Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Laser sailors have stamina.

You need to be fit to race Lasers well. As I mentioned in Work, in moderate to strong winds the harder you work the faster you go. And to work hard for six, eight or ten mile-long beats in a day, you need stamina.

Stamina, or the lack of it, is my Achilles heel. My ability to race hard all day is not what it was 25 years ago. I'm an old dude now. I don't exercise as much as I should. I'm not as fit as I should be to race Lasers well.

I haven't raced in many regattas over the last couple of years. And I am signed up next month to race in the Laser Masters Worlds in England. Six days of racing in seven days. Up to twelve races in all. They say the winds will be strong.

I looked on the Buzzards Bay Regatta this year as practice -- and a bit of a test -- for England. Could I race hard for three consecutive days? Would I get tired and start to make stupid mistakes? Would I be totally shattered after each day? Would I have the stamina?

I had my doubts. My fitness program, such as it is, is mainly running. I had run a couple of half-marathons earlier in the year. But in the last few weeks I hadn't run much at all. First I was laid low by a vicious attack of the dreaded Man Cold. Then it was too damn hot to run much. I felt fat and lazy. I wasn't sure I had the stamina for BBR, let alone the Masters Worlds.

The first day of BBR was mainly a test of how many hours you could tolerate sitting around in 80+ degrees on a little fiberglass boat waiting for decent winds for racing. Quite tiring in its own way but hardly the challenge I was looking for.

Days two and three were the real thing. The classic Buzzards Bay breeze, 15-20 knots out of SSW. The RC gave us three leg windward-leeward courses. Two beats of about a mile or slightly less in each race. Four races on Saturday and three on Sunday. This was the test I was looking for. Would I have the stamina?

Yes and no.

The most common word I heard used by other sailors to describe the beats on Saturday and Sunday was "grind." They were hard work for sure.

My results on both days were very strange. Each day my finishes became progressively better as the day progressed. In the fifty boat fleet I finished in the 30's in the first race, mid 20's in the second, and around 20th in the third. How weird is that possum? What's going on?

I'm not sure. Maybe it took me a while to find my hiking groove? Maybe the winds were getting progressively stronger and that suited me better?

I think the best explanation is that I was subconsciously holding something in reserve in the first race, not going all out. Then I would work harder in the second race. And really put it all on the line in the third race. I've written before about how this trait is probably an unintended outcome of my running marathons a few years ago. Marathon running teaches you in the worst way imaginable that you had better start slow if you want to finish strong. It was certainly true that I was letting it all hang out on the final beat of the third race. And it worked. In the third race both days I was dueling with people I don't usually beat... and beating them.

Which brings me to the explanation of why I didn't sail the fourth race on Saturday. I could have done. I wasn't totally exhausted. But I felt like I had gone out to run a ten mile road race, pushed as hard as I could in the final mile, and finished in a time as well as I could have hoped for. Then someone invited me to run a three mile race just for fun. Right now. Ummm... no thanks.

I was sailing well in race three. I was in the groove. I was winning close battles. I was having fun. I felt that in a fourth race I would just be hacking round the course, not working as hard as I did in race three, not sailing particularly well. I have this theory that perfect practice makes for perfect execution. Practicing sailing badly is worse than not sailing at all. And BBR was really a practice regatta for the Worlds. So I called it a day after race three. Feel free to abuse me in the comments for wimping out.

Captain Judy said that I came in on Saturday with a big smile on my face. I probably did. I felt that I had raced as well as I possibly could. I had passed the test. I had raced the Buzzard.

So I discovered something about my stamina. I am fit enough to race six mile-long beats in a day. I am fit enough to race three days in a row. But I need to be fitter to be able to race four or five races in a day and not just three. I need to be fitter to race as hard in every race as I raced on the final beat of the third race on Saturday and Sunday. I need more stamina.

Stamina. How to get it. That could be the subject of several more posts.

Laser sailors, "Have stamina!"


Sam Chapin said...

Go and have a good time. If you get too tired, so you are dangerous to yourself or others or it just isn't fun any more, just sail in.

SoxSail said...

While I agree with Chapin, I think you are overestimating your competition, and possibly underestimating yourself. The other guys don't run half marathons and probably hit the wall after race 1.5. You might have been tired, and not raced as well in that 4th race, but I bet there would have been tons of others who would have done even worse. Not to mention automatically beating all the other guys who wimped out early. No disrespect, but I think you should have raced, and that you would have done well. Either way, more stamina can only help.

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