Andy Joyce 1st place 12’6″ 41yrs + and 5th Overall
Time: 2.41.11 average of 6.1 mph
I’d been worried about this race for about a month; quite simply it was the longest distance race as a single racer I’d ever attempted.
The fact I’d developed acute shoulder impingement during the 10 mile Battle of The Thames and still had it, filled me with dread. What if my shoulder blows out? Could I cramp up and not finish? Also I need a top 6 finish to keep my series points up.
I wasn’t going to race, but fortune smiled the Wednesday before. Coach Ryan James looked at my shoulder and manipulated the area to try to release the soft tissue and reduce the impingement. It seem to work and at training just after, held nicely when grinding it out in sprint intervals. Bray Ultra back on!!
Saturday-the summer equinox dawned clear, warm and very early! Nice clear drive up to the heart of the Home Counties. After a full English (breakfast of champions!), parked in a lovely spot by the river near the start at Hurley.
Build up to the race was great, always good catching up with the UK series crew, had to stop myself getting distracted from prep (as always!)
The race was from Hurley to Windsor with board carrying over 6 locks, a great change from the constant paddle grind, but could be tricky navigating if you couldn’t see anyone in front of you. Fortunately the 12’6” open men’s race started 5 minutes after the fast fourteen footers; this was to stop bunching at the 1st lock and made it easier for our division as we followed.
I always find it a little surreal just before the start, almost out of body-I forced myself to be aware of myself and that I was ready to go!
We’re off!…….but at a fairly measured pace, I slipped into 4th in the lead draft train, with a bit of clattering with others, behind Ollie, Aaron and Pete. Just under a km to the 1st Lock, us 4 hit the portage and out of the water about the same time. We all started running hard as hitting the water after the lock 5 or 10 seconds before the next guy means goodbye to them. As paddle racers know, you lose the guy in front you’re out in the wilderness slugging it out alone.
After racing through the lock, I threw my board into the water and jumped from the bank straight on to it. Sprinted off chasing the lead three, still managing to get on Pete’s wake. We shot through the next 3 km’s or so before the next lock, having shaken the rest of the field-nice job, just gotta keep the pace and the lead.
After the second lock we 4 started spreading out, Ollie pulling ahead, Pete and Aaron drafting each other, I wasn’t so quick through the portage so couldn’t get on their wake. Still ground it out through a long section, pulling in some of the tail end 14fters. Beautiful scenery, shore side stately homes, with moorings and boat houses-Idyllic middle England. During this section, l drafted a few boats, which took my mind off the grind. 3rd lock was tricky, had wind and/or water flow funnel against us, but I managed round Tim Rowe and 2 others, who let me through (thanks guys!!). It was really encouraging to have people to try and pull in when racing by yourself, it really lifted me as we’d have a quick chat and encourage each other on before we’d part company.
Next Lock, Cookham was eventful, came in strong on the tail of 2 14fters. Slowed at the portage quickly by using my hands….right into duck shit! Hands went sliding and my whole side crashed in, covered in it, nice! As I finally stood up one of the lovely race marshals offered me some water which I threw over my head and took mouthfuls of like a marathon runner. Ran down the embankment and threw the board in ready for the next stylish jump and glide as the last 3 locks. Fatigue was worse than I thought………Bam! Over the front of my board and head first into the drink! At least it cleaned most of the duck do-do…….No more jump and glide entries for me!
The next stage was very green and cool, high sided banks with large trees. Passed some amazing wooden pleasure boats, including an Asian wedding party dressed to the nines. Past through Maidenhead, pulling in a few more fellow paddlers.
Just before the 5th Bray lock (17km), looked behind me and found I was being chased by a 3 man draft team of Alan Fernandes (Jersey) leading, with Mo Guy (Bay SUP) and another. I’d been needing a carbo boost and managed to open and shove in my mouth a piece of malt loaf just before the portage. With the draft team just behind, I quickly came through the portage and hit the water (stayed on this time-just!).
Alan had broken away from his drafters and hit the water just behind me. We had a breathless catch up as we came away from the lock. He was pretty spent from the effort to catch me, but it seemed a good idea to draft team to get away from the other trailers. We then took turns leading and drafting for the rest of the race, keeping well ahead of Mo and the field behind us. Round the last bend came Windsor castle into view, we decided to go over the line together rather than sprint the last section……., all the earlier finishers were cheering us on, the end bridge was covered in people, Yay! Finished at last!!
I felt great, a personal 1st, trained, prepped and raced well. I was stoked I had overcome my reservations and injury to go for it. A myriad of vivid sights, sounds and the change in pace on the lock sections kept my mind off the distance and the fatigue. Overall the vibe was awesome, 14 ft. tail Enders just let us through portages and offered kind words of encouragement. This really was contagious and I think that’s why I drafted with and went over the line together with Alan.
I must be going soft! It turned out he got the nod for 4th with me on 5th, but I knew earlier on it was fine as the points difference between the places are minimal and have a decent lead on his. I’ll have to play it harder next time:-)
Prize giving turned out a surprise bonus for me, they awarded places on age categories as well as overall, which saw me and fellow old timer and buddy Slasher get 1st in 41-51 age groups for our divisions.
Big thanks to………everyone at Windsor and Maidenhead SUP club and Bray Lake Watersports for making the event one of the best I’ve raced at. PJ, Scott Warren and the rest of the Tushingham Starboard team for the pre-race tactics and logistics. Lastly everyone in the UK SUP clubs series for sharing the aloha spirit and sportsmanship.
See ya in Sandbanks next month xx