A few months ago (on my last Davo's Corner in the monthly newsletter) I wrote about joining an elite team of paddlers and heading to Cairns for an ultra marathon race using 6 man Outrigger canoes that race in "Open water".
This is my story of the lead up to and the actual event (and I may add some of the after-story).
This will take a few blogs (or longer if I get side tracked along the way and discuss other aspects of my life)
It all started a few years ago - I was in my normal peak physical fitness (along with good looks and radiant personality), for example I was able to jump puddles in a single bound, I could lift heavy weights with ease (it was not uncommon to see me lift two bottles of beer – whilst they were full – above my head), my muscles were bulging with energy (in fact my chest muscles had expanded to extend to my waist) and I was able to “run like the wind” (my wife did point out at the time that the only wind I could outrun was the hot air coming from my mouth – but she has always been a cynical person who has envied my fitness).
Over the last 15 years of intense training I had tried different sports - dry land synchronized swimming, backward mountain bike riding on flat ground, competitive belly flopping off the side of a pool, upside down buck jumping on rocking horses and (my favourite) - 3 legged racing with only one person.
There was no doubt (in my mind) that I was an elite athlete and I was disappointed (and surprised) when Olympic selectors did not recognize “Greatness” even when I was willing to send YouTube's and Facebook photos of myself in training (in fact I was threatened with court action if I ever sent them another photo of myself in purple "Speedos" before a Dry Land synchronized Swimming training session I held at the local park).
So I had decided to look at other sports and felt that sitting in a canoe (I already had the big bottom, so I would not need any form of padding on my seat) and paddling was the sport for me.
So I joined the local Outriggers Club (at the mouth of the Burnett River) and started on a journey that would see me off Cairns in mountainous waves racing towards Port Douglas with 5 other fit and insane men (who seemed to enjoy the pain and the suffering that is part of ultra marathon racing).
But I get ahead of myself.
I joined the club and immediately I was recognized for future greatness by the rest of the paddlers (they obviously recognized that by having me in their boat was a huge disadvantage to other crews and that the other boats would not be able to keep up - so as a group they all voted that it would be best not to be in any boat or at least not in their boat). It was often stated at training, that they would prefer me to go on a single man canoe and preferably in the opposite direction then they were going.
If I went in a 6 person canoe the other paddlers would be concerned of the tremendous advantage they had and were often heard to yell "I want to paddle in another canoe" or at one time 5 of the crew I was with suddenly got emergency calls and had to go home before we could start.
It was not long before I became a "valued" member of the club and earned a nickname - "Ballast". (We all know that earning a nickname means that you are respected and well liked in any sporting club.)
So after 3 days of intense training I was ready "to take on the world" and I was surprised when I heard that it normally takes people up to 2 years of intense training to get ready for racing. It was fortunate that I have that natural ability to "lift" and become tuned for the high level of sport.
I was lucky that there was a race event that the club wanted to compete in and they were missing one crew member - so in I grabbed the opportunity and entered my first race. It was only sprint racing - over 2Kl. "It will be over before you know it" the captain of the team told me.
What they did not tell me is that a top canoe will travel around 12Kl/hr and that means that the race would take around 10 – 15 minutes. I am not sure what went wrong in our race but I swear our race took 2 hours (the rest of the crew disagree but I am sure it took that long).
I turned up on the day “ready for action” - I was wearing my yellow lyrca shirt and pants (in case we flipped and the rescue boat would be able to see me), I had on my green "legionnaires cap" and my pink gloves. I had drunk 6 liters of water to stop dehydrating and I had eaten 8 protein bars and 5 bananas (for potassium). In my research I had found the biggest reasons why people "hit the wall" is because of lack of energy or from dehydration.
I know that I "sloshed” as I went from the beach to the boat and I know I sounded like a waterbed as I climbed over the edge of the canoe and got into my seat but I was not going to let my crew down.
I was wearing my heart monitor to make sure I did not enter into the anaerobic zone "too early" and I knew my maximum heart rate was 180 per minute. As we paddled out to the starting line I noticed my heart rate was now at 280 beats per minute - "the energy and protein bars are working well" I thought.
In OC6 racing the starter uses different coloured flags and the captain of the boat calls these out "We have an orange, now it’s yellow, green is up" etc. This means that the canoe and its crew must get ready to edge up to the starting line, stop on the line and then start when the green flag is dropped. But I was not aware of this at the time so when the captain said "We have an orange" - I replied that I only had one banana but I did have 2 protein bars and I was more than willing to share.
The green flag fell and we were off! The other boats surged ahead as the members of each crew paddled in unison and drove their canoe forward. When I say “the other boats” what I really meant was that ours seemed to have something holding us back – maybe the captain had thrown out a sea anchor or something. We more or less “staggered” over the starting line and seemed to decelerate from there.
The crew were yelling at me “to slow down and stop thrashing” – I was a virtual whirlwind of action. My paddle was going in and out of the water at a great rate – I was throwing water all over the people behind me and filling up the canoe with sea water at a rapid rate. So I grabbed the bailing bucket and started throwing water out of the boat but in my haste I was now drowning the crew in front of me – at least now everyone was in no danger of overheating from the sun.
The crew member in front of me grabbed the bailing bucket and started to lower the water level in the boat whilst the other members started to paddle. By now the other boats were at least 200 meters ahead of us but all was not lost – we had a plan. If we all paddled to out maximum and stayed in unison then our superior fitness should give us a good chance to at least not be last.
So we settled in – stroking around 75 strokes per minute and looking good.
We seemed to have paddled for a long distance when the cramps started to occur in my body (the crew stated later that we had only gone 100 meters but I find that hard to believe).
The first cramp hit me in the right leg causing my leg to bend. Then within a minute or so the left side of the abdomen started to cramp causing me to start to bend to the left at the waist. Then the right arm started to cramp in the biceps. By now I was a cripple – contractions hitting me from every side and not able to move my arms or my legs properly causing my paddling technique to become nonexistent (surprising it was reported later that it was about this time our boat started to go faster and catch the other boats in the race).
Then the pain started in the chest!
There is talk that there was squealing sounds “like a girl” coming from the canoe as I clutched my chest and dropped my paddle over the side of the boat. There is malicious talk that I went “white as a ghost” and started sobbing but I find that hard to believe. (I am used to pain – it was only the other day that I stubbed my toe on a toadstool and did not make a sound).
Obviously the crew was concerned and amidst cries of sympathy such as “Bloody hell!” and “Bugger” we headed back to the beach.
After extensive tests and emergency treatment I survived (obviously I would not be writing this article) – there was some talk about “Gas associated with the overabundance of fluids and fruit fermenting in the stomach” but no one was completely sure of the cause of the pain. All we know is when I finally loosened my lyrca pants and removed my shirt, I burped (and passed wind from other areas) and the blood returned to my face and the pain seemed to go.
I would like to thank the ambulance workers, the air sea rescue, the volunteers on the shore who carried me to the hospital tent, my crew members for being so understanding and my wife (for not putting photos and messages on Facebook).
Next month I will continue the saga that lead to me paddling in a canoe around 8 Kl out to sea off Cairns in high seas and strong winds and heading towards Port Douglas (I was not scared – I just acted that way to make the rest of the crew feel brave).