When an old friend of mine, Craig Sawyer, got in touch and said he would be interested in some personal training and a fitness programme to get in shape for a SUP race he was taking part in I was only too pleased to offer my services.
But it wasn't until a few minutes further into the conversation that I really understood quite what race he had in mind.
It turned out it was only the longest paddleboard and canoe race in the world! The Yukon 1000. As his paddling partner Skip says in the video above..."If you're gonna go big......"
As Craig continued to explain the task that laid before them I was in awe at just what an undertaking it was going to be. Equally jealous about the experience they would have and relieved he hadn't called up to ask me to join him, I set about learning just what the Yukon 1000 race involved.
The Yukon 1000
The race is a 1000 mile paddle from Whitehorse in Canada to Dalton that lies within the arctic circle of Alaska.
Forty teams of 2 people have a 10 day window in which to complete the paddle. From the moment they set off they are alone and have to carry everything needed for those 10 days with absolutely no support. Food, water, clothes, medical supplies, equipment, tents, bear repellents.........😬
Yes, quite an undertaking indeed.
I was so excited to be working on this with Craig. What an adventure.
We had a little over 9 months from when he asked me to race day, so it was a solid amount of time in which to really nail down the training. I knew Craigs strengths and weaknesses from previous training sessions and so set about creating a plan which would prepare him for this incredible challenge.
We broke the training down into 3 x 3 month training blocks
Block 1 = Base development. This involved establishing and then building on current levels of general fitness (running, cycling, rowing), gradually increasing time spent on the SUP and building all over strength in the gym with a mainly lower rep weights program.
Block 2 = Gaining specific muscle strength for Paddleboarding (shoulders, back and legs - see my blog post here), building very important core strength and really pushing the cardiovascular fitness (by training around the anaerobic threshold) through tough, more intense interval type sessions.
Block 3 = Upping the time spent on the SUP to target the endurance of the specific muscle groups needed, whilst maintaining the strength and power built up over the past 6 months by continuing with interval sessions (but at a reduced regularity) along with higher rep weight sessions.
The end of Block 3 and also the first couple of weeks in July before Craig flew out to Canada was to be used to fine tune things, focus on specific areas if needed and to gradually decrease the work load up to race day.
The bulk of the hard, intense work was going to be put in during Block 2 over the winter months and Craig applied himself magnificently to this.
Over the course of the 6 months from October - March Craig saw some fantastic results by working hard, being consistent with the programme and by dialing in his nutrition.
86kg body weight and 17% body fat down to 77.2kg body weight and 12.8% body fat
Increased SUP paddling time from a cramping 3 hours (see video!) to 9 hours (and only stopped because they ran out of river!)
Went from hating even a 5km run to hitting a 25km trail run!
Decreased 5km time from 27 minutes to 24 minutes
Decreased 10km time from 1hr to 52 minutes
Realising how vital getting the nutrition right for the 10 day race will be, Craig signed up for an Advanced Sports Nutrition Course from Barcelona University and has been diving in to his research with great relish (pardon the pun!).
Learning how the body uses food as fuel is important with an endurance race of this length as 18 hours of paddling a day will take a huge toll on the body. Craig and Skip have to carry all of the food supplies with them so getting the right balance of food to take is essential.
Becoming better adapted at using fat as a fuel source has become popular over the last few years in sports nutrition, especially with endurance athletes, and it is this that Craig wanted to learn more about.
Your body uses both carbohydrates (the glycogen stores in the muscles) and fat as its preferred fuel sources when engaging in aerobic activities.
Fat is used more readily at lower intensities whilst glycogen is preferred as the time spent exercising increases or the intensity levels rise. The trouble here is that glycogen stores can be depleted relatively quickly leaving the athlete tired, dizzy and even nauseous if levels drop low. This is whats known as 'hitting the wall' and has been felt by many first time marathon runners.
The average person can only store enough glycogen in their muscles for around 20 miles of running.
On the other hand the average person actually has enough fat stores to use as energy for over 100 miles of running.
So the theory goes that if you can adapt your body to utilising fat stores more efficiently you will delay the point at which your body swaps to using glycogen stores and hence the time it takes before your carbohydrate stores are depleted and you are fatigued.
Indeed a study here showed that adapting to a high-fat diet will teach your body to burn fat at much higher rates than typically observed. During a progressive treadmill test to exhaustion, a group of athletes on a high-fat diet (71% fat) were able to burn fat at a rate of 1.54 grams per minute compared to a maximum rate of 0.67 grams per minute in a high-carb group (28% fat).
The high-fat group also reached their maximal rate of fat burning at a higher relative intensity (70.25 percent of VO2 max) than the high-carb group (54.89 percent of VO2 max), which means they're able to run faster while still burning fat at a high rate rather than switching to their precious glycogen stores.
Craig has estimated they will need around 8000 calories a day for the race. This will still leave them in a small daily deficit but they also have to take into account how feasible it will be to eat 8000 calories a day whilst paddling.
Another important factor for Craig and why getting better at utilising fat could be so important is the relative weight of carrying all those calories they need for the 10 day trip. There is more energy in fat per gram of weight, so opting for a higher fat diet means carrying less weight overall.
1 gram of Carbohydrate provides 4 calories of energy.
1 gram of Protein provides 4 calories of energy
1 gram of Fat provides 9 calories of energy.
On a fairly standard diet of 60% carbs, 20% protein, 20% fat:
8000 calories =
4,800 cals from carbs
1,600 cals from protein
1,600 cals from fat
This equates to =
1,200g of carbs (4,800 cals divided by 4),
400g of protein (1,600 cals divided by 4)
177g of fat (1,600 cals divided by 9)
Total weight = 1,777g of food weight.
On a high fat race diet of 30% carbs, 10% protein, 60% fat:
8000 calories =
2,400 cals from carbs
800 cals from protein
4,800 cals from fat
This equates to =
600g of carbs (2,400 cals divided by 4),
200g of protein (800 cals divided by 4)
533g of fat (4,800 cals divided by 9)
Total weight = 1,333g of food weight.
If Craig can become more efficient at using fat as an energy source not only will he be able to paddle for longer without becoming fatigued and depleting his glycogen stores he will also have to carry about 25% less weight in food with him during the 10 day race. This equates to 4.5kg less.
Craig has only recently started adapting his diet but is already reporting back that his experiments with a higher fat content have definitely been proving beneficial so far.
Then April 2020 rolls around..............
And we all know what happened next. The world goes into lockdown.
It was inevitable with everything that was happening around the world that the Yukon 1000 in July was going to be postponed.
It was a hard pill for Craig to take after putting in so much hard work and really feeling that they were getting close to being ready for such an epic adventure.
With all race entries being carried over to next year and after the initial disappointment waned a little, Craig and Skip have now got all eyes on the next 12 months of training. And as they say in the video, with another 12 months of properly planned sessions under their belts they might not just be taking part but actually competing for finishing times too.
If you would like to follow Craig and Skip on their paddleboard training and Yukon 1000 prep head here....
For more information on the Yukon 1000 race check out their website: www.yukon1000.org
If you would like more information on fitness training for paddleboarding or any other boardsports then take a look around the rest of my website and drop me an email.