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May 2010
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More ‘Snickers’ than Marathon…

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Windsurfing4CancerResearch, Grafham Water 2 May 2010

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Gosh that was hard…

After a month of lovely warm, dry weather, the day of the Sunrise Sunset event dawned with the thermometer well under 10 degrees C, heavy rain and blustery winds. Lovely!

Although only 15 of us were participating at Grafham, there were over 200 windsurfers across the UK all trying to raise money for the cancer charity. Everyone had their own goals; mine were 50 miles if the weather was grotty or 100 if it was great. I think we can safely say it fell into the grotty category…

We knew that however fast we went in a straight line the corners would slow us down; we had to do long straight runs. There was a big national dinghy sailing event at Grafham – 300 teenagers in little ‘Topper’ boats – so the windsurfers’ strategy was to get out early and clock up as many miles as we could before the lake got boat-logged and we were stuck in a corner. We took to the water at 9am with the dinghies due out at 10.30.

Within a few minutes I found the first problem. Yes, I could get up a decent speed but as soon as I hit the corner it all went pear-shaped. I could turn the board OK but when I grabbed the mast or boom on the other side I couldn’t grip it – my hands were too cold, so the sail just pulled itself out of my hands and I went for a little swim.

clip_image006 That was the pattern for the first hour and a half – blast along for a mile at something over 20mph then have a little swim for a few minutes. And again. And again.

The wind was very up and down. Sometimes it would go from a hardly-moving-at-all-5mph to a rip-the-sail-out-of-your-hands-30mph in just a second or two… or the reverse. Very difficult conditions as I could never settle on the board, I was continually moving around trying to get some control. The driving rain was stinging my face and hands so it was difficult to see as I had my eyes half shut!

Two and a half hours gone, wind dropping, time to come in and change to a larger board and sail; this might help to reduce my swimming time as it will give me longer to persuade my hands to work. Well, it was a good theory…

The wind decided to get back up again with a vengeance. clip_image008
The board was hardly controllable, I was bouncing all over the place as the water was really rough. I was limping into the beach almost completely out of control when the board and sail just got ripped out of my hands and thrown downwind. Oh great! The problem then was that the wind blew my kit away quicker than I could swim. I got tantalisingly close but then it went again. So I had a happy half hour swim to the bank. Hang on, I thought this was a windsurfing marathon, how come it has turned into a triathlon without so much as a by-your-leave?

OK, so I’m covered in mud but at least I’ve got the kit back. Limp across to the beach for a very necessary break. Pasta and soup although I couldn’t finish it. Too cold; starting to shiver continuously, even after diving – wetsuit-clad – into a hot shower. Not a good sign!

So I had a long break and that was probably a bad idea as it was all downhill from then on; longer breaks, shorter time on the water. I was completely shattered; I’d go out feeling OK but within 5 minutes I was falling off repeatedly and didn’t have the energy to get going properly. I know what the marathon runners mean by ‘hitting the wall’. You get into a vicious cycle of making a silly mistake, falling off, struggling to get going, making more mistakes, falling off again, etc.

clip_image010The wind was, by now, gusting like before but with very vicious strong peaks of more than 30mph. I had started on a 7.2m sail, changed up to 8.5m, gone back down to 7.2, and now rigged a 6.0 on a small board. It was very quick in the gusts but I’ve never really liked the 6.0, it doesn’t ‘rotate’ properly when you change direction, so each turn was accompanied by having to kick the sail, with my foot, at about chest-height to get it to rotate. Not exactly the best way to stay upright so, yes, it did add to the swimming and cursing tally more than somewhat.

I could only manage about half an hour without a break or I risked not being able to get back into the beach at all. I couldn’t stand the ignominy of being rescued! I hadn’t so much ‘hit the wall’ as run into it headlong and had it collapse down all over me!

But gradually, in little slow chunks, I ate into the 50 mile target. The dinghies had, by now, abandoned racing as the weather was much too vIMG_3690_modicious so we had the whole lake to ourselves again. Back to my large board with the 7.2m sail and 2 mile runs across the whole length of the lake to haul in the 50 mile target. And by late in the afternoon I got there; just over 51 miles when I got back to the beach!

I don’t think I could have gone another hundred yards, but I made it. Some windsurfers did less, some did more, but given the conditions, the cold, the numbness of the hands, the swimming, the exhaustion, the lack of fitness despite hours in the gym, I thought that 50 was OK for an unfit old git of 55 with little windsurfing ability!

Total distance covered = 51.2 miles

Top speed recorded = 28mph, although my average speed was clearly a lot lower than that!

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Calories burnt over 8 hours = 4600 (although I really can’t recommend it as a viable diet). Maximum heart rate = 162. Average heart rate, over the whole 8 hours = 122.

But, most importantly, money raised for cancer research = £250 (and about £15,000 in total by everyone participating in the event across the country).

clip_image016If you feel moved by my efforts, however humble, and feel that you can contribute just a little to Cancer Research, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/tom-gaskell

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