Mike Dostal has conquered the Josh Billings RunAground. He's also dominated local kayak races, and made a mark on the kayak racing scene around the country.
Now, the Williamstown resident is looking to make an even bigger splash — by competing in the kayaking world championships.
Dostal, 37, will represent the United States in the upcoming International Canoe Federation Canoe Marathon World Championships in Brandenburg, Germany on Sept. 16-18.
"I was very happy, really thrilled to be offered the position," Dostal said. "I get the chance to go to Germany, get a chance to race against people who are the best paddlers in the world."
Dostal, originally from England, has been a rower of some sort since he was a teenager. Growing up in England, Dostal got into rowing around the time he turned 14 years old.
"The real story was not having much else to do and finding myself in a little bit of trouble," Dostal said. "I took up rowing and I kind of loved it."
Dostal continued rowing in England, and when he came to the United States in the early 2000s, he coached rowing at Williams College. Kayaking came into the picture once he started meeting people in the Berkshires.
"When I moved over here ... I sort of just picked it up from some of the guys that I knew in the Berkshires."
Dostal has always been a competitor. In 2010, he won a bronze medal in rowing at the national championships in Princeton, N.J. Since then, he's competed a lot in kayaking events.
Paddling sports have multiple levels of organization. Dostal competes frequently in New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association (NECKRA) events, a regional body, and there are national bodies like the United States Canoe Association and the United States Canoe/Kayak organization. Dostal also competes in local races, including the Chocolate Bowl race at Stockbridge Bowl.
Dostal's journey to Germany started in June.
Traveling out to Michigan with Ben Pigott, a friend from the Berkshires Dostal has raced with in the past, Dostal competed in the USACK marathon team trials. Dostal competed in the K1 category — one-person kayak — for the 17.8 mile race. He finished in third, completing the race in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 7 seconds. While his finish was important, Dostal was also judged on his ability to paddle at a certain speed for a certain amount of time, among other factors.
"I had a good feeling about it," Dostal said of his result. "I've been doing a lot of training. I knew I was capable of doing the speed.
"Obviously, like any sport, actually pulling it off on that day is another matter. I knew I was capable. It was a little bit — more than a little bit — of nerves to make sure I could pull of that performance."
Now, Dostal is full-on gearing up to race internationally. Dostal will compete in the K1 category at the world championships along with Steve Corlew, the second American who qualified for the K1 category.
The differences between a kayak and a canoe come down to the paddle used. A kayak uses a two-sided paddle, where the paddler uses their paddle on both sides of the boat. For canoes, the paddle is one-sided, and a person only uses one side of the boat to stroke.
The "marathon" aspect of the race comes down to length. Sprint races go over much shorter distances. In marathon kayaking, Dostal will paddle for miles, and the marathon style also has portaging as a feature of the race — that is, picking your boat up out of the water and running over dry land with it.
"It's a sport where you have to have endurance, just the distance you have to cover," Dostal said, "but you also have to have some explosive speed for fast starts.
"Like bike riding, you have to be able to break away from a group of people."
Dostal says he trains as often as possible for his discipline. There is one slight problem for Dostal, though — his life outside of paddling makes it tougher for him to train.
Dostal works for the Department of Transportation in the state, and is married to his wife Megan with two kids — Luke, 3, and Eva, 9 months.
"Definitely," Dostal said on if its hard balancing training and family life. "It is, in the fact that I have a full-time job. Two young kids, I'm looking at my wife, she's very good, very supportive of what I'm trying to do. It's a constant balance of trying to balance your life, things you have to do — working, supporting your family — then the things you want to do."
Dostal does gym work with Lenox Fit, and has used an abundance of races and competitions over the summer to get ready. Most recently, Dostal competed in the USCA National Championships in Northfield. There, he was crowned the men's national champion in the Unlimited Kayak class, and took home a silver medal in the ICF K1 class.
"It was very hot and humid and it made the 13 miles harder for everyone, I think," Dostal said. "I was very pleased to become national champion in the Unlimited Kayak class, and get the silver in the International Canoe Federation Kayak class.
"It has given me a confidence boost for the World Championships, but I also know the level of competition in Germany will be another level above what I have seen before in kayaking."
Dostal will leave for Europe two weeks before the races begin. His parents currently live in the Czech Republic, and Dostal will use his competitive trip as a family vacation, as well. Dostal says that four days before the competition begins, he will travel to Brandenburg to begin learning the course.
Dostal said that the nerves of competing have already hit. While Dostal has proven himself a capable kayaker, he said that the bulk of the top competitors in his division compete in Europe, and that he has no real way to judge his times against theirs.
"Until it actually happens, until I'm there and the gun goes off, I'm not going to have a feel for how fast I am compared to them," Dostal said. "There's a little anxiousness about that."
Dostal's trip will mean he misses out on defending his team title at the Josh — "my claim to fame in the Berkshires" — and he's bummed at missing out.
But his reasoning is once-in-a-lifetime worthy. Plus, he can use the trip to Germany as the start of training for the 2017 Josh.
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.