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Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
When I started this blog, it was to track my progress from an occasional kayaker to taking on the Devizes to Westminster non stop 125 race. Little did I know that would start me on a long distance obsession which has resulted in my completing the 30th Marathon des Sables. It has been a strange and sometimes painful ... but always wonderfully challenging journey

This is my occasional account of a middle-age mother's attempt to take on things which are really quite beyond her.

I think I need a project manager

crawlingkiwiby crawlingkiwiApr 14th 2011
The enormity of preparing for a 125 mile race is starting to dawn. I keep being told of others' preparations for their support teams, the practice feeding sessions and other detailed planning, and I feel a sense of rising nausea and fear. The final Wiggle order has been placed - I realised I need a 3rd Camelbak, another box of Clif bars, 2 more huge tubs of Hi-5, an extra head-band and even more kit.

We have been struggling to get our support crews together - lots of offers of help a few weeks ago seemed to evaporate the closer to race day we get. But we have possibly got 2 cars for the day-time and 2 cars for the night-time - I just need someone to take charge, but with no-one stepping forward I think I'll have to resort to military precision planning by myself. One of the big problems we have is our projected timings. unlike a road race, we have to be able to make an accurate prediction of when we will reach Teddington on the Thames, which is mile 107: the river becomes tidal at that point and we have to be there just as the tide is turning. If we know we have to be there at 8am on Easter Sunday, we then work backwards and have to accurately predict our times on the slow-moving canal and the slightly faster moving Thames. We were spot on with our estimates for the 35 miles race, but here we will be going into the great unknown - we've never paddled for more than 7 hours and certainly not through the night. Darkness, cold and tiredness will obviously affect how we paddle but we don't know how much. There's a 3 hour window to reach Teddington - miss that and we'll be held until the next tide in the evening, effectively adding 12 hours to our time.

Alongside the projected timings, I need to arrange for each car to be at specific portages - they have to log our arrival time and pass it on to the next support crew. I have heard of support teams who spent all night driving in the dark, completely failing to find their crews. Having had a support team miss a crucial re-fueling stop on Sunday, we simply can't afford for that to happen. We will each have about 10 2-litre bottles of hydration fluid already mixed up, with another 10 litres of water at the ready. Food is still to be bought, but Sunday's race showed my apparent preference for small chunks of clif bars and cubes of jelly, particularly pineapple! Helen liked the miniature peanut-butter and cheese sandwiches, although we have to make sure the food we eat isn't too fat-heavy, as that will impede the body's ability to absorb the carb-loaded fluid. We have to eat every 40 minutes throughout the race and we will have 3 x 10 minute food stops for 'larger' meals, which will probably be noodles and pasta. This is why military precision planning is needed. There are 77 portages and we will want support crews at at least one third of those, if not half. Some will be to take on fluid and food, some for meals, some for a complete change of clothes and some will be just to see a friendly encouraging face.

We need at least 3 complete changes of kit - no wetsuits are worn in this sort of race, it's running tights, craft base-layers, paddle shoes and a cag. Spray-decks are needed when it's cold, through the night and 2 will be needed on the final stretch. We use pogies - strange square waterproof mittens which velcro onto the paddles. I don't wear gloves, which means you have much better control over the paddle, but can lead to blisters. We have to carry some compulsory items in the boat - survival bags, water, chocolate, hat, thermal underwear - the organisers can request to see it at any of the check-points in the race. There will be no time for modesty during the race - I shall not comment on toilet arrangements en route (there are none) other than to query the rule which states you should not relieve yourself in public. Hmmm. Can't guarantee to follow that one!

Aside from clothing changes, nutrition and fluid, I have a tool kit with replacement rudder-wire, various other bits and pieces, ibuprofen capsules and gel, sun-cream (ever hopeful), savlon, compeed plasters, straps and wrist supports and of course the ubiquitous gaffer-tape, the canoeists' best friend!

In the absence of a project manager, I need to return to my pre-teaching roots and get going with a spreadsheet. Phone numbers, maps and of course, lists should make it straight-forward for each support team to find us, Helen and I just need to keep our heads in the right place and to focus on staying healthy through to Easter weekend. We are praying for some heavy rain in the next few days - so as not to ruin everyone's tri training, I'm happy to wish for it during the night - we need it in the next 2 or 3 days to get some decent flow going on the Thames, but obviously we want it to then clear up and be beautiful and warm over the race days.

I'm still petrified by what lies ahead - if we had opted for the four day version, I'd be apprehensive, but know we could do that. We've gone for the main race and consequently have no real idea of how we'll do. I'm irritated by the people who constantly point out to us that 1/3 of the competitors who start, have to retire. Yes, we may not make it, but we're giving it a go and we are damned determined. I have that kiwi grit (or blind stupidity, I'm not quite sure which side of the line I'm on) and as long as the body is willing and hasn't fallen to pieces, I'll be giving it all I have.

Friends who are aiming to to break the record which has stood since 1979, will need to break 15 hours 34 minutes and 12 seconds. They are in phenomenal form and with at least 8 world champion titles between them, stand a good chance. (See Ben's latest blog at: ) We will be at least 50% slower than them - aiming for 25 hours!

If you're around near the Kennet and Avon Canal or the Thames between Reading and and Westminster between Good Friday and Easter Monday, keep an eye out for some tired looking paddlers. The junior events, senior K1 and endeavour classes are over 4 days (Fri - Mon), while the straight-through paddlers will be setting off on Saturday morning, finishing on Sunday. The stupidly fast paddlers will probably leave early on Sunday morning, as they will be fast enough to catch the Sunday evening high tide and will finish late on Sunday evening.

And if anyone is an experienced project manager at a loose end next weekend ... do let me know.
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