2012 Devizes to Westminster Race

Quadrathlete Jean Ashley, along with K2 partner Tamsin Phipps has just completed the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Marathon, the longest non-stop canoe marathon in the world – 125 miles with 76 portages! Her story …….
Ive just about got all the kit clean, sleep deprivation back, and finally feel like eating food again … after a bit of an epic DW …..a journey I had planned and visualised for ages, but didn’t quite go as expected!
Our trip was certainly an adventure, all started very well good weather conditions no wind and drizzle, and going to schedule until…….. a hold up at the long tunnel a slow moving barge took 21mins to clear the 1 mile tunnel …… we got a bit cold but carried on no problems at all. Everyone has dark times and I had mine at about 50 miles, I went through a sick stage…… but just drank and drank and soon pulled out of it. We pulled back all our lost tunnel time by Marlow (70 miles), and moved back into the lead in Vet female catagory (3rd in ladies overall and 3rd in century caagory … ages adding up to a 100, not really sure if I should own up to that one!) … so feeling great and both moving into the night strong and positive! The night was warm and dry but the lack of flow made the Thames feel like paddling through mud, especially building the momentum back up after each portage, the portages were very high so getting in and out was rather tough too, but we were still going to hit the tide 2hrs in so all was fine we were ‘on schedule’. I was getting very excited about the tideway and had already started visualising famous bridges and the Westminster steps …… How wrong was I?
Then going down from Molesy to Teddington (107miles), completely out of the blue Tamsin started to have back pain and stomach cramps. We were just pulling into ‘Royals canoe club’ (400mbeforeTeddington Rollers) for our spraydecks and camel backs and Tamsin cramped up and capsized the boat, we got ourselves together and got back in thinking she was fine ……. anyway pulled out ofTeddington and same happened again….. we went for another swim!
We gave her some food and liquid and a good talking too and she decided she was fine to carry on …….. I don’t know how I kept her going for 10 miles but by the time we got to Hammersmith Bridge she was just leaning on the back of the boat not able to sit up and paddle …… I was struggling to keep the boat going but with only 7 miles to go ….. and being two very ‘stubborn old birds’ ….neither wanted to give up. We pulled over to the side and we lifted her out of the boat thinking she would be ok after a breather …… our support crew said it was too dangerous for us to get back in ….. not finishing the race was never an option so I had to get to the finish somehow ….. so we walked to the finish carrying the K2!
It took us 3hrs to walk 8 miles in, we made a sling to carry the boat out of roof rack straps, Tamsin had to be supported both sides by our support crew, she showed true grit to keep going ….. we even stoped at Costa next to Harrods for a latte … anything to keep her walking!
It was very emotional and I felt so disappointed seeing our vet ladies lead slip away ……… but when you start on the DW journey you never know what’s going to happen, I didn’t expect 119 mile paddle, 7 mile hike and a bit of swimming!!! But we did it ……. and had a wonderful reception at Westminster their were plenty of tears when we got our medals!
It wasTamsins 25th Anniversay since she did her first DW, so I had NO OPTION to get her to the finish line …… she’s just got one more DW to do and she’ll become a member of the 1000 mile club (thats 8DW’s or more)……… so looks like she’ll be out their again …….. and Ive only got another 6 to do!!!!
Our time was 27h 25m 49s we came 5th/12 ladies teams 2nd/6 vet ladies …. and 5th/12 century catagory.

The DW always brings up memorable stories of achievement and sometimes of epic failure, but that is the challenge of the DW Marathon. It made me realise to get to the finish no mater what absolutely epitomises the spirit of the event, that’s everyones dream ‘to be added to that finishers list and to be part of the DW Folklore!