On Friday night we drove out to what we thought would be our second training weekend, keeping an eye on the weather.
Storm Ciara was coming in and warnings were being issued. There was talk of wind gusting up to 60mph but word was it was not going to hit until Sunday so we were planning to get on the water and see where we got to.
Our mission for the weekend was threefold
- Stay in the boat all day. No excuses. Bums on seats all the way
- Eat in the boat. Use the new under-seat food boxes and new food plan.
- Paddle without hurting. Physically & mentally.
And of course, paddle a decent distance and try to have fun.
Staying in the boat
In the race we need to travel 440 miles. For efficiency we want to be on the river and travelling with the river for as much time as we can. Getting out of the boat every few hours can add hours on to the race time. This means eating in the boat, stretching in the boat and, probably peeing in the boat.
This last one we are saving up thinking about – its pretty hard to practice in the UK, especially in the winter in dry trousers. But for the rest. We stay in the boat and keep going.
In 2015 we found that we could do about 3 miles on the Thames without stopping, locking through or portaging, in Norfolk all of the time on the water can be used paddling. Despite late sunrises and early sunsets we’ve already done a 36 mile day – that’s a longer day than any of our training paddles for 2015 and its only February. As an added bonus and really good news is that despite not getting out of the boat, for 9 hours, Dan’s back stayed relatively comfortable – this is a HUGE win.
A big part of a 70+ hour race is eating right. You need to be eating enough to keep the mind and body going. Even as you get tired and fed up you need to eat. Even as you get exhausted and your tummy no longer wants to work. You need to eat.
Having watched what racers were doing in 2019, I picked up some new plastic boxes that might help us to keep food close by, helping us to keep eating. We’ll need to have lots of small portions available, chopped up and easy to eat whilst paddling and navigating.
What’s in the box?
We’ve spent some time looking for food we should be able to pick up in Canada, that we will try in training.
We’d love to have Scotch Eggs and Malt loaf, but we aren’t going to find those in Canada so we have to be creative and crafty. We also want to keep things simple.
Dan hoovered the croissants and Christmas cake, especially the marzipan. Nom! Sarah loved parmesan cheese chunks, and the frankfurter sausages, often together.
We also tried fudge (mostly too sweet), toffees (ok). I found some lovely sweets that we are going to be buying and bringing with us as we both loved them.
Much more food experimentation will follow.
What a day!
Saturday was such a good day. The water was quiet with very few boats out and about, full of bird life: Kingfishers, Harriers, Kestrels, and maybe a Peregrine Falcon. It was sunny and we almost got too hot and learnt that just because its early February, doesn’t mean we don’t need cold drinks.
Knowing it was unlikely that we would get much distance in on Sunday, meant we planned for 50k and then pushed it to see if we could get to 60km.
We stayed in the boat all day – 9 hours worth
Pain and posture-wise, I had a day with small aches and a little cramp but no real back or shoulder pain, which is super progression and makes the race feel possible. Stretching in the boat every hour does seem to work. I did get pain in my left foot, which was surprising.
Completing the paddle, we got the boat on the roof of the car and dived into the pub for pints of Coke and crisps (and a wee!).
Looking at the weather the forecast has worsened. There was talk of 80mph winds, and we were worried about getting our 18.5 ft boat home on our 16ft car. We decided that we needed to roll home before the wind arrived, so we quickly packed up and drove home.
What we learnt
Talking. Even though the day was long, a lot of it was fun. This allowed us to start solving paddling problems.
Playing. We realised that we aren’t going to learn if we are focused on always being perfect and hitting the best time. We need to be safe to experiment, share and play.
Power. We practiced looking at our ‘paddle catch’ timing to be sure we can both provide power. This does rely on Sarah observing quite a lot from the back of the boat. My job is mostly listening to the feel of the boat, asking questions and changing pace when asked. We also measured our power on each side by paddling a mile a side. We came out pretty equal. Which is great news.
Steering. Sarah experimented with different steering techniques when dealing with sidewinds and fetch – looking at how to keep adding power whilst steering. This might mean that she leads the ‘huts’ – the side swapping – around corners or in tricky bits.
Our team strength. We both felt really positive about the day. We could have paddled for longer if we had had more light and water to paddle. We are going to need to plan for some long days. Regular stretching really helped me, and I think having the food in the boxes helped Sarah.
Things to think about
There are lots of things to think about, from the complex to the mundane.
I need some different cheese choices. Parmesan does not rock my world. We also need to try some different foods. I’m all for Pate sandwiches. We need to be bringing cold drinks as the days get warmer. The food boxes rock, but we might need bigger ones or more of them. We both might need to be eating more. We were good at the start of the day but tailed off, particularly Sarah whose box was far too full at the end of the day.
Now I’m clearly powering the boat via my legs, I’m going to need better cushioned shoes. My current plan is to try out using ‘used up’ running shoes – that I can’t use for my running but are still in good, if muddy condition.
I also think we might keep on switching sides every mile to keep training in balance. This will be challenged by Sarah playing with using swaps to power round corners.We are going to have to let that play out.