SEVEN!

Thursdaymorning was quiet.  None of us were walking very much as we got up and went through our pre-race routines.  Each of us has a particular pattern we follow before big races, in an effort to bring ourselves to a mental peak without being so nervous that we make mistakes.  Rich gets up and stretches, as usual, but eats only a light breakfast.  Mike eats lightly, and will occasionally play his mandolin.  Ed stretches and goes over his lines again and again, sometimes in his head, and sometimes verbally. 

I like to eat pancakes before I race.  They sit about right, especially if I can eat 3+ hours before the race.  I have no trouble with focus, and often have to do something to take my mind off of the race.  Thursday morning I read.  The Bible, Oswald Chambers’ My Upmost for His Highest, and a mystery that I picked up on the way out of town at the begining of the trip. 

Wednesday evening, I found out that John Pinyerd wasn’t racing C-1.  He had planned on racing C-1 and C-2, but had hurt his shoulder a few weeks ago, and felt it was only strong enough to paddle one class.  He chose C-2.  Much of me mental race plan was built around starting directly behind John, and I had to adjust quickly.  By Thursday morning, I had my head in the right place again, and was ready to go hard.

We did the thirty minute drive to Cottonwood rapid, Ed and I did a practice run, and then the waiting was on.  An hour plus of mandolin, reading, and stretching followed.  The race was pushed back half an hour.  Finally, I got in the boat to warm up.  Twenty minutes later, Rich and Mike started right in front of me, charging out of the start eddy fast.  One minute later, I followed.  Across the pool, at 85+ strokes per minute, through the rapid in a blur, and then across the finishing straight.  The last 100 yards hurt.  My arms burned.  I couldn’t pull hard.  But, I finished in 1:37 and won the first run in the C-1 class.  Second run was a near repeat, and I ended the day 26 seconds and 15% ahead of Ed Gordon, my nearest competitor.

We were all early to bed, and up at 6:00 am  (or earlier, for those of us that don’t sleep too soundly before races) for the classic races, the second half of the National Championships.  Ed and I did a practice run.  I flipped (and rolled).  It was a great confidence boost just before the race.  I started again just behind Rich and Mike, who were amped to maintain their slim lead after the sprint. 

Usually I can catch Mike and Rich in a 20 minute race, but not today.  I was tired off the start, and paddled decently, but not too powerfully.  Then, just before the final rapid, a raft pushed me into an eddy.  I got around it, not losing too much time, and suddenly saw two racers ahead of me.  I was catching them fast, but not fast enough.  They didn’t pull over, and at the crux of the rapid I had to stop paddling because there was no room to go around.  I sped by in the last 50 yards, and finished.  I won.  By two minutes.  I knew I had just won my seventh national title, and third in a row, but I wasn’t happy.  I felt I should have been 30 seconds faster.  Is it unusual to meet one of your major goals and not be excited?  I love to train, to race, and to win, but I often feel I could (and should) do better.  In the end, winning a championship may not bring me peace. 

Later that day, as I saw Mike and Rich celebrating their first national C-2 title together, I was reminded of how I should feel, and relaxed.  It does feel good to win, but what’s better is sharing it with the people around you.  I wish Wendy were here, but we’ll have to celebrate when I get home on Tuesday.  For now, I’m happy to be here in Salida with Rich, Mike, and Ed, and to have another two days of paddling and racing.

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