Ivan English has been canoeing since he was a child.
Yet for most of his life, the thought of competing in the 715-kilometre Yukon River Quest — the world’s longest annual paddling race — was a daunting prospect.
“I was scared of that race for lots of years because I’d heard stories of people doing that and getting injured just because it’s very long and so repetitive,” recalls English, who is now 45.
But when a long-time friend and paddling partner asked English to join him in this year’s competition, English acquiesced.
“I’m getting a little older and those longer events, they aren’t as scary as when you’re a young person,” he said. “I decided I’d just try it at least once and (my friend) was the perfect partner to do it with.”
English, who lives in Saskatoon, travelled to Whitehorse in late June to compete in the tandem canoe category with his friend, Mike Vincent, from Regina.
After nearly 45 hours of paddling time, the duo was the first tandem team to reach Dawson City, finishing five hours ahead of the next tandem crew. They also, in fact, finished first place overall, finishing 10 minutes ahead of the six-person team that took second place.
“When I was done it was sort of, not euphoria, but just feeling sort of done,” English recalls. “I was just really happy to be out of that boat.”
The race was made up of three legs. English and Vincent paddled about 20 hours to the first mandatory rest stop where they had seven hours to refuel and close their eyes. Then they paddled another 14 hours to the second mandatory rest stop, where they were required to take a three hour break. After that, the pair pushed to the finish.
Paddling for such long stretches requires proper preparation. English said he and Vincent packed extra seat cushions, clothes for all weather and enough calories to keep their energy up.
“Obviously you’re going to bonk if you don’t have any nutrition, so that was pretty important,” he said.
English’s nutrition plan included drinking nearly four liters of Maurten sports drink and a couple of Maurten gels — the same product used by elite marathon runners including world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge and European-record holder Mo Farah. The drink and gel was provided to English by Brainsport.
English said Maurten was a perfect fuel for the race because he was able to consume it quickly while paddling. Plus it was tasty.
“It was pretty good. It was really good actually,” he said.
English says he’s not sure if he’ll try to defend his Yukon Quest title, but he isn’t ruling it out. For now though, he’s turning his attention to shorter races and he’s looking forward to the upcoming cross-country skiing season.