Written by Sam Tomkins and Stuart Balkham
On the 30th July, I received the following text:
“Heard of the Devizes to Westminster race? I could be pretty keen for it.”
This is where it all started. Little did I know that I would spend Christmas Eve attempting to stay in a boat and spend half the morning swimming in the River Thames.
The Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon is the longest non-stop canoe race in the world, where competitors will on average spend 30 hours, paddling 125 miles using around 90,000 strokes.
The event takes canoeists to the limit of mental and physical endurance, battling against the steady and inevitable onset of physical depletion.
Starting from Devizes, the course winds its way through the Wiltshire countryside on the Kennet and Avon Canal all the way to Reading, where it joins the River Thames ending at the steps of Westminster. Some call it the “Canoeists Everest”.
The training all started in August, we both rocked down to Wokingham Canoe Club, where we were introduced to Brian. Over the next 6 months Brian became our Messiah – what he didn't know about kayaking you could write on the back of a stamp. At 74 years old, Brian has canoed and kayaked ever since being in the Navy since a young lad, and in 2010 was the oldest participant to start the race. We were in safe hands!
Raring to go, we both carried our kayaks (we were to learn in singles/K1's) down to the water's edge. The kayak looked very stable in the water – how hard could this be? Sam was first to go, he stepped in to the boat and held onto the side of the jetty. “Let go and hold your arms out wide and try and balance” said Brian, so I did as I was told and was very wobbly, I turned to listen to my next set of instructions and within seconds I had tipped and was out the boat, arms flailing and splashing about in the River Thames: - Maybe this was going to be harder than we thought!
“Get back in said Brian, so Sam set off, looking straight ahead; 10 metres up river, looking like what can only be described as 'jelly'. Stuart was next, so after seeing Sam's spectacular start, was determined not to follow him in. He did last longer, but may be only a few minutes longer!
The following weekend, determined to try and crack this kayaking, by merely staying dry, Sam and Stuart set off again in K1's, Sam having a little more success in staying dry, but only managing 50 meters upstream before panicking as another river boat motored on pass, causing waves that made you feel like you were on the high seas, when in actual fact they were probably only a couple of inches, but enough to completely throw you off balance. Stuart, still trying to get the balance right, only fell in 3 times – but as the many passers-by commented, it was a lovely day for a swim!!
In the ensuing weeks, we slowly became accustomed to these racing boats and started to feel a bit more confident – it was time to get into a K2. Our company, Matt Roberts, had kindly offered to buy the boat, and because of a build time of 12 weeks, this was not quite ready, so Brian offered us a practice in the same type of boat, kindly lent to us by Wokingham Canoe Club. So after getting our confidence up in our K1's, both of us staying dry, we swapped our K1's for a replica of our boat – a Condor. Having read a little bit about the Condor prior to ordering one for our race boat, we found out that they were a 10 on the stability scale, out of 10 that is. Therefore we would be fine…..
We confidently climbed into the boat and after letting go of the jetty; we set off and promptly fell straight in! This was repeated about 5 times before we decided enough was enough, maybe we were just tired and had had enough for the day.
A couple of weeks passed, whilst Sam was away in Las Vegas competing (not in kayaking), so there was a period of about 3 weeks that had passed since we had last been in the boat or should I say out of the boat. However, during this intervening period Delilah was ready.
She was now ready to be taken out on her maiden voyage, however because so much time had passed, it was now late November and winter had well and truly set in. We were both very excited, yet very nervous about the water temperature, because the outside temperature was a mere 2oc! We very delicately placed her in the water, then delayed the inevitable as much as we could until we both were standing there standing there staying at Brian, when he asked “how long will you be out there today”, we both confidently replied “probably only about an hour Brian” we both had football to go to that afternoon. We got in and steadied ourselves before pushing off from the side. What happened next was a blur as we immediately tipped over in to the freezing river and jumped out onto the jetty without a care for the boat and paddles – not a great maiden voyage for Delilah! What we should have said to Brian is 2 seconds, because it was so cold, that we were left shivering wrecks and had to go straight home. So we tucked her away and promptly got back in our cars and went straight home.
Over the next 2-3 weeks, it did not get any easier, and we both had the sinking sensation that maybe we had bitten off more than we could chew here, but with Brian's words of confidence and some very helpful coaching advice from other members of the canoe club, in Duncan, an ex-World Champion kayaker and Paul, a previous DW competitor, we were determined to make this work. On top of the fact that Stuarts pals, who are the reason we entered this damn race, were flying by now and completing 13 mile jaunts up and down the river. It was only a couple of months ago we had seen them falling in repeatedly. We could do this, couldn't we???
The Christmas break came at the perfect time, we planned to get in the boat every day, and the warmest Christmas period for many years only served to help us. However, the boat shed at Wokingham Canoe Centre, who was kindly storing our boat, had a malfunctioning door, so we were unable to take Delilah out. Brian called us in for some dry land training on the kayak ergo's, learning technique drills and spending time doing the action without the worry of getting freezing cold. It was during this time that Duncan helped us with technique and Paul took us out in his own sea kayak, which is very different to our Boat, by being a lot more stable, but it did allow us to spend some time paddling on the water. The boat shed was soon back to working order and we finally got to take Delilah out again, whereby we promptly fell in 6 times, although this time we were both fully prepared in wetsuits and cold compression gear head to toe!
The next day (New Year's Eve) we were back on the water, it couldn't get any worse could it and it was a lot better – very slow but a lot better, we only fell in once! We managed a fair distance, but the best was yet to come. On the weekend of the 7th/8th January we completed the club's time trial course (4miles) and set our very own PB, admittedly it was not a club record, but we had done it and for the first time since we started we came out at the end of the session dry, albeit very sweaty! The following day, feeling confident, we went even further and did “lock to lock”, which involves paddling from the club down to Sonning lock, all the way back upstream past the club to Caversham lock and back to the club, a total of 5 miles, we were progressing - only another 120 to go!!!
From here on, we will keep you updated weekly on our progress including practice race reports, pictures and news as we step up our training leading up to Easter weekend and D-Day!!!
13th January - We beat our PB (would have been worrying if we didn't!) on the time trial course and set a time of 47mins. This puts us on course for our estimated pace of 5mph. The following day we consolidated and paddled around base.
21st January - Ventured further than ever before into unchartered waters! We headed out from base with a very strong tail wind; this certainly helped with our speed, but did not make our balance any better. It was very hard to control and there was alot of bracing. We arrived at Shiplake lock and had a quick respite before taking on the now ever increasing headwind - it was hard work. 500m from home we hit a very windy bend which sent the boat sideways, with us in it! All was not lost, and motivation is still high. Aiming to increase further this weekend and head to Marlow and now we have a roof rack system we can drive the boat back to base as opposed to paddling back upstream!
28th January - Stuart and Sam both met at Marlow, with one car now loaded with a kayak roof rack - this would allow us to drive back to base and then paddle 18 miles to Marlow. This was the plan - however, we set off and things did not quite go to plan. The weather was a mere -4 degrees and despite not being windy, the speed we moved at (!) meant that our hands and were getting increasingly cold. Through Sonning lock and we had a lapse of concentration or numbness and tipped in - the water was just as cold!!! Cut a long story short we ended up going to Shiplake lock and back before getting hypothermia, with an additional incident at Sonning lock where we fell in whilst trying to portage and couldn't get the boat out because of the depth of the side/wall. We momentarily thought Delila was a goner - we managed to claw her out and ended our worst weekend paddling to date. Things could only get better - surely!
4th February - A mixture of snow and -11 temperatures meant that Sonning lock was frozen - so we decided it was better to stay indoors!!!
12th February - Freezing conditions meant paddling was limited, but we were determined to get out there and spend some time with Delila and to check she was ok! We managed a paddle to Sonning lock and back without getting too cold and despite the 2 weeks off, we actually felt very good. 8 weeks to go - lots of prep to be done!!!
19th and 26th February - The weather was slightly warmer which allowed for more time paddling and getting more accustomed to the boat. 3rd March - we both took the week off work and this allowed us to spend some quality time in the boat, paddling most days despite the bitterly cold conditions. We decided to do a portion of the canal, to see how it compared to the river - it was a lot slower! there was less flow so paddling was that much tougher. But we managed 20 miles in just over 4 hours and this involved a broken rudder and some emergency repairs mid paddle. Better now than in the race i guess!
11th March - We set out from Cookham for our longest paddle to date. Armed with plenty of energy food and drink we set off at 8am. It was fair to say this was going to be our toughest session to date. What didn't help was 30minutes in, Sam attempted to adjust his position and over the boat went. It was a stark reminder how easily these boats are to tip over and having had 3 weeks without falling in, also a reminder how cold the water still was! We eventually made it to our destination 25miles later and we totally knackered. The thought of that being only a fifth of our total was daunting.
18th March - With it being Mothers day and Sam working on the Saturday we decided to head down to the club for some advice and some technique training in the morning so we could spend some time with our families in the afternoon. It was an invaluable day and there were lots of experienced personnel down at the club all eager to pass on advice and information for the big race and our final warm up race the following weekend. Although they could not hide the fact they all thought we were duly unprepared and needed to spend as much time as possible in the boat - time we didn't have!!!
25th March - Waterside 'D' Race - A week of un-seasonally warm weather did little to enhance spirits as the alarms went off at 3:30am. This was on top of the clocks going forward an hour! However this was our last chance to practise everything before the big race including a part of the course we had not been on yet. We had been told all about the scary tunnel and the angry swan - it was time to find out for ourselves! After a rather wobbily paddle down to the start - we set off at 7:19am, with the first part being the hardest of the day - 17miles or 3 hours without a portage, so we were about to find out how comfortable we were in the boat. With the weather being so nice, it didn't help our pace as there was no flow at all on the canal. But we made to our first checkpoint with Terry (stuart's dad) at all Cannings bridge, a quick bite to eat and a change of water bottle and we were on our way again, at this point we were just over an hour in to it, but still had another 2 to go before we had a relief and got out of the boat to portage. By the time we reached Pewsey Wharf, 2 hours in Stuart's bum was in agony - only another hour to go! We pushed on through and despite being overtaken by all and sundry, we arrived at our first portage (Wooton Rivers), i think we were a little too keen to get out of the boat and on arrival we promptly fell in! Emptying the boat in deep water proved a little tricky, but we managed and after a brief stop with Terry for a spot of food, we were back on our way. Portages were to come thick and fast from here on in, with 30 in less than 20 miles.
We made our way through the next few locks on the way to the infamous crofton area. An area where there are 8 locks in the space of a mile, we were told that some people just run the whole mile, but after running the first, we were realised our boat was a little heavier than others and that it was bloody hard work to run with! We had a planned stop just after Crofton where we due to take on some more substanial food and Pat had made us some sandwiches. We had broken the back of it now and were half way. The locks and portages quickly turned from being a relief to being a pain and we realised this was where we were losing sooo much time. We would arrive before a crew and by the time we were back in the boat and begun paddling we were well behind the crew who had arrived after us!
By the time we got to Hungerford Sam's wife Lisa and Molly (Sam's dog) had joined us on the path and were there to accompany us to the finish. We finally arrived in Newbury 7hrs 40 minutes after we set off, a little longer than planned (mainly due to our poor portaging). To say we were tired was an understatement and the thought of another 90miles is terrifying let alone 40 odd of those being in the middle of the night!
A massive thank you to Terry for being our support crew and to Lisa and Molly for their support on that last leg. We ranked 161 out of 202 crews that started, however being beaten by the majority of the Junior girls crews was a little humiliating - just goes to show that practise, practise, pratcise is what it takes to perfect the paddling technique.
Anyways a light week next week, where we have to practise our portaging and then it is D-Day or should i say DW-Day.........
Race weekend - the preparations over the last 8 months were all down to this. 125 miles, maximum of 28 hours - what are we doing????
We met at Stuart's house on the Friday and last minute safety and kit checks were done. Including Sam's life jacket, which he had forgotten on 3 previous occasions, and without which we would be unable to race.
Sam and Lisa headed to Newbury and then planned on driving the route in reverse to Devizes to get an idea for Lisa's support crew role in the morning. Both cars met in Devizes car park and our check in started. We were going through all our mandatory kit and safety briefing, when all of a sudden all the staff started to drift off and help out another boat, as we turned to look round we saw all the staff who were helping us, now helping out Sir Steve Redgrave. Pretty sure he didn't need the help we needed, but i guess he was slightly more important than us!
After a nice chat and some words of comfort from Sir Steve (as in turns out, maybe we should have given him some words of advice), Delilah was ready - it was time to head off and check into the B&B and then head out for some much needed carbs!!!
After a lot of food at dinner, we headed back to the B&B to get our nutrition ready - 20 water bottles full of Energy mix takes some preparation!! We separated all the foods into containers, so that everything was easier to access on the day, then we retired to bed as the next day was going to be a long one (a very long one) on top of an early start.
The alarms went off at 0500 and after a quick shower, we donned our race kit and headed downstairs to put Delilah on the car and have some breakfast beautifully prepared by the owners of Byde-a-Whyle. We headed down to Devizes wharf and the place was buzzing with nerves and anticipation of what lay ahead. We sorted ourselves out, visited a proper toilet for last time in a while and readied the boat, including taping the radio to the boat - our source of entertainment for the next 28 hours. 3 football matches, the masters, we were actually looking forward to this!!!
Fighting our way through the support crews and other competitors we managed to get to the edge of the canal and drop Delilah in for the start of her very long day. We settled in to the boat and we lined up with the other early starters, hoping to get away as soon as possible so as to give ourselves maximum time to get to Teddington (8am would be the latest time). 7am came around and the hooter was greeted by loud cheers from spectators, mutterings of fear from the paddlers, but off we went. 0704 was our official start time, that gave us 24hrs and 56 minutes to get to Teddington.
Unlike in previous races, we were surrounded by crews of similar ability, all aiming to make Teddington by the cut off, so this meant we were not being constantly overtaken - not yet anyway!!! The first challenge of the day was the first stretch of canal; 15 miles without a portage, meant 3.5 hours without getting out the boat and the last time we did this in the warm-up race, the bums were on fire. Stuart claimed this would be the hardest part of the race, and that he would be fine after this, cause he can get out regularly - good optimism, we would need a lot of this!!!
And so we paddled, chatted to various other crews, to see if they had done the race before and whether or not they had any advice - most had done it before but not finished, this only added more uncertainty! We came around the corner to see Lisa waiting on the bank, with some food and drink, but most importantly painkillers. Lisa was very excited - you are in 3rd or 4th place she said - i'm not sure she quite understood how this kind of race worked, but loved her enthusiasm and optimism - this was just about finishing!!!
3 hours into the race and we arrived at our first portage (Wooton rivers), this was a huge relief as by this point Stuart was wriggling around trying to get some relief for his bum and the legs certainly needed a stretch. Just before this portage we had collectively decided that our race was now to Teddington, the last 17miles on the tideway would be easy in comparison (the flow would take us there - how wrong we were!) We had a little stop here to refresh our drink bottles and get some feeling back into our bodies, we now had a long stretch where we would be out the boat every 5-10minutes due to portages. Our next challenge was Crofton, here there are 9 locks in the space of a mile, so hardly worth getting in and out the whole time. The original plan was to run the whole lot, but after the warm-up race, we realised a mile is a bloody long way with a 25kg kayak to awkwardly carry, plus all the kit inside. So we went to a plan of run 1/row 1 and so alternated, but in actual fact there were a couple where we felt pretty good and could see the next lock, so ended up running a few more than planned, which helped our time.
After Crofton, Kintbury was our next meeting point with Lisa for more fuel and liquids, it was at this point that Molly (sam's dog) joined us (not so sure about Stuart but this gave Sam a big lift in morale!!!) The only problem was trying to keep up with her! Many more locks came and went and by now our portaging practice the week before was really starting to pay off, we were now overtaking people at the portages as opposed to being overtaken. However one moment of exuberance and a little wayward steering from Sam led us into a portage where we were just too far away from the side and on trying to reach for the bank we were desperately short and ended up tipping over into the canal - there we re plenty of friendly supporters there to help us out and get the boat out of the water, but we were just a little annoyed at such a silly mistake - hopefully this would be the last!
We eventually arrived at Newbury, this was to be our 10min lunch stop, where we were greeted by many friends and family all very excited to see us, and where the support crew would change over. Lisa had done a fabulous job and had been at every stop and been hugely motivational. We had arrived 30minutes ahead of where we were in the warm-up race and so 30mins ahead of schedule, but still we kept our break to 10mins to try and keep the time buffer in the bank. After some soup, sandwiches and painkillers we were soon on our way again. The next target was to make it to Dreadnought Reach in Reading, which is where the boat was based, here we would have dinner and change our clothes into our night-time gear.
It was 20 miles from Newbury and considering we had just done 35mi quicker than 2 weeks previous when we had felt absolutely shattered, we were in good spirits and felt like we were flying(!) along. The portages started to spread out a little and soon we could see the sights of Reading that we recognised and pizza and warm clothes were not too far away - we eventually arrived at 1845, a full 50mins ahead of schedule, but we were now into unkonwn territory with many hours still left to go and more importantly many hours of night time paddling to go. We tried to limit ourselves to 10mins, but with so many friends and family there to cheer us on, 30mins soon flashed by (amazing how quickly 30mins goes when your not paddling and how slow it goes when paddling!) Once in our warm night gear, we settled Delilah back into the water and left to loud cheers from our support. Hopefully we would still have enough in the tank to make Teddington.
Now we were onto the River section of the course we knew we just had to make it through the night and we would almost be there. As we pulled away from Reading it was still daylight, this would not last long. The hope was that we would make it to Henley before we completely lost the light. Our only other previous night time training session had seen us hit a huge fallen tree in the middle of the river just before Henley. This we could do without as neither of us fancied a swim in the dark especially so early on in the evening. Unfortunately as we reached the section approaching where the tree was, it had become very very dark. However as we anxiously strained our eyes searching for the tree (hoping not to see it too late) we were delighted to discover that someone must have finally cleared it from the river. We now pushed on to Marsh lock just outside Henley where we would see the support crew again. As we approached Marsh lock we were pleased to see that the race oraganisers had lit up the portaging area (which we had previously struggled to find on a training session prior to race day). We negotiated the long bridge, found our support crew, popped Delilah back in and we were off again.
We now had a long dark stretch to get us to the next "key" lock which was Marlow. As we set off we knew this section through Henley, Hambledon and Hurley would be long and very dark as there are few houses on the river giving any light. Buoyed by Sam's family cheering us just after Henley Bridge we pushed on. Just the support we needed as it was now the first time in the day where boats had now caught up with us and started to overtake (slightly demoralising, especially coupled with the rain which had just started). This would be the start of a very LONG night.
At approx 11pm we passed under Marlow Bridge (supported on by some of Stuart's family). We had now been going nearly 16 hours!! On reaching Marlow we met our support crew (Stuart's Dad and brother-in-law). We took a quick 2 min break to take in the essentials which at this point were carb/caffeine gels and Redbull. The last 16 hours had now taken its toll on Stuart who's lower back was now suffering. Ibuprofen, paracetamol and codeine would be the answer to this. The idea of another 11 hours in the boat at this point was pretty daunting!!
After Marlow it would be another long slog to Cookham, the nest lock. 4.5 miles to be precise which for us was approx 50 minutes paddling. As we set off from Marlow we decided we would need to play some games to get us through to at least try and pass the time. Football players name games always would to be the solution, however the answers got slower as we got more tired, at times it must have been 5/10mins to give an answer. The river does seem to go on forever at these long gaps between locks. Eventually we begin to recognise a few bridges and hear the lock, always good news.
We carried on through the night, meeting the support crew at every other lock. By the time we reached Old Windsor lock (87 miles in) we had started to lose some of the time that we had gained at the start of the day. Our lead was dwindling at each lock. It was now taking longer to get in and out of the boat, mainly as Stuart was now struggling to move his back. This was the point that our new pal Sir Steve and his partner had retired, we were not willing to do the same and to be honest hadn't even considered it. We would push on. It was now 2.30am, we knew it wouldn't be too long until daylight and we were only 20 miles from our next big target, Teddington.
This section was the hardest, mentally, as depth perception started to go and the route we needed to follow became less and less clear. This coupled with rain and increasing levels of tiredness, led to a draining couple of locks. However, we were soon level with another crew who seem to be having more problems than us - the front man was shouting at the back man for falling asleep, i'm not sure how you fall asleep in those uncomfortable kayaks, but i think he was definately struggling - this made us feel a little better!! Daylight started to emerge about 0530/0600 and our target of Teddington became closer and closer. On our last stretch from Molesey to Teddington, which was roughly an hour, although felt like about 3 hours!, we were passed by a canadian canoe and one of the crew asked us for the time, to which i replied 0645, he then got a bit stroppy and moaned that they weren't going to make it to Teddington in time. Sam alaid their fears as it was only about 20mins to go and that we had 75mins to make it before 0800. They then sprung a massive blow to us and told us that the cut off time was in fact 0700. At this point Sam lost it and screamed in frustration, that they had come this far and were going to miss the cut-off by 5-10mins - would all the extra time taken mean we were going to fall agonisingly short? We paddled like madmen (although was probably equally as slow) to try and get there inside the 0700 cut-off - this was hell!
We arrived at Teddington at 0710 and started enquiring as to whether we had made it and no-one really knew what we were on about - they all seemed to be smiling. We didn't care they had made it this far and that it was a good effort, if we had made it this far we wanted to finish this in one go. We were then told not to worry we had made it in plenty of time; we were right the cut off time was in fact 0800!!! Had we just pushed ourselves to the brink for no reason????
We were greeted by our support crew and Sam's family, had some more painkillers, caffeine and some hot porridge, then tentatively made our way onto the tideway. Having not paddled at all on this part, we were now on new territory, and the only info we had on it was what Sam had seen when running along the embankment - where it was very rough and looked like the flow was very fast. We wrongly assumed this would be the case the whole way - in actual fact, when we entered the tideway, it felt like the tide was against us!!!
This last stretch was the longest without a break (17mi) and was going to hurt like hell!!! The one positive we found was that our sighting points of the bridges were a lot easier to spot in the distance than the locks were - with the river being straighter now, we could constantly see the next bridge, although this soon turned into a negative as we never seemed to reach them. About 30 mins in to the Tideway we reached Richmond bridge, fortunately when the tide is as low as it was when we got there you have to get out of the boat to pass under the bridge, however it is ridiculously slippy so you have to tread carefully. We should have maybe listened to our own advice here, as we got to the edge ,popped Delilah in again for the last time Stuart ended up almost waist deep. At this point that was actually quite refreshing.
As we pushed on, the 17 miles of Tideway started to take its toll. Stuart was certainly beginning to feel the pain more and more. One Kayak that passed us had the novel idea of reclining as far back in his seat as possible to take the strain off their backs/bums. This seemed a good idea and worked for a few minutes at least, anything was worth a try at this point. Eventually we reached Putney Bridge (only 6 miles to go now), some temporary pain relief was provided at this point by more support from the banks of the Thames. Sam's Best Man on one bank shouting how Chelsea had barely managed to overcome Wigan at Stamfored bridge the previous day, and work colleagues from Matt Roberts Personal Training the other side giving words of encouragement. This certainly helped fora little while, that was then accompanied by the realisation that we were now in the final hour of an epic day.
We could now see a string of bridges all nicely lined up. The discussion was then how long it would take us to pass under each of them. A discussion not all that successful as simple arithmatic had now become more difficult and converting miles to time was now more tricky than ever. Even though we were so close to the finish we could see other kayaks pulling up on the banks for a rest, or in some cases walking the boat up to the road to begin a slightly different route. This was not how we intended to finish!!
We continued to discuss at what point we would see the London Eye or Big Ben to let us know we were nearly there. We were to be disappointed here, as we forgot that being on the river in a small boat we were at a massive height disadvantage and could see very little. Not to matter, we soon passed under Chelsea bridge and then we both knew what was finally AROUND the next corner (words we had used a lot but were now a fact). As we turned the corner and passed under Vauxhall bridge we could see the finish!!
The next bit has all become somewhat of a blur as the emotion and relief now started to take over. We just knew we had to stay in the boat for 10 more minutes. DON'T FALL IN! This was made slightly easier as we were now being escorted and instructed by a RIB full of race officials (they were also doing a fine job of breaking up the wash of a few River ferrys passing by). We were instructed to get over to the right and hug the bank after Lambeth bridge. We were now sheltered by boats on our left and the river wall on our right, however the tide was out and the water was shallow which we discovered as we nearly beached ourselves a little early. As we approached Westminster Bridge friends and family were cheering us on from the walls above us. Concentration was now almost impossible and we had several wobbly moments.
We FINALLY crossed under the bridge and were instructed to aim for the two large chaps in wetsuits who would help us stop and get out of the kayak. However, this would not be neccessary. At the point of hearing the siren to signal we had completed the race we both gave such a sigh of reilef that we tipped straight in. We had nothing left to give and had to be helped stumbling out of the Thames only to discover the 40 or so steps to get up to the bank, just what we needed. At the top we were greeted by race officials who helped us on with our medals and passed us over to our families. The relief was completely overwhelming!! This was what it was all about, what had driven us through the last 10 hours of pain. It was amazing!!
An incredible race, an incredible feeling of accomplishment but it does take a huge toll on the body. Definately a "glad we did it, but never again" kind of experience. We certainly didn't spend enough time in the boat prior to this race, most people were telling us we needed to be paddling three times a week from December, when realisitically we only managed once a week. No doubt that more training would have helped us in many capacaties however nothing can ever really prepare you for that race. It truly was BRUTAL!!!.
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