Ocean lifeguard, bad ass warrior, consummate waterwoman, prone padder. That’s Alice Henley.
We, at Standup Journal Online, are proud to present the 2018 Prone Perspective from the Graveyard Course at the Quiksilver Waterman Carolina Cup written by a gal who just finished the Boston Marathon on Monday and decided to use the Graveyard as a ‘mental strength training’ run for Molokai to Oahu later this year.
Strength, stamina, strategy: Welcome to the Prone Zone, by Alice Henley.
Boston Marathon to Carolina Cup, Graveyard: A prone paddler’s perspective
It was my second year competing in the Quicksilver Carolina Cup in beautiful Wrightsville Beach, and my second year of stacking it in between two marathons: Boston on Monday and Big Sur the following weekend.
I have to say I was hoping to catch a break after competing in less than ideal conditions. For the Boston Marathon, there were start line temps below thirty, wind gusts over 30 mph with sustained winds in the 20 mph range. Let’s not forget the consistent icy cold down pours that day in Massachusetts!
“As I checked the straps on my board and climbed into my car at 4AM on Friday to start the almost 12 hour drive, I questioned my resolve…and my sanity.”
When I got home to sunny Florida, I looked at the forecast for the Wrightsville Beach Carolina Cup and was less than thrilled with forecasted conditions. Predicted temperatures were in the 50s at best, and based on my research, North Carolina’s water temps had not yet peaked over 60 degrees. A bit much for this Florida girl!
Pre-game mental workout: To do or not do the Graveyard
As I checked the straps on my board and climbed into my car at 4AM on Friday to start the almost 12 hour drive, I questioned my resolve…and my sanity. I debated with myself until the Florida -Georgia line, arguing that I could still turn around if I were in the same state. Ultimately, I decided to buckle up and consider the Graveyard a “training race” for M2O.
I plan on doing Molokai solo this year. So, I reasoned with myself that I’d need some mental stamina in order to adequately prepare. Doing the 13 mile Graveyard course was- I suspected – way more fun than a solo training paddle anyways.
That settled it. “You’re doing it, ” I finally told myself as I hit the North Carolina border.
The Carolina Cup race morning broke and, when I stepped outside, all I felt was dread… it was coldddd!
“The full suit can be so restricting, but was it worth the gamble of hypothermia to wear the sleeveless?”
Prone planning for cold temps and ‘less than optimal’ conditions
I reassured myself that I had all I would need, debating between a full wetsuit and a sleeveless. The full suit can be so restricting, but was it worth the gamble of hypothermia to wear the sleeveless? I have not had any experience in cold water racing. Occasionally, we get air temps below 50 in south Florida, but we know the water will not be below 70.
Having just witnessed many friends drop out of Boston due to hypothermia, I decided to play it safe and wear the full wetsuit. Then, I changed my mind. And that started changing it back again about 347 times.
After consulting with fellow prone paddlers, and scoping out what other athletes were wearing, I decided on the sleeveless, but included booties and a beanie Some of this was stuff I had to buy in Boston: Score!
The stand up paddlers all seemed to be wearing much less, and although I know they are not IN the water as much as we are, I questioned their decisions! As it turns out, for many of them, it was a poor decision.
2018 Carolina Cup Graveyard: a prone paddler’s perspective
“I was cognizant of the fact that I might be freezing due to my wetsuit choice and wondered if it might set in within ten minutes or the next two hours?”
This years’ race ran South or clockwise in direction. This decision was good to take advantage of the north wind. I took a starting spot all the way north to give myself some room should I have an unplanned dismount. Rounding the first buoy I was a little behind because of my wide angle, but felt good about the position I was in and my overall line. I started to catch some great runners toward the jetty.
At this point I had to correct my line so as to not to get pushed too far in towards the jetty, since the wind had an easterly component as well. I was relieved once I got shot into the port and got up on my knees to catch a few runners, but promptly fell off my board.
“OK”, I thought, “That ocean leg is out of the way.” I was cognizant of the fact that I might be freezing due to my wetsuit choice and wondered if it might set in within ten minutes or the next two hours?
I pushed that thought out of my head and decided to push myself too. I began looking for other prone paddlers to pace with and eyeballed which pack of stand up paddlers had the correct line. Thanks for being my sight line guys!
“I began to question which line was better and dodged out of the way of oncoming sup draft trains.”
Coming into the backwater of the intercoastal waterway, I was filled with dread remembering the brutal grind and wind from last year. However, for whatever reason, I was pleasantly surprised that it moved so quickly. I worked to stay on the East side of the intercoastal in order to use the docks and buildings to shield from the wind. I noticed that a few paddlers opted for the center. I began to question which line was better and dodged out of the way of oncoming sup draft trains.
Rounding Money Island, the real prone race started to kick in. Positions were exchanged back and forth several times and it was a head wind grind. I struggled. I am stronger on my knees, but this is a disadvantage in the wind, so I had to really work on my pull and exert a ton of effort. As I neared the far turn for the Masonboro Inlet, relief and excitement took over for me, gratefully replacing the previous dread and grind. My feet were now numb, making the transition between my knees and belly a challenge as I usually use my toes to anchor.
“Positions were exchanged back and forth several times and it was a head wind grind.”
My hands were cold, but my arms were steady, and I began to feel like I’d make it.
The final inlet and 3 mile ocean leg is the part of the race I have heard so many people lament, especially within the stand up paddling crowd, but this was my strong point. Messy conditions is what I do for a living, and I find runs that might go in any direction liberating. I work as an ocean rescue lifeguard, so many of our workouts are spent fighting an ocean that has no rhyme or reason.
“My hands were cold, but my arms were steady, and I began to feel like I’d make it.”
In that dramatic leg one-mile leg up toward the Inlet, I could hear the ocean swells before I began to see them. It seemed there was white water everywhere! A ball of nerves formed in my stomach. I closely followed the line of stand up paddlers that cut through a small area where the ocean wasn’t breaking quite so severely.
Rounding the buoy at the top of the Inlet grind, I felt more confident to get back on my knees and catch those runs! Finally! Let’s go! I started flying, and I knew this was the home stretch. 3 miles to go. I looked at my watch knowing I’d finish well before my last year’s time.
Cold winds and hypothermia on the Graveyard’s final miles
It was then that I realized the stand up paddlers around me were having a lot of difficulty, many falling in wearing just shorts and a tank top. Each time, I hung back for moment to see if they got back up, because the lifeguard in me had to be sure.
“At one point I went flying down a wave and nearly hit a sea turtle before steering away”
I had to make adjustments as the pier came into view because I had a caught a few too many on the inside, but I didn’t care. It was finally fun!
At one point I went flying down a wave and nearly hit a sea turtle before steering away at the last second. I took this as a good omen since the Carolina Cup’s logo has a sea turtle on it!
Sliding into the finish at the 2018 Graveyard Course
“Hey where’s my hot chocolate?!”
At this point, I was a little unsure of where the finish buoy was. I believed it was closer inside than the pier. I was wrong.
I corrected once again when I saw it and headed back out to sea. Rounding that final buoy was a moment filled with triumph and relief. I sailed in but could not catch the bumps I wanted, lest I end up back at that first jetty. So I corrected until I had a stating line to the finish chute. I tried to hold back on the waves, so not to crash land my finish.
Arriving on the beach, standing up was an unpleasant surprise. My feet didn’t work. They were frozen solid! So, I dove back in for a moment. It gave me just enough thaw to stand up and run through the finish line where everyone was cheering.
Hey where’s my hot chocolate? A smile crept over my salty face as volunteers slid my sea turtle finisher medal over my neck.
I’m two for two on cold weather races this season, so I’ll be taking bets as to the weather for my next marathon. Tornado? Hail? Sand storm? Volcano? Earthquake?
Written by, Alice Henley
Prone Results: 2018 Carolina Cup
Prone 14′ Male (18-49 age group):
1st – BEN ROTH: 2:57:47
Prone Stock Female (18 -49 age group):
1st – ALICE HENLEY: 3:08:43
Prone Stock Female (50-59 age group):
2nd – KAREN FIGUEROA: 3:21:07
3rd – LORAINE GRUBER: 3:43:16
Prone Stock Male (18-49 age group):
1st – CHRIS AGUILAR: 3:08:46
Prone Unlimited Male (18 -49 age group):
1st – AJ DEFILIPPIS 2:33:13
2nd – JONNY SKOLNICK 2:44:36
3rd – ROB KAVCIC 2:56:31
4th – CHRIS CANNAVARO 3:03:10
Prone Unlimited Male (50 – 59 age group)
1st – JOE BARK 3:02:23
2nd – FRANK GODWIN 3:29:44