2011 Grand Union Canal Race
This is probably the longest blog I’ve written but I suppose it’s fitting for the longest running event in which I have participated. Be warned, you may need to be an experienced Ultra-endurance blogger to make it through to the end of this report. I’ve tried to add names, times and details as best I can remember but this may not be 100% accurate especially after 30-40 hours of no sleep. Anyway, read, divulge, enjoy and feel free to comment.
I’ve written up the pre-race thoughts in a previous blog so I won’t repeat that information here.
For those that haven’t read it the brief summary is that we had just about hobbled home in 2010 GUCR, had trained a bit harder for the 2011 GUCR and had a sub 40 hr target in mind with a 38-40hr race plan agreed with the crew. To be honest, I was pretty confident that we were going to make the sub-40 target as it seemed to be a fairly modest goal.
Stouty, Shane Benzie (another GUCR entrant) and I travelled up by car on Friday from Reading to Birmingham. Stouty’s mate Paul Reed (so that’s another Paul) drove us up and was going to provide crew support for Stouty and I (Shane was an unsupported entrant) Saturday morning. The rest of the crew; Alan, Matt B (Fetch: Cheeky Conswala) and Matt C (Fetch: Cogs1) were travelling up Saturday lunchtime and were going crew the remainder of the race. In addition, Stouty had also organised some buddy runners (Harris, Nina and EJ) for a bit of company after the allowed 65 mile point.
We arrived in Birmingham at around 6pm and went direct to the Travelodge to register and collect our numbers. I checked in there and Stouty and Shane went to check in at their hotel which was a few minutes to drive away. There was some pre-race talk of meeting in O’Neills with other runners/crew and we decided to meet there and get something to eat.
Stouty and Shane took a bit longer to arrive than I had expected and I was hanging around in the pub surreptitiously trying to spot a GUCR t-shirt on someone. However, a short while later Ogee turned up with Firemannotsam and soon there was a small group of us having a chat, drink and something to eat. It was good to put a few names to faces at last. I didn’t get a chance to speak to everyone but a quick hello and name check to Rajeev, Claire, Jerry, George, James, Jany, Paul W, Mike, Dino, Allan, Lindley, Sue and Neil (apologies if I missed anyone at the table). Stouty (who I introduced as “The Wife” as we run all these events together) and Shane turned up shortly afterwards and also had something to eat.
The mood was generally positive with a little bit of apprehension (Claire!). The cold hard reality was that 50% off us probably wouldn’t finish the race that weekend which was a sobering thought. Ogee was feeling a little disappointed he wasn’t actually doing the race anymore following his withdrawal a few weeks earlier but a decision had been made and Firemannotsam was now relying on him to crew. It was a really enjoyable couple of hours and gave people a chance to meet and talk beforehand which sort of bonded everyone together, a pre-race meet the night before should be made a compulsory part of the race agenda in future.
I had something to eat and headed back to the hotel at about 9.30pm to get my kit and equipment ready for the next day. I had my camelbak packed, clothing laid out and even put some compeeds on the heels in preparation before I drifted off to sleep at about 10.30pm armed with ear plugs in to negate the street noise from outside.
Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep fantastically well and awoke at 2am to the sound of my stopwatch going off every hour. I was still awake at 3am as the stopwatch was thrown across the room but eventually drifted off and dozed to about 4.45am when I got up. Despite missing the comforts of your own bed, I was paranoid about oversleeping especially as Stouty and Shane were staying elsewhere and I think this accounted for my poor sleep pattern. As a contingency, Stouty and I had agreed to call each other in the morning to check we were both up.
I had a cup of tea and a pot of blueberry porridge for breakfast, looked out the window to see a late night reveller worse for wear struggling to walk around a bollard and got changed into my gear. To avoid chaffing, I applied a liberal amount of sudacream to the usual spots (including my feet), this worked really well as I did not suffer from any chaffing at any point during the race. I find sudacream a better option than Vaseline in these situations. I also used one of the tri-belts (available for purchase pre race at £2) for displaying my number which was easy to clip on/clip off when you changed clothes. I had my tri-belt from last year and had my spare number pinned on this in case I needed to use this.
I walked to the start of the race with a couple of other runners and waited for Stouty, Shane and Paul R to turn up so I could handover my overnight bag. The weather was cool and overcast with plenty of grey clouds in the sky, it looked like we might have some rain in the morning. Stouty and the others arrived at about 5.45am, we got a quick picture before I bumped into distinctive Ex-Pat Scot very briefly but didn’t have time to chat as we made our way down to the start.
We spotted Lurker and give her a quick hug before we took our usual position somewhere near the back of the group. Lurker had been Stouty’s saviour last year as she looked after the mess called his feet midway through the race, we were rather hoping with better preparation that we wouldn’t have a repeat this year.
@UltraKent had an early incident when he cut his hand on a bench to the cries of “man down” and the joked threat of the earliest withdrawal ever but he continued on. Stouty and I jogged together with Firemannotsam and chatted casually as we headed towards Checkpoint 1.
The race plan was to complete the first 50 in about 10 hours or so and with Checkpoint 4 being 53.1 that was our target to hit in about 11 hours at a comfortable pace, we then aimed to run what we could in the light before fast walking the night leg and aiming to get to Grand Junction Arms by breakfast leaving us with the rest of the Sunday to complete the last 45 miles.
A couple of miles in there was an instruction to turn left and “do not cross the bridge”. However about 10-15 runners went across the bridge but were called back to some small amusement as I had done the same thing last year. With the threat of rain, some runners had put on waterproof jackets but a few miles into the race, we see one or two people taking them off as they were too warm with the extra layer.
The 38-40 hr race plan had predicted a Checkpoint 1 arrival at 7.47 – 7.57 and we had planned a 10 min stop to eat some pre-made sausage sandwiches at that point. Stouty and I had been debating whether to eat at Checkpoint 1 or not but came to a decision to follow a pattern of eating little and often even if we didn’t quite fancy it (which we didn’t at the time).
We arrived at 7.47, spot on the timetable but literally a minute before Paul Reed arrived and we decided to press on to the next Checkpoint. However, as soon as the opportunity to eat the sandwiches had passed I started to hunger for the sandwiches.
Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2 (Hatton Locks 22.5m)
We ran along with another runner Bob for a little while and had an unfortunate incident when a startled rabbit jumped into my path. I stopped to let it run back but it panicked and then leapt straight into the canal and probably didn’t get out, I felt bad at that point. We also seemed to be playing leap-frog with a short dark haired lady (Helen?) for a lot of the morning who was making really good progress but she eventually drifted off ahead of us as the run progressed.
Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 4 (The Heart of England Pub 53.1 miles)
Again making sure to thank the marshals, we set out from Birdingbury Bridge towards Checkpoint 4. At that point the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to rain lightly and then got heavier and so we stopped briefly to put our matching “his and her” rain jackets (yes we have the same jacket but different colours I’ll have you know) at which point Dino Ilaria passed us looking quite strong. We continued along a grassy narrow part of the bank for several minutes before the rain eased off and we stopped to pack our jackets away. I had tightly wrapped my rain jacket in my bag and secured this together with some elastic bands but after 20 minutes wear and some rain it was a lot more difficult to fit it snugly back in to my backpack.
I had tweeted that some videos had been added to YouTube but had a message back they someone couldn’t view them. Thinking there was some problem uploading them I didn’t bother to add any more, so apologies if you were expecting to see some more live updates. I think what had happened is that my uploaded videos were still processing so couldn’t be seen at that time as I checked after the race and they were ok. I guess that means you will see these videos for the first time now.
However, partly due to a combination of us being at the fast end of the schedule (relatively speaking of course) and partly due to travel/traffic/diversion issues, it wasn’t clear whether the guys would meet us in time. Matt C (Cogs) had access to my location via a phone app and had been monitoring our progress. It was agreed that they would go onto Buckby Top Lock and meet us there instead with Paul Reed meeting us briefly at Braunston.
We left Paul R and continued on to Buckby Lock where we met the crew at the pub opposite the lock, it was now starting to feel like a warm summers day. Matt B had brought some freshly made pasta for “lunch” and we had planned a longer stop to consume some food and change into new socks. I ate a few mouthfuls of pasta but didn’t really fancy much more and swigged down some full fat rocket fuel coca-cola (well recommended for sugar and caffeine content). I was feeling a little sick to be honest and blamed it on the jelly babies, I made a mental note to switch to wine gums from this point onwards. I also changed socks, checked my feet which looked ok but decided to change into my old comfortable but not too beat up trainers as my current pair were a little damp. With hindsight this may have been a slight error of judgement but we’ll cover that later. I thought I felt a slight blister on my little toes so as an extra precaution put a gel toe-cap on each little toe for extra protection.
We got to Checkpoint 4 and stopped briefly to refill hydration packs, said our goodbyes to Lurker who had kindly been following our progress and messaging us via twitter and left at 16.45. The race plan had predicted a 16.50 a 17.36 arrival time so we were a few minutes ahead of schedule. We had made our target of Checkpoint 4 by 11 hours, had no real injury issues barring tired aching legs and a couple of minor niggles to knee and calf and felt as if we were in a good position.
Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5 Navigation Bridge (70.5 miles)
Our next planned meeting point with the crew was at Stoke Brueme’s Bridge at 65 miles. This was the point when buddy runners were allowed and we were going to be supplied with one each as Matt C was going to run a leg and as a bonus Stoutys neighbours were visiting friends in the area and Harris was going to join us for a leg.
Stouty and I were continuing our run/walk strategy of a 2 mile run followed by 1/2 mile walk and we seemed to be on track when we met the crew. However, I do recall us slowing down when we met the crew. We were running low on water but didn’t have too far to go. We did pass another runners crew who kindly offered us some water but we had just enough to continue and knew the crew weren’t too far ahead.
I would comment that I found it noticeable this year how the crews really got into the spirit of the event and offered support or supplies to other runners, more so than in my previous experience (which was absolutely fine). At a few points, people offered us support as our crew reciprocated this offer to other runners.
Matt and Harris joined us and we started jogging/walking to Navigation Bridge although we had started to slow. However, wWe were still in good spirits as we were 3 hrs ahead of last years time already and we actually got to Navigation Bridge in the light! The predicted arrival time was 21.03 to 22.07 and we got there at 21.00 so again pretty much on plan.
Speaking of the plan, I had devised an excel spreadsheet with a rough pace guide which predicted checkpoint arrival times. I had used our 50 mile Thames Trot run as a template for the first 50 miles and then made an allowance for a reduced pace the further the race wore on including a planned brisk walk during the night leg. The crew were armed with copies and I had carried a mini (laminated of course) version of the plan marked with checkpoint meet times, locations and distances. Coupled with the Garmin, this gave us a pretty much exact picture of our progress against plan during the race. (Happy to share the document with anyone who wishes to use it in the future – just add a faster pace than me and you’ll be fine).
Stouty had refused to wear his Garmin and just wanted to run and then ask me questions about how we were doing, how far to the next Checkpoint etc. I was at the opposite end of the spectrum (i.e. a control freak) and wanted precise plans, times, distances etc. That little race plan I carried was brilliant, it told me everything I needed to know to answer Stoutys questions. The only difficulty came when the first Garmin started to run out of battery life at 12 hrs from a full charge (Garmin 305) at about 57 miles (2 hrs better than the advertised 10 hrs though). We started the second Garmin at that point but then had to keep adding 57 miles to the distance, no mean feat during the darkest hours when you’ve been on your feet for 12 hrs +! I think we grabbed our head torches at this meeting point in case it got dark earlier then expected and Matt C also carried a portal power unit and charged my phone so I had a full battery for the night leg.
Checkpoint 5 to Checkpoint 6 Bridge 99 (84.5 miles)
We had a cup of tea at Navigation Bridge and saw another runner there with large frizzy hair (Rob?) before we moved on. By this point I had a continuous thirst and was finding myself urinating frequently. I put this down to a lack of food inside me to absorb the water I was drinking as I had not really eaten much by this point and was still feeling a little sick, nothing major but just not feeling 100% right.
The crew had a small gas stove with them and we asked for some hot food at our next meeting point at new Bradwell. This was to be our last crew meet for the night as once again we had planned to walk the night shift at a quick pace, conserve some energy, give the crew some rest and then see how we fared in the morning. We also had two official Checkpoints before we had intended to meet the crew so we could get a hot drink there and refill hydration packs as required.
It was about 4 miles to our meeting point at New Bradwell Bridge by which time Harris had departed and it had started to get dark. Matt C had the Champions League Final game on an internet radio station and we listened to Barcelona dominating United and eventually winning. I don’t recall us doing a lot of running at this point but we had factored in a reduced pace at this point.
We met the entire crew there as Paul Reed had returned with buddy runners EJ and Nina. Matt B and Alan had got the gas stove working and we had half a tin of sausages and beans each aswell as a few snacks along with a pint of Orange Juice and Lemonade from a nearby pub. I felt a little better after the food which was probably the most I had eaten all day and we got our night gear on (leggings, hat, gloves and a warm top) before we said our goodbyes for the night and carried on. This was one of our longest stops and slightly longer than I hoped but it was necessary. A small handful of runners came past us at this point including Firemannotsam who was still running well at this point.
Our crew were on standby during the night but we were only going to call them in a real emergency to be honest.
We started our brisk walk but were both feeling sore and had both started to get blistered feet. Last year I had worn compeeds around areas of my heels prior to the race start as this was the point I often blistered. This had worked fine last year but I had really suffered bad blistering on the toes where my taping effort was insufficient. After last year I had blisters on every toe and my little toes were two red stumps being stripped clean of all skin and the toe nail.
I thought I had all the bases covered, in fact I didn’t suffer any chaffing at all, had no blisters on the toes so far but my bloody heels were killing me! I was a little annoyed that despite taking exactly the same precautions as last year, the gods were conspiring against me to put another obstacle in my path.
We shot a couple of late night videos which can be seen here:
By this point Stouty had a large blister on his heel and so we hobbled towards Checkpoint 6 and arrived at around 1.30. This 10 mile leg from the crew meeting point had seemed pretty long, especially as we had been walking and we weren’t covering the miles as quickly as we had during the day.
I checked my feet, drained a blister on my left heel to relieve the pressure and put some more compeeds on them. However, my left heel was really sensitive and it hurt to walk on it. I spoke to Andrew Smith the marshal there who kindly dug out a bid of lint cloth which I used as padding on my heel, we were patched up but still hurting a little. There were a few people at the Checkpoint when we arrived but I can’t recall names or faces I’m afraid.
Checkpoint 6 to Checkpoint 7 Grand Junction Arms (99.8 miles)
I just had my wits about myself to recognise this and grabbed one hand on Stoutys backpack as he led me through parts of the route. This is where the benefit of having a buddy runner or teaming up with someone is clear, left to my own devices I could have easily fallen into the canal or bush or even a canal-bush if I let my guard down for a few seconds and I’m thankful to Stouty for getting me through that part of the night. I did take a couple of pro-plus tablets at this point which also seemed to help.
Iveagh was kind enough to let me borrow his portable charger as I had forgotten to pick up the spare Garmin at the last crew meet and the current Garmin was unlikely to last until the next crew meet. At this point, the weather felt a little breezy and there may have been some light drizzle which I found helpful in keeping myself awake. I perked up a bit and marched to the front of our little group and then upped the pace to marching speed as we passed the Tesco Store in Leighton Buzzard.
However, the tiredness seems to hit you in phases and as we started to see the first signs of light my body started to shut down. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced “hitting the wall” during a race before but this felt like it. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, my limbs we feeling heavy and the mind was starting to wander. I decided to use the 1 emergency energy gel I was carrying to give me a kick. That proved to be a mistake as soon as a started to swallow the goo like gel substance my body rejected it and I spewed the entire contents back up. I sipped some water and carried on but wasn’t feeling too great.
Most of the night time conversation was with Iveagh as Stouty followed us a few yards behind but Iveagh continued on ahead when it got a bit lighter as Stouty and I stopped for a few mins around Slapton Lock to check our feet which were feeling more and more uncomfortable.
I also had my first “sit down” (nudge nudge wink wink) here. My advice is to use wet wipes as you can also wash your hands with a clean one and bring a couple of sandwich bags to carry the used wipes with you until you find a bin.
We were about 5 miles from the Grand Junction Arms which is a great point to reach at nearly 100 miles and we plodded on with sore feet for over an hour until we arrived there at 6.15, the race plan had predicted 5.56 – 7.29 so we were closer to the 38 hr time now. Despite the various niggling injuries we were in a great position, 100 miles done in just over 24 hrs, the tough night leg out of the way. Once we met the crew, had breakfast and sorted out our feet I felt we could make some real gains on our schedule. We had 14-16 hours left to cover 45 miles so even a 3mph walk would get us home. If we could run/walk parts of this and exceed this pace then I genuinely felt at that point we had a chance of coming in at around 37 hrs and exceed our expectations.
Just before the Checkpoint, we captured another video clip in which Stouty describes our feelings and emotions. It wasn’t a high point of the race and Stouty looks visibly tired in the eyes.
I think the guys had also settled into different roles during the weekend. Matt B (who had crewed for me last year) appeared to be the team organisor. Alan (again another 2010 crew veteran) was our nominated driver and spent most of his time at checkpoints running back to the car when we asked for something else we had forgotten and Matt C was more hands-on with his first aid skills coming into use when attending to injuries/sore feet. So I think the team worked pretty well. EJ and Nina were also going to meet us at the next point and act as buddy runners for most of Sunday, in fact they ended up accompanying us to the end so Stouty and I had someone else to talk to for a while.
I was also carrying an iPhone and had given Matt C (another iPhone user) access to the “Find My Phone” application. With this facility, he could track my phones location remotely on a map application without me having to constantly run an application on the phone (I think it must just ping my phones location even when it is in standby mode) as opposed to me transmitting a constant GPS update which kills the battery life. In fact, my wife also used the application to track my progress at home. It was extremely useful and accurate but does involve giving someone access to your iTunes Account details (I had recently changed my credit card on the account and the old one wouldn’t have accepted payment which gave me some comfort over Matt going mad and downloading hundreds of pounds worth of apps or music!)
The other crew tip was to have all your kit, food and equipment neatly organised for easy reach and access. I had packed all the food and equipment into two plastic containers. This allows you to see what’s in the box easily and the container can easily be carried in and out of the boot of a car. In addition, if the weather is wet then it will protect the contents. Within the kit box, I had various sub boxes of items (i.e. plasters, batteries, spray etc) all labelled again for easy access. I had produced a detailed list of every item in each box but it was fairly easy to see and pull out what we needed. The only supplies the team had to purchase on route were some extra compeed blister plasters (we had other cheaper blister plasters but these were simply not as good) and some extra strapping for Stouty’s ankles.
In terms of food, we had lots. My love of Monster Munch crisps has been well documented but the rest of the list included; tinned food (sausage and beans, meatballs, spagehetti), tinned fruit (pear, peaches), mars bars and jaffa cakes (usually a favourite but I didn’t touch anything chocolate as I had been feeling queasy), snack bars, porridge pots (well recommended and you can just add water), bananas (didn’t touch), satsumas (went down very well), wine gums (lovely taste and you can chew them), jelly babies (made me feel sick and won’t touch again), biscuits (didn’t touch), pot noodles (went for Sainsbury’s basic and they were – spat out the contents of these at one point), flapjack (good) and a large box of home made welsh cakes from my Mum (awesome). Matt B has also made some fresh pasta on the Saturday morning which we added to the menu. We also had a few energy gels and powders but had only planned to use these if needed.
I bought enough food for the crew to snack on and still had loads left over. The guys found café’s or pubs to eat their main meals and then snacked on other items as needed. There are a couple of Tesco’s on route and if they needed anything else they could have easily acquired it on the day.
Our spare kit was carried in a sports bag and then we had assorted bottles of water, sports drinks and coke (again well recommended for the sugar/caffeine content) packed into the car. It isn’t necessary to bring all the water out each time so the guys could grab a small supply for each checkpoint.
Overall, the crew were well organised and we have no complaints over the service we received. Great job team!
The following information was passed onto my by the crew, I’ll repeat it here but make no further comment upon it as we don’t know the exact circumstances of the incident and I didn’t witness these events first-hand.
Early on the Sunday morning, a white van pulled up and appeared to drop off a runner who appeared to be taking part in the race. The runner was described as male, wearing a fluorescent yellow t-shirt, shades and a hat and he ran off quite quickly. Unfortunately, the crew didn’t get a glimpse of the runners number but they thought it most strange that they had been at the canal bank quite some time waiting for us and never saw this person run past them, the crew considered this behaviour a bit odd.
After the Grand Junction Arms stop, Cowroast Lock was only 2.5 miles ahead and it wasn’t long before we met the crew under the Bridge. This was going to be a major stop as we both needed running repairs on our feet and we had planned to refuel with some hot pots of porridge.
We both sat down on the canal bank just after the bridge as Alan brought out the porridge all made and ready to eat. The checkpoint meetings and crew organisation was absolutely spot on now with a quick text being sent a mile or so before the planned meet with a list of requirements and the crew having everything ready when we got there.
We ate some food and Matt C tried to pad Stoutys heels which were suffering from blisters.
I sorted out my own feet and drained the blisters on my heel and then padded my running shoes as best I could with animal wool. My feet were uncomfortable but runnable and I decided to take some ibuprofen (I had resisted taking these until I felt I absolutely needed to).
As we were eating breakfast, a small group of runners passed us. Matt C asked if they wanted anything but they seemed ok and carried on.
After a longish stop, we were ready to carry on and had about 6 miles to go until the next meeting point at Boxmoor where EJ and Nina were going to meet us to run. In addition, my Dad (Baz) was going to meet us and give us some morale support.
After this stop we immediately got a bit of a run going and we made reasonably quick progress towards Boxmoor. However, with a mile or so before the checkpoint Stouty pulled up a bit. We had a quick chat and agreed that I could run to the next meeting point and wait for him there. I didn’t want us to tarry too long at the next checkpoint as we had just had a major stop but with the weather coming out warm I wanted to change out of my night gear into some fresh clothes and have a quick chat with Baz so I was hoping to run ahead and gain a few extra minutes to do this before Stouty caught up.
I ran ahead by myself until I could see the crew ahead. Baz captured this on film and I looked pretty ok at this point.
I had a complete change of clothes here (including shorts) which to be honest smelt and ate a bag of monster munch crisps.
The weather was really nice at this point as we jogged a bit and walked a bit towards the next Checkpoint. It was good to have some different company to talk to (no offence Stouty) to take your mind off the run. I was still finding myself diving into the bushes far more frequently than a supposedly fit guy should but put this down to plenty of water (I still had a feeling of thirst I couldn’t shake but was drinking plenty) and a lack of food to absorb it. My calf was also feeling pretty sore at this point.
I think we slowed down a bit on this leg as we arrived at Springwell Lock at around 1pm (predicted time 11.32 – 13.25) so we were closer to a 39.30 finish now but had some contingency in the plan for the last 25 miles.
When we arrived at Springwell we stayed on the right hand side of the river as our crew were there but called in our numbers. We got news from the crew that Shane was still going and only about 10-15 miles behind us, so he had exceeded his effort from last year (got to 80 odd miles and fell asleep on a park bench!).
Stouty wasn’t feeling great at this point and Baz leapt in with some morale support by thrusting a video camera in his face and demanding he announce his retirement from Ultra races at this point and we have the video clip of Stouty saying “Never, never again”. It was then my turn for the Spanish inquisition (which was all well intentioned and amusing to play back later) but I shook my head, refused and can even be heard saying “We could do better” so I think I was starting to realise that the pace was slowing due to the various accumulated injuries. The rest of the body felt ok and I had definitely woken up from my night time slumber but the legs and feet were feeling the affects of the race now which is pretty relentless with mile after mile of canal path.
The crew had acquired some extra tape/strapping and Matt C tended to Stoutys ankles and strapped them up at this point.
The good news was that we had less than a marathon to go, the bad news is that this was now looking like it was going to take us about 8 hours to finish. If we hadn’t been suffering as much, this would have been the point where could have gained some time. The race plan allowed plenty of contingency time (which we eventually used) but this also afforded us the opportunity to make some gains, based on our current progress we wouldn’t be making any gains.
Checking my phone, I also picked up the messages that Claire (Ultratigger) was close to our had just won the womens race in about 30 hrs which was an absolutely amazing effort.
Checkpoint 8 to Checkpoint 9 Hamborough Tavern (133 miles)
As we passed the park on the right and followed the angle of the canal around a slight bend to the left we saw the fantastic sight of the finish sign and a small crowd of people who started to give us a wave and a cheer. I jokingly asked Stouty whether he wanted to complete yesterdays suggested finishing pose (he had offered to carry me on his shoulders as we crossed the line if we finished in the light – although this may be grounds for disqualification for receiving a lift?) but he didn’t rise to the bait.
There was some encouragement from the finishing crew to jog the last 50 yards which I nearly fell for but Stouty resisted and I recall Stouty raising our arms up in a victory pose and I gave him a bit of hug on the shoulders as we walked the last few yards to the finish home. Looking back at a few pictures, I definitely caught the sun as I was looking a bit tanned, unshaven and well a bit dirty.
Stouty was happy as the aim this year was to get some applause at the end of the race, previously we had finished so late (1.30am in the morning) that a barge owner had complained about the noise and we had received a welcome but muted celebration.
As we crossed the line, it was great to see the entire crew there giving us some applause and cheers along with a few other finishers, supporters and marshals. Dick was waiting on the line with a couple of medals for “the local boys” (we don’t live very far away from him) which he placed around our necks and gave us the usual firm handshake and congratulations.
We spoke to a few other people who congratulated us (name checks and thanks to Binks, Winelegs, Springypanther and a few others including a couple of marshals). We spoke to Ogee, Firemannotsam and Iveagh our Irish buddy from the night leg aswell and sat down on the side of the canal with a can of Stella each just to take in these last moments of the race.
It was great to finish in the light with a few people around and receive some support and congratulations from other people and crews, it felt pretty good at that moment. We saw our names being added to the board together in a final finish time of 38hrs 52mins.
I was happy to have achieved the original goal but I had that immediate feeling that we should have done a little better. The last 25 miles took us maybe 8 hours, so that’s where we could knock off a couple of hours (I was going to say “easily” but stopped myself there) next time. Still, it was a new Personal Best time and you shouldn’t ever be disappointed with that.
I actually felt much much better than I had the previous year. My knee and calf were injured (the calf more so), my heels were blistered but I could hobble around. I had a cold bath (not quite ice cold) and soaked in there to see if that would give me any benefit and had a lazy day with the family but did sleep again that afternoon for about 3 hours.
However this year, largely thanks to Fetch we had a few more acquaintances and some other external support. It was a really great feeling to see people you didn’t really know encouraging you via Twitter or Fetch and willing you along to the finish. In addition a few crews recognised us as along the way and gave us some encouragement which was fantastic. I guess it’s nice to feel part of the running community.
Would we do anything different? Probably not, the planning and organisation was spot on really and nothing went wrong as such. We may well have benefited from getting the crew to provide more support during the night or even having a buddy runner during the night but our plan was to fast walk this leg. We did our level best to avoid blistering and this was much improved from last year but I guess can be worked on further (if anyone has any further tips we would love to hear them) and injuries on the run are just a matter of luck really. Overall, I’m happy with the planning and organisation and we did improve on certain areas so our GUCR race experience and know-how seems to have improved.
Next time? Well I may be back another year to tackle it unsupported for a different experience. Will “The Wife” (Stouty) return? Well he did declare his intention to retire from the GUCR several times over the weekend but you never know, let’s put it down as a maybe.
Thanks to Dick and his team including all the people who make the effort to put on the race, it is a special race and one which I am delighted to have completed again.
Thanks to my family, Sal and Annabelle for supporting me before, during and after the race and thanks in advance for letting me do the race again in the future…
Finally, thanks to the running (Fetch / Runners World / GUCR Facebook) community for all your support, tweets and messages. It was really good to put a few names to faces and I hope to see some of you again at future events.
2 Responses to “2011 Grand Union Canal Race”
Wow, thats a brilliant write up. I love all the detail you have managed to capture and so glod you took photos and vids and tweeted. Awesome team effort you two and was really great to see you both at the end. See you next year I hope.
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