With a number of former crews reigniting past partnerships at this weekend’s Umpetha Challenge, the two-time FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon winning crew of Andy Birkett and Jason Graham will take on their second race together this season when they set off for Bishopstowe Farmer’s Hall from Camps Drift on Sunday, 8 November – albeit for the last time this season.
With Birkett’s 2016 FNB Dusi partner Lance Kime away for the weekend, the Euro Steel pair’s Dusi preparations remain on hold for another week and forced Birkett to look elsewhere for a partner for this weekend’s Umpetha Challenge.
The chance to paddle with Graham – who awaits the arrival of his 2016 FNB Dusi partner, Jakub Adam from Czech Republic – one last time this season is however something that Birkett is looking forward to immensely.
“It will be great getting into the boat with Jason again this weekend!” Birkett mentioned. “We did an upper Umgeni race a few weeks ago and we went surprisingly well but this weekend is just a once off because both of our partners for Dusi are not around.”
“Considering it was our first race together in two years, we clicked quite quickly when we raced a few weeks ago so it should be the same again this weekend.
“I’m going to be in the back of the boat which will be a bit different but should still be a good day’s paddling!
“Lance (Kime) will be back soon and we will be racing the Ozzie Gladwin as our first build up race to next year’s Dusi but we are still unsure about who is going to be driving so we will make that decision soon!” he mentioned.
The Umpetha Challenge, which is supported by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation, incorporates the first hour of the FNB Dusi route with the notorious Campbell’s Farm portage finishing the race.
Birkett believes that finishing on such a demanding portage makes the Umpetha Challenge a stand-out challenge.
“To be finishing a race on such a tough portage this early in the season, in my opinion, makes the Umpetha one of the most difficult races of the season!
“A lot of guys would not have done a lot of running training this early on so carrying your boat up Campbell’s is going to be really testing for most.
“It’s a race that is suited to the runners so they will be the ones to catch!” he added.
Although preparation for next year’s Dusi is already underway for Birkett, the five time Dusi winner is not placing any pressure on himself and Graham to win the race this weekend despite having won the Dusi together in both 2010 and 2012.
“I have done two Umpetha Challenges in the past and it is a stretch of river that both myself and Jason know well!
“There is no pressure on us though and we are not expecting too much from the race.
“I have been doing a bit of running training this week and so I am getting there but we are definitely going to look to enjoy our time in the boat together this weekend!” a relaxed Birkett explained.
A long, tough Dusi pre-season is underway with a lot of racing and training to be done before the iconic race.
In preparation for next year’s K2 clash Birkett has placed a lot of focus on maintaining his health with the idea that he would rather be slightly under prepared ahead of the Dusi in order to race fully fit.
“My main goal for the season is to be injury free throughout!
“I have been pretty cautious so far and will keep making sure that I am fit through the season because I don’t want to be in a situation where I can’t run for a few weeks as that will set us back in our preparation.
“I am going into the season with the idea that I would rather be less prepared but injury free,” he added.