DW: The Race is On!

Mike and Laurence will be starting the 125 mile Devizes to Westminster Race at approximately 10:30 on Saturday morning, aiming to reach the end at around 07:00 on Sunday morning after a gruelling non-stop paddle.

Their race number is 309, and you can follow their progress online.

Update: They set off from Devizes at 10:44:39

Final Update (Sunday morning): Sadly, Mike and Laurence had to retire from the race at Boulter’s lock, Maidenhead. A wrist injury incurred by Mike (and later, also by Laurence) meant that they were losing too much time over their schedule to make it to the tidal section of the river in time to catch the tide. It was a valiant effort, and they pressed on as far as they could despite their obvious discomfort.

Six of us (I think!) will be chasing them down the river in three cars, feeding and watering them.

They have decided (at the last minute!) to race for charity, in support of the Royal National Institute of Blind People. You can, if you wish, sponsor them by visiting this page.

Mike and Laurence in synchronised harmony

An update on our DW training

With the event drawing nearer, the anticipation is evident amongst us as a crew. While we may be all jokes and fun, we are more thoughtful and serious in our meetings. There are so many emotions running through me when I think of Easter weekend and I wonder what I’ll be like the day before, probably a bag of nerves. I’m excited about the chance to undertake this massive challenge, worried about food and drink issues and fearful of all the things that could result in a failure. But most of all I’m nervous about the stability of the boat on the tideway, a 17 mile section of the race where we won’t be able have any support crew stops, where we will be at our most tired and the conditions at their most dangerous.

As Race Day draws closer I have found myself becoming more pre-occupied with lots of little details. Whether this is me distracting myself from the challenge itself I don’t know but I am making numerous modifications to the boat, fitting handles on it, fitting a footpump, new footrests, special fittings for the dry-bags to clip to and slots for the spare rudder.

There is no doubt that the training has made me a far better paddler. At this point the training itself is standard stuff and I ache as much now after a 30+ mile training session as I did last September after an 8 mile session. However, the improvements in my paddling are not just in speed and endurance. I have learnt a huge amount about the importance of eating and drinking properly before, during and after training. I’ve learnt the importance of carrying the boat properly, the necessity of having spare clothing at all times in case of rapid temperature drops and how important it is to keep my hands warm.

Our recent training events have been a mixture of successes and failures. We have twice had to cut course training sessions short because of me getting too cold. We have also had mishaps, Mike has lost around 6 contact lenses during training, we’ve suffered broken paddles resulting in me paddling the k2 on my own for 2 miles with Mike jogging on the bank. Yet we have had a couple of very good and respectable sessions, the latest being yesterdays where we managed 33 miles at a speed of 9 mins per mile.

We are currently focussing our efforts on making the portages as painless and effortless as possible. This is time we can easily gain if we get it right without having to pull faster on the kayaking. Equally (as we have experienced) its very easy for time to slip away from us if we dilly-dally. We are also focussing on novel ways of preparing for the choppy water on the tideaway but that will be explained in more detail next week

Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race

The final practice for the DW canoe race http://www.dwrace.org.uk/ was held last weekend, in the sun from Old Windsor to Putney. To follow Mike and Laurence over the Easter Saturday / Sunday race you can use this link and look for race number 309 – http://www.dwrace.org.uk/results/2012/dw.html ; follow where is everybody?..overnight crews. Good Luck!

Devizes to Westminster 2012 – Training Update

I decided to take on the DW challenge (and a few other kayaking challenges such as the 2011 Tay Descent) after my kayaking accident in 2010.  I thought I should do as much as I could before the complete loss of my left eye and prove to myself I have the capability of succeeding.  I asked a few people if they were interested in taking on the 24hr challenge and ended up with a very able div 3/4 paddler named Mike Fitzsimons from the Mercia Canoe Club’s small racing team (though only after I promised to buy him dinner!).

In November, we started training for longer and longer evening sessions in our K1s, going anywhere from 10-16 miles.  Meanwhile we searched for a suitable boat to use in the challenge.  We went on our first 32 mile training session of the course in early December where we went from Thatcham to Reading and back.  It was a particularly cold day with ice forming on the banks and even on the boat as we paddled along! Once our entries had been accepted, we went to our club with our support leader (Nigel Wooltorton, experienced DW supporter) to ask for more supporters and found we were overrun with volunteers.  We now have a team of six supporters ready in three cars for the event.  From this point Mike and I started taking it seriously and no amount of flotsam and jetsam on the river (such as dining room chairs, mattresses, TVs and even one portaloo) would stop us.Our training suffered heavily throughout the cold period.  Mercia Canoe Club is located in the Canal Basin at Coventry and the cold meant the canal was frozen and out of action for around two weeks.  In that time, we had to cope with indoor weights and rowing sessions which were particularly hard on me (much to Mike’s amusement when, after the second session, I couldn’t even put my jacket on unassisted!)  The club also purchased a kayaking machine from Marsport to help with technique coaching and training sessions and from that point forward we have started putting in 3+ 2hr sessions a week on it on top of our evening water training.

Only two weeks ago we went for our first training session on the course with our full support crew on the Thames.  We made the decision not to take part in either the Waterside or Thameside series as we thought this would be counter-productive with our banana-shaped boat and all the washes.  So we went down to train from Dreadnought Reach on the 12th December after Waterside A was cancelled due to the ice.  We thought the river would be clear as it was flowing water… how wrong we were.  There was ice formed on all the banks and we had to bash our way through to two of the locks.  On one of them we had to take a 25 minute detour though a very cold if pretty snowy woodland to reach the lock.  It was a bit of an eye opener for both us and the support who realised just how tiring the support was.Our strategy now is to go down to the course over the remaining weeks and do a number of 30-35 mile training sessions until we have trained on every section of the course.  We are also continuing with our current indoor morning sessions and evening 16 mile sessions too.

Mike and Laurence in synchronised harmony

Getting near the end...


Reading to Maidenhead

Six non-paddlers and two paddlers headed south to a still snowy Reading on Sunday Feb 12.  It was a practice for the Devizes to Westminster race. This time both the paddlers and the bank support turned out.We started at Dreadnought Reach on the Thames. Here we left Mike and Laurence in the K2, mainly thinking rather them than me. It was cold! Sat Navs were the order of the day as we followed the course of the River Thames to the various locks that we were permitted to get access to. We missed them by minutes at Hambledon, following a traffic jam in Henley.  Where were Boris’s Bikes? A snow ball fight broke out amongst supporters at Marlow as we gathered with others on the same game. The ice struck at Cookham as the lock cut was frozen and the team had to divert to a snowy island. Four hours later we took them off the water at Boulters. We all learnt a lot that day.

For more info on the event see the article DW 2012 also on the website. The ice wasn’t as thick as it was at Windsor in 1962-63!



DW 2012

After you have eaten all your chocolate Easter eggs and contemplated an after lunch walk, what else will you be doing over Easter 2012? Two of our top paddlers, Mike and Laurence will be competing in the classic Devizes to Westminster canoe race. This is one of the top amateur sports challenges, number 13 even, according to Mens Health magazine ! Canoeing is well represented as the first is Scotland’s coast-to-coast competition, a 100 mile bike/run/paddle from one side of Scotland to the other.
The challenge for the senior racing doubles is 125 miles long with 77 portages, picking up the tide at Teddington Lock within a small window to time to reach Westminster non-stop.
The last Mercia paddler to do the event was Roy Grassby in 1990 and he came a creditable fourth in the four day singles event. The total time for the four stages was 17hours:52 minutes:40 seconds. I was there supporting him then and knew what effort he put in.
The history of the race goes back to 1947. This extract is from Brian Greenham’s book;
Devizes is a sleepy market town set in the English farming county of Wiltshire. Running through the town is the 200 year old Kennet and Avon Canal, a small and cheaply built navigation that once linked the sea port of Bristol to the town of Reading, and onwards via the River Thames to London. Well, it happened that one of the original 1947 Avon descent participants, Roy Cooke, was planning to try to reach London via the derelict Kennet and Avon Canal and the River Thames in less than 100 hours. When he was unable to see this through, the project was willingly taken up by the Devizes Scouts, with the encouragement of locals who put up a sum of money for Scout funds if they could succeed in “taking a boat from Devizes to Westminster in under 100 hours, all food and camping kit to be carried in the boats”. At Easter 1948, Peter Brown, Brian Walters, Laurie Jones and Brian Smith, all aged just 17, set on the first D-W run. Great interest was generated nationally, with progress reports and photographs appearing in the national press, and the local cinema in Devizes interrupting programmes to give reports of their progress. At the finish a large crowd turned out at Westminster Bridge to see them successfully complete the challenge in a time of 89 hours and 50 minutes. So it was that the first Devizes to Westminster run was instigated.
These days the crews that race over Saturday night and into Easter Sunday, through, Newbury, Reading, Marlow, Maidenhead, Windsor, Shepperton, Kingston, Richmond, Putney and on are hoping for under 20 hours. That is tough and depends on training and an excellent support crew to keep them fed, watered, change their kit, shout at them and ease them on their way. Mike and Laurence have inspired great support from the club, so good luck!