Mission accomplished - 20 Beaches race report by Richard McMinn
Anyone that has known me or spoken to me about my racing over the past 12 months has probably heard that when I headed up to Sydney to race at the end of 2017 I stuffed up big time (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my race report here https://www.instagram.com/p/BcmQzFhgQ5w/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet). Basically, I went over to that race in the best form I had ever been in and had high hopes to get a solid result. Instead I made a rookie error in my race nutrition and hydration and blew my race. I was pretty bummed out about that and I set myself the challenge to come back in 2018 better, faster and stronger.
My prep for this race was very solid. With the assistance of Taff Evans, Sam Norton and Ben Maynard I had developed gym and on-water programs tailored towards ensuring I was in the best form I could be on December 15. I even added the Gold Coast Classic ocean race into my program. This gave me a bit more practice racing in a strong field, a bit more experience in open ocean, and an opportunity to test out my food and drink system for racing in hot and humid conditions. As mentioned in a previous report (https://www.nextlevelkayaking.com.au/blogs/news/riding-the-waves-by-richard-mcminn-gold-coast-classic-race-report), I was pretty happy with how that race went and I was keen to replicate that sort of feeling in Sydney.
For the overall ease of logistics and the chance to get a bit of time paddling up in Sydney in the lead up to the race I decided to join Next Level Kayaking on their 20 Beaches Getaway. I had spent the previous 2 weeks generating an unholy amount of snot after catching a cold at a Christmas party. This meant I wasn’t feeling in top form in the days before we packed up and left, but I had already done all of the work for this race during the long and cold sessions through winter and spring. On Monday December 10, Ben, Roz and I packed up the NLK car and trailer and left Hobart for the long drive up to Sydney. The drive and the ferry crossing were largely uneventful, with plenty of banter being thrown around the car throughout the whole trip. Eventually we reached Sydney and I parted ways with Ben and Roz on Tuesday evening to spend some time with my Sydney-based family.
I rejoined the NLK party on Wednesday afternoon, meeting at Fisherman’s Beach Long Reef for a bit of a paddle to shake out the previous few days of traveling. I hadn’t been there since my disaster of a race 12 months earlier, so I had mixed feelings as I unpacked my boat and jumped on the water. Once I was there though, the simple act of getting back on the water and moving after 3 days of traveling made the world feel a bit better again. That afternoon and the following days were spent exploring different parts of the race course with the intention of familiarizing ourselves with the location and trying to determine where the best lines could be found.It was during the final training session on Friday that I had the opportunity to talk to Jeremy Cotter, a multiple winner of the race, and picked his brains about the course. It all started to come together and make sense for me.
It was interesting to spend so much time in the location in the immediate lead up to the race. I hadn’t done that for a race since Mauritius in 2017. I was worried that the volume of paddling only 2-3 days out wasn’t the best idea. In hindsight, it did probably make me a bit more sore/tired for the race than I would have liked, but I had made the conscious decision to really back off the intensity of all paddling sessions after Thursday morning to try and limit the damage. It’s always a trade off between fatigue and knowledge of the course.
The previously forecast light easterlies were gone come race day morning. We were now expecting a thumping north-easterly accompanied by heavy rain and lightning. The organisers changed the start time to avoid the worst of it, but we still were expecting a solid downwinder. Unfortunately it never came and what little breeze there was at the start dropped to nothing and the sun came out. This created incredibly hot and humid conditions as we moved down the race course...
After the race briefing, due to general nerves and dithering, I was a bit later onto the water than I would have liked, so I didn’t have such a great warmup. With 250+ boats on my start-line, space on the front line was already filling up 10-15 minutes out from the start. I ended starting where I wanted to be roughly in the middle. I didn’t want to be too far right and get squeezed onto the rocks, and I didn’t want to be too far left and get carted out to sea by boats on the inside, however, I was about the third row back. This meant that once the race started I had to try and get around a lot of slower paddlers.
The race start was as fast and furious as they come! Being a bit further back than I would have liked I was able to use the “sprint” to slowly wind myself up. With a bit of chatter to the boats around me, including some unsolicited coaching to Epic Australia’s Davey Brand (sorry mate – I just really wanted to get into that gap!), and a few paddle hits and squashed fingers between boats, I managed to get into a favourable position. That was at least until the final approach to the reef off the northern tip of Barrenjoey Head, where I realized the outside paddlers were pushing me in towards the breaking wave. I tried calling them for a bit of room but it was too little, too late. The next thing I knew, I was paddling up a hill towards a crumbling wall of whitewater coming down the shoulder of the wave. I took the hit and after a bit of internal swearing I realized I was still upright. Even better was the fact that the reef had created a natural parting point for the race field and all paddlers were either further out to sea, or a couple of guys right in next to the cliffs. This meant that I now had a completely clear runway and could settle into my own rhythm and race.
The next section of the race was fairly uneventful. While talking to Jeremy Cotter the previous afternoon he had indicated that the best line would be to tuck in quite close to Bangalley Head and then line up the finish from there. Despite the 2-3m swell hitting me side-on, then rebounding off the cliffs back at me, the time I had spent off the cliffs back in Tassie between Kingston and Blackmans Bay over winter and spring had given me the confidence and ability to paddle through the “A-Frames” and even use a few of them to surf left and right with only one or two very brief support strokes thrown in. This was a huge improvement on my ability during the Great Ocean Paddle in February where I was bracing left, right and center as I paddled past the cliffs and really boosted my confidence for the rest of the race.
Despite warnings from several paddlers during the weekand at the race briefing, I had allowed myself to get sucked in towards Newport Reef. There was a moment when I looked up and saw a whole lot of waves breaking in front of me. I was able to track a bit further out to sea and not lose too much time but this blunder had allowed 3-4 boats to get around me.
Before the race, I hadn’t come up with much of a race plan. To put it simply, my plan went as follows:
▪️Start hard, settle in to my own rhythm at about the reef/rock off Barrenjoey
▪️Pass Bangalley about 50m off shore
▪️Once I pass North Narrabeen, leave nothing in the tank.
I had ticked off the first couple of points on the race plan, and I was watching and waiting to pass North Narrabeen so I could work on the last point – leave nothing in the tank. It seemed to take forever to get there, and as I was approaching the head I noticed the New Zealand national champion Sam Mayhew making a bit of a charge on the inside of me. This was a good impetus for me to really push to avoid letting him and any other paddlers through me and I made the decision to up my stroke rate slightly and to chase every single little bump I could see, even if I wasn’t confident I could get on them. There were a couple of moments during the final couple of kilometers that I thought I had started my final push a bit too early, but as I closed on the finish line I realized that I had dropped one or two of the paddlers that had got around me at Newport Reef and I was rapidly closing on a few other paddlers in front. This made me push myself that much harder and I managed to find a new limit I didn’t know I had.
In the end, I’m not actually sure whether or not I got through any or all of those paddlers. Tunnel vision had well and truly set in as I was completely spent. The last thing I remember of the race is dropping onto a wave with a couple of the other boats and collapsing into the sand after the sprint up the beach to the finish line.
This was the last race of the year, and was my primary goal for this season. It has been nice to spend the past couple of days reflecting on the whole process. One of the big changes I have made this year in my paddling is not to do with my technique, but instead my mental approach to races. I had previously set myself goals based on overall positions in the race. In reality I have I have no control over the place I finish, and this year’s 20 Beaches was a prime example of this. Given the extraordinary depth of talent within the race, I was always going to struggle to make a significant statement in the results. In the end I finished 23rd open male and 43rd single ski overall. Even with a perfect race I would not have made up much more than an additional 5 places.
I am actually happy with my race. I had a plan that I executed well. I also managed to avoid repeating the basic mistakes of other races over the past 12 months.My primary goals were focused on the process of the race rather than the outcome. Despite the results not quite being what I had hoped for, I have come away feeling good about the whole experience. It’s time to take a couple of days to reset and recalibrate before I take on the Wildwater National Championships on the Mersey River in January, then the Great Ocean Paddle in Victoria in February.
Thankyou's and acknowledgements:
The sponsors I would like to thank for supporting my trip to the 20 Beaches are:
Next Level Kayaking
All of the support I have received from the NLK Moving Targets paddlers so far
Kingston Auto Repairs
Editor - you can keep up to date with Rick on Instagram (@richardmcminn) and make a donation to his Australian Sports Foundation account here https://asf.org.au/athletes/richard-mcminn-2018-19-australian-ocean-racing-series/
Picture credits - Tess & Davey Brand (Epic Kayaks Australia), Allan Coker