Last weekend May 31st saw the first running of a new kayak and canoe race in Athy, Co.Kildare. The Blueway Canoe Marathon hosted by Waterways Ireland is the first race offering an ultra distance course for kayaks in Ireland to my knowledge. With three courses on offer, 10km, 21km and an ultra 46km there was something for everyone. Starting in Athy the courses went north on the canal towards Monasterevin with portages at different points for each course and on to the River Barrow to head south again to Athy.
This river section posed a few issues with kayak choice. I was all set on using my carbon Elio Sprint for the race but the day before I got some info that the river might not be deep enough in places to accommodate the under stern rudder and that an over stern might be safer. With that I loaded up my Vantage River K1. It has an over stern rudder and is comfortable to paddle but is slower than the Elio and has the wash hanging characteristics of a bulldozer!
I was racing the ultra course so I was on the road at 6am to travel from Ballina to Athy. The forecast was mixed with sunshine,rain and wind to deal with. Its never easy deciding what to wear on days like this. When we arrived the wind was blowing from the NE and it was cold but dry. I was unshore how many people would be up for taking on the 46km course and as I prepared my drinks and gels for the race cars began to arrive with a few familiar faces.
The Ultra race was to set off first at 10 am with the other distances going later so everyone was finishing around the same time in the afternoon. Four boats lined up for the Ultra race, one K2 and three k1's. A small field but 46km is a long way to race and not everyone's cup of tea. In the K2 was an experienced crew of Malcolm Banks and Dermot Hudson. The K1's were piloted by Eamon Quigley, Fergus Cooper and myself.
As the hooter went we all set off at a good pace to get position for the first portage which was only a few hundred meters from the start. The K2 got out first and I managed to follow behind them. After this came 2 more portages in quick succession. The pace was fairly hot through this section and as we pulled out of the 3rd portage it was only myself and the K2 together. Over the next 20km we exchanged leads to battle the punishing head wind and weed on the canal. After 22km and 2 hours we reached Monasterevin and the welcome relief of a portage. I powered through the portage to get on to the river section and start heading for home. The lads in the K2 took a brief pit stop, I pushed on but I knew it would not be long before they caught up with me. As they caught up with me they took up the lead and right at that moment a big squall came head on. The wind blew me back and I ground to a crawl. The K2 plugged on and was soon out of reach to catch back up. To be honest I was kind of relieved as holding a wash in the Vantage is harder work than leading.
The next hour was tough going as energy levels dropped and the shallow sections combined with occasional squalls slowed me down. Around the 3 hour mark I started to focus on small goals and reaching the 40 km mark, I knew after that I hadn't far to go. I kept my stroke rate as high as possible and soon I was back in a good rhythm and making good progress. As I neared Athy I passed some racers finishing the shorter courses which lifted spirits more and I kept the power on. Eventually the church steeple in Athy came in to sight and soon after the finish line. I stopped the watch in 4:04:30.hrs, which I was very happy with considering the conditions and the K1 I used.
After the race there was loads of refreshments and a BBQ on offer which was a credit to the organisers and greatly appreciated.
Thanks to Blueway Marathon Facebook page for some pics.
Kayak instructor, athlete, business owner and outdoor enthusiast from the west coast of Ireland.
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