Royal Canoe Club Paddle Challenge/10km National Championships. October 17th

After what has seemed like an eternity without any racing, it was fantastic to hear that the Paddle Challenge at Royal Canoe Club was on! How exciting! Also fun to know that this race has a great heritage and is the oldest in the world, having been around since the 1870’s.

Despite definitely not feeling race fit, (probably many people can relate to that, in this strangest of years,) I decided to enter just before the deadline. (Thanks Batty for convincing me it was a good idea!)

The morning of the race dawned and the weather was great for a mid-October weekend- dry, cool & no wind. There was a buzz in the air at Wey Kayak Club when I arrived to get my boat, with several people also loading up for the junior races scheduled for the morning.

Boat safely stowed on the car roof, off we headed towards the mighty Thames. With the current restrictions in place, Royal had a very organised system for boat drop off and registration. All was in place to make the race and club property as Covid-secure as possible. I started off with weighing my boat (including a last minute need to tape a pair of scissors under my seat, (along with the pre-planned lead weights) in order to reach the 12kg requirements. Thanks Emma, for that suggestion! Yes, despite being a 10km race, it was organised under sprint regulations. After collecting my race number, I caught up with Emma & Lois and heard about how well the junior races had gone for Wey- great news and inspiring to see how well everyone is doing. (Although I do wish they would stop growing and getting faster!! )

After the speedy juniors completed their races, it was time for the masters men and women to get going. We all started within 2 -3 minutes of each other and I was a little nervous beforehand that the river would be bumpy when the fast masters men were going past us, despite the fact the women’s field was small.

I got off to an OK start, managing to just about hang on to a fellow competitor who went out hard and zoomed off down to the first buoy. I realised that my training on the Wey doesn’t help with the “lively” water of the Thames (even though it was calm, from a weather perspective.) I started flailing around in some (minor) wash from the men’s masters boats going the other way and some motor boats and was soon dropped by my fellow competitor. Once the river “calmed down” again, I tried in vain to chase her down whilst berating myself about my inability to handle the small bumps.  Despite my best efforts she was incredibly strong and the gap slowly widened- she definitely deserved the win. So, for around 9.5km of the 10km race I “time trialled”. Despite this, because there were other races going on at the same time and a lap format, it kept things interesting. I managed to overtake some of the slower men’s masters and open women. It was my first race on the Thames, so it was fun watching the rowing crews, paddle steamers and so on whilst trying to stay focused on going hard, whilst paddling alone. (Honest Batty, I wasn’t day dreaming- I was 100% focused the whole way!)

There were plenty of supporters on both sides of the river and it was great to hear the Wey support crew doing a fantastic job cheering me on as I went past on each lap- huge thanks to them for hanging around long after most of the other races had finished.

Overall, I was happy with my second place, although I was lamenting my lack of hard training over the last few months thanks to a niggling rib injury. Despite that I am still glad I raced and supported the event.

Well done to all competitors, especially my fellow Wey paddlers and also a big thank-you to Royal Canoe Club for the well organised and friendly event. My youngest, Auberon was a great cheerleader for mummy but was definitely more impressed with the gigantic blueberry muffins on offer- the highlight of his afternoon!

Karen Pflug