The Hansa Fish River Marathon is a special race to me. It is in my home Province of the Oos Kaap (Eastern Cape), it is super fun (lots of rapids, some testing flatwater and even some portaging, thrown in with 2 nights of awesome bands and a super party and you have the perfect race), and it was my first ever “river” experience.
Back when I was 15, and had only really paddled a surf ski, and a small bit of flatwater canoeing, my coach at the time, the late Daniel Conradie, mentioned that I should come with to Cradock for this river race. It was a pre-Fiish race, we started at the old Soutpans Weir (just a big drop-off, no chute). The women started 5minutes before the men, and off I went. I swam at the drop, and battled to find a nice place to get back in, which meant the whole field got away from me. On my own, I started slowly paddling down the river again, trying desperately to remember what Daniel had said in the car about what was coming next, and which way to go.Fortunately the guys caught up with me, and even though I was frantically aiming for the portage at Soutpans Bridge, a screaming Daniel convinced me to shoot, in front of him. I made it! My confidence soared, and I paddled with the men’s bunch for a while. That didn’t last, and once they had dropped me, I spent the next few hours stressing about what was around the next corner! (In those days there were no buoy lines marking the hazardous weirs you are not meant to shoot!)
Fast forward to 2012, and I made the trip to Cradock with Gavin White, hoping for a win. I have never won the Fish in a single. For most of my Olympic cycle, we would take September off from training, as we needed the break after a hard year of sprint training, meaning I missed the race for a few years. And then the past 2 years have been K2 years. The last time I was on a the Fish was in 2010, in a K2 with Robyn (actually that was the last time I was on a river!), so I must say my nerves were shot on the morning of the race. It was the least prepared I have ever been, with my last paddle over 25km being in July 2011, and no rough water paddling either. I managed to do a small amount of tripping, but was feeling pretty tired from the Worlds trip.
The race didn’t start that well, with a stupid swim at Double Trouble. After a surprisingly quick catch up to Robyn, the rest of the day went as planned. I kept my pace slow and controlled, not knowing how I would respond to 49km of paddling. At Katkop, I had a small gap and so I tried to maximize, and pretty much went as hard as I could from there to the finish. No swims, and a 3minute 15 second lead (buffer) for day 2.
Day 2 was all about being conservative. I had a large buffer, and had the luxury of portaging anything that mind cause a problem for me. We started in elapsed time with the men, and I had a group behind me that caught me fairly fast. I had some time in a bunch before even faster guys caught up, and the casualty of the bunch was me. I was feeling the effects of the 49km the day before, and I rather went on my own, at my own pace. I crossed the line, in my 7th Fish, finally in first! Very stoked!
Thanks Albert and Hennie from Knysna Racing for seconding me, and for the great boat and paddle! Also to Gav, Baz and crew for the seconding company! The organizers did their usual fantastic job of putting on a great event. And thanks to Hansa for continually supporting The Greatest Race in the World!