2012-03-08 / News

52-year-old sets sights on winning the Run of the Charles

Timothy Dwyer has raced kayaks since 1999 and is preparing for April’s chase


Tim Dwyer demonstrates how he plans to carry his 27-pound kayak, a necessity to finish the 19-mile Run of the Charles race. After paddling six miles, competitors have to jump out of the water and hoist their vessel onto their shoulders for an uphill run. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Tim Dwyer demonstrates how he plans to carry his 27-pound kayak, a necessity to finish the 19-mile Run of the Charles race. After paddling six miles, competitors have to jump out of the water and hoist their vessel onto their shoulders for an uphill run. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN BY MARGO SULLIVAN

You could say Timothy Dwyer is pumped about the upcoming Run of the Charles canoe and kayak race. On a raw Sunday afternoon, he used the East Ferry waterfront as a backdrop to explain his race strategy. Dwyer has won this event before, he said, and he hopes to win again on April 29.

“Let me paint the picture,” he said. “The gun goes off. All the boats were lined up across the river. The river’s as wide as the distance between the beach and the strip of stores at the ferry.”

Dwyer spread his arms out to illustrate. There’s a flag above the starting line, and all the boats have to stay behind the line. Then it begins.

“Paddlers, ready, set, go,” he said, “and 100 paddlers in this division are all just taking off and battling for position. It’s a lot like bike racing. These boats draft off each other.”

The ideal position, he said, would be behind the leaders and up front. You don’t want to start too far back in the pack, he said. “Each boat creates a little wave, and you actually ride it.”

After six miles of paddling a meandering river route, the racers come to the first dam, called a portage. They have to jump out on land, then pull the boat out of the water and hoist it on their shoulders.

“And start running as fast as you can,” he said. His boat weighs 27 pounds, and it’s lighter than most. (Dwyer compares his sea kayak to a Ferrari.) “It’s an uphill run, up and around the dam,” he said. The longest yardage measures about the distance from the Bay View to the ferry landing.

“Now your heart rate just spikes. Your heart rate is in the 160s or 170s. Plop the boat back in the water and take off while you’re being jostled by other boats.”

And that’s not the worst half of this long test of skill and endurance, he said. Then consider bucking over the rough sections where the river swells eddy like white water rapids.

According to Meg Schermerhorn, the race director, Dwyer is one of the early racers to register for the master’s category. The race has several divisions to accommodate paddlers at all different levels from beginners to experts. Some 1,500 people will participate in the events, which include the races and a festival to raise money for the Charles River Watershed Association, she said. Dwyer, 52, will undertake a 19-mile meandering course from Needham, Mass., near Route 128 and Great Plain Avenue, to Harvard’s Newell Boathouse by Soldiers Field Road in Cambridge.

The race offers courses at several different lengths, she said, from six miles to 24 miles for corporate-sponsored racing teams.

People who want to get in the action still have time, she said. “Registration remains available up to and including race day, but it is recommended that racers register now to avoid late fees,” she said.

For more information on registering to race or becoming a volunteer, Schermerhorn said interested people should call 508-698-6810.

Dwyer, who grew up in Newport, has been racing kayaks since 1999. He has also been a guide and an instructor. His assignments have ranged from Outward Bound adventures to marine science expeditions from Alaska to the Florida Keys.

He enjoys sea kayaks because “they handle the rougher water conditions better,” he said. “I cannot emphasize enough that they surf better than anything. What I do is a thrill sport.”

To visualize it, he said to think about being out at Beavertail on a really windy, rough day. Those are the conditions racers live for. “We’ll be in our glory on a day like that. Those ocean swells. These boats’ surf. The spray is shooting up from the bow.” Dwyer said he lives for the feeling he gets as he flashes past sailboats and motorized trawler boats.

Dwyer picked up a used boat for this race because he doesn’t want to get one of his crafts banged up. The Run of the Charles is a rough ride, he said.

“The race is crazy, amazing. It’s more than just having to make your boat go fast. You have to duck under branches, go through the whitewater sections bounding off rocks.”

Meanwhile, racers keep an eye out for river debris, like shopping carts and old tires.

“The boat takes kind of a beating,” he said.

Dwyer said he is in the unlimited racing kayak division, which is the biggest field.

He has won the race about five times and has also captured the unlimited kayak division.

Although he is competitive, he said some racers will be out just for the camaraderie and the ride. Dwyer also enjoys the close-up look at nature and shares the mission to improve water quality in the Charles River.

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