The Unstoppable: Bart de Zwart conquers 3 non-stop ultra-endurance SUP races in a month

Starboard Dream Team Rider Bart de Zwart conquered Loch Ness this past weekend and won The Great Glen Challenge non-stop SUP race in an impressive 12hrs and 18mins. This was his 3rd September non-stop ultra-endurance SUP race after the gruelling 220km non-stop tour of the SUP 11-City Challenge and the 223km Muskoka River X Coureur des Bois race. Bart de Zwart aka Mr Endurance recaps this iconic Scottish SUP experience.

Great Glen non-stop ultra-endurance SUP race: Little did I know what we were in for

The last of 3 ultra-distance weekends was the Great Glen. I felt recovered and well rested after last week’s Muskoka X. I had spent a few beautiful days in the Scotland Highlands with my wife and felt ready for this relatively short race of 92km across Scotland. I had a brand new 2020 Starboard 14 x 23.5 All Star. I wasn’t sure what to expect so the All Star seemed a sure call in case we had strong wind or waves from any direction. The 2020 is slightly more rolly but also faster than ever.

This race is normally run with the wind which is nice because apart from canals the course runs across 3 lakes. The last lake is a 40km long Loch Ness, where the legend goes that the Loch Ness Monster live there. The last time I did this race was 3 years ago and there were 8 racers, this time 92 paddlers signed up, mostly SUP. You can do the race in 2 days or non-stop. 24 brave souls signed up for the non-stop. In de days leading up to the race the weather and wind forecast changed daily. Peter, the race director asked me the day before, in which direction I would run the course. We all agreed that starting from the West in Fort William was the best to have either no wind or the wind from the back. Little did I know what we were in for.

The start was at 3 am in the dark. The wind was already blowing but I couldn’t tell from where. Although we all know we have to paddle for many hours, the starts are generally a sprint until the field stretches out and everyone settles into their own pace. I started out fast and pretty soon only Chris McGarry was still next to me. Chris won the Jersey Round Island Challenge and this young kid was paddling fast and kept up his pace. We paddled for a good hour until we had a quick portage around the first locks. I hit the water first but he was directly next to me again. Now we were on Lake Lochy. It was windy and dark. You could just see in which direction we had to go, pretty much straight into the wind. I had a feeling the sides of the lake would give me a little cover so paddled as hard as I could across to the west side of the lake and hugged the coast. Many times I nearly hit a rock or boulder sticking out of the water but it was worth the risk because the wind and waves were lighter on the side. Chris was still charging at about 50 meters in front of me. I respected his fighting courage but I knew we had been paddling on our limit for a long time now and the race was still very long. I expected that he would have to slow down soon.

The trick is to paddle hard but keep your heart rate low

The trick with races like this, which are 12 hrs or longer is to go hard but keep your heart rate low enough that you can do your pace for a long time. After we had to round a peninsula halfway the lake we had the full force of the wind again, Chris stayed in the middle. I took the longer route and worked my way to the side again with a little more protection. Soon I passed him and was making good ground. After 16 kilometers up wind we got to the other of the lake. It was nice and calm and I had made 500 meters on Chris.

At this point we were 3 hrs and 25 minutes into the race. I knew they was still long but that now I had to put the hammer down. As soon as we passed the next portage, we were on a canal again. If you don’t see your competitor in front of you mentally it becomes harder and harder to go hard. So I made sure that I was around the next bend before Chris and or any other racer behind me, could see me. The hours before I had felt strong, even in a demotivating dark up wind section, I felt comfortable.

The day before the race I paddled a little bit after the clinic I gave. I felt good but still a little stiff from last week’s 32 hour race and wasn’t sure how my body would react during the race. I knew there were 5 strong paddlers and would have been happy with any podium. But off course once you start racing the top of the podium is always the goal.

Loch Ness Monster shows its force

The next little Lake Oich, was nice and easy. A few more portages and a canal and we got to the halfway point in Fort Augustus. My wife Dagmar did my support, changed out my pack while running to the next portage past all the locks. She already warned me that the next part was not going to be easy. I looked over to the lake and saw white caps coming straight at me.

Loch Ness Monster was showing us it’s force. This was going to be a long day. I wasted no time and jumped on the lake, hammering against the wind. Again I knew I that I had to give it my all to get to the slightly sheltered West side. Life would not be easy but at least doable. To get to the other side, I was going 3 to 5 km per hour. The wind was strong but the waves where the worst, stopping you dead in your tracks every time you hit one on the nose.

I got to the other side and realized the wind was doable but the wave were still pounding on the nose, at least I could bring the speed up little again. I looked back and saw Chris also coming across, nobody behind him in sight. At that point I had a good lead and felt confident and strong. If I would keep pushing it would be very hard to gain ground on me again. What worried me little was that I was doing only 6 to 7 km an hour against the wind and waves. I started calculating how many hours this lake could take me. It would be close to cut off. I was also starting to wonder how many paddlers would make this lake. This was crazy. I just took one little landmark at a time. Looking down the lake was frustrating, you couldn’t see the end of the lake, it was behind the horizon!

Slowly but shortly I worked my way up the lake. The first people who did the two-day event as I passed them, were barely moving, I talked to them sharing a few motivational words and on I went. By now I was 10 hours on the water, the muscles felt sore but I was doing better and better. In the clinic I have just a day two days earlier I talked a lot about preparation, specially mental preparation. It is hard to understand how much the mental part of any ultra-distance race is, specially one with challenging conditions.

The Finish Line

Little by little the lake calmed down, the further we got to the end of the lake. The last 10 km where ‘enjoyable’ with good speeds and no more chop. I was starting to smell the finish line. Chris Parker’s drone met me when I got at the end of the lake, it felt like I already made the finish. The hardest part was over. One more portage and 8km on a calm canal felt like I was almost there. Dagmar gave me one more pack with liquids and it was a ‘breeze’ to the finish. After 12 hours and 18 minutes, I passed in 1st place.

Only two other stand up paddlers and three surfski and kayakers finished the non-stop Great Glen today. The three ultras in three weekends were all upwind struggles. All throwing exceptionally rare conditions but I felt very satisfied to have conquered them all.

Great respect for anyone who made it passed Loch Ness, both two-day and non-stop paddlers. And special mention to Emma Reijmerink who was the only women who made the non-stop course, after fighting it for almost 16 hrs, great respect!”

To find out more about the UK Paddle Endurance Series, visit www.ukpaddleenduranceseries.com

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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