Pietermaritzburg – Five time Marathon World Champion Hank McGregor is locked in a race against time as he jets home from Hawaii to try and defend his national titles at the South African Marathon Championships at Camps Drift this weekend and says his biggest challenge will come from shrugging off the jetlag.
McGregor was in Hawaii for the Maui Jim Molokai Challenge, a gruelling 53km crossing from Molokai to Oahu that saw him finish third in a dramatic finish to Australians Cory Hill and Clint Robinson.
The fatigued McGregor then started his circuitous return to South Africa via New York on a three day journey that will see the reigning K1 and K2 SA Marathon Champ return to Durban on Wednesday, with his K1 title defence scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
There’s no margin for error for McGregor as the SA Champs also serve as the one-off trial for the national team to go to the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships later in the year, and with only two boats selected in each class McGregor will have to dig deep to secure a berth in the K1 and K2 races to enable him to try and defend his double world titles in Győr, Hungary in September.
“I am feeling tired and the time travel is the biggest obstacle as Hawaii is 12 hours behind SA’s time zone,” said McGregor from New York.
“I have just adapted to Hawaii time and now it’s going to take a while to get set back home but that’s life I guess , I just have to try deal with it the best I can,” he added.
With McGregor focusing on his surfski training for the last few months in his bid to win another Molokai title, the 37 year-old Jeep Team/Kayak Centre star will have to refocus his skills to the unique demands of flatwater marathoning with its critical portages.
“I haven’t been in a canoe in a while so I’m looking forward to the change,” said McGregor “I just wish I had some more time to get my head around focusing on a 53km surfski beast of a race and now a 30km obstacle canoe race, but I will just do the best I can.”
McGregor has a proud record at both national and international marathon racing level and will be determined to try and retain both the singles and doubles titles that he won in Gauteng last year, which will bring with it the assured place in the national teams to the world champs in September.
“I would like to make both K1 and K2 national teams again but South Africa’s senior men’s team is the number one ranked marathon team in the world,” said McGregor.
“You have to be 100% if you want to be in contention to make the side to tour to World Champs later in the year.”
He said that he was looking forward to teaming up with Cape surfski ace Jasper Mocké, with whom he won the K2 world crown in Oklahoma City last year, for the doubles racing on Sunday and hopes that the chemistry that worked in 2014 will reignite once more.
“It would be great to try defend our K2 title but only time will tell,” said McGregor. “We will just have to see how thing play out.”
McGregor has single handedly rejuvenated the South African interest in flatwater marathon racing in recent years, and his droves of admirers will be following his progress after the gamble to race the Molokai and SA Marathon Champs on consecutive weekends with a massive travel leg in between.
“There is no doubt that it will be a very big ask for Hank (McGregor),” said Canoeing South Africa’s Marathon committee head Brett Austen Smith.
“We all know just how tenacious Hank is. If he can pull this off then it will be testament to his extraordinary strength and ability,” he added. “It is going to be fascinating to watch on the weekend.”
McGregor has earned a reputation for his dogged competitiveness and the manner in which the Molokai title was decided still smarts after being a dominant force in the iconic race.
“I am disappointed with the result as I prefer to win but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes,” he said after the race.
“It came down to the line you took in the end. I was on more of a straight line from Molokai to Honolulu whereas Cory Hill took a more northern line way off the straight line course and it paid dividend in the last 4km as he was running more with the wind and waves while myself and Clint (Robinson) were just taking some waves and chop on the side which slowed us down.
“Hats off to Cory on his first win and his route choice at the end of the day,” he added.