Two days before this years race I got a call from Richard at Paddlesports Racers Canoe Club saying one of their team had had to pull out & would I be interested in a seat in the Great River Race.
“HELL YES” was my answer! I’d wanted to have a go at this race for a few years but never managed to get any kind of crew together for it.
The race is a historic time trial rowing race on the Thames in central London. 34KM from Millwall in the East up to Richmond. With around 350 craft, all set off at different times according to a handicap (roughly fastest last) we were I think 334th to set off.
I got planted in seat 2 behind stroke Andy. I was still recovering from Dengue fever from my summer travels so glad I didn’t have to set the pace. I was far from 100% although I didn’t want to let on at the start about that 🙂 we had some tough opposition from OCUK!
The first half of the race is total carnage as all craft can only pass between one arch of each of the 15 or so bridges on the course. This means everyone is funnelled in, oars & blades all over the place! We had to stop paddling several times to avoid heavy collisions as we were powering though at a good pace! We got a cracking start getting out into the flow & cutting back in to the bridges.
We were picking off boats all over the place maintaining a good avg speed around 16kph
Due to a fault in the built in drinks bottles I didn’t get to stop for a drink until nearly 20kms in. Although I was well hydrated thanks to H2Pro I was already starting to suffer & we had a fair way to go yet! Cramp in my forearms & hands was making it really hard to switch sides, I literally couldn’t peal my hand off the grip at times!
We continued to pick off other boats & knew there can’t be many ahead. Catching the lead rowing boat with what must have been 5-6kms to go. OCUK also in an OC6 were hot on our heals maybe 250m behind, and we knew the rafter crews with their 16 paddlers would be storming up (they hold all the records!).
The final push, the crowds were lining the river & bridges & providing amazing much needed inspiration to get the job done. The adrenaline was kicking in, the last push was there, all the crew in our canoe were absolutely smashing it at 100%, total commitment & focus.
Heads down we charged across the finish line to the sound of the finishing cannon, the realisation we had just WON the race!!!
I did know my crew mates before this race, but I have to say, the feeling of ‘brotherhood’ from going through that much pain, all working as one unit, was quite something. Through my previous experiences racing SUP & OC1 it’s such a solo effort. The team aspect of OC6 was incredible & inspired me to set up a local Outrigger Canoe club to spread the feeling far & wide.
Huge thanks to my crew mates for sharing the experience. That was some race!
My Garmin stats… (check out the %HR’s held for over 2hrs!)