The Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race starts in Devizes, Wiltshire, finishing just downstream of Westminster Bridge in central London, opposite the Houses of Parliament. The race has been held annually over the Easter Weekend since 1948.
The race is 125 miles long and has 77 portages. The first 52 miles are along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Reading, the next 55 miles are on the River Thames to Teddington. The final 17 mile section is on the tidal portion of the Thames.
I have been training with my team-mate Alison Auld at Richmond Canoe Club all through winter in preparation. This race tested our physical and mental stamina but we believed we would rise to the challenge with our two trojan support crews! It was an opportunity also for me to fundraise for the charity, CLEFT, who I have had the pleasure to work with in Egypt alongside the local Cleft Lip and Palate team and their patients. The charity's research helps the children and families with whom I work every day as a Speech and Language Therapist at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Behind the scenes, we had trained since October 6 days/week and as we drew closer to the Easter weekend event, lots of logistical planning was needed to recruit friends from Richmond Canoe Club who would acted as our 2 support crews. They leap-frogged along designated locks of the canal & Thames feeding, hydrating, changing our clothes & most of all motivating us to keep going. Food preparation was highly scientific, based on professional cycling sports science!
After loading both cars on Good Friday with changes of kit, vast quantities of food & liquid, medicines, repair tools, we headed to Devizes en masses Saturday morning. Started at midday. We stormed along and we're leading the Senior ladies K2 for quite some time. Despite stomach issues for Nicole, we pushed through the night, enjoying the wash and conversation with various other crews. There was true camaraderie from fellow paddlers in the wee hours who guided us as visibility diminished & the intrigue of the shady landscape played mind tricks! All the way through, our support crew shared messages of well wishes from friends who were tracking our progress which was a huge boost. Knowing that so many people, friends and complete strangers, had donated to my JustGiving page for CLEFT, was a major source of motivation when I would have a lull. A special thanks goes to everyone who sent us motivational messages before, during and after the event.
Alas, by 0630, we decided that the impact of stomach issues which caused considerable incoordination was slowing our speed & finishing the race would elude us this year. After 18.5 hrs, 93 miles in at Penton Hook, we took the decision to retire. Though very disappointing not to reach Westminster, it's been wonderful to share the profile of CLEFT with friends and the wider community who previously may not have come across cleft lip and palate. It's also been a significant milestone for me in finding my limits, testing my stamina & discovering the elements of true teamwork.
Nicole and Alison with support crew at start of race