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Head of the Dart SUP race weekend

On the 2nd April I took part in the Head of the Dart SUP challenge, this was my first event of the year and what a race to start with! I knew how beautiful the River Dart was and having the opportunity to paddle 8 miles of it in company was too good to miss.

My weekend started on the Saturday morning, my plan was to leave Southampton at 9am so I could arrive in Totnes for lunch time. This would give me plenty of time to find my B&B and settle in, before heading to the new Red Paddle Co HQ for early registration. The car was packed, I double and triple checked I had the essentials and then the apprehension set in! Driving to Dartmouth was going to be the longest drive I had done on my own and although I sort of knew the route from previous trips, I was getting myself worked up over it. 9am came around so I stood up from the sofa and talked myself into it. I thought of the picture someone had posted on Facebook earlier on in the year...

"When it feels scary to jump that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life"

...and with this in mind, I was ready to hit the road. I set up the TomTom with my destination, put my travel playlist on and I was set! 

The drive down to Dartmouth from Southampton is a wonderful drive, well I think so because there
is little motorway and miles of beautiful countryside. Although as a driver I am not able to take in the sights as much as I usually do, it was still lovely not having to look at the same boring stretch of road. My plan was to stop around the Weymouth junction, but I was making good time and in no desperate need for a break at that moment so continued. After about 3 hours I arrived safely in Totnes and was feeling good about it, on the downside I was about to spent the next 30 minutes trying to find my B&B. After asking a few locals, I located it and proceeded to settle in before heading in to town for a spot of lunch.

I wandered around the high street of Totnes, visited the river where the start would be and gathered my bearings. On my way back up, I stopped at the King William VI pub for lunch and when I walked into the pub I was greeted by the friendly and welcoming staff, which made me feel at home. I am not one for going out and eating or having a coffee on my lonesome so this was a big thing for me but a good step forward in my adventures. After lunch I continued back to my car so I could go and find the new Red Paddle Co HQ to register, before retiring for the rest of the day at my B&B and binge watching Vampire Diaries on Netflix.

The dogs made themselves at home
6am on the Sunday and I am wide awake with a mixture of nerves, excitement and wanting a parking space before they were are all gone. The race was not starting for another 5 hours but that didn't stop me!  So without delay I showered, packed and headed out the door to get set up for the packed fun filled day ahead. I met up with my friends, we were teaming up to help with logistics and after a morning cup of team over a camp stove, we transfered their kit, boards and the dogs to my car so the van could be taken down to the finish line.

The morning was spent pumping up the boards, chatting and trying to decide what I was going to wear every time the sun went behind a cloud, you can see the post about what I packed here. The time for the briefing and race crept up on us quickly. Around 11:30 we had changed and collected all our stuff, so we were ready after the briefing to come back and get straight onto the water.

The race started promptly at 12:30 with the 14ft Male class going off first, followed by the 14ft Female, 12ft Male and Female and then finally the leisure class. As I hit the water I was unstable to start with so went to find a quiet bit of water before attempting to stand up, just before I did I turned the GoPro on. I was a little wobbly to start but soon found my way. With minutes to go before the start I set my watch ready to capture the paddle and began to make my way to the start line. On the start I was surrounded by 99 other paddlers which was getting me a little nervous. Before the event I was all for going for it and pushing to be in the top half but when I was there in the moment I decided to back of slightly. I knew I had a long way to go and just wanted to finish the race. I feel that if I had done some training before hand then I might have been in a better position to push for the front, but in my current state then I thought it best to hang back and enjoy it!

The first hour of the paddle was pleasant, the sun was shining, there was little head wind and tide. There was one moment around the 5k mark where there was no breeze, flat water and beautiful scenery around me. Perfect! The closer I got toward Dartmouth the more I felt the affects of the head wind and tide. Around the 10k mark I began to just follow the other paddlers in front of me, this was probably because the tiredness had started to set in. This meant that the lead I had on the rest of the fleet shrunk and forced me to switch on for the last section. Although I was not competitive with the front part of the fleet, I do have the tendency to become competitive with the people around me so I began to push harder and held off the other paddlers approaching - just!

Snapshot from the GoPro 
During the race I always checked my watch to see how far I had come because I knew roughly how long the paddle should be so could guess how far I had left to push. Towards to end of the race it started to get rough with the increasing tide and low water. I soon became anxious and wary of what was going on around me and the increasing amount of power I needed to muster to get through it, along with the growing strain on my aching muscles. I learned quickly that I needed to always go head on into the waves otherwise I would become unstable and with my car key and phone in my bag I really didn't want to go in. Meters away from the chain ferry I stumbled and found myself on my knees, again not wanting to get wet. This caused a slight issue because during the race the outside parts of my feet had started to go numb and so as soon as I was off them the pins and needles struck. This meant that I was unable to get back up onto my feet straight away and the cramping in my calf muscle started to set in. I was devastated with this at the time because I only had three aims for this event - 1. Finish 2. Complete it in 2-2:30 hours and 3. Stand up for the whole thing. Once the pins and needles had stopped I quickly found a flat patch of water and stood up again, I was determined to stand for the remainder of the race and across the finish line.

When I spotted the chain ferry the delight of knowing the the finish line was insight overcame me. The thought of being able to get off this board and have something to eat was driving me forward. Once I could see the volunteers on the pontoon, taking the finishing times, I headed straight for them with every ounce of strength I had left. My shoulders, lower back and feet had been giving me grief for the last 2/3k but I was almost there!

Bang! With that sound the race was done, which symbolised my first challenge of 2017 complete. As soon as I reached the end of the pontoon I dropped to my knees for the last little bit of paddling back to shore. The moment I touch the slipway and tried to walk I realised the extent of my aching muscles and the lasting effects of the cramp in my calf muscle. This made carrying the board and paddle that little bit more difficult but none the less I made it to the grass area, placed my board down and immediately went for a drink and something to nibble. I was suffering so much with walking that I had my medal kindly brought over to me.

With the prize giving time approaching and the 45 minute drive ahead of us to get to my car and then on to the prize giving we had to get moving on packing up the boards, three people and two dogs, but first in typical British style we needed to have a good cup of tea and some cake!

The tea and cake devoured and everyone packed into the van we set off to collect my car and then to the prize giving. We were running a little behind but after noticing that the finish volunteers had not left the pontoon I knew that we had a bit of time to get there.

With the prize giving over and the cars sorted it, it was time for me to nurse myself and the car back home to Southampton. I was aching from head to toe but the drive through the country side, with the sun shining and the window open put a huge smile on my face. The feeling of know I had worked hard, enjoyed myself and the bliss of the sun setting over countryside hills was the perfect end to an amazing adventure. I just wish the TomTom knew the difference between left and right!

After the race in Dartmouth


My board at the finish in Dartmouth


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