On the weekend I completed my first major K1 river race in nearly 4 years. It was really great to be back on the river and especially the Croc. My two weeks of intense training definitely helped, but not in the way I had hoped. Fitness levels were still a long way off where I would have liked but it was awesome to arrive at the end of each stage without blistered hands or a chaffed bum! Day one is raced as an individual time trial with each competitor going off 15 seconds apart. I was seeded 14th, 1 position behind my arch rival, Mark Smith. Mark and I learnt to paddle together spending most our weekends on the Croc, Sabie and Blyde Rivers, so this was most definitely a race within a race. I started really hard and by the time I reached Ghoen’s weir (1km) I had already passed Mark as well as another competitor and I had thoughts of the podium flashing through my mind. Things continued to go my way with clean lines through every rapid and by the half way mark I had passed 7 guys. I handled rapids 14 and 13.5 with the class of Ant Stott and started heading down the home stretch with a great deal of over-confidence. With no major obstacles in my way and only 30 minutes to go I smashed into a rock that came out of nowhere, it rolled me over before I even knew what had happened. I didn’t hang around the accident scene for very long, I knew Mark breathing down neck. I didn’t make another mistake from there on but my training base began to fail me. With my cramping arms and Mark averaging 3:50/km for his last 5 km my lead dwindled to a measly 25 seconds by the finish. I was 4th 1:30 behind Andy Birkette in 3rd.
Day 2 started with a bang, 3 minutes into the race I was swimming in a deep pool watching my 25second overnight lead turn into a deficit. Fortunately for me I seem to swim a lot which means I know how to get back into my boat quickly. In no time at all I managed to hook onto Mark’s tail slip and the race was on! With neither of us wanting to give anything away too early we exchanged leads a number of times over the next 45minutes. As we headed towards one of the more tricky rapids of day two I attempted to take up the pull by going through a small tree. This was a mistake as the little tree proved more resilient than anticipated and I once again found myself swimming in a deep pool. I jumped back into my boat and set off down the river but things were different, I suddenly felt every ache and pain from the previous days racing. Every stroke seemed 10 times heavier than it had 5 minutes before, a feeling every athlete knows when he has a race slip through his fingers. Over the remaining few kilometres I just took in the amazing river, appreciating every rapid, tight turn and tree block (Which ended up costing me another position).
It truly was an awesome experience to be back on the river, what a great race. I encourage each and every paddler to take a strong boat (if you not a great driver) and make the trip down this river.