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How we won Gold and other Precious Medals at the 2006 World Championships

A Personal, From the Heart, Perspective
by John Pinyerd
Chairman - USA Wildwater

August 24, 2006 -- Atlanta, GA

It was incredibly gratifying to see my teammates David Mason, Maurizio Tognacci, and David Jones (my coach of 2 decades) win medals in the Master’s classes at the 2006 World Championships. And I will always feel truly blessed to been able to win a Gold Medal in C-1 (in the Masters age group 45-54). How did we do it? Read on.

Be in Sync with the Sport (of Wildwater)
“A senseless man has no knowledge, nor does a stupid man understand this” (Psalm 92).

What are the chances of being successful if you don’t do your homework? In Wildwater, this means you need to know things like water conditions, how long the races are, and a good race boat for you.

A common trait of successful people is that they are totally in sync with what it will take them to reach their goals. This is an absolute truth for Wildwater racing champions. It includes everything from the type of boat they paddle, the type of training they do, and the rivers they train on.

For me, the answer was simple for the 2006 Worlds. I had to train on rivers like the 2006 race course (in this case the Nantahala), learn how to do my best in a 13-minute race (the estimated length of the race course), train specifically for that length of a race, and master the tippy Bala C-1.

Be in Sync with Yourself
“Know thyself” – Socrates

Knowing yourself means that you are truly honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses. It means that you understand what you want, and how you are going to do your best to achieve it.

My weaknesses are pretty obvious. Like most American’s I’m a little overweight, have to find the time to train, don’t have a perfect place to train, and need to improve my whitewater skills.

So I focused on these items. I cut 15 pounds this year for the Words, prioritized my schedule so I could make time to train without sacrificing my commitments to Dart and my family. I made the best of my training (with David and Maurizio) on the Metro Hooch, and made my whitewater training really count.

I really focused on mastering the tippy Bala C-1 because I knew that this would be the best boat for the 2006 Worlds. It turns out that in the C-1 classes, 70% of the racers were paddling the Bala. Maurizio also chose a popular boat for the 2006 Worlds (a high deck Dynamic).

Wildwater is pure joy for folks that love the sport and accept the challenges that it will take for them to reach their potential. Yes, I know why I’m absolutely fanatical about training/racing Wildwater. And I know the other loves of my life are my wife, my family, my job at Dart, and Jesus. I am confident in what I want because I know what makes me tick and what my priorities are.

Prioritize Your Day, Week and Life
“Seize the day” - Unknown

I often hear folks say things like, “Gee I can’t ever seem to find the time to do so and so and I really want to do it”. Or, “I would have gone to so and so but I went to my Aunt Suzy’s birthday”. You can’t just throw everything into the great cosmic blender in the sky and hope that things are going to come out to your liking.

The best time managers all have one thing in common. They seize control over their life and their priorities. They prioritize and organize their day, their calendar and their life around them.

If you are going to be successful at Wildwater, you have to stick to a regular training schedule, go to the training camps, get coached, and race your best at major races like Nationals and Team Trials. And at a minimum, you must keep a calendar of all of the regional races in your area, the national/international races you want to do, and rough out a training plan.

Once you prioritize you day, things do fall in place from a time management standpoint. For example, I’m writing this article while I’m on a business trip instead of hanging out at the bar. And unlike most other business types, I’ll “find the time” to get up every morning and do a workout while I’m on this trip.

Train to Win (when winning counts)
“You must train your body to go fast” – Maurizio Tognacci
“The most important thing is your TIB (time in boat) – David Jones
“Perfect practice makes perfect” - Unknown

Doug Ritchie has written a couple of excellent articles on training that are posted on So I am not going to re-invent the wheel other than to touch on a few items.

Attend training camps when you can. Everyone needs a coach. At a minimum, try to review video of yourself and compare it to what the best are doing. Even veterans like David Jones and I rely on each other for feedback and coaching.

A nice way to break out the paddling year is to split it into four (3-month) seasons. The common thread throughout the year is that there is not a “couch potato” season. Since my last big race for the year was the World Championships, I am in a “General Fitness” mode. This is the time of year when I paddle less and I let any nagging injuries heal. It’s also when I catch up on my chores, ride my mountain bike, learn to paddle a different boat, volunteer to do stuff, and take family vacations. I’ll start focusing on my "Aerobic Base" by mid-September, my “Aerobic Power” and a little speed work in the winter, and my “Anaerobic Base” (and a lot of speed work and racing) in the spring..

What I would like to expound on is what we did the last couple months. We really picked up our speed and developed our lactic acid systems by going head to head with 3, 4, 5, 7, and 10-12 minute intervals. But the most important thing we did was to go head-to-head, with an all out wide open race pace effort, with 10-12 minute point-to-point intervals 2-3 times per week. Why? Because we had calculated that the Master’s World Course was going to be that long. Was it intense? You betcha, and some folks even shunned the opportunity to train with us because it was too intense and “old school”.

But by creating a race atmosphere and practicing at this intensity, we learned exactly what it took to turn out a maximum performance at this length of race. The obvious result is that by June we were setting Personal Records (I cut nearly 30 seconds off of my time in a 12-minute race). The less obvious is that we had prepared our minds and body to race this length of race.

I personally found that for me, I must warm up very well so that when I get to the starting block for a 12-minute race, I am ready to go out very hard. I also found that I have to be very careful not to pace too much. I must go out very hard and “get the bear on my back quickly” then back off slightly, otherwise I loose too much time at the beginning of the race.

Race Day - Race to Win
“As you practice, so you will race” – Unknown
“Race in such a way that you will win” - Apostle Paul

We were careful to taper nicely the last two weeks before the Worlds, and limited our training once we arrived. Since the river was fairly straightforward for a veteran racer to learn, I limited my training runs to just two total (other than my race runs and non-stop).

We were also very careful not eat raw vegetables (or salad) and mostly drank bottled water until after the big race was over. I even found that they have PowerAde in CZ (you have to love Coke products as they are the same world-wide) and I drank it just like I normally would 45 minutes prior to any other race.

On race day, I did exactly what I had learned to do from all of the mock races we had done on the Metro Hooch and the Nantahala. I did MY usual warm- up (I warmed up for 20 minutes with the second half being quite hard). And when I went to the starting block, I was ready.

I had made up my mind that I was not going to fly back to Atlanta thinking that I could have gone harder, that I paced too much. So I went out very hard just like I had learned to do from all of the mock races that we had done and then backed off a little to avoid going anaerobic to early. After I cleared the last big rapid 6 minutes into the race I started picking it up in the easy sections and continued to build on this all the way up to 10+ minutes. The last 3 minutes were very tough because I really pushed “the extra gear” and went anaerobic.

At the end of the race, I knew that I had done my best at the 2006 Words and had nothing left to give. When my teammates yelled out “you won”, I knew my best was enough. It really sunk in when I was standing in the scoring area and was congratulated by the other competitors and given the once over by a Frenchman who had a hard time believing that an American had won Gold.

Stick With It

In this age of instant credit, instant potatoes, instant weight loss, and instant millionaires, it’s so hard for Americans to stick with anything. Wildwater is no exception. In my estimation, it takes at least 3-5 years of perfect training to come anywhere close to reaching your potential. But you can do it.

Combined, David Mason, Maurizio Tognacci, David Jones and I have racked up over a century of racing experience. It paid off when we took home the hardware this year.

Stick with it and good things will happen to you.

(editor's note: Click here to learn more about the success of the USA Wildwater Team at the 2006 World Championships.)

John Pinyerd
USA Canoe/Kayak - Wildwater Committee Chairman