In years gone by, when I couldn't run because of injury, I often tackled other endurance sports. Browsing through some old magazines, I found this article I wrote for the Victorian Marathon Club Newsletter published in June 1985, about my first attempt at the Red Cross Murray Marathon (now run by the YMCA).
MISERABLE MURRAY MARATHONING
|The start of a recent Murray Marathon. |
After the required rest period passed I began jogging, but aware of the Byrnes’ penchant for sometimes slightly overdoing things, began to look for some other form of exercise to combine it with. Then, brainwave (!), I would start canoeing and enter the Red Cross Murray River Canoe Marathon, a long held ambition of mine. Inquiries revealed that entries for the five-day, 404km event from Yarrawonga to Swan Hill closed at the end of November, giving me a month to decide whether I could do it and a further month after that to sharpen up.
|Competitors in a recent Murray Marathon. |
Two weeks later I strained some ligaments in my upper back quite badly and had to give away completely all paddling and running for two weeks - I even had difficulty walking. My illusions of being competitive with the best rapidly faded and it looked unlikely that I would be able to participate at all. However, frequent physiotherapy got me back on the water and road in time for four more weeks training. I should admit to falling out of the kayak into the lovely Yarra more than once in that time.
|Competitors in a recent Murray Marathon. |
Day 1 dawned bright and sunny and I arrived at the start with minutes to spare after watching some of the earlier, slower classes get under way. There were 500 paddlers in 300 canoes, 69 of which were in my class - the Men's Open TK1. Water turbulence caused by the frenetic early paddling was my biggest problem as the starting gun boomed and I only just avoided tipping out whilst dodging a capsized competitor.
The key to marathon paddling is 'wash-riding', i.e. sitting right on the tail (only inches away) of another competitor and effectively surfing on his wake. This technique reduces the paddling effort required by about 10% but takes careful concentration and occasional sprints as the leader (who, not surprisingly, sometimes objects to giving people free rides) surges to get away. I resolved to spend as much time as possible wash-riding and every time a TK1 passed me I would detach myself from one kayak and attach myself to the new one. By paddling hard and wash-riding I found myself well-placed after 60km when some of the short-comings of my paddling technique began to manifest themselves in my right wrist, which swelled up, turned red and blue and became extremely painful - tenosynovitis. I struggled on for the last 32km, finishing 14th for the day.
Day 2 was even longer, 96km, and soon after the start I damaged the deltoid muscle in my right shoulder and was reduced to virtually one-armed paddling. Each day's paddling was divided into four or five checkpoints about 2 hours apart (with a medical post half-way between each). Just prior to the first of these, five TK2’s (two men) swept past me creating waves which my weakened condition couldn’t cope with and I fell out much to my embarrassment in front of the assembled hundreds. The day continued to deteriorate. I felt I had reached the low point of my life - limping from medical post to medical post, administering ice packs, receiving massages, scoffing copious Aspros, falling out and generally wishing I was dead. Only the embarrassment of sending my caring land crew back to Melbourne after 1½ days prevented my withdrawal. After 10 hours I finished - 54th this time - dreading the next three days.
Day 3 is a bit blurred in my memory though I do remember falling out once for no particular reason in front of a group of fishermen. The intensive medical treatment continued, and as I grew gradually used to my disabilities, my average speed improved. Withdrawing, though pleasant to contemplate, was not an option since ex- Club member Mike Hall and his family and Ray & Marilyn Wilson were expected in Echuca, the stage finish, to see the spectacle. I was 37th for the day.
Day 4 began with some optimism and I actually chased a few canoes to wash-ride. The optimism was misplaced. I strained the ligaments in my back again after four hours and limped across the line 24th for the day. It was only the conviction of the doctors that none of my injuries would lead to permanent disabilities if I soldiered on that kept me going.
|Competing in my second Murray Marathon |
The Red Cross organisation was superb. In addition to the medical posts a large medical centre operated at each campsite until 10pm at night and from 5 .30am each morning where queues could be found for massages, physios, doctors and repairs to hands, bums, wrists and miscellaneous. On the fourth night the team of about 12 masseurs massaged over 400 paddlers. Including land crews and officials, the camp totalled near 3000 people, yet the special teams of volunteer marshals wearing colour-coded jackets ensured that everything worked smoothly and no-one got lost driving between check points.
To ensure no paddlers missed the start each day (the slowest left first at 7 .00am) the organisers kindly drove a loudspeaker van around the campsite at 5:00am playing 'Morning Has Broken' and 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life to the accompaniment of unprintable shouts and comments from roused paddlers and land crews.
No canoeist could complete the course without the aid of a land crew and I owe a great debt to mine. The girls nursed me through each day, literally lifting me out of the canoe at check points, filling drink bottles, administering 2-3 Aspros each time and a couple of handfuls of jelly beans, massaging shoulders, offering words of encouragement to unreceptive ears and spending long hours driving and waiting in the hot sun. Even after they had lifted my disabled body from the canoe for the last time each day they still had to put up the tents and prepare the meals whilst I lay down or sought medical treatment. I can't say it was a pleasant experience but it was one not to be missed and I will be back - better prepared and more competitive - in a few years time. Even the land crew said they'd come back though Barb thought it might be easier to be a paddler next time.