being unable to land in high swell with a gut-full of trouble. Nor will any number of prudently planned gym sessions help you when, after being starved of intellectual stimulation for hours on end, you have some piss-poor melody or absurd thought circling your maddening mind. Fitness is not mental fortitude and neither does it equate with seamanship.
Specificity of practise is bread and butter for anyone versed in the basics of planning a training programme. This is also known as ‘practising real’. For most of us however, ‘practising real’ is not always possible: we might not have access to the ‘real’ venue, the ‘real’ conditions or have time to paddle long days consecutively. Instead of ‘real’, I would advocate training dirty…

Embrace the variables, relinquish comfort and leave the stopwatch at home. Yes, put the safety net of experience, kit, and environmental considerations in place, of course! The best way to do this is to engineer training situations where the risk of failure is high but the consequences are low (think onshore winds, alternative landings and multiple layers of protection from worst case scenarios). Far better to find your limits in practise than to have Neptune show you in anger.

The best example I can give is a session from last winter with my training partner Katie. We set out on our regular Black Rock Dash time trial which we normally complete in around 40 minutes. We were never going to challenge our PB’s; conditions were heavy onshore wind and swell. Long story short, it took almost two hours at near maximal effort for her. Katie had to bail out at an alternative beach and I was left with the sinking feeling that I had pushed her too far and that we had lost a training session. We both recognise now that it was probably the most productive session of the winter.

Do practise that re-entry roll midway through your session because you feel like it (also if you don’t feel like it), do train in a broad range of conditions and do push your training partner in once in a while! If they roll they might thank you, if they swim then they ought to thank you. Training dirty is about honing your decision making skills and about opening your eyes and ears to feedback in the moment. I’m not saying that training clean has no place in a programme. Dirty is not sustainable six times a week, but when you’re on expedition, searching for the motivation to get up at 6am, put on cold and wet thermals to paddle into force five headwinds all day, I swear the paddler who trained dirtiest will be the first and last on the water.

Joe Leach – Apr 2016

The Reluctant Time-Trialer

By Frank Harradence

Discovering Kayaking

In 2009, following 38 years in the NHS, at the ripe old age of 63 I decided to retire.  At the time I was blissfully unaware of sea kayaking.  However, a chance meeting with a party of New Zealanders who were kayaking around Kefalonia stirred an interest.
What followed was a move into kayaking and, over the years, lots of self-practice, supported by skills courses in North Wales, Anglesey and Cornwall.

On one visit to Anglesey, staying with Paul & Catherine at Stick Cottage, I was introduced to Paul’s handmade Greenland paddles known as the Anglesey Stick.  This lead me to research Greenland Kayaking history and before long I was no longer using my carbon Werner paddle and fell ‘hook, line and sinker’ into the Greenland way.  I had found my own kayaking niche, or so I thought…

The Taran

During one of our frequent visits to Anglesey, Sally my wife purchased an Alaw Bach from Mike Webb at Rockpool.  While at the factory with her I had noticed Tarans being built, but did not think about them any deeper than that.  However, bit by bit I was reading and hearing of ‘daring do’ trips achieved in these boats, which reminded me of my original kayaking inspiration of the Kiwis circumnavigating Kefalonia.

A demo paddle of both the Taran 18 and 16 followed and I found them both to be faster than my SKUK Romany, more demanding (I had one or two oops moments), but had a performance edge that generated a big smile.

Collecting my boat from Mike at Rockpool. Happy Days!

I paddle on the Norfolk Broads as well as the sea, so with this in mind I ordered a Taran 16 model – I felt it was more suited to the narrower inland waterways than the 18.  I collected it from Rockpool in May 2014 on my 67th birthday.

In use, the oops moments very quickly disappeared and the boats performance and feel was encouraging me to extend my skills.  My rolling improved, as did my general Greenland skills.  It was fun doing speedy curves with elbow submerged and shoulder just skimming the water.  And yet… nag, nag, nag.  The Taran seemed to be saying this Greenland stuff is all very showy but what we should be doing is putting the County of Norfolk on the Performance Sea Kayak (PSK) map, by doing some proper paddling in the form of a time-trial.  Reluctantly giving in to this nagging feeling I found myself buying a set of wing paddles and training with the racers at my local paddle club in Norwich (Broadland Paddlesport).

Scolt Head Island
Scolt Head Island

Norfolk has miles of sandy beaches, but from a kayaking point of view when paddling offshore it can all look rather bland.  However, move up to North Norfolk and things change; creeks, estuaries, inlets and harbours become a frequent feature.  One location in particular was of interest to me, Scolt Head Island, a barrier island between Brancaster and Wells next the Sea.

I have paddled this area many times before with friends and Sally, and was aware that you had to pay particular notice to the water depths in the creeks and channels. Scolt Head is approximately 11 miles to circumnavigate. It is open to the North Sea on one side and with creeks and a tidal channel on the other, separating it from Brancaster on the mainland.  It lends itself to be Norfolk’s perfect PSK time- trial course.  I would give it a go!

The Time Trial

On the day of the circumnavigation I gave myself plenty of faff time but still had a number of things to do with only 5 minutes to launch.  I had paddled the area before but this time I felt really ‘keyed up’, my nerves were jangling – it was the time-trial affect hitting me hard.
At the appointed time I sped off through the breaking surf like an arrow and then noticed I had neglected to turn on my GPS unit, essential for registering the journey with PSK.

Paddling back to the start point I waited impatiently and after what seemed like an age for the unit to find a satellite signal I was at last able to restart.  The first 900 meters provided a slightly troublesome beam sea and wind but once I turned due east on the open sea I felt the advantage of both for 5 miles as they pushed me towards the entrance of Burnham Overy Harbour.

My Pet Dog!

I turned due west for the homeward leg, the water is shallow in this area and depending on the swell and wind direction it can give you a rough ride but on this occasion lovely rolling waves sped me through (it was at this time I noticed I was being escorted by a very large seal).
Once in the bay steering for the main channel and heading west a strong, energy sapping headwind slowed progress. The channel feeds into Brancaster Bay/Harbour, this wide open area, exposed to the wind, caused large waves to develop, breaking over the bow of the Taran.

On landing I remembered the GPS this time and pressed stop, allowing it to record the route before jumping out of the boat and doing a little dance of delight.

A guy walking on the beach came up to me and said “I saw you through my binoculars – where did your dog go?  He was swimming behind you”.  I had to explain it was a seal!

Finish Beach

Prior to this time-trial I hadn’t thought of myself as someone who would enjoy doing something like this.  Although I can become somewhat obsessed with gaining or improving my kayaking skills, such as rolling, I am not competitive and entered this rather reluctantly as it didn’t feel it was a natural thing for me to do.
But I loved it!

The key to the feeling of heightened awareness was the addition of the ticking clock, I could feel its presence and I am sure I heard it ticking on a few occasions, a bit like Captain Hook’s crocodile in Peter Pan!  It totally focused me on the movement of the boat, and the areas that were affecting my performance, such as changing wind conditions, navigation and my own actions and decisions.
The training and pre-planning of the tides etc. had come together.   It surprised me how competitive I had become and how enjoyable the experience was.  In one respect, the actual time recorded was irrelevant. It was the combination of the various factors that made up the time-trial that made it special for me.  It was about getting the best out of myself and the boat and felt really personal….  I was hooked.
The joy of kayaking for me remains with the Greenland skills but now I’ve added a new, equally as enjoyable, PSK aspect to my paddling.  I don’t view them as separate, it’s just what I do.

I am now planning to do a solo Wash crossing. This time-trial malarkey is addictive.

Frank Harradence – Feb 2016

Rest and Recovery

By John Willacy

Article aimed at higher national level canoe slalom competitors in relation to rest and recovery within a training programme.

As the race season draws closer, there is more time pressure on our paddlers – coaching weekends, training camps, and race weekends – and of course all the other non-canoeing things that take up time in our busy lives.

Racing and training at a high level is stressful, tiring and pressured. It is hard work, over a long term it can become very hard work. Therefore, we need to be very careful that we get enough time for rest and recovery. If we don’t then things go wrong – they will, there are no exceptions to this. It is just a matter of time.

Therefore, with a busy period looming and in mind, here are a few thoughts from someone who has spent more than 3 decades walking the tightrope between doing too much and too little.

Rest is like training; to do us any good it needs to be regular, frequent and quality. We need a rest day in every training block (each week for most people). Therefore, that means a training-day off each week.

To explain a little further:

Rest Days

A rest day is one away from the stress, pressures and challenge of not only training but pretty much everything else. That means an indulgent day of me-time – little else. You should finish the day feeling refreshed, perhaps slightly bored, ‘bouncing off the walls’ and wanting to go out to do a sess at 10 o’clock at night. Watch a film, read a book, do your knitting, take the dog for a walk, play computer games – whatever, as long as it takes you away into your own little world – something you enjoy.

You have to be practical, if you are at school or college for five days a week you are going to do your quality training at the weekend likely. So the rest day may best fit in during the week. That means a day where you don’t go training, where you don’t do much of anything ‘structured’ outside of school/college. You just have a night off and chill.

Hopefully this can combine with the easiest day of your week. Alternatively, Mondays may be useful to give a rest to follow a race or training weekend. If you are training daily and have a free weekend, then a complete day off is a good option.

You have to be practical, but rest has to fit in somewhere.

  • Thou shalt not train on a rest day!
  • Do no activity that leaves you stressed, tired or feeling ‘too busy’.
  • Travelling is not rest
  • Rest days should be a relaxing treat, a reward for all your work and something to look forward to.
  • A rest day each training week
  • You should be ready to train with quality again after a good rest day
  • Skimp on rest days and things will go wrong

Recovery Days

A recovery day is a day slotted into a training block/programme to break/recover from a specific high intensity part of the training programme, whilst still allowing some form of training benefit. For example: Serious slalom boat training on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday may be split by a steady bike ride or long run on Wednesday say. This would allow the slalom specific areas of the body to recover/repair damage, whilst still giving an aerobic training benefit as a whole. It also allows a mental break from the pressure of focussed and repetitive areas of training.

Recovery Days may also take a similar form to training days but may be at a lower intensity or have a ‘more fun’ aim to them. i.e. a session of just wave play rather than intense gates, or a one-sess day of a 45 min sess of 15 sec courses with long rest. It still has a useful training aspect without the intensity/fatigue loading.

So – Recovery days:

  • Break intense periods of training
  • Can allow some training benefit
  • Reduce mental pressure
  • Allow/help the body to repair
  • Extends training programme quality

…but we have a busy schedule

…but we have races

…but we have training camps

…but we have studies

…but we have exams

…but we have work

Everyone’s life is busy. However, training pressure builds on top and exaggerates life pressure – significantly.

You need the rest days, if they do not fit in then something has to give – that may even be training. You have to fit the rest days in – if you don’t you will lose out in the long run.

The body and mind can be pushed hard and for an extended period – BUT there will be a price to pay. The harder the push, the bigger the debt.


  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of performance/ability
  • Clumsiness
  • Excuses not to train
  • Grumpiness
  • Tiredness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest

If the paddler doesn’t want to train today, they can’t be bothered, then the first thing to look at is the sleep pattern for the previous few days. If a paddler is tired then they won’t feel like training. A good night’s sleep should sort this; perhaps ease the training and life a little too.

If it becomes a longer-term feature/pattern, then over-training is the next thing (and a very important) thing to consider. The phrase ‘Over-training’ doesn’t tell the full story. It comes about less from doing too much training and more because of not resting/recovering enough from the training you are doing.

You can move into over-training very quickly but it takes a long time – weeks and months (possibly even years) to get back. You are unlikely to lose much race performance by missing the odd training session or even training day, but doing just a few days too much can push you into a period of poor performance or even completing cessation of training that may last weeks or months…

John Willacy

Jan 2018

Tapering and Peaking

By John Willacy

Article aimed at higher national level canoe slalom competitors preparing for a specific race.

Tapering and Peaking are fairly straightforward training concepts for aiming to bring about a high level performance at a specific race.

They are not complicated ideas, but can be tricky to time accurately and are often misunderstood.

The thoughts below are based on personal experience and are aimed at paddlers who are training on a daily basis. Adjust them accordingly to match your own training programme.

As every paddler, and every training programme is different, there is no specific must-do-it-this-way method. The individual paddler must learn what works best for them and their circumstances – everybody is different.


Basically an easing-off of the training load in the short-term run-up to an event. The aim is to arrive at the race feeling well rested, fit and relaxed, rather than feeling below-par from the ‘grind’ of heavy training.

For a daily-training paddler, aiming for a weekend race:

Monday: The last hard training day would probably be around the Monday prior to the race weekend, possibly the Tuesday.

Tuesday: A day to train realistically/usefully, but not too hard.

Wednesday:  An easier day, and the last day that any real form of intense lactic training would take place.

Thursday/Friday: Easy training days with relaxed and short sessions. Easy speed work, fun technique etc. A feel-good sess – nothing confidence challenging or physically tiring.

Use one of these days as a rest day/active recovery. Convention would say Friday; however  there’s something in taking a rest on Thursday (for a Saturday race) and then an easy ‘shakedown’ sess on Friday. Bear in mind that travelling is not resting – so if you are travelling Friday you may be better with resting Thursday and paddling Friday before or after the journey.

If you are a 2 session-per day paddler, then taper week would look something like this:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
2 sessions 1 or 2 sessions 1 session Rest or 1 easy sess Rest or 1 easy sess RACE
Last hard day Standard Day Easing off – No Lactic beyond here One of these 2 days should be a rest day Feel Good


Pro’s and Con’s with Tapering


It’s fairly easy to do. Just don’t train so hard as the race gets closer.

If you get it right you should reach race day feeling good, and confident that you have control of your training.


Life get’s in the way of Tapering. If you are racing at ‘Tully say and ‘Tully time is rare because it is a long way from home, then you probably want to get as much time on the water as possible in the final days before the race. That contradicts the idea of the Taper. You cannot have both – you have to make a choice or a compromise. In the week before a race, you are usually more at risk from doing too much rather than too little. Beware of training camps linked to races. (In an ideal world – the best option would be to visit ‘Tully a month or more earlier for training.)

Tapering can get in the way of training. If you have a series of say 3 consecutive race weekends and you taper for each one, then you can lose a chunk of training by the end of the series. Again you can’t have it both ways.

Tapering is not too complicated – train well and then just don’t do too much in the last week. Simple.


Peaking is working a detailed and structured training programme aimed specifically to achieve the best performance on a specified day/race.  Peaking can be broken down to two areas.

  • Long-term cycle.
  • Short-term cycle.

The Long-Term cycle is beyond the scope of this article but is basically the detailed long-term training programme that a paddler would follow to work up to a specific race, such as Senior Selection or major International races. This programme could be a year long, probably two. This is working towards the Peak.

The Short-term cycle is the training programme followed in the immediate weeks running up to the race – probably the last 2 or 3, maybe the last month. This is inducing the Peak.

Following structured training, you basically increase the quality, intensity and workload within the last 2 – 3 weeks. There are no distractions, life revolves around quality training and resting. Not much more.

For me I aim to train quality for the last 4-6 months and as I enter the month before the event I start to ramp things up – lifting the training load, ensure quality and a good focus.

  • At 4 weeks to go – start to lift the load.
  • 3 weeks to go – pushing hard by the end of the week.
  • 2 weeks to go – pushing very hard now – by the end of the week I feel pretty close to over-doing it.
  • Final week – hit the taper, and ease off sharply. Make sure not to do too much.

The idea is really a glorified taper, using the focussed training as a launch pad.

There is also an added physical factor. If you get the training ramp correct in the last few weeks, you’re body will over-compensate for the hard training, increasing strength and fitness. It ‘thinks’ that the high load will continue and over-compensates for this. Then if you get the taper correct you will have the best of both worlds: the prime fitness of the peak, combined with the recovery of the taper. Bonus!

Black Magic

The trick is getting the timing correct, especially of the taper. This is the ‘black magic’ side of peaking – it can be tricky. A day or two late (or early) and all that effort counts for little.

Pro’s and Con’s of the Peak


Get it right and you are flying.


Get it wrong and you are flying on the wrong day (or just plain old tired).

It’s intense. It takes a lot of work.

You can only do 1 or 2 serious peaks per year. (You can work numerous ‘mini-peaks’ through a season though, however the more you do the less benefit you get from each one. And eventually you will have to pay your debts on that intense training.

Need to prioritise races.

After a peak there may be a significant drop off in short-term performance.


You can’t perform perfectly at all races, especially if they are close together in a series. So bear this in mind if you are planning to use a taper or mini-peaks. You give them all your best shot, but you have to be realistic.

Simplistic Summary

Taper – Tapering is not too complicated – train well and then just don’t do too much in the last week.

Peaking – train hard and structured for a specific race. Ramp it up harder with 3 weeks to go and then taper in the last week. Needs practice to get the intensity/timing correct.


John Willacy

Feb 2018



Winter Training – Effective Warm-Ups

By John Willacy

In the moderate climate of the UK, paddling and training throughout the winter is reasonably straightforward. That said, the weather can still make things a challenge or on some days downright uncomfortable.

The trick to paddling through the winter is to get warm and stay warm; training performance will be enhanced and the whole affair can be more appealing. It’s so obvious, eh?

Like so many areas of paddling and training it’s not really rocket science, but a little thought and consideration goes a long way. Sometimes we need a little reminder of what we can do to make life better for ourselves.


    • Get warm, stay warm – once you are warm you are likely to stay warm for the session, even in pretty poor conditions.
    • Have a structured and practiced warm-up routine, something that’s familiar and efficient. This may be as simple as 10 mins of steady paddling, or may incorporate sprints, a technical focus, flexibility exercises and so on. Find what works best for you and develop it into a regular routine.
    • Minimise the chat – just because the spraydeck is on it doesn’t mean you are getting warm, the least you have to do is get moving! And if you can easily chat during your warm-up paddling then you may need to lift the pace a little too. However you don’t need to go mad; suddenly going off and paddling at top speed isn’t the best way of going about things either. Warm-up at a useful intensity – get moving, keep moving.
    • Get your hands warm. Use pogies or gloves/mitts. If you are blowing on your hands, sticking them under your armpits or in your pockets, then you need to get your pogies on. Even if the weather doesn’t seem too bad, putting your pogies on will speed the warm-up along. Once you are warm, take them off and stick them in a hatch, cockpit or pocket for the session.
    • Wind and rain have a greater cooling effect than just low temperatures. Protect your hands and try to warm up out of the wind. If this is not possible then run downwind or crosswind to minimise cooling effects.


    • Start at home – get thinking of the session, this wakes the body and mind. It also minimises time wasted later sitting around on the water or standing in a cold car park, trying to plan what to do – think ahead.
    • Change into base-layer paddling kit before you leave home. You can arrive warm and then just throw the waterproof layer on before getting on. You are also less likely to forget your favourite fleece or those crucial thermal knickers if you are already wearing them.
    • Consider a short run, or fast walk before getting on to help get the blood flowing – or even just take the boats off a little more briskly! Don’t hang around.


    • 10 min overheat – once you start exercising, the body temperature starts to rise, but it takes a little while for the cooling side to catch up. After 10 mins or so you may well feel too warm. Be patient, don’t re-arrange any clothing yet. After 15-20 mins everything should settle down to a steady temperature. Now is the time to remove clothing if you still feel too warm.
    • Stay Warm – keep moving between intervals. Again, minimise the chat. It only takes 2-3 mins stopped to feel the chill – it takes 4-5 times that to get warm again.
    • Work in areas out of the wind if you can.


    • Gloves v Pogies – that’s up to you. Some don’t like pogies, feeling that they are too restrictive. I don’t have a problem with that personally. Get a decent set of pogies – your hands are completely removed from weather and water, in a way that open palm gloves don’t do. Pogies also give you full contact with paddle shaft. Gloves tend to isolate each digit, whereas pogies allow each digit to warm the others – bonus!
    • Pogies – keep them simple and lightweight. They are there to help speed up your warm-up and keep the wind off during the session on the coldest of days. Warmth comes from making the blood flow.  Simple pogies designed for marathon racing work best for training sessions. Pogies are so essential in winter that I keep a spare (old) pair in the car just in case.
    • Fleece lined – too warm and too heavy when wet.
    • Neoprene – good for lowest temperatures and strong winds. Can be heavy when wet . Thin neoprene can be a little clumsy.
    • Nylon – simple and easy. Lightweight, but may not be warm enough in arctic conditions.
    • Keep them short – they only need be long enough to cover the bare skin of hands and wrists, up to the cag cuff.  Longer just means more weight on your paddles and more material to get in the way.

    • Clothing – Dress for safety, effective training and comfort.
    • Dress for the weather – use thicker fleece layers for wind/rain. Multiple thin layers for fast /short work on still-air days.
    • Dress to match the activity – a dry-suit may be the order of the day for winter open water paddling but it may be overkill for a high-intensity interval session in sheltered water, dump it for a lighter cag perhaps?
    • Dress for the training area not the changing area. Just because you change in a warm clubhouse or a sunny car-park, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is like that – dress for the windy and exposed place you are going to train in.
    • Don’t overdress – if you sweat a lot early on this will over-cool later.

A few simple, common-sense measures can make winter training much more useful, and helps you face the challenge.

John Willacy
Nov 2016