Taking on 2 x 100 mile events over 2 consecutive weekends.
The NDW100 is a 103 mile trail run along the North Downs from Farnham in Surrey to Ashford in Kent. 80% of the course is on trails and takes in 3000m of ascent.
To see if my legs had recovered after the Lakeland 100, and if they were up for this challenge, I took on the Battersea Park 5km on the Monday, an event I discovered as I was travelling back down south on the Sunday. I managed 19m50s, which I was really pleased with, and this set me up well for the NDW100. I also went for a Thai massage beforehand, as I am a firm believer that massage aids the recovery after an event.
In preparation for this event, I had downloaded the .gpx route file to my watch and produced my own map on waterproof paper to assist me on this marked course. You can see a low-res version of the maps I used in the links at the bottom.
So, a week after Lakeland, I found myself on the start line of the Centurion NDW100. I was psyched up and felt in good shape to take this on. No pain killers this time. The challenge I set myself was to complete the course within the 30 hour cut-off, secretly hoping that I could still manage a sub 24h time. For those who achieve a sub 24h time, a special belt buckle is up for grabs.
Monday night 19m50s at the Battersea 5k.
The NDW100 event started at 6am on Saturday morning, and this is the Ultra that is local to my club, the Clapham Chasers. It was a calm, dry start with the sun breaking through the low level clouds. This time i didn’t get carried away by shooting off too quickly, and i found myself in about 28th position out of 230 at the first Checkpoint. It was an early transition to Ultra mode which saw me battling through the wall after about 14 miles. Once in my Ultra mode, I can just keep plodding on. By Box Hill, more fresh legged ultra runners had passed me, which saw me drop back to 40th position, but I felt OK and happy on the familiar territory of the Surrey Hills. One point I was looking forward to was the 38 mile feed station. This was being run by the Clapham Chasers and I knew I would get a good cheer there. They did not disappoint! In the warm sunshine, they saw me running up the hill towards them. I was greeted with the offer of ice-cream – a first for me in an ultra!
Clapham Chasers at Mile 38
I was well ahead of time at this point to finish within the 24h. I was still feeling good and kept going. At 15:00, 9 hour in, the sky became dark and there were rumbles of thunder. Then it started; a heavy downpour. Waterproofs on, the temperature dropped and the chalky surface under foot became slippery and muddy. Still, it is the same for everyone and you just have to crack on. I got to the 50 mile halfway CP in under 9h 30m which was pretty good going. That would put me on a 19h schedule with plenty in the bag to duck under the 24h.
You can’t plan too much for the 2nd half, as there was a second downpour, and this is also when the day becomes night and progress becomes tough. The cloudless sky allows the temperature to drop and the way is illuminated by a head torch. The sun was just setting as I reached 60 miles in 11h 50m and, to my delight, I bumped into another Chaser, Cat, who had been pacing Dale. A quick high 5 and the pic below, and I was soon on my way again.
At the 60 mile point
I managed to get to 70 miles before it got dark and was really starting to feel the strain. Tom, a Chaser who was at the 38 mile feed station earlier, was waiting at this point to meet me as support crew. I was so pleased to see him and to get my supplies restocked. I had not been feeling well and was struggling to keep food and fluid down. But it was head torches on and straight into an ascent. Once or twice, I had to break into a walk, and have harsh words with myself to keep going. The struggle really started from here.
It was a long lonely night ahead. We were allowed pacers to join us from 50 miles onwards, but I had not made such arrangements as i am 50/50 about the benefit of pacing. I had taken this challenge on myself and was unsure of the outcome because of my previous week’s activity, so to drag someone out overnight may have seemed a bit selfish. I also chose not to use the poles in this event. The trails were much smoother than the Lakeland, requiring less concentration on foot placement. This did find me falling over twice though as I may have been a little too complacent.
For the last 30 miles I was not able to hold my fluids down. Tom was great, having completed this event before, so he knew what I was going through, and he met me at another two locations before the 84 mile mark, before heading home as there were no more crewing points before the finish. I was calculating in my head the worst case scenario of resorting to a 20 mins per mile (3mph) walking pace and how long I could get away with this to still finish in under 24 hours. I was saying to myself that every step is a step closer to the finish and the more effort I put in now, the less pressure i will feel later on to get in under the 24 hours. As I arrived at the penultimate CP at 21h52m, with just 4.5 miles to the finish, I knew I had cracked it; 2 hours to do 4.5 miles. I cruised to the finish line on my own in a time of 23h04m12s in 30th position, and was so relieved. This had been a tough physical and mental challenge, but I had got the belt buckle, only 1 of 44 to do so!
James and Centurion Events put on great races, well organised and supported. Check out some of their other events Centurion Events.
Me with my finisher’s ‘Sub24 hour’ belt buckle.
The end of a 211 mile race week! Lakeland 100 – 105 miles, 6300m of ascent in 28h 51m; Battersea Park 5k in 19m 50s; NDW100 – 103 miles, 3000m of ascent, 23h 04m. That is equal to 8 Marathons over 8 days. Feeling very chuffed!
This event was celebrating its 10th year and it is a Circular 105 mile run around the Lake District trails from Coniston, taking in 6300m of ascent.
I am not new to the world of Ultra running; in fact, this is about my 15th Ultra since the age of 12. I drove up in the Tri-Adventure van a day before this event, not knowing whom I would bump into. It was great to be back in the Lakes with the fresh smell of mountain air. The Event HQ was a couple of large marquees in a school’s grounds, making it a great hub for the runners, and it even had a chill out area with sofas and coffee. I collected my entry pack in the afternoon before the event started at 6pm, which is unusual for an Ultra to start off so late into an evening. The Lakeland 100 also has a 50 mile event which starts the following morning from the 69 mile point of the Lakeland 100. The forecast was for a bit of rain, and after a wet week, the course was already pretty muddy.
I was quite excited ahead of the run, and a welcome surprise for me was to see an old Adventure Racing friend Sabrina Verjee at the Race Briefing. On the start line, I had not allowed myself to compute the task ahead. I was simply going to keep running and enjoy my time in the Lakes.
Collecting my race pack
Setting off with Sabrina
I had not intended to set off quite as fast as I did. My plan was to cover as much ground in the 4 hours of daylight we had, before then slowing up during this first phase in the dark. There was a great turnout of supporters to see us off in Coniston, and then we were off up into a drizzly fell. The navigation was straightforward from the off, and with other fast starters around me, I found myself hitting CP1 in 2nd place and feeling quite good. By now, the field was spread out, and I was entering into unfamiliar territory, requiring navigation with the maps that were provided. I did have the route .gpx on my watch as a back up but this wasn’t sufficient to navigate off. Soon, the guys behind who were more familiar with the route caught up, after I had to keep checking the map after making some slight errors. I wasn’t able to stick with this group who, I guess, had recced the route and could just plough on. I’d got as far as Wasdale before the night started to draw in, I found myself still in the top 10, but as it got dark, i started falling back in the field with head torches passing me. I wasn’t feeling too good either and struggling to keep down fluids. I put this down to a codeine pain killer I took before the event which played around with my stomach. I am not sure why I took it and this was one of my biggest regrets. It was a long night and I was struggling to maintain any focus. I felt powerless on the hills and it was wet and cold. I longed for a break. By the time I reached Braithwaite, I was ready for a nap. Having eaten some cooked pasta and rice pudding, I put my head down on the table and slept for 20 mins. I came round to quite a busy CP as many had caught me up. I set out for the next leg to Blencathra but was still not feeling on good form. I don’t think the sleep was enough, so at the next CP I had another 15 minutes, by which time it was getting light and I really felt the beneficial effects of Solar power. I was among people going at a much more steady pace and one I could maintain. I cracked on along the Coach Road, a long uninspiring track. I was starting to feel much better and got my act together. Some hot soup at the next CP saw me back on form having slipped back to 112th position, and I was able to start to claw back places. At one point, I caught up with a group who were moving at a steady rate, and, as I passed, one of the runners decided to joined me. It was handy as this is someone who had been on the recce hikes and was familiar with the route to Dalemaine, the 59 mile point and theoretical half way. We arrived here at 10am, 16 hours in.
I was now feeling great and was pleased to be ahead of the 50 milers starting at 11:30. I wasn’t keen to stop too long here, so I picked up my watch battery charger and some supplies for the next leg and headed off alone towards Pooley Bridge, and again into the drizzly and windy fell. Waterproofs were essential to maintain any of my body heat. After the initial hike up, there was a long down hill stretch which was fab and took us down out of the wind. I was catching other runners ahead, which lifted my spirits. There was another guy I then found myself running with, which again was ideal for a testing navigation part over a fell to Haweswater. I was grateful for the company, and we stuck together right up to the next checkpoint. By this stage, the faster 50 mile runners were coming through and gave passing comments of support. This was great, and I found myself full of beans by the next checkpoint, which I again sailed through, after having stocked up on supplies and taken in some hot soup. Over the steep pass, I was motivated by latching onto the 50 milers, which resulted in me catching up with my fellow 100 milers. After the pass, I saw a nice long descent down Longsleddale and I was all go. The weather was drying up and it felt like the back of the course was broken. I had actually calculated that it was just a marathon to go!
I kept the momentum going through Kentmere CP, and I had a nice surprise seeing an old friend, Carrie, who had come out to run with me into Ambleside. It was like a breath of fresh air and helped take my mind off the running. I also bumped into Paul Noble, another Adventure friend, who took a picture and with whom I shared a few words as I came down Garburn Pass.
Carrie left me in Ambleside to finish the job off. I was among some quick 50 milers who really were getting the best out of me. They may have dome 55 miles less by this point, but I was determined to keep up with them. I picked up the pace along the easier running Langdale stint, saying to myself that every step was a step closer, and the more effort I put in now, the easier the pressure will be later on. I was counting off the places i was making up, as I passed broken people with their Lakeland 100 yellow numbers on their backs. I was flying, probably from the sleeping in the first half of the race. I could not be sure what place I was in, but I kept pushing to get the most out of myself. The last CP was to go up and out of Tibblethwaite Quarry, up some steps called Stairway to Heaven. Again, after a brief stop, I found myself in a train of 50 mile runners who helped guide me through the second spell of darkness, back to Coniston and the amazing downhill finish. I was over the line 10 minutes before last orders, which was a great feeling. There was sheer relief at making the finish in 50th place, and in a time of 28h51m14s, and I looked forward to putting my feet up. It had been tough.
The dibber print out indicated that I had made the top 50 out of a field of 400 in a time of 28h51m. That meant that i had made up 62 places in the second half of the race. Any time under 30 hours on this course is considered very respectable, with only the top 12 managing under 25 hours. Sabrina managed to finish in 6th position overall and first lady home with a time well under 24h.
In summary, I was very pleased with my achievement as I had not put a lot of prep into this event. The course was technically tough under foot on the Lakeland Trails, and a real test of will power and maintenance of focus. I am strong minded with a determination to keep going. It turned out that my second half of the race was in fact quicker than the first, much to my surprise.
Make sure that the Direction of Travel Arrow is pointing away from your body, and in the direction you want to go.
Always make sure that you have the Orienting Arrow aligned with Grid North (the top of the map), irrespective of the direction in which you are heading. It’s easy to make an error if the map is folded.
Remember that the magnetic Compass needle does not point in your intended direction of travel. Stick to where the Direction of Travel Arrow is pointing, once you have taken a bearing.
Make sure that the landmark you choose to head for is a fixed feature that doesn’t move – pick a tree, gate post, or boulder, for example, rather than a cow, sheep, person or bird!
Make sure your compass isn’t near any metal objects when following a bearing, such as a Trig point or a metal gate post, as they may affect the magnetic compass needle.
Make sure your compass isn’t near any metal objects when following a bearing, such as a Trig point or a metal gate post, as they may affect the magnetic compass needle.
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Compasses now come in all shapes, styles and sizes and, as with everything, you get what you pay for. A cheap one is almost guaranteed to let you down – and no one wants to be in a situation when that happens.
And, so that you can fully understand the capabilities of your compass, we’ve broken down exactly what each component means
Base plate– this is the clear compass bed, with straight edges to line up your direction of travel. It also has rulers and map scales on it to help you measure distance.
Compass housing– this rotating bezel, with degrees etched on its perimeter to enable you to take a bearing, also holds the magnetic needle.
Compass needle– the red and white needle floats in a clear liquid so it can rotate freely. The red end always points to Magnetic North.
Orienting arrow– this is the wide red arrow marked on the bed of the compass housing. Align the red part of the compass needle with this arrow when taking a bearing off the map.
Orienting lines– these lines are also marked on the bed of the compass housing, and they are parallel to the Orienting Arrow. The Orienting lines are used to line up with the Northings on a map to establish a bearing.
Index line– a compass bearing is read off the Index line on the bezel.
Direction of travel arrow– this thin black arrow on the base plate is used to indicate the direction in which you will be travelling after taking your bearing.
Compass Romer – these are marked on the base plate to help you measure distances on a variety of map scales. They are also handy in helping you to accurately work out your six-figure grid reference.
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A compass is an amazing piece of kit… when you know how to use it! Whatever you’re doing outdoors hiking up a mountain or navigating on an adventure race, you need to make sure that you have a compass for hiking. Reading a compass properly not only keeps you on the right track but could, ultimately, save your life.
At Tri Adventure, we know how important navigating and compass reading is to plotting routes and finding your way round the track. So, to make things a little easier for you, we’ve created a three-part series to compass reading, so you know your Magnetic North from Grid North, and can take your adventure racing to the next level.
The compass needle always points to Magnetic North. What is Magnetic North? Why are there three Norths, and what are the differences? It can get a little confusing, so let’s keep it simple.
The first is TRUE NORTH – this is a fixed point where the geographical North Pole is located, and where the Earth’s Longitude Lines meet. Its reference isn’t used when navigating with a map but it’s still useful to know.
The second one is GRID NORTH. This is not a fixed point; it’s essentially the top of your map towards which the North-South grid lines run in parallel to one another. Where each line ends at the top of the map is where GRID NORTH is. GRID NORTH was created by laying a rectangular grid over the whole of the UK. This is where Grid Referencing comes from.
The third and final north is MAGNETIC NORTH. This is a moving point, influenced by the movement of the Earth’s liquid magma (the stuff which comes out of volcanoes). The compass needle points to MAGNETIC NORTH, and it is governed by the magnetic field of the earth.
Pick up any navigation map and the key will indicate the variation between Magnetic North and Grid North in the area you want to travel.
If you use the needle of a compass in conjunction with the Grid North of a map to identify your intended direction of travel, you can’t go far wrong.
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So, you’ve seen an advert for a 12 hour race, but you’re worried that it’s a big step up from the 2 or 4 hour races you’ve been doing? Scared that it’s too much to take on? Read on…..
Entering your first long race is scary, that’s for sure. When James and I entered the 12 hour Dynamic DARE a quite a few years ago, it was the longest race that either of us had done, by a long way. I think we had both done a 6-hour Questars or two, but that was about it. The thought of going non-stop for 12 hours was terrifying. As it turns out, the reality was quite different!
As nearly all adventure races are run on a “score” concept, it’s perfectly fine to do as much or as little as you want to (or can) do. There will be mandatory sections or checkpoints in every race, but it’s up to you how much extra you do in addition to these mandatory sections. Better at running than biking? Then focus on the running sections and cut the biking sections short to give you time to do this, or vice versa. Play to your strengths!
We had a great day out in the Wye Valley during that first long race. You may think it’s not going to be possible to run and bike all day without getting worn out, but the reality is that you wind the pace back considerably from the frantic sprint-race pace that you’ll be accustomed to seeing at 2 or 4-hour races. It’s ok to walk up hills! Your focus changes from going flat-out to ensuring that you last the distance. Just make sure you eat regularly in order to keep your energy up – my rule is to eat something every half an hour, whether you are hungry or not.
There are several benefits to doing longer races.
They are usually better value for money in terms of cost per hour of racing.
As said before, you get to eat like a pig with no repercussions!
As the race is longer, you get to head further away from civilisation into truly wild areas, often visiting some of the most beautiful parts of the country.
Best of all, long races often include special stages, where you’ll get to do something exciting, different or scary (or possibly all three!).
In the past I’ve abseiled off the 70m overhang at Kinsey Crag (Terrex Swift race in the Yorkshire Dales), shot arrows at archery targets (HARZ race in Germany and the DARE race in the Wye Valley), canoed down the rapids at Symonds Yat (DARE race again), jumped off a cliff into a flooded quarry (Open5 in the Lake District), and loads more.
Doing longer races also usually means that you’ll be racing as a pair or a team – the only thing I’ll say here is to make sure you race with people that you like! I’ve discovered that it’s perfectly possible for some people (mentioning no names) to talk non-stop for 12 hours. Dependant on the pain level that you are experiencing at the time, this may be a good thing or a bad thing!
Racing as a pair or team is great as you get to share the good times with your team mates, and when times are bad and you are tired and grumpy, there’s someone there to feed you, carry your pack, tow you up a hill or just provide a word of support. Alternatively, you can just blame them for getting you lost if they are the one doing the navigation at that point!
When we finished the DARE race, we thought we’d done pretty badly, as we’d had a few ups and downs, and had spent the day going so much slower than we were used to racing. When the results came out, it turns out we’d done alright, and had just about sneaked into the top 10, with which we were delighted (and surprised!). It turns out that everyone else had also had a nightmare at some point of the race as well, and my experience since then has been that if you just keep going, you’ll end up doing OK, as everyone else will be experiencing exactly the same problems as you.
In summary then, give it a go!
In the words of the Dr Pepper advert, what’s the worst that can happen?!
Enter the Tri-Adventure 12hr Night and Day today!
10pm – 10am – Pairs or Solo (£90pp)
Test your stamina with this 12hour adventure race incorporating day and night navigation. A stunning non-stop eventbover 5 stages, incorporating trail running, mountain biking and night navigation – as well as some surprise Activities!
Location: Start and Finish in Effingham, Surrey Time: Registration opens from 7pm, event starts at 10pm
If you follow the Google maps on your phone or set the sat-nav to your desired destination, chances are you’re going to miss an awful lot. That beautiful lake just half a mile away from where you stopped for lunch, or the view point atop a nearby hill… Maps provide a clear, aerial view that’s much wider, so when you’re in planning phase, you can spot hidden gems and make the time to explore if you want to. It’s as much about the journey as the destination, and maps play a big part in that.
2. Charging batteries and getting a signal are of no concern
Very little is needed in the way of explanation here. Having a traditional paper map saves all sorts of potential bother if your batteries die or a signal fails you at a crucial moment. You certainly don’t want to fall victim to technology failure without a back up – having a map with you, even as a back up, solves the problem.
3. It’s an essential safety skill ticked off
You never know when map reading might come in handy and that’s why it’s important to keep a map in your backpack, in your hand, or fixed to a map board on your MTB. Being able t read and navigate from a map is an essential safety skill, which is why we offer Navigation courses every month (link to page on site) – avoid having all the gear and no idea.
4. Maps provide awareness and appreciation of your surroundings
Maps are designed to be used in conjunction with the real, physical world. Whether it’s reading a sign, spotting a big hill or distinguishing a path from a bridleway, they’re designed to keep your senses engaged and active so you are aware of everything around you. It’s these moments that often make the journey – the ability to look around and enjoy the beauty of the moment you’re in, and maps not only allow, but encourage, that.
5. Maps can’t be blamed
We’ve all been there – the sat nav or Google maps takes us along a route that we know deep down is wrong… but we follow it anyway. We trust technology over our own instincts. It’s a guilt-free way of messing up – just blame the gear. This approach is, sadly, fairly normal but that doesn’t make it any less idiotic. Maps are our partner in crime, they are equals to our intellect and common sense, not replacements, and they are not wrong.
Sunday April 24th was the 36th running of the London Marathon.
I knew this race was on the cards for about a year since I had a Good For Age (GFA) place from achieving 3h01m07s in Hamburg a couple of years ago. The preparation for this event had not been solid since my priorities had been with my businesses. Still I had been on a number of social runs with my running club, Clapham Chasers (Chasers). The first aim was to achieve another GFA time, then to beat 3h01m07s to get a PB, and if all goes well to get under 3 hours for the first time.
Race day and I felt good. I really wasn’t sure how the day would go, but I knew I had to go for the target of running under 3 hours, 6m52s per mile. This was my 20th Marathon and I had been close to going under 3 hours a couple of times. I saw a couple of my club mates at the start but chose to run on my own as I focused on starting at a steady pace and not going to fast at the start.
I had my GPS watch on which I started on the line, I also ensured I went over the line on 30s past the start to help keep track on my progress through the course clocks.
The first half went well and just before Tower Bridge I caught a Club Mate Alex and we ran to a great reception over Tower Bridge, through Half way in 1h27m and on to fourteen and a half miles where we would see our Chasers support crew near Westferry. This is a great spot that offers supporters 3 points of contact on the course.
Things were going well and I felt fine. The crowds reduce a little through Docklands but I was able to keep a good pace through to the next Chaser contact point at twenty-one miles. It is great to hear all the support again and to be on the last ‘home straight’.
I had not looked at my watch after half way since the GPS was throwing all my timings out with the poor signal. I felt fine and knew I just had to hold position and run well.
I knew from my recce of the course I needed to be at 23 miles before 2h38m to be on a 3 hour pace. Iwent through in 2h 37m on their clock so I knew it was still going well. Soon after this I was caught by the 3 hour pace group. I didn’t allow this to phase me.
Again the support was amazing all the way to the end. I spotted Jasmine, an former colleague who was managing the Lucazade Station. Not far now. I made it to 800m to go which is where the 26 mile marker is. the clock said 2h57m. I knew it was going to be close and required a push to the finish. I turned into The Mall and heard the last 3 hour pacer cross the line on 2h59m59s. I knew I had 30 seconds to sprint to the line. When it cam in to view the clock was reading 3h00m10s. I had 20s to make it, and it took me 22s, giving me a time of 3h00m02s. I was not aware of my actual time at this point, but was pleased, I had managed a PB and had enjoyed the run. Also the GFA time will allow me automatic entry again next year.
I saw my former boss at the finish who manages the directing of us finishers. I have also worked this section before and it is a great place to work with so many happy people.
It wasn’t until I caught up with Liz that I was told that i was only 2 seconds over the 3 hours! oops, so close, yet so confident that I can run faster next time.
Great event and lots of Chaser Support. Thanks!
The following week was used to restock with calories. Starting off with a free burger, or 2, at GBK for my efforts.
I knew I could have pushed it a little harder on race day. The whole run went really well.
I was keen to test my legs the following week by entering the Richmond Half which I successfully achieved in 1h24m28s.
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Thursday 24th March, 36 hours before the start I was at home watching TV when a message was put out on social media by a friend of mine in Afghanistan saying that a sick paddler had let a mate down ahead of the 68th Devizes to Westminster (DW) kayak event starting some 36 hours later. A replacement was eagerly being hunted for. With no major plans over the Easter Break, it didn’t take me long to put my honest bid in, saying that I was a bit rusty but was keen to step in. It had been quite a while since I had last sat in a sea kayak, actually over 4 years, and I would have to borrow a paddle. With plenty of previous Adventure Race experience, I was not afraid to take on this classic endurance race of 125 miles and 77 portages for teams in double kayaks or canoes. I had heard of the event before but had no knowledge of the route or timings other than a bench mark achievement is to complete it under 24 hours.
I soon found out that I was on! I managed a brief chat on the phone at 10pm with Boris, my race partner to be, agreeing to meet at Richmond Canoe Club the following morning for a quick compatibility test paddle to see if we could actually paddle together.
Friday 23rd March, 21 hours before the start
11am I met Boris for the first time at the Richmond Canoe Club, a tall well built guy in excess of 100kg. Boris had developed his physique through years of rowing and swimming. Boris had rowed for Oxford in three Oxford/Cambridge boat races which included a victory. He had also swum the Channel on 4 separate occasions and had completed the DW last year in a little over 26 hours. I sure knew I had my work cut out to meet any expectations. We were also joined by RCC Coach Peter, who sorted us a nice tippy K2 kayak, something I had never been in before, a paddle, spray deck and buoyancy aid to use for the event. Boris had only ever sat in the back before, with the steering in the front and, given Boris’s previous experience of the route, we switched this round and hit the water for a 20 minute paddle. To be honest, after an initial nervous shaky start we were soon flying along the Thames. Before it could all fall apart we got out and fixed the boat on the roof of the car ready for the journey to Devizes. I had just enough time to go and buy some neoprene booties to wear, a hydration backpack and a ton of food that would take my fancy and fuel me during the event, which Peter and Boris judged would be about 26 hours.
Friday 23rd March, 12 hours before the start With the sick paddler dropping out, Boris had also lost half of his support crew for the event. The support is very important in a successful event as they are responsible for restocking us with food and water along the way as well as for communicating our progress. Fortunately, Boris’s wife Vanessa was persuaded to step in at last minute and team up with the original support Mark. Due to the earlier paddler shout out, Toby was also up for the crack and came along to support. So, 12 hours before the start we were at our overnight stop, Mark’s house, a 30 minute drive from the Start which is in Devizes. After lashings of home made lasagne, it was a quick chat through the logistics before getting some kip.
Saturday 24th March, The Start This race attracted 136 double kayaks or canoes and, once we’d passed the mandatory kit check, organisers allow teams to start when they like from 06:00am. A start time is calculated by the crews backwards to coincide with the tidal lock at Teddington some 108 miles away. Organisers will only let you through this point after high tide so the flow is in the direction of travel for the last 12 miles from 04:20am. With our 26 hour plan, we wanted to be conservative and make sure we had the best chance to complete this challenge due to the rapid nature of our prep. So, we opted for a 07:49am start. We were off in the Tangerine Dream! Amazing, we had made it this far. The forecast for this early Easter was for 40mph winds from the SW and a cool 10 degrees with 2 weather fronts blowing over us during the day.
The start in Devizes
We soon found our rhythm on the first long unbroken stretch of flat canal and settled in to a nice pace. We arranged to see our crew after the first hour for a quick thumbs up that everything was ok, which it was and we were on a similar time to Boris’s previous year’s Race time of 26h03m. During this first part of the paddle, Boris was able to give me the heads up on what to expect over the next 24 hours as I was paddling this event blind. What makes this paddle race unique are the 77 portages en route. This is where the canal hits a lock system and the teams have to stop, get out and carry their Kayak or canoe over to the other end to continue their journey. This was something we had not practiced and each portage is unique. Some were quite high to get out of and required standing in the boats. The first few did cost us a bit of time but we soon found an effective way to tackle each one. After some time into the event, these portages offered a welcome break from the paddling and allowed us a quick stretch of the legs and a drink of water. Another skill Boris had to master was the removal of the dragging weed collected on the bow after paddling over unavoidable patches.
Saturday 24th March, 3 hours in We were going well and fast approaching the eagerly anticipated and much hyped up 400m tunnel. Boris had warned me about this tunnel; it was pitch black with the only reference point being the tiny white light at the end, the water was choppy from bounce back off both side walls, so balance was going to be tricky! We had arranged to have our head torches on for this section and I am pleased we did. I though before what was going to be the problem? Well, sitting in the back all I could see was Boris’s back and this conveniently blocked me from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for reference! I didn’t know which way was up. The head torch helped me fix a reference to the wall next to us and allowed us to make good progress through the tunnel. For the next 9 hours, we would paddle along the Kennet and Avon Canal negotiating 57 portages, receiving support and supplies from our crew before arriving at our 54 mile point in Reading just as it was getting dark. Getting dark! I remember Boris telling me that, if we hit Reading by 22:00 we would be doing well and the time was about 18:30. Wowzers, we had been flying and found ourselves 4 hours up on our 26 hours. Just after Reading is a mandatory 10 minute stop where teams attach lights to their boats and a kit check ensures we are ready for the tidal stretch. We took this time to eat some pasta and enjoy some hot chocolate. Spirits were high and we discovered we were the first team to arrive there, so we had overtaken everyone who had started before us. The super speedy kayakers start much later in the afternoon and chase the field down, timing their paddle to perfection to hit a fast flowing Thames from Teddington Lock. We, on the other hand, found ourselves is a different situation. After some calculations in my head, I figured that at the pace we were going and now heading on the flowing Thames, with fewer portages to negotiate we would be hitting Teddington about 2 hours before it opened! We had been paddling at under 21 hour pace and we were still going strong.
Saturday 24th March, 12 hours in We were going well and now had the tough mundane canal section to Reading (54 miles) behind us in ten and a half hours. The race changes after Reading as it gets dark, very dark, and we are on the flowing and wide and meandering River Thames. Our ground speed picks up and there is a level of navigation needed as the river twists and turns and splits in places. We chose to paddle in complete darkness and use our adapted night vision to track the banks either side of us. The locations of the portages are less obvious and only confirmed by some dimly lit glow sticks. We took our foot off the gas since we were so far ahead of time, and made sure we looked after ourselves and didn’t make any silly mistakes during this challenging part of the event. We were caught by another boat from behind who had also mis-calculated their potential as we would both be held at Teddington (108 miles). They were a bit all over the place and despite having the whole width of the Thames they managed to bump into us! Boris really came in to his own, navigating and steering the kayak impeccably through the 20 remaining lock portages. Portages by this time are tough. Everything is quite sore and the repetitive arm strains are exaggerated by lifting the kayak with one arm and running through. It was during two of these portages that I hit a low point in the race as my left arm was giving me so much pain in the shoulder joint. I put it down to the lack of practice, the nature of this enduring event and the fact that we had eased off the pace a bit. I was struggling to power on my left side. Luckily, the pressure was off and Boris just asked me to keep with his timing. It was thanks to Boris at one Portage that I got him to pummel my shoulder to free up what felt like a trapped nerve or strained tendon. This helped the range of movement tremendously and we kept ourselves going towards Teddington lock. This part of the journey took us through Henley, Marlow, and Windsor, where we saw the castle all lit up with the Queen’s standard flying.
Sunday 24th March, 03:40am 20 hours in We made it to Teddington Lock 40 minutes before it opened and were greeted by our support team. Easing up the pace during the night section was a wise move as a stop any longer than 40 mins at Teddington would have been more damaging. It also came at a good time for us as Boris hit an energy low so we were able to comfortably stock him back up for the remaining two and a half hours and he also took a new set of warm clothes before having a sit in the warm car. I sat in the front with a couple of pain killers and a nice cup of warm blackcurrant. Mark massaged the pain out of my shoulder as we both waited for the lock to open. It was a good feeling knowing that this last paddle on the tidal Thames would still see us comfortably get under the 24 hour mark and that all of our previous efforts were not lost. We would be joining the Thames as it turned from its high tide at 04:20. Hitting the Thames here 3 hours later, teams would experience a much faster flow over the remaining 17 miles.
Sunday 24th March, The last two and a half hours We were back on our way, refuelled and pain free. It was still dark, but we had quite a bit of urban lighting along the banks to keep us on track. The Thames got wider and wider as we approached the city and the buildings got higher and higher. As I mentioned, Boris was an Oxford Blue back in 1992 and he really knew this stretch of the river well. This was also the day for the 162nd Oxford/Cambridge boat race which would take place on this same stretch on the following tide in the afternoon. The high winds against the flow made for choppy waters. It was tough going for us and we really didn’t want any silly mistakes this far into the event. We stopped one last time at Putney Boat club before the final push to finish under Westminster Bridge. My GPS watch had stopped hours ago, and all I could remember is that we started at about 07:50 the previous morning. As we approached The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge came into view, I could see the towering clock tower of Big Ben with his big hand on 48 minutes. I knew it was going to be close to the 23 hours and we put in a final push to the cheering crowds and our support team who lined the bridge. We had made it across the line, it was such an amazing achievement and journey we had made. We had actually done it! Soon after we were greeted by a crew who helped us get out of the kayak, and we clambered up the Westminster steps to meet our crew. We were tired and exhausted but you could have seen in us the satisfying sense of achievement. I said it was going to be close, with our finishing time credited as 23h00m01s! Were we disappointed, hell no! We had completely exceeded all expectations and had a blast doing so. Our result put us 34th out of the 136 who started. Boris was keen to get home and catch the Boat Race and a nap before going to the the dinner that evening. I was kindly dropped off at home and completely flopped out. What a crazy 58 hours it had been.
Approaching the Finish
The end of a great journey
In conclusion This is a great race with so much history. Medal earners include James Cracknell, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Paddy Ashdown, and Rebecca Stephen (British Everest Summiteer). I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to have completed it with such a top guy as Boris, and non of this could have been completed without the super support of Vanessa, Mark and Toby who got it right all the way through. My Thanks go out to them for giving up their Easter for us. I’m not sure I will be in a rush to return, my arms still hurt and my fingers still tingle, and this event took a lot out of me. Luckily, no one can take this achievement away from us. If I was to put a mark down, I think I could be part of a team to achieve 20h 50m. That would require circumstances coming good on the day again.
Thanks for reading,
Yours in Adventuring,
Below is a video from the Canoe Show capturing the winning teams performance in the 2015 event.
The Strava track for the first 54 miles of our Kayak to Reading
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