When we joined our kayaking club saying boldly that we were going to do DW, we were greeted by a curious range of reactions. Some people were interested, some baffled, some admiring, some doubtful. The more people we talked to, the more we discovered how the race hinges on your mental endurance and resiliance rather than your kayaking ability.

Many paddlers who we watched with awe said they would never do DW as they know they couldn’t get through the night. Others who have been marathon kayaking for years just knew that when their brain said “stop” they wouldn’t be able to fight it. Several commented on how “it’s all in your head”.

Luckily I love all this stuff as my day job is as a psychologist! As a result I happily got to work thinking about all the tips and tricks I could apply to feeling miserable in a kayak.

The mind vs. the brain

Our mind is a powerful thing and we’d be pretty stuck without it, but at times it can really get in the way of the body and brain doing what it is perfectly capable of doing.

I used the word ‘mind’ rather than ‘brain’ to make a really important distinction: Our brain instructs our body. It tells us to move our arms, chew to eat and shut down to sleep. Our mind however, is all the thoughts and feelings that come with it. When we stay up late at the pub, our brain is instructing our body to sleep (which it needs to and wants to) but the mind is saying “just one more pint” and so you stay out until 2am. On the flip side, we may be out for a run and our body is loving the endorphin boost, but then the mind comes along and thinks “I can’t be bothered anymore” and so you take the shortcut home.

More often than not, we let our thoughts and feelings (the mind) win.

This experience might be familiar to you, or you might be new to the idea of ‘thinking about thinking’. Regardless, it is a really healthy practice to notice what the mind is saying and consider how it affects what you do. It is a weird experience when you first start noticing your thoughts and feelings, but it’s the first step to taking control over what you do.

The key thing to remember is:


If I really believe that I’m going to win the lottery tomorrow, that’s no more or less true than believing I’m too knackered to finish DW. They are both just thoughts. Overcoming this idea that we have to listen to our thoughts is at least half the battle in getting to Westminster.

What’s in the Zero to DW Hero eBook?

  • What to expect in terms of your thoughts and feelings as the race progresses
  • The kind of thoughts that might catch you out and make you want to give up
  • Specific tips and tricks to help keep you motivated during the race

Download the Zero to DW Hero eBook here (£15):


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© S Hicks 2019

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