Paddler Profile: Marla Layton | Chicago, IL

Marla Layton is an active woman from Chicago, IL. She rides her bike to work daily, works out at lunch, and even has the energy to work out after work!marla-layton-paddleboard-pic

NCS: So Marla, when and where did you start paddling?

ML: I started Stand Up paddle boarding 2-3 years ago on a flat water lagoon with a paddle club that provided lessons. The club hosted a 2 mile race two weeks after my first paddle so I decided to join. The race itself was fun and non-taxing with lots of beginners so I felt pretty good about the event. But looking it back, I realize now that they didn’t provide the racers, especially the beginners, any safety advice.

NCS: So what kind of board do you use?

ML: I normally use an inflatable board and recently purchased a racing board. This purchase inspired me to sign up for a 7-mile race on a much larger river.

NCS: Tell us a little about that race.

ML: Since I keep up my athletic ability with regular workouts I thought I should try another longer race. Plus, since the race welcomed beginners and I raced before, I felt confident that I could paddle this one with ease.

NCS: That is great – so how did the second race go for you? Did you see any improvement in your paddling?

ML: Similar to my first race, the pre-race meeting didn’t provide any safety instructions to the racers. Nor did they ask us if we were carrying enough water. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but after the race, I realized this information was crucial for any racer.

The race started fine then the conditions changed dramatically. All of a sudden, we were faced with white caps and 26+ winds for the remainder of the race. I was paddling alone and realized that the safety boat had already left the race course. It was tiring but I felt that I had no other option other than to finish the race by myself. To make matters worse, I ran out of water during the race and it took me 4 hours to complete!

NCS: 4 hours of straight paddling in tough conditions? You must have been exhausted!

ML: At the end of the race, I was tired and a little frustrated. The next day, just a little sore. But the day after that, I developed flu-like symptoms due to being dehydrated during the race and having built up lactic acid in my muscles. So, yes, I was exhausted and didn’t even know it. I had to seek medical attention, missing 4 days of work and I still don’t feel 100%. I even had to cancel my next race.

NCS: I hope that experience doesn’t deter you from paddling in the future?

ML: No, I still love to paddle, but I realized that the race should have provided all participants with more safety guidance and I should have brought a lot more water for the race. I plan to take a strokes class to improve my skill level and now pay more attention to the course way descriptions when searching for a race. This is one of the reasons why I chose to attend PaddleSplash! At Lake Natoma – when I saw that you were promoting a flat straight course with little wind, I realized that this could allow me to work on my paddling, go fast, and finish in decent time. I also liked the idea of EMT’s ON the water with you during the race.

NCS: So you have 2 races under your belt, what advice would you provide to paddlers that are considering racing for the first time.

ML: I am a lifelong athlete, yet I have just learned that water is an important variable in the race that you have to consider. Here are my tips to anyone that races:

  • Race Conditions – Understand the type of conditions that you could face on race day – is it a course that could be windy and choppy? Can the wind direction change a lot during the course of a race? If the conditions change, can you still handle the distance?
  • Safety – what safety precautions are the race organizers providing? Are there EMTs on the water? Do they wait for every last paddler? Can they help paddlers that decide they just need to quit mid-race?
  • Water and Heat exhaustion – make sure you have enough water for the ENTIRE race.  Unlike races on land, there are no water stations to fill up at, so it is important to know how much water you should carry to stay hydrated. In addition, the board and the water will reflect a lot of sun on you plus as fun as paddling is, you are still exerting a lot of energy and heat – you need to know when you are exerting yourself too much.

When conditions get tough, it is ok to just stop. It is much better to be safe and healthy than finish and have to get medical attention like I did!

NCS: Well, I am really glad that you are fine and that you are sharing such great advice to other paddlers out there. Thank You!

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