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  • Writer's pictureDean Macken

An introduction to racing, and beyond…

Tuesday, 6th October 2020

An introduction to racing, and beyond… Written by Mark Beasley

As you may gather by now, I never seem to sit back and do nothing. Recently I have started my coaching journey and during the Core Coach course I was coached for 15 minutes by another participant in the art of moving forwards in a K2 racing boat! I was really surprised at 1) how stable I seemed to be and 2) that I was able to paddle with some ease and keep the boat upright, even though the person in the seat in front was shaking with nerves, lol. Coming back from the course I was fired up and ready to try this properly, so Duncan kindly give up his time on Thursday night to take me through the paces. Most who I chatted to thought I was mad, and everyone expected me to have an incident of some kind, swimming probably - some people have no faith.

Duncan bought with him one of his K1 marathon boats for me to go out in. For those who don’t know, these are long, narrow boats which are barely wide enough to get your arse into. Luckily, I have recently lost another stone in weight so my derrière is somewhat smaller than it was pre-lockdown. These boats are notoriously ‘wobbly’ and unforgiving when sitting static in the water with a person in them, or worse - getting in or out of them! So, Challenge #1 Getting into the boat Well I just had to go for it, but to be honest I need a bit more practice to become independent. Duncan had to assist to stabilise the boat as I got in. Once in, I had to try and stay upright whilst zipping up the spray deck cover. Had a little moment but managed ok. Got my core firing and my posture upright. The sitting position is a lot different from our normal kayaks - you sit with your knees raised at around 120 degrees in front of you. (See I did listen Duncan). Challenge #2 Leaving the bank (and steering this long vehicle into the river without crashing or capsizing) As I mentioned these boats are very long and to steer them you have a rudder underneath. The rudder is operated by a lever that is strategically placed between your feet on the foot plate. You move the lever in the direction you want to go using your feet. Easy isn’t it! Well, it became easier. It was like a sweet choreographed dance I had to learn - quickly! The connection points are more limited than that of our normal kayaks. Basically, it’s the balls of your feet and your bum. Now, obviously I’m still learning so I might not be 100% correct on all of this, but after one session I think I’ve learnt a lot, thanks to Duncan. As you put the paddle in and latch onto the water you push the leg on the same side which allows the transfer of power from your body as it unwinds, to drive the boat forwards. Same fundamental principle in a kayak when you want power-drive but little differences to allow for better efficiencies to maximise on the speed versus effort in these racing boats. Without boring you too much it’s down to the length of the strokes in the water, the length of the paddles and the rotation to name a few. Going forwards was fine until I needed to turn so as not to crash into the bell boats! A few curse words muttered under my breath as I tried to get everything moving in the correct order and the lever the correct way. Like in a car there seems to be a biting point on the lever which you need to find to get the turn to activate. In these boats you are only really stable whilst your paddle is in the water and you have a forward momentum. I sucked up my core and somehow miraculously managed to escape an impact and the humiliation of falling in before I’d really started. Challenge #3 Maintaining a pace to keep my stability whilst steering around objects and bends in the river One thing for sure is that the River Soar was not built by the Romans. If it was it would definitely be straighter! After a few wobbly moments working around the initial obstacles, I soon found a happy place in my posture and got into the habit of straightening my legs during the strokes. The difficulty was coordinating the steering in with the strokes without losing the pace and speed. That will come with practice. Once we got to the lock at Swans Nest we needed to turn. Duncan suggested I got as far left as possible before turning as the turning circles are huge in these things! He wasn’t wrong. Had to slip in a couple of back paddles to stop me going into the hedges. But I realised I wasn’t unstable. My core was holding out, and my initial wobbliness had gone. We got back to LOPC and hopped out (with a little help) for a little debrief and rest before heading downstream. Challenge #4 on the river with other racers (River/ racing etiquette) Whilst we were on the bank chatting, more racers from Soar Valley CC had launched from LOPC and headed downstream. This was great because I could see the techniques they were using as well as their different types of craft.

We got back on the water and headed downstream following the racers. As we paddled down, we had to pull in to allow them to pass us going back upstream. Duncan explained about the racing lines and the difference with ‘racing wild water’ utilising the stronger flow in the centre of the river going downstream, but when coming back upstream keeping to the edge of the river as much as possible where the flow is less to work against, conserving energy. The racers passed and we continued down to the overflow weir before the turn off to Birstall weir. I performed another turn, this time I had the confidence to edge to help the turn. We continued back towards LOPC and I tried to experiment with more power. I was using my own Werner Powerhouse paddles which are only 197cm. I probably need 220cm paddles to race with to give me an extended reach before pulling out at the waist. I soon felt knackered! By this time the racers had come back towards us and as we were approaching the last couple of bends, they were lapping us. Nothing like deflating your enthusiasm lol. We got back to LOPC and I managed to get out all by myself, to I think Duncan’s surprise. So, a great session and no watery incidents! I call that a result. Thank you Duncan! Interested? Why not give it a go?! The great thing about being in PaddlePlus is that you get the opportunity to try ne things. The club has a wealth of talent in different disciplines from paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, racing and freestyle. If you fancy trying something, just mention it to one of the team and they will point you in the right direction. I work on the philosophy that you get out of life what you put in. I’ve spent to long not getting around to things, nowadays I try and action as much as possible rather than just talking about stuff. Where next? Well... As I started saying at the beginning of this piece I can’t do things by half. I’m going to start participating in the Barrow Race series to get in the mindset of racing and then… I have a plan! It includes probably the hardest physical challenge I have ever put myself through and completes something that’s been on my bucket list for over 3 years. Guess there’s more to come :) Mark Beasley

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