A total of ninety six paddlers braved the freezing temperatures on Sunday 12 February to compete in the 6th and final race of the 2016/17 Winter Series at Leaside. Barking and Dagenham had nine entrants, of which four were in the competitive K2 over 16yrs class.
Our K2 DW trainees Ruth Stubbs and Angie Flight have made massive improvements over the course of the series. Before the race they were discussing a dreaded tunnel on the DW course and joked that if another boat were to fall in instead of them, they would be useless to help. However, they came across a stranded K1 paddler who had fallen in and immediately stopped to help rescue him. Well done girls, your first boat rescue!
It was a successful day for Barking and Dagenham paddlers overall and especially for members who took home the following awards.
Trish True won her race and 1st place overall in the Class 18 Female GP.
John Green, with his partner Ron Dains, reclaimed the C2 Touring Class 13 trophy. This is the 8th time, with various partners, John has won.
Danielle Clifford and Romeo Balla collected their 1st place series cup for K2 Under 16’s. A straight 5 out of 5 wins.
Tobias McCready achieved a well-deserved 3 rd place series trophy for class 15 Male K1 under 14.
Congratulations to you all!
In the club league table, Barking and Dagenham won 3rd place overall. Another trophy for our cabinet. A very well done to everyone who entered. And a big thank you to everyone at the club who helps behind the scenes, we couldn’t accomplish all this with out you!
Today, it was Chelmsford’s turn to host the 5th race in the Flatwater Winter Series with a fantastic turnout. Almost 150 competitors participated over 2 separate starts. Classes 13-21 with a total of 37 paddlers set off at 11am with the remaining classes setting off at 12pm.
After a freezing spell over the last week and problems with frozen locks, today was mild in comparison. The rain held off and conditions were good. The decision was made to race through the town. It was certainly interesting navigating the wash through the first part of the race!
There were a few podium finishes for Barking & Dagenham. Fortunately for me, Trish True, in the female GP, there were no portages and I achieved my 3rd Gold medal of the series and maintained my position of first place overall.
John Leonard Green & Ron Dains gained a silver medal after a hard fought race against Chelmsford’s Andy Porter and Tony Williams, in the C2 Touring Class 13, who were left in 3rd place. Leanne Brown and Aaron Jordan in the Open K2 class managed a well-earned 3rd place and bronze medal.
With only the Leaside race to go, the club is looking good for some trophy’s this season. Barking & Dagenham are 3 rd in the club league table. Tobias McCready, class 15 male U14, is in joint 3rd position in the league tables going into the final race after gaining an additional 6 points today. Our mixed junior K2 crew of Romeo Balla and Dannielle Clifford achieved 1st place, which makes 5 wins in succession, and a guaranteed 1st place trophy at Leaside at the end of the series. Well done!
Almost a hundred paddlers took to the River Roding on Sunday for our home race. Although it was cold, the weather was kind and conditions were good for racing. It seemed fitting that our race was the first in the calendar after the sad passing of one of our members, Steve Truglia. A moving tribute was held as everyone took a moment to remember Steve before taking to the water.
Overall it was a good day for Barking and Dagenham on the water, with podium finishes in a variety of classes. Our mixed junior K2 crew of Romeo Balla and Dannielle Clifford took their second win of the series. Also making it two wins out of two in the series was Trish True in the female GPO class.
Tobias McCready earned a hard fought silver in the tightly contested male under 14 K1 class – only seconds separated the places from second to fourth. DW hopefuls Bill and Almir came third in the senior K2 class, putting them second overall in the series so far.
All in all it was a good day for the club both on and off the water. It was great to see new members racing for the first time and the day ran as planned without any incidents thanks to all the hard work put in by members and volunteers.
The club now sits third in the series table as we look forward to going racing in Cambridge in a couple of weeks.
Tragically and unexpectedly Steve passed away last week. Many people knew him better and could speak of him better than I can.
However I do know that the club has lost a man who bought enthusiasm, passion and inspiration that will be sorely missed.
He was a character who bought many people from the canoe world together. As well as training and racing for us, Steve also trained at Bishops Stortford and Richmond. I think this tells us something about his appetite for the sport and determination to learn all that he could.
He was a DW dreamer, not because he hadn’t completed it, but because he wanted to do it better and faster. He was training hard in his K1 and aiming for a sub 20 hour finish for DW 2017. A target I’m sure he would have hit.
It’s hard to believe that we won’t see Steve on the start line anymore. But I’m sure that he will be with those that knew him, looking down and shouting ‘Let’s do this’.
As much as doing DW is a physical challenge, it is also and perhaps more so a mental challenge and the battle in my head had already began before reaching the start line.
Neither of us slept that well the night before, the apprehension had kicked in, in the words of Alfie on the morning of the race ‘it just got real’.
Upon arrival at Devizes, it’s the last minute stress of check in and equipment check before you can head for the start. Oh and the thorough application of Vaseline to the nether regions, I cannot recommend this enough.
125 miles to go
We were now good to go and sat on the start line, next stop Westminster. Actually no, next stop was Pewsey, then Great Bedwyn, then Hungerford, then Newbury and so on and so on. I knew I couldn’t let myself think about the finish, 125 miles was still incomprehensible in my head.
I was really pleased to get going, the support you get at the start from onlookers is a real boost and it was smiles all round. The first long stretch to Pewsey without any portages gave us a chance to get into our rythm and we knew one short stop to relieve the numb bums 10 miles in wouldn’t hurt our time.
The hardwork started to kick in after Pewsey with 35 portages between there and Newbury, our pace in the boat wasn’t the quickest, so we knew we had to work hard at the portages and run the majority of them to make up time. We had been taught well though and we felt confident in our system, a lot of counting down from 3 and talking to each other.
Once we hit Newbury, it was new territory from there-on-in, every stroke was one more than we had ever done before. The stretch from Newbury to our next target Reading/Dreadnought involved some low bridges and tricky portages to navigate. Our one hiccup came at a very low bridge, on first sighting we had decided to portage it, but after watching another crew go under it, albeit in a rather unorthodox way, we decided to go under it too.
This proved to be the wrong decision, Alfie took a knock to the head and we went for a swim. From then on we always went our gut instinct. Luckily we wasn’t too far off a change of clothes and hot food at dreadnought.
By the time we reached Dreadnought it was dark, we were wet and cold but our morale was boosted by a warm welcome from our support crew and fellow club members. After a tricky change into fresh clothes and some hot food, we continued into the night and onto the Thames.
Into the night
Paddling through the night was definitely the biggest challenge mentally. I don’t think we were prepared for just how dark and disorientating it would be. We were so grateful to all those crews with lights on the back of their buoyancy aids, navigating the river became a game of chase the light. However not every light was what it seemed, so I would recommend knowing the twists and turns of the river as much as possible.
The paddle through the night was where being a first time crew really showed, we just wasn’t as confident as the more experienced crews.
In the early hours of the morning tiredness really started to kick in, I even closed my eyes at one point out of curiosity to see what would happen. Our support crew were brilliant throughout but particularly at this point, they really kept us going as we started to hit the wall. They forced us to eat and drink, and they gave us games to play to keep us talking and our brains working whilst we paddled. Every portage that we saw them they would let us know when we would meet them next. Just seeing them became another incentive to get to the next portage.
Portages in the dark could be disorientating, you’d be blinded by flashes light from the torches of support crews and you often had some obstacle to manouver around. By this point just simple steps were difficult as your legs began to suffer from being in the boat for so long, I totally missed one big step and ended up on my backside. In the end it was a case of follow the leader as crews started to bunch up throughout the night.
All that said the darkness was in a strange way a comfort because I knew that when the sun came up, we would be a lot closer to finishing.
Light on the horizon
As the horizon began to brighten so did our spirits. However some confusion about the window of time for hitting the tide at Teddington caused some last minute concern that we wouldn’t make it. Our support crew told us we needed to up our pace, too many people were waiting for us now to let them down. Upping our pace was the last thing we felt like doing but that is what we did, the confusion was soon resolved though and we were able to return to cruising speed.
Daylight had broken and we portaged for the penultimate time, it was time to say goodbye to our support crew who we owed so much. The next time we saw them would be at the finish.
With a final pep talk, change of water bottles and some extra energy gel packs they sent us on our emotional way. We knew we had done it now, however the tideway would provide one final test.
We made a final portage at Teddington, where the marshals seemed as happy as us that we had made it this far and the end was in sight. We set off for Westminster, both of us with tears running down our cheeks.
We were now on the tideway, only 17 miles to go and with the help of added flow from tidal thames we would assumed we would fly to the finish.
However the closer we got to the finish, the more our bodies hurt. All the aches and pains now seemed to come to the fore as we bagan to relax knowing that the finish line was in sight. We had to beach the boat a couple of times to get out just to releave the pain of sitting down for so long and pressure on the sores that come with it.
Then about half way down the tideway the weather took a dramatic turn for the worse. We were battered by torrential rain and a strong head wind. Westminster couldn’t come quick enough, it turned into what felt like the longest 17 miles of our lives.
But through sheer grit, determination and I think pure stubbornness we made it. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament appeared round the corner and after 25 hours, 17 minutes and 8 seconds we passed under Westminster Bridge were met by the safety crew on the steps. All the pain disappeared and I think it’s safe to say we were both overwhelmed with emotion and the greatest sense of achievement we had ever felt.
Being members of Barking and Dagenham Canoe club with its long association with the Devizes to Westminster race it felt like we was always destined to attempt DW.
Our journey started back in 2012 when my K2 partner, Alfie and I, were inspired by fellow club members successes and volunteering at the finish line. We saw first hand what it took to finish the race and we wanted to know if we also had what it took. So we decided to give it a go, however, we so soon realised DW isn’t something you can just give a go.
We came up against our first hurdle when during one of our training sessions Alfie contracted Weils disease. This put pay to our 2013 attempt, but we both agreed 2014 would be our year.
Staying Up Right
Fast forward to January 2014 and doubts were creeping in, training hadn’t really gone to plan. We didn’t train hard enough during the summer and we relaxed too much over the Christmas period. We were still struggling to keep the boat we planned to use the right way up, the weather was poor and confidence was low.
Lucky for us we had perhaps the most experienced support crew you could ask for. Not only were they our support crew for the race but for the whole journey. They gave us all the advice we could ask for and the kick up the backside we needed if we really wanted to reach those steps at Westminster.
So we took their advice and agreed that from then on we would always train in a boat together (which we wasn’t doing due to the constant capsizing), we would change to a slower but more stable boat and where possible up our training schedule. And this is exactly what we did. Weekends were consumed by training trips down various rivers fitting in as many miles and portages as possible.
Portaging was going to be key as our pace in the boat wasn’t the quickest. In training we learned that successful portaging hung on good communication. We would always try and call the portage early. On the approach we would call if we were going long or short and if we would carry the boat at the cockpits or on our shoulders. I would then call 3 2 1 as a signal for Alfie to put the brakes on at the back. We found counting down helped to keep us doing everything in sync at the get out and put in. Especially as the man at the front can’t see what the man at the back is doing.
As well as water based training we did a lot of land based training as well. This consisted of circuit training every week to build on our fitness, working a lot on our core strength. We also ran to help build stamina, we knew with 77 portages to contend with throughout the race, DW would involve a lot of running too. When possible we always tried to train together as a team.
The Waterside Series soon arrived, but due to the severe flooding caused by the storms Waterside A was cancelled and the course for Waterside B was amended, the rest went ahead as planned.
These races are a must for any prospective DW competitor. We learned a lot from these races, it gave us the chance to work with our support crew in race conditions. It was the perfect opportunity to experiment with what food and drink suited us best and we got used to being fed on the move without biting off any of our support crews fingers. The races meant we got to know that part of the course quite well too and more than anything gave us the confidence to make it to the DW start line. After completing Waterside D, we knew we were as prepared as we were ever going to be for the 125 miles in 2 weeks time.