The Race

So the time has come and you’re wondering what on earth you’ve let yourself in for!

As race day looms you’re likely to start feeling a few excitement butterflies, a few nervous butterflies and a few hunger butterflies thinking about all the spaghetti carbonara you’ll be allowed to eat the day before.

Amongst all that, there will bit quite a bit of preparation that needs doing to make sure your race runs smoothly.

The run-up to race week

If you want to avoid running round specialist shops like a headless chicken, then a bit of advance online shopping is useful. There are a few bits of kit that will be useful for race day that you won’t have needed for your training.

  1. Spare clothes – if you haven’t already got some spare paddling clothes to change into then now is the time. Take a look at the kit page for recommendations.
  2. Camping stove – for your support team to heat up food and hot drinks for you en-route. If you want to invest in a Jetboil then they are a great choice, but if you want to keep things on the cheaper side opt for any old camping stove.
  3. Thermos Flasks – for your support team to keep your food warm and/or keep up your caffeine levels with tea and coffee.
  4. Repair kit – it’s quite possible that you might drop the boat/hit a rock/smash up a paddle on such a long race so take some spares with you and the relevant tools for your boat. We took one spare paddle each, some rudder wire, seat screws and gaffa tape. Marsport is a good place to go for purchasing spares.
  5. Camping kit – if the worst does happen and you miss the tide at Teddington then it’s worth having a roof to sleep under for a few hours. If you don’t already own a tent and sleeping bag then beg and borrow from friends or find a cheap one online. You won’t be allowed to go more than 100m from the course and you could be waiting 8 hours.
  6. Glow sticks/High vis/Glow tape – when it gets dark it’s helpful for you to be able to recognise your support team and for them to recognise you. We opted for support team Glow Sticks and we had waterproof Glow Tape on our paddles. Get creative!

Put together a kit list so you are sure you have everything you need for the day. It’s also useful to include food in this list so you can work out how much you’ll actually need. If you don’t want to make your own, then here’s ours:

DW kit list picture

Download the kit list here (£2.50):

     

Hopefully you will have decided your start time by now and done enough training that you know your average speed. This means you’re ready to put together a bit of a master plan which will be your support team’s bible for the race.

The general consensus is that your average speed on the Waterside D race and/or a 30 mile stretch with lots of portages is a good estimate of what you will average over the whole race. As the course gets easier you will be more and more tired so this usually evens out to mean you stick at roughly the same pace for most of DW.

Saying that, we did manage to slow down by about 0.5mph despite the increase in speed on the river. I’d recommend being pessimistic in your timings rather than optimistic as it’s better safe than sorry when you’ve got a very important tide to catch. Advice from pretty much everyone we talked to was to aim for the very start of the tide window as you’re much more likely to overestimate your speed than underestimate it.

Your support team will benefit from a list of the portages where you want support, an estimated time of arrival at those portages and a rough idea of what kind of support you’ll need at each one. Here’s a ready-made spreadsheet if you want to save yourself some time:

Master Plan picture

Download the master plan spreadsheet here (£5):

     

As with all the best laid plans, you probably won’t stick to the timings you put on your master plan. If you want to keep your support team really happy then you can give them a timing cheat sheet. This will save them doing some maths every time you arrive early or late to a portage. With the cheat sheet handy they can give you great motivational titbits like “if you keep up this speed you’ll be at Reading in less than an hour!” or “if you don’t speed up you’ll miss the tide by 10 minutes!”.

Timing Cheat Sheet pictureDownload the timing cheat sheet (£2.50): 

     

Get whichever documents you want to use ready for your support team, maybe even email them out the week before so they have time to get familiar with them and get excited for the race!

The day before

Good Friday has finally arrived so celebrate with some Creme Egg fuelled packing.

You’ll need to spend today getting everything ready and, depending on where you live, getting yourself, your kit and your support team down to Devizes. Don’t underestimate how much time it takes to prep sandwiches, pack up food rations and triple-check the kit list. It also might surprise you quite how long it takes to play the Tetris-style game of fitting it all into your support car.

If you’ve planned to have a really early start (e.g. 7am) leaving Devizes on Saturday morning then it might be wise to check in on Friday night. If you read about check-in below you’ll see that it doesn’t take long, but it’s worth getting it done in advance so you know you can get going bang on time. If you can have an extra 30 minutes in bed on Saturday morning you won’t regret it.

The day before the race is also really important in terms of nutrition. Although I jest with Creme Egg fuelled packing, you do want to make sure you are eating as many carbs as you can manage. Chocolate isn’t really the best choice, so refer back to the nutrition page to remind yourself of which foods are best.

Finally – try and relax! You’ve made it this far and you want to be feeling your best tomorrow. If you can find some time to calm the nerves and enjoy a sociable supper with your support crew then great. Most importantly, get an early night so you feel fresh as a daisy tomorrow morning.

Race day

There’s not really much to do at the start point, but if you are setting off early it’s worth checking in the night before (see above).

Make sure you arrive at Devizes Wharf in good time (aka an hour before you plan to leave). Depending on the tide times for that year there may be quite a few boats wanting to set off at the same time as you and it’s rubbish to be sat in a queue when you want to be on the water already.

Checking in involves picking up your race number, emergency kit (e.g. whistle) and wrist bands and both paddlers have to be there so the DW organisers can put on your wristbands themselves. You then have to get your boat and lifejackets signed off as safe. Both those stages should only take about 15 minutes, but you still need time for getting yourself ready, nervous trips to the toilet and having any final pep talks with your support team.

The full support team don’t need to be at the start line, but you can’t leave your car parked at the Wharf for the duration of the race. If the car you arrive in isn’t being used as a support team car then you need to get rid of it somehow.

Once you’re all set you can make your way down to the canal, have your photo taken, tracker attached and set off in your own time. When we started there was a short queue to get onto the water as there’s only space for one boat at a time. If you have a strict start time then get down to the water with a few minutes to spare.

And so it begins – your next stop is Westminster!

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© S Hicks 2018

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