No paddler ever wants to hear that a race they have been preparing for for days is at risk. But this was a pretty serious rise in height. All the gates set out the previous evening were half underwater, and the usually placid top fall was now a substantial wave. Amid throngs of pale-faced kids waiting to paddle, coaches, organisers, volunteers and paddlers worked hard from about 7am to get the course fixed and useable. Unbelievably, Davie Dickson managed to design a course that presented a sufficient challenge for the Scottish Championships, but also allowed some of the younger participants to compete safely.
I personally love Grandtully when its at spate height. It has a lot of bouncy standing waves and challenging eddy options, and it wasn't lost on me that navigating a 20 gate course on this kind of water would be incredibly physical. So setting off from the start gate, I knew that I had to suffer from the beginning, and keep suffering until I had sprinted between the entire 20 gates. My first run was going well - better than well actually, I was getting more and more confident as I got towards the final five gates, as every upstream had felt snappy and precise - until gate 16. Gates 16-17 consisted of a single gate in the flow, and a double gate slightly offset from this. I made the mistake of pulling out a foot too far into the current, allowing my tail to be caught by the flow and spinning me down past gate 17. After this ensued maybe a twenty to thirty second paddle back, most of which I spent in a blinding red rage. Everyone had TOLD me. I KNEW this would take a little more finesse than I had shown, and a lot less finesse than I know I can perform to. So with my first run basically as a write-off, I was feeling the pressure in my second run.
A lot of people can say 'only' the Scottish Championships. Its true - it isn't a premier race where you can get points. Its not a world cup where you can race international paddlers. It isn't selection, and many people enjoy it as a fun race to show up to, race friends and dance at the ceilidh in the evening. But I love to race, and I love to do well. The Scottish Championships is an incredibly important race to me, because it is a national competition that allows teammates to pitch themselves against each other and race on home water. And who wouldn't want the Scottish Champions prize?
So it was with all of this floating around in the back of my mind that I began the sprint into my second run of the day. Which, as plenty of athletes can confirm, isn't an ideal race mentality. To my horror, I touched the second upstream, a lazy slip of the paddle. I let myself stop thinking about the gates, and really let rip on the rest of the course. I was pleased with the time I was making up, until I got to the dreaded gate sequence. A sequence that I would have no trouble with in training, but for some reason was mentally blocking this weekend. I edged my way around the move, and sprinted to the finish. My boyfriend Euan came to the finish line, and I complained voraciously, convinced I had given up a perfectly good race weekend again.
But as it turns out, no matter how harshly you judge yourself, it is always the time that counts on paper. I had slipped into second place overall behind Fiona Pennie, and claimed the Word Gym U23 Scottish Womens trophy. It was a very up and down day of racing, and it was good to relax at the ceilidh in the evening with some of my team mates. Olympians Tim Baillie and Fiona Pennie gave us an hour of their time to answer any questions we cared to ask. I think one that will stick with me is how they replied to 'After the worst race of your life, what was it that brought you back to canoe slalom?'. Both of their answers were similar, that at the end of the day their love of the sport came first, closely followed by their competitiveness and love of racing.