It was funny as we left Devizes last week at the start of the DW marathon, we had a 125 miles in front of us but in actual fact it felt like we had just arrived as all the thought that had gone into it over the previous 4 months and all those nights of planning and training over the winter months had finally come to fruition as we set off on the epic adventure. The journey over to England was long and when we arrived we did bits of last minute organisation before arriving in Devizes at 11 on Saturday morning. Initially we had planned to leave at 12.30 but after seeing the lack of flow in the river we had changed and decided to start at 12.15. The DW is quirky in that you choose your own start time based upon what time you will hit Teddington, this is the spot where the Thames becomes tidal. You want to hit it one hour after HW so that you get support as the tide goes out, the only problem with this is that it is 108 miles into the race so you have to be certain of your timing.
The start of the race is a 2 hour slog as you work your way to the first of the lock gates, 77 in total as you wind your way down towards Westminster bridge. We were a bit unlucky at the start as we had the breeze in our faces for the first 4 hours but this soon dropped off to give us a quiet night. The canal is probably the slowest section as there are 56 locks between the start line and Reading where you meet the Thames. This means getting in and out of your boat a lot of times. Once you are on the Thames the locks spread out and they are about every 20/30 minutes which means you get a good stretch of paddling in between portages which helped us out as we were much faster on the water. The Thames down is a race to get to Teddington and that is all you are focused on, it becomes fixated in your mind that all you have to do is to get to Teddington and the rest of the race is plain sailing. It is however when you reach Teddington that you realise that there is another 2 hours to go. Mentally this is the toughest part of the whole race, you don't realise that you have two hours of paddling left even though you have been going for almost 18 hours.
This was mine and Ali's lowest point as we struggled with the knowledge that we were so close yet so far from the finish line. Also after so long in the boat we were starting to cramp and get rubbed raw in places. Where previously we had breaks as we got out for locks now we could only grimace as the pain got worse. We knew that we just had to reach Big Ben by 8am to break 20 hours and hit our goal. The last hour seemed to go on forever as we turned every corner hoping to see some recognisable landmark, although as none of us really knew London this was difficult. All of a sudden we turned a corner and there in front of us we saw the finish line, utter relief as we passed under the bridge. We were unable to lift ourselves out of the boat and had to be helped out of it and up the steps. The utter relief then of solid ground and a warm shower, luxuries hard to imagine. Then this being an event held in England we were treated to a cup of tea. All in all a tough event and even with all that thoroughly enjoyable. A big thank you to support crew in the shape of Mary and Kim Young and also Dougal Fleming. Okay for us but for them to give up there Easter weekend to help us out was brilliant and much appreciated.
Now onwards to the next challenge.