The Dordogne Intégrale, 350 km race in an inflatable kayak

The adventures and anecdotes during the Dordogne Intégrale three-day race in X500 inflatable kayaks

Dordogne Intégrale inflatable kayak


BAPTISTE (Manager, Decathlon Lyon Part Dieu):
Thanks to the Itiwit team, I heard about plans for the "Dordogne Intégrale 350" (350 kilometres from Argentat to Blaye over several days and mostly self-sufficient). I love this kind of multi-day event and I am pretty familiar with the format because I have already completed some for trail walking, mountain biking, and mountaineering, but never on the water. So it's a huge personal challenge. As an Itiwit ambassador, I naturally turned to the new Itiwit Strenfit x500 inflatable kayak. Once I had signed up, there was still all the rest of the planning left to do because, if you are doing a race spanning several days, you need to figure out where to stop and where to sleep at night. But first I needed to find my assistant (obligatory for the race). I turned to a work colleague and friend, also a great sportsman, to follow me and support me in the event. He knows what's in store because he was there in 2018 when I did the Dordogne Intégrale, 130 kilometres on an Itiwit inflatable stand-up paddleboard. I knew he would make me laugh at times when it would be the most difficult mentally. And for me, that's key!  

NICOLAS (Decathlon Development Manager)
When the Itiwit team announced the 350-kilometre challenge, I did not hesitate for a second. And of course, there was no discussion of doing a relay, I wanted to solo kayak. Élodie, my wife, will accompany me during the race to support me, encourage me and give me supplies. I already know that her role will be decisive for a successful race. 1 day to go: the alarm clock goes off at the crack of dawn, the taxi is already waiting for us on the road. We quickly load my Itiwit gear consisting of a backpack in which is folded my Itiwit Strenfit x500 kayak that I used on the Dordogne Intégrale 130 km last year, my buoyancy aid, a pump, my paddles, and our two suitcases. We head to Paris Orly airport for our flight to Bordeaux. Once we get to Bordeaux, we pick up our luggage and are on our way. Travelling with an inflatable kayak is a breeze! We pick up our van that we have rented for the occasion and head for Argentat.

#1 Logistics, the cornerstone of this challenge

I wrote down every last detail to make this the perfect race, whether it was about the route or the list of equipment to take with me so that I don't forget anything before, during, or after the race. For the course, I decided to start with two long days for a more chilled finish: I immediately ruled out the idea of sleeping in a tent. I had already experienced it in 2018 and with bad weather conditions, I never managed to get warm and I ended up falling ill. So I settled on the idea of hiring a motorhome. This means of transport will allow me to sleep well for a good recovery. If the weather is bad, I will be able to warm myself up inside from time to time and share some good times with my assistants. In terms of preparation, I'm not trying to set any records so I know that mental strength will be more important than physical strength. But to prepare as well as I could, I ran and rowed twice a week for cardio. I also worked on my core muscles because you always need them in a kayak and the paddling position puts a huge strain on the body. And, finally, kettlebell exercises increase upper body strength and endurance.

dordogne integrale 2019

#2 The eve of the race, the pressure is on

¤BAPTISTE:~As we get to Argentat, we park up at the camping area, which is in fact the rugby stadium of the town. I meet up with people I met in 2018 and the Itiwit team. Nicolas is here too, we say we must be a bit mad to have come all the way here just for this race!~It's time to pick up my bib, GPS tracker and goodies from the organisers. I'm starting to feel the pressure because tomorrow is the big day. I see many kayaks on the way, there are loads of different kayaks but none are inflatable!~Back at camp, I inflate my x500 kayak in less than 5 minutes. This is one of the big advantages of this touring kayak. Then I fit the seat and the footrests and install all the mandatory safety equipment. I fill a 10-litre dry bag with a survival blanket and a first-aid kit just in case. I stow it all in the rear hatch.~For light, at the front, I chose a waterproof torch. But in all honesty, it will be more to help me see what I am doing on the kayak than my surroundings. And to signal my position from behind, I attach a sailing waterproof flashing safety light to the handle. ~To top off my equipment, I add a glow stick to the front pocket of my new Itiwit 50N Pocket buoyancy aid, as well as a Forclaz Trek 900 head torch to see what's happening around me when navigating at night; without forgetting all my food, both sweet and savoury to keep it interesting. ¤NICOLAS:~Once I get there, I quickly notice that most of the kayakers are fitted out with "competition" gear, they mean business! I start to question whether I will make it all the way. But I quickly come back to positive thoughts: the spirit of competition is about trying your best and having fun doing it.  ~After picking up my bib and GPS tracker, we have a meal with all the participants and listen to the latest recommendations of the race director.~We don't stay long and quickly head off to get settled and set up for the night near the starting line. After inflating my kayak (5 minutes), with my identification number 90 stuck on the front right end, and getting my equipment and supplies ready, we spend our first night in our van.  

dordogne integrale 2019 briefing

#3 Day one of the race, we know the course

There are a lot of people at the launch point. The stress starts to build, there is a bit of a wait before entering the water… I put on my spraydeck and quickly head to the start but by the time I get to the bridge, it has already been launched, so I am one of the last to leave. I know all the first section as I did it on a SUP last year but it is nice to rediscover it in the sunshine this time; I almost forget to hydrate myself properly and feed myself. I end up suffering from the heat a little and I have a bit of a headache, it is now important to keep an eye on the time and keep myself regularly hydrated. After 2 p.m., I take a quick break every 2 hours to stretch my back and legs. The little "rapids" of the day go very smoothly by putting my knees on the side of the kayak, which gives a lot more stability on the water. This kayak is both stable and very easy to handle while keeping a nice line in the water to keep you going forwards. At 8 p.m., there are still a few kilometres to go until Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. Safety first! It's time to turn on all the lights provided for this purpose. Paddling in the dark is quite a strange sensation, you get this constant feeling of not going anywhere but I soon get to the end of this first stage.I decide to stop at the Castelnaud checkpoint instead of going all the way to Siorac as planned. At this point, I thought it would be best to rest up ready for the next few days so that I don't get too cold as the coolness of the evening was starting to creep in. Also so that I can recover properly since my left wrist was starting to ache. 

I turn on my tracker, put it on the front deck of my boat and climb in. I bump into several members of the Itiwit team and we exchange a few words of encouragement before joining the line-up. The race director has just announced that there are 2 minutes to go until the start. I am in the 4th row back so that I don't get soaked. The seconds sail by then the pack of boats is released, producing an impressive slapping sound. It's got to be said that 300 paddles moving at the same time displaces a serious amount of water! I am familiar with the first 130 km and I already know what to look out for to choose the right channels of water, so this section goes without a hitch. Unfortunately, this was not the case for many other competitors. I come across Julie, Itiwit engineer competing in the stand-up paddleboard relay, and paddle with her for several kilometres. The race will be very long and it's nice to be able to have a chat. I arrive at Castelnaud, the village chosen by the organisers as the first checkpoint and knockout stage since only competitors who arrive before 10 p.m. will be allowed to continue. My wife brings me supplies and reads out some messages of encouragement sent on a Whatsapp group of my supporters; I fit some little lights to the front and back of my kayak and set off to discover the river and, in some ways, myself; I have never paddled beyond the 130 km mark... Night falls and any tiredness I had begun to feel gives way to the pleasure of being alone on this beautiful night, bathed in the light of the full moon. A group of swans blinded by my light fly away just a few metres from my boat. All my senses are heightened: it feels like I am going much faster than before and now I can clearly make out the sound of the current picking up speed. I love this moment. My peace was only momentarily disturbed by a few hundred mayflies, attracted by the beam of my head torch. I get to Siorac-en-Périgord. I land, satisfied with my first day on the water, with 147 kilometres on the clock. We quickly have something to eat and are soon off to bed.

itiwit inflatable kayak dordogne intégrale