More than 600 people will take on one of the world’s most gruelling sporting challenges when they set off on the 125-mile Easter route of the Devizes to Westminster canoe race.

Organisers believe crews that have put in the best winter training could be in great shape to complete the course in single and double kayaks and canoes.

Keith Bennett, who organises the start at Devizes Wharf, said: “DW2014 may be lacking some of the rivalry of competing elite crews seen in recent years, but it leaves the tantalising space for new crews to make their mark and push for the podium places.

“A key challenge has been overcoming extremely demanding training conditions in what the Met Office confirmed has been the wettest winter in England and Wales since records began in 1766.

“For paddlers, flood conditions on rivers, canals and local stretches of water can lead to a very hazardous situation.

“The Kennet and Avon Canal has suffered greatly from the increased flow and much of the River Thames has been unnavigable from December through to late February.

“Only when the rain stopped and conditions started to improve did race entries to Devizes Westminster 2014 start to come in and after the deadline of April 6 – 12 days before the start of the race – it looks like entry numbers will be close to record figures.”

The Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon heads along the Kennet and Avon to Reading, then down the Thames to Teddington to downstream of Westminster Bridge.

Juniors and veterans set off at first light tomorrow, while the tough non-stop endurance race starts on Saturday.

Mr Bennett, of Market Lavington, said: “Non-stop means non-stop. No sleep, no rest, eating and drink entirely on the move.

"The fastest complete the course in around 17 hours; others will take around 24 hours, happy to have completed one of the toughest, open-to-all endurance races on the planet.

“The event takes canoeists to the limit of mental and physical endurance, battling against the steady and inevitable onset of physical depletion.”