Team Darkside Canoes – training day

Well we didn’t paddle Waterside A, but we did get together for a training session and had a really fun day. (I’m starting to get the hang of this fun lark!)

Anyway, all the branded clothing turned up just in time for a team photo call so we all met as Isobel’s house for a “serious” planning meeting prior to going out on the water.

Megan and Isobel had just returned from a cultural tour of Amsterdam earlier in the day and seemed somewhat jaded from all the museum tours and architectural appreciation walks. No, I wasn’t aware that the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in the world, but hey, wait until I tell all the lads at the pub!

We discussed how training was going, the layered clothing plan and my ideas for a feeding strategy, all based on logic, research and sound analysis. I proudly produced a selection of sports energy bars, gels and drink additives which I have used extensively myself, and invited the girls to try them during training. However, it was not quite received with the unbounded enthusiasm I’d envisaged. Apparently athletes are quite particular about what they consume whilst racing and each item was inspected with suspicion and the list of ingredients examined in detail.

We still have time to reach a consensus on nutrition, but “you can lead a canoeist to an energy bar, but you can’t make them eat”! I think I may have to make considerable compromises.

Megan and Isobel got changed into the new gear and we drove down to Mytchet where we posed for some team photos.

Two elite paddlers and an old bloke.

Two elite paddlers and an old bloke.

Can we get on the water now?

Can we get on the water now?

Eventually we got on the water and I was keen to see Isobel and Megan in action.

Let's do it.

Let’s do it.

It was clear almost from their first paddle strokes that they had the measure of the boat, absolutely no hesitation or uncertainty. A strong and powerful application of the paddle soon had The Darkness skimming along to the point that we almost lost contact with my son who was trying to keep up, running along the bank taking photos.

It felt really good paddling together in our Darkside livery and my confidence soared for our prospects at DW as we moved into a comfortable cruising speed.

The Darkness on the move

The Darkness on the move

It was the first time I’d seen The Darkness being paddled by someone else from the water and I was pleased with the way it performed.

On route to Westminster

On route to Westminster

So we were paddling along at quite apace and then the girls boats came together momentarily. I saw this as an opportunity to make a break and started a racing commentary about an Olympic final and I was about to win gold. Suddenly the mood changed and I witnessed raw and uncompromising competitive spirit as the girls immediately responded, driving the paddle into the water and overhauling my boat as we approached the portage.

The next surprise was that they simply would not yield to each other and contested the portage right up to the lock gate, neither was prepared to let the other get an advantage! They may be good friends on the bank, but offered a sniff of a contest and their racing instinct subconsciously kicks in……………….wow!

Catch me if you can.....oh, you can!

Catch me if you can…..oh, you can!

We also took some video footage and I’ve knocked up an early compilation at the following link:

video link

A good day, great fun and a massive step forward.

Our next target is Waterside A or is it B, no it’s B on the A course. See you in two weeks and don’t get in their way!!


Waterside A cancellation, a huge disappointment

Thanks to the instant communication capabilities of web based social media, the canoeing community were made aware of the cancellation of “Waterside A” very soon after the decision was taken and judging by the reaction there are some very disappointed paddlers including myself.

Based only 15 miles from Newbury I have paddled that section of the K&A regularly over the years so I know how the water levels rise and fall according to recent rainfall within the area mostly by the level of the boat compared with the height of the banks at the portages.

During the recent (and continuing) period of incessant rainfall I have seen the levels rise to those I’ve never seen before and have enjoyed paddling from Great Bedwyn to Newbury achieving my personal best time. The current from Kintbury to Dreweats is particularly welcome and the last lock at Newbury is very exciting.

Even though the outfalls are sucking large volumes of water out of the canal into the River Kennet and contributing equally significant volumes where it rejoins the K&A, at no time have I ever felt uneasy and in my opinion it is a very safe journey for the paddler. There have been a couple of instances where a boat has found its way down an outfall but it isn’t anything like the weirs on the Thames, as the water quickly disperses mostly over fields.

Quite honestly if competitors are reticent about paddling the K&A in these conditions, what chance will they stand on the Thames? Probably best to consider sprinting instead!!

So, if the conditions pose little or no threat to the paddler, why was it cancelled? I suspect it is mostly due to the organisation and logistics of bank support.

I know Waterside and DW is only once a year and we do try to ingratiate ourselves with the local community, but the arrival of a considerable number of people and vehicles at the same time in the same place does impose quite an impact on the local roads and the banks of the K&A and this time both the roads and the canal banks are flooded.

I took a few photographs on Saturday 8th February whilst doing a course recce:

This is the road to Marsh Benham, 10″ deep.

Road from A4 to Marsh Benham

Road from A4 to Marsh Benham

This is Hampstead lock. You can see where the water has destroyed the concrete which is now piled up by the lock.

Hampstead Lock

Hampstead Lock

This is the tow path from Copse to Hampstead. The canal is literally overflowing!

Tow path from Copse to Hampstead

Tow path from Copse to Hampstead

This is the outfall just downstream from Marsh Benham where the Kennet meets the canal. OK it’s a bit more powerful than usual but easily avoidable.

Kennet Outfall - downstream from Hamstead (Marsh Benham)

Kennet Outfall – downstream from Hamstead (Marsh Benham)

This is the other side of it. Best avoided!

The other side of the outfall

The other side of the outfall

I do sympathise with the organisers and I know it is not an easy decision to take, but at least they have let people know in good time and are at this moment, meeting to consider alternatives. I remember being in a similar position a few years back when as the organiser of a cycle time trail, I had to stand up in a packed village hall and announce to 300 riders that the event they were waiting to start was cancelled. I was struck off a few Christmas card lists that year.

This is also a bitter blow to my carefully laid plans for my new sit&switch C1 to make its first appearance at a competitive event. I guess The Darkness will have to stay out of the light for a little longer

DW 2014 fashion. What the best dressed paddler is wearing.

Getting clothing right for DW is a challenge mostly due to the unpredictability of the British weather. This isn’t helped due to Easter not being at the same time each year. As such, the intrepid paddler and their faithful Bank Support crew need to be prepared for every eventuality and adapt in real-time if and when the situation changes to ensure the canoeist doesn’t get too hot, cold or wet and is able to remain comfortable and competitive.

Often the day starts out cold, possibility frosty with an annoying little breeze which chills the fingers. Then paddlers get warmed up, the sun makes a welcome appearance, the breeze drops and it can almost be a pleasant Spring day. Later the clouds may build and we are treated to a rain shower, a little sleet and possibly some hail just to finish it off. As the late afternoon moves into the evening, the temperature starts to drop.

If a paddler gets too warm, they need more fluid, too cold and they burn calories trying to keep warm, too wet and they can become uncomfortable, miserable and cold (and cross!).

So how can a clothing system be defined which will cope with all these demands? A layer approach is clearly the best solution. This has been popular in most adventure sports for some years and there are some amazing “integrated layer systems” which work really well but are jolly expensive.

But the principles are straight forward allowing the athlete to choose the type of garments which are appropriate, affordable, comfortable and don’t make their bum look big!

As a racing cyclist I’ve amassed more outfits than Cindy over the years and cyclist have a huge wardrobe to choose from for every type of racing, weather, terrain and conditions. The big pockets on the back of cycling jerseys bulge with arm warmers, leg warmers, knee warmers, gilet, wind proof top, waterproof top, gloves, over-shoes and ear-hole warmers and a mobile phone (to beg for collection if it becomes too nasty!).

M.A.M.I.L. in action!

M.A.M.I.L. in action!

As a fully signed-up member of M.A.M.I.L. (middle aged men in lycra) I can personally vouch for the versatility of the fabric and I use similar garments whilst canoeing.

For this DW and Waterside, I have designed a number of clothing items based on typical cycling attire into what I hope will be an affective layer solution for Megan and Isobel.

Base Layer

As this is next to one’s skin it is very much a personal choice. However, it needs to be close fitting and have good wicking qualities to promote removal of sweat away from the skin to the outside of the garment where it evaporates quickly. I’ve started using compression tops which squeeze the torso in specific places to aid blood circulation around the muscles. It is also very good at flattening ones tummy!

Mid Layer

This helps trap a layer of warm air within the base layer and I have defined an option for warm weather and one for the cold. The warm option is a short sleeve lycra cycle top made by a German company; owayo custom sports. They are close fitting with a three quarter zipped front.

Darkside short sleeve top

Darkside short sleeve top

The pockets in the back are for fluid and emergency rations.

The cold weather option is a long sleeve lycra top but with a fleecy lining.

Darkside long sleeve top

Darkside long sleeve top

This also has some big pockets at the back. It can go over the short sleeve top if necessary.

Top Layer

The top layer is the weather proof one, something to keep out the wind and rain or both.

These wind jackets have a full length zip which enables them to be put on or taken off very quickly and will also go over a buoyancy aid.

Darkside wind jackets

Darkside wind jackets

They do have a small zipped pocket.

The option for rain at the moment is a gilet. As a sleeveless garment it should not impede paddling too much and should keep the majority of the rain out. I did suggest an umbrella but surprisingly this was not enthusiastically supported.


Let’s not forget the legs and I’ve opted for winter paddle leggings from Flatwater Essentials. Close fitting, comfortable and very warm.

Darkside leggings

Darkside leggings


I’m leaving this up to Isobel and Megan but I see the need for a peaked cap if it’s sunny, fleecy warm hat for the cold and wet, and perhaps an ear warmer for in-between. However I do put my foot down on any hat which has kayak branding!


Seventy seven portages across the four days, ranging from a short dash around a canal lock to the long run at Croftons. The mud at Fobney, the bridge run at Marsh and slippy rollers at Sunbury, Molesey and Teddington to name but a few. Ideally shoes equivalent to the multi functionality of a Swiss army knife are required.

The Darkness footrest

The Darkness footrest

The choice for kayak paddlers is somewhat restricted as they have to get their feet under the deck and need to be able to feel the tiller bar (except the rear K2 paddler of course). A lot of racers opt for bare feet so they can really emphasise with the boat through the footrest. This is fine but you do get cold feet and risk injury on the portages.

A canoe has an open cockpit so feet size is not really an issue.

In my opinion the ideal compromise is the minimal running shoes which are quite popular at the moment. I don’t mean the ones with the individual toes, but the shoes with very little cushioning and support, with a good grip sole and a mesh upper. Trouble is they are so expensive.

So, in summary we have a top-to-toe clothing strategy using lessons learnt from competitive cycling. Let’s see how it works in “the field”.

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.