Needless to say and to those who know me... when chucked with such a proposition it makes me think and ask 'what if..'
DW was something I had done before and in many ways loved and would love to do again. However, I did not think my body would every be up to doing it again. There were so many things I was nervous of, the main one being would my body hold together for it. A few close friends advised me against it. After nearly a month of thought, a chat with my trusted physio Gill Gillespie, I decided to speak to Liz more seriously about it and see how it would go.
That is where the journey began... the logistics of working out how we would paddle together. Liz lives in Dublin and has a young family and I live in Warwickshire. How was it ever to work??? After a long phonecall, we agreed to try and if we were to do it, we needed to get in the best shape of our lives. I will not lie, the first few times of paddling with Liz, I thought we would never get there. On so many occassions Liz gave me the option to opt out, even in the few weeks before the race, I was asked the same question.
Yep if not anything else, I am stubborn and when I set myself a goal I do like to achieve it. Liz and I entered Waterside C and mostly the race went ok. At the end my body was a serious mess and the worst case scenario was running through my head. How was I ever to complete it, if my body struggled with 23 miles!!! I did not want to let Liz down, nor myself. I had to do some serious soul searching. My nervousness of my coordination going and my legs giving way, my neck going into spasm or my back giving out were flying through my head. The support given to me from my colleagues at work was phenomenal, they could see the tiredness in my eyes, the turmoil in my head and they questioned my sanity over it all.
The Big Day:
As it drew nearer, it felt like all of the preparation we had both put in was coming together finally. We had done a lot training together, had spent a lot of time learning the parts of the river in the night and day. We had swotted on all the locks in London, paddled sections from start to finish multiple times. We had done training paddles of 27 miles, 26 miles and 17 miles three days on the trot. We knew we were ready, but just had to get our minds into gear. Our prep meeting with our support crew went well and things began coming together.
On the morning of the race, I had not slept well. I was worried as it still didn't feel like the boat quite flowed as I wanted it too. I was paranoid about our technique failing... my body failing and letting Liz down.
thankfully, as we put our first stroke in at Devizes as we were told 'GO' it all clicked.
There are so many stories I could put in this blog post, but there are a couple of things that kept me going. The main one being our support crew, it was a pleasure to see them at each lock. They put up with my demands and commands telling them what both Liz and I may need, they laughed at our delirious moments (I have video evidence of this), they cheered us at every moment, you could hear their worry in their words as it got late into the night. They fed, changed and at the end held us upright. They were there in the quiet hours of the night, waving from banks, bridges, behind trees. Then at the end, they gave us the best hugs, we heard some great stories from them, then when it was all over they continued to look after us and for me stayed with me to ensure we were ok.
It has taken a few days to write this... I have slept a lot since Sunday. I have not totally been with it until today and as I look back, the whole adventure makes me smile. My Devizes to Westminster 2015 adventure was hard mentally and physically. The time we achieved is nothing but amazing, with Liz tearing her Lat muscle, in a year that the flow gave us nothing, the lovely head wind we had at the start. Well it just shows that two people who focus on technique technique technique, are stubborn, focused and well come from a river racing background bring all of their skills into one place at one time... anything is possible.
It was a year with some very fast crews and the mixed event saw some very excellent performances. We came 8th overall and beat some great crews. I achieved a second Senior Ladies first place and for me setting another time sub 20hrs, almost 20 mins faster than the first time I did it in.
Liz and I did everything we could to control the controllables, we prepped as much as possible, we had a superb support crew of 16 people behind us and had so many contingency plans it got silly.
Thank you to all of the lovely messages we have received from across the globe.
My final thanks has to go to Liz. Thank you so much for the opportunity and for keeping me going this winter and getting me back on the water after last years ups and downs :o) A memory that will last. I told you we would get to Westminster and well, we did!