Today started with unbelievable nerves, this was going to be like no race I had ever done before. On the start line and ready to go as the clock counted down the last 10 seconds. Water was horrifically choppy for the first 2km and then flattened out. Got on a draft train about 6km into the race and we all helped out until the rest point, about 25km into day one. Joined the train after the rest point but unfortunately I got terribly sick within 10 minutes and lost the train and could not see any train behind me. Time to paddle on my own. Paddled for 19km about 5 minutes behind the guys in front and 5 minutes ahead of the girl behind me. The paddle was mind numbing and difficult to keep focussed but I managed. Finished day one in 3rd place. 45km paddled in 5:57. With the speeds we were doing I could tell this year was going to be an unbelievable fast tour.
Today was physically and mentally tough. Finished 4th and not happy with myself. Have not been able to keep solid food down, so sick again about 3km into the start of the race. Got knocked off 3 times by boat wake and got to the rest point mentally drained. Lots of tears and was a struggle to get back on the board for another 20km in 29 degree heat. One of the GB guys helped me through and paddled with me to keep me going. I owe him so much. Now sitting 2 minutes behind 3 place. 46km paddled today in 6:06. Food, sleep and do if all again tomorrow. Lets hope I don’t have another meltdown.
Day three started completely different from Day two ended. I woke up refreshed and raring to go. Got to the start line feeling positive about the day. The temperature had dropped, therefore all the paddlers from the UK suddenly were not dreading the next 6 hours. Only 43km today.
The start line was the same as every other day, narrow and fast. The water did not settle down for at least 2km, therefore constantly fighting the wobble of the board. Thankfully my Starboard All Star was looking after me well in the chop. My plan for the next 43km was to keep steady and only sprint if I had a draft train to catch. The female who I was currently sitting behind got off to a flying start and I had to keep reminding myself that this was a 43km day and pushing myself to a sprint in the first half hour was not going to work well for me. It was with great frustration that I saw her paddling off and leaving me behind. I still stuck to my plan of steady paddling. I got on a draft train quickly on this day and we all worked well together. I did find it amusing when I was at the front of the train and pulling 4 large guys along as I am only 5ft 2in and 54kg but I know the only way for it to work was to take a turn at the front.
At the rest point half way into the day I had caught up with the girl in front and the gap was now down to 20 seconds. I knew that I had to make this rest point effective, soup, protein shake and a quick hydration change over and I was ready to go. Within 5 minutes of restarting I was paddling past her and still feeling strong. Twice on this paddle I found myself laying down on my board to pull weed from the fin of the guy in front. I was really glad I had a Black Project weed fin on my board as I never had a problem with weed the whole 5 days. I finished this day in 5:28 and had regained third place and was over 3 minutes ahead.
Day four was tough I did not feel strong and could see that I just had to get through the distance, another 45km day. I was feeling pain in my shoulder from the day before, therefore found myself changing the way I paddle to cause less pain. I was monitoring my heartbeat every day and suddenly it had dropped from 160bpm in the first 3 days to 125-130bpm. I realised that I was not paddling in line with my fitness, I was now paddling in line with the pain that my body was going through. The only thing to do on day 4 was to finish the day. Once again I had lost 3rd place in the ladies race.
By this day I just wanted it over, my back and shoulders were still extremely painful but I had completed 4 days, I could do one more. Thankfully it was 30km on the last day, as we had horrific weather. I stood shaking with the cold on the start line and kept thinking I am from Scotland and I am freezing how must everyone else be
The start again was fast and choppy and funnelled under a narrow bridge. Lots of people were falling off their boards at the start, which actually was not a bad thing as the water temperature was warmer than the air temperature.
On the last day, the speed dropped for most people as we had a head wind, no matter what turning we took on the canal we seemed to have the wind in our face. The rest point was 20km in and it could not come quick enough. I decided on that day I was not carrying any gels and was only having water in my hydration pack, I had had enough of carbohydrate and protein powders, electrolyte drinks and energy gels.
I got to the rest point with two other paddlers and as we left for the final 10km we made an agreement that we were all tired and would keep paddling together and cross the finish line together and that is what we did.
I finished the 220km in 4th place in the ladies fleet in a time of 26:04. Last year’s winner finished it in 26:59. I was correct this year’s ladies fleet was brutally fast.
I will never do the race again as a solo competitor but I am already considering going back next year in a team.
I am now back in the UK and getting ready to do a survivor race on Saturday 14th September. The weed fin will be coming off and will be replaced with my Black Project race fin. The race comprises of 800m sprints and I am so happy about that.
Happy Paddling to everyone