Psychology and motivational advice for the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race
Disclaimer: If you are expecting to have us tell you how easy it's going to be then I have a reality check for you. DW is hard. Bloody hard. It will take months of preparation, hard work, dedicated training and a large financial commitment so you need to be sure it's what you want to do. It is a huge undertaking that may well take over your life for several months, impacting your social life, your family life, your work life. You may even need to change your sleep patterns and diet. It is not a decision to be taken lightly.
So if you do decide to enter the rabbit hole and plunge into the surreal depths of DW preparation, you need to make sure you are well prepared and have a firm plan.
So what's the secret to a fast DW?
We are asked over and over again what secrets enable the top athletes to go so fast - it's simple. It's not down to the gels or sports drinks and food they take. It's not because they are paddling a faster boat than you. It's not because their paddles are more expensive. It's because they train. Over and over and over. They a completely focused on one goal and their life revolves around it accordingly. The fundamental principle is this:
In simple terms - the more training you put in, the less the race will hurt, and the more enjoyable your journey will be. It will also make an exponential difference to your ability to finish.
If you want to do the race, you have to be prepared to train and train hard. If you want to paddler quicker, you have to train harder!
The importance of a structured training plan
If you want to get to the finish line you need to be getting out several sessions per week. You need to factor in additional training such as running, swimming and gym work. If you're paddling a K2 or C2, all of that training should be with your boat partner, as you also need to learn to paddle in time and get used to the feeling of another paddler in the boat.
Without a firm plan, it's all too easy for training to take a back seat and procrastination takes over. Whether you are paddling to try and win your class or just paddling to try to get to the finish line, you'll only achieve that goal if you take the time to plan out your journey. You need structured progressive sessions, broken down throughout the week to cover different aspects of the training such as technique, timing, speed work, portaging as well as the long steady paddles. Each month should build on the skills learned in the last, so you need to start planning as early as possible. Have a look at our training advice on the DW page for more inspiration or get in touch for a bespoke training plan.
Procrastination is the big killer. Once you've got your plan down on paper (or on screen for the electronic generation) You need to commit and stick to it.
Some mornings, you look out of the window at the heavy rain and strong winds and think "do I really want to train today?" The answer is yes! You never know what the weather will be like over Easter, so the more training you get in foul weather, the easier and more prepared you will be. Try and train regardless, provided it's safe to do so - if you stick to your training plan no matter what, it keeps your head clearer to focus on the specific task in hand for the session you are on, which is why it's important to have a detailed, progressive structured training plan. Remember - "Someone out there is training harder than you - they will beat you at the next race"
Every session you go out, there should be a clear achievable goal - Your training schedule should be broken down into goal specific sessions such as technique, speed, efforts, mileage, pacing. If you have only the one thing to concentrate on, it keeps your mind clear and focussed on the task, and you are far less likely to have negative thoughts and doubts.
There is no easy way to prepare your mind for what you have to go though during the race and the training, however the more you do in preparation, the more acclimatised you are to the conditions and the easier it gets. Get out in all weathers, knowing you are preparing for the worst - then if foul weather arrives on race day, you are expecting it and used to it. Train at all hours, including the night so you are used to the cold and the darkness. Try and train on the various stretches of the course if at all possible, so you know where you are going.
With the nature of the race, you are going to be out in all conditions, pushing through pain barriers and inevitably you will suffer highs and lows. These low points are dangerous. Your internal monologue will be questioning your sanity, whether you should just stop and give up. Your body will then start telling you it hurts and this is when experience wins. Regular paddlers (and marathon runners) will know these low points and know they can push through them. The more you push yourself in training, the less self doubt you will have and the more enjoyable race day becomes!