Doing the 50th Berg River Marathon was always on my hit list of things to do. Any race that is celebrating its 50th edition has to be special. With a brand like Windhoek backing it (“100% Committment All the Way”) made for a perfect match, as once you got on the start line, there was only one way to the finish 244km down the river at Port Owen… 100% Committment.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like, paddling more or less 60km every day, I can describe what it’s like to race it: “awesome”! To push yourself over those kinds of distances is a great challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed every arm-breaking, blister-forming, butt-paining moment of it. For those guys who had epic 9 hour days, I can only salute you, and say “Well Done” that is a massive achievement.
“Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain.” ~Author Unknown
Day 1: Paarl – Zonquasdrift. 62km
Day 1 was pretty smooth racing for me, I stayed with Robyn most of the day, until just above Hermon, where I started to put the hammer down. With just over 15km to go, and a few more tricky places to go through, I wanted to establish a lead that would set me up for the rest of the race. Coming through the back of A Batch (after starting 2 batches back in C Batch) was a little frustrating, fortunately no one blocked any important channels. I managed to get a solid 8 minute lead, which would come in handy with the women’s race format (being that each day you start in a women’s only batch, no elapsed time start).
Day 2 Zonquasdrift-Bridgetown: 45.6km
Day 2 saw us start not only after the 30 minutes of elapsed time guys, but als after another batch of 25 or so men. I was really worried about the extra effort it was going to take to come over the larger male’s waves, and the impact of catching people through the tricky forest section. Once again, luckily no major impact was felt (except I reckon some of the guys should go on a diet-their waves were massive! 🙂 )
Just after the Train Bridge, I was leading Robyn and Jen through the tricky tight corners I know so well, when I managed to overshoot te last turn, and snag my nose on some Palmiet bush, which proved to be a real challenging situation to get out of. The girls got away from me there, as I tried not to panic, and get myself free. After about 45 seconds I managed to get loose, and had to chase really hard to catch back up. From there onwards I decided to just go for broke, and really pushed it. Robyn stayed with me until about 500m after Ysterpen Rapid, where she went right through a tree and I went left. Went our respective channels met up again, I had a 50m lead, which I then extended to 3 minutes by the end of the day. A very nasty tree block near the end of that stage caused some problems for a number of people, including Lance King who was lying in 3rd at that point, and dropped to 6th. Tripping that section had really paid off.
Day 3: The Big One! 73km of which I had last seen it 7 years ago during the last Berg I did. I sat in a group of 4 across the long, flat 15km section to Misverstand Dam. A welcome run over the dam wall, saw us put in to some fast flowing water, and fun channels. After hitting a rock pretty hard in some rapid/broken weir (testament to the “bullet-proofness” of my awesome Knysna Racing boat) I noticed Robyn had fallen back. I kept up a nice solid speed, and worked out that if I maintained the quick pace I was sitting at (4:30) I could get this paddle over with in 3 hours. So I pinned my ears back and went for it. Passing many men’s batches, who looked so comfortable working together, I put in interval after interval to get past them. Not only did I not want to interfere with the bunches they were in, but I also didn’t want them to sit on my wash and make me pull them to the end. the temptation to slow down and join their group was huge, but I kept up my relentless pace, and thought of the finish. With about 6km to go, I started battling to maintain my speed. I caught up to two guys, Kwanda from Martin Dreyer’s group, and Owen. After a 1km rest on their wash, I pulled to the finish. I managed to open up another 8 minutes on second place, an excellent day!
Day 4: Zoutkloof to Port Owen 61km
Finally, the homeward stretch. Cracking ice off my boat for the start did not get me excited, pretty soon though the sun had burnt through the mist and I was cruising along with Robyn, eating up the kilometers. Another surprise forest to get through, and many slower paddlers who had started first. The second half of the day brought a welcome relief in the form of a fast bunch who caught us from behind. It was so great to finally be in a big group, our pace increased, and the finish was looking closer. Until our group fragmented at the portage, the wind picked up, and it got shallow!
This is not a race for sissies! The last few kilometres were really special, as all the people came out of their houses, or sat on boats in the Port Owen marina, and cheered us on. I had a police escort boat travel with me from the old finish at the bridge all the way , keeping other boats from speeding around me! Very cool. I had goose bumps as I saw the finish, and my first Berg win!
Thanks to my mom for seconding me, and to all my sponsors for backing me (especially Janine and Richard at Thule and Albert and Hub at Knysna Racing Kayaks for the awesome K1 and paddle). That 244km would have been a lot longer without those caffeine filled chocolate energy gels from PVM 🙂
Well done to Robyn on holding off my old K4 partner Jen for 2nd, and Jen on converting from sprinting just a few weeks ago to take 3rd in an ultra-distance event!
Well done Hank on your 8th win, you really are a legend! Also to one of my athlete’s (see MultiCoach blog for more – http://multicoach.co.za/index.php/category/blog/ ) Pierre Andre Rabie on his 2nd place, and Lance King on 3rd.