The weekend of 21-22 July saw Lincoln Canoe Club (and a few other clubs) descend on the city of Reading to take part in the National Open Marathon Championships. Two days of intense racing to crown National Champions in various disciplines across a breadth of age groups. Lincoln had paddlers contending 8 of Saturdays' 31 K/C1 races and in 7 of 22 K/C2 races on Sunday. All Lincoln paddlers completed their races, the club had 2 podium finishes and one National Champion!
So on with our story; Lincoln arrived in Reading, making straight for the Toby Carvery which was helpfully located very close to the campsite and even closer to the hotel that seemed popular amongst the parents in particular. After a carb-loading session with an uncountable variety of potatoes, club members made for the campsite or hotel. At this point, the hot spell beseiging the UK took a 30 minute break as mother nature opted to provide a cooling rain shower for team Lambert, helped by Ray, to pitch their tent in the dark! Tent up, rain stopped, entertainment provided, it was to bed ready for the first day of racing!
Saturday was an early start, getting James and Louis through boat control and to briefing for a 0900 race. The boys looked confident getting on the water and placed admirably. James raced hard but was pushed from 4th to 7th at the turn. Louis narrowly missed a podium finish in U10 but both raced hard. Lewis Andrews and Abbie Fisher raced U12 JMK1 and U14 JLK1, placing 6th and 10th against tough fields. Lewis Smith and Oliver Jackson were on the water to challenge U16 JMK1, placing 7th and 29th respectively from a tough 8 mile course with two portages. We watched as the top ladies and men in the country lined up to compete the arduous 16 mile course, in awe of their clear physical prowess and adeptness in the kayak. We then watched as Mike Lambert, an RAF paddler with clearly more positivity than a labrador chasing a car, paddled up behind them. He kindly gave the senior men a bit of a headstart before starting his long slog around the course. Interestingly, spectators noted the commentator pointing out how he had a big smile on his face at the portage, but those listening carefully could swear to hear him gasp "kill me now"! I guess we'll never know which it was... Into the afternoon and Lincoln's elite family of paddlers took to the water. Richard Oliver contended the O69 VMK1 and David Oliver secured a second place finish in O39 VMK1. Well done David! Matthew Oliver chased his brother, placing fifth.
Before moving on to Sunday's results, its probably worth highlighting some of the notable occurances on Saturday. There was Mike's voluntary swim after the seniors race, followed by a brief nap in the river before getting out. There was Oliver Jackson's kindhearted welcome to returning paddlers after their races with his cheerful "did you swim?" greeting. Ray putting more consideration into whether to go and buy a bacon roll than time has been spent on Kirton's design app. The "council of parents" passing approving verdicts on every race and the undercurrent of wheeler-dealering trying to sell on a K1. Saturday evening was a club barbeque by the river, where a couple of gas barbeques were brought out and a free-for-all of meat burning took place. Initially, there was a gender-split between the barbequeing; the mens' BBQ was full of flame and charred meat, like a proper BBQ. The ladies seemed to be much more civilised and actually trying to cook their food. This changed quickly when their BBQ caught fire completely and melted. Robyn also subtly moved over to the mens' BBQ which in hindsight was probably a kind effort to stop us poisoning ourselves. The kids all enjoyed swimming in the Thames to cool off, until a BBC News report made the parents reconsider the hygiene aspects of doing so. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger I suppose.
Reading's Nationals course deserves some description. A long paddle upstream to the first portage before a return down, a pontoon portage and short 2km loop round an island is 8 miles. Fractions and multiples of the route using islands and buoys on the upstream leg were the method of shortening or lengthening depending on age group. The Thames was wide and the wash rolling, different to Lincoln's canal and much more predictable. However, the boats were more frequent and faster, so there was more wash to deal with overall. There wasnt a great deal of flow; a challenge as a result of the hot weather and minimal rainfall. The portages at Reading brought some variety to hard paddling, the first that paddlers were confronted by was a beach portage near Maple Durham Lock. The beach is something not practiced routinely at Lincoln's canals and presented some different approaches to getting out and back in the boat. Watching the live feeds, some paddlers were well practiced, almost dismounting the boats whilst still on the move and deftly lifting their craft up the beach and along the portage route before hopping back in as if they were standing on a SUP. Other approaches included ploughing the boats nose first into the sand and hoping for the best, bracing with a paddle to get in/out or, some of our favourite portage styles, falling out into the 1/2 a foot of shallow Thames!
Sunday was the K2 day. Conor Simmons got in the back of a Hody with James Lambert, who had abandoned camping under the pretence of resting up for the race. The boys had practiced a couple of times in Lincoln and raced hard, placing 4th. Great to see Conor back racing and we look forward to seeing him competing in the coming months. Lewis Andrews was straight off on U12 JMK2. A really strong race with a partner from another club saw a Lincoln Paddler crowned as a National Champion! Lewis got off the water with his now characteristic positive outlook but clearly having put his all into the race. Well done Lewis! Abbie Fisher represented Lincoln ladies of Sunday, getting into a K2 with a new partner who she’d only paddled with once the day before. A fantastic effort saw them place 4th! Lewis Smith and Oliver Jackson were racing again too, both with other club paddlers in U16s, Lewis placed 9th and Oliver 13th. Well done lads. I do have to mention Oliver Jackson's swim at the beach portage which he got through with fantastic good humour. Lincoln had another two crews in the O39 race, Matthew and David Oliver clearly putting the K1 results behind them to place 5th and Ray Simmons and Kev Lack placing 8th! I should point out the distinct difference in Ray and Kev's appearance on this race. Whilst Ray, driving, looked exhausted in the front, Kev somehow went round with an almost unnerving smile on his face all the way to the end! Perhaps thats what made Ray paddle so hard?
A great Nationals and a great weekend with the club. Everyone had a fantastic time, paddlers and bank supporters together. Lots of laughs, lots of food and lots of hard racing. The Club appears to be sponsored by Icon with almost all paddlers styling an icon sunhat by Sunday. The club now has its sights on the Sprint National Champs in September and then the Hasler Final.