The Royal Challenge is a gruelling paddle-run-paddle event traversing Sydney's Royal National Park. The race was originally planned for late November 2013, but a week of heavy rain forced organisers to postpone it to the weekend just gone.
I came across the guy who runs the show, Steve Southwell, whilst out paddling on Port Hacking just prior to the previous Challenge. He told me to have a go; I thought the idea of running 22km was nuts, and then, somewhat ashamed of my dismissal of the whole idea, decided maybe life was too short to write off something that lots of people do every day.
|Steve Southwell, laying down the pre race briefing
So, instead of taking my girls to their winter running club early each Sunday morning and sipping a coffee, I signed up & began the long, slow journey to build my running from zero, hopefully to be able to complete the half marathon trail run that is the crux of the Royal Challenge.
Along the way I convinced/cajoled Rob into entering the race with our paddling buddy Alan Thurman as his partner, as the race is open to teams of two or four. Considering out of 110 competitors there were only 14 of us doing the entire thing on our own, I think the teams thing is a good idea!
So, finally, Saturday dawned sunny & clear, and we all found ourselves on the banks of the upper Hacking river slipping on our fruit tingles singlets ready for the start.
Steve briefed us on race protocols and at 7am we were off.
I had planned to get in behind someone on the first 10.5km ski leg & conserve a bit of energy, knowing that the most serious part of it all for me was probably going to be the back end of the run. One day I'll have a race plan that works, but again this wasn't that day, as I had an entourage drafting me for much of the distance. Regardless it wasn't a tough paddle & I felt pretty cheery slipping on my shoes at the transition for the run.
I had strained my calf, rather stupidly going for a gentle soft sand run on the previous Thursday, so I was a little worried that it might go again. Some intensive work from my Chiro on Thursday & rest, ice & compression seemed to have done the trick, the first 11km of the run leg went by without any pain, and I started eyeing off a much better time that I had planned. The cooling breeze from all of the runners going past me was also a great help.
|Action from the first ski leg (pic by Grant from Monopod Photography)
The back 11km though, oh man. I could have easily been on a different course, because suddenly there were big bloody hills that weren't there on the first lap, and the encouraging words from other competitors went from a respectful 'doing well mate' to more like 'come on big fella', 'dig deep', 'nearly there' etc etc.
My run training had gone as far as 18km, so the final 4km of this race were always going to be unknown territory. And I suppose if you're heading into the unknown, it's only natural to spend a bit more time enjoying it right? That's my excuse anyway. My speed dropped to about 8kmh, my calf started to hurt, and it was all a bit grim over the final half hour back to the river.
Back on the ski for the run home was a welcome return to something I can do. I slugged it out to the turning mark, then got a ride (finally) back on the wake of another paddler, all the way home to the finish. I was so frazzled at the end of the run that I paddled the last hour on the ski wearing sunnies with only one lens, and didn't notice! On reflection it did all look a bit weird & 3D out there.
My time was 4:38, just outside what I thought I was capable of doing (as is my tradition), but tempered a little by the fact that there was a phantom 1.4km extra in the run leg. Not just any phantom either, an evil phantom.
|End of the race, in 3D!
Alan & Rob had their own trials. Poor Al turned up with those very cool NRL black tape thingys on his calf, which was also dodgy. He blitzed the first half of the run before it blew up, and hobbled the last 11km in a lot of pain. Alan in pain on one leg still hobbles faster than I run on two good ones.
|Alan finishes the run on one leg.
Rob managed to send a local fisherman apoplectic by neatly catching the guy's best lure on his rudder & careening off with the line unreeling. In fairness the bloke had lobbed it squarely in front of him seconds before he shot past, so all is fair in love & fish. He also snagged some weed attached to a P-Plate, which forced him to shore to untangle the mess. Despite all that, he still did both ski legs in a combined time under two hours, not bad for an old fella.
|Rob powers home to finish.
My lasting impression of the race was admiration for fellow competitors, especially the runners who seem to bounce along the trail like it's actually fun. It was was won by Adriel Young, 'Bacon' from Bondi Rescue for the uninitiated, ahead of Pro Kayaks Matt Blundell. These guys ran past me several times over the four laps of the course, and it was a pleasure to watch them do their thang.
|Pain is temporary, smiles all round at the finish.
The race was conducted with a lovely sense of inclusiveness & fun, with excellent safety protocols in place, & concluded with a damn good party in the evening at Cronulla RSL.
Hard? Hell yeah, about as hard as it gets in fact, and I was grateful in the tough moments to have done so much training, and for a history of having done & finished a few hard things.
If you're a paddler like me looking for an achievable and worthwhile challenge, something substantial to aim at even when you can only train 'Dad-style' (in short bursts of time partitioned away from heavy work & family commitments), then this race should be at the top of the list. The team competitors also seemed to be having a much better time than us idiots in the green singlets.
Congrat's to all of the participants & organisers, for both a great event & for raising over $16,000 for the KIDs Foundation, and thanks again to everyone who so generously supported my fundraising.