Madrid Canoe Regatta, Day 1

Today is day 1 of the Madrid Canoe Regatta. I’ve never done this race before, but it’s a NYMCRA kayak points race so I thought I’d give it a go. It’s two days, and I don’t think I’ve ever raced two days in a row in kayaking – although I used to think nothing of it when it was orienteering, or cross country skiing. The first day is only 9 miles and the second day is 13 – the entire difference being how far down stream they place the first turn buoy. Each day starts below the damn, and goes downstream for 5km (today) or 8km (tomorrow), comes back upstream, portages around the dam, and goes upstream for 2.5 km around an island and comes back and finishes just above the dam.

There is on-site camping in the same park where the finish is, so basically my tent overlooks the finish line. There are lots of canoers camped here, but not many kayakers. Oh, did I mention that I bought a tent and air mattress to save money on accommodation. Unfortunately that means that I’m over here at the one power plug in the park charging up my GoPros and batteries for tomorrow.

Also to save money, and to hopefully make sure I don’t fall asleep when driving home after the big race on Sunday, I travelled up here with Jim. Unfortunately both of us suffered from an excess of caution on the timing which meant leaving his house at 5:00 am, which meant getting up at 4:15, which meant obsessively checking my watch from about 3:15 on. So I’d be pretty tired right now even if I hadn’t raced. We arrived at 9:00 am for a 11:30 start, which meant I had time to pitch the tent and get everything set up before hand, which is good because I’m not sure I’d have the energy to do it now. And I got a good spot for my tent, right near the bullfrogs.

The start

The pro c-1 canoes started first, followed by the rest of c-1, then the c-2s then all kayaks. It was a very small field of kayaks. Jim and Matt were in a k-2, Royal was obviously going to be fastest in k-1, Eric was going to continue to destroy me, so about the only question mark in my mind was a guy in an ICF sprint boat. I didn’t know him so he could be up there with Royal or back with the two older slower people I’d already discounted as serious competition.

The starter gave us absolutely no count down or warning. He did the usual “paddle wave” to make sure everybody was there, and then we were off! Nobody had even pulled forward to the line.

At first everything seemed in order – Royal kept up with the k-2 for a few minutes, Eric was pulling away and the sprint boat was behind me. But then the sprint boat guy found his form or something and he went charging past me. I dropped into his stern wake and it looked like he was going to pull me up to Eric, but then sanity prevailed and I dropped off his wake rather than blowing up early. He caught Eric but then instead of tucking into his wake he veered off and they were paddling side by side. Which was bizarre because there was a bit of a headwind for parts of the way down and one of them could have gotten a good reduction in effort by tucking in behind.

The early going

Even though we were going down river, there didn’t seem to be much current. The breeze seemed far more important. I tried to avoid going too tight into the corners because it was shallow and weedy in there. After not too long I was passing some of the slower canoes. So at least I wasn’t lonely. I could see Eric and the other guy far up ahead, still bizarrely side by side although it looked like the other guy might be dropping off a bit. Royal and the k-2 were rarely glimpsed way up ahead when the river was straight, but mostly it was too twisty to see much.

The first turn

Nearly a kilometer and a half from the turn, I saw the first of the C-1s. I counted them, thinking that this might be useful information for Jim and Matt. When I saw them, I called out that there were 8 C-1s ahead of them. I found out afterwards that they hadn’t heard me, so that was a waste of time. But I could also see the sprint boat guy was starting to throw out the occasional brace. I don’t know if he was just tired or didn’t like the wakes coming off the C-2s coming in the opposite direction (although we’d all had to pick our way through clumps of C-2s heading in the same direction by then, and the slower C-2s are often heavier and put out more wake). And then he fell in. He was swimming the boat to shore by the time I caught up with him and I did the neighborly thing and asked if he was all right and if he needed help, and breathed an audible exclamation of relief when he said he didn’t.

After the turn, I got my first glimpse of the “older slower people”, and they weren’t all that far behind. I was going to have to keep pushing if I didn’t want to get caught.

The uphill battle

The way upstream wasn’t much worse than the way down, except without the breeze it was hotter. I was passing more canoes and they were going in tight in the corners. They put out some pretty good wakes if they’re inside and you can find a compromise position not so close in as to die in the suck water but not so far you can’t use their wakes. I was trying not to interfere with canoe on canoe action but still take advantage of their wakes, but much of the time it was just as fast if not faster to be out in the deeper water in the middle of the river.

The portage

I knew the portage was going to suck. It was on grassy parkland and paved paths, and my paddle shoes have no padding and no support. Plus the whole reason I got into paddling was because I couldn’t run or ski any more. I got passed by three boats on the portage, but managed to pass one. The one I passed was a guy with only one leg who was dragging his canoe on a rope around his body. He wasn’t very fast but full marks for being up there. I also knocked my head camera askew – it looks like the last 5 km are just a view of my legs. The whole experience was very painful and I couldn’t wait to get back in the water. Except I messed up my drink hose and had to stop paddling to untangle the mess and get that working again. It was too hot to do the last 5 km without water.

On the way up and back

I was still counting C-1s for Matt and Jim, although this was made slightly more difficult in that there were some recreational paddlers around. Although it really isn’t that hard to tell the difference between a C-1 Pro and somebody in the 3 mile recreational race. But some of them required some dodging. Matt and Jim came by with just one C-1 Pro left ahead of them. They ended up not catching him.

The turn around at the top of the course was an island. It was very shallow and weedy around that and it was pretty painful. The disadvantage of a loop around an island is that when you’re coming back down, you might not get to see your rivals because they’re the other side of the island from you. I never saw the two I’d dismissed before the race, so I knew they were close, and I just caught a glimpse of the guy in the sprint boat before he disappeared behind it. That made me feel like at least I still had some cushion on him.

I managed to catch and pass all three of the boats who had passed me on the portage, but I know I lost a lot of time to everybody on the land portion.

Results

As expected, the K-2 was the fastest boat on the course, Royal was second fastest boat in his v12. For some reason Royal was registered in touring class, which meant Eric was second in touring class and 4th fastest overall. I won unlimited class. The man and woman I’d dismissed as old and slow were 51 seconds and 2:52 behind me respectively, which means I should pay more attention to them tomorrow. The sprint boat guy was almost 4 minutes behind. I wonder how much of that was from that one dump, or if he continued to struggle with his balance.

Tomorrow is another day, and a longer one. I’m hoping I left enough in the tank.

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