Marathon paddlers from over 50 clubs gathered on the Thames last weekend for the National Marathon Championships, hosted this year by Reading Canoe Club, on behalf of the Marathon Race Committee and British Canoeing.
As an open event, this is one of those rare sporting occasions where anyone can enter, and line up against the top competitors in the country – a chance for the rest to test themselves against the best. Indeed, some of the biggest cheers of the day went to those lower-ranked paddlers who took on the longer distance races, completing in their own time and winning valuable points for their clubs in the process.
With 1150 entries across the 56 races over the two days, marathon racing is thriving, and results at international events show British paddlers continue to be amongst the best in the world. Not surprisingly, therefore, the quality of racing was incredibly high and, thanks to the careful timing of the starts, the good weather, clear portages and plenty of river space, the best paddlers rose to the occasion in each race.
Whilst each event is important to those in it, the showcase races are the Senior Men’s and Women’s Open. In kayak, these were both won by multiple national champions, with Tim Pendle (Norwich) taking his third successive title, and seventh in total, and Lizzie Broughton (Richmond) collecting her sixth.
Lizzie has already this year won medals in the 1000m and 5km at sprint World Cups, as well as bronze at the recent European Marathon Championships. Underlining their positions at the top of the sport, both paddlers also went on to win their respective K2 titles – Pendle racing with U23 Men’s K1 winner, Magnus Gregory (Longridge), and Broughton teaming up with long-term K2 partner Fay Lamph (Wey).
Following his recent 5th place at the European championships, Arthur Leech (Richmond) took both the Men’s Open and Junior canoe titles – for the second year running. He did have some strong international competition in the Senior Men’s class with the international visitors Arved Heine and Jonas Mode crossing the line ahead of him, but Leech retained the national title.
Anna Palmer – who earlier this year became the first female C1 paddler to compete for GB in an international marathon race - took the win in the first quorate Women’s Canoe race in years.
Pendle and Broughton may not be able to rest on their laurels too long, as the British juniors continue to impress both domestically and internationally.
Jenny Withers took the U23 Women’s K1 and, with junior European gold medallist Emma Russell (Chelmsford) away on sprint squad duty, it was left to her 2017 World and European bronze medallist K2 partner Freya Peters (Richmond) to take a very easy win in the U18 girls race.
Georgia Carmichael (Longridge) was equally impressive in the U16 race, and paired up with clubmate, and U18 runner-up Kate Hipkins for the U16 K2. Klara Jepson (Falcon Oxford) survived a pre-race swim to take the U14 K1, but wasn’t so lucky in the K2, when a boat malfunction led to a retirement, leaving the way open for the Elmbridge pair of Lizzie Poole and Zara Bowers, ahead of Matilda Enoch (Nottingham) and Mollie Ball (Devizes) who was racing up, having won the U12 Girls race the day before.
Will Scammell was out of sight in the U18 boys race, to retain his title. After their heartbreak at the European Championships, when they saw gold turn to bronze due to a time penalty, Scammell and James Bell (Longridge) had to work hard for the K2 title from the Chelmsford pair of Tim Gannicott-Porter and Alex McIntryre, both of whom had joined Scammell on the podium the day before.
Rory Stewart (Addlestone) is quietly moving his way to the top, winning the U16 K1 in a very tight finish, and then the K2, with K1 runner-up Zac Tarver (Elmbridge). Putting pressure on those in the age groups above them though are the U14 and even U12 boys.
The U14s K1 was won by Luca Ferri (Elmbridge) already Div 3, as is runner-up, Benji Cabrera, and the pair of them then had a very comfortable win in the K2. Even the winner of the U12 boys – Rupert Tideswell (Cambridge) is already Div 4, and was another to take both titles, partnered in the K2 by Lewis Andrews (Lincoln).
There were no junior C2 classes, but Paul Stenning (Leighton Buzzard) and James Prowse (Hemel Hempstead) took the senior title, despite being beaten to the finish line by the international pair of Jonas Mode and Arved Heine.
In addition to the junior age group races, there were 22 races for the over 34s, including an O69 race won by Olympian Robin Avery - proving that standard and competitiveness does not decrease with age.
Whilst many of these titles are won by paddlers who have been in the sport for years, it also gives opportunities for those who have taken it up later in life to test themselves nationally and, with over 40 starters in the O49 Men’s K1 race, these are not for the faint-hearted.
For sheer spectacle and exhilaration, the race of the weekend was the mixed K2, with over 80 boats on the start line. Despite having already raced over 16 miles that morning, Magnus Gregory (Longridge) was able to claim his third title of the weekend, this time cruising to a surprisingly easy win with partner Alex Lane (Longridge).
As well as the individual titles, there are the highly prized club trophies to be won. The most magnificent of these being the Spanish Galleon – awarded to the club with the most points in the Lightning races. This year saw a welcome return for Ealing Canoe Club to the top - having last won it in 2010.
With 37 different clubs represented on the podiums, the team competitions were tight. Richmond Canoe Club won the Women’s trophy whilst Nottingham Kayak Club finally managed to wrestle the overall victory away from Norwich, who had won for the last seven years – by a margin of just 5 points.
The whole weekend ran very smoothly, thanks to Reading CC and their 80+ volunteers headed up by their small committee, chaired by Paul Owen with lead roles taken by Evan and Jo Shepherd, Amber Owen, James New and Imogen Collins. With a livestream, including the beach portage, spectators were able to follow the action throughout the races, and were helped too by the non-stop commentary from Brett Sirrell and team.