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Six Endurance Training Tips

Crossing the Catalina Channel

I’m Breene Murphy. I paddled the Catalina Channel. I’ve lived in California for decades, looked at Catalina Island and never even thought about paddling there. 

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That was until I got involved in a documentary project with Jamie Mitchell called Seven Crossings. The project involves Jamie paddling the seven crossings of the eight channel islands to raise awareness for climate change and ocean health solutions associated with USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies where I serve on the advisory board. One of my friends on the project said that if Jamie was going to paddle all those channels, the least we could do would be to paddle Catalina Channel, and so we got paddleboards and started endurance training. 

During my training, I was introduced to Brad Yates. He helped me talk through my goals and challenges. Looking back, I think there were six main endurance training tips that helped me succeed, and one endurance training mistake I have to work on.

Endurance Training Tip #1 - Purpose

Having the larger purpose of getting more people involved in climate change and ocean health solutions motivated me. The people at the Wrigley Institute are inspire me all the time, and I know how much we all could benefit by knowing more about their solutions and their work. This purpose helped me push past the fatigue and boredom of training. Individual motivation sometimes waned, but when I would talk about my training, why I was doing it, that got friends and family excited. And this got me excited too. It made the endurance training more positive, especially at the ends of long days at work or when going for a 15-mile paddle on a Saturday morning when I could have been surfing instead.

Endurance Training Tip #2 - Mindset

When people talk about the benefits of a beginner’s mindset on learning and improving, it can sound so easy and freeing. But for me, I find that I want to be good right away, and can get frustrated quickly. So cultivating that mindset during endurance training was crucial. I was able to do that by focusing on those liberating moments of being alone on the water on just a paddleboard and reminding myself that I didn’t have to learn every lesson right away. This approach freed me to focus on developing the fundamentals with less judgement, which made paddling more fun.

Another wrinkle that helped me quiet the doubts during the crossing was shared by my friend Dale Hope. He told me to “talk with my ancestors.” During the crossing, I spoke to my Uncle Murray and Grandma Delta. My Uncle Murray, Delta’s brother, survived the Bataan Death March in WWII, having at one point to swim through shark infested waters, then find sympathetic folks that would guide him back to safety. My grandma Delta dedicated a large portion of her life to giving back to the community, including years on the board of the Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island, right next to the launch point of my paddle. When things got tough on the water, as they do in any endurance sport, talking with my Grandma Delta and my Great Uncle Murray helped me ignore the little cynical voice in my head telling me to quit, and focus on how special crossing the channel was. 

Endurance Training Tip #3 - Scheduled Training

We have a lot of priorities in our lives. Our jobs, our spouses, our kids, our friends. So for me, it was helpful to have a schedule for my endurance training. I got in the water Thursday afternoons after work for sprint work and Saturday mornings for a long paddle. I also cross trained at lunch Wednesday and Friday, with a short surf on Sundays to keep me loose. That allowed me to be mentally prepared for every training.

Endurance Training Tip #4 - Training with Friends

I was fortunate to start training with 5 friends who all committed to paddle the Catalina Channel in the Rock2Rock. We were all beginners, so we shared our beginner stories, and it helped maintain enthusiasm during endurance training.

What was equally important was that I became friends with Dave Skarman, a veteran local paddler who let me train with him. He had way more information for me than I could absorb in my time paddling, and my technique, planning, and times all improved dramatically as a result of paddling with him.

Endurance Training Tip #5 - Training Journal

Brad talked me into writing a journal on my paddles, focusing on what I’m doing well, what I can work on, and what my plans are to improve. It brought a level of awareness to my paddling and focus. I also think it helped me digest information faster, so that when Skarman came to me with more advice, I was able to listen to more.

Paddling is so mental too, as is anything, and a large part comes from the stories we tell ourselves when we’re out on the water, alone. The journal helped me prevent negative stories from emerging because it showed incremental progress too. Instead of me telling myself “I’m a bad knee paddler” I began to see the progress and started to tell myself “I’m getting a lot better at knee paddling with all the work.” I ended up paddling some portions on my knees across the channel, and I don’t know that I would have without the journal.

Endurance Training Tip #6 - Breath work

Brad was instrumental with breathwork, as it’s the place where all the endurance training comes together, at least for me. We had practices like The Pump and Essential Breathing, which helped me keep a better mindset throughout the weeks of training, but where I found it most helpful was on the water. Focusing on my breathing helped maintain a rhythm for myself, which helped me when my mindset went negative.

Endurance Training Mistake - Food

Food isn’t just fuel for me, it’s also been a tool I’ve used to make me feel better in times of stress or in depressive periods. And during training, I had a number of stressors, especially work. What I found is that during these periods I would eat as a means to relieve stress and feel good, not because I was hungry or needed it. I binged at times from the ravenous hunger from training, and my weight climbed to a point that was detrimental to my progress. When I do this again, my plan is to have a non-food mental release for stressful situations and plan out my meals better.

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Endurance Training - Results

Just making it to the starting line and feeling ready was a success for me. The morning of the paddle the sun came up behind the Catalina hills, illuminating the sailboats floating in Two Harbors, and I felt grateful just to be there. Especially because my boatman had backed out at the last second, and I had to make a mad scramble to find a boatman, eventually lucking out to get a seasoned captain who had done the crossing many times before.

I paddled my best, despite some mistakes that come with being a beginner. I fell a little more often under the pressure. But I didn’t let those mistakes weigh me down, and I knew I had the training and preparation to draw from. I finished with a decent time of 5:19.

And, I qualified for the Catalina Classic. So I’m already back out on the water.

A good friend introduced Breene to me in early March (2019). We quickly established a long distance relationship working twice a month on the phone. During this time this prospective client became a really good friend as well as a great client! I admire how hard Breene worked to learn the art of knee paddling on a race board and build the mental and physical strength to be competitive. Bravo Breene! And thanks for including me in the process.

Aloha, Brad