Introduction to Marathon Paddling
Marathon canoe racing is all about tactics and endurance. Marathon races can be conducted over distances varying from a few kilometres through to many hundreds of kilometres. Canoe Victoria and its affiliated clubs conduct marathon races throughout the year and throughout the state.
The lower age limit of the discipline is 10 years but there is no upper age limit and many paddlers who are 60+ still enjoy competing. While some races are organised such that every competitor races over the same distance, most races have a range of classes racing over a range of distances. Many races have a full distance of around 24 to 32km for open age-group competitors while juniors and veterans will race reduced distances depending on their age group. Other races are organised such that paddlers are grouped with those of similar ability and race over distances suitable for that level of ability.
In marathon races conducted as a point-to-point race over a long section of river, competitors sometimes have to carry, or portage, their canoe around an impassable obstacle such as a waterfall, lock or weir. At higher levels of the sport, portaging is often included as a feature, even though the race is likely to be conducted as a series of laps on a short section or river or lake. A 100 to 200m section of the shore adjacent to the course will be designated as a portage area and competitors will be required to come ashore and carry their canoe for the length of the portage course. Competitive portaging requires considerable skill and greatly enhances the excitement of the race.
A wide range of craft is accepted at most marathon races. Paddlers at the top level of the sport race single and double kayaks similar to those used in flatwater sprint racing. Racing classes are usually also available for touring kayaks and touring canoes. Many races allow a very wide range of paddle craft such as sea kayaks, recreational canoes and kayaks, ocean skis, surf skis and outrigger canoes.
Victorian Canoe Races
Races are held on sheltered waterways free of rapids or large waves. Rivers, lakes and coastal estuaries are typical locations. Races can be point-to-point downriver, or laps conducted on a section of river or lake. Venues can be as far west as Warrnambool, as far east as Bairnsdale and at a variety of locations along the Murray River to the north. There is at least one marathon race held in every month of the year.
The Grand Prix Series consists of 5 races over the months of January to March, with the Victorian Marathon Team being selected from the winners of these events. The selected team compete for Victoria at the Australian Championships held in April. The winners of this event can then go on to represent Australia at the World Championships.
The Winter Series consists of 8 races over the months of May to August. A divisional system applies so that paddlers of any ability, in any craft, can race against others of a similar ability. Four races are designated as singles events and four as doubles, but either type can be paddled at any event. The series is followed in September by the Victorian Championships.
The Murray Marathon is considered by many to be the ultimate challenge for this discipline of the sport. Covering 404km of the Murray River from Yarrawonga to Swan Hill over 5 days between Christmas and New Years Eve every year, it’s one of the longest canoe races in the world. The event is run as a fundraiser by the YMCA. Through the months of October to December, a number of races are run as lead-up events to the Murray Marathon, with race distances of up to 70km. Paddlers not up to the demands of a full distance entry in these ultra-marathon events can enter as part of a relay team.