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Rapid Runner


Running plays a large part in almost every sport practiced at a competitive level. We explore running’s role in paddling sports by chatting to double world champion Grant Van der Walt. – BY MICHELLE PIETERS

Paddling sports is a great form of exercise in usually breathtaking settings. But if you aren’t fit, you will most likely be too tired to even enjoy the beautiful scenery around you, not to mention how sore your muscles will feel the next day. Just getting your gear ready, packing it away or carrying it to the water already takes up a lot of energy! Therefore most serious paddlers train twice a day, six days a week.

Paddling a canoe or kayak on a constantly moving and unstable surface, requires total body conditioning and paddlers need to be very fit. Though the upper body plays a vital role, the lower body is just as important as it helps to provide balance and initiate powerful paddle strokes.

Training for paddle sports depends on what kind of paddling you do, however all require balance, flexibility, upper and lower body strength and aerobic endurance. Paddlers need to constantly watch their weight as extra weight in the boat makes it harder to paddle.

“Running is extremely important for not only staying fit, but for keeping my body at its correct balance in terms of muscle mass. I find that if I don’t do enough running I begin to bulk up and put on excess muscle mass, which is extra weight to pull in the boat. However, if I do too much running I find that I tend to lose a lot of upper body strength as it breaks down too much muscle,” says 19-year-old Grant Van der Walt, the U/23 World Marathon Champ (2009).

Grant, who is studying accounting at Varsity College in Durban North, has been paddling for 12 years. “I have always loved water sports. I enjoyed sailing, water-skiing, swimming and water polo while living in Johannesburg. Since I relocated to Durban to study two years ago, I have also taken up lifesaving and surfing, although canoeing has always been my main sport.” Grant is also involved in surfski, which is done in a long, narrow and lightweight kayak with an open cockpit, usually with a foot pedal-controlled rudder.
“Training every day is a must if you want to do well, but the sport caters for all capabilities whether you are competitive or just want to have fun.” Grant has won a few of the major canoe and surfski races, and has represented South Africa overseas many times since 2005. He has also been awarded national colours and in 2007, won the Junior World Marathon Championships.

A typical training week involves many hours of paddling but also a couple of hard runs. “I enjoy running. I actually find it quite relaxing and sometimes it is a very good way to get rid of your frustrations! The fitness I gain from running helps so much in paddling, especially the cardiovascular benefit. However, one needs to find a balance. Too much running can break down upper body strength.”

Paddling at a competitive level requires dedication and focus. “You have to want to win. Support from family and friends has also helped me succeed.”

One of the things Grant loves most about being out on the water, is seeing things that few other people have seen before, such as the coastline between PE and East London. And when he is not paddling he enjoys watching motor racing and rugby, and occasionally plays
water polo.

Grant is still young and has quite a few years left as a competitive paddler. ”I am studying at the moment. Juggling varsity and sport is difficult sometimes, but once I have qualified I may take some time before starting to work. Then I can focus full time on my sport. I know I can still improve. Who knows? Maybe you will see me at the Olympics one day!”

He hasn’t done any running races but might consider doing a couple when he is older and not as competitive. “I enjoy the freedom of canoeing as you are out there pretty much on your own. Running races seem to be very crowded, especially at the start. I take my hat off to the thousands of people who compete in these races. There are so many unhealthy habits, which everyone is exposed to on a daily basis, some of which we can’t avoid. However races like Comrades, and the training leading up to them, shows that people understand the importance of balanced and healthy living.”

Monday 7km easy run Paddling: 12 x 1000m intervals with resistance
Tuesday Gym and swim Paddling: five x 2km time trials
Wednesday Running sprints at Kingspark Athletics Track (400s, 200s, 100s) Steady two hour paddle
Thursday Gym and swim Surfski or river dice of 10km (similar to a running time trial)
Friday Surfski or river dice of 10km (similar to a running time trial) Varsity College Marine Surfski race
Saturday Rest or 15km surfski paddle Rest or an easy cycle
Sunday Rest or lifesaving training Rest