Racing - Pacing Downstream & Upstream


Question on K1/flat water racing.

I come from a cycling background where you pace the effort:

  • Downhill / Tailwind - Hold something back
  • Hills/Headwind - Full Gas

Does the same apply when going downstream and the coming back (for example in a TT). Do you hold something when going downstream? Then use up more energy coming back against the water?

Sorry if this is a dumb question!


I raced bikes for a long time as well before switching to kayaks.
I don’t think you’d see any real benefit to ramping up your pace dependent on current.
Although the exception may depend on how long you’ll be going through it.

For example, if you have a down and back, with one way against current and the other with it, you’d likely be better finding your optimal power output and staying in that zone with maybe a few tactical intervals thrown in (especially if you have wash riders) .

But if you’ll be crossing a relatively short section, or cornering you’ll want to “hit the gas” to get through it and maybe put a little distance between you and your followers, or at least minimize your losses.

The way this game differs from cycling (especially road) is that it’s all about carrying momentum. You wont be able to take a massive flyer or go an a magnificent attack and drop everyone.

It’s a game of inches and decimals.

So a pretty substantial speed jump might be 7.2 mph up to 7.6
–not really an earth shattering difference like cycling.

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I always worked for a consistent stroke and cadence.

The most important thing about going upstream is learning to read the water. If you stay out of the middle of the current you can go upstream faster, most of the time.

Everything about going upstream is a most of the time thing, learn the tell-tales and you won’t be fighting upstream.

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I was 1.5 mph slower going back up the river! :joy:

I do try and stay close to the bank to help.

You can’t just decide to stay close to the bank when going back against the current. You also have to factor in the depth of the water when running close to shore, also eddies where you hide from the main downstream flow and you can use the current that is flowing back upstream in eddies to pick up extra speed.

Not a racer but it seems like best pacing is the same on a round-trip river run as on flat water the same total distance. Say you have a good pace for 20 miles on flat water. The same pace should work on a 10 mile each way river run. Biggest difference is the river can take longer due to steering around bends and downed trees, and its harder to know where your halfway point is - its after the turnaround if you go downstream first, before the turnaround if you go upstream first.

Actually, thinking about it more during today’s paddle, 20 miles of flat water is not equivalent to 10 miles each way on a river. I was wrong. Here’s why.

Imagine for the sake of easy math that you are paddling 2 mph on a river with a 1 mph current. Suppose you paddle a mile upstream and then return. Your ground distance is 2 miles but you will take longer than an hour. Paddling 2 mph upstream against the 1 mph flow, your ground speed is 1 mph so that leg alone takes an hour. Paddling back your ground speed is 3 mph so that takes an additional 20 minutes.

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