The elite men’s singles field that will gather at Camps Drift for the start of the MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon on 18 February should be wary of defending champion Andy Birkett as the 30 year old East Londoner says the ongoing lockdown has made him hungrier to get into Dusi racing than he has felt for many years.
“There is no substitution for racing, and we have all been forced into our bubbles without any racing for most of the year. Racing makes you tough and brings out the best in you,” said Birkett.
“Now that we have major races like the Dusi in sight, I am excited and I am enjoying my training more than I have been for a long time,” the Euro Steel racer said.
Birkett said that Dusi training far from KwaZulu-Natal had proven to be easy for him.
“I started my training after the SA Marathon Champs in St Francis,” explained Birkett. “I haven’t been enjoying my training as much as I am right now for many years.
“East London has lots of serious hills which is where I do my running training, and the training on the water has been very intense.
“Any training session with Matt and Josh Fenn is like a flat-out race!” he added.
Birkett said that while the lockdown had been frustrating for every athlete, whether elite or recreational, it had effectively forced them to take a prolonged break, which has left his refreshed and hungry for competition.
“I have really been missing racing,” said Birkett. “I am refreshed and excited and I don’t have to worry about my iron being low, so I am really enjoying my training.
“Having fun in training is so important. Last year training with (his winning K2 partner) Khumbulani (Nzimande) was just that – really good fun. The minute training and racing stops being fun I promise I will stop,” he added.
“This lockdown has been very tough on a lot of people. I keep reminding myself that there are others who are in much worse positions than myself. But it has allowed us to refocus our priorities and spend more and better time with our families,” he said.
“The buzz around Drak and Dusi is so positive. I see there have been good rains and it looks like we are heading into a wet summer season with full rivers, which we haven’t had for a long time.
“I can’t wait!” he added, ominously for the elite men hoping to get in the way of him scooping an eleventh Dusi title.