From The Yukon News , August 4th, 1999

Slow and easy does in river race

by Yvonne Harris
Special to the News


Did you follow the accounts in the local media about the recent 1999 Yukon River Quest marathon race?

The two competitors who placed third overall in this gruelling 736-kilometre race between Whitehorse and Dawson City were locals, Mike Onesi and Jason Murphy of Whitehorse.

This team kept up with the lead pack of canoeists and shared the podium with Solomon Carriere, one of the top-ranked marathon canoe racers in North America.

However, the bronze medal captured by one of our local sports reporters and his stalwart partner came at the cost of injured muscles, blisters and stomach illness.

I have been told by a member of this team that the glory of the third-place purse was well worth the suffering.

After hearing the accounts of the pain and discomfort endured by the Onesi/Murphy team, and a number of other competitors in the 1999 marathon canoe race, I felt compelled to tell readers and future Quest participants there is another perspective on long-distance canoe racing.

The approach my partner and I took is more sensible, and quite frankly, much more fun.

I did not have any blisters or muscle strain, and definitely no permanently torn rotator cuff muscles.

My partner Lynn Meehan and I never felt heat stroke or threw up, and at the layover and the finish line, we were able to get out of our boat without falling on our faces.

While we did not keep up with the lead pack, I was happy to be able to paddle over 240 kilometres a day and finish looking cool and healthy.

Our experience was in contrast to several teams - yes, they were men's teams - who landed at the finish in Dawson City looking like they had crawled across the Sahara Desert on their knees, without aid of food, water, or lip gloss.

Several strong teams in the Yukon River Quest were afflicted by muscle tears, exhaustion or heat stroke.

As a result, the attrition rate for this race was quite high with four out of the 16 teams scratching.

There is another way. Future participants in the race should take some time to learn marathon paddling from an experienced marathon racer, or if that is not possible, study the technique by reading or viewing videos on marathon racing.

Most important - do not wait until next spring and try and cram all your training into the few weeks before the June race.

Practice on the water and go on a few long-distance training sessions this season and spend the winter cross-training in an aerobic sport or working out at the gym.

Prospective marathon racers should also consider a number of other tricks and tips on organization, gear and equipment from the master in this sport, Solomon Carriere, who has 25 years of racing experience.

This year, Whitehorse paddlers had an opportunity to learn from a couple of experts in marathon technique.

Carriere gave a two-day clinic in early June and Sue Bornemisza, a Calgary marathon racer, offered several sessions on paddling technique in July.

The instructions were sponsored by the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club. I will try to summarize the main points they passed on to their students.

The basic principle of marathon canoeing technique is to avoid using correction strokes. Both paddlers use only forward strokes and keep the canoe on course by switching sides.

If you watch an experienced team on the water, the boat will glide by silently and smoothly.

The paddle goes into the water vertically without splashing and the only sound you hear is the stern paddler calling "hut" every four or five strokes to signal the bow paddler to switch the paddle to the other side.

The course is maintained by anticipating when the boat will start to turn. By switching before the canoe turns, expert teams maintain the canoe on course with no weaving back and forth.

The canoe planes up on the water, straight as an arrow, and almost as fast. It is simple, smooth, and fluid, and without putting strain on your back muscles.

It is beautiful to see an expert marathon team go by effortlessly, as if there were a hidden power source driving the boat.

Turns are executed using the slightest sweep of the paddle, or with both the stern and bow persons paddling on the same side and leaning slightly to the outside of the turn.

In sharp turns, the bow person helps the boat turn quickly by switching the paddle to the other side and using the blade as a rudder.

This brings the canoe sweeping around at high speeds, a technique not unlike a downhill skier carving the turns instead of cranking them out.

Technique is not the only factor to consider in making a long-distance canoe race pleasant and injury free.

Your selection of boat, paddles and spray deck and the organization of your canoe and the supplies you bring all affect your efficiency in a marathon event.

The Quest canoe marathon is much like the Quest dogsled race where factors like athletic fitness, skill at the sport, equipment and organization all combine to make a successful competitor.

My problem on canoe trips is that I take far too much food and gear.

I fell into this trap when preparing for the 1997 and 1998 1,000-kilometre Dyea to Dawson races as well as this year's Quest.

However, I will take only basic food and gear for the next marathon race.

Even the weight of water was a factor in our team's efficiency. We carried eight litres each, enough water to take us to the next supply point.

However, this added about nine kilos, making our heavy boat even slower. Solomon and his partner, Jim Lokken, dipped water from the lake or river, settled the water in the boat, or used a filter.

Going light has its risks, so teams are advised to take enough warm clothing, a space blanket and fire starter in case of emergencies.

The first leg of the Yukon River Quest includes 54 kilometres on Lake Laberge, a stretch of water that is infamous for kicking into high waves with little notice.

Unless you are experts at riding three- meter waves you should be prepared to wait out the storm on the rocky shoreline.

The weight and design of your boat and the type of paddle are critical for this event.

William Kleedehn, the local dog musher who competed in the 1999 race, had to contend with a boat that was so inefficient that he must have felt like he was pushing a tank across Lake Laberge.

Despite the athletic fitness of this team, Kleedehn and his young partner from Germany were so slow on the river they could not overtake a solo tourist.

If you intend to race next year, look for a light-weight Kevlar canoe and an eight-ounce graphite paddle.

In order to be efficient during the race, teams need to spend some time organizing their canoe.

For the 1999 Yukon River Quest, I was fortunate to have the assistance of the first- place Yukon River Quest team of Solomon Carriere and Jim Lokken.

They outfitted my boat with containers to store medicine, sun screen, sunglasses and other items I would need frequently and Solomon glued extra Ensolite padding on my canoe seat so we would avoid abrasions.

I placed our food in plastic trays that could slide under our canoe seats, and we had small perforated baskets attached to the top of the spray deck where we could easily reach snacks.

The boat organization was designed so that everything we would need was within arm's reach.

Expert marathoners maintain a rate of approximately 60 strokes per minute in long-distance events.

The pace is maintained because getting the boat back up to cruising speed wastes energy.

Competitive teams take breaks to eat or nap, but one person always continues to paddle.

Several of the top teams in the 1999 race never stopped paddling or put their feet on shore for over 30 hours.

Even our laid-back team occasionally made use of a marvelous bed pan, which we named "the instrument."

It was designed for the bed-ridden but was remarkably suitable for this event.

So just how fast were those top teams and how long did it take the last-place team that camped and enjoyed the journey?

Carriere and Lokken arrived first in Dawson City with a time on the water of 48 hours.

The first place women's team of Laura Cabbot and Danusia Kanachowski completed the race in 63 hours and the red lantern team finished in four days.

If you are considering the Millennium Yukon River Quest next June 21st, I recommend that you practice marathon technique this season and give some thought to buying that fast, light-weight boat.

Before racing from Whitehorse to Dawson City, you may want to participate in an upcoming 20-kilometre race.

The Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club is hosting a downriver race today at 6 p.m., from Whitehorse to the Takhini River Bridge.

For more information, call the Quest office at 668-4711 about the Millennium Yukon River Quest or the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club at 668-7874 for the downriver race.


1999 The Yukon News

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