Winners are grinners, and a Gold medal can certainly put a smile on your face. Maybe it is because deep down you know how much energy, effort and lack of sleep went in behind the scenes.
Arriving at the venue on friday morning, we were met with 8 degree temperatures, strong wind and rain, wow! This was going to be tough on the water. Forty minute session done, and i still managed to stay pretty warm while paddling. Once off the water though, that is when the numbness set in. Fingers and toes were the first to go, followed by my forearms and then the legs started. Saturdays race was looking like a torture session.
Saturday morning was a surprise to many, still cold with a light breeze, but no rain. Now we were talking, i find racing in colder weather a bit easier on the body while trying to manage fatigue. After a small wait for turn officials, our first wave of 27 paddlers were off and sprinting for position. With 2 paddlers breaking away in the lead, it left a group of 4 working together followed by myself and another working closer to the pack. All of us were within around 30-40 seconds of each other. The first portage arrived very quickly, and i watched as the lead paddler slipped on the pontoon and tested the water temp, smooth v speed was the go.
By the second portage we were right up on the lead pack of paddlers, who seemed to be just cruising on each others wash. That was as close as i was going to get to the pack, due to a gel stop on the second portage costing me about 10-15 seconds. I had a valuable lesson in fatigue at the Canberra Marathon race a few weeks earlier. My race plan this time was to take on a gel at the second and fourth portage regardless of where i was position wise. I wanted to build towards the end and finish strong, not hit a wall at the 15km mark again. So here i was for the next three an a half laps stuck in no mans land on my own, with a pack of half a dozen paddlers only 10-20 seconds in front. This is where the mental game of marathon paddling starts. The hardest part is maintaining focus on your stroke rate and technique, all the while seeing weed build up on the front of the boat and 6 paddlers in front looking like they are just out for a quiet float on the lake. Truth is, each of the paddlers in the lead pack were all in their own world of hurt, fighting their own mental war. If any dropped off the wash, there was one paddler behind catching up quickly.
Onto the last short lap 2 km to go,it was time to up the rating. The pack had split, one paddler had dropped off and looked to be hurting. This is a point where i wanted to put in a big sprint to catch up, but my race plan was to build to the line. As much as i wanted to catch up straight away, i knew i would be better to keep building, 2 km is a long way after paddling for 21. Came on to the last 200m pretty hard and passed the fellow paddler about 100m from the finish. In a way i felt a little guilty, but that is racing, and races are won and lost in the last few meters. As there were a few different divisions set off in the first wave, i had no idea who was in which one, and that made it easier to stick to my race plan, i was just out there racing myself. In the end it turned out that the paddler i passed near the finish was leading my age division. So a Gold medal at the 2014 Australian Marathon Championships was to be, and i could not have done it without my G Power Galaxy 2 paddle, Vajda infusion 2 Marathon K1, Vaikobi paddling gear, or the great team at Wollongong Paddlers. To say that i had fun is an understatement, i had a ball racing out there, following a set plan, and seeing others doing the same.
See you out there !!