Race report by Mark
So we, Maddy & I, made it to our K2 goal of completing all the planned long-distance races this winter.
You might remember that we started with Leighton Buzzard’s Remembrance Day Marathon and then Banbury’s Ross Warland Challenge: both of which seem like a longtime ago back in November.
Plenty of long training paddles in December and January, built up to the back-to-back races during February and March….when we took on the 2 Thameside Races and 4 Waterside Races with the last, Waterside D, taking place yesterday.
With the best weather forecast so far, this would make the prospect of Waterside D's 34 miles and 35 portages somewhat more pleasant than it might otherwise have been. Sun, low wind and low-to-mid teen temperatures.
With a 7:15am start from Devizes (Wiltshire), it was looking like a painfully early alarm, particularly with journey diversions as the M4 motorway was planned for closure all weekend. So rather than getting-up at 3:30am to drive down, we took a last minute decision to drive down Saturday night and stay locally in a hotel. The 5:30am ‘get-up’ felt like a lie-in by comparison.
Crews were starting from 7am, and by 7:10am we were checked-in, on the water and ready to go. 7:13am we got our “3,2,1 go.”
Waterside D starts with a section without any locks, so no portages. I call this the ‘warm up’. The fact is, it is a 15 mile ’warm-up’. There a couple of bends and a few bridges, but mostly you need to settle into a good steady rhythm and try not to waste too much energy, efficiency is the name of the game for the first 2 hours. One by one we were catching the earlier starters. At some point (I don’t know when) we were all alone, the head of the race.
Being at the head of the race has the advantage of smooth passage, no pushing over each boat’s wash. But it has a disadvantage too, weeds & debris lay over the canal and we were having to push through clearing them with the front of our boat. This took a little toll on our speed.
At about mile 12, the course of Waterside D, overlaps with Waterside C from 2 weeks ago. This is where we reach Pewsey Wharf, it is both a relief and a physiological barrier at the same time. On the plus side we were greeted by our support crew, so we could pull-in to grab a bite of banana and jelly babies (you should try that for breakfast one day!) and take on a replacement drink bottle. But it is literally a 30 second stop, no getting out. Then the hard bit, getting your mind around that now you have to race the course you did 2 weeks ago, when that on its own felt like a very long way.
To cut a long story short (well not as long as it might otherwise be), I refer you to my previous report for Waterside C. “INSERT HERE”. It was pretty much then same on repeat.
And then “suddenly” (if two hours can ever be described in such a way) we are into the Waterside A Course from Great Bedwyn. This starts to feel like we’re getting close. Its easy to forget that although we are 2/3rds of the way, 2 hours is still a longways to go. 2 hours does however tick by and then ’”suddenly” we are able to count-down the last few portages, the last few of 35!
No matter how tired we’d felt at times earlier, the adrenaline kicked-in for the last few hundred metres, it feels good to cross the line looking ‘strong’.
And that’s it. We’ve made it.
Over the “ Waterside Series” we are pleased to say that we came in 3rd in our Vet/Junior Class. With a total time of 15hrs: 06min: 26secs.
Other stats show that we were the second fastest “mixed crew” of the Series (all age categories) and Maddy completed all four races in the 3rd quickest time of all females (K1s and K2s of all categories). I can see DW potential in future years (although she says different!).
A special mention goes in here to my support crews, without whom the race results would not have been achieved. It takes a special person to stand on a canal side for hours, often cold, wet and tired waiting for us to come along. Then run alongside a portage feeding bananas to paddlers, before they paddle away without much of a word (we can’t because our mouths are full). So thank you.
Thank you also for reading my race reports. I hope that they might inspire some more entries from LON next year. These races are a challenge, a placing is of course always a bonus but ultimately it is about you against your clock. Its a highly recommend challenge, as evidenced by some “big clubs” entering in large numbers and including some top paddlers too….and so I’ll start rallying you in September !!!