Another Ultramarathon Running Blog

2013 GUCR Pre-Race Blog

2011 GUCR 17 - Walk Home 02

Two days to go before the 2013 Grand Union Canal Run (GUCR) and its time for the usual pre-race blog which an event this size deserves.

There are a number of reasons I like writing a pre-event blog which includes:

  • It’s good to record your thoughts prior to the event and then comparing these to the actual result afterwards and see what went well and what went wrong!
  • To remind yourself of the good things you have done in training or preparation as a little confidence boost.
  • To create a bit of peer pressure to deliver on your stated goals. This is not something I normally do at all (I like to promise mediocre results and over-deliver with an average result and feel like a real hero!). However, with Spartathlon the ultimate goal this year (see previous blog) it’s a cards on the table year for me.

I first ran (walked) the GUCR in 2010 at a time when I was a complete ultra running novice and scraped a finish in a less than impressive time of 43-44 hours. I returned in 2011 with a slightly improved performance and finished in 38-39 hours still feeling that I could have done a bit better.

Fast forward to 2013 and I’m back again to try and better previous performances. With the Spartathlon as the key goal for this year there is an even greater focus on an improved finishing time. I was comfortable to take any sort of finish in 2010, I was aiming for a sub 40 in 2011 and in 2013 I am now looking for a 32-34hr finish to put me on target for Spartathlon cut-offs.

So, What Has Changed?

A reasonable question and one I need to provide a convincing answer for if I’m to get anywhere near my goal. I often hear (and have said it myself a few times).. “I finished x race in y hours but I think I could do it in z (fewer) hours”.

Whilst it’s good to have a target and a challenge, race results/times don’t lie and you are only as a good as you have proven in the past. My GUCR time of 38-39 hrs is not good enough for the Spartathlon at present. However if I can get this to a 32-34hr then maybe I have a chance at this event.

2011 GUCR 01

So how can I improve upon my last performance?

  • Greater experience – I was definitely a novice Ultra runner in 2010 and was still learning in 2011. I spent 2012 running several 100 milers in rubbish weather conditions (Thames Path 100, Ridgeway Challenge, Caesars Camp 100 & Winter 100) amongst a couple of others and feel a more experienced runner in 2013.
  • Better fitness – More mileage clocked since 2010. Jan-Apr 2011 averaged 206 miles per month, 2013 averaged 266 miles per month.
  • More desire – previous years were about the finish. This event is now a step towards a bigger objective.
  • No crew. I spent a lot of time with the crew in 2010 and 2011 and thought this was the “norm” for long over-night runs and now learning that it’s not. Whilst the support of my crew was fantastic, I was guilty of spending too much time with them.
  • No buddy runner. Paul Stout and I ran both GUCR’s together and as a result we moved at the pace of the slowest person at all times. During the night phase, it was me falling asleep and on the second day it was Stouty hobbling with a knee/ankle injury. (See Stouty’s rant at 144 miles here). This year I’m going solo so only have myself to blame this year.
  • Slow night leg. I was really slow over the previous night legs mainly because I was asleep on my feet and hanging onto Stouty’s backpack. It’s a bit of a weak area for me but I have improved thanks to a combination of a caffeine diet before and caffeine overload on the day to perk me up. Matt Dunn has also kindly agreed to pace me during the night leg which will help.

Pre-Race Training

My training for the 2013 has been pretty good overall. I’ve run more miles than I have done before, tried (but not completely successfulyl) to avoid simply plodding miles and mixing it up with the odd different session and I have seen some improvements in race times. The following table gives a quick summary of 2011 vs. 2013 where I have followed a similar build up of races.





Thames Trot


9hrs 16mins (48 miles)

6hrs 49mins (only 45 miles)

Wokingham Half Marathon


1hr 36mins

1hr 30mins

St Peters Way Ultra (42 miles)


7hrs 54mins

Reading Half Marathon


1hr 33mins

1hr 29mins

Overton 16 mile


2hrs 10mins

Thames Path 100


22hrs 26mins (104 miles)

Compton 40


7hrs 36mins

6hrs 57mins

North Devon Marathon


3hrs 36mins

Ridgeway 40


7hrs 42mins

6hrs 23mins

Not the most impressive times for some of the Ultra Marathon speedsters out there but it definitely shows signs of improvement.

Race Tactics

A couple of areas to improve upon here are as follows:

  • Pacing. I am going to try and take it very easy at the start and keep the jog going for as along as possible. The Thames Path 100 splits of 8.5hrs for the first 48 miles and 14hrs for the second 56 miles is evidence of this a long slow leg. I will be starting somewhere near the back and trying to be consistent.
  • Reduce Aid Station stops. I’ve touched on this before but stops are planned to be minimal (a few minutes at each one to grab food or top up water supplies) but I have planned a longer stop at Navigation Bridge to gear up for the night (i.e. head torch/extra layer) and get some warm food and I would like a hot breakfast stop in the morning sometime which depends on progress. Stouty is crewing at Springwell Lock, so if I can make it there then it would be good to spend a few minutes catching up with him.

Race Plan

This is normally a secret excel spreadsheet of distances, times and paces which I carry in my pocket but for those running or following the race I am aiming to achieve the following milestones:

  • Checkpoint 4, Heart of England Pub (53 miles) 10–11hrs
  • Checkpoint 7, Grand Junction Arms (100 miles) 21-23 hrs
  • Finish, Little Venice (145 miles) 32-34.5 hrs

The danger with stating these goals is that I may try and push earlier to be ahead of target and then everything unravels later on. If you see me anywhere near the front of the race at Checkpoint 1 then kindly remind me of this blog!

Those Tough Moments..

There are two parts of the race which I find the toughest:

  • That moment when you slow from a jog to a walk and then find it hard to motivate yourself to run (albeit very slowly) and find yourself walking for miles and miles. There will be times when you walk but the aim is to keep some sort of plod going for as long as possible (the “grinding it out phase”).
  • The night shift. I usually feel quite energised at first with the excitement of being out in the middle of nowhere at some ridiculous hour. I recall Stouty and I receiving a fantastic reception coming into Navigation Bridge in 2010 about on hour or so under the cut-off and the pub emptying to give us an enormous cheer, However, it’s those early hours when I’m dead on my feet and suffering from sleep deprivation which are the worst.


I have to admit to carrying an injury for a little while. Some of you who may have read my previous blogs will have noted reference to a groin injury picked up at the Thames Trot in February. Unfortunately, I have been carrying this for 2-3 months despite it not impacting my running I could feel it most times I was running.

I finally decided to go to the Sports Physio for a sports-massage and an opinion and some work on the right calf muscle which was stiff and sore. The physio put me through various stretches which felt ok before commenting that she didn’t think it was a muscular injury and suggested it could be hernia related and I may wish to get a Doctors opinion. Not the news I wanted to hear at all and if this diagnosis proved true (not confirmed at this stage) then worst case scenario is an operation and my 2013 plans (GUCR, Thames Ring and Spartathlon) all wiped out.

However after some consideration, this was not impacting my running at all and I decided there was no reason not to run the GUCR. I would also rather try and keep a clean bill of health especially when looking to approach the GP for a medical consent form in September. I am hoping it is still just a groin strain which has taken a long time to heal up particularly as I haven’t rested it at all but at the moment I just need to put it out of my mind. If I can complete the GUCR then the Thames Ring and Spartathlon are still on unless anything gets worse.


So come 6am on Saturday morning I will be on the start line with 100 or so other runners. The reality of the race is that 50% of the starters will not finish. Personally, (barring an injury) I feel pretty confident of a finish and confident of bettering my 2011 time.

However, achieving a target of 32-34 hours is going to be a challenge. You can keep up to speed on my progress via my @ultraavon twitter feed over the weekend.

Hopefully, I’ve added enough pressure on myself with the blog and a weight of expectation from the handful of people who read this to keep me moving over the weekend. We will see, full report in a few days time.

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