21 February 2014
With less than two weeks’ turnaround time between this year’s Dusi and Non-Stop Dusi Canoe Marathons, aches and pains have gotten the better of half of the 2014 Dusi winning combination, forcing Andy Birkett to opt out of this year’s Non-Stop Dusi and leave his partner, Sbonelo Zondi, to tackle the challenge alone.
Like the Dusi, the Non-Stop takes place between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, but instead of it being a three-day race it is a one-day event on a route that is one of the toughest in the world of canoeing.
Birkett and Zondi’s partnership started at last year’s Non-Stop Dusi, which the pair used as a test of their compatibility ahead of the 2014 Dusi.
After racing to victory in record time in the 2013 Non-Stop Dusi, the pair went on to claim a convincing victory at the 2014 Dusi last weekend and, while extremely excited by the thought of their recent feat, Zondi was desperate to continue his journey with Birkett as early as Friday 28 February’s “Dusi in a day”.
‘Would have been amazing’
“I can’t even express how happy I am to have won Dusi,” Zondi said in a statementn on Wednesday. “But to try to win both this year’ Dusi and Non-Stop with Andy (Birkett) would have been amazing.”
It isn’t to be, though, as Birkett confirmed a he needs some time to rest a niggling foot injury, especially with a busy few months awaiting him.
“Sbonelo has been trying to persuade me to do Non-Stop with him ever since we got together to celebrate our Dusi win on Sunday after the race,” Birkett smiled. “Our goal was to win Dusi, though, and I am really satisfied having achieved that.
“Also, when I told him on the morning of day three of Dusi that my foot was fine, it actually wasn’t, and so I need to take some time off to rest it now.
“It’s the same injury that put me out of training for a bit in December and with ligaments you can’t really rush them.
“I also want to give marathon a full go again this year. I really enjoyed it last year and so doing Non-Stop would just set me back a little in my preparations for that, so unfortunately Non-Stop just isn’t going to happen this year,” he added.
Chasing fourth win in five years
Despite the defending champion partnership having been broken temporarily, Zondi confirmed he will still take to the Msunduzi and Mngeni Rivers to chase his fourth Non-Stop title in five years and his maiden K1 victory.
“If Andy can’t do Non-Stop then I will do it in my K1 for the first time!” said the EuroSteel/Computershare-sponsored Change a Life Academy star.
“I would like to paddle with Andy, and it would be a lot easier with him in a K2 than in my K1” he laughed. “I love Non-Stop even more than Dusi, though, so either way I will definitely race Non-Stop this year.”
“In the Dusi you have to just push as hard as you can all the time, but the pace in Non-Stop is a lot slower because everyone knows it’s a long way from the start to Blue Lagoon, and so you get to chill a little bit more than in Dusi and have some fun.”
While some of the traditional Dusi route is cut out from the gruelling Non-Stop course, shortening the journey slightly, the task of paddling and running from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in one day remains a challenge littered with difficulties.
Participants are required to be completely self-sufficient and, with only the help of their seconders, must ensure they keep themselves hydrated and nourished throughout with the first boat across the finish line, regardless of whether it is a K1 or K2, being crowned the winner.
‘One of the most difficult parts’
“One of the most difficult parts of Non-Stop is eating whilst you’re racing,” Zondo explained. “I will often eat things like potatoes and pieces of banana because you need proper food when you’re racing for such a long time and something that you can eat on the run.
“I’ll usually eat at the Yellow Rock portage [shortly before the Dusi first stage overnight stop] and then on every portage after that until Burma Road.”
Zondi estimates the amount of running on the Non-Stop route to be around thirty- five percent mark of the total distance knows that tackling the challenge alone with be an exhausting one.
‘It will be very, very difficult’
“It’s hard enough in a K2, but in my K1 it will be very, very difficult,” he said.
“I will decide on the day as to whether I run over Burma or paddle around. Andy and I went over Burma in 25 minutes and 20 seconds in Dusi. If I go over in Non-Stop, I think it would be in about 28 or 29 minutes, but it will still be very difficult!
Despite not being with him on his adventure, EuroSteel’s Birkett has full confidence in his Dusi partner and believe there is only one candidate for this year’s Non-Stop Dusi title.
“No matter who shows up, with the form (Sbonelo) is in at the moment, I reckon he will ‘klap’ everyone in Non-Stop,” said Birkett who clinched the title in a K1 in 2012 himself before racing to victory with Zondi in 2013.