I'd mentioned to two people (my physio and Stephan) that I was planning on entering the Derwent Canoe Club's Huon Valley Series Race today, and both immediately proferred me excuses that would allow me to bow out of the race gracefully, but then when I restated my firm intention to race, they came around to finding ways to suppporting what I intended to do. Much like life, poeple will ultimately follow the herd.
Of course, within my own mind I had the demons of doubt screaming at me to take the excuses and stay home. My physio was telling me that it could lead to my leg injury flaring up and Stephan, well Stephan just told me I'd come last, and hopefully I wouldn't be too embarrased. Steph's like that.
It wasn't really until I was heading down the Southern Outlet and drove past a couple of police setting up safety barriers for the Kingborough Fun Run that I remembered why I was heading down to race today rather than being safely ensconced on my couch watching others race ... it was because the person I want to be would race, he'd challenge himself, and win or lose, he'd be sitting here now typing up his experiences, not just watching some else's.
It was good that I had this epiphany because as I wound my way down to Huonville, I saw several other cars with boats on top heading down as well, and all their boats looked very fast. Then I pulled up at the Esplanade and despite my desperate search, I had to conclude that every boat looked extremely fast. sigh.
I went to register, and before the lady on the registration desk could ask me which group (slow, medium or fast) that I'd like to start in, Andy, who knows me from Wednesday night paddles at the Sea Caneoing Club, chirped up "definitely put him in the slowest group". Thanks Andy, but did you have to say definitely with such convication? Doubel sigh. I was given the number 44, and faffed around getting ready and onto the water ... mainly because once on the water I obviously had to keep paddling otherwise I'd sink.
So, this was it, I sat there (sinking) waiting for the gun to go off, realising that in about 30 seconds time I'd know whether this was folly or brilliance, or if they delayed the start I'd have the ignomy of actually sinking before I got across the start line, and did I mention that water that was filling up my seat was cooldddd.
Fast forward 30 seconds, and the answer was that at least I didn't sink before the start, but that you'd have to come back to me in a few more minutes to get an accurate progress picture. By the first corner I was still in the group, but i was at the back of it and dropponig back uncomfortably fast, so check on starting in the slowest group (thanks Andy, definitely), however there were only 3 or 4 people behind me ... so although complete humiliation didn't look to be on the cars, I couldn't completely rule out some form of upcoming humiliation.
By the second corner, the paddlers in front of me were slowly pulling ahead, and the number behind had dwindled by one or two more as (unfortunately) they had gone past. This is where I think races are most like life. At this point it would have been so easy to give up and walk away, instead I locked onto the idea that I was only a kilometre or so into a 13km race, and if there was any chance of a turnaround, any chance of a comeback, well at a minimum I had to stay in the race. What I had to do was hang in there for the first half so that, on the way home, I was still there in case opportunity present itself.
As the medium and fast groups hurtled past like a living animal on water, I just kept telling myself that as tired as I was, all I had to do was stay less tired than the person in front of me over the course of the entire race, not just the first little dash.
Actually, it was this group which gave me my first break in the race, because as it came past I put in a few big strokes and managed to jump on the group wave and get a bit of support. I couldn't hang on for more than a hundred metres or so, but that was enough to let me catch up and overtake a young guy who had passed me between the first and second bend, and also reduce the gap between me and two others from "unbreachable" to "maybe a possibility".
I reached the turn around point (where we cut through the Island) just before Franklin, and much to my delight one of the three paddlers I was trying to catch, just stopped. As I came up alongside we had a quick chat and my hopes that I had run him into exhaustion (I am nothing if not egotistical) were soon shattered as he introduced himself as the organiser on the event. Third sigh.
But then I did actually catch someone just as we came out of the Island, and I was so excited I didn't even think to sit on his tail for a breather, instead I set my eyes on the girl in front of me (the last of three three I was chasing) and upped my tempo to try and run her down.
As we had come through the island and started heading back up river, we were now paddling against the current and into a slight headwind, so this was where effort counted, and effort I can do. I managed to just reach the small bit of shelter behind the girls boat after a three or four hundred metre chase, but what I hadn't counted on was two or three other paddlers (incuding the guy I'd just overtaken) jumping onto my tail and following me up river.
One of these guys jumped straight off and kept on going, but my arms were pumped to exhaustion and needed a break, and so I sat behind for a while until I touched the back of her boat one time to many (which in my book was twice) and then I decided I too needed to go, so I set off into the wind with no real hope of catching any of the paddlers in front of me as they were all well ahead.
I did try and chase down the guy who had leapt off me, but after a long and futile chase I realised it wasn't to be. It was also about this time that I looked around and realised I still had one of my passengers, and he just sat, and sat, and sat on me. I tried to break, but after so long out in front chasing, I didn't have enough even though I opened up a 10 metre gap, he quickly wheeled this back in and then attacked himself. Fortunately he couldn't see inside my mind as I used up everything I had and a bit more to hold his tail, and was just about to drop when he pulled up the white flag and dropped the pace himself.
This little duel actually had a pleasing result, as not only did I then have a minute to take a little sheltered break, but in trying to drop each other, we had actually taken a sizable chunk out of the gap between us and the next paddler. We agreed at that point to try and work together, so after a minutes break, I went out around again and set the pace to bridge the gap. I almost faltered about 10 metres short of her tail, but when I looked around to see if my companion could come forward and work I realised that he hadn't even been able to hold my tail and I was now 15 metres in front of him.
This changed things in my mind: I rested behind my latest catch for no more than a minute or two, checking my previous companion's progress and then just as he was about to attach to my tail, I moved around the girl in front and set off again after the next paddler ... this guy though was at least a hundred metres in front with only a kilometre or two left to race.
Nevertheless, the guy was obviously tiring, so I kept on with everything I had and slowly reduced the gap from 100 metres to 50 metres, then 30 metres, but despite giving it absolutely everything I had, that was as close as I got as he crossed the line 39 seconds in front if me.
Other than tipping Simon Theissen out of his boat whilst trying to help him get out, and barely being able to carry my boat to my car and put it on the roof, that was pretty much my racing day.
I though I had come in fourth or fifth last, but as it turned out I actually came in 32 out of 43, so I was pretty darn pleased about that. My read in that is that I did twice as well as I thought (ie. 11th last, not fifth last). I also learned today that I obviously need to work on improving my stroke, but I think more importantly, I need to drop weight.
So that was my 1 hr 16 minutes of life in which I went from sitting around sinking to exceeding my hopes. Not a bad day if you think about it like that. Bring on Race 3.