And now it’s Day 12 of my 21 Daring Days and I’ve to ‘write about extremes or opposites and how they have played out in your life or work at one time’. This one is pretty daring, in fact…
Nothing generates extreme experiences for me quite as efficiently as my various sports.
And of the three main ones, it’s my newest passion — stand-up paddleboarding — that’s producing both the most and the most extreme.
Now this may of course simply be that I’ve not been doing it that long and everything’s still pretty much a voyage of discovery, but I can hand on heart say that I can’t remember the last time I took part in consecutive running events over the same course that were quite so starkly different.
You may recall that a month ago I was a very happy bunny indeed after winning my first-ever SUP race for novice women at my home from home, Bray Lake. I said then, and I’ll say it again now: the conditions could not have been better and the longer course suited my endurance sports background nicely.
And you may possibly also recall that back in November I recorded a dismal DNF (did not finish) in the first in the race series after battling a gale and falling in. Lots of lessons learned that day. There was another race in December in which I came an unremarkable third of three, so there was a fair bit hanging on the fourth in the series.
So what happens?
I wake up five days before the big day with a cold.
Not flu, nothing dire or dramatic, but a streaming cold nonetheless, an energy-sapping and single-minded virus in no hurry to move on. And my very first thought, as sneeze follows depressing sneeze? ‘Oh no — I’ve got the SUP race on Sunday!’
Now — like most runners — I do have a rule of thumb with colds: if they stay above the chest, they’re negotiable; as soon as a cough kicks in, sport gets kicked out. So huge relief when the sneezing began to subside on Day 3 and by the day before the race I felt sufficiently restored to risk testing the water (as it were). A lap of nicely unruffled Bray later and the conclusion was that I had a distinct — and unsurprising — energy shortfall, but nothing worse.
So quiet night in, early to bed, and let’s see what the morning brings…
And what it brought was a weather replay of that very first race: a westerly wind strong enough to whip up proper white-capped waves for a large chunk of the course and the unavoidable prospect of paddling straight into that for a significant section. Oh great. I can’t wait.
But hey — at least it wasn’t raining.
We battled a crosswind to the start line at the calmer end of the lake and once away, the first 500 metres were fine. Then it got pretty brutal, and I could really feel where the virus had done its worst: this was seriously hard going, but I kept paddling and paddling, using short, fast strokes, and soon enough I’d turned around a buoy and the wind was mostly on my back.
And then, as I prepared to change direction again and head back to the start for Lap 2, guess what?
Yup. I fell in.
But this time I did not wimp out. It was cold — about 4C — but because I swim in that lake all year it wasn’t a massive shock. I’d also wisely chosen to go the wetsuit route this time, just in case, so I just climbed back on my board and started off again. And actually, I felt fine as I was working way too hard to get cold!
My unscheduled dip cost me time of course, but I managed to pull back into second place pretty quickly and was exceedingly chuffed to cross the line runner-up and just 16 seconds behind my closest rival, who richly deserved her win.
So second of five novice women and a podium place again — and in many ways a harder won place than last month’s win because the conditions were so challenging and I was definitely not firing on all cylinders. What it means — for me and for my rival — is that our technique is starting to improve, and that is so rewarding.
On to the last in the series now: same venue, same equipment, and we’ve so far gone from one extreme to another and then back again.
What will the finale bring?