The December Newsletter is now available
As some of you will have spotted on Facebook we want your race reports to go straight onto the website rather than waiting for the newsletter so I’m getting the ball rolling with a little something I did a month ago. Don’t feel intimidated by this, your report can be as long or as short as you like.
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Kennet & Avon Canal Race (KACR) 2018
Those that know me will know that I can write some quite lengthy reports of races I’ve done that are probably only really of interest to me and a handful of others. If you are one of those people who get bored during an excessively lengthy report then I have done an abridged version as the last paragraph so feel free to skip ahead. For everyone else, get yourself a cuppa, some biscuits and settle in.
The build up
It all started one cold January day when Tammy (my wife), was in Ireland with her friends for a couple of days, she was booking up a couple of days in Cornwall for later in the year so I had to work out how I could get a couple of days away. Most sensible people would book up a holiday with their friends, I instead emailed the organiser of the KACR to enquire if there were spaces available.
The KACR is the younger sibling of the Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR), a 145-mile race which takes place on the weekend of the end of May bank holiday following the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham to London. Following the right (or wrong) people on Twitter, I had come to know of the GUCR and found the idea fascinating, but it is in its 24th year, and is hugely popular (around 200 applications for 100 spaces) so it has a lottery and I was too late to enter.
The KACR is only in its 2nd year and isn’t quite as popular. But it was the end of July and started at Bristol Temple Meads (still finishing at Paddington) so fit in perfectly for me. No waiting list, no qualifying criteria, just put your name down on the pre-entry list and wait for the organiser to ask for payment and you’re in. So I did and I was in. Now all I had to do was try and stop the KACR from permeating my every thought for the next 7 months.
How do you train for something this big? I’m not sure I did! I carried on with what I was already doing, trying to run about 40-50 miles most weeks and trying to get out for longer runs when I could and run along the canal a bit. With Oscar (my son), playing rugby on Sunday mornings, it would be May before I could regularly run 20+ mile runs.
For the first time in my running career, I also had a running injury after the Corsham 10K which kept me from running as my achilles threatened to not only derail my KACR but possibly my entire running career (thanks Dr.Google). It was a big worry with 3 months before the big one. But after a chat with Jane Clarke and some taping; and a visit to Anna Gardiner to work on my muscles, I was able to do a 40-mile race just 3 weeks later and strengthened my achilles from there. It was definitely my biggest worry in the lead up to the race but I think it was a mixture of luck and listening to two experienced physios and I was able to return to full fitness reasonably quickly.
The rest of the build up to the race went smoothly enough and I even mostly stuck to a hastily arranged training plan to ensure I kept my mileage up but also took rest days. Soon I had my race pack including waterproof maps and my race number (54). There were a surprisingly large number of instructions on the maps but the majority of these were along the lines of ‘cross bridge 52 to RHS’, RHS being Right Hand Side. All bridges along the canal are numbered, counting down from 215, so easy to follow.
Race Day – Start to Checkpoint 3 – Flying along.
Alex Fogwill had kindly offered to pick me up on the morning of the race at 4:30am and take me to Bristol Temple Meads ready to start at 6:00. I was second to arrive, so handed over my drop bag which had a few treats to be available at each checkpoint and then chatted to the other runner waiting, Ian Kittle who is also doing the Cotswold Way Century at the end of September. Alex took some photos of me under the clock at the start and I carried on with usual pre-race stuff. Then at around 5:55, Dick Kearn (the organiser of the canal races), called us all to line up at the start, gave us a few brief words and at 6:00 exactly he dropped his arm to officially start the KACR for 59 runners.
This was it, after 7 months of waiting and it permeating my every thought I was finally on my way to London, by foot. I would be on my feet for somewhere between the next 36-45 hours if successful with only 9 checkpoints along the way. The weather forecast was for temperatures approaching 30 on day 1, then rain overnight, then mid-20s for day 2. It was going to be a battle of attrition.
I set off at a good pace, in fact a very good pace. With most of my early miles between 8:30-9:30 pace and before I knew it, I had reached the first checkpoint in Bath at 12 miles in well under 2 hours and 5th place (I think, not that my position was important to me). I had made the mistake at Bristol of putting my drop bag straight into the van and it had my suncream and Vaseline in, so I spent a bit of time at CP1, suncreaming the exposed bits and vaselineing the unexposed bits.
Then it was off again, still keeping my pace under 10s, until the 20-mile point (Dundas Aqueduct) where I decided on a 1 mile walk, 3 mile run strategy, so I walked a mile. When I started running again at mile 21, I met the first member of the public who was interested in what we were up to. A Scottish chap called Tom who was in Limpley Stoke for a wedding and found me on Strava afterwards to see how I got on.
Stewart Unsworth was hoping to see me at the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon at 24 miles, anticipating that I wouldn’t be there until at least 10. I was well ahead of schedule so as it coincided with my mile walk, I used the opportunity to message him and he said he’d try and catch me further down the trail. I was looking forward to seeing a friendly face. After that mile it was a straight run to Staverton and CP2 (I completed the first marathon in 4:13, including 2 miles walked and a checkpoint), where I bumped into a friend who has done the GUCR previously as well as numerous other 100 milers. I grabbed a Peperami and also my sun cream. I walked out of the checkpoint so I could lower my temperature and stop sweating my suncream off.
In the next section I saw Stewart at mile 30, Walked up Caen Hill at mile 36, grabbed an ice cream at mile 37, went into new territory from mile 38, having never been past Devizes before, which also meant getting the maps out for the first time; and I had some chilled watermelon along the way (not for the last time either) offered by one of the other runner’s crew; a feature of this race is the all help each other attitude. It was the middle of the afternoon before I got to checkpoint 3 at Honeystreet (near Pewsey) and had a hot dog. This checkpoint was the toughest to get to as it had been the hottest section and I’d had about 2.5 litres of fluid and was still sweating profusely. The heat was too much for some and the guy sat next to me, pulled out there.
Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 5 – Battling the heat.
Excellent, down to double figures of remaining distance. The journey to the next checkpoint was fairly unremarkable, I was well removed from my previous 3 mile run, 1 mile walk strategy and was running a bit and walking a bit as I felt capable. I also had to give my Garmin its first charge to help it last the entire race; I’d purposely purchased a Forerunner 235 for this very situation as it can be charged from a portable charger while still being used to record your run. I sat at checkpoint 4 at 60 miles and tried to eat a sausage roll but it nearly made me sick. I have never used gel for any of my ultras, always preferring solid food, but it can be tough to get the right stuff at the right time.
Leaving this checkpoint, the next instruction was to cross Bridge 82 to HS, a couple of miles down the path. I was keeping my eye out for it, but as I got 200 metres past a bridge, I questioned whether I’d paid attention to the number. I was sure I’d passed bridge 83 before that bridge so that means it should have been 82 and I should have crossed. I was on a lovely path on the RHS and the LHS just looked like woods, but what if my path diverted a mile down the path and the actual path was just behind those trees? I was second guessing myself and worrying that I could be going a long way wrong. So better to be safe than sorry, I started heading back just to be sure, what’s another 400 metres in the grand scheme of things if I was wrong? Another runner was heading towards me which should have been a clue, but when I spoke to him, he also had not paid attention and we both ran back to check. It did turn out to be bridge 83 and a seemingly pointless diversion but it is really important to make sure you’re happy you’re on the right path.
I ran with the other runner (Michael) and we soon found bridge 82 where it was obvious that we had to cross to the other side. While chatting with Michael, we discussed whether we’d seen anyone we knew while running and when he mentioned seeing someone he knew in Devizes, something clicked for me. A non-runner at work had surprised me one day by asking if I was doing KACR, it turned out that he’d seen my name on the entry list below a friend of his, Michael.
Michael and I had chatted on Twitter in the lead up to the race (I’m easy to find) and had hoped to meet properly beforehand and it didn’t happen, but we’d just bumped into each other. We’d even chatted at the previous checkpoint without realising. We ran together for a few miles, until he veered off to meet a buddy runner at the Dundas Arms in Kintbury at mile 66, the point from which buddy runners were allowed.
The night would soon be coming so I thought I should get some quicker miles in and see if I could get to the halfway checkpoint in Newbury before using my headtorch. Miles 69 and 70 were done in 19:37, mile 70 being my last one of the race under 10 m/m pace. Mile 71 was slower as I had a large group of cyclists come past and ask what we were up to as they’d seen a few of us. They were a little stunned as they journeyed on their way to their Friday evening plans. They did offer me some non-prescription pain killer cigarettes but I politely declined and they went on their way.
I went through the busy centre of Newbury as bars and restaurants were filled with Friday night revellers and I reached halfway at around 21:30 (15:30 running time), having just put my headtorch on. I sat down at the checkpoint, had a cup of tea and some snacks and sorted myself out for the night. It was due to be reasonably warm so no need to change clothes.
Checkpoint 5 to Checkpoint 7 – Nightwalking.
Leaving the checkpoint just before 10pm and under the full moon and solar eclipse (which was unfortunately hidden by cloud for most of the night), you immediately cross a bridge (could have done with a checkpoint at bridge 82) and start to head out of Newbury and on towards Reading and the Thames. As I reached the other side I spotted a snag, the whole path was strewn with tree roots and it turns out my headtorch is not that great. It is a rechargeable one and I’d tested it out and it didn’t last 8 hours on full beam so I had to have it dipped and it just wasn’t strong enough. This is where things started to really slow down for me as I decided to walk because I didn’t want to trip and injure myself. I was now into preservation mode.
Before the race I had been working on a basis that if I walked I wanted to try and keep my pace at 3 miles an hour at worse and that as long as that would get me in before the cut offs then I’d be happy. I started doing the maths in my head worked out that if I was to walk the rest of the way it would take me around 25-26 hours (with checkpoints) so I’d still have enough time to finish and that was worst case scenario.
In some ways it displayed a mental toughness there but also a mental weakness. The toughness coming from not caring how long it took but knowing that I was more than capable of finishing the race. The weakness being the fact that I was able to justify walking far too easily and I took that opportunity.
The section to the next checkpoint, 14 miles down the road took me just over 4 hours so well within my pace boundaries but I had walked it all, even when the path had become more runnable, there was one point where I had been a bit concerned about the route when crossing a bridge as it didn’t follow the canal exactly, but luckily I had taken the right way and the canal soon returned to my side.
I approached checkpoint 6 shortly after passing under the M4 and into the north. The checkpoint was at the Cunning Man Pub, Bridge 14 in a village on the outskirts of Reading and as I approached the pub I could see no sign of life. I went towards the bridge which was just past the pub and saw nothing, so I went into the pub car park and searched around but still nothing. Eventually I headed back to the bridge and as soon as I passed under it, there was the checkpoint. At 34 minutes and 13 seconds while looking for the checkpoint and enjoying the delights of said checkpoint it was to be my slowest mile of the entire race.
The checkpoint staff along the whole route were brilliant, and this checkpoint was no different. Nothing was too much trouble. I got my Pot Noodle out of my drop bag and they prepared it for me; they also offered me one of their Pot Noodles instead but I declined as I had to have one without peas (all small vegetables should be destroyed in my opinion). Each checkpoint is issued with a sheet to write the race number, runners name and any comments on how we’re doing. From checkpoint 4 onwards it is a requirement of the organisers to make notes on everyone and I think they all try to outdo each other for hilarity; for instance, the guy who had 2 portions of custard at the checkpoint had CUSTARD TART as his comment, mine simply said “I Don’t do PEAS”. This checkpoint was also being manned by Paul Ali, who had come third at the inaugural KACR and completed the canalslam the previous year; the 145-mile GUCR end of May, the 145-mile KACR end of July and 130-mile fun run Liverpool-Leeds Canal Race (LLCR) at the end of August, 420 miles in 3 motnhs. It seems there is a real ‘canal family’ feel to these canal events and often people will come back and volunteer if not running themselves.
The next 15 miles to checkpoint 7 were definitely interesting. I was keeping my eye out for the next crossing at Bridge 9 and came to a bridge over a weir which definitely seemed like the right one. I crossed it but the path veered away from the canal. I hadn’t seen the bridge number as I couldn’t see the sign when I looked for it in my torchlight. So I went back and tried the other side of the canal, thinking I’d crossed a bridge too early. About 400 metres down that path as I was going through some woods I came to the conclusion that I had crossed the right bridge so I trudged back and about 10 metres past my original turnaround point, found the canal again.
I was running through the centre of Reading about 3:30 in the morning and it was eerily quiet. Mere hours earlier it must have been bustling with late night activity but now it was just me. And with 90 miles of the race completed as I was leaving Reading, I came to the end of the Kennet and Avon Canal where it meets the Thames. This is where the organisers had decided to make it interesting. They had the 145-mile GUCR, as well as the 130-mile LLCR, so the 90-mile KACR just seemed too short and they’d obviously worked out that if you followed the Thames Path National Trail to Slough and picked up the Grand Union Canal it would be a nice 145 mile run finishing at almost exactly the same spot as GUCR.
So onto the Thames I went. My leg muscles were feeling good but my feet were definitely starting to cause me trouble and my left knee really wasn’t happy with what it was being asked to do. I never normally suffer with blisters but I could feel hotspots on the soles of my feet, I found a convenient bench and sat down to check my feet. They didn’t look too bad but there were definitely some effects of running 95 miles already and I still had another 50 to go. Some people like to change socks or shoes but there was nothing I could do so I just put my socks and shoes back on and continued down the path.
The sun was starting to rise but it was still dark as the clouds were looking ominous and rain had been forecast for the morning. I thought it was time to reapply Vaseline to protect myself but unfortunately, almost as soon as I put my tub away, the rain started and went from 0 to torrential in about 30 seconds. My Vaseline treatment had come too late and within a minute the tops of my legs were burning and I was having to try and run like John Wayne to try and avoid rubbing. This was the lowest point of the race as I had to stop a couple of times and may have screamed some expletives at the sky. One thing that never entered my mind was to stop (mental toughness), even at its worst my only thought was that it was going to be a painful 50 miles.
If you remember, July had been incredibly dry and while It only rained for around 30 minutes it was seemingly all of July’s rain and once it stopped I reapplied Vaseline again (if I’d slipped over I probably would have been able to glide to Paddington) and it seemed to sort me out, I got no more trouble from my chafing. Unfortunately, the rain along with wet, tall grass on the Thames Path had really mashed up my feet and what had looked ok previously was now not so ok. I stopped at a handy bench to check my feet but again there was nothing I could do other than re-cover them and hope they didn’t get too painful.
As I passed through Henley-on-Thames I reached my 100-mile mark in just over 24 hours. Much of the trappings of the Henley Royal Regatta were still on display and the paths started to see more people as dog walkers, runners and other path users got up for the morning. I reached checkpoint 7 just after 7am, and at 102.8 miles I was now at the furthest I’d ever run. When I got to the checkpoint I commented that the torrential rain had nearly made me lose my sense of humour which I think led to the comment on the check sheet of “The jolliest one so far”. It is always my wish in races to run it all with a smile on my face, it’s why I do long distances rather than short stuff which requires fast running the whole time. I was very happy to find out my comment afterwards.
Checkpoint 7 to Checkpoint 9 – Walking in pain
I didn’t spend long at this checkpoint despite my friend Richard being there. I found out afterwards that they’d had microwave chicken burgers at this checkpoint, gutted I missed out on those. I did have some fruit salad and custard though which went down a treat. This was the point that I had highlighted before the race as the point that if I left this checkpoint, it would take a serious injury to stop me completing.
As I left, I was soon caught by a guy named Rhys (and his buddy runner) and we ran together for a bit. He lived near this section of the Thames so knew it well and was able to point out interesting features such as George Clooney’s house and grounds which we decided would be perfect to use as a toilet, always a bonus to be weeing over 100 miles into a race, must have been keeping my fluids up. He was doing the canalslam and I found out later had already run 23 marathons in 23 days in July raising money for Cystic Fibrosis. Incredible runner.
This section was again a bit of a mix of running and walking, I was trying to run about a third of a mile at a time, just playing little games with myself. It took about 4½ hours to do this 15-mile section (still under schedule) with only 2 small navigation errors along the way. There was a detour in Marlow and I took the first turning instead of the second one, it shortly turned into a cul-de-sac so didn’t add much to my overall distance. The error in Maidenhead was a little bigger. The path deviated a little from the Thames path to Slough and instead picked up the Jubilee river. The instructions told me to walk down a main road look out for a Bridleway just after crossing the Jubilee River but my addled brain struggled with this instruction and the scale of the map. I took a footpath after crossing the Thames and went around a residential area in a circle. I looked at my map got my phone out and explored it. The main road section was longer than I thought and I eventually found the right path and followed the Jubilee River to checkpoint 8 in a car park.
I really can’t remember much about this checkpoint but I can assume that I did my usual checkpoint thing of a bit of food, cup of tea, top up water and grab anything I want from my drop bag and then I was soon out and onto checkpoint 9 which was 12 miles away within the M25, I was on my way to London.
I had been off work the week prior to KACR to try and ensure I was well rested but a fitful night’s sleep before an early wakeup call on race day and missing a night’s sleep had made tiredness hit me quite hard since around checkpoint 7. I fairly frequently found a lamppost or a fence and just rested my head against it with my eyes closed for around 10 seconds. This allowed me to clear me head and continue onwards for a bit.
As I approached London, I left behind the sweeping wide-open spaces and hilly surroundings of Wiltshire and West Berkshire and there were more signs of urbanization. Again, I seem to have blanked most of this from my memory but I do remember walking a mile through Slough at mile 124 to get from Jubilee River to the Slough arm of the Grand Union Canal and the homeward journey into Paddington. It takes 5 miles to meet the Grand Union Canal properly and then it’s another mile to checkpoint 9.
In spite of walking far more than I would have liked; albeit it at a decent pace, I hadn’t seen any other runners since Rhys left me about 8 hours previously. However, on the last mile of the Slough arm of the Grand Union Canal, I was passed by another runner (Phil), who asked if I was ok (I was), and carried on saying he felt strong, he finished 45 minutes ahead of me. Then about 5 minutes later, I passed a runner (Grahame), who was struggling but determined to plod on to Paddington and he did coming in about 90 minutes behind me. They were the only other runners I saw in the last 14 hours of the race and they’d both come at the same time.
So here it was, checkpoint 9, Phil was just heading out as I arrived (in his report he said I’d scared him into getting a move on), and I sat down and did my usual checkpoint stuff. It was only 16:30 but I grabbed my headtorch, I had about 15 miles to go and 4½ hours before it would get dark so thought I should as I was forecasting around 22:00-22:30 finish for myself. I had a bowl of peanuts which was lovely, although difficult to chew. After about 15 minutes I got up out of the final chair and headed off towards central London.
Checkpoint 9 – Paddington Station – The Glorious Finish
There is only one instruction on the maps for the section from checkpoint 9 to the Finish. About 4 miles after the checkpoint, you cross over Bull’s Bridge and immediately take a left, this puts you on the RHS of the Grand Union Canal and you stay there for 13 miles until Paddington. Apparently, it is quite a feature of GUCR that people have managed to miss this turning and continue on the wrong path, there is even a sign before the bridge that says Paddington 13 miles and points to the left. Luckily, I didn’t miss it and could consign my maps to my rucksack for good.
I’d love to be able to tell you that these last 13 miles were some sort of magical, transcendent journey but I can’t. I was tired, I was sore in both feet and left knee still (but nothing new so that’s a bonus), I had known since the evening before that barring serious injury I’d complete the race, but perhaps worst of all, people are ****ing disgusting. Since joining the Grand Union Canal at Slough there had been a steady increase in the amount of litter and by the time I got onto the last section heading to Paddington, rubbish was just strewn everywhere, it was really disappointing and sad.
While heading down towards Paddington there are frequent signposts along the way which tell you how far you have remaining to Paddington so I occupied my mind with maths. The 5 miles after Bull’s Bridge were easily my slowest of the race, moving over my 20-minute average (to a whopping 21-minute average), but then something snapped with 8 miles to go and I upped the pace eager to get to Paddington (or maybe I stopped conversing with Stewart on messenger). I averaged sub 18-minute miles for the last 8 miles, which isn’t quick but also isn’t too shabby after 138½ miles in 37 hours.
As the miles remaining on the signposts got smaller and into single figures, the sights, sounds and indeed smells of inner London got stronger. There was a fantastic curry factory at one point which was an absolutely beautiful smell. As I got closer to central London, the canal started to get tidier again, obviously got to put on a show for visitors. The entire race only has around 2,500 feet of climbing, but about 2 miles from the end is a bridge affectionately called Mount Sainsbury’s. This is due to the fact it rises about 30 feet quite sharply and there is a Sainsbury’s at the top. There are also a few other humpback bridges in this section just to make the last bit interesting.
I was now well ahead of finishing before 22:00 which I was ecstatic with as 40 hours was my B goal, I was also holding off wearing my headtorch (though I had put it in my hand) as I was hopeful of finishing with just enough light. By my reckoning I was expecting my watch to get to around 146.7 miles at the finish with the detours, so I had told myself that I would at least finish running even though I’d walked most of the second half and so when my watch got to 146.5, I did just that. Then I immediately rounded a corner and there was the finish line. I’d only run about 100 metres, but I did my now trademark double thumbs up and crossed the line at 21:19. 145 miles in 39 hours and 19 minutes. 21st place from 59 starters and 33 finishers.
There are no cheering crowds, I had no personal spectators, there weren’t even any other runners there. This is a small personal event and in keeping with that tradition all that greets you is a small gazebo and a few volunteers and the organising team, Dick Kearn, Wayne Simpson and Keith Godden. As you cross the line, Keith takes photos and Dick makes it, that if your neck is the only part of you not hurting it soon will be as he places a massive medal on it.
I spent about 40 minutes at the finish, enjoying a cup of tea and wrapped in a couple of blankets to keep me warm. I had to let Tammy know I’d finished safely and successfully, post it on Strava (or it didn’t happen) and let my fan club from CRC know that it was done. The 40 minutes sat down had finished me off and as I headed to my hostel bed (£24 including breakfast) about 5 minutes (usual) walk from the finish line and Paddington station, I was shivering initially and hardly able to walk at all. I was just so happy that the race wasn’t 160 miles.
I checked in to my hostel and was gutted to find that there were no bottom bunks left, I was going to have to climb in and out of a top bunk. I showered discovering some pretty horrific chafing in pretty horrific places as well as my feet being basically one big blister each which had started to pop, but all 10 toenails were still intact. I proudly wore my KACR t-shirt (I had sworn to myself that I’d only wear it if I completed the race) and headed to the bar for a celebratory cider before heading to bed and falling asleep instantly.
I got up twice in the night for the loo and that was an interesting experience from the top bunk, trying to find a way to stand on the ladder and floor without putting pressure on my blisters. I still don’t know how I managed it. Then after 7 hours sleep, I had breakfast and caught a train home and back to normal life again, although the kids were very impressed with my medal.
Tammy is a nurse and very kindly dressed one of my feet for a couple of days as the blister was oozing (hope you’ve finished that cuppa and biscuits I mentioned at the start), and I returned to work 2 days later, funnily enough with a conference in central Bristol which I had to walk to from Temple Meads.
I am writing this 3/4 weeks later and my body feels mostly back to normal. The skin on the bottom of my feet is almost back and the pain in my knee seems to have gone, although it never troubled me when I was running. I’ve been able to get back to my running normally really quickly which has surprised me. When I finished KACR I wondered how some people had managed to do that just 2 months after GUCR and how on earth they were planning on doing LLCR just 1 month later but I think if you manage your body correctly then I can see how they do it.
I had an A, B and C goal for the race, A goal was 36 hours, B goal was 40 hours and C goal was finish. I achieved my B goal in the end and feel that on a different 2 days, I could have smashed my A goal. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself but the further away from the race I get the more I think I could have run more as I think I probably ran about 60 miles so walked 85, I did keep moving forward at all times though and kept smiling. At the time, I remember having the trouble with my feet and knee and managing my body through to the finish. I’m sure I could have gone faster but maybe if I had I’d have injured myself during the race and been unable to finish or I would have done something silly that would have seriously slowed my recovery, especially with the knee.
I ran 28 miles at sub 10-minute pace, 20 miles at 10-15, 78 at 15-20 and 22 at over 20-minute pace, although 8 of those were at checkpoints so the running part was faster and of the other 14, most were in the last 30 miles. From an average of 9-minute miles to checkpoint 1, my graph showing my slowdown to my eventual average of 16:06 was a fairly straight diagonal line.
I absolutely loved the race from the low key no fanfare organisation to the fantastic volunteers at each checkpoint and my fellow runners and their crews, all trying to get everyone to the finish line. I’d heard a lot about GUCR and people had said it was like a family and I can see what they mean. There is a special feel about the event.
The Abridged Version
I ran 145 miles from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington along the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Thames Path and the Grand Union Canal. It took 39 hours and 19 minutes. It hurt quite a bit with my feet getting mashed and my left knee deciding to be quite painful. It was very hot on the first day and we had some torrential rain on the second morning. I would have loved to have run more but still very happy with how I did. I loved the event and the organisers, volunteers and fellow runners were all fantastic.
On July the 7 at 09:30 I embarked on my first Ultra Marathon, not just any old Ultra, Ham Hill to Lyme Regis. A growling 31 miles of trail, roads and hills through the stunning countryside with spectacular views. It wasn’t till you reached the top of Lambert’s Castle did you see the sea, only to find out later the sea you saw was not where you were heading, in fact it was ten miles further up the coast.
I started off with a plan of action as this was my first ultra, unfortunately by the time I got to check point one (9 miles in) I know I wasn’t going to keep to it, from that point on it was all about completing it.
From the start, one thing I tried to do was keep a line of sight of the runners in front, or at least keep people behind me in ear shot, even that proved to be a difficult task with the terrain. The idea behind it was run when they run, walk when they walked and try not to get lost along the way.
The other runners were very supportive along the way, always making sure before they passed you that you were in good order and had plenty to drink and the ones who have done this before would let you know how far the next check point was.
I have always had respect for other runners who push themselves to a point their body didn’t intend for it to go and push on through and complete the task in hand. Today was no different after getting up at 6 and having something to eat (bowl of cereal) and then again when I parked the car up (Blueberry Muffin), ensuring I had everything I needed with me before I started, which included fruit and nut mix, water and malt loaf.
With only four check points along the way where you would be able to find food and more water I knew this was going to push me further then I had gone before (5 miles further).
With the beating of the sun and only eating what normal people would call a snack for the day of running and walking, I completed it; my first Ultra; in 7 hours.
If you go down in the woods today you’re in for a big surprise. If you go down in the woods today you’d better go in disguise, because today is the day 3000 runners have a party. That is exactly what we did. Paul suggested to me that I might stand in for Max, “It’s only five miles, you only have to do it once and you can walk it”. He said, I thought to myself that I can manage that.
We arrived Friday night and pitched our tent with the others, the Corsham flags were flying and we all walked down to watch the kids run, before getting some food and heading back to camp for beer and pimm’s and more food. We slowly headed off to sleep. The next morning I awoke to a cooked breakfast (thanks Tammy and Richard), Just before midday we headed down to the start line to watch the first team members set off.
So when I set off at the start it did seem a little lazy to not run so waiting for my team member to run up and hand me the wrist band I decided I am going to do this. Well the first little bit was a slight hill called the “Hill of no return “ no turning back now I thought and once I was past the church it flattened out. I am still taking it steady because I am thinking to myself I might have to do this again. I stretched my legs out through “Pace Gully” which was down hill, this is fun I thought to myself. Then I turned the corner to what they call “Little Steep” and it was, a steep but short hill (I walked) while eating a jelly baby. At the top I took a deep breath and started running again thinking this is not too bad as I passed people who were taking it steadier than me. Down through “Wasing Wood” and “Far Away Forest” and I hear music then spot a van blasting two tone music offering shot glasses of energy drink and high fives. I passed some ponds on my left and a sign for drinks ahead I soon reached the ”Cliff Bar Cafe” where I had a welcome drink and some jelly cubes. I set off down a hill and took a sharp right turn on to ”Heart Break Hill” still sucking my jelly cubes a little bit of power walking got me up to the top. Paul had said it was all down hill after this point and so it was. Past “Shot Gun City” and a “Deep Dark Swamp” and into “Heaven Paices Wood” I am more than 6k in. The path narrowed and I was in the Fairy Forest and I spotted some real Fairies in the night. Then I could hear music and see tents and the rest of the runners were still having a party. A short run pass some tents and there was the finish line. I had made it and I did do it again, and again and again. Spurred on by Paul and my team mates and lots of food and tea provided by Tammy and Richard I had run 20 miles. The more I did it the easier it seemed to get. The best bit was running at night through the woods with fairy lights and even real fairies. When we were not running we were around the campfire eating and drinking. I had a great time with a great bunch of people and would party in the woods again. So don’t be afraid to go down in the woods and party on 14th-16th June 2019.
Just up on the relish web page, the results . I ran 1: 36:23, which was first home for VM60, and 28th out of 315 in total.
As a report … An interesting race for the half runners it was three laps of Lacock … which is different. Then I found they started the half in two stages then fed 3 other groups … I think 10k runners, in. So you were constantly overtaking people, but had to think ‘where am I’ for much of the race. I enjoyed it, very good community feeling to the run. But hilly and several off road sections to navigate so not easy to run a PB, but lots of fun.
Cadence Events Good Friday Ten Miler –
A new event for the calendar saw 300 plus runners canter round the lanes behind Stanley Park, Chippenham on Good Friday morning to earn their Easter Egg reward. Ten miles is a fab distance to run; long enough to offer a challenge but over relatively quickly and omitting the three miles of a half marathon that are always painful, so great to see an additional local race over this distance. Thanks Cadence Events.
Long Myndd Fell Race (FRA English Champs Round 1) –
A brilliantly challenging race over the Long Myndd, Church Stretton, Shropshire. Whilst the Myndd hills are relatively low in altitude, the race route provided plenty of opportunity to get to grips with the hill’s steeply sided valleys. It packed in over 3000ft of ascent in its 11 miles, most of which came in the last third with the best saved until last. The final climb over the summit of Yearlet was the equivalent of three Slaughterford 9 “Stings” on top of each other; marvelous! Brilliantly sunny weather meant fantastic views from the tops too and also meant the map and compass stayed in the bag as I could simply follow in the wake of the 350 plus runners ahead of me. Participating in an event with the cream of English fell running was a hugely daunting but inspiring experience and I was absolutely chuffed to get round in one piece, beat the cut off times and enjoy some fantastic hill country along the way.
A testing 11ish mile outing with stacks of up and down, and a super competitive field to boot. At least fine weather and my position at the rear of the field meant I did not have to worry about navigation around the tough fells of Long Myndd and could just concentrate of beating cut off times.
Full report is in the latest Newsletter
Exe to Axe –
A brute of a race with some extraordinary views’ (Runners World April 2017) sums up the 22 miles and 3000 feet of ascent from Exmouth to Seaton that form the Exe to Axe coastal run; as would hot and hilly. Jon ran a very strong race but in the warm conditions his decision not to carry water nearly cost him; Dave enjoyed a slightly more leisurely paced race. A grand outing and highly recommended.
Good morning all. I’ve got a little behind with updating the Member’s results but I’m rectifying that now. However the only person it affects is Dave Mackie so please if you do a race then SUBMIT YOUR RACE RESULTS.
I will do an update this evening (and I’m including Semington Slog which I know a number of you did.)
You can also do a short race report there and I’ll upload it to the website as it’s handy for anyone looking for races for next year.