Page 82 - The Chapka 2016
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 Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race
According to adventure athlete Tobias Mews, the “Devizes to Westminster canoe race is just about the toughest thing you can do with two paddles”. It’s a grueling one hundered and twenty five mile canoe race with 77 portages and can be attempt- ed in one of two ways. The first – considered the (slightly) easier – is a four-stage competition held over four days. This can be done as a single or double in a number of kayaks and canoes. The second – and considered the tougher – is the ‘Point-to-Point’ ap- proach with no designated stops. #deathorglory, it was obvious what the team should do...
To complete this grueling ultra-marathon, people recommend a six-month training period. Lance Corporal Wood and Trooper Imber were given eight weeks prior to the Easter weekend of 2016. One had next to no experience and the other had never attempted the discipline of kayaking. Throughout the training, the pair competed in the Waterside series of four races; the first 13.5 miles long and the last 34 miles. They both stayed in the same kayak throughout, improving with each race. They went from not being able to sit in the boat with a seat to comfortably able to race a 34 mile race with no sign of falling in. Indeed, 34 miles seems intense, but it really hit home just how far 125 miles really is.
Obviously, no sporting occasion in the UK can occur without a comment about the weather which, as usual, wasn’t perfect. The conditions were cold and wet, which didn’t make easy paddling on the canal. The first 34 miles was completely still water with no flow. This meant that the water was tough and paddlers have to expend a lot of energy not going very fast. Once one is past Newbury the flow was minimal, but it definitely aided in pad- dling. This took our speed up and also provided a morale boost, knowing that the hardest part of the race was complete.
Newbury to Reading was seemingly quick but the weather start- ed to turn. Thankfully, the Army had set up a food stop and changing facility where all competitors had the opportunity to eat and change. It should be said that this race would be im- possible if it wasn’t for our support team which included Royal Lancer supporters and both paddlers’ girlfriends, as it enabled us to push to limit and not think about the ‘admin’.
By this time, it was dark. Fighting the overwhelming feeling of tiredness and hallucinations was the order of the day. This was not helped as the storm was most definitely in. Rain and
Moments before Lance Corporal Wood (left) and Trooper Imber (right) set off
side winds meant that it was harder to keep the boat upright. Fortunately there were no inadvertent exits from the boat! The cold sapped the will but fortunately helped fight the urge to fall asleep. The rain meant that every portage was more difficult as the boat was getting heavier to pull out of the water. Small goals avoided the overwhelming feeling that the task was not possible.
The last portage was 17 miles away from Westminster Bridge. This represented one of many of those small goals, but also the last food and water stop, and the last ‘inspection’ by the safety staff before reaching the finish. It was also the first time tidal water was encountered. This can go one of two ways. If the start time and pace has been poorly calculated, the last 17 miles can be tortuous, if not impossible. If the planning has worked, it’s a relative breeze! Unfortunately, the five Ps had not been adhered to and the tide was starting to come back in. Against wind and the tide the finish line was eventually in sight, with other teams, girlfriends and a hearty meal all present. Despite barely being able to walk the experience was uplifting, especially looking up at the time recorded: 24 hours and 30 minutes – no mean feat for a novice team.
   Through the finish line
Finally off the water

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