The lads that I train with are marathon paddlers and they are turning their attention to the National Masters Marathon Championships at the end of October. “You will enjoy it, you’ll be OK” was the weekly chorus. “But” I protested, “I only want to do 200m”. 200m together with 500m and 1000m make up the sprint distances for canoeing: Not surprisingly and in my opinion very sensibly, 200m is my preferred distance, 1000m is far, far, too far: It hurts too much. Resistance was, however, futile and I caved into the pressure. How bad could 13Km be? In preparation for the event, I entered my Club’s annual marathon race, in one of the Single Kayak (K1) classes. Thanks to my earlier marathon outing (that doesn’t sound right, I’m not a closet marathon paddler, really), with my brother in the Basingstoke Marathon (we raced a double kayak), I had been promoted to Division 4. This promotion was on the back of my brother’s ability rather than mine. Two things began to worry me. How would I fair in a Div. 4 race, when there was no one in the boat to drag me around the 13Km course? Second, the race included 3 portages, where competitors, as part of the race, get out of their boats’, run with them and then get back in. Just getting out of a boat for me was struggle enough: Let alone climb up onto a pontoon, run 200m with a boat on my shoulder, and then climb down back into the boat.
Race day came and it was gloriously sunny at River Park, the race venue. I parked and had a good old chat with my canoeing mates. There was an excitement about the place; it was like being in the middle of a carnival with lots of excited enthusiastic people. My training partners briefed me on what I needed to do at the start. “A hard first 1000m (arghh – I don’t do 1000m, far too much pain) and then settle into the race, work with those around you”. I was assured that if I was hurting at 1000m then everyone else would be too. I found it difficult to be that confident, it’s tough to judge how much the opposition is suffering and it is easy to believe that they are finding the pace more comfortable than oneself.
The time came to start. It was a nice wide start line, with plenty of space for the 10 competitors. The starter brought us up to the start line, a few competitors were warned for crossing the line, “ready” and we were off, I didn’t hear ‘go’. I made a reasonable start on the left of the course, staying out of the rough stuff kicked up by the wash of faster boats in the group. After 1000m, we all converged as we swung right, following the river as it tuned under a bridge. I didn’t have the pace to stay with the two lead boats but I found myself a group of 4, chasing the leaders. This seemed al right, pain for the first 1000m and now I was sitting on a young chaps wash. Anyone under 40 is young to me; this chap was in his 20s! The other two were 30 something. This was comfortable. The river was a little choppy, cut up by the wash from all the races that ploughed up and down the river. The various classes , probably about 18, raced a series of circuits up and down the river: That together with the river traffic made for very choppy conditions. I was OK, although quite a lot of effort was going into keeping the boat upright, but I had the measure of the group around me. I had shipped quite a bit of water, mostly off the paddles of the paddlers whom I was wash hanging. Every so often I would be hit by a shovel full of water, which though cooling, found its way through my spray deck to slop around with the other shovel-loads in the bottom of my kayak. We made the bottom turn, headed back past the start and then onto the portage. THE PORTAGE!!!
The Chasing Group.
I was first into the portage; I hauled myself out of my boat, onto the pontoon and emptied the water out of my boat. As I hoisted my boat onto my shoulder I looked up and saw that the youngsters where on their way back. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN!!! With my boat bouncing on my shoulder I leg it around the 200m circuit, back into my boat, do up my spray deck and push off, blowing like a banshee, thinking “what a stupid idea, to have to get out of a canoe and run with it”. I start to chase down their 300m lead. At the bottom turn I had halved the gap. By the time we got back to the portage we were back together. This time I wouldn’t stop to empty my boat, I hadn’t shipped too much water this time, the boat would go straight onto my shoulder, on its side so that it would drain as I ran. That was the plan. As with many plans, great in principle until it came to its execution. I reached for the pontoon, missed it (it’s still a mystery to me what happened) and fell in. It wasn’t too deep, only up to my waist, but now I had even more water in my boat than on the last portage! As I emptied my boat I looked up and once again I saw the youngsters on their way back! I was rapidly losing interest in this racing malarkey. Heaving my boat onto my shoulder, I leg it around the 200m track, climbed back into my boat (I would like to say jumped in, but it was more a fall come roll in, this running was killing me) and the chase began once again.
The distance to chase down was greater than last time and it was beyond me. The last chase and capsize had taken its toll. I made a small inroad into the gap by the time the portage came around again and I made a better fist of the portage. Now, however, I just wanted to get the race over. As I completed the final circuit of the course, closing in on the finish line, I took solace from my speed on the water and resolved to practice portaging before the National Marathon Championships in August. I also resolved that any race over 200m was really not for me. As for me running with a boat, that was just simply ridiculous.