Race Preparation & Strategy with Grant Van Der Walt and Sean Rice

on Mar 27 in Racing, Sean Rice, Skis, Think, Training, Uncategorized, Uno Max by

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This article was first published on the North Coast Kayaks website, and Chris Laughlin has been kind enough to let me republish it here. It’s a fantastic insight from two of the fastest surfski paddlers in the world, Grant Van Der Walt and Sean Rice. I’m sure we can all learn a thing or two about preparation from it.




Sometimes the little things do matter. During the lead up to a race, a paddler’s focus is generally on building speed and fitness, big picture concepts. But as race day approaches, sharper focus on the details, such as equipment setup and personal nutrition, can be game changers.

Checking rudder cables, selecting the right hydration, tapering training: having all the pieces in place allows you to settle in and enjoy the work once the race begins. You don’t want to be over trained or have any faulty components on the big day. You want to be primed, dialed in and confident all the preparation has been completed.

Sean Rice and Grant Van Der Walt have more than a few races under their belts. As international kayak racers, the South African athletes have honed their training and race preparation through years of high caliber competition. Below they share some of their personal tips and routines on race planning and strategy.

Pre Race

North Coast: Do you taper your training leading up to a race?

Grant: Yes I do, I keep the same sessions and workouts, except I do fewer sets and increase my rest between intervals.

Sean: I don’t taper for all of my races. I race basically every single weekend, so if I did then I’d have every other week off. Which now that I think about it would be nice…maybe I should start tapering? (ha ha) With my schedule keeping me racing so often, it just becomes part of a bigger training cycle.

North Coast: What kind of equipment checks/preparation to you do before a race?

Grant: I go over every bit of equipment before the race, from boat to paddles, and even right down to my drinking/hydration system to make sure everything is in 100% working order.

Sean: If you paddle your surfski often enough then you should have a good idea of any potential hassles that might arise. I would suggest making a habit of doing a 2min check over your rudder, pedals and rudder lines every few weeks. NEVER use equipment during a race that you have not tried out before…EVER! Believe me!

North Coast: What do you normally eat the night before a race?

Grant: Through working with various dietitians and so on, and with specifics to our sport, I have been told that anything we eat further out from the start of the event then 6 hours actually passes its phase on nutritional enhancement. Therefore I’m not too picky in what I eat the night before. I just make sure it is something that I am able to enjoy and that won’t sit to heavily, and thus prevent me from getting a good night’s sleep.

Sean: I don’t have a specific meal I prefer, but I do try stay away from heavy (slow) foods such as pizza and too much meat.

North Coast: Any other routines or superstitions?

Grant: I always paddle the day before a race, it’s the last chance to make sure everything is working, and also keeps your muscles loose for race day.

Sean: Never wear your race shirt until you have actually finished the race. It’s considered serious bad luck back home, ha ha!

Race Day:

North Coast: What’s your typical morning meal on race day?

Grant: For an early race I’ll usually eat Jungle oats with banana and honey, or FutureLife Cereal, otherwise for a race later on in the day, I’ll usually opt for a bigger breakfast and lighter lunch, good old eggs and bacon is always my favorite.

Sean: I like to get going with coffee and peanut butter toast!

North Coast: What’s your warm-up and stretching routine?

Grant: I aim to try get on the water about 20min before the race start just to loosen up then do a few short intervals, but nothing too serious, as there are usually more then enough of those on the way to the first hotspot or can after the start anyway.

Sean: I have a specific routine I have that gets my head in the game, but it is always a good idea to try getting on the water for 10min before the race, so you can loosen up a bit.

North Coast: Do you have a preferred strategy when you race? Do you like to go full bore right off the line? Or do you wait and watch the competition before you make any moves?

Grant: It all depends on how I’m feeling on race day and during my warm-up. I definitely don’t want to loose contact with the front of the race, so ideally if I can be controlling the front bunch then that’s where I want to be.

Sean: Every race and the strategy that goes with it are different, but there is one similarity amongst it all. Flat box 100% effort right from the start and work it out along the way. That’s where experience and concentration makes the difference.

North Coast: What’s your race day hydration (on the boat)?

Grant: I like to keep hydration basic and palatable, nothing worse then racing flat out and you can’t stand to take another sip of that awful synthetic flavored race juice. I just use Coca Cola and water, with a GU energy gel every 30 minutes.

Sean: I’m not a big drinker so normally 1 litre of water or light sports mix does me fine for most races. I will take more depending on the heat and distance, and a few gels for long distance events.

Post Race:

North Coast: Do you have a recovery drink and/or meal after the race?

Grant: I like to take a chocolate Super-M/choc milkshake as soon as possible after the race. And then have a decent meal as soon as possible after that, especially on multi day races.

Sean: Chocolate milk and then eat whatever doesn’t move fast enough!

North Coast: Cool down and stretching routine?

Grant: I always try and go for at least a 1 or 2 km warm-down at a decent pace, making sure I’m stretching out and allowing the muscles to shake off some of that dreaded lactic acid.

Sean: I’m normally so wasted after a big race that a 2min tap on the water is enough for me. A good stretch in the evening helps to loosen everything up.

North Coast: Do you normally take a rest day or two after a race?

Grant: Depending on the race and the location and travelling, I always try and go for a recovery paddle the next day, nothing hard, just an hour of enjoying your surrounding and relaxing those tight muscles.

Sean: At least 1 day off after a big race – rest day is the best day!

North Coast: Any other post race habits or routines?

Grant: Always fun to throw down a few social ones with everyone at the post event prize giving and after party!

Sean: Does the after party count?




Photo by Brandon Kilbride Photography