Mimi & Dick Kearn
The Grand Union Canal Race or GUCR as it’s referred to is one of my favourite races and holds many happy memories. The race is always held on the last bank holiday in May beginning on Saturday morning at 6am at Gas Street Basin, Birmingham. Runners have 45 hrs to run the 145 miles to Little Venice in London.
Runners are either supported which means they provide their own crew, or unsupported where they are looked after by the fantastic team of volunteers along the route and buddy runners are only allowed from mile 65.5 Stoke Bruerne Bottom Locks.
It was with great sadness that Dick announced that his would be his final year as Race Director of the GUCR. Dick has run, set up and organised this race for the last 21 years turning it into one of the UK’s most iconic races with people queuing up to get a place. His dedication and hard work over the years is priceless. His aim is to see as many runners as possible finish safely in Little Venice, London, where they are greeted by Dick who hangs their medal round their neck. It’s possibly the heaviest medal I have ever received so you have to brace your legs to stop them buckling under its weight!
This race holds a very special place in my heart. 145 miles non-stop in under 45 hrs is not easy, although I think people are fooled into thinking because it’s a flat course it shouldn’t be too tough! In 2004 I entered for the first time with the aim of finishing in under 40 hours so I could use the result to enter Badwater in 2005 (which I did). At that stage I hadn’t even run 100 miles non-stop so perhaps I was being rather naive thinking I could do it.
I remember everyone telling me that finishing under 40 hrs was really tough achieve the first time so I had to prove them wrong, finishing just under in 39hrs 39 mins – perfect
I then went back in 2010 with the aim of breaking the female course record. Luckily for me I had a great run and finished in a time of 28hrs 12 minutes taking 11hrs 27 minutes off my 2004 time (very happy!) (The CR has since been broken)
Dick with no beard!!!
In 2013 I contacted Dick to tell him of my plans to run the double. It was important to me that he was happy & I had his support as I wanted to run from London to the Race then run back with the other competitors. I had to make sure I was able to run back otherwise I would have taken a place away from another runner. Entry to the race was now done on a ballot system as the places were so over subscribed, but thankfully Dick gave me one of the coveted places.
My goal for the double (apart from being the first person to do it) was to do both sections in good times but they had to be within the cut-off of 45 hrs and no stopping for more than 40 minutes. The run from London went well except for the awful weather and the last 12 miles where I was having bladder issues forcing me to power walk, but I finished in a time of 31hrs 50 minutes.
The return leg was amazing, I felt completely relaxed and enjoyed running, walking and talking with other runners along the route. My crew had to have a word with me to get a move on and stop enjoying myself! I finished in a very respectable time of 36hrs 49 mins.
The London to Birmingham Leg
The Race – Birmingham to London
Finishing the double was as you can imagine very emotional, but more importantly for me I had proved to Dick that he had been right in giving me a place on the GUCR, we were both in tears.
Three very different races but all equally as special – running 145 miles non-stop is a hell of a long way!
Now for 2015.
HWMBO and I drove up to Birmingham with HWMBO complaining about the state of the UK roads, finally arriving at around 3.30 pm. Becky and Paul were making their way from Cornwall on the train, meeting us at the hotel. Sadly Becky received some awful news about her mother (who is now thankfully on the mend) so they literally arrived in Birmingham and got on the next train back to Cornwall. Both Becky and Paul felt awful about leaving me suddenly with only HWMBO to look after me but family comes first and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, Becky’s place was with her mother.
HWMBO & I ran through where everything was in the car and what I would want at certain points along the route. Food is always an issue with me so my crew have learnt that they just bring a selection to each meeting point and make me eat at least one of them.
We went to O’Neils where we met up with a few people including Paul Ali, Fiona McNeils, Paul Stout and Peter Leslie Foxall – I was very good and enjoyed a glass of fizzy water! While everyone was tucking into burgers I really didn’t want to eat food I wouldn’t usually eat before a race so HWMBO and I opted to eat at the hotel.
Before heading back to the hotel I popped into the Travel Lodge next door to register and collect my hoodie and crew T-shirts, I was delighted with the colour Dick had done them in – just for me!
During supper HWMBO & I went through the maps and where I wanted him to meet up with me. I was very aware that as he was on his own it was important that at some stage he needed to get some sleep. The meeting points were 9-12 miles apart which worked well at the beginning but after 100 miles it seemed to take me ages to get to the next meeting point! But at least during the night section it would give him time to rest!
I had a slight sore throat on Friday night but ignored it, hopefully it would go away. Up early the following morning, breakfast, coffee then at about 5.30am headed down to the start.
The tape was supporting my thighs NOT my knees!
As we listened to Dicks words of wisdom before the start my heart was racing, I thought I was going to be sick and really didn’t feel that my legs could run 145 miles – so what was I doing leading the pack off at the start! (although to be fair I always do that – I had a plan!)
I went off at my planned pace and felt very comfortable although stupidly I wasn’t wearing my usually combination of socks so could feel a blister appearing on my right foot, after about half an hour it popped and everything felt comfortable again.
Meeting HWMBO at 9.7 miles was fantastic, swopped bottles, gave me some food (no idea what) and I was on my way. .3 miles later to be quite honest I wanted to stop, I had a stitch that wouldn’t go away (I never usually get these) and the thought of running another 135 miles really didn’t appeal but I told myself that I would continue to the next meeting point.
This is where as runners it’s so easy to give up, we start thinking of all the things we could be doing if we weren’t running down a canal so I had to put those thoughts out of my head. I had to keep going and I had to finish, imagine how I would feel waking up knowing I had given up so early on, plus this was Dick’s last race, it was important for me to be part of it. It’s easy to give up, much harder to keep going.
Over the next 20 miles or so it was lovely to see other peoples support crews waiting for their runners, they always gave a cheer as I ran past giving me a big lift, HWMBO was always there waiting for me with a cheery comment and tempting me to eat some revolting food.
Running through Braunston Marina brought memories flooding back from last year when Becky, Paul, HWMBO and I hired a boat and helped out at one of the Check points, great fun. HWMBO told me here that my lovely friends Maria and Gavin Davies had heard that HWMBO was crewing alone so said they would meet us at Galleon Bridge 68 mile 72.3 and start running with me – I burst into tears, how wonderful they were to give up their weekend to help me, quite fantastic.
Everything was going well, legs felt good, mood was positive and I felt as though I was going at a decent pace although behind my schedule (my schedules were pretty tight!) A song came onto my iPod which was perfect so I replayed it for the next 10 miles, singing at the top of my voice (although huffing and puffing at the same time)
Getting to Navigation Bridge at mile 70.5 is always a big tick in the box and adds a spring to the step, although I seem to remember I was feeling rather grumpy as I went up and over the bridge to my next meeting point just over 2 miles further on. I shouldn’t have been feeling grumpy as usually I feel marvellous at this point, plus I was about to be joined by Maria/Gavin. Thankfully by the time I arrived at Galleon Bridge I was feeling good again.
OMG I’m beginning to look like the Old Bag!
Maria ran the next 8 miles with me which was wonderful. We chatted away, although I think that Maria did most of the talking (thank goodness) Believe it or not but I’m not a very chatty person when I run, I prefer others to do all the talking as long as they don’t expect a reply so Maria was perfect allowing me just to listen. About 2 miles into this section we spotted Stu Wilkie on great form running on the other side of the Canal trying to find his way over as he was running with Roz Glover during the night. Sadly I think he had to back track to find a bridge to cross.
Maria and I arriving at 80.4 miles
The next 10 miles I ran on my own and my now the tops of my thighs were beginning to hurt so I was having to do a run/walk strategy but at least I was moving forward!
Reaching mile 99.8 at the Grand Junctions Arms at 1am was absolutely wonderful, now I only had 45 miles to go so knew that whatever happened I would be able to finish.
Over the next few miles Maria and Gavin ran with me and stopped me from thinking negative thoughts. I was feeling disappointed with my time but then had to remember that I was still in the race and at that stage lead lady so it was time to zip up my man suit and get on with the job in hand.
Reaching Springwell I really was ready to give up, my legs were sore and I really didn’t think I had another 25 miles in me, but the body and mind are quite amazing – although I wanted to stop I knew I wouldn’t. I had a lovely and much needed hug from Lindley before leaving the CP with the words “When I finish this I’m going to retire”
I had stopped taking my electrolytes during the night as I felt I was going to the loo more than I usually did and it was tasting revolting, a sign that I didn’t need it. A mistake on my part was not starting them again early enough in the morning by which time I was more dehydrated than I should have been and my hands had swollen up a lot.
Arriving at the final CP was a monumental feeling of joy – I was nearly finished! Manning this CP was Nici Griffin who gave me a big hug from Becky and another massive one from her, what more could a smelly girl want! Nici noticed that my breath smelt sweet which is a sign that my body had completely run out of Carbohydrate so it had started to break down my muscles – although I felt fine.
I was quite relieved that Hank wasn’t there to shout abuse at me! After a little something to eat, replenish my drinking bottles Maria and I continued our 12 mile journey to the finish! HWMBO had given me the fright of my life and got my moving very quickly when he said there was a female runner coming up to the CP – Nickers! (he was only teasing me!)
The next section I was very slow, mostly fast walking at this stage but occasionally jogging to try and keep the miles ticking by. My legs were hurting even more and although we were on the final stretch I could have stopped at any time!
An added bonus was meeting Gavin and HWMBO at Piggery Bridge near Sainsbury’s where I had something to eat and a coffee, that really perked me up although getting up from a sitting position proved to be rather difficult (thankfully the boys pulled me up!)
We bumped into Jennifer Bradley with 6 miles to go, she was heading off in the other direction to I think find other runners. The last 8 miles or so poor Maria was made to turn round a lot by me asking if she could spot any other women coming up behind me. My worry was I was going so slowly that someone would catch me up and if they did I wasn’t sure if I would have anything left in me to chase them. Thankfully I didn’t have to put it to the test.
Getting closer to Little Venice was a special moment, there were people everywhere walking their dogs, cyclists galore riding up and down (some of them I saw many times) and a few runners – we were nearly there, I could smell the finish line – THEN there it was, finally my journey that had started at 6am on Saturday morning was about to finish.
I had done it, managed to hold onto 1st lady in a time of 32hrs 28 minutes and 14th overall. Seeing Dick at the end and getting back the trophy I had first received in 2010 was an amazing moment and wonderful to be part of the 21st edition of the race and once again reduce Dick to tears! A man I have a huge amount of respect for and who has been part of my running life since 2004.
I believe 105 people started the race and 65 finished!
During the race my thoughts were with Becky and her mum and whatever happened, however low I got I knew I had to finish for them. Becky has crewed all my big events since 2008 when I did my JOGLE World Record and has become a very special friend so it was lovely to hear that her mum is now on the road to recovery. Paul I know you will look after them both x
A special and marvellous thanks goes to my lovely friends Maria and Gavin. You guys were absolutely fantastic stepping in to help me at the last minute. You have no idea how wonderful that was, thank you doesn’t seem enough after what you did, but thank you so much.
I mustn’t forget HWMBO who puts up with everything. He never gets angry or flustered with me, he remains calm and in control of the situation. Quite simply he is my rock.
Am I happy with my result? I am in that I honestly don’t think I could have done any better given my lack of speed training this year (reasons in another blog) so in that respect I was happy with my time but my aim when I entered last year was to try and break the female course record – so that was an epic fail but races don’t always go to plan and the body can only do what it can do if it’s properly trained. This race felt much harder than my Double in 2013. Having wanted to stop since mile 10 I recon I did OK!
A massive congratulations goes to everyone who finished, but a special mention has to go to Dan Lawson who finished in an astounding 22:16 and Mark Perkins in another outstanding time of 22:42 – impressive or what. When I saw them at the beginning of the race they made running fast look so easy!
To all the amazing support volunteers along the route, you are simply the best, making sure we are OK, feeding and watering us, giving hugs when needed and always, always cheerful encouraging us to keep going, you guys are marvellous.
I’m sure Dick will be back helping out on the race for a few more years to come and I look forward to us all supporting Keith Godden who is taking over the role of RD, I know he will do a great job.