Abby Solms has set her sights on extending her reign as queen of the Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon as she aims for a seventh title in eight years when the 28-kilometre race is held on the upper uMngeni River on 27 November.
The 27-year-old Pietermaritzburg school teacher has targeted a summer season peaking with the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon in mid-February, and after a compelling victory at the recent Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon, the Euro Steel star has singled out the popular one-day Ozzie Gladwin marathon presented by Parklane Superspar as her first key Dusi building block as it ticks all boxes for her Dusi preparations.
Starting on the flatwater of Albert Falls Dam, the race then includes a fast 1.5km portage around the dam wall before the 21km river leg, testing a wide range of river competencies.
‘It is definitely nice to get that amount of distance early on in the season,’ said Solms. ‘It is also important to start your running with a boat around about now.
‘The paddle on the dam is usually quite hard, and then on the portage there is nowhere to hide. The river section is a good distance and at the end there are a few exciting rapids, which can throw a spanner in the works because we don’t often paddle that bottom section,’ she said.
The Ozzie Gladwin is a key part of the buildup to the FNB Dusi, and it is one of the few front-row seeding races not held on the actual Dusi course. It alternates as a K1 and a K2 championship race in sync with the Dusi season each year.
Since 2009 she has won three K1 titles and three K2 titles, an unbeaten run interrupted only by Laura O Donaghue’s K1 win in 2014 when Solms was curiously off-colour and finished fifth.
She takes a lot of confidence into the season from her thoroughly impressive win at the tough 82km Hansa Fish in October, that also handed her the 2016 SA K1 River Marathon crown.
‘I went into the Fish thinking that I wasn’t that well prepared, and saw afterwards that I broke the race record!’ said Solms. ‘That definitely was a great confidence booster going forward, knowing that my river skills helped that much.
‘On the Fish I thought you might be able to “get away with it” if you aren’t that experienced, but actually you really do need to know what you are doing on a river,’ she added.
Solms said she was really looking forward to the coming season because the standard of women’s river marathon paddling has taken a marked step up. ‘We saw that at the Fish where suddenly a lot of the girls were shooting difficult rapids like Keith’s Flyover, which is really good for the sport,’ she said.
Solms has planned her summer season to pivot on key races like the Ozzie Gladwin, the 50 Miler and N3TC Drak Challenge in the lead-up to the FNB Dusi title decider in February.
Picture of Solms courtesy of Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media