“35.5hours on the board in intense heat. No shade. Sickness. Injured knee. Bruised feet. Hundreds of boats. Dark and fog. We couldn’t even see the side of the bank at night so we’re running into things. It’s was scary and incredibly painful. I had never paddled more than 10 hours before and I never believed this was possible until after the finish line” – Mark’s captivating account on his social media right after finishing the Non-Stop race demonstrates what it takes to compete and “earn”, as he says, those ultra-endurance titles. Mark’s experience has also allowed us to reach deeper, beyond the undisputed success story and capture the raw grind of endurance SUP challenges that make our sport so compelling. Buckle up!
Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
Hi Mark, once again massive congratulations on your amazing SUP11 City Tour achievement – Wow, NON-STOP race followed by the 5-day event! Let’s dive right into it and we have to ask – WHY?! Why enduring some of the toughest racing formats – one after another?!
Hi Anna, it wasn’t at all planned this way. The SUP11 City Non-Stop had been a discussion point amongst our team of paddlers for several years but I honestly never believed that I could achieve such a distance – more specifically that amount of time standing on a paddle board. I had only ever paddled 10 hours in one go before. However, I put my name down to do it and early this summer as I thought it would give me motivation to try for longer.
In June this year, I attempted the cut off time of 16 hours a couple of times and I failed miserably. I struggled to find the ‘perfect’ water to train on, the right weather conditions (we had Summer full of weekend thunderstorms) and each time I reached around 10 hours, my stomach cramped badly. I couldn’t digest food and the hydration solutions were making me feel very ill. I also decided that I didn’t enjoy paddling alone at night!
After a great deal of angst (it was really getting me down), I firmly decided to cancel the non-stop aspiration and switch to the much more popular 5-day race. My training therefore switched to shorter multi-day training and that was going very well.
Cassie and Mark Salter | Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
My wife, Cassie, is actually the ultra-endurance paddler in the family. She’s already completed huge achievements that she set for herself and her team – she’s paddled 255km coast-to-coast England and many other 100km+ paddles, for example down to London, to Wales and a few crossings of Scotland. Cassie and her team here in Nottingham at supfitness.co.uk also completed their own version of the Last Paddler Standing three years in a row. The last one of those was 36 hours which she completed very easily! For her, the SUP11 City Tour Non-Stop would be second nature. We therefore agreed that I would support Cassie for the Non-Stop and that I would race the 5-day event.
Then, with only a few weeks ago, Cassie received news that she would need surgery in November and was advised to put her autumn paddling challenges on hold, including the SUP11 City Non-Stop and Last Paddler Standing. As a supportive wife and coach, Cassie persuaded me to have a go at the non-stop in her place. I expressed my many concerns but as she believed I had a chance so I trusted her to at least give it a try and maybe see if I could enjoy it.
Fortunately, one of my best friends, Andy Clark from our SUP school here in Nottingham, had also signed up for the SUP11 City Non-Stop. He had recently completed the 16 hour cut-off practice paddle in really difficult conditions. I asked if he minded that we paddle together. We had just a 1 hour practice paddle together in the dark and then agreed to give it a go. So we paddled the non-stop together side-by-side (the non-stop is a strictly no drafting event). Andy and I battled though many challenges including intense heat with no shelter, thick fog, many hours of darkness, hundreds of fast weekend boats and (for me) sickness between 9-15 hours.
From left Andy Clark and Mark Salter | Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
Although it was incredibly difficult challenge, we were fortunate to have the most amazing support team (Cassie Salter and Rhona Clark) who kept us going both logistically and mentally. They stayed awake for two days, driving to meet us nine times throughout the route. They bought us ice because it was so hot, replenished our water, our food and our spirits. They even surprised us with a McDonald’s breakfast on Day2 – coffee, hot food, fat and salt was a fantastic reset that my body was badly craving.
Andy and I completed our massive 206km journey in 35hours and 40mins. By the end I could not stand up – my legs were shaking like a boxer on his last legs. My legs were swollen, my feet were bruised underneath and my knee was grinding on every stroke. It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done but also one of the most rewarding. After being carried to the car, that night I suffered from heat exhaustion with hot and cold shivering and hallucinations. It was an amazing feeling though which would be impossible to repeat in normal life. Being so tired but so happy at the same time.
Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
Some of our friends had travelled all the way from Nottingham to cheer us in. The organisers were lovely and our wives dived into the river to give us our medals. That’s something that I’ll always remember. I’m very happy that Andy and I paddled together. It was a shared experience that we can always talk about and reflect on. I’d advise anyone paddling the non-stop for the first time, to see if they can buddy with someone – it’s so helpful to motivate one another and to have the reassurance of not being alone in such a dark remote place for 9+ hours.
We spent the next day with our friends and support crew, just eating and chatting. Then that night, Cassie and I decided to change our ferry home so that I could stay for the 5-day event. I was enjoying the trip so much and didn’t want it to end. With only 2 days rest between the events, I had no racing aspirations for the 5-day except to see if I could get around the course again.
The first day was amazing. The 49km felt very short and fast compared to what we’d just been through. We had fair winds until the massive Slotermeer lake at the end – this lake always has other ideas. I had entered the Open-age-group men’s race category alongside some top paddlers, including world champion Bruno Hasuylo.
We started last behind the other circa 150 paddlers and I spent most of the day chatting with everyone that we passed and grinning at the cameras. I said to Anne-Marie, the 11C founder, that evening, that today was the single most enjoyable day’s paddling that I’ve ever done. The feeling of being at the 5-day event after doing the non-stop honestly made me feel as if I was wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour De France just after climbing Mount Everest (I realise that this mixes sporting analogies but that’s how I felt). This was a ‘victory lap’ of another 206km 😊.
However, my plans changed again as at the end of my lovely first day, someone informed me that I was in 4th position of my category. (I was very happy when I thought I was about 8th or 9th). This 5 days wasn’t supposed to be about racing but as a competitive, person I couldn’t help but see this event differently from then on. Whilst still being enjoyable, I suddenly put a lot of pressure on myself to see how close I might get to 3rd place.
Without giving a detailed review of every day thereafter, the summary is that day2 was hard for me with crosswind on the big lakes and on Day 3 I got lost on the Time Trial (resulting in 10 minutes of exasperated phone calls, thank you Rhona). I felt devastated to lose all of this time but it fired me on to a very fast 30km that afternoon. By Day 4 and Day 5 my body had seemingly completely recovered from the non-stop and I was paddling faster each day.
Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
At almost 49 years of age, it amazed me how my body could recover and adapt to such long multi-day racing. I paddled each day at the intensity as if it was my last. This enabled me to win (a hard fought) 3rd place in the men’s open category overall.
I’ve never been happier in the sport. To win a podium place at the Sup11 City Tour was always a dream and my number one aspiration but to earn it after such an incredibly difficult non-stop was .. well I don’t really have a word for this feeling.
Andy also went on to complete the 5-day event and also ranked highly in his category. We’re both delighted to be among the very small handful of paddlers to have completed the SUP11 City Double! Along with our friends Alison Rennie and Allistair Swinsco on their tandem, we’re the first Brits to have ever done it. Speaking of Brits, there were load of us this year and all of us earned our Crosses. It’s brilliant to see our nation competing so well against such excellent international endurance paddlers.
We loved your unfiltered account of the NON-STOP race on social media with your wife’s affirmation “The Sup 11 City cross is the only medal that counts”! What are your thoughts now?
That’s an in-joke between us with a little story. I have a place in our home gym for my medals and trophies, which are mainly from shorter races. Cassie has completed the 5-day SUP11 City Tour twice already. I had tried the course twice and been unsuccessful (due to injury) and so she had previously teased her medals were the only ones that count.
Even though she was joking, now that I have two of the prestigious SUP11 City Tour Crosses myself, I now agree that these are the ones to win. The sport is growing with different disciplines and paddlers have different goals. In my opinion as an endurance paddler, SUP11 City Cross is the absolute pinnacle of success (along with the top Canada and USA endurance events). Only if you’ve completed this course could you know how much work goes into earning it.
Why do you think SUP11 City Tour has such a solid position in the SUP racing calendar?
Primarily it’s the people that make an event. The organisers do an unbelievable job. The event really does feel like the Tour De France of SUP. It’s professionally run, inclusive, friendly, rewarding and fun. There are 100+ volunteers. It’s a huge operation for the directors.
The Friesland towns, villages and cities are beautiful and the landscape varied. The course is as mentally challenging as it is physically. Every day is truly different at the SUP11 City Tour. It’s always exciting: everyone has different goals (like podiums, beating their own personal bests or chasing others in the time trials). There are now different options that encourage people to increase their distances, for example paddlers can try one day, a two-day weekend or enter stages as team relays. These are the things that keep people coming back year after year.
Do you think that we only see the glamorised version of the endurance and ultra-endurance SUP races and challenges on social media rather than the grit, pain and tonnes of physical and mental preparations that go into it?
It’s brilliant that people watch the trackers and support via social media. Even though we’re busy paddling, we can feel and appreciate the support from home. It provides a huge boost at difficult times.
I am honest about difficulties, challenges and learnings, in training and at events, so that people can see that these issues can be overcome. I often write about paddles when things go wrong and are difficult. Much of the time we train in the cold, less glamorous waterways and with various aches and pains. It’s all part of endurance training and it’s absolutely necessary for success when you get to the event.
I hope that by sharing information about training, the challenges and the fun of the events that we inspire others to give endurance paddling a go.
Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
Could you tell us more about joining the #404Eurosquad and your collab with Tanja and the 404 brand?
We met Tanja Ecker at previous trips to the SUP11 City Tour. She won the 1st prize Women Open category last year. She rides the 404 Jump 14×22 for this event and wins many other medals (including the German National Titles) on this board.
Once I tried the board myself, I sold all of my others! I had many boards previously but this is now the only board that I own. It’s not only super-fast and lightweight, but it’s also the board that I’ve fallen off the least – in fact I’ve only ever fallen off it once and that was because of a boat rebound at the very end of our 35.5 hour non-stop, when my legs had ‘gone’.
Tanja asked me to be the UK representative for the 404 boards and to join her #404Eurosquad. I’m very pleased that I did. Tanja and the group are a wonderful bunch of people who are super friendly and really supportive of one another. It was great to see 11 of us there at SUP11 City Tour and to cheer one another along.
Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
What has changed on the UK SUP racing scene since our last conversation? We were pretty hyped about the endurance formats being added to the calendar and then the iconic Norfolk Broads Ultra Race has been cancelled… What do you think about the current UK SUP racing scene?
I’ve learned in the past few years that the only thing for certain, is that plans change! In the UK there are very few (of what I would call) long-distance races. The Norfolk Broads Ultra 78km was sadly cancelled due to a lower-than-expected number of entries this year. Lake Windermere 16km was cancelled due to logistical issues. We did have the Paddle Skedaddle 27km which is also in the county of Norfolk. I love that race and have won it all three years in a row. The other long-distance race to mention is the Great Glen Challenge. That’s a great event but sadly it’s just a few days after the SUP11 City Tour – getting home from the Netherlands and then up to the North of Scotland isn’t possible for many of us who live further South.
GB SUP and other independent organisations do run several SUP races which are very popular. I enjoyed my time at those but they are generally much shorter races (up to 10km) and mostly on the sea. Whilst being fun, they are a world apart from the flat water, ultra-distance training that we do here (being so far from the coast). Like SUP surfing, these shorter technical events feel almost like a different sport.
What’s the next SUP challenge you’ll be embarking on?
Cassie and her team have several upcoming events such as coast-to-coast England 255km, a multi-day trip to Norway, a Wales Ultra and a local downriver event of 50km. Whilst historically these evets were exclusive to our club at SUP Fitness Nottingham, next year many of them will open up to paddlers across the UK and Internationally.
As for racing, I’m completely hooked on the SUP11 City Tour. It’s a year away but preparing well for this event really does take that long. Cassie and I both absolutely loved the Chattajack 52km last year in Tennessee. We would love to race the Yukon River Quest and the Missouri River MR340 but we’ll wait to book those international events in when the time is right after Cassie’s surgery. Those rivers aren’t going anywhere.
Photo by Edwin x SUP11 City Tour
Thank for sharing your remarkable story and good luck with your next endeavours!
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