Plan for success: PH speaks to the winner of the world's most gruelling surfski race

By Chris Knight | 5 Minute Read

The Cape Point Challenge is known as the most gruelling surfski race in the world as paddlers negotiate 52km of racing around the iconic Cape Point in Cape Town, South Africa.

The 2019 edition of the race was particularly testing as the weather conditions were brutal and it was long-time PH drinker Chloe Bunnett who won the ladies' singles event in style. 

We caught up with the 2019 champion to hear how she coped with conditions and to find out how a world-class surfski paddler prepares their nutrition and hydration strategy for 4 hours and 43 minutes (and two seconds) at sea...

 

Hi Chloe, congratulations on your victory – you’re now one of only six racers to win multiple Cape Point Challenge titles, but how did the winning feeling compare to when you won this race back in 2014?

This win felt so much sweeter because the conditions were really tough. 

Course changes don't happen often in South Africa, so I knew the conditions were going to be one of the toughest yet, but the organisers made the call early, which gave me enough time to change my outlook on the race.

One big change would be the start time as we started about an hour later. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but if you think about starting a race at 6am or 7am and the drive to the race start is reduced by about 30 minutes, then it makes a huge difference as breakfast is way easier to eat at 5:30am than 4am!

 

Talk us through how the race panned out from your perspective. Was there a defining moment for you where you stamped your authority on the race?

I had a race plan and decided from the night before that I had the training in the bag, so I must now just stick to my plan.

We were going to be in for a difficult race, so the best way would be to conserve as much energy as possible until we reach Cape Point.

We all split up about 5km from the Point as the side wind really picked up and was gusting over 20 knots, so it was time to just pick a line and stick to it.

The turn buoy was way past the Point and the swell was massive here. This is when we realised the call to change the course was a good one. 

At Miller’s Point (the start of the Famous Miller’s 12km downwind run), Bridgitte Hartley and myself came together, and this is where I made the decision to 'go hard or go home'. The other elite women were a little further out to sea so I wasn't quite sure of exactly how we were all placed.

I felt good, so this is where (unbeknownst to me) I stamped my authority on the race. I went hard for about 2km and no one stayed with me.

I really thought that I would still get caught so I just went for it, approaching the line and hearing Oscar Chalupsky on the mic saying, “Here comes the first lady - Chloe Bunnett”, was just unreal.

 
 

How did you approach your race nutrition and hydration throughout the 50km of racing?

I don’t lose much sodium and don’t sweat too much, so this is good and bad.

The good part is that I don’t need a lot lots of fluids, the bad part is if I do drink too much I will feel bad.

So I trained and planned my hydration.

I started hydrating on the Monday before the race, I would drink a PH 1000 in 500ml every morning with breakfast and then a PH 250 in a bottle at lunch and again at dinner.

I knew from listening to Andy that hydration leading up to race is as important as race day, so I stuck to it.

The night before the race I had one PH 1500 with dinner. Then on the morning of the race I had 500ml of water with PH 1500 during breakfast.

Breakfast was just my usual favourite - peanut butter and honey on toast.

Then I sipped on a carbohydrate drink for the hour leading up to the start.

I don't eat during the race, so all my nutrition is in fluid form, and again I have practised doing this so my body is used to it.

I have 500ml of water with a PH 500 tablet in the front of my foot-well as my emergency or “spare” hydration.

Then my main race hydration is two PH 500 tablets in a litre of a carbohydrate drink. 

I have an endurance energy bar in my PFD [Personal Flotation Device] pocket just in case I hit the wall. So I took 1.5 litres with me, and after the race I checked my juice pack and I'd only drunk between 500ml-750ml.

I felt perfect during the race and directly after the race I had a 500ml of water with a PH 500 tablet and a cup of tea.

I absolutely nailed my hydration.

 

Chloe BunnettSource: Lucia Murray via Chloe Bunnett ©

 

Good to hear! One thing I always wonder is how you store your nutrition and hydration to ensure you remain efficient during the race?

My hydration is in a juice bladder in a pouch on the back of my PFD, with the “juice pipe” sitting right near mouth so that I can sip when I need without taking my hands off my paddle.

Setting up your drinks system efficiently gives you peace of mind that you can drink when you want.

 

The Cape Point Challenge is known as the most gruelling surfski race of the year – does it live up to its reputation? 

This race is in a class of its own, unless you have paddled this area you don’t realise how gruelling and how unforgiving the ocean is.

Nothing compares to it and it should be on every surfski paddler’s bucket list, but you have to train for it and be well prepared.

 

It sounds like you definitely earned some quality downtime during the off season. Looking ahead to this year, what are your racing goals?

Yes, I had some much needed downtime, and I'm about to prepare for a 40km race in Lanzarote in February, which is a three-stage race made up of 17km-10km-13km in one day.

My goals for 2020 are to qualify and race well at the World Champs in Portugal in September and the European Champs in October. And then of course go back to the 2020 Cape Point Challenge.

 

Finally, what would be your best piece for anyone hoping to get into surfski? 

Choose a surfski that suits you. If you're new to paddling, then a stable surfski is so important. I would definitely say that stability is the most important advice I can give anyone starting out.

 

Brilliant, thanks Chloe. Enjoy your remaining downtime and good luck for 2020! 

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