Wherever one comes from it always seems like a long drive to Wagga Wagga, up or down the Hume Highway with its endlessly unchanging view. For those that do make the journey, however, the Murrumbidgee River offers a unique race on the NSW marathon calendar, and Wagga Bidgee Canoe Club always go the extra mile to thank paddlers for the journey.
After a year with so little marathon racing in 2020, the Wagga marathon kicked off the 2021 season with something a little different. Rather than the traditional 5km laps, the course was one-way along the rather briskly flowing Murrumbidgee. Whether committing to paddle 7.5kms, 17kms or the 26km long course, all were thankful that the one way was downstream!
The early part of the morning was spent travelling by some, with a number of paddlers dashing down from Sydney and back in a single day. Others took the more leisurely approach and made a weekend of it, allowing both for a chill start to the day and the opportunity to stay for the pub meal afterwards. Within two hours of the race, however, it was all systems go, with paddlers driving back and forth to organise car pools and some 100 boats for one of three starts. Thankfully, COVID regulations meant that the briefing had been delivered by email the night before.
By the 11am start, the temperature had risen substantially, with cooling off in the river before the race a popular option. Starts were brisk, with paddlers carried along at a couple of kms per hour even when holding themselves ‘stationary’. With water faster than most of the courses we regularly race on, the Murumbidgee kept us on our toes with eddies aplenty to whimsically grab the front of the boat and send it in a slightly different direction. For those that could tear their eyes from the water, the river really is something special, with willow-festooned banks giving way to rocky escarpments. There were almost no signs for habitation for the whole 26km long course, passing under only two bridges and with barely any sound of traffic. A gorgeous spot, inviting paddlers to dive into their race and forget about anything going on in the outside world.
Tired or exhilarated with the thrill of a race, paddlers rounded the willows of a final island and then it was a quick 2km sprint to the finish. With the exhilaration of a final effort, the cheers of spectators and the thrill of finally getting to race, it was hard not to cross the finish line with a grin. The allure of a cool dip drew many, with paddlers and onlookers taking full advantage of the finish line being on Wagga Beach!
The race saw strong performances from new and experienced paddlers alike. Brett Greenwood took line honours in Division 1 in 1:34:53, with Catherine Atkinson in Division 2 the race’s fastest woman in 1:41:06. Albert Cobb and Geoffrey Dawes were the fastest boat over 17kms in 1:12:19, and Peter Teichmann the fastest over 7.5kms in 37:12. Divisional winners who stayed for the pub dinner that evening were presented with a beautiful timber chopping board carved with a race map for their efforts.
A big thank you to Wagga Bidgee Canoe Club and Jason Redlich for their efforts in putting on this fabulous event!
Race report by Naomi Johnson