I paddle on to the conveyor and up to the start where I sit in my boat with my eyes shut running through every gate from start to finish, stroke by stroke, wave by wave, all the way to the finish. All is quiet and I have shut out the thunderous noise within the Lee Valley stadium. This is just another run on another set of gates on another day. I am calm. I hear the starters instructions and wait at the blocks in the centre of the start pool. I hear my number and three, two, one, go. I wind up to full pace and explode through the start beam just hearing the reassuring bleep as I accelerate down the first drop and into the course. My stroke rate is high. The line is good, the boat is dry, I feel the wave nudge the edge of my boat and react with the timed stroke on my left as planned to run down the back of the wave into the pocket above the sequence of green and white gates.
My deep powerful sweep stroke on my left brings the bow round and the high stroke rate, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight brings me right into the gateline of the next gate. I sense losing the sun for a split second as I come underneath the bridge and down the main section of the course.
I cannot see the eddyline of the upstream below the gate but I have already picked out a point on the bank to aim for as I commit myself to Big Ben. The boat drops away, I lean forward and reach and the boat is snatched by the upstream current. I watch the black ring around the bottom of the upstream pole two inches from my left shoulder. I feel my whole arm tense as the boat whips round on one stroke, how I love these shorter boats. The boat feels balanced and in control. I reach through the gateline, put my weight forward to catch the downstream current and straight back out. I pull as hard as I am able to accelerate my boat back up to speed, one stroke, two stroke, three strokes, four strokes bringing me exactly to the next gate as planned. Now, I lean back, edge and push the blade hard away from the right of my boat to bring the front up in the air and round, thumping down in the exact line for the middle of the next gate.
I approach the next drop inches away from the blue block at the edge, I lean back drop my blade in on the right near the back and feel the boat plane downstream into the eddy. I concentrate on keeping the boat running flat and straight so that it does not spin out into the eddy. I am in control. I run straight through the gate and a quick series of forward strokes brings me back on the line.
I nail the next breakout pinning the gateline exactly where I wanted it. It feels like a hot sunny day training on the river with the fun double upstream gates. I accelerate with six rapid strokes, with the last on my right, edge my boat and smoothly surf across the wave and edging the boat the other way as I approach the crest of the wave, the boat drops in 30cm below the outside upstream pole. I plant my blade and pull as hard as I can. The boat pulls up towards the paddle, I slice away, lean back, feel the whole tail of the boat sink, bringing the boat around. I quickly bring my weight forward so that I am in control and not the water and focus on my line for the next stagger sequence of gates.
I spin the boat on the crest of the next wave, to drive in on the ideal line, I plant the boat exactly where I had planned and with a little upstream edge I am able to use the stopper wave to carve the boat towards river right, quickly switching to a subtle downstream lean and powerful bow draw so that the boat doesn’t turn out and lines me up to turn above the next gate so my boat is already heading back across the river to the next gate even before I have negotiated the one now rapidly approaching me.
I am on plan A, I am not undecided and weighing up option A or B. My plan is fixed and I am where I expected to be. I am dry. The boat feels light and dances over the waves. I can feel my heart racing. One more upstream, river right with a trickier approach. I drop in tight to the wall in the calm water, I push my paddle directly off the side wall of the course, drop my right shoulder away so I have enough space between my PFD and the pole, as I need to exit out tight as the very last gate, downstream, is almost right behind me. The water here is less stable and can hold on to the back of my boat, I tighten my brace on the boat with my thighs to maintain control of the edge.
I feel energized. The familiar pain is burning in my arms. As I cross the gateline of the last gate I am struck by a face full of water. Too much to ask to finish without getting wet! I feel strong and I have enough left to accelerate the boat up to speed. I remember to keep my body fully upright, good posture, powerful strokes, boat flat just to the edge of the waves and keep going and keep going, pushing on the footrests. Now I am conscious of my coach’s voice, team and 12,000 other voices screaming. I lean forward, hear the beeeeep of the finish beam and I am done.
Yes!!!!! Perfect, clear I am sure, I have never know what the ‘Ultimate Run’ would feel like. That felt pretty close. I look up to the see the time.
You’ll have to wait and see