Catching Up With 9-Time Dusi Winner Andrew Birkett

He let MH in on how he balances being a pro athlete and dedicated dad.

Aspen Henriksen |


Andy Birkett did his first Dusi Canoe Marathon when he was just 13 years old. Now, 15 years later, he’s bagged a whopping nine wins. MH caught up with the 28-year-old paddler on how he does it, all while being a dedicated dad.

 

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Let us in on a day in your life?

The paddler has started a new chapter, marrying wife Nikki in February last year, with the two moving into a new home in September.

“Honestly, I wish I had a routine. It is difficult to be organised when it’s non-stop chaos with a little one,” says the dad to 8 month old David. Birkett, who’s up at 4:30am, doesn’t have a set routine but he has his priorities set: seeing to his son and training. “When I wake up, I water the garden with David. After that, I go for a run and then I have some breakfast.” For Birkett, dad time ensues until he hits the water in the afternoon.

“When I was training for Dusi last year I ran once a day and paddled twice a day, but now I go for 1 run and 1 hard, longer session on the water so I can spend more time at home.”

Related: The Surprising Way to Run Faster and Longer

What’s the key to finding the balance between personal life and your training?

Find a partner who can share the weight, Birkett says. “It’s difficult fitting everything in, especially when everything happens all at once but I am fortunate to have such an incredible wife.” Birkett says. “When Dave was 8 weeks old I went to Spain for a week and to Portugal for a week in September during the move, and to be honest it’s all Nikki, she really keeps the balance. It’s not easy but she has been an incredible support.”

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You did your first Dusi at the age of 13, tell us about your game plan now?

“Neither of my parents were paddlers so we really went in as novices for my first Dusi. I look back now at the equipment and the ideas that we had and it was all wrong; completely wrong.

“But the main goal was just to finish,” he says, a sentiment shared with most who attempt the 120km race. “After my first win in 2010 I sat down with [race partner] Jason Graham. We analysed everything; the Dusi involves a lot of preparation. Even if you’re not the best athlete you can still do really well if you’re prepared.

“I just analysed every year’s race over and over until I could see what I could do differently to improve. Later, [when I became more serious about winning], I started tripping the river earlier and preparing.”

Do you spend much time in the gym? And when it comes to canoeing, what are your views on cross training?

Birkett has noticed the benefits of cross training, he feels less prone to injury and it’s made him stronger and more stable on the water.“When I’m training for flat water marathons, I run less, and I gym and paddle more. Generally, I gym 3 times, run 3 times and paddle 7 to 9 times a week.”

Related: This Training System Can Get Your Body Into The Best Shape It’s Ever Been

What do you do on days when you’re feeling burnt out?

Birkett mixes up his training to make it exciting, keeping him from burning out. “We are blessed to live right by the beautiful ocean, so when I don’t feel like training, my wife and I go for a paddle in the sea with a group that heads out there sometimes.”

 

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“The winning stroke” (Day 1 Dusi) – Andy Birkett #dusi #durban #dusi2017 #andybirkett

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You were sick on the last day of this year’s Dusi. What have been some of your toughest setbacks over the years? How have you overcome them?

“Unfortunately, you can’t avoid getting sick. My best advice would be to start the race with antibiotics in your system!” Birkett advised. “I was sick last year on the last day as well, but I’ve only been sick three times in the last ten years so I’ve got a 30% sickness rate on the last day.”

Andrew’s dedication to training revealed his true colours in late 2017, when he twisted his ankle just weeks before the three day race early the following year, “I ran on the spot in a pool, with a pool noodle wrapped around my waist. It was mind-numbing stuff! A whole hour of looking at nothing and not going anywhere.” With Birkett still going on to finish 1st.

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You’ve won so many races, including the Dusi 9 times. What does the race mean to you now? What have you learnt on the water?

Andrew shares that his focus has shifted. “I really enjoy the race and paddling is my passion, but having a little one really changes your perspective on life.” He also said that “winning the Dusi is really cool, but it isn’t the be all and end all.”

Andy’s pro tip for paddlers:

“Running and running with a boat are two different things. Enough said. Train with your boat, Paddlers.”

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