Monthly Archives: January 2014

Bank Support – the good, the bad and the pretty! (part 2)

A couple more Bank Support team caricatures, just for fun!

The cheer leaders

Jules and Tristan are like totally doing the DW this year yah? DW? It’s like this really cool canoe race from like, you know, that place beginning with D, all the way to Westminster. That’s like, in London.

Davina, Lucinda and Alicia spent the previous day planning their outfit and makeup ready to support the chaps on day 1 of the race. Only the latest styles from “Jack Wills” will do, hair brushed to one side and clad in like these amazing boots.

Arriving at the portage, the girls quickly distance themselves from the school minibus and take up a standoffish position away from the untrendy. It’s a bit colder than they thought but artic winds would not persuade them to wear a coat, that is so not cool.

A noisy commotion is heard further up the lock as a crew from Pangfordside College make the portage. College girls are cheering, whooping and clapping unabashed as a somewhat self-conscious crew sprint past significantly quicker than they ever did during training.

Like the illumination of a light bulb, Devina, Lucinda and Alicia “get it”. Sophistication is abandoned, “we’ll show this Pangfordside lot what support is”. The girls hit the front just as Jules and Tristan disembark.

The combined audiences from X-factor and The Voice could not have competed with the crescendo of noise and animated enthusiasm created by the girls. Jules and Tristan feel like film stars as they shoulder the K2 and gallop like proud stallions to the put-in.

Flushed with excitement, hair slightly losing its style, the girls hurry back to the minibus eager to get to the next portage.

The lads finished the day ten minutes quicker than their fastest time. Tomorrow, the girls will be organised!

Been there, done it, got the T shirt (the professionals)

“Is this the eighth or ninth year we’ve done this”? Ben asks Ivan. “I can’t remember, I’m just glad I’m not paddling”. The brown Quattro is parked in its usual spot, pointing in the right direction for the next portage and ready to go.

They consult the schedule on the clip board and check their watches which were synchronised with the Radio four time signal at 07:00 hours this morning. “Two minutes twenty three seconds to go”.

Like a formula one pit crew they know exactly what to do and have optimised the process for ultimate efficiency and epic performance.

Ben sets out the portage kit at the get-in. Gels, power bars, energy drink, absolutely no natural food stuffs for the top paddlers and no debate of what the crew will get at this point as it has all been planned in advance.

Ivan is waiting at the head of the portage for Tim and Ed and runs in front pointing out any obstructions. There is no talking in the crew, it uses energy.

The boat is back in the water, the crew is fed with perfect bite sized prawn vol-au-vents made from a recipe from last month’s Canoe Focus, a perfect mix of protein and complex carbohydrates. “Tim won’t be impressed, we’ve run out of smoked salmon” Ben says consulting the menu.

They watch the crew sprint off out of sight. “looking good aren’t they?” “yeah, for at least five hundred metres, a thousand at best!”

“Do you think if we trained really hard we’d be any good at this marathon lark Ivan?” “Why don’t we talk about it in the pub Ben”

Whilst packing up, a C2 crew portage the lock. “Fancy doing DW on the dark side next year Ben?” “Yeah, I’m up for it Ivan and I know a bloke who can get us a really good boat”.

Bank Support – the good, the bad and the ugly! (part 1)

I’ve only bank supported Waterside a couple of times and never DW, but even those few occasions have convinced me that the paddlers get off lightly as they “only” have to paddle.

Meanwhile on dry land, support crews scramble to get to the right place at the right time to take the abuse from the competitors. Do they know (or care) what it takes to make it to the portage with a delicious energy bar, carbo drink and jolly banter? I think not.

However, from the canoeist point of view, portages provide a fascinating insight to the approach, behaviour and characteristics of those who commit themselves to support their crews.

A “typical” bank support enthusiast tends to fall into one of a number of categories, and exhibit a set of stereotypical idiosyncrasies.

So let’s consider the type of person who supports Waterside and the four day DW event. Any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental…………..honest!

The Yummy Mummy

Samantha is super excited yah, to be supporting Tarquin and his partner Quentin (T & Q) in their little boat on the K&A. She popped into Waitrose for Duchy Originals for the boys on the way and thinks there may be two left in the packet.

Demure and chic in the latest from Boden (new spring/summer ‘14 collection) and green Hunter wellies (which one always wears in the country you know), she parks the four-by-four on a clear bit of road across the front of someone’s drive that no one has spotted. “I’m sure they won’t mind for a few minutes, it is a Volvo you know.”

She and her friend Fiona drove up early from Kensington and once they’ve done their duty, they thought a light lunch in a quaint little restaurant in Hungerford would be a hoot and then a look around the antique shops.

So, what does one do? Samantha (never Sam!) and Fiona make their way to the lock and on to the tow path which seems frightfully muddy. Two chaps with a canoe on their shoulders run past, straight through a puddle. “Do you mind, this outfit is new!”………louts!

Now, where are they? A K2 in the distinctive red and gold colours of Saint Cerils approaches. “it’s them”, “oh come on Tarquin darling, bravo!” “That’s splendid, daddy would be so proud”. The crew run by exchanging glances, it isn’t Tarquin!

After five minutes KBS (Kensington Bank Support) are getting bored and wander over to look at the lock (whatever that is). Tarquin approaches the portage and spots the distinctive pink hoody. He and Quentin shoulder the boat wishing for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Too late, Samantha and Fiona are beside themselves with excitement, “hurrah for Saint Ceril’s”…………….“wait Tarquin, wait”.

T & Q sprint for the put-in. “Tarquin darling, mummy must have a photo”. Samantha tugs out her iPhone which apparently has a camera. She struggles to take a picture and waits until lots of boats have gone by to get a clear panorama, she is certain that T & Q can easily catch them up again. “Now one with me in” she says flinging the phone towards Fiona (a proud technophobe).

“Do you have any food mum?” “Food? oh yes there’s some biscuits in the car, shall I get them?

T & Q paddle hard to get away from the shouts of encouragement following them towards Newbury.

“Gosh that was fun, time for lunch?” Samantha and Fiona are surprised that all the traffic seems to have stopped when they return to the car. “Shift that vehicle NOW!” oh what a rude man!

The Coach

Mr Stevens has coached crews from Kimarlauntsey school for the last six years. He takes the youngsters after Christmas and makes men of them by Easter, even the girls. A rigid training programme of paddling, running, circuit training and swimming (or capsizing as it’s known) in the cold and wet soon toughens up the little reprobates. It’s good character building stuff and they’ll all thank him for it one day.

Sergeant-Major Stevens misses his old regiment, but his well-preserved parade voice that has had many a squaddie quaking in their boots is just as effective for the little herberts now under his command. It’s such a shame that one can’t beat children any more “spare the rod, spoil the child” it never did him any harm.

He is rather proud of this year’s team although he’ll never admit it even under torture. They trained well and with the right amount of shouting at, should beat those wimps from Sir Wandsfordleigh. There’s a score to settle from last year, “two minutes, TWO minutes” that won’t happen again during his watch.

Ah, here comes Clegg and Cameron. Took a while to gel these two, but they work well together towards a common goal. They are looking really good, a coalition of strong strokes, excellent timing and a fast pace. “that’s rubbish paddling, I taught you better than that, put some effort in”.

Now here’s Torville and Dean, a mixed crew who have practiced endlessly together even through the snow and ice of February. They’re holding the wash of Sir Wandsfordleigh’s top crew and looking smooth and relaxed. Mr Stevens suppresses a look of pride and satisfaction “get your skates on you two” he hollers.

That’s the whole team through except Kourtney and Khloe (some parents and their stupid names). The girls have such a stylist paddle stroke, hardly causing a splash and certainly not raising a sweat, good speed though. “come along ladies, stop laughing, stop smiling and STOP SINGING” Do they have to wear those shocking pink hats, what’s wrong with the ex-commando skull caps he got for them?

The first timers

Colin and Graham offered to help Jake and Barney after the regular team went down with a dose of the trots (don’t ask!) Away from their computers, Xbox, PS2 and tablets, they only have their smart phones for security and the 4G coverage is rubbish.

They have absolutely no idea what to do, but they’re fast learners. OK, they messed up at Wotton Rivers but it’s not easy to decide between a Jaffa Cake and a Fig Roll so they eat both. Jake and Barney top-crew (JBTC) were a bit cross as they waited whilst TBST (top bank support team) unwrapped a sausage roll and it wasn’t their fault that it fell in the water.

The SatNav app got them to Crofton and although it was a bit of a walk from the car, TBST are ready with an array of top nosh all laid out on the bank. But why are JBTC running past, they don’t seem to want to paddle the short stretches of water between some of the locks?

TBST pile everything into a bag and set off in hot pursuit but JBTC are long gone by the time they get to the end. Key learning point: wait at the put-in point and not the get-out place.

TBST get back to the car and consult the DW-schedule app. They won’t make Great Bedwyn but they should be in time for Little Bedwyn.

Ha, no other support crew at Little Bedwyn only a DW Marshall in a hi-vis vest, he’ll be impressed that TBST made this portage their own. JBTC come storming into the portage and completely ignore TBST! “Are these your support team?” asks the Marshall “NO” says JBTC. “That’s good because this portage is out-of-bounds to DW support crews”

TBST slink back to their car. With renewed determination they plan for Hungerford. 4G coverage is strong and they phone the regular support team for advice.

Hungerford is a triumph. Colin waits at the get-out place and phones Graham as JBTC approaches and legs it to join him. The energy bar is unwrapped and a bite-sized piece is broken off. A new drink bottle is ready. JBTC get in the boat and TBST are straight in with replacement bottles and stuff the energy bar in the crews mouths.

Colin and Graham beam with pride and hit the high fives. “Nothing to this bank support lark and after all, we are the TBST. Onward to Dun Mill!”

More to come, no one is safe…:-)

“Dining out” on DW days two and three

During a training paddle from Pewsey Wharf to Wotton Rivers and back yesterday, I just mentioned to my mate (an 11 times DW finisher) about a DW feeding plan and he gave me his copy of “The complete Guide to Sports Nutrition – 6th edition” by Anita Bean. Seems like she’s rather good at this at this endurance sport lark (

Anyway, the style of the book is really good in terms of readability and it pretty much supports my earlier post about a DW feeding strategy.

The most surprising revelation is how much calorie intake is needed for the effort expended during the race and I’d be surprised if anyone has been able to meet their required needs mostly due to logistics. So it may be worth putting on a bit of fat before the race because you’re likely to need it.

There’s probably a reason why sports nutrition product manufactures use grams to measure carbohydrate values and sports nutritionists use calories, but 80 grams of carbohydrate is equivalent to about 320 calories.

Ms Bean declares that the basic metabolic rate (BMR) for a man is weight-in-kg multiplied by 24, and for the women the multiplier is 22. So for me it’s:

75 kgs x 24 = 1,800 calories/day

That’s just to maintain basic life support systems. You then apply a physical-activity-level (PAL) which is a value from 1.2 (fairly inactive) to 1.7 (exercise hard daily). Paddling is hard so I’ll use 1.7.

So my daily calorie need for racing is:

1,800 calories x 1.7 = 3,060 calories/day

The age of the paddler also has to be factored in as one’s BMR drops about 2% every decade so at 55, I’ll take that to mean:

5.5 (decades) x 2% = 11%. 11% of 3,060 = 337. 3,060 – 337 = 2,723 calories/day.

I’m going to take the ”day” as a seven hour paddling duration, so I’ll need 2,723 ÷ 7 = 389 calories/hour which equals about 93 grams of carbohydrates/hours. This is slightly higher than the original calculation using grams of carbohydrates but I did condense the whole day into seven hours.

This supports my energy need estimation although Megan and Isobel are significantly younger than me and probably burn fuel faster than a furnace.

This still leaves the issue of actually getting the food inside the paddlers, which brings me back to the portage analysis for days two and three.

So, looking at day two, Newbury to Longridge:

Feeding opportunities - day 2

Feeding opportunities – day 2

There are clearly some big gaps when the paddlers should be taking on fuel but the Bank Support can’t get to them. This means that the paddlers have to take responsibility for making sure they eat and we all know how reliable they are at doing that!!

It’s not quite as bad on day three Longridge to Teddington:

Feeding opportunities - day 3

Feeding opportunities – day 3

But that grim pound from Mosley to Teddington clearly stands out as issue. It seems to go on for ever and on an empty “tank”, it’ll seem even longer!

We will have to devise a system to make it easy for the paddler to quickly and easily grab a bite to eat during a paddling stretch.

Feeding and fluid replenishment strategy

In order to ensure an adequate amount of energy over the four race days it is important that the paddler consumes enough calories of the right foodstuffs for sustenance over the period. Easy enough, just keeping eating (and drinking)!

It may be just as simple as that and many athletes have successfully completed the race without any thought of a structured feeding plan and just used common sense, experience (not always) and perhaps a bit of luck. There’s nothing wrong with this and if it works for you then great. But I’ve read a number of blogs and talked to paddlers where DW competitors have suffered from not eating the right things often enough and some of this is the result of a casual, hit-and-miss approach to feeding.

One way to ensure that paddlers consume enough food to provide the calories necessary for fuel and energy is to make a simple plan of what they should be taking on, when and where. A written plan would be invaluable to inexperienced Bank Support teams who are often recruited at short notice prior to the race. They are full of enthusiasm and keen to help but need to be instructed on what to do and how to behave. They would be far more effective if they had clear and concise directions on which food to have ready and to ensure that the paddlers had at least the minimum when they meet at each portage.

This is especially important on the senior race. In the wee small hours of the morning, paddlers are sometimes reluctant and can refuse point-blank to eat. The feeding plan can be used as a “weapon” to force the paddlers to eat as they will have “signed-up to it”. If that fails, then direct violence is the only option!

If paddlers run out of fuel then they are in trouble and it’s hard to recover from that type of situation. Most endurance athletes will have experienced “hitting the wall” or “bonking” as we call it in the cycle sport world. (titter yeah not!) It’s a weird feeling, you are convinced that you’re putting in the effort but you don’t seem to making any progress.

“The simple explanation for its occurrence is that long-endurance exercise depletes the body’s store of glycogen, which produces the energy required to maintain performance. When the glycogen depletes entirely, the body has no more fuel and instead burns fat, resulting in a surge of fatigue and a performance collapse.” Source:

According to the Science in Sport (SiS) web site, a cyclist needs 60-80 grams of carbs with 500-1000ml liquid per hour as cycling is prone to sweating. I would suggest that canoeing is a harder effort than cycling (unless going uphill) because there is no opportunity to free-wheel so I’ll use the 80 grams upper threshold.

In April we are not likely to be sweating much (although that is not guaranteed), so it’s a case of taking on enough fluid to maintain hydration but not too much that you require the loo too often. This balance can only be determined through experience as we all sweat differently and we hope to use the Waterside series to set a benchmark, but I’ll use 500 ml as a guide.

Carbohydrate is the best source of energy for endurance events and a guideline as to the amount of carbs delivered by certain food products is:

• A 65g SiS GO Energy Bar contains about 40 grams of carbohydrate.
• A 50g Sachet of SiS GO Energy delivers about 36 grams of carbohydrate per 500 ml serving.
• A SiS GO Isotonic Gel contains about 20 grams of carbohydrate.
• 36g of Jelly Babies (about 6 pieces) contains about 28 grams of carbohydrate.
• A medium size banana has about 23 grams of carbohydrate.
• Homemade marmite sandwich, 2 rounds of white bread plus margarine has about 30 grams of carbohydrate.

To create a combination of food stuffs in sufficient quantity to meet the 80 grams/hour requirement seems quite easy, but you have to consider how long it takes from eating and digestion, to the time it is actually converted to useable fuel to ensure it “kicks-in” when you expect and there are no “gaps”. Basically simple carbohydrates are converted quickly whilst complex carbohydrates are more “slow burning”. So there doesn’t seem much point eating complex carbohydrates in the last hour because by the time they are converted to energy, the race is over.

I have devised a simple schematic of a feeding plan. I’m not saying it’s right because I haven’t tested it, but if I can set something up based on science and logic rather than guess work, I at least have a formal starting point to make managed changes based on testing and analysis.

The timeline is for a single seven hour effort broken down into the minimum 80 grams of carbs and the type of carbs required per hour.

Minimum fuel requirement

Minimum fuel requirement

The rationale behind this is:

• Normal high complex-carbohydrate food the night before (pasta, baked potato, rice etc).
• Nothing pre-start due to nerves!
• Minimum 80 grams carbohydrates per hour. At least one energy bar and up to half litre of fluid plus anything else.
• Flip to electrolyte drink in hour three to break monotony, re-hydrate and replenish trace electrolytes.
• Change from bars to gels for the last two hours for faster energy return.
• Caffeine gel in last hour to get final boost before finish.
• Water in the last hour if the paddler is sick of additives!
• Recovery shake straight after paddling plus protein bars.
• Back to normal food to prepare for the next day.

Ideally food should be taken frequently in small amounts to maintain a constant flow of fuel. But the main logistical constraint is the challenge of getting access to the paddler at the portages.

Consider day one of DW, Devizes to Newbury, 35 portages in 34 miles. So that’s one portage per mile isn’t it? NO! There are no portages for the first 15 miles (but there are bridges) and that’s nearly three hours. Some of the locks are so close together they are considered a single portage and those that can be supported are infrequent and not evenly spaced apart.

So based on a 5 mile/hour speed, the number of times a vehicle-based Bank Support team can get to the paddler is:

The left scale is miles and the right scale is hours. Each access point is named plus the distance into the race.

Feeding opportunities

Feeding opportunities

It isn’t many. So the majority of the calorie intake will be through fluid as this is what the paddler can access the easiest whilst paddling through a drinking system.

There is a limit to what the paddler can eat, will want to eat, or have time to eat at the portages where there can be supported. This can be supplemented with paddler self-support but they must be “trusted” to take on nourishment.

On day two there are about 10 access points over 36 miles and on day three about 9 over 38 miles assuming that the Bank Support can get timely access. Obviously the tideway on day four has no access points.

The point of this narrative is to illustrate how important it is to have a feeding strategy with contingency plans to mitigate the potential risks if a feeding stop is missed or the paddler’s performance starts to drop as an indication of fuel starvation.

My plan is to support the paddlers by bike and attempt to feed little and often.

The loneliness of the long distance paddler

So what is going to be the main differences from the K2 Waterside and DW experience they both have, to paddling a C1?

Having completed two Waterside series in a C1 and a DW to Teddington myself, I have first-hand knowledge of the sort of things they can expect.

Well first off, obviously you’re on your own. This doesn’t sound a big deal because they are so many competitors on the four day race that isolation isn’t usually an issue. On the canal section the portages are at short, regular intervals and there are bank support crews at most of them.

But you do miss a crew mate. Someone who’s going through what you are. Someone who can pull you through the inevitable low points to which you can reciprocate. It is a special relationship which bonds two paddlers into a team focussed on a common goal. You probably wouldn’t lay down your life for them but you’d definitely kill for them!!

"Billy no-mates!"

“Billy no-mates!”

As with any endurance sport, we all adopt our own unique idiosyncratic coping techniques. There are some athletes who are acutely aware of their surroundings and to what is going on. They appreciate the scenery and observe everything in real-time and can relate a lot of it at the end, what they saw, heard, smelt and how they felt at the time. They can replay lots of little instances which can make a seemingly routine paddle seem quite exciting.

Others tend to withdraw into their own world and shutoff the outside and lose awareness. I’ve been passed by K1 paddlers who are in an almost mesmerised state and just focussed on the rhythm of their stroke. If you speak to them they are almost “woken up”.

I tend to fluctuate between the two. On a long stretch I “shutdown” and quite honestly Kylie could be standing naked on the bankside and I wouldn’t notice! As I approach a portage (especially those on the Thames) I become totally focussed getting it right and wasting as little time and energy as possible, but two seconds after putting-in and pushing-off “brain bleach” has kicked in and I’d struggle to remember much about it.

On the long stretches of the Thames you tend to look forward to seeing your bank support crew a little more eagerly and feel a bit let-down on those locks that they can’t get to. On the remote portages I self-support and give myself a little treat from a squirrelled away tit-bit. “Who needs bank support anyway?”, though I’m looking forward to seeing them soon!

The next issue is that as a solo paddler and especially in C1, you are out on the water for a longer period. Isobel and Megan are used to completing the WS D or DW day 1 in considerably less than six hours in their K2, this will probably be extended beyond seven in the C1, it’s a long time.

So what? Well it means that the end-to-end approach to event preparation, execution and recovery needs to be adapted to get the best out of the race as the way you used to do it may not be the most appropriate. Nothing should be left to chance and likely scenarios should be planned for and communicated to the whole support team and indeed the paddler so that everyone knows what to expect and how to react.

This can help the Bank Support respond better to the needs of the solo paddler. With long periods of solo paddling small irritations, aches and pains have a habit of escalating out of proportion when one starts really a bit sorry for one’s self. This may sound a bit wimpy but endurance events are as much about the mind as the body. I’ve seen paddlers give the Bank Support a right roasting and they hadn’t even done anything wrong!

Every soldier is constantly reminded of the 7 Ps: “Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. OK we’re not going to war but it’s just as relevant for endurance sporting events. Much more of this later.

But there are benefits too. A C1 paddler will inevitably attract attention and a female one even more so as there are not usually many in the race! You do tend to get a lot of encouragement from on-lookers on the bank, bank support teams and especially other competitors. There is a special bond on the dark side and comments from C2 crews are particularly inspiring plus the light hearted banter with the kayakers.

Canoeists do tend to get less wet than kayakers as the paddle is switched across in front of the paddler thus avoiding the splashing, dripping and spray caused by kayak paddles going like windmills, it’s all so undignified! It is possible for the canoeist to keep their hands dry and the single bladed carbon paddle is significantly lighter.

In really cold weather you can’t use poggies because of the need to switch hands, but it is possible to use gloves. Obviously you do lose a degree of empathy with the paddle but you don’t need to constantly feather it as you do with a kayak and keep one hand wet to help lubricate the twisting action of the shaft.

So it will be interesting to see how Isobel and Megan adapt to meet the challenge and any particular methods they develop on the dark side.

Megan’s paddling past

Megan is based in Cornwall and trains mostly on the River Fowey. Her move into the sport of canoe racing started at an early age.

What are you earliest canoeing memories?

Discovering paddle sport when I was 12 years old saved and made my life. Sounds dramatic but it’s true, during a sad period, paddling gave me the most wonderful friends, memories and experiences I could ever imagine. It has given me the opportunity to feel free and totally be myself out on the open water racing against the elements, as well as a tremendous sense of challenge and achievement.

It’s a sport I love and will never be without. After completing DW for the first time in 2008 (the year of the blizzard) I felt invincible and was instantly addicted. After the race my coach and K2 partner Brian Greenaway said “Now’s the time you say never again” a couple of people instantly said “Never again!” but I knew I’d be back and just smiled and kept quiet.

How did you first get into canoeing?

A friend of mine told me she had been to a few sessions at Fowey River Canoe Club, based in Gollant on the River Fowey, south coast of Cornwall. I had never been in a kayak before let alone seen a wobbly racing boat, but I thought it sounded fun so I went to have a go as well.

The friend didn’t keep it up very long but I went back every week for the rest of the summer, soon competing in my first lightening race (for under 12’s) which I won. I loved the buzz of racing and winning the first sporting medal of my life (other than the primary school sports day skipping race!).

I was in awe at the faster paddlers in the club who were at the time starting off in marathon division 9 (now those people are in the top racing divisions 1 & 2). Over the winter I continued to paddle a little so when the next summer arrived I was ready to race in real divisions and start training properly.

How did you progress?

Fowey River CC had connections with a club in Penzance who specialized in canoe polo and surf kayaking both of which I tried and really enjoyed, but nothing compared to the athletic marathon and sprint.

We joined the people from Penzance in the summer of 2007 for what would be my first long distance paddle. Twelve sea kayaks set off from their club at Penzance harbour and we paddled for 2 days and 68 miles around the coast, camping overnight on a hidden beach near the Lizzard, to finish at Fowey River CC in Gollant.

After this trip I decided I would love to paddle the English Channel, however it didn’t happen because one of the coaches told me that we had been put on the waiting list just so I would stop asking (I waited for a year before learning there was no such list).

What’s it like to paddle on the Fowey?

Fowey River Canoe Club is located on probably one of the most beautiful estuaries to have a racing kayak club in the country.

There are so many different sections and places to explore. Head upstream for narrow bends and fast flow at Lostwithiel or under the bridge in the picturesque village of Lerryn. Paddling downstream takes you to many more creeks, Fowey Harbour and the sea.

All these places provide very varied water conditions for training, we often take our K1’s out to sea or into the harbour for some waves! The estuary is tidal so fast flow is always to be contended with and can get very fun/scary with wind against tide and can get busy with motor and sailing boats in the summer.

…… be continued.

Meagn - ready to take on DW 2014

Megan – ready to take on DW 2014

A bit about Isobel.

We’ve all got our story of when, why and how we started canoeing as a sport and I was interested to know a bit more about Isobel’s paddling history.

So what got you started in canoeing?

It’s a bit of a weird story, but my Dad and I were walking next to a river and we saw some paddlers doing white water “that looks fun!” we said, and the next thing I knew I was on the water completing a one star canoeing course at Wokingham Waterside Centre!

After that, my sister Naomi and I decided that paddling was something we wanted to continue so we joined Basingstoke canal canoe club. we quickly found that going as fast as possible in narrow boats was our preferred canoe discipline!

Who were your main influencers?

Charles Hicks, Richard Somerset and Brian Gandy were very influential in getting me into paddling and I am eternally grateful for their encouragement.

I still remember the time I paddled Richard into the willow tree! We used to train in the evenings in K2s on the canal and we paddled straight into it because it was dark! The best sessions were when we were paddling back and ice started to form on the boat, our clothes and as a thin layer on the canal, it was just really weird to think it was actually that cold when we had got warm after paddling!

Brian gave me the first technique tips and taught me wash hanging, and helped me enter my first lightning races. I remember when we had just come off the water after Pangbourne Hasler and Brian was discussing the possibility of going up to the Nationals! It was so exciting!

Charles was really encouraging; I remember him running along the towpath in front of us on Waterside B and showing us where to get in at a portage. We also did a paddle to the local pub from his house. Some years later Jason, Mike, Kathryn, Naomi and I were paddling past his house and ran in to get biscuits!

What sort of canoeing have you done?

Well mostly flat water, but with a few deviations into white water and sea kayaking. I went to France with B3C (Basingstoke canal canoe club) on a white water trip, it was really sunny so didn’t matter when we fell in!

I also went on a sea kayaking trip with the club when I was 14 around Old Harrys Rock, which again was really sunny!

Last year, Megan, Giel , Ryan and I went on a sea kayaking trip where we paddled from Fowey to a secluded beach and camped overnight.

What other types of water have you paddled on?

Training on the canal at Basingstoke, also the River Wey and the Thames at Elmbridge. In Denmark I paddled huge, massive lakes during the Tour De Gudena.

You clearly enjoy competition; tell us about some of the most memorable races.

The first race I ever did was the Basingstoke Hasler Race in lightning’s when I was 11. I think I came 4th, but mainly I remember having loads of fun! There is nothing quite like racing on the canal! All the boats around you, clashing paddles and random washes!

I have gained a few national titles, but the one I am most proud of was when I was 16 and Naomi and I ended up winning. It was the best as we were on the podium with our closest paddling friends. Megan and Marthe had second and Kathryn and Becca had third.

The first Junior development trip I went on was the Loire trip when I was 14. It was so exciting because the river got shallow in places so you could run aground!

Then Tour De Geduna is probably the best junior development trip I have been on. It was an amazing place to paddle, the lakes were huge and at the end of the lakes were tiny canals leading into much bigger lakes. It was so alien to anything Naomi and I had ever paddled on so was really fun and exciting! One of the best things about it was Naomi and I were in K2 together- in Tim[Muller] and Fred[Reif]’s k2 in which they had paddled DW so many times! We came third in the junior ladies category which I was pleased with as we had capsized twice!

Another junior development trip I went on was the Gent Marathon, which I was lucky enough to go on three times. I won it the third time, with Naomi coming second behind me.

I have completed three DW’s:

– The first one I was just 16. Naomi and I wanted to do it as a challenge but we didn’t realise how addictive it would be! We paddled to third overall and won the ladies.

– The second DW I hit my head on a low bridge and got concussion! We came second by 40 seconds. It was so exciting to be part of such a close fought race and was a privilege to be that close to Amoret [King] and Amelia [Churnside], who I aspired to be like.

– The third DW was with Megan. We won the ladies again, but I really struggled on the tideway which bought the overall time down.

Which of your results are you most proud?

The main ones are:

– Waterside records, (19 waterside mugs!) [NICK: I am lucky enough to have two.]
– 5 times winner of the ladies waterside series with Naomi
– Won DW twice
– Won the Nationals K2 in under 16, and gained 4 other national titles
– Third in the Tour de Geduna with Naomi
– Won Gent marathon (Another development trip)

Waterside winners commemorative mugs

Waterside winners commemorative mugs

Which canoe clubs have you paddled for?

I paddle for Basingstoke canal canoe club but train at Wey to take advantage of the heated floor!

You’re nineteen, have been competing since you were eleven and have enjoyed considerable success, what are you paddling objectives for the future?

My personal objectives have never changed and they are simply to have fun!

I’m hoping that Isobel will also have fun on the dark side and you can keep up with her progress on her blog at:

DW 2014; bring it on!

Isobel and The Darkness

Isobel and The Darkness

Megan Middleton paddles on the dark side.

Megan lives in Cornwall but was visiting Isobel for a few days and I took this opportunity to meet her at Wey Kayak Club for a test paddle. I was now aware that Megan and Isobel knew each other, in fact it was Megan that originally brought the C1 DW opportunity to Isobel’s attention. I still hadn’t realised that they had paddled DW 2013 together in a K2.

Anyway, they both got changed and Isobel decided to accompany Megan on the water in a K1. Now if that had been me and my mate was watching me paddle a C1 for the first time and they had already successfully done the same, I would have felt somewhat under pressure, not so Megan it seemed.

Again we started with kayak blades but before Megan had put the boat on the water she had shouldered it and was asking what was the best grip for running a portage!

Based on previous feedback from Isobel, I has already put the high seat in as I didn’t think stability would be an issue and so it proved as Megan sprinted up and down a few times and then glided in to the side to swap paddles.

Megan showing The Darkness who's boss.

Megan showing The Darkness who’s boss.

Without a moment’s hesitation she launched the boat into the stream and was sitting and switching like a pro. OK not quite that good to start with but with a look of concentration she experimented paddle grip, blade entry and power stroke.

Megan comes over to the dark side

Megan comes over to the dark side

As Isobel was also on the water in a K1, I had the opportunity to see a direct comparison.

Told you it was easy!!

Told you it was easy!!

It’s no wonder that they didn’t have any stability problems, look what they are used to paddling!

Megan C1, Isobel K1

Megan C1, Isobel K1

The production boats were at last ready on Friday 13th December and as Megan had accepted my invitation to paddle C1, I arranged to meet her at Roadford Lake near Launceston in Cornwall the next day where she had entered a race.

Saturday and it was blowing a gale. I’d had a late night drilling the seat fixings, fitting a footrest, buoyancy and affixing the stickers but I left at 11:30 to meet Megan after her race at 14:30. I stopped several times just to check that the boat wasn’t going to blow off and then received a phone call to say that the event had been cancelled due to the high winds and risks to safety.

We agreed to meet anyway and hand over the boat so I arrived at the watersports centre at Roadford lake and no sign of Megan and she was not picking up her mobile. Eventually she appeared having taken the opportunity to join a training paddle on the very lake on which the race event had been cancelled due to safety concerns!

There was no point in trying to put the boat on the water due to fading light and “the dangerous conditions”….ha!

Megan's new boat

Megan’s new boat

So we took a few pictures and put the boat on Megan’s V rack. I noticed that the passenger seat had been reclined almost horizontal to make way for a surf board, “so you surf as well?” I asked, “I live in Cornwall, everyone surfs”.

I went through the same questions I’d asked Isobel about training, nutrition and DW organisation coming away with the opinion that a little more structure may add some value. “So, if you live in Cornwall, when do you get the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the portages?”. “I have actually done the Waterside and the DW a few times”. If I’d have done my research earlier I would have known, Megan: 2 – Nick: 0.

Both boats are now allocated and handed over to two women athletes who have the utmost confidence in their own ability and from what I have seen and what I now know, have an excellent chance of making it to Westminster later this year. Let’s see what happens in the next 104 days.

Welcome to the dark side Isobel Smith

Isobel was one of the respondents to my web forum appeal for lady paddlers for DW 2014.

We arranged to meet at Dreadnought Reach on the Thames at Reading during lunchtime in order that she could see the boat and conduct a test paddle to ascertain if she was comfortable with it.

It was raining so I popped the boat into the Marsport shop (thanks Paul and Craig) and waited for her to arrive which she duly did all changed and ready to paddle, accompanied by her dad, also an accomplished paddler from Basingstoke Canal Canoe Club.

I started to explain the subtle intricacies of the boat and point out some of the fascinating design detail but it was clear from her body language that she just wanted to get onto the water so that’s what we did.

Isobel - burning it up with kayak blades

Isobel – burning it up with kayak blades

Isobel hadn’t paddled on the dark side before so we started off with kayak blades just to get used to the boat. (Did I mention that the boat was a hybrid?) There was no hesitation, no doubt, no ceremony, she just paddled off into the distance. It was the same when we swapped to the single bladed paddle, a seamless transition.

Isobel - is it harder than it looked?

Isobel – is it harder than it looked?

It was a strange feeling watching someone else paddling “my” boat and with such confidence too, she could have at least pretended to have some stability concerns. She even chased after a passing cruiser to get on the wash. At 20 kgs lighter than me (3 stone in “old money”) there is significantly less wetted area.

I waited at the pontoon at the end of the session and watched her approach with a big grin on her face, “that was fun” she said. FUN! It suddenly hit me that I’d become so involved with development, design and manufacture of the boat, I’d completely forgotten the fundamental reason why we paddle in the first place and I was grateful to be reminded.

As I had to go away on business for a few days, I left the boat with her and included an additional high seat. She wasted no time sticking it in thus raising the centre of balance by another 5 cms and found it more comfortable to paddle with.

It was some weeks later that we met again to hand over the new boat after she’d agreed to accept the challenge and come over to the dark side for DW 2014.

Isobel - first time in the new boat (must do soemthing about that hat!)

Isobel – first time in the new boat (must do something about that hat!)

Part of the “deal” is to help me raise the profile of the boat in the lead-up to the event and I’ve started to design some bespoke canoeing clothing complete with Darkside Canoes branding to support photographs and filming.

Isobel's new boat

Isobel’s new boat

To help select garments which a.) the paddlers would wear and b.) would be comfortable to paddle in, I wanted to find out what sort of clothing options she usually choose, in fact I also wanted to know all about Isobel’s approach to canoeing and subjected the poor girl to an “interrogation” about all aspects of coaching, training, bank support, clothing, foot wear, nutrition, recovery, fluid intake, portaging and general race logistics.

After 10 years as a marathon runner and a racing cyclist for the last 15 years, I’ve learnt a huge amount (and made countless mistakes) about sustaining energy levels and comfort over long periods in endurance events and have tested many different approaches and options. I am hoping to bring some of this experience over to our 2014 DW endeavour through a structured feeding plan and to exploit the clothing layering system adopted by cyclists for changing weather conditions, temperatures and increasing fatigue.

In my opinion, competitive cycling has made more progress in the last 10 years in some comparable areas (and I don’t include doping in that!) than canoeing as it is a far bigger sport and I think canoeing could benefit, but much more of this later.

So, Isobel has the boat and 104 days left (according to the DW web site) to develop an efficient sit&switch paddling style.