Endurance SUP races take a special kind of grit. With the unprecedented growth of the sport accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased participation in SUP events both locally and across the world, the UK is slowly adding new formats to its SUP racing portfolio, including the endurance distances. Although we still have to wait for those monster challenges such as the legendary Yukon 1000, Yukon River Quest or SUP11 City Tour, the UK fan base of endurance SUP races is growing and events are selling out fast.
TotalSUP caught up with Mark Salter, endurance SUP racer and the UK team rider for SIC Maui, who has recently entered the long distance racing scene with a bang taking nearly every podium possible, to chat about the UK SUP scene and smashing those gruelling races in your late 40s.
Mark’s SUP story (as many other UK SUP stories) starts with a ‘paddle and pint’ with a local SUP Club in Nottingham (where he met his now wife, Cassie, a yoga teacher and SUP Coach!). Coming into the sport from distance running and kickboxing for fourteen years (a career halted by a serious head injury), he took up his first SUP races in 2018.
Dodging an invasive surgery on the arthritis in his shoulders, thanks to his wife who recommended physio instead, he continued racing throughout 2019 and successfully completed the UK’s iconic Head Of The Dart SUP Challenge (earned a joint 1st place in the 12’6 category). By the end of his first race season, Mark had the GB SUP National series title and “nice haul of medals”which proved to be motivating enough to attempt the SUP11 City Tour. Half way through, he retired with injury, but was already hooked. The first question asked was about pain – why endurance paddling, why the extreme? And Mark said “It’s effort versus reward.” Here’s the full story.
Hi Mark, welcome to TotalSUP! Congrats on your recent achievements in the UK SUP endurance races!
Out of all SUP disciplines, why endurance SUP racing? Why the extreme?
The thing that motivates me about endurance paddling is how long the feel-good factor lasts afterwards. I find that if I do a high intense short session then I’ll feel good maybe for a few hours but with a longer achievement of say 50km, then I’ll feel good about that for a week. It’s effort versus reward.
In 2021, I attempted my first national endurance races and was genuinely surprised and very happy to win those races. Firstly, the excellent 27km Paddle Skedaddle and later the UK Endurance Series Norfolk Boards Ultra 72km non-stop race. The wins were great and I was most encouraged that after the events I felt fantastic, knowing that I could have paddled much further. Feeling fresh at the end of a long or high intensity race is a good sign and gives confidence that boundaries can be pushed more in future events.
Photo credit: Paddle Skedaddle
I have personal goals for these races in 2022 and plan to smash last year’s times. A thing that I appreciate about endurance races is that I can relax and paddle in my own zone, not worrying too much about being chased or fighting others at buoy turns. If you have mishaps, then that’s all part of it and on long races you can get away with some mistakes and still recover.
I did a couple of short races in 2021. One of them was the GB SUP Series National Sprint Championships at the UK ICF National Regattas. I’d never sprinted before so at 46 years old I was delighted to make the final and win 2nd place. It gave me some confidence that I have the power to sprint alongside much younger, accomplished sprinters if I need to but it also made me realise what I really want to get out of SUP moving forwards.
For me now, that’s to focus on the longer distance races and international adventuring. The sprints were fun and memorable but I felt exhausted just from 3 x 200 metre sprints with the pressure of spectators, lanes and bucket starts; which I really struggled with. Give me a long, grinding, solo, windy course to paddle any day over that high intensity pressure! Huge respect to everyone entering any event of course – it’s brave to stand on any start lines, especially when in front of a big crowd.
How do you prepare for such events?
Most races were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID, (after distancing restrictions were lifted) so it was a good time to get out in the fresh air and just paddle without any distractions. For me, SUP is my chance in life to be truly mindful and escape the stresses of life and work.
The miles started to add up – our team have a spreadsheet where we log our GPS results every day to keep us motivated. My paddling increased from 2000km to 3000km per year and my cruising speed became consistent in all weather conditions. Ski mittens, neoprene legs and waterproof socks helping a great deal in the winter. Finding Audible books to listen to and buying a set of Aftershokz headphones really helped pass the hours – most days being on the same piece of water.
As well as yoga, strength and conditioning on land, another notable difference for increasing my distances was to fuel properly. I’d never been an endurance athlete so almost everything I thought that I knew about fuel and hydration was wrong.
I have plenty of mishap stories – one of them was at a choppy sea race in 2019, when I thought that I would fuel up with a lot of carbs (the most enjoyable of all the fuels). I had a large spaghetti carbonara with a side of macaroni cheese in a nice restaurant before the race. I was sea-sick 15 mins later when the start was sooner than I expected. I didn’t make that mistake again.
We had a really helpful virtual meeting with the champion endurance SUP racer, Bart De Zwart and later with the team at Hammer Nutrition, who advised what fuel to use and when. I won’t share all of the details now but their food definitely does agree with me.
You mentioned it’s the perfect SUP activity for riders in their 40s. Why?
Having now competed well at all distances, I’m a believer that SUP Endurance racing is an excellent activity as one gets older in years. Younger athletes have more adrenalin and fast twitch muscle fibres that are suitable for sprinting. They also recover quickly during and after the high intense races. Endurance racing (not just in SUP but in many other sports) can really suit the physiology of the more mature paddler. Long distance paddling requires a lot of long grinding days on the water, sustained aerobic fitness and most of all mental toughness.
Endurance racing is every bit as hard as the shorter races and requires more training time, however it is very underrepresented in the UK. Overseas this is not the case and endurance athletes gain a lot of respect for their accomplishments. I’d like to see that mentality change in the UK so we too celebrate our long distance racers and their achievements.
Could you tell us about your collaboration with SIC Maui?
In 2020 I attended the Paddle Monster training clinic in Fort Pierce, Florida which was superb. Whilst we were there, a Florida Paddle League race was on so I was keen to take part. The World Champion, Seychelle kindly lent me one of her SIC Maui 14 foot carbon boards. Despite never having stood on a board of those dimensions, I battled through a lot of people without falling and managed 2nd place in a race of accomplished technical paddlers.
I fell in love with the SIC Maui brand. Their equipment is of outstanding quality, the boards are really fast, lightweight, stable and the branding is super cool. I was delighted to be asked to be a team rider for the brand here in the UK, and paddling now the SIC 14×23 RS and 14×21.5 RS.
As the boards are so comfortable to ride, I found myself paddling further and further on our local canals – so my eventual move to endurance paddling was probably due to the easy glide of these excellent boards.
What are your SIC Maui boards of choice?
My board of choice for all of my endurance paddling has been the SIC RS 14 x 21.5. It’s lightweight and it glides very well. It’s stable and so I feel very comfortable paddling long days. The wider 23 inch version is really stable and the speed is very similar. It’s a fantastic board for choppier days, for a little down-winding and for adventuring on big lakes like Windermere, when the weather conditions can quickly change.
Despite the SIC RS being the best board that I’ve ridden, this year I am experimenting with narrower boards of 20 inches and less – just to see if they can make a difference on flat water. SIC have just launched their new RS XS in a 14 x 20 inch version so I’m really looking forward to trying one when they come available (awaiting for stats on that).
Could you share your top tips for aspiring endurance racers?
My top tips for any paddler wanting to enter endurance races would be; build up the distances gradually and address any niggles early on with a physio (golfer’s elbow and plantar fasciitis are common ailments for endurance paddlers). Stretch after paddles as well as active warming up. Find a comfortable board, put the music on, fuel well and work on your low-level cruising speed.
What are your SUP racing plans for 2022?
The A-race for me in 2022 will be the 11 Cities SUP Tour in Friesland, in the Netherlands. I really wanted to return there in 2020 and 2021 and put that nemesis to bed. However due to the pandemic travel restrictions Brits weren’t allowed to travel there. It’s a highly competitive race and it’s now become the ICF World Championship Long Distance event so there’s no better time to return and conquer it!
Leading up to this race will be the UK endurance races, the APP London and hopefully a few overseas. I’ve signed up for one this summer in the Loire Valley which looks like a beautiful course.
No1 bucket list race for me is Chattajack 31. That’s an intense 50km race through gorge in Tennessee and 2023 will hopefully include the MR340 River Miles non-stop race in Missouri. Normally I paddle solo but my wife and I are planning to paddle this race as a team. It will be an epic journey and amazing to share an experience together of that magnitude.
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