ALEXANDRE CAME THIRD IN THE 350-KM DORDOGNE INTÉGRALE RACE ON AN ITIWIT RACE 14' INFLATABLE SUP

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"For the 3rd year in a row, I took part in the Dordogne Intégrale. But this year, the race format had changed. It is no longer 130 km in a day but 350 km in 3 days, still starting in Argentat but now stretching almost all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean in the town of Blaye.

The 3-day race is totally self-sufficient and each participant must have their own helper to manage supplies and to set up camp on the banks of the Dordogne. So my Dad came with me and we hired a motorhome for the occasion.

You never know what you are signing up for with this type of event. But being familiar with the first part of the course and knowing my love of long-distance challenges, it was very unlikely that I would be disappointed... and I was right, what an adventure!"

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#1 First off, good physical preparation

January 2019, my application for the DI350 is accepted. In terms of equipment, I'm fortunate to have got one of the very first examples of the new Itiwit Race 14' x 25" inflatable SUPs. I was familiar with the rigidity and speed of this board after using a prototype on the "SUP 11 City Tour" in Holland over 220 kilometres. I wanted to push it a little further to see what it could do. The paddle was an easy choice. Since using the Itiwit adjustable carbon paddle 900, I no longer suffer from tendinitis or blisters. My brother, a triathlon coach, drew up a training plan for me to get me physically prepared. The preparations got off to a difficult start. It's not easy to find time for long training sessions when you work in retail like me (Decathlon Calais store).  So I soon opted for shorter but high-quality training sessions. Between 1 hour and 2 hours 3 times a week before work or at lunchtime, always keeping my board in the boot. I even invest in the Itiwit triple action HP pump to inflate my Itiwit Race 14' SUP quicker to make me even faster on the water. The weeks go by, punctuated by sessions on the water, strength training, mountain biking and running.

#2 I'm going to have to paddle at night and sort out food and drink for 3 days

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I had already tested out a light system during the "11 City Tour" in Holland. I already knew that the best solution was to mount a light on the front of the SUP. So I rigged up some camera mounts to which I could attach my light (Rockrider Vioo 900) and battery. For food and water on the river, I found a good solution. I drank a sip of Isostar every 30 minutes, as well as several sips of a Glutamine and Amino Acid blend to keep my strength up and a sip of naturally sparkling mineral-rich water. For nutrition, I ate 1 or 2 bars an hour (almond paste, cereal bar, fruit paste). If I got hungry, I always had a mini can of coke and a protein bar on me. I stopped every 6 hours to restock and eat solid food prepared by my father (pasta, tuna, eggs, croque monsieur, etc.). I particularly enjoyed the week leading up to the race. My preparation was thorough. I like to spread out all my gear so that I can prepare to the last detail by imagining myself in all the situations I am likely to face. For nutrition and hydration, I will be using Aptonia; for clothing, a combination of Kalenji, Olaian and Itiwit. I tried out the new Itiwit 50N Pocket buoyancy aid on a long trip (a condition for the race) and I like it:  plenty of pockets, water bladder, no discomfort when paddling, perfect for paddling in for 3 days! The Race 14' board doesn't have a net on the front so I added a stretchy net to the front of the SUP to keep my cereal bars in.

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#3 The first day is the longest

2 days to go: accompanied by my father, we set off for the race. After picking up a motorhome on the way, we get to the start point. Once I had picked up my bib, I met up with the Itiwit team at camp but time flies and I needed to stock up on sleep. Friday, April 19, Argentat, 7:00: here we go, the buzz of the start line. It's all about sticking to a pace and not burning through too much energy. I set myself the target of reaching Mauzac at km 176 before midnight tonight. The day goes well and I stop every 6 hours or so to eat some solid food (pasta, sandwich, etc.). I'm feeling fit, I even beat my personal best from last year at km 130 by more than 20 minutes. I'm in the zone and I'm going at the same speed or even faster than many competitors in on rigid 14' or longer boards—a good sign! 23:30: Mission accomplished, I've made it to Mauzac! I have to get out of the water here because it is impossible to paddle the Dordogne between Mauzac and Bergerac because of blockages. So I head for a wild campsite at the water's edge 30 kilometres away and get some sleep. I will head off again at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning.

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#3 Day two facing a tidal bore

The second day is looking intense. I now know that I am in a good position but I also know that we are going to be hitting the tidal bore head on. I am still not fully awake when I set off at 6 o'clock in the morning, but little by little I find my pace. I manage to overtake a few competitors with whom I share sections of the course. A little before Cubzac, the thing we are all dreading is heading straight for me: the tidal bore! So much power, it's almost impossible to paddle against the current so I wisely decide to join the other competitors on the bank. There are 4 of us and there is a spot on the podium to play for. We chat and eventually I decide to set off against the current by sticking close to the banks. I'm pretty much going in blind and trusting the nose of my board to deflect all the branches coming straight at me. It is handy having an inflatable SUP with a semi-rigid nose; I don't have to worry about breaking it! I keep moving slowly but surely. I try to stick to the sides, that should do it, I'm going to make it to Cubzac. I get to Cubzac at 19:45, I could still paddle for another hour and a quarter and I know that the competition are hot on my heels. I decide to carry on a little longer so as not to lose my lead. Around 8.30 p.m., I get to Port de Plagne where I stop for the night. My Dad tells me that I am now 3rd and that I am about 30 minutes ahead of number 4. With 25 kilometres to go, I do a quick calculation, that should be just enough...

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#4 It's the finish line, I'm on the podium!

A good night's sleep and I'm off again at 6:30 to face the tidal bore once more. I'm lucky enough to be sharing this stretch with the second relay SUP team; we fight against the current and use the bank for protection. 3.5 hours later, it's the finish line!

We all get a hero's welcome from the organisers and helpers. I fall into my dad's arms. What a pleasure to complete such an adventure surrounded by family and fellow lovers of paddle sports.

I managed to finish 3rd Solo SUP with a time of 34:13 on the longest race in Europe on an off-the-shelf inflatable board. This is incredible and it proves the full potential of this inflatable Itiwit 14' SUP that more than holds its own against other models. On the water, the board left more than one competitor in its wake and I must admit that I quickly took a liking to it and it gave me even more motivation to perform!

A big thank you to the organisers of this crazy race and in particular to Philippe the boss of the Dordogne Intégrale who will be passing the gauntlet after an incredible achievement."

Alexandre Heneman

The start of the race in Argentat

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