Tag Archives: canoeing

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: Bikeradar.com

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.

DW 2014 – bring it on!

The DW 2014 is the first opportunity to test the boat under real marathon race conditions. DW is considered to be the hardest canoe race in the world. It is not the longest but it is certainly one of the most arduous and dangerous.

125 miles from Devizes to Westminster Bridge along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Reading where it meets the river Thames and onwards to London. 77 portages around locks and weirs where paddlers pick the boat from the water and run with it to the embarkation point.

One particular portage at Croftons poses a dilemma. A number of locks are so close together some competitors feel it is quicker to run the entire mile and a half rather than paddle the short canal sections between. Again this depends on the weather especially the strength and direction of the wind.

The unpredictable vagaries of the British weather makes the Easter date for the race a complete lottery which is why comparing the finish times between two different years is not a true reflection of performance. The annuals of DW folklore is littered with stories of frozen canals, thick fog, strong winds, driving rain, ice and sub-zero temperatures and even snow to a warm, balmy day.

The second major factor is the water conditions. Clearly the volume of recent rain fall has a determining impact on the water level in the Kenneth and Avon canal and the speed of flow on the river Thames and this has a huge influence on race times.

Some years after a particularly dry Spring, the flow on the Thames is glacially slow affording very little assistance to the paddler. The water is low which increases the height of the banks at the portages making it slower and more arduous getting in and out of the boat.

Other years after sustained rainfall the speed of flow increases and so does the volume of water going over the weirs on the Thames causing challenging currents and rapids. It is a foolhardy paddler who has failed to familiarise themselves with the weirs and risks the wrong approach to the portage on the wrong side of the river.

The weir at Marlow

The weir at Marlow


No one has died on the race (yet) but some paddlers have lost their lives during training and a number of boats have gone over the weirs, chewed up and spat out downstream. Only once has the race been abandoned after it had started, the year in which the record was beaten. Unfortunately the time didn’t count.

Boulters weir

Boulters weir


The last seventeen miles is on the tidal section of the Thames, “the tideway”. The journey on this part of the race all depends on the time of day as this determines the amount of river traffic. No one is permitted to paddle the tideway on an incoming tide, but the speed of flow does change as the tide flows out from high water.

Large boats on the tideway cause a big wash from the bow which can swamp a kayak or canoe and even cause it to capsize. Even when safely over the main wash, the waves are refracted from the vertical sides of the river, meet other waves and create very choppy water. If you are unfortunate to capsize, it is sometimes a long swim with the boat to the side and a convenient place to empty is hard to find.

So, the boat will have to cope with a variety of conditions and demands from the paddler.

Clearly the light weight of the boat will be a bonus on portages. The low profile will reduce wind resistance and also enable the paddler to negotiate some of the very low foot bridges over the canal. The open cockpit makes getting in and out quick and easy.

The sleek, slim hull with zero rocker should make the boat fast and the gunwales and spray decks should cope with choppy water conditions.

Ideally we need sustained rainfall until a week before Good Friday. Then warm winds to dry the muddy banks at the portages. After that, four days of overcast mild weather with a slight tail wind and then for the Thames “boaties” to have a long lie-in on Easter Monday. I think this is all quite reasonable!

That only leaves one last “minor” consideration………the paddler.

The Darkness – in detail

So what’s going to help propel these women to glory in Westminster at Easter 2014?

The Darkness - racing sit&switch C1

The Darkness – racing sit&switch C1

The first consideration was the weight of the boat. With umpteen portages in a typical marathon and the 77 which have to be negotiated during DW, it is important that the boat is as light as possible to make this easy. So much time can be lost on portages while the paddler picks the boat out of the water, runs the length of the portage and re-introduces the boat to water prior to embarkation.

The Darkness weighs 8 kgs including seat and buoyancy and is quick and easy to get in and out. It also has a comfortable and secure place to grip on the inside of the gunwales.

Carrying grip

Carrying grip

All boat surfaces were considered for reduction especially the parts which are above the water line. As a canoe doesn’t have the benefit of a rudder, it is up to the paddler to compensate for side winds which attempt to turn the boat towards the wind direction in a similar fashion to a weather cock, hence the term “weather cocking”. So the deck area is low profile.

The Darkness - side profile

The Darkness – side profile

Straight line tracking is also an important consideration to reduce the number of times the paddler has to switch the paddle to the other side of the boat in order to maintain the intended direction. The Darkness has zero rocker along the length of its hull thus providing excellent directional stability.

The seating and paddler position is crucial to provide a firm, efficient and ergonomic paddling platform. An adjustable solid platform which supports a moulded foam seat, is fixed with four stainless steel bolts and wing nuts between two parallel rails.

Seat platform configuration

Seat platform configuration

It is 7 cms high from the bottom of the boat. Different sizes, shapes and heights of foam seat can be fitted between the upright seat supports which should be able to cater for most people’s “foundations”.

Cockpit

Cockpit

The seat solution also enables a different foam seat to be used during various stages of the DW. For example, a high seat can be used for the canal section where the water is flat and still. The height allows more leverage on the paddle but it does render the boat less stable as the centre of gravity is higher.

A lower seat may be appropriate for the tideway where the paddler may encounter large washes from the Thames boat traffic plus the refracted waves from the vertical sides of the river.

An adjustable footrest is fitted consisting of two aluminium square profile tubes inside each other to provide a telescopic cross member secured on two rails with stainless steel bolts and wing nuts. It is covered with skateboard grip tape to prevent the paddler’s feet slipping along it.

Footrest and front thwart

Footrest and front thwart

The front thwart provides a really firm and well positioned bar to help the paddler get out of the boat and to lower themselves onto the seat during embarkation. It is wrapped with racing cycle handlebar tape for warmth, comfort and good grip.

Buoyancy is afforded by a 12 litre Palm Infinity airbag in the stern and a 35 lire bag in the bow.

The front deck has quite a steep angle to allow a good sweeping arc for when the paddle is switched from one side to the other and to dispel water if a wave washes over the bow. It rises to meet a flange which forms the gunwale along the top of the entire open cockpit.

Front deck profile

Front deck profile

As well as dispelling water, it also enables the use of spray decks. An ICF compliant open cockpit must be at least 2.4 metres long and the gunwales must not extend in towards the boat greater than 5 cms. This means it is a quite a large open area into which rain, spray and water dripping from paddles can enter the boat. A spray deck front and rear reduces the impact.

Spray decks

Spray decks

I’ve left the most important design consideration to the last; “as everyone knows” to achieve ultimate performance the boat must look cool!

There are some fantastic looking vessels on the water but most rely on pigmentation in the construction to “hide” the imperfections inherent with carbon composite manufacturing processes and they do look pretty. The Darkness is naked of all cosmetic embellishments and is a celebration of the profound beauty of carbon fibre. It is stunningly beautiful and proud of its dark sleekness.

The Darkness - in all its glory!

The Darkness – in all its glory!

Have we thought of everything? Probably not but any short comings will be uncovered during DW.

Developing a sit&switch racing C1

Over the last three or four years I have been trying out lots of canoe concepts in an attempt to identify the optimum sit&switch racing C1 design.

When I first crossed over to the dark side, I bought an eleven foot C1 from Ebay (where else!!). This was my first experience of a C1 and I soon adapted it for sit&switch rather than kneeling. I did try kneeling but I lost the ability to walk fairly quickly.

The boat had too much rocker, was too short and weighed 22 kgs so I sold it on Ebay, although I did enjoy shooting Symons Yat in it.

First C1

First C1

It then occurred to me that the best starting point was a K1 which I could then adapt. So I duly acquired an old touring K1 and cut the deck off and built a C1. This was quite successful but made of fibre glass, it still weighed 20 kgs

Converted general purpose K1

Converted general purpose K1

The next idea was to use a white water racer. I got this from Ebay and set about converting it. Unfortunately it was miles too unstable and I ended up the water on the Basingstoke canal canoe club challenge.

White Water kayak conversion C1

White Water kayak conversion C1

So I got a Marcos kevlar K1 hull and increased the freeboard height with some plastic planks and won the 2010 Waterside series for C1. It was the year where we had to run the first 8 miles of “C” due to ice.

Macros C1

Macros C1

In order to get rid of the planks, reduce the weight and improve the deck, I cut the deck off the white water racer C1 and secured it to the Marcos hull.

WW_C1

This worked rather well and I built the rear deck from carbon fibre. I also built carbon fibre extensions to the hull on the bow and stern to improve straight line performance.

Stern section hull

Stern section hull

Bow section hull

Bow section hull

As I now had some experience with carbon fibre, I built a C1 from scratch using an Espada K1 with lots of foam changes to the shape to wrap the carbon fibre around.

Espada C1

Espada C1

This was a bit of a disaster as the flat hull ended up so unstable but I still paddled it in 2011 Waterside D and won the series.

I build another boat using the Macros hull and a made up deck for the next carbon fibre version. This is the boat I paddled DW 2012.

DW C1

DW C1

I had reached the limit to what I could do with the tools and facilities at home so I was faced with a decision, do I quit now or go the whole hog and get it done by professionals. Well I certainly couldn’t go to my grave without giving it a shot, so “The Darkness” is now a full production canoe to the highest professional standards, but more about that later.