This photo shows a relay teams hands after 2 days kayaking on the Murray Marathon.
Please note the blisters and redness.
I believe that this is all totally preventable.
Bill's Training Tips
Tips for Marathon Kayakers from Bill Robinson
Welcome to my MMP Paddlers page
I have probably paddled more Murray kms than anyone else over the past 25 years, and as a result of a combination of experience and trial and error.
I have accumulated quite a few useful tips which I would like to share with the paddling community.
Just remember the old saying “Prevention is better than cure”. If you can prevent the problems of blisters, bum pain and sunburn you will almost certainly be able to have a most rewarding and satisfying Marathon experience.
I am loathe to give specific training tips, but just a few general pointers.
If you are a non-smoker with reasonable body weight who cross trains you are half way there.
I personally do not use gyms but your local YMCA gym could be of help to you.
In my opinion I believe nothing beats time in the boat—I suggest a minimum of two reasonably long paddles a week in the period leading up to the event, with an aim to paddle 4–5 times a week in the last 4 weeks leading up to the Marathon.
Provided your health is reasonable, age is not really a factor. I am 72yo and still seem to be able to get down the river and enjoy the trip. Our oldest competitor was the legendary Ted Jackson who completed the 2003 event with me in a double sea kayak when he was 82 years of age.
A final tip—Laminate copies of the maps for the 5 days and stick the map of the day on the deck of your boat. The distances between checkpoints are marked, so by using your watch and the average speed for your type of boat, you can have a very good idea of where you are and how long it is to the next checkpoint. I use a GPS which gives me my speed and distance covered which is very useful.
Food is often a matter of individual choice, but I will give a few basic guidelines and foods that I have found to be useful when marathon paddling.
Breakfast in my opinion should always be either muesli, porridge or Weetbix.
These are low GI (Glycaemic Index) foods which means that they slowly release glucose in to the bloodstream.
Throughout the day, I eat every hour and use muesli bars, nuts and fruit. Dried fruit such as bananas and apricots is good and pieces of grapefruit can give you quite a lift.
In the middle of the day a sandwich can be quite good, but if you want to have a rapid instant meal I often use the Up and Go liquid breakfast. It comes in a sealed pack with a straw and can withstand heat and being knocked around in the boat or being on the deck. They can be bought at all supermarkets and come in various sizes and flavours.
I always keep a 250 ml of Big M Coffee and Milk, which I drink at the start of the last 10 km—The sugar, milk and caffeine gives you a real lift as you approach the finish.
When I get out of the boat I usually drink up to litre of V8 vegetable juice. I find it to be a fantastic recovery drink, particularly when it is very hot. It has lots of potassium which you need after a marathon and is very high in antioxidants which play a major part in helping tired muscles recover overnight for the next days paddling. Even if you do not think you would like it, I suggest you get your land crew to bring a cold bottle of it to the finish.
I have converted many paddlers to V8 by getting them to give it a try.
Another recovery food that helps me a great deal is a container of New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels which you can buy at supermarkets. They are rich source of Zinc and Magnesium which the body really needs after a hard days paddling—-Give them a try–You may be favorably impressed.
Your evening meal should have lots of either rice or pasta combined with your choice of meat and vegetables.
Milk can be very good as it has a high potassium–I will drink up to a litre with a meal.
What to do if you “Hit the Wall” If everything goes wrong and the motor just will not work, I suggest an emergency kit. –A packet of natural jelly snakes and a bottle or can of Coke. I would never touch Coke in everyday life, but on the odd Marathon it has brought me back to life. One of my paddling friends christened it the “Red Doctor”, and when things went absolutely pear shaped we would go for the Doctor. It works.
A hands free drinking system is a must. Water bottles are not advised.
If you are in a relay, most people use the Camel Back or similar type of water bladder which is contained in a small back pack and has a tube with a one way valve and mouthpiece which comes to the front.
The advantages of this system is that you can jump in to the boat very quickly if you are doing rapid changeovers and it stays with you if you capsize.
The disadvantages are that they can chafe and rub and also that you are carrying extra weight on your back.
The system nearly all the full distance paddlers use is a 3 litre bladder with a tube and adjustable mouthpiece which incorporates a one way valve. They can be bought at outdoor stores.
The secret is to use a common wire coat hanger and some electrical tape and in a couple of minutes you can make a customised harness to wear around your neck. I think the photograph is self explanatory.
You can either keep the bladder on the floor of the boat or attach it to the deck elastics if you are in a sea kayak. On a hot day you will need at least 4 litres so either get your land crew to top up the water bladder during the day, or if you are bypassing check points carry a least an extra litre of water.
What to drink?
Almost every experienced full distance paddler drinks plain water.
Drink small amounts and often.
If you try and drink sports drinks throughout the day you can encounter problems. However some people report that 2–300ml of sports drink at the middle of the day, followed by a small amount after you finish can be beneficial, but water should still be your main fluid replacement.
Though toilet breaks are not usually a topic for polite conversation they can be a major source of discomfort for some paddlers.
Relay paddlers generally have no problems as there are portable toilets at each checkpoint.
Full distance paddlers who can be in the boat for up to 8–10 hours at times may have problems as it is vital to keep drinking throughout the day.
There are two options:
(a) Get out on a sandy beach and have a stretch as well. There is no need to feel embarrassed as we are all in it together. Some women paddlers just sit in the river if they are wearing lycra pants, which seem to dry very quickly.
(b) Wee in the boat. Some paddlers just urinate directly through their clothes in to the cockpit – I do not recommend this at all.
There is risk of nappy rash and on a hot day the smell can rather unpleasant to both the paddler and those paddling downwind.
I have found the modified Coke bottle to be fantastic–Light, semi disposable and 100% effective.
I comfortably stay in my boat all day and use the bottle when ever I feel the need. No more waiting to find a suitable place to get out.
The 600 ml bottle with a 45 degree cut off the end makes an excellent wee bottle for male paddlers
In recent years many women paddlers have started to use urine directors when they can urinate in to a bottle like the men.
There are several types available–I suggest you have a look on Google — eBay —Portable Female Urinal.
Health - Blister Control and Prevention
One of the most common problems encountered by marathon paddlers is blisters on the hands. This is totally preventable. I have paddled 2000 kms in 5 weeks on the Murray River and did not have a mark on my hands.
Please see image above of hands that did not follow my protocol, resulting in blisters and general discomfort.
How to do it:– I strongly advise to use this technique to prevent blisters and you should start from Day 1. However, it can also be used to treat blisters and stopping them getting worse. If you do have a blister do not open it, as it may get infected. Best treatment is to cover with a waterproof bandaid to provide some padding and then apply the bandage.
One other tip–When you finish paddling each day splash some methylated spirit on your hands—This displaces the water from your skin, toughens it and is also anti bacterial. Many experienced paddlers routinely do this.
There are 2 components to my system:
1) Cohesive 5cm wide bandage.
Commercial brands are Co-Plus or Coban which can be obtained from pharmacies, however I have been able to source a generic brand which is much cheaper and and just as good as the major brands. I used it last year and had no problems—- The cost is $5 per roll which is good value. IT WILL BE AVAILABLE DURING THE 2016 EVENT—-MAKE SURE YOU BUY SOME AT REGISTRATION Apply lightly to the fingers to cover the moleskin padding. This is very important as if you put it on too tightly your fingertips can swell. Always ensure that the bandage is not stretched or under tension before you apply it. Squeeze the bandage after applying to make it conform and adhere to itself—it does not stick to your skin and is not affected by water. These bandages are non-adhesive to the skin and conform to the shape of your hand.
2) Gill Pro Fingerless Sailing Gloves.
This brand is by far the best and I strongly recommend them. They last for years and thousands of kms Wear these gloves on top of the above mentioned bandaging/padding.
This link gives you a good picture of the gloves. If you click the Sizes on it you have a very good measuring chart to enable you to choose your size.
If you wish to get these gloves you can buy them from yachting shops, but I have been able to arrange a deal with Sport Phillip Marine who can supply them at RRP less 10% if you mention the Marathon. I think this is very good value and just one bad blister during a Marathon is worth a lot more just in discomfort Sport Phillip can be contacted at or 03 5975 4715. They are a family business. Bruce and Sue Robertson and I have found them to be extremely helpful. There are cheaper gloves than the Gill, but they are the best. The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.
Apply the cohesive bandage, but with only very slight tension—If it is too tight your fingers can swell.
Squeeze the bandage firmly after application to make it conform.
The two fingers I always bandage as a prevention are the thumb and middle finger of my gripping hand. I always put a waterproof Bandaid or Dr Scholl moleskin on the inside of my thumb as this is a major wear area.
Bandage squeezed firmly to conform
Put on the sailing glove
Tendonitis can occur at the wrist of your feathering hand. It causes swelling and pain and sometimes you can even hear a noise as you flex your wrist. It is more frequent when we paddle in windy conditions.
I have found it can be prevented by strapping the wrist and I now use two small Neoprene/Velcro wrist supports and have never had any problem. The strapping or support should only be loosely applied.
You can also use a light elastic bandage or a cohesive bandage that I mention in the Post on blister prevention.
If you use a cohesive bandage, apply it lightly to allow for some natural swelling of the wrist to occur during paddling.
Sun protection is vital and I have seen many paddlers get in strife, because they failed to have a proper plan – My plan is as follows–.
If you look at the picture of me at the top of the Blog you can see my red sunshade which is made out of Ripstop nylon which you can buy at Sotlight. It is easy to make. Place some shock cord around the coaming to keep the fabric taught and mark the outer edge of the coaming with a pencil. The length of the fabric should be approximately from the front of the coaming to 15 cm from the back. Sew in a hem and thread the shock cord in. Tie a knot in it so it fits firmly inside the coaming.
When it is pushed forward it takes up very little space. When you are in the boat pull the fabric back towards you until it reaches your waist .
The great thing about this item is that it keeps the sun out, most of the spray just evaporates in the heat and as it is reasonably loose at the waist it ventilates. Conventional spray decks can be very hot and clammy.
A long sleeved thermal, wool or lycra top is used by most paddlers.
I recommend the legionnaire type of hat that I am wearing in the photograph. This provides by far the best protection for your face and the back of your neck. I strongly recommend the Frill Neck which is made of polyester micro mesh and can be bought online at - MIRAGE / SHARKSKIN also has a version www.sydneyharbourkayaks.biz.
Use a good SP 30 sunscreen on your face and also on the back of your hands if you are not wearing gloves (Get your land crew to do this as you do not want to have a greasy hand on the paddle —- it can play havoc with your wrist).
I strongly suggest using zinc cream on your lower lip as you can get some spectacular burns there. Either carry some in the boat or pace a blob of it on your foredeck, so you can re apply it several times during the day.
A pair of polarised sunglasses is essential.
I realise that clothing is a personal issue, but I have seen some paddlers have a difficult Marathon, purely because they had made the wrong choice of clothing.
The majority of experienced paddlers wear Lycra shorts and either a Lycra or thermal long sleeved top. I have always used thermals and find it amazing how they can wick the sweat away and provide sun protection, yet keep you warm in winter.
Cotton clothing is generally not advised.
Take care that you clothing does not have any seams that will rub.
It is important that you wear your clothing in during training so that you can find any trouble spots.
Women also need to work out during training if they are going to wear a bra, as I have seen some paddlers have all sorts of problems due to wearing a poor fitting sports bra.
Gluteal (Or Bum) Pain
Bum pain occurs when the muscles of your buttocks are deprived of blood after being in a sitting position for a long time. It can be quite debilitating.
You need to find a system of prevention that suits you, so do plenty of long paddles in your training and work out a system that suits you.
Many of the experienced paddlers have found Ridge Rest and a piece of sheepskin to work well. I find it to be fantastic. Ridge Rest is a foam sleeping mat available from outdoor shops such as Snowgum and Paddy Pallin.
An easy way to buy is online from WildEarth http://www.wildearth.com.au/buy/thermarest-ridge-rest-solite-foam-hiking-mat-regul/5207.
It costs about $70 but could be shared by two or three paddlers. You can either stick it to the seat with contact cement or have it sitting on the seat–if you do this have a piece of cord attached to it in case of a capsize.
The sheepskin will soak up sweat and is still comfortable to sit on when wet.
I personally consider that Ridge rest is an essential item for long distance comfort and have it in all of my kayaks, either expedition or marathon. I also use it to pad my rudder pedals and for my heels as I paddle in bare feet when possible. the foot comfort is fantastic when you do this.
The grey foam is Ridge Rest.
This is my expedition boat and I have covered all the seat, but many paddlers just have it on the bottom of the seat.