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Portland Dragon Boat Race 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011
This weekend I participated in the Portland Dragon Boat Races, held down at the South Waterfront Park, the third race I participated in this year.. The race was held over two days, and with 75 teams entered, over 85 races were run!

Day One (Saturday)

Our first race was scheduled for 9:30 in the morning. We all arrived early in order to hang out in the tent, wake up, and have time to get organized and stretch. We'd had an amazing series of practices leading up to the race, and we all felt confident that we'd locked in a rhythm and were going to do well. We loaded up on the boats for our first heat. As was standard, we'd be racing four other boats in a 500 meter run.

As we were paddling into position, the jitters set in. I've done a few races, so I knew what to expect, but still... it was the first race of the day. The horn sounded - actually a half-sound, then a full sound, which threw us off a bit - and we were off. We paddled hard, we paddled well, we had a strong finish, and, though our rate was faster than in our practices (not necessarily a good thing), we came in second. Our time was 2:03, coming in well behind the first place Kai Ikaika team (which, for reference, won the top gold medal, so there's no shame it that.)

After that, we had a break until the next Shibumi race. The open division races were coming up; normal teams are either mixed division (at least 8 women) or all-women, but the open division allowed a team to have whatever mix they wanted. We fielded a all-men team in conjunction with the Canadian Navy Dragon Anchors men, calling ourselves Veggie Pete & Meat Locker. (Pete's the vegan of the group, and he even brought out a small pair of green shorts indicating such.) We got out there against four other teams and, had we had time to practice even once together, would have gotten better than fourth place with our 1:54 time. Still, we were fast and not dissatisfied with the showing, eventhough that meant we wouldn't advance to the final race in the open division.

The time came for our second race of the day. We lined up against a bunch of teams, all of which had posted times similar to our first one. We took off and had a brilliant start but the boat just slowed down at the end; we ended up with a time of 2:05, which landed us in 4th place. I was worried about the increase in our time, but all but one team was 2-14 seconds slower than their first race.

Our third and final race of the day was a 250 meter race. Knowing that we could do it - we had a strong finish in our first race and a strong start in our second one - we were confident going into the race. We lined up... and failed to perform. Instead of the best parts of either of our previous races, we got the worst. Our time for the 250 was 1:20, an abysmal showing that landed us in 5th and, honestly, one of the worst times of all the mixed teams. It was a miserable way to end the first day of racing.

Day 2 (Sunday)

Our first race of the day on Sunday was the semi-final. We'd been placed in the "Morrison Bridge" division (with the divisions being names after Portland bridges, starting with the Fremont and heading south. I guess no one likes the St. Johns bridge. Again we lined up to head out on the boats. Our mood was more subdued today; the previous day's worth of losses had taken some of the excitement out of our team. We went out there, though, determined to prove ourselves. Then we ended up in 4th place, with a time of 2:11. It wasn't from lack of effort or strength; in this case, timing issues plagued our race and we just weren't as efficient as we should have been.

The fourth place showing took us out of contention for a medal. We ended up in the consolation race, the "golly, you have a nice personality" race where maybe we could end up with a ribbon for our efforts. We lined up in the afternoon for this race against several teams who'd already beaten us before. We finally managed to get out of our funk and perform, but still ended up with a time of 2:03, again landing us in 4th place. No medal, no ribbon, no glory. A gloom settled over our team that even the Navy Dragon Anchors, who shared a tent with us, couldn't lift.

We watched the final races go. As horrible as the feeling was to lose and lose and lose again, watching the effort and power in the winning teams was amazing. The timing, the effort, the energy that went into some of the races was a sight to behold.

But after the final races, there were two more races to be run. These were the Guts-to-Glory races, officially titled "Bridge to Bridge", one for women's teams and one for the mixed teams. Instead of 250 or 500 meters, these were 2000 meters, looping around the Hawthorne and Marquam bridges.

Officially, the top teams in each division were invited to participate. In reality, not every team wanted to go, and not all the paddlers were eager to either stick around or push themselves that extra mile (and a quarter.) My team wasn't officially in the race, but a bunch of us were invited to paddle with Team Spitfire SAKE from Seattle. It was a staggered, rolling start; the boats were already moving at the start line, and we were launched every 10 seconds because overtaking was then more exciting and you didn't have 11 dragonboats trying to turn around a bridge piling all at one time. Was it competitive? Sure. Did we win? No. Was winning important? Not for this race. Our team managed 8th (of 11) with a time of 9:36 and, for a few brief moments, I felt better than I should have.

The pain, of course, came later. At some point, I seem to have bruised the heel of my left foot, meaning that, of all the things I hurt in a paddling race, the heel of my foot is the part that hurts the most.

In all, the Portland Dragon Boat Race was exceptionally well run. Despite a few scheduling issues, it was smooth, well run, well announced, clean, and fun. I've only been to a few races, but what I appreciated about the Portland race over the Olympia or Salem ones is the clear view that's presented of the race course. In Salem, the end of the race was hidden behind the Willamette Queen, and in Olympia it was likewise difficult to see the course. In Portland, it was trivial to find a spot where the entire race could be seen from, and that made it all that much more exciting. I'm definitely looking forward to next year - and to winning!

(Full results can be seen here.)

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