‘I have a plan and I need people to do it. I think you could be one of those people…’ This was a message I received from my friend James Ibbotson 3 days before Christmas 2020. The plan? Paddling for 24 hours on the Nottingham loop, our local 15km loop down the river Trent and back up the canal. All in aid of raising money for the mental health charity Mind.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, of course I said yes! Also joining us would be good friends and local paddlers Sam Valman and Matt Stephenson. On the 3rd/4th April 2021, we carried out this plan and managed to raise over £4000 for Mind. This article is a summary of our 24 hour paddling challenge.
Why would we do this?
With everything that has happened in the last year, we wanted to do something positive that could help people whilst also keeping things local. We decided that we wanted to raise money for Mind because of the great work they do in supporting people with their mental health. Mental health affects everyone and is something that a lot of people are really struggling with right now. Supporting Mind has always been at the center of this challenge.
Why 24 hours of flatwater paddling I hear you say? Well, the credit for this idea is all owed to Ibbo (James). Having completed a 24-hour challenge paddling laps of the Upper Dart the year before, it led him to think about whether he could do something similar more locally. We needed it to be self-sufficient (no shuttles) and local. As we are all whitewater paddlers, it made sense to complete the challenge in whitewater boats. 24 hours of paddling is painful no matter which craft you complete it in!
The team consisted of four core paddlers with a passion for kayaking.
- Ibbo is of course the center of the group seeing as he came up with the idea but also as he is the most organised out of all of us. As someone who runs events in kayaking in his sleep (Euro Open and NFL being examples of those), he had this one sorted! Ibbo started in slalom but now spends his time training in C1 freestyle. Unsurprisingly, he chose to convert to K1 for this challenge though!
- Sam is also a freestyle paddler and very focused with his paddling. Sam was already used to training twice a day and so was the most naturally prepared for the challenge. Sam is a PhD student at Nottingham University but also works part-time at our local kayaking shop, Desperate Measures.
- Matt is one of the most lovable guys in kayaking. Matt is also on the GB freestyle team but spends a lot of time enjoying other forms of paddling including SUP and canoe. Whilst training for this, Matt would do weekly river cleans and remove rubbish from the Nottingham Loop. As a geography student, Matt cares deeply about the environment, and his record was 16 bin bags full removed in one day! We chose Matt because of his unmatched enthusiasm and energy.
- Finally there was me (Del)! I am not on the GB freestyle team but I am a #Shepaddles (women’s paddling) ambassador for British Canoeing. My flat water experience was very limited but like Matt, I was chosen for my enthusiasm and energy. I had to train quite hard for this challenge but being a very determined (some might say stubborn) person, this was no issue!
As all four of us came from a whitewater background, it was clear we were going to have to do a lot of training! Over three months, we each committed to ramping up our hours on the water no matter what the weather was. (We had a lot of snow/ice here in Notts over Feb!) If you want to read more about the training put into this challenge, you can read my blog about it here. In summary, I paddled about 1000km in preparation for the challenge.
The actual challenge!
It was not long before we were gearing up by our cars on Saturday morning and speaking with friends who had come to see us off. Having had horrendous winds the week before, we were pleased that the weather was mild, dry, and with only very occasional gusts to keep us on our toes. We set up, posed for photos, and at 9 am sharp set off! The first lap we tried to deliberate slow our pace compared to our normal training sessions so that we would not burn out. We enjoyed being able to share our excitement that the challenge was finally happening.
We soon were onto lap 2, then 3, and 4. As it got sunnier, we were amazed at the turnout of people who had come to support us. As the loop has a path next to it, it was easy for people to come and see us. In the afternoon, it felt like every local kayaker had come out for a walk or cycle that day and we were constantly being cheered on and offered home-baked goods. Equally nice was the one or two paddlers who joined us for each lap. Having fresh conversation and company gave us all such a morale boost each time.
At 9pm, we had completed 4 laps and it was now dark. We each put on a fresh set of gear (fleece and warm hat included), adorned our night lights, and set off for our laps of darkness. The novelty of paddling in the dark outweighed the tiredness and with clear skies, it was actually quite a special experience. We were incredibly lucky that for each night lap, we still had volunteers getting out on the water with us. I had brought caffeine tablets and it was, ironically, the two most hyperactive people in the group who needed them. Matt and I each took one at midnight which kept us going until the morning!
We finished our 7th lap just before 6 am and as we got on for our final and 8th lap, it was beginning to get light. It was also now incredibly cold and each of our boats had formed a nice layer of ice. (Fun!) We made our way down the river, which was clouded in mist, and watched the sunrise which was spectacular. Waiting for us by the canal was our friend Meg who had brought fresh hot coffee to wake us up. (Thanks Meg!) Fueled by this, we finished the final canal section and ended the challenge in 24 hours and 30 seconds. We arrived to our friends and family waiting at the lock for us. They even gave us a round of applause which was very appreciated!
I think I can safely say that none of us were keen for another lap by 9 am Sunday! However, I am still in awe at how well we all coped. Minus a few blisters, we all managed to keep in good spirits throughout the 24 hours. It was certainly challenging, both physically and mentally, but the hard work we had put into our training and the amazing support network we had helping us actually made it really enjoyable. Minus the final lap, each lap honestly just felt better and better as we went on! The others did disagree with me on this point however when I said it at 3 am with perhaps a little too much energy.
After the challenge
We went home and tried to sleep (caffeine and adrenaline made it a little difficult) then met in the afternoon for some garden pizzas and celebrations. It was an excellent way to end an incredible weekend. The next day was a more restful day however as the achy muscles set in. Luckily this has been short-lived though and we are all ready to get back on the water now. Although it might be a while before we consider doing anything remotely similar again!
Whilst it may have been the four of us who had our names on the fundraising page, this achievement was very much a team effort. Without the amazing support network that we had, we could not have completed the 24 hours. So thank you to everyone involved, in particular:
- Thank you to everyone who donated. Over 200 people and over £4000 is beyond what we could have hoped for. We started with a hopeful target of £2000 and have just been blown away by everyone’s generosity. Knowing that this money is going to a good cause is incredible.
- Thank you to everyone who supported us in person or online. Hot drinks at midnight, kind words shared on the canal when we were struggling for motivation, and countless messages of support before and after the big day. I was completely overwhelmed by the kindness shown to us over the weekend. As we ended that final lap and could see our closest friends and family waiting to cheer us in, it was hard not to feel quite emotional! We could not have done it without them.
- Thank you to the fabulous paddlers who joined us on the water to keep us going with good conversation and encouragement. Our nighttime heroes were particularly appreciated. Being sung Christmas songs whilst bobbing down the river at 4 am was a highlight.
- Thank you to the brilliant companies who supported us for this. Personally, I have to thank Pyranha Kayaks and Palm Equipment for sorting me out with the appropriate gear and boat. Thank you to Peak for the gear they donated which we are raffling off too. Also a big thank you to Debbie from MeTime Holstics for the paddlers pick me up pack to help us recover afterward!
- The final thank you goes to Tom Clare for being our media bunny over the weekend and taking most of the photos used in this article. Tom made a fantastic mini-documentary of the challenge which you can view here.