Having fun and use competition to push yourself, insights from April Zilg
I chatted with April Zilg during her first solo trip across the country in her big camper van. Don’t worry, she had her SUP pup Kaya for company and was talking hands free. Since moving to California, Zilg has taken advantage of the Southern California outrigger canoe winter series. The Wild Buffalo Relay was the last race of that series which she and Jennifer Fratzke won. She was always interested in a Catalina crossing, but it never panned out until now. Zilg said Wild Buffalo was an awesome event. It was her last long interval training session before the Carolina Cup. She used the race to train, “When you paddle alone, you can only push so much. When you paddle with others, you can get into the heart rate zones you need to be in,” she told me.
Do you use a heart rate monitor? I asked. Zilg confessed that five years ago she only used rate of perceived exertion to measure intensity. Since she started using a heart rate monitor everything changed. She loves the data and uses SpeedCoach and Garmin monitors to record everything including cadence, glide, speed, and calories burned. When she races, Zilg is in the zone, aware of her surroundings, and pushing hard. If someone passes her and she cannot keep up with them, these training tools give her valuable feedback. For example, if she sees that she is at 110% of her maximum heart rate (mHR) she has to make a decision to maintain that intensity or to decrease based on how much more distance she needs to cover in the race.
On Finding Balance
April Zilg admitted that finding balance is very challenging. Success depends on the amount of time you spend on the water. In North Carolina it was difficult to train with a full-time job. She was dependent on the weather. If it was too windy to paddle, she would cross train and ride her bike, but it was a lost day on the water. In November of last year, Zilg left North Carolina and moved to California for her husband Corey’s job.
Now her days are built around training, typically double workout days. She adapts to her needs whether it is food prep or sleeping longer if she is tired. This is a marked contrast to her previous regimen where training was planned around her work schedule. When it was time to train, she had to train. It didn’t matter if she was tired, the weather was bad, or her nutrition was off, that was the only time she had to get on the water. It is challenging to be in the top 10 with a job, family, and training. At the end of the day that is what separates the top racers from those slightly back. Zilg joked, “Before I was clinging like a booger to keep that number 10 spot.” Now her sole responsibilities are to train and compete.
The Carolina Cup was her goal race for the year. It is her hometown race. Seven years ago she entered and did not finish. She had the wrong board… the wrong everything. For the rest of the season April Zilg is planning on a few stops of the European paddling tour, the Gorge Downwind Champs, and the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. She also wants to do some races with her local outrigger canoe team in Santa Barbara. She is even thinking about the Pailolo Challenge, a 26 mile outrigger canoe race from Maui To Moloka’i. That would be her first ever Hawaiian experience. We will see.
Tips for best performance
Nutrition is the biggest change April Zilg has made in the last two years. Nutrition is incredibly important and it was the missing piece to her performance. She had the mental down. Despite full body cramps and pushing 110% mHR, she could endure the pain, but she could not go faster. Since she fixed her nutrition, she has seen vast improvements. Zilg has also changed her training. About two years ago she was following other paddlers’ training plans, mostly built for men who do not have monthly hormonal swings. She decided to put her nose in the books for her entire off-season and learned everything she could.
April Zilg has created her own multi-year training plan that includes nutrition. It builds up her training volume and intensity over the season and each year. If she does not achieve all of her goals, she is ok with it because she has a plan. She knows where and how to improve. Zilg believes everyone should train like an athlete. Use competition as a tool to push yourself and improve yourself. A race gives you something to work towards and she laughed, “If you’re not having fun then you’re doing it wrong.” I couldn’t agree more.
Best of luck and have fun this season April!
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