This is the point at which things start to feel more serious.

If you’re starting off as a novice (as we were) then training will require serious commitment to getting out on the water as much as possible. Due to the timing of the race this will inevitably mean training through freezing temperatures, in the rain, snow, mud and whilst the rest of the world is sat under a blanket by the fire.

If you’re going to go for it then it’s probably best to think “what a great way to keep myself full of beans through the winter!”.

All this advice on training comes from reading masses of websites, talking to other people who have done DW and from our own experiences. Hopefully I’ve put it all together in a way that will be useful for you.

General principles

  1. Give yourself time – we started our training plan from Christmas onwards which allowed us to progress from a wobbly paddler to distinctly average DW competitor, however it’s common sense that the longer you train the easier the race will be. Six months of training is generally recommended by the DW race committee, but it’s not really clear if learning to paddle from scratch is included in that. I would recommend three months (September – Christmas) enjoying as much time on the water as you can, then three months (January – Easter) building up your fitness, technique and mileage.
  2. Make a plan – as soon as you think you’re ready to start training more intensively, sit down with your diary and get your training plan in there. It’s very easy to let life get in the way as time goes on, so make sure you put kayaking first. If you want to save yourself time then use the one provided on this website.
  3. Every little helps – as with most things, it’s more effective to do little and often rather than paddling for a whole day once a month. All the advice we read suggested paddling 2-3 times per week with a long paddle every 1-2 weeks.

How do I make a training plan?

Your plan needs to be realistic whilst meeting the points above. If you make the world’s best training plan but you have to quit your job to achieve it, then that’s not really the best place to start.

I’d suggest putting together a minimum plan that meets all the points I’m about to mention, then if you’re able to do more it’s a bonus. That way you can be strict in doing the minimum rather than gradually letting your more unrealistic training plan slip. The more times you say “I’ll give myself a night off” the easier it is to then give yourself another night off, and another, and another…etc. Stick to your minimum plan like a rock.

The points below will help you put together a training plan for yourself, but there’s also the option of using this ready-made one. The plan is based on the one we used in 2018, but with improvements based on our experience of using it.  It has different types of session to help you build up technique, portaging and overall fitness. It also has suggested locations for the long paddles that will ensure you’ve covered the whole course before race day. We will definitely be using this plan for our training in 2019!

Training Plan pictureDownload the training plan for 2019 here for £5:


Tips for making your own plan

  • Aim to be out paddling 2-3 times per week, vary these paddles to focus on different things like speed, paddling technique, portaging practice, or distance.
  • Build up your mileage in longer paddles every 1-2 weeks. Start at a distance that feels comfortable and build up to roughly 30 miles at least two weeks before the race. There is no need to do more than this distance as beyond this is just mental endurance (more on this later).
  • Paddle on the course as much as you can and aim to have covered the entire course before you take part in the race. If this isn’t possible because of where you live, prioritise the tunnel (before the Crofton Locks), the Tideway on a choppy day (after Teddington) and some River Thames locks. If you live hundreds of miles away, seek out similar conditions locally to you (e.g. a long unlit tunnel, choppy water and big river locks). We found it really helpful to recruit friends willing to drive our car downstream from our start point. This meant we could cover more of the course as we were able to cover the mileage over fewer one-way trips.
  • Train during the day and during the night. Get used to navigating and portaging in the dark, especially on the Thames.
  • Practice portaging, getting this as slick as possible. Work out with your partner the most comfortable way to carry the boat, a routine of who gets in and out first and agree on communication. If you can save a minute at each lock, your race will be 1.5 hours shorter.
  • Track your training using an app like Strava. This will give you a good idea of your speeed, give you something to try and beat on the next training run and help you predict your timings for race day. The kit page has a great waterproof case that we used to keep our phone safe doing this.
  • Train with your support team as much as possible. Not only will this allow you to carry less in the boat, but it will help both you and the support crew find out exactly what works best. This is even more important if your support crew are new to the role.
  • Keep fit in general. Focus on exercise that helps your body feel comfortable working for longer periods. Don’t aim to build up huge amounts of muscle (it’s only more weight to carry!) but keep up cardio activities such as running, swimming and cycling. Try and do this a couple of times each week alongside the paddling.
  • Don’t forget about the importance of what you’re eating and drinking. Take a look at the nutrition page for more information on this.

Timing, timing, timing

Other than the sheer length of the race, the most difficult aspect is estimating how long it will take you to get to Teddington Lock. You have roughly a four hour tide window in which to arrive and spending a minute extra at each lock could change your arrival time by 1.5 hours.

A huge part of the training is learning about the speed you paddle in different conditions and the impact that portaging (and tiredness) has on that speed. Without tracking your training you will get to race day with absolutely no idea when to start and will probably end up having to camp at Teddington Lock for eight hours.

There’s some more information on estimating your average speed on the race day page, but to save you some misery later down the line, make sure you make your training runs as much like the race as possible, then track and record your speed.

Learning technique

If you’ve joined a club then you should be able to get good advice from the members there on things like paddling and portaging technique. If you’re still struggling to work out what you’re aiming for, then let me know and I’ll aim to put some more information on this site.

Build-up races

There are a set of races called the Waterside Series that are designed specifically as a build-up to DW. It’s a great way to meet like-minded types, get to know the course, practice with a support crew and test out your stamina on longer stretches. The dates are generally in February and March and full details can be found here.

There are also two Thameside races which take place in February and are run by Reading Canoe Club. Details can be found here.

The Yorkshire Cup Series is also a good option for those based further up north.

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© S Hicks 2018

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