I have been inspired to write this post having read Antony Murr's blog over the last couple of years. Within it you will find a whole host of hints, information and generally useful stuff that will get you thinking about how to tackle 'The Canoeists' Everest' and I strongly advise you to trawl through it. At the moment Antony is writing a series of posts to help readers get to the start of the race, and having gone from numpty to (fairly) experienced paddler in the last 3 years I thought it might be useful to anyone reading this to get a relative beginner's ideas and thoughts on this fantastic event and how you might go about training for it and the problems that you may encounter. In conjunction with Jamie and Adam, I made a LOT of mistakes and the next few posts might just help you avoid them. Maybe.... ;-)
Let me point out, I am not a coach. There are many, many more experienced paddlers than I who can give you advice and tips but these are my thoughts and on reflection the things that I should have done to prepare me better for this event.
1. It's the DW.
You must call this race 'The DW.' At all times. It means that you're in the know and confuses anyone else who knows nothing about kayaking or canoeing. It also means that you have to explain the event, in detail, to anyone that asks you "What's the DW?" Alternatively, when seeking a partner for the Senior Doubles it means you can lie or simply not tell them how far it is, only letting them in on the 'Devizes to Westminster' bit at the last opportunity.
2. Technique is EVERYTHING.
I'm writing this making the assumption that you've never paddled before. Saying that you had a go at it once in Centre Parcs or with the Scouts doesn't count. You're a MAMIL/ MAWIL (and proud). Maybe you've done a 10k, marathon or something similar and therefore have a degree of fitness although not specifically canoe / kayak related. A friend in a pub mentions 'The DW' and it's got you interested and then you decide it sounds like a good idea. What next?
Ok, well let's start with an analogy. If you had decided that you were going to swim the Channel, but yet you couldn't swim, would you throw yourself into the sea and go for a 2 mile swim? No, of course you wouldn't. You would LEARN TO SWIM first. Therefore, it's really important that you LEARN TO PADDLE FIRST. How you learn is up to you but I would advise either joining a club with a coaching set-up or if you know an experienced paddler who can advise you and take you out, then do that. Either way, you want someone who can give you direct feedback on your technique and tell you how you can improve. Ultimately it will make you faster, but you will also be much less likely to retire through injury during the race. Let's say that you have given yourself a year to get ready for the DW, then I would not worry at all for the first 5 or 6 months about long paddles. Get in a boat and get your technique as good as you can get it. Go out with other (good) paddlers whenever you can and see how they paddle. You will learn a lot by doing this and probably get more efficient and faster as a result. I would advise against interval training in the boat initially. Better to focus on ingraining good technique rather than trying to move the boat fast through the water with poor technique.
I would also keep your paddles for the first few months relatively short but try to go out frequently, ideally 3 times in a week for say 30-45 minutes so that you can focus on maintaining good technique throughout the paddle. In my opinion it's better to do 3 x 30 minute paddles than 1 x 90 minute paddle. Don't worry; the long paddles will come later.
3. K1 not K2
Readers of this blog will know that I have just bought myself a K1 boat, some 3 years after I started paddling with Jamie. This is 3 years too late. We did a few K1 paddles but not many. You will develop more quickly as a paddler if you concentrate on paddling in a K1. You can develop your own technique, stability and steering. It means both of you will have to learn to steer a boat. It means that you can go out independently as a paddler as you will not have to have a partner with you. Most clubs will have club boats and they may not be pretty or fast but they will get you on the water and you can begin the process of learning good technique. Initially, for the first 3 or 4 months I would not even think about getting into a K2. You will progress much quicker in K1 boats than you would struggling in a K2. Every year there are posts on various websites for paddlers who for some reason have had to pull out through injury or illness which results in the other paddler unable to race. Being proficient in a K1 at least gives you the option of doing the 4 day race in a K1 if it should come to that.
4. Be Safe
Most of this is obvious but it's worth repeating. By joining a club you will be able to go out in a group and there's safety in numbers. At some point you will capsize so know how to do it and look after yourself. The BCU FSRT course is well worth doing in my opinion to help you manage some of the situations that you may encounter. Initially, train on a benign piece of water where you know that if you go for a swim then you can get yourself out. Wear a good fitting bouyancy aid. As you gain more experience and confidence in your ability and handling a kayak then is the time to try water where you are more likely to encounter hazards, flow, river traffic etc. You are going to encounter these issues during the DW so you will need to become confident in higher flow, waves etc, but get used to your K1 first before tackling these things.
Some useful links
BCU - Find a Club
Find a Boat
Find a Paddler
Devizes To Westminster Canoe Race
More to follow......