SWOOSH! SWOOSH! This can't be good. It's a gorgeous Summer morning,
I'm in the middle of a world-class paddling event, feeling confident
fit, and yet a mild bit of panic has set in. I'm not sitting
and actually, I feel that I'm about to take an embarrassing dip in
water. Where am I, how did I get here and what do I think I am doing?
Where I am is 25 meters from the start line of the 8th ICF World
Marathon Canoeing Championship, Masters K1 class with all the
master's below age 50. I'm sitting in a borrowed racing kayak (K1),
surrounded by the wash of 49 other kayaks now pushing the 75 meter
mark. I can't afford to tip the kayak for a number of reasons, and
yet it is all I can do to stay afloat. I've dealt with waves and wind
side-push, but this is my first experience with wash, and it's coming
all possible angles. Later in the day, my kids informed me that they
couldn't find me at the start. They looked in the main crowd, then
secondary crowd, and then thru the slower stragglers, and I was
be found. It wasn't until they looked back to the start line that they saw
me flailing about. Remember the Sylvester the Cat cartoons where the kid
places a paper bag on his head. My kids were embarrassed for me and I
still had 3 hours of this to go through.
How I got here needs a little explaining. I started canoeing in early
March out at Gordon's when everyone started training for Kenduskeag. I
made the race, had lots of fun and had been paddling once or twice a week
for the ensuing months, including some longer 3- 6 hour runs. Since we
weren't going to New York for the annual family vacation, I signed up for
Banook, mostly to keep daughter Sophie active during the summer. I got
involved with the novice war canoe and tried out a racing kayak (K1) just
to see how tippy they really were.
My first night out, I only tipped 6 times. But then, I never left the dock
area, and never got a paddle in the water except for balance. The second
time, I never even got to leave the dock. OK, this was going to be tougher
than I thought. To get the kids into K1, they put them out in trainers at
various levels, then work them into a mini, then a K1 without a seat, and
then the seat.
I started down this road and was coming along slowly when I heard
about the ICF World Marathon coming to Banook in late August. There
was an open Master's section and the race was 20 km with 2 portages. That
sounded like a lot of fun. Gordon and Rich were going to enter the open C2
category. All I needed was to be able to race a K1 and paddle for 3 hours
After a few weeks, I could get a K1 out for some 2K loops, tho still not
with a seat, and still without any power strokes. It was looking iffy.
Also, the Canadian Sprint Nationals were coming up and there was pressure
for me go that route as a novice in K1 and war canoe. As it turns out the
Dahlia St camping trip was scheduled for the same weekend and the decision
was made easier for me, as I really wanted to train for and get the
marathon done. I had to start looking around for a specific K1 to train in
and hopefully secure for race day.
Gordon and I had done a few hours of race/portage training in the
Stealth and mentioning my search to Gordon (W.C.) Warnica started a train
of events that seems almost fluky. Gordon used to own a K1 from the 1980's
and the guy (Andy Canning) just lived up the street. Not only that, but
the K1 was stored at Micmac, was very stable, and since Andy was training
for triathalons, he didn't need the kayak for a few weeks. A match made
in heaven. I got the kayak out for the first time on August 23rd, 1 week
to race time. Yes, it was very stable, even with the seat in it. It was
heavy (30 lbs) but I could carry it on my head, and could paddle strong
stokes with some... level of confidence.
The next week was intense. I paddled 12k or more every night and put in 3
hours or more on Saturday/Sunday, put band-aids on the sore spots, did all
my stretches religiously, did the portage both ways 5 times, plus another
5k back and forth to my house, got Doug and Jim at Banook to help me with
snugging up the rudder and foot-pads, tried a variety of water-delivery
setups, paddled in strong winds and rain, used heat/ice on my shoulders a
few times a day, took in a K1 lesson from a Banook member (JoeR) and
generally got myself as ready as possible in the time allowed.
The few days before the race were fun. There were people out training in
all sorts of boats, doing expert portage entries from K2s, power sweeps
around buoys, speaking all sorts of languages and zipping by me on
whatever leg of the course I was training on. The list of competitors came
from South America, Europe, Australia, South Africa, Britain and the U.S.
The start was something else. I had a very difficult time getting my K1
lined up between the proper slots. Even though I had been the first in the
paddock, I was last to get lined up. Sort of a precursor for the actual
start. I assumed that with 2-3 hours of paddling, the start would be sort
of genteel. Whoa!!!! Everyone took off like a shot, faster than the sprint
races I had been watching all summer. It was a Catch-22. The boats were
close enough that paddles were clicking against each other all over the
place. 3 kayaks flipped in the first 100 meters. Every stroke I took was
an adventure, as sometimes the water was there, sometimes it wasn't. I
really didn't want to flip, regardless of how far behind I was getting.
What do I think I'm doing? Well, I know that if I can stay upright, I can
finish the course under the time allowed and actually expect to come in at
21/2 hours. The start was a shock, but 20 km is a long way, and I'm ready
for it. The first boat that flipped has recovered and passed me before the
1 Km mark. That's OK, because I'm not chasing him, just the clock.
I get through Banook and am working my way across MicMac when a small
problem enters my head. I'm going to be approaching the portage far enough
behind that the second start (ages 50 and up) might be catching me. After
seeing the speed in my section, I had no doubt that time was limited. I
yelled to spectators as I entered the Shubie channel, and sure enough
there were 5-6 boats right on my heels. I did the exit a bit too sloppy,
but quick enough to not impede anyone.
Thus started a few hours of slowly being caught and passed by most of the
field, including many of the women (started 15-20 minutes behind me) and
most of the rest of the K1 and C1 boats. While it was nice to watch the
relaxed, efficient strokes, it still rankled a bit to be continuously
passed. I stayed out of the racing line whenever anyone was near.
The paddling was very nice. Gorgeous day, little wind, I felt great
(not counting having a sore butt from so much compressed paddling)
I beat my practice times at every juncture and knew that 21/2 hours
was within reach. The boat handled very well, and I never felt close to
tipping anywhere else on the course. The channel was cool and smooth and
that's where I got my picture taken for posterity. The second portage went
smoothly, as did the trip back to Banook to do the smaller second loop. I
started to tire on the second loop and the last 3 km were tough. My butt
was killing me and my arms were shot. Being a novice, and not having an
efficient stoke, my arms do most of the work, whereas good paddlers using
hips and body rotation to create power.
Coming back into Banook for the last time (passing Archie's boat
control for the 4th), I was grunting with every stroke. I was going to
make my time if I just keep up my current, ragged pace. As I approached
the finish line, the announcer (JoeM) called "From Banook, Bruce Murphy,
paddling for Canada. This is Bruce's first year in K1 and he's looking
very good for someone who just started this year". (Thanks, Joe. I felt
like I was at the Rum Runners race and Jerome was doing his patter.) I
looked at my watch and it read 2:27. I paddled over to Banook and rolled
into water, as I had promised myself. Checking the results later in the
day, I had finished second- last in the men's field, beating out
(from Sweden, I think) in their middle 60's.
W.C. Warnica and Cameron raced on Saturday, but that is their story
to tell. I won't have anything to do with it, which should make sense
when you hear about it.
It was a great race, preceded by a great summer. Sophie really enjoys
Banook, and is starting to do well in some of the races. Two weeks
she could have easily beat me in a K1 race. Now with some practice,
would be close. We went out in a K2 (my first time) last night, and
obvious that she has a much better stroke than I do. We'll both
paddling till November, then start up again in March. It's a great
and there is a lot of technique to learn. And after watching all
50-65 year-old men pass me by in the race, there still lots of time
learn this new skill. I'm still in Paddling Heaven.