Yes – Racing! Family and friends who have known me for a long time would not have me down as a competitive sort. Yet here I am, writing up my experience of the 6th instalment of the UK SUP Clubs 10 race series, of which I have competed in 5 to date – How did that happen?My initial entry into water sports was by way of rehabilitation following a car accident in 2000. An Open Day at Bray Lake Watersports enticed me to try something new whilst seeking to regain lost fitness and satisfy my need to avoid impact sports. Windsurfing became a great weekend outlet to blow off the cobwebs of the working week – but what to do when there is no wind to speak of? I dabbled a bit in a Kayaking, pottered about on a boat but they never really took hold. Then arrived SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard), accessible, simple and the perfect Windsurfing compliment. Having spent time leisure paddling on the lake and venturing out onto the river I was slowly drawn in by the race talk of club members already participating in this fledging pursuit and so it took hold. The 10 mile Battle of the Thames in 2013 was a personal challenge that grew in 2014 to a diary mapped out now until September.
Billed as the Ultra Race, the 16 miles was intimidating but as this was my home race there was no ducking out of this one. It’s fair to say I was not alone in being a little worried. Despite being on familiar territory having paddled the various parts of the course many times, I’d never actually joined them all up before. Last year I chose the Adventure paddle, completing a slightly shorter 12 miles at a more leisurely pace in keeping with my capability at the time. The race from Hurley to Windsor incorporating the portage of 6 locks was the longest distance I’d paddled, let alone raced.
Still nursing a few aches and pains gained in training and in the unfamiliar coastal conditions two weeks previously I was keen to finish the race unscathed. If I don’t push hard enough I’ll be disappointed in myself, but push too hard I may not make the finish at all. Whilst I know I’m improving my fitness through paddling regularly, being new to this climate of competition I have work to do on my understanding of the fitness, nutrition and hydration needed – When to push? When not to push? Maybe I’m getting a bit competitive after all.
The sun was shining race day which was great for pre-race banter and milling about. Race build up is always a good catch up session with familiar and new friendly faces from far and wide. The race briefing detailed the course and safety observations – To avoid a nasty bottle neck at the first lock the classes had a generous start interval – 14′ Men, 14′ Ladies and 12’6 Men all 5 minutes apart and then there I was lined up with the 12’6 Ladies.
Go! Go! Go!
Or not… The start not a great one for me – A couple of my fellow Bray ladies miss timed the start procedure finding themselves side on as the fleet surged forward and I was stuck behind them. Not that it mattered – my starts have not lit any fires to date so why should this be an exception. I find it takes me a while to get into my stride and relax into a steady constant paddle and lets face it I had plenty of time to get back anything I could.
I initially settled into a strong long stroke to pull myself into the first lock. Having on a previous occasion witnessed the seriously competitive with skill leap from board to bank, run the length of the lock and determinedly throw themselves and their boards back into the water again I can confirm in comparison my portage to be a much more considered affair. Glide in easy, place yourself carefully so not to fall in and most importantly don’t damage your board! Following my Miss Daisy approach to the Portage I took a little advise given to me and put in about 20 quick strokes off the lock before settling back in to a more long game pace. I wasn’t hitting it so hard that I missed the beautiful scenery or worried about not finishing, but then didn’t give myself the opportunity of taking on the interior design styling’s of the riverside homes, moorings and boat houses either. It was a pace to allow appreciation of obvious architecture which I could maintain without draft or train as the field was pretty spread now and whilst I always had paddlers in sight I was very much working alone.
More miles, more locks and words encouragement along the way and only one mantra reigned – My race was with the one in front – Whoever that was. I got into a bit of a stride pushing and easing incentivising myself with a number of gains and new targets in my mantra. It was hot, and I could feel myself tiring and unlike those unfamiliar with the route and un-researched I wasn’t sure if knowing how far I’d come and had to go was an advantage or disadvantage to the psychology of my race especially as I’d been feeling my shoulder pull since Marlow – certainly didn’t take it long to let me know it was there.
On approach to the final lock I glanced back hoping to have built up a sufficient distance to those behind me to maintain my place knowing I was tiring significantly now – I had – Phew! As I hit land I could see fellow Bray 12’6 lady Lisa stretching at the far end of the pontoon in front of me, upon seeing me though she promptly jumped on her board unbeknown to her I didn’t have it in me to close the gap. Having grabbed a sports gel and mouth of flapjack at the previous lock I had hoped it was going to kick in about now – It was not to be. Just had to keep paddling with whatever I had left. Being a member of Windsor & Maidenhead SUP Club, Windsor Castle on the horizon is now a familiar sight to me but it has never looked so magnificent as it did to me coming into view that day – Such a welcome sight, but it was not the end. The final navigation of rowers and pleasure boats felt like the longest stretch until the sight of Eton Bridge and the shouts and cheers from the guys confirming the end of my race. Whoop! Finished at last!
Exhausted, but such a huge sense of achievement – 13th placed 12’6 Female completed in 3 Hours 33 Minutes. Happy for now, but plenty of potential for improvement with a bit more preparation.
Thank you & well done to all those involved in making it a great weekend.
Contributed by: Candice