Distance training

-- Last Updated: May-10-15 9:24 AM EST --

According to posts in the archives, as well as at the WT site, it's suggested that long slow distance paddling is a beneficial training method.

Problem is that no one defines "slow." What speed is considered slow (in terms of MPH)?


The trouble with defining "slow"
It depends on your boat, not just your physical effort.

The slowness might be best measured by what is fairly easy for you to sustain for a few hours, maybe gauged by heart rate. I never raced kayaks, but using this rough rule worked pretty well when I was getting into bike racing condition in late winter and early spring. The idea was to give the joints and muscles a chance to become used to the motion before going hard enough to push cardio hard: base miles.

able to hold a conversation
When I was racing bikes, the slow days were at a pace where you could comfortabky hold a conversation. Perhaps the same?

Then again, any paddling, whether fast or slow, will benefit fitness.

Depends on the motor and also…
the boat.

For me training for a long distance race is aiming for about 5 MPH, but you can’t just go out and do that. You need to work your way up in mileage.

The “slow” just means that you are not paddling at race pace.

Jack L

How long?
Training for 20 miles pacing is much different than 64+ miles.

You getting ready for the Blackbeard Challenge?

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY



LSD training
LSD, long slow distance paddles (building endurance) are often done in “zone 1” (usually described as about 60-80% of your Max HR). This intensity can feel very easy and you should be able to talk normally. This is a rough gauge that you are staying aerobic.

You should build up your distance slowly, to avoid injury. If you are paddling, say 30 miles (my normal LSD distance for training for the Everglades Challenge), you will be tired when done, even at a modest pace, so you don’t want to overdo it and injure yourself. Speed will depend on your boat, your fitness and conditions. I average about 5.5mph in an 18X for my LSD day and try to avoid any high-intensity sprints, etc, on that day.

If you paddle with some very accomplished racers you might be surprised just how slow their slow is for a “LSD” paddle. A classic rookie mistake is going too hard on “slow/easy” days and too slow/easy on their hard days.

Get a heart rate monitor and study some of the popular books on the subject and you will bet a better idea of speed and effort and how it relates to target heart rate, tempo training, high-intensity training, lactate threshold and more. “Canoe Racing” by Peter Heed and Dick Mansfield is a bit dated but is one of my favorite books on the subject (even for kayakers).

Greg Stamer

45 stroke rate per minute is s l o w compared to 60-90 race pace.

think of it this way
Two variable problem. Paddling speed or effort and distance or time paddling. Adjust each one according.

conversational pace
as others have said or, another XC skier method is breathing through your nose. If you can’t get enough oxygen through your nose you are going too hard for endurance.

LSD and Speed
I remember reading an article about one of the RAAM winners (Race Across America bicycling endurance thing). I think it was Pete Penseyres. He used to do pretty well at RAAM doing LSD training. Then he started club riding with the locals at a more ‘spirited’ pace. Afterward his average speed at RAAM went up something like 2 mph. A huge jump. LSD has its place but if you want speed you need to speed.

80/20 rule
A good rule is 80% of your volume should be easy pace.

20% hard.

If you want to know whats easy or hard, use heart rate. For me I do much of my paddling at easy pace around 130 beats per minute. average around 6.5 mph depending on wind.

my weekly hard effort is a wednesday time trial of 30 mins at race effort with hr in the mid 170’s.

My race on Sat was 12 miles at 170 bpm.

If you do start using heart rate ignore all the formulas that tell you your max. Figure out race pace and heart rate with a weekly or biweekly 30 time trial. Average the last half of the TT and train 20-40 beats below that heart rate or 0-10 beats above it.

I work at arm exercises with wrist grips, wrist weights, broom/rope/weight roller…strengthen the glenohumerous, wrist, fingers. elbow.

Situps and crunches, full set of stretches.

Knocking out 25 miles at 5+ mph only mildly physically destructive at 70 in selected areas this time right deltoid.


Other long distance issues
There are plenty of other issues with long distance training. I’ve paddled the Yukon River Quest (~440 miles) and the Yukon 1000 mile race, twice on each (and I’m not done yet). The mandatory first rest stop on the YRQ occurs at about 21 hours of continuous paddling for us. The Y1K goes for 6 days of exactly 18 hours per day, the maximum allowed by the rules. So that is what we train for.

Our Yukon voyageur canoe training in the Adirondack region begins the summer prior, and continues until blocked by ice. During the cold months it is up to the individual, usually with a mix of paddling machine, XC skiing, and weights, whatever else works. Back into the spring ice out season, we paddle together in the voyageur canoe or otherwise individually with a 500 mile cumulative total minimum goal for each individual.

We have a 44 mile training route, another at 35 miles, and several local short-medium length races that we each enter, either as a full voyageur team or individually. When training long distances in the voyageur, we paddle at a normal 50-55 spm rate, interspersed with 2 minute 70 (estimated) spm sprints followed by a 2 minute regular rate, in sets of 5 or 10.

But that is not the full story. Since the Yukon races involve paddling at “night” (there is no night up there) when your body clock tells you to sleep, we train at home early and late. We paddle the unofficial Adirondack Cannonball-90 all in one continuous 19 hour shot, beginning at midnight, in contrast to the official 90 mile 3 day staged race.

Other very important considerations… when do you eat, what do you eat, what and how frequent are snacks vs heftier meals while paddling underway for 18 hours a day for a week? How much do you drink, what do you drink, and do you carry it all or how do you resupply water, from what source, how to purify? How do you handle bio breaks? What do you wear, what extra clothing do you take for weather changes or mishaps, and for night vs day? We train in calm rivers and in big lakes with rough water with wind and waves. We get to sample all of that on the mighty Yukon.


When I think of distance training I think of conditioning, things like you mentioned, for an endurance race or expedition.


– Last Updated: May-04-15 9:12 PM EST –

satisfied with your training schedule for the Yukon race or if time before would allow more training, how would you do that ?

Given the training now, when do you tire on the Yukon ?

In bicycling, training at 50 miles gives maybe 75 miles of GO before you tire. This is common for a wide spectrum of athletes....the training mileage should be at or above the race or trip mileage. For many of us, we run out of spare time for training.

There was a long time ago a spat about who what in The Race Across America. A Rodale Road Cycling book accounts the winner's training at every day back and forth to work at 100+, 200 on Saturdays and a fast 150 on Sunday, After dinner he would enter the evenings local race at 76+ miles.

Something like that

He won.

It’s a personal challenge

– Last Updated: May-04-15 11:09 PM EST –

Wow. Appreciate all the feedback. Lots of good information and things to think about.

First, I'm not interested in racing and while I have great admiration for the WT events , I would never pretend to have the skills needed for the Blackbeard Challenge or any Tribe event. Maybe someday, but certainly not now. Besides, I’d need a longer kayak.

While I’ve gotten off to a better start this spring compared to the end of last summer (probably thanks to doing a lot of core work, cardio and weights over the winter, plus a new boat and paddle), increasing endurance and distance are personal goals for two reasons: 1) building those skills because I think they're important and 2) I registered for a 23-mile segment of the coastal paddle relay around Lake Michigan in July. I'd like to easily complete it and continue the next day for another 22 miles. It's not a race, but I don't want to be at the back of the pack. Easy peasy for all you experienced paddlers, but new territory for me.

Thanks very much, Greg, for making the LSD premise a lot easier to wrap my head around. I had been thinking MPH, not heart rate. Gave it a try after work - could only get in an hour, but it was an easy hour of nonstop paddling, always comfortable except for a period of dealing with a gusty head wind, a wet ride and a higher heart rate. But that was on an inland lake - Lake Michigan is still an icy 34F so I can't practice there till probably June at the earliest. I like the idea of a heart rate monitor and the book sounds more positive than what I'm reading now (the "Deep Trouble" books).

Also like the idea of intervals on the water. I do interval training while walking and it's been a positive experience.

All the good advice is much appreciated. Maybe with some hard work, I'll be able to keep up with the guys in surfskis.

Yukon training
Getting to the YRQ means leaving home in mid-June. Given that ice-out around here isn’t until late April, I would like to have more time to train on water. After ice out I take my solo canoe to work and put in a couple of hours on a lake on the way home. I try to do that at least 3 times a week, plus whatever the team can do together on weekends. When I can’t paddle outside, I spend 90 minutes on a paddling machine, trying for 3 times a week until later in the season when I increase to 5 times a week if I can’t otherwise paddle outside. I like to pass the time to memorize the route while Google Earth “flies” my GPS path on the river viewed on a wide screen monitor.

The Y1K is in late July, so the extra month of outdoor paddling makes a huge difference in training and fitness schedule.

I don’t know how to answer the question of when do I tire on the Yukon. The YRQ and the Y1K are quite different races, even thought the first half of the Y1K is the same water as the YRQ. If properly trained, becoming “tired” is mostly a factor of your body clock. You tend to go through a low period when you have to concentrate more to maintain pace between 1:00 and 4:00 AM, but then as the sun rises higher you become rejuvenated. But it actually seems possible to nearly go to sleep while still paddling, to zone out anyway for a few minutes. Not counting timeout for a mandatory 7-hour stop at 190 miles (for sleep, pit crew rub down, and hot food), and another 3-hour stop at 350 miles (a sandwich, no pit crew, and little to no sleep in open air with tons of mosquitoes), we finish the YRQ in about 42 hours of paddling.

The Y1K is much different. Given mostly good weather, it takes us just over 6 days, others may take as much as 10 days. it could be longer with prolonged wind or storms that can occur. With no pit crew support allowed, there is much camping gear and food to carry, along with mandatory safety items. We are only allowed to paddle for 18 hours a day before a rest to camp where ever we happen to be, likely on some gravel shoal. Turns out that after about 2 and a half days I get in the groove so to speak, muscles loosen, and becoming 'tired" is not really any factor. Others feel the same. Of course after 18 long hours everyone is ready to quite for the day and set up camp, but can’t really pinpoint a time during the day when being tired is meaningful.

Distance Training Today
Is quite similar to sprint training. The differences are rather slight, and the days of long slow marathon sessions, out on the water, have given way to shorter and higher intensity sessions. With this in mind, do “Google” and read THE BARTON MOLD and adjust your training accordingly to your needs. Yes, it is pretty old stuff, but more than 90% of it is still applicable today.

get some seat time

– Last Updated: May-05-15 9:17 AM EST –

I don't mean that the way it sounds, I'm sure you already have had some seat time, I'm talking about extended seat time. I doubt the relay will have a swift pace, the V7 is new and geared toward beginners. Many paddlers will have never paddled a ski before.

I can tell you from experience that 22 miles feels a lot shorter when you're paddling with acquaintances and at a relaxed pace, than when you're in a competitive event or trying to beat the next storm to maintain your camp itinerary. If you know any other paddlers, get out for some day-long paddles in calm conditions.

Years ago I paddled in a two-day fundraising event, I forget the distance but I'm guessing about 40 miles. I was impressed with how easy it seemed compared to some slogs I've had to make on trips. But then I realized I had an empty boat, was moving at a relaxed pace and schedule, and had the luxury of social interaction. I think if you put in some long relaxed tours you'll be fine.