The adventure continues.
Gurus and their Wisdom
I suppose that every activity has its Gurus, and kayaking has its fair share. The acknowledged Guru for the DW race is Brian Greenaway and his small book on the subject is the accepted bible on the subject. His qualifications are impeccable as he has been involved with the race since 1964. He was the first paddler to complete the race in under 17 hours, and the first Veteran to win the race outright, as well as twice winning the mixed and team classes. His book gives a history of the evolution of the race and spells out the basic requirements for would-be entrants to the race. Although the book focuses more on the overnight, non-stop event, much of the advice it contains is still good for the four-day event as well.
You might think that advice on taking part in a long distance event would concentrate on a lot of long distance practices runs, but in fact he advocates interval training, which is consistent with practice in both running and cycling and no doubt any other sport that requires you to cover ground fast. Intervals put the focus on splitting your outings into a regular number of hard efforts to maintain a higher speed than you would normally, with shorter breaks between those efforts. But this approach also pre-supposes that you can already cover a distance which is long enough to encompass all those intervals.
What is becoming painfully obvious, and is confirmed in all its utter misery by examining the read-outs from my Garmin, is that at the moment I possess neither speed nor endurance. So, effectively I’m having to take the Guru’s advice but work on both aspects together. With that in mind, I've put together a beginner’s starter level interval session that I hope to encompass in my two-mile stretch from New Haw, to alternate short sharp hurty outings with the existing long, slow pleasure trips.
This part of the canal is just over a mile long and is dead straight. From either end you can see the cars passing over the bridges which are situated at the far ends of the straight, so it’s quite good for working on speed in a straight line without having to worry about negotiating bends at the same time. Along with this I’m intending to increase the distance of the pleasure trips to a longer duration, and I've set about measuring out suitable distances between locks to try to extend the length of at least one of the trips each week.
The first of those outings at the start of the week took the usual run from New Haw with a warm up for the first half mile, then putting in a rather more strenuous effort for a minute, then a rest in the form of more relaxed paddling for another minute. I was half way through the strenuous bit when I paddled through the end of the course, but carried on to complete the minute's effort before turning around. It seemed to go quite well and I managed to complete a number of repetitions before calling it a day. Despite the increased pace during the intervals, the overall time was still longer that it would normally have taken if I had just cruised all the way.
Two days later I was out again with my son and we paddled from the boat-house to Pyrford lock, this time with both of us at a steady pace, partly because he was nursing a strain in a shoulder muscle. The return mileage was just on three miles, but it was a pleasant trip with time to look at the scenery and we had time to re-acquaint ourselves with the Kingfisher that again accompanied us for 100 yards or so as it flitted in and out of the bushes and skimmed the water in front of us, no more than a few yards ahead.
At the end of the week I attempted my longest trip to date. Starting from New Haw I set off at a steady pace and progressed up to Pyrford in the usual way. This time though I did my first portage around the lock and into territory that I haven‘t been through before. Just after Pyrford the canal takes a sharp(ish) right hand bend and becomes much more exposed as the trees and undergrowth at each side thins out. Here the wind was beginning to gust up and was sideways across the water, which is always unpleasant and makes for erratic paddling. But soon the views beyond the reeds and through the trees were quite pleasant and distracting from the hard work pushing against the flow.
The next obstacle upstream from Pyrford is Walsham Gates, a set of floodgates across the Navigation about a mile further on. I hadn’t intended to go as far as that, only to add on another mile to my previous overall longest trip. So I pulled up against the bank to take on water and have a break before setting off back. The bank here was a bit run down and I’d pulled up against a tree stump that I was hugging while I pulled at the water bottle that I’d brought along, and contemplating the view and what looked like a rat hole at water level in the roots of the stump. I was just thinking ‘That’s a rat hole’ when something wet and cold poked me in the back of the neck giving me an involuntary jump, as I dropped the paddle and clutched at the tree-stump.
On looking around I found myself looking directly up into the face of the soppiest looking mutt I’ve ever seen from water level. It was, I think, a puppy, but a very large puppy with a lolling tongue, a cold, pointy nose and two beady little eyes looking out from a mass of fur that gave it the look of Big-Bird from ‘Sesame Street‘. It was obviously very pleased to see me and clearly it had never found anything in the water before that was quite so impressive. Its owners, who were shouting something at it, and of which it wasn’t taking a blind bit of notice, were about 50 yards behind but closing the gap between us. Meanwhile, I tried to make friends by chucking it under the chin, at which point it tried to get in the boat with me. So we ended up with the dog straddled between ship and shore and the owners trying to drag it back without dunking it in the water.
Eventually everything was sorted and I reversed direction and headed back, portaging in earnest for the second time in a day at Pyrford, and eventually staggered back to base with an overall elapsed time of two hours, twenty-one minutes, and just under a quarter mile shy of seven miles. That translates to an overall speed of three miles-per-hour and a paddling speed of just four miles-per-hour.
Which is still much too slow and not far enough. Clearly many more intervals are needed.