The ultimate challenge for city canoeist

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A MAN from Milton Keynes had the ride of his life when he completed the world famous Devizes to Westminster Canoe Marathon in an incredible time of 21hrs 46mins 18secs – quick enough to see him win the Canadian class.

Richard Parrott, a director of a city based Property Investment Company, took on the challenge with Matt Short from London last weekend, and not only were they the first team home in their class, but they also finished 12th overall.

The race is considered to be one of the most difficult in the sport. Indeed, Olympic rowing hero Sir Steve Redgrave was one of those to retire as he and his partner called it a night at 2.30am after completing around 87 miles – by which time Richard and Matt were more than an hour ahead of them.

Starting at Devizes wharf in Wiltshire, the route follows the Kennet and Avon canal for 54 miles to Reading, where it joins the River Thames. Another 54 miles later it reaches Teddington Lock, and ends 17 miles later at Westminster Bridge in Central London.

The most elite rowers compete in a non-stop race, timed continuously from the moment they start until either they reach the finish or admit defeat, which often accounts for up to half of the field.

This year’s Senior Doubles winners finished in a little under 18 hours, while Richard and Matt – racing in the Open Canadian Canoe class – finished more than 1hr 20mins ahead of second place in their category.

Their challenge started at 8.48am on Saturday, and despite the gruelling task ahead of them, they paddled ahead of their forecasted schedule and overtook their last opposition at Maidenhead to race the last 50 miles from the front.

Richard, 45, only started canoeing 18 months ago after nearly 20 years racing Dragon Boats to International level and is aiming to be selected as part of the Great Britain squad for the Outrigger World Championships in Canada later this year.

He’s a man who likes a challenge, and admitted that he took on the Devizes to Westminster Marathon because it was the biggest out there.

“It was sick and twisted, but in a fun kind of way,” he joked. “It was a case of how hard can you push your body and it still not break?”

A dedicated support team of seven met the intrepid duo at the majority of the 77 race portages, ensuring they had food, water, changes of clothes, medical supplies and boat spares.

Racing through the night meant that they could often see very little in front of them, but they still maintained a speed of around six miles per hour throughout.

That was only possible by taking on as many calories as they could – in the region of 17,000 during their 21 hours of racing. And that certainly wasn’t easy as they survived on a diet of protein energy bars and fruit smoothies, while nursing hand and wrist injuries.

“It hurt. The pain levels were high and the wear and tear on your body takes a long time to recover from,” said Richard, who was raising money for East Anglian Air Ambulance.

“But it was an absolutely incredible achievement. I couldn’t believe how fast went. After we got through the canal at the start where he had to jump out to go through the locks, we reached the River Thames and just exhilarated.

“We made all the right decision and it was a fantastic experience.”