Brett McDonald’s Report from World Marathon Championships
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With clear sunny skies and a forecast of 33 degrees and our race beginning at 1.35pm, I had made the decision to stay away from the venue until an hour before to avoid the heat.
So on arrival there wasn’t any time to get nervous, we setup the boat ( Vajda Colt in marathon build), got our drinks systems sorted (we both used the Tripper 500ml bags which we decided to start with one on which in hindsight was a big advantage as my story will tell)
We changed and got prepared in the car park by my partner Brett Greenwood’s hire car as there were lots of shady trees and it was a little less noisy and busy than inside the venue.
At 1.15 we got onto the water and only did about 1.5km warm up. I was feeling really good.
We were 2nd grid away following the 35+ group and as there was 5 min between the grids there was no rush to get around to the front of the start pontoon and back our boat in.
We positioned ourselves fairly close to the centre of the 11 boat field and had ample room between boats to avoid any paddle clashes.
Time flew by as I don’t remember any other calls but the 30seconds to go, (setup with paddle touching water on left side of boat) 10 seconds to go (lift paddle and place ready to paddle a half stroke on right side of boat) and GO.
We got away cleanly and were running about equal with the boats around us for the first 10-15metres, then as our strokes lengthened and were able to rotate more the boat started to pull away from the boats beside us. As we got about 150m out we were really starting to fly and boats were dropping away while other boats to our left and right who had strong starts were moving over to grab our wash.
I had my paddle knocked by one of them coming in from the side but once they were on our wash they dropped back into the right position.
As I could more easily see what was going on behind us, after around 200m I said to Brett have averaged 17km/hr and we are now down to 4 boats, so we can probably ease up. (Looking back at Garmin data, we pulled 20.5km/hr off the start and held the speed very high for the first minute)
When we settled we were still pulling 14.7km/hr and I was saying to Brett “I can’t believe how well the boats running and I feel great!” (We averaged 16.1 for the first km and the next 5km were all at 14.6-14.7)
It was Brett’s plan that we should lead at all the key moments so we were content to lead, keep the pace on but keep our heart rates down. I was really relieved to see my body was reacting well and my heart rate wasn’t anywhere near threshold.
I did however notice the really hot dry air and my mouth and throat were burning dry. I was able to take sips from my drink straw just to keep them moist.
In the first turn we had the Spanish boat on our inside, the first time we got a good look at them as they turned faster and were only just behind as we came out of the turn but didn’t challenge for the lead. The outside boat struggled to get around the turn with us and dropped in behind and we assume caused the boat in the diamond to also drop off. We don’t know which of those two boats managed to get back onto our left side as we went down the course but it took them a few hundred metres to appear and the 4th boat had been dropped.
So we were now down to 3 and still cruising well within ourselves at 14.6.
It occurred to me about then that the paddle splash on the long sleeved rashes we were wearing had a great cooling effect and I was actually feeling quite comfortable.
We went down to the bottom turn of the course and on that turn the boat that had struggled to get back on after the previous turn dropped off. So now down to the Spaniards and us. So back up past the start finish line still leading the Spanish and keeping the pace up.
At the top turn once again the Spanish boat on the inside managed to sneak through and this time put in a spurt to go to the lead, we sat with them comfortably for 50m or so on the wash and then they just stopped paddling and waved us past (they didn’t speak English but from the hand gestures and I think one of them used the word strong it was clear they wanted us to take the lead again)
Brett was having none of that and laughed saying words to the effect of “Your kidding, is that all you’ve got”. And we slowed and just cruised alongside of them. We were going so slow I had a couple of quick looks back to see if other boats were going to catch up again, but we had enough of a gap that despite the slow pace they didn’t come back.
So we cruised at this now pedestrian pace of around 12-12.5 back down the course.
When we were passing the start finish area with around 400-500m to go until the turn Brett started to lift the pace to go to the front, as we pulled alongside them they responded and we both continued to lift the pace.
It now was clear this was a battle of wills, this was a race within the race and would tell all of us who was the fastest boat if we did come down to a sprint. So early in the race it wasn’t important, but in terms of winning the psychological race it was pivotal.
The sprint went for around 45seconds, we peaked at 19km/hr and they dropped back onto our wash. We had the psychological advantage.
We recovered as we came into the bottom turn and made sure by me using one or two well timed back strokes we turned the corner tighter to ensure they had no room to move up on the inside.
We cruised into the portage again recovering but ready to go if they came at us again. We came into the 1st portage and had a good take out and strong run, Brett was saying “we don’t want to drop them, just hurt them” we got back in the boat around 2 seconds ahead of them and got away cleanly lifting the pace back to 14.5 making them have to work hard to climb our washes to get back which they did after around 150m. So this told us that they are strong and have good speed, it would be now down to tactics.
We dropped our pace now to mid 13’s and we led up the course.
At the top turn we were content to let them come through and lead back down the course, again the pace dropped off.
It was during this next 500m we developed a lean. It was really strange and seemed to come out of nowhere. We really struggled to sort it out and a few times Brett had to check his stroke as I shifted my weight in the back. I was very stressed as this wasn’t something we had encountered before and could have a serious impact. We tried to figure out what was happening and whether it was because I had only been pumping with one foot, and in the end I surmised that water had travelled to the back of the boat and was accentuating any slight lean that may have been there.
So we decided on the 2nd portage to lift the boat front and back and carrying on our shoulders so the boat would empty.
As we headed back towards the bottom turn this time the Spaniards let us take the lead without challenge and we rounded the turn uneventfully and led into the 2nd portage. As this takeout is slower and running with the boat on the shoulders was slower we allowed the Spanish to take the lead through the portage but we put in right behind and within 50m we were back on their wash.
We did have a couple more little incidence of lean and we established we were much better balanced when we were leading and the pace was solid.
The 3rd lap went by uneventfully with us leading most of the way and we started talking tactics. Brett asked if I needed drink and I said no, I felt really good, has only needed to take sips and still had fluid left, I was happy not to go through drinks station. It was then we decided the 4th portage would be when we would try to get away. We had another solid portage on the 3rd and again the Spaniards had to chase for 100-150 metres to get back onto our wash.
Now we let them lead and the pace dropped right down again. Fortunately the lean didn’t reappear and we were all set for the key 4th portage.
As we neared the bottom turn just before the portage our plans looked to be unravelling as a much slower boat was just entering the turn. Brett wanted to slip by on the inside but we couldn’t get the right line and found ourselves stuck behind momentarily while the Spaniards did manage to get up the inside.
We changed course and lifted as we went around the outside and surged to get back to the front again keeping a solid pace to ensure we led into the pontoon.
We got a clean exit, ran solidly with Brett calling to lengthen our stride and had a clean entry. We could hear by the course commentary that we had put a few seconds into the Spaniards. Brett called for us to go out solid but not hard, we went up to 15, and then kept an eye out for them. After around 150-200m they were just starting to climb the last wash to get back on and then we did an interval hitting 16km/hr and staying fast for 20-30 seconds, we saw them drop back, we dropped back to 14’s and then Brett called for a 10 double stroke effort, going back to 16’s then we’d recover at 14’s then do another 10 stroke double effort in the high 15’s then recover and one last 10 double effort in the 15’s and we were at the top turn. A controlled turn making sure we kept away from the bank on the exit and we were able to look up and see what damage we’d done. We had succeeded, the Spanish were around 150m behind.
Brett’s call was now just to concentrate on our form. We moved down the course at a steady 14km/hr and all that was left to do was concentrate and not do anything silly.
We both started getting cramps (mine were in the quads) as we neared the start finish line on the run in to the bottom turn so we were measuring our effort. We stayed well clear of boats we were passing and took the last bottom turn carefully.
The last portage we were able to take our time and jog through, discarding the one and only 500ml drink bag we’d both had for the race and carefully put back in and set off for our short lap.
On the short turn we had to be careful as we had overtake a boat making its way up course so we lifted the pace and went past telling them we were turning and they gave us room as we swung across in front of them, then we managed to negotiate a group of boats coming from the other direction as we exited the turn.
No more turns, we were in the run to the line.
There was a big group of leading boats from another age group on our left as we moved to the centre of the river and it felt good to overtake them as we were a hundred metres or so from the finish. We lifted the pace, and enjoyed that last 100m of making the boat run. It’s a beautiful thing for a paddler to be in sync with your team mate and have the boat move well underneath you.
We crossed the line, both gave a fist pump in the air and low five to each other.
I was very emotional after the race, as we drew alongside the entry/exit pontoon I admit having a little sook, a mixture of relief and joy and then a triumphant shout of “YEAH”!!!
We were greeted by an army of our team with well wishes and smiles from ear to ear sharing in our elation. Our team has been great at getting around all the competitors in this way.
As we stood onto the jetty we gave one another a big hug.
We then enjoyed the many handshakes and back slaps from our supporters. And started sharing snippets of how the race unfolded.
The oncourse commentator came over and found us in the competition area and interviewed us, making the point that we looked very good together and asking how long we had been racing together, he was taken back a bit when Brett replied that was our 3rd paddle in a K2 together.
After putting our boat away and getting our clothes we went to presentations. Unfortunately as the Spanish didn’t speak English they missed the announcement for the medal ceremony and missed it so we were photographed with the 3rd place (Polish/South African team).
Not long after I found the Spanish guys and through a bit of sign language we figured out they wanted a photo with us, so we all got together with them and had some photos.
Although we couldn’t speak, there was lots of back slapping, smiles and handshakes to acknowledge a good battle.