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Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race

  • Learning Points
  • 1. Determination
  • 2. Teamwork
  • 3. Resilience

Quick Summary

The Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race is 125 miles long and has 77 portages.

This is the largest and most demanding challenge I’ve set myself, to date. It required grit, determination, stamina, teamwork (2-person kayak) and an extremely resilient mindset. It reinforced the importance of maintaining a positive focus no matter what the situation and to never to give up! It also demonstrated the need to encourage one another.

I trained 3 to 4 times a week in all types of weather over two years to compete in the 2018 and 2019, U19, K2 kayak race with my colleague. Over the four-day kayak race, we had to camp and cook for ourselves.

In 2018, the race was sadly stopped half way through due to severe weather conditions. We returned in 2019 and achieved 4th place out of 76 crews. We established a school record for the highest placed crew of all time (50 years). The school awarded each of us a cup and full sporting colours.

In 2018, we (including other school pupils who we were training with) managed to raise £2,052 for charity.

In 2019, as my partner and I were technically representing the Devizes Canoe Club and not our school, we had to raise money by ourselves. By the end of the DW race 2019, we had raised £1,060 for charity and our club!

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The Devizes to Westminster International Canoe race is an ultra marathon that takes place every Easter weekend and is the longest non-stop canoe race in the world

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Training

My kayak partner and I began training in the summer of 2017. In November of that year, we secured a place in the schools DW canoe team after paddling the fastest qualifying time of any crew the school had ever had.

We entered the National Schools Kayaking Championships held in Reading and placed 2nd!

We continued to train 2 - 3 times per week with the school throughout the year, despite the awful weather which often included kayaking through ice in the canal.

We completed the Thames training weekend in Marlow which included a long paddle, followed by camping overnight, followed by another long paddle. We had previously been training on the canal, which has no tide or waves.

There are a series of races that lead up to the main DW race called the Waterside races. Unfortunately, due to freezing weather, two of the Waterside races were called off.

Race Day

Easter 2018 arrived, and we set off on the official Devizes to Westminster Race. Spirits were high.

Day 1 was going well. We had already covered 34 miles and 35 portages (portages are locks in the canal - you must coordinate with your partner to carry your kayak around these as fast as possible). The weather was wet, cold and miserable, but we finished day 1 in an amazing 10th place (out of ~ 75 crews). We set up our tent, and set off the next morning.

Unfortunately, at around the 50 mile point, the race was called off due to dangerously high flood levels on the River Thames. This was heartbreaking for both of us as we had put in our all over the previous year to prepare ourselves for this. That night, we decided that we would continue training and finish our "unfinished business"...

We were awarded the Rooke Poole Prize Trophy and Full Colours at Speech Day in recognition of our achievement.

After our decision to commit to another full year of training, we managed to get Kayaking as a sports option at school. 2 - 3 times per week, we could train at the Devizes Canoe Club as the school did not have the capacity to take any older students on - it was only for specific year group. Fortunately, the Devizes Canoe Club let us represent them, so we began training with them.

After another year of intense training, focusing on endurance, technique and other aspects, we were ready for the 2019 DW Race.

There is a lot more to completing this race that you would originally think. It involves a support crew, who ensure that you are fed and hydrated throughout the day. We were unable to feed ourselves due to the dirty canal water which would make us ill.

Throughout the race, we would be burning 10,000 calories per day, so food and water was extremely important.

Running with kayak

Being fed

Continuing with the race

This year, the weather was completely different to what we were used to training in. We had to think about our electrolyte intake, and also our salt consumption due to the high temperatures.

Once again, we set off in good spirits!

Our training had payed off. After day 1, we were happily sitting in 4th place! If we kept this up, we would break the school record for the highest placing crew (The school had been doing the race for 50 years).

After camping each night, and paddling with painful blisters at the start of each day, the final day arrived.

We woke up at 3am to catch the Thames tide to the finish. The final day is much shorter than the previous 3 days, but it was definitely the most painful and challenging. I remember hearing the sound of both of us holding in the pain we were experiencing. Our bodies were exhausted. I also remember my partner looking up and asking me "Is that Westminster Bridge?!!". We were so exhausted, we didn't realise that we were infact less than half a mile away from the finishing line!

We finished strong, securing 4th place!

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