11 lessons from completing one of the world’s toughest races


The Yukon River Quest is a 440 mile nonstop kayak race in Northern Canada; it’s regarded as one of the hardest races on the planet. Nearly 30 per cent of boats were forced to scratch due to capsizing, injury, exhaustion and hypothermia. The race took over 78 hrs to complete with just 10 hrs of rest in that period.

The sense of achievement in finishing the race was enormous, but what was most rewarding were the lessons it reinforced for me that go far beyond kayaking:

  1. Never underestimate yourself. I am by no means a good at kayaking and was petrified by the challenge in front of me, but by working hard you can make up for the lack of skill.
  2. The tough times don’t last forever. It can feel like the elements are against you, we faced headwinds for hours that were extremely demoralizing, but if you put your head down and work through them they soon disappear.
  3. The power of teamwork. You fail and succeed together so it is essential to look after one another. Find people that complement, inspire and entertain you and the challenge will be easier.
  4. Take the lead. If something needs to be done, get on and do it, don’t wait for someone else to do it.
  5. The power of local knowledge is invaluable. If you know where the river runs fast you can double your speed. Developing a detailed understanding of your environment is essential to success.
  6. Don’t scratch. There are times when you feel like giving up. Work through them and you will come out stronger.
  7. Enjoy what you do and smile. Life is easier when you are having a good time, so look for the positives even when everything around you is testing your limits.
  8. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Identify the things that can go wrong and make contingencies for them. If you can plan for all scenarios then you will be in a better place if they come around.
  9. Set goals. By setting small goals that ladder up to an overall objective this helps to break down the challenge into manageable chunks and helps build momentum.
  10. The harder the challenge the greater the reward. Set the bar high and push yourself to achieve it, the feeling of accomplishment is worth the pain in reaching it.
  11. Stay organized. Try and make life easy on yourself by having everything within reach. For example I duck tapped Krave Jerky to my kayak, used a tiny NoMad KeyCharger that kept my phone juiced up along the trip, without the hassle of a bunch of wires. Thinking ahead to these kind of simple shortcuts kept my kayak organized and stress free!
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11 lessons from completing one of the world’s toughest races


The Yukon River Quest is a 440 mile nonstop kayak race in Northern Canada; it’s regarded as one of the hardest races on the planet. Nearly 30 per cent of boats were forced to scratch due to capsizing, injury, exhaustion and hypothermia. The race took over 78 hrs to complete with just 10 hrs of rest in that period.

The sense of achievement in finishing the race was enormous, but what was most rewarding were the lessons it reinforced for me that go far beyond kayaking:

  1. Never underestimate yourself. I am by no means a good at kayaking and was petrified by the challenge in front of me, but by working hard you can make up for the lack of skill.
  2. The tough times don’t last forever. It can feel like the elements are against you, we faced headwinds for hours that were extremely demoralizing, but if you put your head down and work through them they soon disappear.
  3. The power of teamwork. You fail and succeed together so it is essential to look after one another. Find people that complement, inspire and entertain you and the challenge will be easier.
  4. Take the lead. If something needs to be done, get on and do it, don’t wait for someone else to do it.
  5. The power of local knowledge is invaluable. If you know where the river runs fast you can double your speed. Developing a detailed understanding of your environment is essential to success.
  6. Don’t scratch. There are times when you feel like giving up. Work through them and you will come out stronger.
  7. Enjoy what you do and smile. Life is easier when you are having a good time, so look for the positives even when everything around you is testing your limits.
  8. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Identify the things that can go wrong and make contingencies for them. If you can plan for all scenarios then you will be in a better place if they come around.
  9. Set goals. By setting small goals that ladder up to an overall objective this helps to break down the challenge into manageable chunks and helps build momentum.
  10. The harder the challenge the greater the reward. Set the bar high and push yourself to achieve it, the feeling of accomplishment is worth the pain in reaching it.
  11. Stay organized. Try and make life easy on yourself by having everything within reach. For example I duck tapped Krave Jerky to my kayak, used a tiny NoMad KeyCharger that kept my phone juiced up along the trip, without the hassle of a bunch of wires. Thinking ahead to these kind of simple shortcuts kept my kayak organized and stress free!

I never made it to Congo.


“I never made it to Congo” it feels so hollow to say and foolish. Everything got shot down, before it could begin, and i don’t know what to do. What a complete waste.
It’s been a good while since I was supposed to go to the Congo. Sadly on the day we were supposed to fly, our visa to Congo was denied. Despite doing everything requested of us, the Congo Embassy refused to grant it in London, and literally ripped a page out of our passports. The whole experience was upsetting and frustrating and completely unfathomable. Just a waste effort, time and money. Someone suggested that i’d be better donating the money I spend on trips to the Congo, but they miss the point, i’ve only ever wanted to share my feelings about a region, I care about in the hope that others will feel that way too. I don’t want to dwell on it as it makes me incredibly angry. I say that I’ve been stewing about this for weeks, I’ve let everyone down.
What this meant was I couldn’t travel to the country and do the plans I’d prepared to trying and shed a light on life in the Congo. As I’d said previously, I wanted to go to the Congo to show how things have changed in the region, what life is like and to reconnect with the country having not been there for a number of years. I was aiming to use the trip to the Congo to springboard future activity and campaigns. None of this could happen.
I don’t know what the impact of going to Congo would have been and never will. Perhaps raised some money for WFW, a few blogs, maybe a bit of coverage in a paper. I don’t know. What frustrates me is that I wanted to really be able to show the positive sides of life in the Congo and try and get people to better understand a region that isn’t just about violence and conflict. The place and people are beautiful, it deserves better. The place has been defined by conflict but there is more to the region, much more. I wanted to bring some hope and positivity so people could see the potential.
Since standing in Goma in 2009 and feeling overwhelmed by everything I’d seen and heard I’ve done what I could do few more people aware of the Congo. It has a profound effect on me personally and shaped my life, values and priorities. I’ll never feel like I’ve done enough because I don’t think anyone could, but I’ve tried. I’m still eaten by guilt about the situation there.
What made it frustrating is that in July I’ll be moving to San Francisco, making future trips to the Congo much harder especially given recent troubles with the visa. However, with moving to a new country and city, I’ve got the opportunity to speak and try and engage a new group of people able the Congo. I’ve always been concerned I’d fatigued you all with my ramblings and I’m sure many of your are bored of me rattling on about running, conflict and the Congo. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t mean anything to me.
I really appreciate the overwhelming support you’ve granted me as I’ve ran for Congo. We’ve done a lot, but there is more to be done and i’m sorry i couldn’t make it back.
I don’t really know what else to write. This is just the end of the beginning.
Chris

Sorry your trolling has backfired!


When I was wondering about going back to the Congo in March, I got an email saying that someone had commented on my blog. I thought it was a touch strange as I hadn’t blogged in months. So I opened it up and the comment that was left was just bizarre and made me even more determined to go back to the Congo.

“I don’t get it: how running 12 marathons a year could help people in Congo ? By the way, I lived in Kinshasa and worked in the Bukavu region when based in Goma. Amnesty international must be the worst choice to help people in desperate regions of the world with their current life. And no, 12 marathons-triathlons is nowhere near a “world record” as you put it. I ran 17 a year. A group of people named the Marathons Maniacs run 52 a year. Some more than 100 a year…For what is worth…!”

At the time I was pretty upset by what this person had said, I couldn’t really understand why he was having a go at me for something that I thought was right to do. Having thought about it more and more, it was another tipping point for me to go back and to keep people aware of the Congo.

It isn’t about running 26 miles or 2600 miles, picking up medals and PBs. I run because that’s basically all I know and think I can do. The distance is arbitrary, but I’m just trying to do something to create a conversation starter to get them aware of the conflict in the Congo. Not enough people know about the situation in the Congo, what the women in that region have lived through and still do. I’m going there to try and shed a bit of light on the world that has been in the shade for too long.

An old friend sent me an email in 2010 which still perfectly captures what i’m trying to achieve:

“Just read your blog and wanted to tell you that I’ve pretty much told every person on my course and most of my good friends about your exploits over the last 6 months, never deliberately it just crops up in conversation. It always starts with a “holy jesus he’s crazy” or “fucking hell he’s mad” from them as they listen but always ends with them wanting to know what is fuelling you and i always make sure i tell them about the conflict in Congo & the lack of coverage. They are always interested and can’t believe what is going on in a small pocket of a forgotten bit of Africa.” 

I want people to know that the troubles in Congo exist and be aware. If they care about them then great, if not then that’s their choice, but I want to try and give as many people the option to care as possible. Last time it was through running this time its with a bit of cooking.

You might have read that I’m going to the Congo and think, oh he’s done that before, what’s new about that, what’s changed? This is far from straight forward. This isn’t a holiday. This is going to be tough, not physically, but mentally.

The hardest thing and the one thing I’m really worried about is that people will be fatigued, think they’ve heard it all before. It’s been three years since last visiting the Congo and things have changed and I want to show you how they have changed and why it is still paramount to take an interest in the Congo.

When I’m away for the next ten days, I’d really appreciate it if you can share updates with friends and family so that more people are made aware about what has been a forgotten conflict for too long.

 

Flying to the Congo on Friday


After a rather testing few days trying to secure a visa for the Congo, it looks like it is coming together. I won’t bore you with the details, but it has been harder and more testing than first thought.
With the visa now it train, I can start looking forward to the trip to the Congo on Friday. We’ve got a lot planned for the 10 days that we are there and can’t wait to tell you all about.
We’ll be traveling about 400km into the Congo from Bukavu and spending the night out in rural Congo cooking with the women. In preparation for cooking in the Congo, I’ll be making a hell of a lot of homemade pesto to take with me and then I have the small matter of taking a lot of pasta to the DRC with me.
Plans are underway for a fun run on Monday for the women that Women for Women work with in Bukavu. And Tuesday looks set to be the day when I attempt the marathon through the Congo again.  Given the security situation it looks like we’ll be running slightly later in the day, with a 10am which means it is going to be very hot.
There is a lot happening at the moment and i don’t have much time, but i’ll try and give you a bit better overview of our plans and i’d love to hear from you about the stuff you are interested in. Hopefully through next week, I’ll be able to give you some updates each day in the DRC and tweet, blog and video blog updates daily on where we’ve been and what we’ve been up to.
I’m pretty shocked at how quickly it has come by, in terms of flying on Friday. But I can’t wait to get back out to the Congo and to tell you more about life in the Congo, the challenges the women face in that region and why it is important to be aware that has all too often been forgotten.
Thanks,
Chris

WOW! £2240 raised through the treadmill marathon!


Justgiving

I’m absolutely knackered. You’ll have seen I completed the marathon in about 3.25.06. I’m sorry that I posed so many links showing my nostrils at various angles. This is only half the story.Treadmill marathon

Yesterday was a logistical nightmare! Picked up a van drove it round to the gym, got the treadmill next to the van, all going smoothly…..and then, tried to get it on to the van. It was too bloody tall. Jackson you idiot.

Anyhow having tried a variety of ways to get into the van it was happening. Fear not with four kiwi lads on hand we shifted it into the van, with the treadmill hanging out the back, we gaffer taped the doors “shut” and then made our merry way over to Westminster. It’s only about 1.5 miles to drive from Waterloo to Westminster, but it felt like an eternity, I don’t think we got out of 2nd gear. We parked up outside Banqueting House unloaded the treadmill and pitched it into the hall on this giant throne. The day was getting more and more bizarre.

I’d bought a tuxedo running shirt, which looked stupid, but was more stupid in the sense that it was so tight and hot that I was beading sweat after about 8 minutes. So I started jogging away, my target time was about 3hrs 30mins, so I started at 4.45 hoping to finish at 8.15. As you can imagine these big events take a lot of organising and timing is pretty crucial to make sure it’d run smoothly. I’d got my pacing wrong and had gone off to quick, then need a quick toilet stop, so after a while I was completely lost as to how far or long I’d be going for. Someone was keeping an eye on this, but when the event started to over run, I’d then lost all sense of when I need to run by.

I think it was after about 2hrs or so when my left leg felt tight and my toes went numb, this happens a lot from all the past running, but it just makes running very painful and quite uncomfortable. This was all happening while guests started to stream in and asking what the hell I was doing. To be honest it wasn’t so bad, I was running a marathon and they always hurt after a while. What was so cool was just seeing everyone’s face when they came in, just staring at the sweaty guy on a treadmill, not really knowing what the hell was happening.

It turns out things were over running at the event and i was running quicker too. Anyhow, so that basically meant I’d finished far too early, so then had to keep running for I think for about another 20 mins or more and covering a few more miles as well. hey ho, i’d completed the marathon on a treadmill in Banqueting House!

It was really quite overwhelming finishing the race. When you’re on a stage and everyone is looking back you. I didn’t really know what to say or where to look, just hoping that being a running jester had helped raise enough money for Women for Women.

It turns out the marathon helped raise £2240. In 2010 I’d set a target of £10,000 to raise and actually reaching it today is personally really important, even though it took a little longer than i’d hoped. I felt I’d let myself down not reaching my target, so it means a lot to reach it. I appreciate I’ve placed a lot of burdens on people in the past asking for their donations, time and attention. But I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t think it was important and cared about this. That’s why I’m going back to the Congo in June. I’ve had a glimpse of the darkness the women there face. But the they deserve better. They deserve your support. They deserve your attention.

And just as I promised in 2009 I’m going to try and do that.

Why am I going back to Congo now?


IMG_5378It’s been a fair time since I wrote a blog. I’m still running, but you probably haven’t heard me harp on too much about the Congo as much as I’d use to. I’m sorry about this and I thought I’d share a few reasons why this was the case:

  1.  I had begun to feel that the campaign had fatigued by 2011. I’d done my best to get people to be aware of the Congo, but after that I felt I was endanger of turning people off the topic by repeatedly banging a drum.
  2. I think the challenge of running a marathon, ultra-marathon or kayaking was no longer really cutting through, I’d proved myself to some degree and after a while people seemed to accept that it was pretty normal and straight forward for me to do. The challenge had vanished.
  3. The last time I visited Congo was in August 2010 and time passed I lost my understanding of the region as I didn’t have that tangible connection that I’d had in 2009 and 2010. Over time my knowledge was fuelled only by press coverage.
  4. I was knackered. Running, training, thinking, planning and everything else that comes with trying to get people to focus on the Congo left me shattered. I needed a break. The one thing I learnt is to get cut through you need energy.

I’m sure there are other things, but hopefully the ones listed above give you an idea why things have been quiet for a while. The one thing that hasn’t altered is that the situation in Eastern Congo hasn’t improved considerably if at all since 2010.

This summer I’m going to be going back to the Congo with new ideas and energy to provide a new insight into life in the Congo and help you understand a little bit more about the Congo and ensure that people don’t forget in an area that still requires you support and attention.

Share: The Cookbook


One of my aims for going back out to the Congo is to help create interest and awareness of a new cookbook launched by Women for Women, called Share. 

100% of the publisher’s profits will go to Women for Women International and help women in war-torn countries rebuild their lives. You can buy it from Amazon here!

Share: The Cookbook

 The book is a collection of recipes from the women living in the war-torn countries where we operate and also from renowned international chefs such as Alice Waters,Maggie BeerRene Redzepi and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and humanitarians such as Aung San Suu KyiNelson MandelaChristine AmanpourDesmond Tutu,Emma ThompsonJudi DenchRichard BransonAnnie LennoxPaul McCartneyand Mia Farrow. The foreword was written by Meryl Streep.

There are over 100 recipes from traditional Afghani bichak pastries and Congolese sticky doughnuts, to sweet-potato-topped salmon, Thai fish curry and cheese and leek tart.

Hopefully the recipes in the book aren’t too complicated as I’ll be cooking them for the women in the Congo when I head there in June, including a rather tasty pasta dish contributed by me!

Cosmopolitan Ultimate Man of the Year


at Cosmo awards with Jessica Ennis

Last night i won the Cosmopolitan Ultimate Man of the Year award…here’s the speech i gave upon accepting the award:

Thank you very much for this award. I never thought I’d win this, especially when I read that only 3% of cosmo readers said they liked a man with a moustache….

In all seriousness….. 

I’m not the one who deserves this award and won’t be keeping it. I’ll be buying some bubble wrap and sending it out to the women I met in Congo.

Many women in the Congo have spent their life running from fear, suffered the cruelest attacks, but still get up in the morning and remain strong and work, work to pay for their child to go to school. It should be those beautiful, courageous and resilient women that are recognised for their determination. Women like Solange, Alice and Genarose.

From my time out there, the one thing that helped was for the women to know that people, women like them in the UK were aware, so that they did not feel alone, forgotten or further stigmatised.

I’d like to thank Cosmo for helping to spread awareness about the Congo. It is an excellent recognition of the work that Women for Women do in the Congo and the fantastic film work of Millie Harvey.

I made a promise to myself, after visiting Congo the first time, that i would make people aware of the plight that many women and children had suffered. When you’ve sat and listened to ordeal that many women have gone through, running a marathon is nothing. Today is another step in making more people of the impact of the conflict on women in the Congo. But it isn’t enough and I’ll keep running till one day they won’t have too.

Without a paddle, skill or much else


I am not good at kayaking, I’m shockingly bad if I’m honest, I’m a novice. Seeing the skill and appreciating the difference in class from myself and those taking part in the race this weekend, it made me wonder why. Why take part in a race when the gulf in ability is so grand, as to put my own body in danger and to finish hours after the real kayakers. I do it, because I shouldn’t do it, because it makes no sense whatsoever and only at the point where the challenge seems impossible does my brain think, yeah let’s give this a go, let’s see what happens, how bad can it be. I might be wrong or I might be right, but I kind of think that the harder the challenge the more people will take an interest. If that’s the case then hopefully about millions of you will know about the Congo and Women for Women. Because this weekend was gruelling, demoralising but satisfying.

The paddle itself doesn’t look that complicated piece of equipment, essentially a broom with a table tennis bat at either end. How hard could it be to make one, to make a functioning one: practically impossible.

At about 6am on saturday morning, I was up a tree with a pocket knife in my hand, sawing off a suitable branch to use as a paddle. I’d looked around for some sticks on the ground, but they were all soft and broke too easily. 20 mins later I’d got the branch, after a bit of handy work, I’d carved two areas to grip, so I wouldn’t get blisters, and the attempted to fasten my frying pan to the stick with some string. The other end I’d split and forced some sticks down there and tied it up. I’d love to say that this worked well, but within minutes of paddling it broke and I was back to paddling with a 7 foot stick.

I had gotten into this mess at about 11pm the night before. After a strong start to the race, the sun was down and it was almost a blackout, I was kayaking with a head torch and another strapped to my boat, but they weren’t powerful enough, and the light barely stretched two metres. I first heard the rushing of water and felt the boat quicken its pace, then suddenly I could make out a felled tree in the river that was stuck there, I tried to steer round it, but this just took me side on to, smashing the kayak on the side. I made a feeble attempt to right the kayak, but it wasn’t enough and the kayak was flipped, sending me straight under the tree and trapped underneath.

I managed to pop out the kayak underwater and came up for air, I smacked my head on the boat, realising I’d come up between the tree and boat. I tried to stay calm, but it was cold, dark and in the back of my mind, I knew I was in trouble. But unlike last year when I caved in, my mindset was completely different, the capsize made it real and more than just endurance, but about survival. I didn’t have distance checkpoints in my head anymore, rather my brain was full of survival checkpoints: get out the river with kayak, get out of wet clothes, dry off, make fire, hot drink, food, make shelter, work out plan.

I really don’t like the dark and I’m scared of water. So standing neck deep in a river when its pitch black is horrible. I knew I had to be quick, so attempted to swim the 30 metres to the river bank. I tried to kick my way there, but the flow of the river took us down stream and pushed me under the boat. I clenched my knife in my teeth, in case I had to cut my legs free from anything in the water, eventually I made the bank ramming my kayak up the side and out the way. The next 30 minutes I scurried back and forth getting dry and fixing things- keeping busy and pushing how bad the situation to the back of my mind. A few other kayakers came by and helped, letting the organisers know my position and getting my kayak up on to the side of the river. I tried to make a fire, but the wood was a bit damp, so I resorted to using my stove and gas canister to make a blowtorch to get it going. The wood quickly started burning, but the flames and licked the gas canister and the flames were out of control, making a flame about a metre or so high. I panicked about it blowing up like a grenade so kicked it into the river, to put it out, before retrieving it and then knocked up some stella chicken noodles and green tea. I could feel the warmth flow around my body and my mood change. Things were bad, I knew my paddle was gone and checked the map, knowing there was nothing around, the organisers couldn’t reach me till the morning at the earliest, so i wrapped myself up in a sleeping bag (thank you Will Hardy) and then an emergency blanket I had left from the London marathon the week before. I was pretty warm to begin with but then the rain, thunder and lightening began, soaking any part of me that couldn’t get under the blanket. As I tried to sleep, my phone rang, I nearly slit my body open with my knife. I was so worried about being in the wild that I slept with my knife open, it was Coop. Taking calls from Coop and Maggie was a massive morale boost, both of them keeping me chipper.

I managed about an hours sleep, but I was distraught. Not because of the cold, rather I’d fucked up again. I couldn’t finish the race, the paddle was gone and the organisers expected me to quit. I came here to finish it, but within hours my dream seemed over, it hurt even more that I was so bullish about finishing.

I phoned the organisers and told them I was carrying on with a stick. I wasn’t quitting that easily. I needed to show him I was real about finishing, so he’d do his best to get a paddle. He didn’t seem optimistic about me getting a spare, but I had to carry on, I didn’t want any regrets.

Kayaking with a stick is hard, almost impossible. It is all effort for little reward, turning it left or right took minutes, whilst navigating passed fallen trees, bridges and rapids was scary and stupid. I knew if I went in again, that could be it, my last chance to gain some redemption from last year. It was slow and frustrating, but it was all I had, I couldn’t give up. A call from hardy and messages from others kept me upbeat and I began to embrace the challenge of finishing the race.

About 5hrs of kayaking later, I’d taken a call from a random number, telling me I had a paddle if I was committed to the finish. I met Lazy Turtle at a bridge to get the paddle, in my excitement, I’d fallen in the river again, soaking me through (I’m so bad at this). But Lazy Turtle was kind enough to lend me some more thermal trousers and boil water to get me warm. After that break I carried on.

I took the decision to hitch a lift a little down the river, as I’d lost 14hrs or so because of the fall, I couldn’t make this time up and the check points would close otherwise. I didn’t want too, but it made sense for my safety, I couldn’t take another fall being in such a remote place.

I was just happy to keep going and I tried my best to set a decent pace. I was so frightened of rapids and obstacles in the river that I had this bizzare look of concentration of my face, just focused on the river, grinding my teeth and screaming at myself to work harder when I took a rest. I loved it, it was so easy for me to quit, I had the perfect excuse for giving in, I had no paddle. But despite this my resolve to finish firmed up. I wanted to prove to the latvian guys I wasn’t a quitter, I may be awful at kayaking, but I could still finish, I wanted their respect. The guys I met along the way either supporting the other racers or those taking part, were a massive catalyst for me getting through it.

It was coming to about 10pm and I was pulling into the second check point. After dropping my phone in the river and a few portions of soup I carried on. Having done what I thought was the hardest rapids, earlier in the day, I hadn’t thought about others down stream. As we were leaving someone mentioned a set of rapids about an hour down the river. There was a cliff, which got the river swirling and could crack you against the rocks if you went the wrong way. No one knew which side of the river the cliff was and there were a variety of opinions on how to tackle it. This sounded bad enough in the light, but in the pitch black taking on rapids is probably the most idiotic thing I’ve done. As I kayaked towards the rapid, I was a mess. I wanted to get to the finish, but what began to scare me was the fear of another capsizing. Falling out and being smashed against the cliffs in the dark and having nothing to keep me warm was petrifying. I’d promised Maggie and my family I’d stay out of trouble and there I was having been awake for over 30hrs I was now kayaking in the dark towards some rapids. As I got closer thunder and lightening erupted echoing all around, rain lashing down the river, exploding light around me, this only heighten my senses, hearing the bubbling river turn into crashing waves and not knowing where it came from is petrifying, the river quickened, pushing you closer, scanning the feeble headtorch looking for the cliffs. Why did I always need a piss when danger strikes, pissing into a bottle I could hear the rumble of the rapids, I couldn’t stop, finally, I added a little bit extra to the river from my urination station and quickly pulled over the spray deck just before i began bouncing through the rapids squeezing the paddle tensing my whole body, I’d gotten through it, physically shaking with cold and panic.

The next 5hrs were hard, being in the dark, searching out things of danger in the river, trying to stay awake when you body is ready to collapse is horrible. Hallucinations began to play tricks in my mind. I saw a bluey green light that I tried to follow into the night, occasionally I’d see a red light that looked like a kayaker in trouble, I’d paddle to catch up, straining my eyes and seeing him submerged in water and trapped in a dead tree. I shout but heard nothing back and never getting closer, I was chasing shadows and lights and never getting there. Ahead of me I could see a giant cruise liner, I paddle to get out the way, but it kept coming towards me, I shouted for help, it carried on, eventually I realised it was smoke on the water from a capsite. These images carried on, seeing snakes in the river, a sea lion and tiny green bears running along the bank, they threw rocks at me so I threw them gummy bears and nuts. Only when I got closer, the rocks that they were throwing were nothing more than little rock falls. My headed was messed up beyond belief, I sat in my kayak making animal noises, talking at great length to the different objects scatter around my boat. Maggie phoned, this helped to speak to someone, but got freaked out by me speaking to my headphones, telling them to “be quiet as I’m on the phone to maggie”. The whole sequence was bizarre, I spent the next 14hrs kayaking to the finish. I arrived broken, but happy, knowing I’d battled through an awful lot to reach the finish, I’d made it.

There is no special finish line, like the big marathons where thousands greet your arrival, rather it was much better. Handshakes and congratulations from fellow racers meant a lot. What I didn’t predict was the sauna that someone had brought down to the finishline. I thought they were joking at first, but there sat a small wooden old gypsy caravan, I pulled it open and in side was the best sauna I’ve ever been in. Chatting about the race, feeling my muscles unpick themselves and the sweat and dead skin drip of my body.

I finished the race how it had pretty much how I started it by falling back in the river, this time it was my own decision, washing the muck off my body and the disappointment from last year when I had left latvia angry and upset.

Maybe kayak racing isn’t my thing, because I’m really bad at it and I fall in and put myself in trouble. But through this trip and others, I’ve learnt more than I could from running and I bloody love it. I wouldn’t have wanted the race any other way. The moments of fear, crisis and self doubt made this fun, coming through each challenge and preparing for the next.

I have a choice though about doing things like this where, I put myself in trouble, but others don’t. Many women in the Congo, face far far worse that what I’ve gone through and ever will. So please remember why I’m doing this, take an interest and learn about the DRC, share this video (http://vimeo.com/m/31188445) or drop a few quid to women for women: http://www.justgiving.com/runforcongo