THE three-day FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon is arguably the world’s greatest kayaking ultra. It is run along the Msunduzi and Mgeni Rivers between Pietermaritzburg and Durban over a total distance of 120 km. The race attracts between 1 600 and 2 000 paddlers each year. In its alternating tradition, the 2020 edition of the iconic event will be a K2 race. Up the sharp end of the field the usual suspects are gearing up for a tough challenge. Among the favourites is Red Bull athlete Sbonelo Khwela, who is teaming up with fellow Martin Dreyer Change a Life Academy ambassador Thulani Mbanjwa this year. Khwela and Mbanjwa paddled the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon together in 2019 and both are Dusi veterans. “Trusting in your partner is crucial,” Khwela said, explaining that with a solid few months of training behind them, as well as a few shake-down races, there is no shortage of trust. The pair have both tasted K2 victory at the Dusi in years past, albeit with different partners. Khwela claimed his maiden Dusi victory in 2014, racing in a K2 with Andy Birkett. He’s since finished on the podium multiple times in both K2 and K1.HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:• The Dusi Canoe Marathon (which takes place from February 27 to February 29) is unique in that it is nearly as much a running race as it is a paddling race. It features various technical (and lengthy) portages. This favours Khwela as he is a very strong long-distance runner. His favourite portage of the race is “Burma Road” — “This is the last portage of day three, which means it’s the last portage of the Dusi. It’s very tough but where I’ve made time on the guys before and pulled a bit of a gap. From there it is also flat water all the way to Blue Lagoon,” he says.• In addition to the portages, there are various rapids to contend with. Khwela’s favourite rapid is “Ntombi” — “It’s a challenging rapid and, when you cross it, you have to stay stable on your boat. Many have made a mistake there and lost time. “The K2 is obviously a lot longer than the K1,” says Khwela, explaining how that influences running rapids. “You need to be aware of how much space you have to move and there are some different lines that suit the K2 better. Essentially the lines need to be ‘longer’.”• Khwela finished second in the 2019 Dusi Canoe marathon (K1) behind Andy Birkett; Mbanjwa finished third.• Khwela has a long history of success in the marathon stage race events in both K1 and K2. He claimed his maiden Hansa Dusi Canoe Marathon title in 2014, racing in a K2 with multiple champ, Andy Birkett. In addition, he has three third places 2015 (K1); 2016 (K2) and 2018 (K2) and two second places in 2017 and 2019 (both K1). — Supplied.