Stupidest quote “I can’t believe there are so many hills in this race”
10 days post Double Grand Union Canal Race my legs feel good but won’t be ready to run for another few days. The events of the Bank Holiday weekend haven’t really sunk in it all seems a bit of a dream, but what an amazing dream it was!
The Grand Union Canal Race (or GUCR as its affectionately known as) is the brain child of Dick Kearn, a marvellous man full of character and a real passion for running. The race itself starts at Gas Street in Birmingham where it follows the Grand Union Canal all the way to Little Venice in London, 145 miles in total. The race is so popular that entries are done on a ballot basis and competitors come from all over the world to take part. Runners can be supported by their own crew, or unsupported where Dick and his team look after them. There is a time limit of 45 hours to complete the race and no stopping for more than 40 minutes is allowed otherwise the competitor is deemed to have left the race.
This race holds a very special place in my heart. I first took part in 2004 as a qualifier for Badwater Ultra Marathon and finished in a time of 39 hours 39 minutes which I was delighted with as my target had been to try and finish in under 40 hours (I had only been running ultras since 2001). My second run in 2010 was completely different, I returned with the aim of breaking the female course record, this I did by over 3 hours finishing in a time of 28 hrs 12 minutes (Debbie Martin Consani has since broken my record) I had achieved my goal and was absolutely delighted with my result.
With both races I loved the atmosphere of the race, the comradery of my fellow runners, the great support from all the support crew along the route and of course the distance so I knew that at some stage I would be back!
Why the double? Firstly it had never been done before and someone had to be the first and secondly I have always enjoyed pushing myself just that little bit further and doing things that perhaps other people wouldn’t consider. It was also very important that Dick knew of my plans as I felt it would have been very disrespectful to have gone ahead without his blessing.
As I lived in Kent and James Adams who was to be doing it with me lived in London it seemed logical to run from London to Birmingham and then run back with the race. Training went well apart from a few minor hiccups and the planning and crew were in place, now it was time to put one foot in front of the other and see what I could do.
My crew consisted of Becky Healey, Paul George and of wonderful husband HWMBO they all know me well and from my point of view I know that once I start I wouldn’t have to think about anything apart from the running which makes a huge difference.
We met up with James and Gemma at Little Venice just before 9am on Thursday 23rd May together with one of my coaching clients Tom, Kathie & her son. After a visit to the loo a few hugs James & I were sent on our way at 9 a.m. with a simple “off you go”
I must admit I was a tad nervous but excited at the same time, I love this sort of challenge it makes me feel alive! The first meeting point for the crew was 12 miles away at Hambrough Tavern, we got there on time, quick water refill then off to the next meeting point 10 miles further along. I remember commenting to James that I would have to try and remember everything for my blog, I can never understand how some people seem to remember every minute detail of their races whereas I struggle to remember one CP to the next!
The weather was due to rain from about midday and continue raining until the early hours of Saturday morning, not very pleasant but our skin is waterproof! We had a few showers before the 40 mile point but nothing to write home about.
James was struggling with pain in his groin which meant he kept stopping to stretch it out, you can imagine after only 22 miles he was feeling very disappointed and frustrated but kept going.
With a few miles to go before the 40.7 mile meeting point at Berkhamsted Bridge James told me he was going to stop. His groin was causing a lot of pain and because of that his head just wasn’t in the right place; to do this distance you have to have your mental head on. We walked the last mile chatting. It was very sad to say goodbye but he had made the right decision.
Having left James I had to make up over 30 minutes so picked up the pace feeling strong and positive, this is when I tend to be at my best, running alone, I get into a good space and stay there. I was meeting my crew 9 miles down the canal at Ivinghoe Bridge, the time seemed to fly by I was in my element. Thankfully as it wasn’t a particularly nice day there weren’t lots of fishing poles to be jumped over and sometimes I would race a canal boat! (thankfully fairly easy as they go very slowly!) I reached my crew in good time, now I only had about 25 minutes to make up.
The next meeting point was at Tesco at Leighton Buzzard where I would have a lovely coffee, this kept me moving forward as I didn’t feel I had had my quota for the day! Arriving at LB however I couldn’t see the crew anywhere, I ran passed the canal entrance to Tesco and thought perhaps I was in the wrong place so decided to ring them just to make sure – I had arrived earlier than they had anticipated and they were sitting in the car! I was given some food and decided to drink my coffee as I walked so not to waste time. I was now 18 minutes behind schedule.
I had now covered 54.5 miles and was really enjoying myself. The next 10 mile section to Peartree Bridge at 64.6 miles was good. It was tempting on a few occasions to pop onto one of the canal boats and join the owners for a little sundowner, but with my running hat on I resisted the temptation and continued on my way!
By the time I arrived at Peartree Bridge I was 1 minute ahead of my 34 hour Schedule, oh yes, result I was now back on track. FoxyDavy Baley and Veritie Yates joined me for the next 8 miles, which was wonderful, we chatted about their running, although I think they did more talking than me as believe it or not I don’t tend to want to talk very much when running – why do you think HWMBO doesn’t mind me running, peace and quiet!!
During the night my crew took it in turns to run sections with me, this was more from a safety point of view to make sure I didn’t fall into the canal and drown. It was extremely cold during the hours of darkness so long running tights, long sleeved top and jacket were essential, plus gloves because if me hands start getting cold it affects the rest of me.
At about the 100 mile point my bladder began to play up. This has happened before on other long events. It feels exactly like cystitis (although apparently its not) which makes running very uncomfortable because the bladder is always feeling full when in fact it’s empty, so unfortunately there was lots of stopping to try and have a pee and alleviate the pressure.
Luckily for me I was able to keep up a fairly good pace during the night which kept me ahead of my 34 hour schedule so by the time I arrived at Birdingbury Bridge at mile 109.1 miles I was just under 3 hours ahead. I stayed for a minute here before continuing towards Birmingham.
When I reached the Fosse Road I was in for a real treat. Paul had been running with me on the promise that we would have breakfast waiting for us; it felt good to sit down, eat a delicious bacon butty and a coffee, the best breakfast in the world and set me up for the remainder of the day!
Now it was light I ran on my own again which I was happy with, it gave the crew time to try and catch up on some sleep, especially as they were running with me on the return leg. My bladder was getting worse and extremely uncomfortable so I made the decision to powerwalk the last 22ish miles from Hatton Locks Top to give my bladder time to rest and hopefully recover for the return journey. Although I’m not very fast at walking I can keep up a fairly good pace; this wasn’t what I wanted to do as my legs were still feeling strong and I was more than capable of running but I had to look at the bigger picture of what I was trying to achieve.
At one point on Friday afternoon we had the most horrendous weather, a really strong headwind and hailstones blasting at our faces, OUCH! I met up with the crew at Knowle Locks where I had to get into the car to defrost I was so cold. Becky gave me my waterproof trousers, another jacket and waterproof gloves and we set off for the final 13 miles of the first half.
I was now on the final stretch and could get excited that I would do the first half in a good time and it would be faster than my original target.
My crew did a fantastic job of keeping everyone informed as to when I would be arriving at Gas Street and with only a few miles to go Becky told me that there were people waiting for me to arrive – I didn’t believe her, why would people come out to see me finish my run from London, I thought she was joking but as we got closer Paul Ali appeared and walked with us towards the finish, it was just marvellous.
Up and over the bridge I went, so close now. Paul ran off to take photos as I came in and as I got closer more familiar faces cheering me on, under the little bridge to the finish and yet more people, some I had never met before, it was extremely emotional and I don’t think anyone there had any idea how wonderful it was for me to have their support at that moment, thank you.
My run from London was completed in a time of 31 hours 50 minutes. To put it into perspective the course record I broke in 2010 was 31 hours 25 minutes!
Thank you to Paul for my PINK lucozade & diet coke!
After a hot bath, massage and something to eat I slept like a baby until 4.50 a.m., nothing would have woken me up!
Now for the return leg back to London!