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Charlotte tells us about her training and her experience at the 2021 Dordogne Intégrale. An incredibly well-told account that makes us feel like we were there! Well done, Charlotte!
"Like one in 10 French women, I was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 26. A disease that is most often diagnosed following pain. After two years of not being able to do any kind of sport, I finally took it upon myself to gradually get back into exercise.
First a bit of yoga, then back into a bit of paddling, then some more yoga, a little cycling, cardio training, ballet, then more paddling, then more yoga, followed by a whole host of SUP races over short distances, then in relay over long distances
and then it came to me: I want to advocate perseverance, benevolence and optimism.
So I set myself the challenge of doing ultra-long distances on a SUP, solo, in partnership with Itiwit and Info Endométriose.fr. I volunteer for this charity, which aims to raise awareness and get people talking about endometriosis.
I start training as best I can after the summer holidays. This year, the Dordogne Intégrale falls on 11 September, after more than a year of Covid ups and downs.
After few long outings on the Deûle with my team-mate, I start trying to visualise the race. I begin to worry about what I should take to eat and drink—funnily enough that's almost the thing that bothers me the most.
I do a practice run: sparkling water in my bag (watch out for that gas coming back out haha), dried fruit, Aptonia purées and, of course, trying out the board supplied by Itiwit, the 14'x25" model. A little unstable to start with, being used to my rigid 12.6'x26", but eventually it glides, I stand up once the wobbles of the first ripples have passed. So it was decided: I will do the DI on an Itiwit board!
I would say I'm in good shape physically: no flare-ups for a while, I've been watching what I eat by cutting out inflammatory foods as much as possible, I stopped smoking, I drink very little alcohol.
Just the matter of the unknown: Will my endo bother me on the day? It should be OK, the race will be held 10 days before my period, not the best timing in terms of pain but fingers crossed 🤞.
The day of the race comes and I am not ready at all! I slept badly, I forgot to plan breakfast.
Luckily, the other club members have thought of everything; we share a delicious breakfast together, time for a quick toilet selfie and we're off!
The race starts just before dawn, after the kayaks.
After a few kilometres of getting to grips with the board with its special Dordogne fin (flexible 5" fin), which definitely makes it feel less stable, I get to the first rapid. It was great!
Fast-flowing with lots of water, I'm loving it! I catch up with my team-mate, who is also over the moon, and off we head to the 37km aid station. I was there before I knew it! A good average speed of 11km/h and I'm the fourth-placed woman. I wait for Manu, who gets there shortly after me with an injured leg.
I set off at my own pace, still averaging 11km/h, I'm feeling good. The weather is perfect, not too hot nor too cold, and, more importantly, no rain and very little wind. I feel good until km 50. Then everything starts to hurt. I'm entering the part of the race where the mind comes into play.
At km 70 and the second aid station, I pull over to the side and slide into the water up to my waist to relieve my muscles. I take a sandwich break while waiting for Manu, who was quite a way behind. The race manager calls for the first aiders.
I had to wait despite maintaining my fourth-place position so far.
Turns out, we both really needed the break. We laughed, we ate. I was really touched when I found out that my family was following me on the tracker and commenting on the race in a group chat. After a 90-minute break, it's time to set off again with a hefty time penalty.
The DI is a difficult race not only because it is 130km long but also because it has to be completed within a specified time.
As we paddle off, the race manager shouts: "Come on! At km 90, you're nearly there!". His words don't make sense to me at all. At that point, I dwell on the fact that I'm only half way and hurting all over…
Strangely, the aches fade away. The body is better but the mind is wavering. The river widens, there are only a few rapids here and there, there seems to be less flow, I'm tired, I feel like I'm lagging. The aid station finally comes into view.
The first-aiders change Manu's bandage, we change our fins, and the kind race manager lets us set off again despite us being behind. I had done 90 km. The last 20 actually went by quickly, another 40 doesn't seem like much. I set off again until the 110th km fully motivated!
At times it was easy, at others it was difficult; I experience every 5km differently but my body keeps going. I start singing at the top of my lungs and I'm definitely going slower.
The race was over after 110 km, we got there too late.
I'm in tears after being stopped so close to the finish line. I'm angry, I'm frustrated, I'm disappointed.
It's really tough mentally but oddly, apart from extreme fatigue, my body is fine. A big endometriosis flare-up a few nights later reminds me that I paddled 110 km and that's a crazy achievement in itself!
I didn't quite conquer the Dordogne this year but I've already signed up for 2022!
In 6 months, it will be mine."- Charlotte