Grand Union Canal Race 2017 – Part two

…Arriving into CP5, 70 miles in Mike had me sit down. He had bought an ankle support and had a hot meal of chilli con carne ready for me too. Ed Jones was also waiting having made his way along the canal from Wolverton. Another bag of snacks, raisins, jaffa cakes, tribe bar, grapes and a top up of Tailwind. Gasping for a refreshing drink Ed did me a favour and bought me a bitter shandy. I changed into my night kit of a baselayer, t shirt and Rab hoodie over the top also taking my lightweight Salomon jacket too. Roughly 15 miles to the next checkpoint and Ed with me things should be ok. I just needed to try and jog while dealing with the ankle pain. Another coffee and it was time to get cracking. Initially off to a good start i had to take a walking break, interspersed with the odd squat to stretch out the thighs. Ed was doing a good job of keeping my mind occupied and helping the miles pass. At the next checkpoint I was looking forward to meeting Rodrigo Freeman, he ran and finished GUCR last year but some how amongst all the buzz we wasn’t acquainted at that time. It was only when I saw an article in a work publication that I then realised that Rod worked in the same industry as myself and got in touch with him online, which is how he then told me he would be at the Bletchley, 85 mile checkpoint. There are no particular difficulties along this stretch, no tunnels, no junctions or diversions. It’s just a matter of getting into a mentally comfortable spot to jog on. The problem was that time and distance seemed huge. I’d get into a jog, keep going for a period of time that felt like i’d maybe covered another mile, maybe 10 or 12 minutes and actually i’d only made 0.3 of a mile!!

Ed had me do a mental task of giving one life event for every year of my life, which all though my brain was dead tired and starting to feel scrambled already, was enough to keep it awake and enough to keep the time and distance passing. Ever so slowly now the miles were passing by but thus far I had suffered no cramp and no sickness that some other runners are often struck down with. I arrived into the Bletchley checkpoint 6, 85 miles at 02.00am now 3 hours off the plan but 2 hours 10 minutes ahead of my 2016 effort and still well inside the cut off times and above the average speed needed to finish. I said hello to Rod then crashed into my chair while Mike went about giving me food and drink and checking things were ok, in hindsight it’s bit of a blur but after a short while we moved on. I doubled back briefly remembering something I wanted and was also given a ginger beer by Rod, tasty, easy to drink and more needed calories. Never refuse anything you can manage to get in to your system. Another 15 mile stretch to the 100 mile mark, CP7, by many seen as the true halfway point of the race. The last 45 feeling just as hard as the first 100. I was beginning to get bad heartburn from the dinner I had eaten plus everything I was consuming on top. The only thing I could do was drink some water every time it happened. with painkillers and endorphin’s the ankle was holding up enough to keep moving at a decent speed.

Milton Keynes was uneventful this time around, last year getting some abuse and being followed was a good incentive to get a move on. The pace was beginning to drop with large periods of speed walking mixed with some feeble efforts to jog. Long into the night I was awaiting the sight of breaking daylight to both try and wake up and lift my spirits. With runners well spread out at this point the canal seemed like an empty place to be. I knew the group I wanted to be in contact with were a good couple of hours ahead by now. In races, especially ultras it is always good to have someone in view, even if it is a mile away as it gives an extra incentive to push on and see if you can catch them. At this point with no one about it was get to the next boat or get to the next bridge. one foot in front of the other. after 5 1/2 hours of trudging, jogging and limping through the night I ran into CP7, 99 miles at the Grand Junction Arms at 07.15am. I was 2 1/2 hours quicker at this point than last year and still moving quicke enough to stay above the average speed and stay inside the cut offs. Last year the 100 to 120 section was where I lost the race. It killed me and I was unable to manage the aches, pain and tiredness, gave in and stopped far too often. This is where the race really started and It hadn’t been a smooth ride so far with a bruised ankle. Sausage and beans for breakfast, fruit pot, coffee and a banana and it was time to head off into the early morning.

It was already very warm. I had been drinking a lot and always make sure I use an electrolyte based drink or eat food often to avoid hyponatremia. Ed said he’d see me through to Tring which was only a mile or two after the checkpoint so i’d be on my own again until I caught up with Adrian Eeles. My cousin had said he’d also try and meet me in the Hemel Hempstead area too. I forged on very mindful that this section was my nemesis from last year and was determined to get through without giving into the tiredness. Nearly two hours later I saw my cousin and we power walked together having a catch about our families, as we neared Fishery road there is a river side cafe so he went and got me a can of coke which was a welcome boost. I left my cousin at this point and carried on not knowing where Adrian would be and fortunately not much further on he appeared on the canal. Great to have another companion to occupy the mind and not allow me to stop and crumble to the ever increasing tiredness. Through the night I had made do with coffees and buzz gum, a caffeinated guarana gum and had also taken a couple of pro plus. I probably could have taken more or a larger dose as it was barely taking the edge off the tiredness but having not experimented much I didn’t want to end up making things worse by ingesting too much caffeine. Again with Adrian we had the odd short jog..boat to boat, some power walking then jog to a bridge etc. Just keep ticking off the miles. I wasn’t thinking of anything beyond 120 miles at this point. If I made it there i’d cracked it, I would be a finisher. mile after stifling mile Adrian chatted and took my mind of the never ending 20 mile section. dousing with water and keeping cool as possible. slowly, wearily and painfully we headed on to Springwell lock CP8, 120 miles arriving just before 15.00pm, 3 hours 20 minutes ahead of last year! although this year was feeling way harder and more painful timing was still good. i had another surprise visitor at this point as a club friend Iain had turned up which was a welcome distraction. Another seat, more food and drink and it was time to go again. I was feeling in good spirits at this point knowing I had overcome the problems of last year and less than a marathon to go! 13 miles to CP9 Hamborough Arms and then the final 12.

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I left Springwell feeling pretty good if still in a degree of pain. I can’t remember at what point Adrian left me but it was during this next section. Sn enough I would be back to my own motivation with no safety net should I crack and give in to feelings or emotions. I was determined to make a good effort here as last year I arrived at Bulls Bridge around 23.45 in darkness. Not this year. During the trudge along the canal I remember seeing Jon Aston who looked quite pained and also Neil Carter who was trotting along quite comfortably. After having done a 20 mile slog the 13 miles should breeze by. they didn’t. Again any effort to jog soon ground to a halt only having covered .25 or .3 of a mile. Fine. Walk a bit and then do another .25 stint. so on so forth. I was starting to get concerned that my average speed had dropped to 4mph, above the 3.3 needed but an obvious sign that checkpoints, stopping to stretch and the slower walking efforts were all eating away at my time. If I really could only walk it had to be a purposeful power walk, at least 4mph to keep the average up. I recognised bridges and areas from last year and once I could see and hear the train line I knew I was getting close, probably 4 or 5 miles, and this spurred me on. And finally, still in daylight, Bulls Bridge. Another mile and the final checkpoint would be in front of me. I was feeling the excruciating tiredness as I had last year, I couldn’t think properly and even conversation was an effort. I pushed on to CP9, 133 miles, arriving at 19.30pm, 4 1/2 hours ahead of last year. Still 8 1/2 hours on the clock to cover 12 miles. Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins was at the checkpoint but I couldn’t even be bothered to speak. Mike fixed me up, I felt dire. New larger sized shoes to allow for the swollen feet. The only thing that could stop me now would be and accident caused by tiredness or my own mind.

Leaving the checkpoint on Mike’s words of 2 10k’s to go, usually 1 h 30m I dragged myself off. He was planning on meeting me at a bridge about midway to help break it down. But not having gt this far last year it was all new and I couldn’t judge where I was and how far I had to go. Such immense tiredness, i’d veer to left, then fight to straighten up and avoid a dip in the canal, then veer back to the right and crash on top of a concrete bench. No, it’s not happening again! Count to 10, I know Mike’s watching on the tracker and the phone will go. Get up, forge on, can I jog, no, shuffle on. A text, not far from the bridge now, keep moving. A light ahead. It’s not getting closer. Eventually Mike was there again. 21.50pm. 10k had taken me just over 2 hours. A few more encouraging words and the final 6 mile push lay ahead. setting off my head was just wanting me to lay down and give in to the painful desire to sleep, the legs were painful but it’s a finite amount, the pain had peaked hours ago, it was just a matter of managing and digging deep to keep going. 4 pieces of the buzz gum and within a mile the edge had been taken off the sensation, I power walked on knowing I was so close now. My Garmin had died at CP9 so I had no idea again of time or distance. A text. 2 miles to go. Don’t go for it yet, I didn’t have the energy to last 2 miles all out running. power walk onwards. text. 3/4 mile to go. Go for it! I dug in, gave it every bit of final energy, ignored any of the wincing pain from my legs and ran all the way into the finish.

At last I was Grand Union Canal Race finisher!! crossing the line at 23.48pm, 41h 48m.

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Still some lessons to be learned as to footwear, socks and some food items. It was a shame about the ankle holding me back but then some people would have stopped all together! Now to sit back, recover and on to the next race, supposedly on the 10th June if i’m fit enough.

 

Grand Union Canal Race 2017 – Part One

I was struggling badly, such excruciating sleep deprivation. Something I need to learn how to cope with. I was on the approach to CP9 and the time was evaporating fast! I shuffled into the checkpoint at 23.58.41….the cut off was 00.00. My GUCR 2016 was over.

In the week following it was a given I was going to apply for the following year so I could rectify my mistakes and make it to the end. My friend and ultra runner who finished GUCR in 2016, Mike Abel, made a remark that he would crew me in 2017 if I got in. So when the entries opened I had the form filled in and sent back within about a minute! I hadn’t realised at the time but the first 15 applications were given automatic entry to the 3 race canalslam series. I had thought it was the first 15 drawn from the ballot so went along to the draw meeting Gin Lawson and Mark Haynes only then to be told by Keith about the automatic entry. Soon after I then contacted Mike to see if he was still willing to crew as he had said. Thankfully he said he’d change some of his plans and help me out. My cousin said he would drive for us so Mike could buddy run.

I continued through 2016 injury free and mainly running marathons, half marathons, club events and small ultras like the Stort 30. Heading into 2017 I wanted to up my training and races. In 2016 heading towards GUCR I had only done 2 half marathons, 1 marathon and a 40 mile training run…and made it to 133 miles. In 2017 I ran 4 ultras, 4 marathons, 2 x 10ks plus the training runs in between. I was happy for how most of them panned out and began to write up a pacing plan based on those race times. The aim became a 35 hour plan with the realistic view this could slip to 36 or 37 hours depending on weather, injury and tiredness.

As we got closer to GUCR coming around my cousin announced he’d booked a holiday over GUCR weekend..I was pissed off to say the least. There was nothing that could be done so started asking around for someone to step in. Mike said worst case scenario he would still drive so all was not completely lost but still a major spanner in the works. In the last couple of weeks before GUCR Ed Jones who was a finisher in 2016 said he could step in to buddy run from the Wolverton area and Adrian Eeles, an online Twitter acquaintance said he would be able to buddy run from the Hemel Hemstead area. A load of kit and food shopping and I was finally feeling ready.

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On the Friday I drove over to Mike’s to get him, checked we had everything and set off to Birmingham. The drive to his had been twice as long as it should have been due to an accident and the continuing journey to Birmingham was just as bad but we finally arrived, parked and checked in around 17.00pm meeting Nathan Taylor in the foyer. Then soon after down to registration where the weekend buzz begins to kick in, meeting friends, acquaintances and familiar faces exchanging stories, training progress and expectations for the weekend. Always a fun and exciting part of race is meeting like minded people that are on your wavelength and being able to glean information and tips from people is all part of the ultra running learning curve. I have massive respect and admiration for these people, some of whom I’m fortunate to be able to call friends. Theses are my people, sporting legends in the ultra community and unsung warriors that most people wouldn’t know. Off to O’neills pub for dinner and a few nerve calming drinks, more meet ups and chat with the likes of Michelle Payne, Colin Barnes and paul Ali before heading to bed for a 04.50am alarm.

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Race day. Breakfast eaten, kit on and a bit of limbering up and it was time to head down to the start. check in. A bit off chat and trying not to think about the monumental task that lay ahead of us all. The weather was looking to be hot and humid, nothing to be done but deal with it as best as possible. We made our way off of Gas Street onto the canal basin and after a few words form Dick Kearn we were off. I set off at a comfortable pace around 9 minute miles soon making sure I slowed a little to 9.30 a mile, CP1 lay 11 miles away.I was instantly feeling the humidity and the only way to really cope was to drink and douse my head and shoulders with water, a shower started in the early stages and helped cool the air but it was fairly short lived. I didn’t use the maps at all during the run and did as last year using a crib sheet with water points, checkpoints and any bridge crossings or junctions noted. I was planning on using every water point available, this didn’t happen overall as some of them were hard to spot or plain missed as I probably had my head down. Stopping at an early water/toilet point I saw Wendy Shaw and Jaime Russell who were both looking strong. I had been cat and mouse over the early miles with Cat Simpson who I think most people had as the favourite to be first female. At mile ten she suddenly took off and I never saw her again! I arrived a t CP1 at 7.44 am..bang on my plan to the minute. Trouble was I should have met Mike at a bridge by now and hadn’t seen him, after a quick call he arranged to meat me closer to Knowle locks. I topped up on some drink and some people, probably friends of other runners gave me a fun size milky way to see me along. I continued on eventually meeting up with Mike, topping up drink and collecting my pre packed bag of food which had grapes, biscuits and raisins and continued on. I was still keeping a 9.30 a mile, the sun was up and it was already getting hot. Thankfully everything else was good. I was in the rough area of other friends at this point, Paul Mason, ian Brazier and Paul Adams. I had been texting Mike on the approach to let him know what I was wanting and asked for an ice lolly..but he was a touch further along from the shop already. So I made my own pit stop in the shop..well worth it!! More drink, another bag of food this one containing a porridge mix with waxy maize starch and protein powder as well as the biscuits and other pieces, some more encouragement from Mike and I was on the way again. CP3 Birdingbury bridge is about a 14.5 mile section. I was really feeling the heat and burning up badly but I was mindful of last year and wanted to make good time to CP5 Navigation Inn hoping to arrive somewhere between 19.30 and 20.00. So I pushed onwards, eating, drinking and trying to stay relaxed. I had forgotten how stony and muddy a lot of the path was and made sure I was lifting my feet enough so I didn’t stub my foot and trip. I think it may have been this stretch that I saw Michelle Payne, she’d run into abridge and busted her nose badly. Her crew had cleaned her up but Michelle being as tough as she is was carrying on and soon went ahead of me. I arrived at CP3 just after midday, about an hour ahead of last years time. As expected at the 36 mile point the aches and pains had started but nothing that wasn’t bearable or manageable. On to CP4 at Weedon. Still back and forth with a number of runners apart from dying in the heat nothing that notable happened along this stretch and I arrived at CP4 somewhere around the 16.25 mark, slightly off my plan but 1 hour ahead of last year so I was still looking ok. Another top up of water and food and I was on my way again to CP5 Navigation Inn, the point that is just shy of the half way point so great incentive to get on and finally feel that you’re getting somewhere. the path was still rough in parts. Then somewhere around mile 56 /57 I turned my ankle quite sharply, gave it a moment and assessed it. It felt like i’d had a lucky escape and could run ok so carried. Within 2 miles I turned the same ankle sharply again! this time it was really painful and obvious i’d damaged it. I tried to run on but this time I couldn’t, every step was sharply painful so I walked for  a while wondering what was best to do. Again i tried to run and found if I stayed as flat footed as possible I could get some momentum going, any flexing of the foot just caused immense sharp pain. I put in a call to mike to let him know he needed to get out to me and strap the ankle and agreed he’d meet me at the parking point at the top of the slope leading off the canal path to get up and over Blisworth Tunnel. I started to lose time being down to around 14/15 minute miles and had some time out once meeting Mike to have the ankle strapped and taking some pain killers. I got on my way again following the road way that is undulating and heads up and over the tunnel, onto the track way and back down onto the towpath. the ankle was still fairly sore but began to ease a little as the painkillers did there job. I knew I wasn’t that far now from Navigation Inn and wanted to get there in daylight and although off my plan still be ahead of last year. As the canal wound it’s way I was waiting for the sight of the pub lights to come in to view..and eventually it was before me and ran into the checkpoint at 21.45. I was pretty disappointed as I was now 1 hour 45 minutes off my plan and only 40 minutes ahead of last years time at this point. If the second half went as badly as last year it could all be over again….

Grand Union Canal Race 2016



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I had been looking in 2015 to step up to a 100 miler after previously having done the 70 mile Saffron Trail but was unable to find anything that fitted in with work. By coincidence I saw a tweet that said it was the last day for GUCR applications, quickly checked the diary and put in my application. This is a ballot race so I just had to sit back and await the draw. When the draw came around in December I had a chronic chest infection, had time off work, could barely function and then had an email to say I was successful on getting a place in GUCR! flat on my back and having been away from running for a number of weeks I was going to have a real task to get my fitness back.
I needed a plan.

In the new year I slowly got myself going again. I had some marathons lined up and would like to have done a 40 or 50 mile event but there was nothing that fitted with my time off. I ran Cambridge Boundary marathon, 3h 55m 51s, Brighton marathon, 3h 51m 27s and the Flitch Way marathon, 3h 51s 19s. I first met Lee Kelly at Cambridge boundary marathon and overheard him talking about GUCR and met Mike Abel at Flitch Way after recognising his name from the GUCR start list. apart from those runs I was doing regular weekly runs and had a long run out of 40 miles which went well. I was self sufficient over that run and covered it in 7 hours averaging 10m 30s miles which I was really pleased with.

So, time passes, the training has been done and the race looms on the horizon. The race pack had arrived in the post and some loose plans of timings and nutrition had been put in place. A small shopping list of items was drawn up,anti chafe cream, zinc oxide tape and sun-cream among other things. The week before the race and my wife and our family’s lives changed for the worse as my father in law passed away. Final race prep plans went out of the window as I went about consoling my wife and helping her and my mother in law where as much as I could. I have to give huge thanks and endless love to my wife for being so understanding about race weekend so close to her Dad’s passing.

I had booked myself a night at Jurys Inn literally 2 minutes from the start on Gas Street. I got a train from Audley End via Cambridge to Birmingham on the Friday 27th and was in town by 13.30pm, found the hotel and checked in. I then had a walk around to get my bearings.

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I made my way to registration, caught up with a few familiar faces and then went to dinner, later catching up with Mike Abel for a drink before bedtime.

Race day.

I hadn’t slept that well, more to do with an unnecessary worry that the alarm wouldn’t go off and i’d miss the start! I was up at 4am, for myself this was to make sure breakfast had plenty of time to go down before setting off. 3 sachets of porridge, banana and an energy drink and I was all set, I just needed to stop pacing up and down the room thinking about what may lay ahead. For during the run I had various foods with me. My drinks were made up of either Tailwind or Skratch Labs hydration powders, I had Soreen oat bars, crisps and a concoction of oats, rapeseed oil, waxy maize starch and electrolyte powder to see me through along with what was made available at checkpoints.

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I made my way down to the start, handed my bags in and said a few hellos. The weather forecast from the midlands down to London had looked good for the 2 days but the heavens had opened. That was the first initial pain to deal with as I had to make a choice to go with or without my jacket on. I chose to go with it which was probably wise as it kept me a touch warmer. 6am and we were seen away from the start, some 120 people had begun what was to be an epic journey, some multi time event runners and complete newbies like myself. The initial few miles were straight forward and I was running with or near to Mike Abel for quite a while. The pace was high but it was to be expected while fresh and trying to settle into a good rhythm. the path slowly wound it’s way out of Birmingham towards Bordesley, South Yardley and the first checkpoint at Catherine De Barnes. Being fresh and carrying enough drink and snacks to see me through to checkpoint 3 I didn’t really stop, just long enough to grab a couple of snacks and a drink and continued on my way. I was away from CP1 at about 07.45am (times will be approximate as I haven’t seen the check in, out sheets). Heading on to CP2 at Hatton locks I wasn’t feeling as comfortable as I hoped I would and stopped at the checkpoint for a breather. The weather was a little humid and now the sun was up it was going to be warm, I put the jacket away. Heading onto Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa I had settled into a far steadier pace, everything was feeling good, my nutrition choice and hydration was working out and I was making good time. It was early enough that I was mindful enough to look around and admire some of the great countryside we have, some truly beautiful views about. The brain isn’t to clear on the times but I still certainly had a good few hours in hand at CP3. My water and snacks had lasted me as expected, topped up, thank everyone for their help and continued on. I’m not exactly sure from memory but it was around this point I spent some time with Ian Shelley who was great company. I was now truly in ultra running territory heading on toward 40 miles. I had written notes from the maps supplied and so far everything was straight forward. I was moving on to Braunston and the first of the tunnel sections. I kept expecting the wheels to fall off and be hit with a huge struggle early on but fortunately things were working out…for now. After the tunnel section and heading on towards 50+ miles I saw someone in jeans running towards me…my mate Tony! He had driven from his home town in Haverhill, Suffolk all the way out to somewhere near Weedon just to see how I was getting on.2016-05-30 17.38.18

Things were still comfortable and there was a lot of cat and mouse running with other runners back and forward. My average speed was around 4.6mph still inside the 3.3mph average needed to complete the run. I headed on to Blisworth Tunnel. As a training run I had travelled to Wolverton a few days after Brighton marathon and ran from Wolverton, up and over Blisworth Tunnel and back so was familiar with the approaching ten miles.20160420_112219

The legs were starting to hurt now and the climb up from the towpath onto the main road was quite a long up hill section and walked to save energy. I was with a German runner, Tommo, we were matching each others pace.It was good to have someone to take the mind off the aches and also be able to encourage each other to keep the pace up. At checkpoint 4 I had got my headtorch ready as I didn’t expect to get to CP5 before it was dark.

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reaching Navigation Inn 70 miles, it was around 22.40pm, things were still going ok, there was time in hand and although my calves were tight I had no cramping issues. Also since the early days of my running, having gait analysis and changing my footwear I have been very fortunate not to get blisters when running even in marathons and previous ultras…so far so good. having had some soup, bread, coffee, cookies and sweets (it’s true what they say, we’re just an eating club with a running disorder) it was time to crack on. The second half awaited and I was heading into a running distance unknown, new territory. heading on passed Wolverton, Milton Keynes was the next point on the journey.20160420_140506

On the far side of Milton Keynes Tommo was still with me it was now early hours of the morning in a place I didn’t know and we heard shouting. Shouting and whistling got louder and looking back there were a few men shouting abuse and coming after us. Bloody good motivation to get a shift on I can tell you! Arriving at CP6 I saw Naomi Newton Fisher who I have seen at races before, not taking much note of where I was and my senses numbed by the cold night I asked if we were near Hemel Hempstead….wrong question! we were miles away. I put an extra layer on and layed into the food on offer. Naomi commented that I was still moving well, the feet were good having been up for over 24 hrs tiredness was the one thing starting to affect me and the self motivation was hard. Some time after leaving CP6 my feet started to hurt, I had strapped them from the start but my feet had got wet on an earlier section that was unavoidably wet and muddy and the slog through the night was now taking it’s toll. Things were kind of bearable but tiredness was making it difficult to stay motivated and the mental game of ultra running had really begun. How far could I push myself.

I had started my Garmin from around 50 mile mark to keep an eye on distance and average speed, it was reading 4.3mph still well above that minimum 3.3mph average needed to complete. That 100 mile barrier lay ahead. The pace had started to suffer as the feet were quite painful, I could feel I had blisters and they would need attention at the next checkpoint. At CP7 it must have been around 10am or 10.30am as I remember still having that couple of hours or so in hand and that chance was still there to finish. Tommo decided to leave the checkpoint before me with his German friend. I took the time out to put more strapping on my feet and to change my socks. Sausage roll and beans, 2 cups of tea and more biscuits andit was time to move on. The following 20 miles to CP8 was the worst part of the entire race for me. 20 miles on any given day would usually be done in around 3 hours, on Sunday it was about 8. I was so dead tired on my feet that occasionally at a lock with a good patch of grass i’d lay down and get a 10 minute snooze to try and freshen up. It did help but obviously cost me time. The weather had warmed up and it was a really nice day with plenty of people out and about on the canal with a few curious as to what we were up to. The sleep deprivation coupled with the blistered feet was taking it’s toll and it was sheer bloody mindedness, stubbornness and a refuse-al to quit keeping me moving along.  The more soul destroying part was how long the miles took to pass I was moving forward but felt as if I wasn’t getting anywhere. Pass Berkhampstead, Hemel Hempstead, Kings Langley, Rickmansworth, mile after tedious mile. That voice was there,”you could stop, have a hot shower, chill out with a curry and a beer”. I was tempted.

Every step was searing pain, the feet were blistered. I couldn’t see me getting to CP8. The close time for CP8 was 19.00. I kept clock watching and as long as I was inside the cut off time I would keep moving. I was having huge rollercoaster ups and downs of energy and emotion. One minute I was enthused to shuffle on other moments I could hardly move and considered quitting. I wasn’t concentrating on my notes properly and had to keep re-reading where I thought was and hoping every lock that came into view was the next checkpoint. But finally in the low evening sunlight I could see CP8 ahead, got there and struggled over the lock gate and crashed in a chair. 18.15. 45 minutes in hand. Not wanting to waste time I had some tea, scrambled egg and sausage and was on my way. 18.30. 30 minutes in hand. I left CP8 refreshed even if still in discomfort and got shuffling again within half hour I was feeling bad again. This really was it. At the next bridge 183 I was going to call in and quit. The next 45 minutes was a mental argument, “you’ve had a good crack, give it up”, “F**k that, get your arse in gear”, “you can’t do it, what’s the point?”, “have faith, you’ll freshen up, the legs will come back”. Agonising.

At bridge 183 there wasn’t an access road. Shit. The next bridge was about a mile further on. OK, walk to that bridge and quit. I carried on and just felt a rise in mood. I felt ok. Check the watch. If I could get to the checkpoint by 23.30 at the latest i’d give myself the slimmest of chances and hoped adrenaline and realisation I was almost there would carry me. I crossed bridge 188 and around mile 125 a fella on a barge asked what I was doing, I had it on the notes as being 4 miles to Bulls Bridge but he was trying to tell me it was 6. Fuck!! I hoped he was wrong otherwise I knew I wouldn’t make CP9. A huge panic and adrenaline rush and I belted off (my daughter had been tracking me and told me my pace shot up to 7mph)  I must of kept it up for a couple of miles tops. 22.50. About 3 miles to the checkpoint. OK, 1 hour 10 minutes to cut off, 3 miles to go, if I wanted to get there by 23.30 I had 40 minutes. OK, think again, 20 minute miles, get there at 23.50, in and out and see what I’ve got left. I got down to Bulls Bridge and I was absolutely dead on my feet. 23.25, the surge in pace had bought me the time but ruined my energy. It’s a bad place to be when you give your self a verbal talking to, you feel positive in your head but the body has completely stopped responding. 35 minutes to CP9, still time, just move, you’ll freshen up, the legs will come back and you can push on again. It wasn’t happening. Pigeon step after pigeon step, the feet were ruined and my head couldn’t deal with the pain. 23.50. I could see a high vis vest and torchlight ahead, I was now close to CP9, I still couldn’t move. No adrenaline, no surge of energy, virtually immobile. I was met by someone who’s name I didn’t catch through tiredness. CP9 23.57. 3 minutes to eat, drink and sort my feet out. I couldn’t do it. Timed out 00.00, CP9 133 miles. 12 miles from the finish. Just another 30 to 45 minutes and I would of continued, another hour and I may of finished inside the cut off time of 03.00am. My GUCR was over, I didn’t even have the energy to be emotional about it. I had taken myself to a distance I had never been to before, i’d had an amazing weekend amongst the greatest people and proven to myself I am capable of pushing through some severe endurance and worthy of standing on the start line of an ultra.2016-05-06 11.02.41

I was shuttled to the finish line to collect my bags, shared a cab with Mark Gibson who was dropped off at his hotel and made my way to Liverpool Street to get a night bus to Stansted Airport to then get a cab home. I had an hour to kill so went to the 24 hour cafe to re fuel.20160530_015834

I had to smile to myself when crossing the road to get the bus. The lights changed, I shuffled on my way over. The lights were fitted with a count down timer, 6, 5…I was barely half way across the road before the lights changed again! beaten by a cut off time twice in one night! feet

A bit of recovery time and i’ll be looking at races again.There is the possibility of a race on July 2nd but it will dependant on the feet. Thanks must go out to all of the volunteers, helpers, organisers, Keith, Dick and anyone else I crossed paths with whose name I don’t know.

And yes, I would love to have another go!

 

I’ve Been Running Not Blogging

I’ve not posted a blog about my running, training or any running events for almost 6 months now. After the Flitch Way Marathon I carried on with my training and then entered the London 12 hour Enduro in June. Part of the reason I blog about my running is self motivation and a way of holding myself accountable and disciplined with my running as well as, I hope, inspiring and motivating others. I began running 3 1/2 years ago after 3 friends passed away within 6 months, one being my best friend who I spent the first 26 years of my life doing everything with. Running helped me with my grief and focused my thoughts and energy..In June, In the darkness of night somewhere on Wimbledon common In the middle of the London 12 hour Enduro I was at last at peace with their passing and my own grief, some 3 years down the line. In an emotional moment I called my wife and told her I didn’t need to punish myself running ultras and I was ready to throw it in for the night and come home. I didn’t. After I hung up I forged on feeling a sense of peace I hadn’t felt for a long time. I felt good again, free and my waning energy began to return. By the end of the night I had completed 54 miles in 11 hours 36 minutes and finished in 8th. I didn’t feel the need to tell people about it or blog about it and share the experience. It seemed for me an almost too personal a moment of closure to put in to print.

Since then I have changed to doing shorter and faster runs. I have started to attend Parkruns on a regular basis, I’ve changed up my diet a little again this time too a zero added sugar, the biscuits and cakes have gone! My bodyfat has dropped from 30% to 19% and there is just a portion  of fat around my waist that is preventing me from having abs again! And since July I have had 3 new PB’s and begun to run sub 20 minute 5k’s for the first time since my teens. My 5k PB is now 19m 32s, 10k PB is 41m 11s and half marathon PB is at 1h 32m 27s. I put most of this down to the regular parkruns. Longer term I am aiming at Brighton Marathon to complete the new set of PB’s.

 

I have been doing plenty of runs and events  I could have blogged about but haven’t, maybe it’s time to get back letting people know about my experiences again. The moral of the last 6 months has been that actions speak louder than words, I’ve been working on all aspects to improve. I’m ready again to add some occasional words for others enjoyment and motivation.

 

 

 

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Schneider Paris Marathon

Soon be time for the Paris marathon, training has gone reasonably well and the worst of the injury I had has passed. A fuller blog post and report will done after the race. In the meantime I have the following I need tweeted on Twitter, thanks to anyone willing to help.

 

 

If you could include #BelievewithSE along with #Run42! and @Traindriverbaz. Every tweet equates to an amount of distance and the target is 42k. These three bits would equal 400 metres of distance so to reach 42k I would need around 105 tweets!!

 

An Ultra Learning Curve

This past week I have been recovering from the Saffron Trail Ultra which is 70 miles across the county of Essex in the UK. As with most races it has given me time to reflect on the event, how it went, the mistakes, the people and of course the positives.

First up..I can do it! I have never been further than 35 miles in training which has always been tough and if someone told me at the end of one of those runs to turn around and do it again I feel I would have folded! I think the balance of running an ultra is about 80% mental and 20% physical..others may disagree or have their own perception of the balance but this is how it felt to me.

Second..I don’t need gels to get through a long run. After consuming about 3 gels in the space of 20 miles and being ill I reverted to eating normal food. So I covered the last 50 miles without a gel..no more gels for me! Maybe I was drawn in by the marketing hype and had a fixation that i’d be doomed with out the magical elixir. As long as I fuel up at regular intervals on anything available from savoury snacks to sweets I’ll be fine.

3rd..cutting down on the mistakes. Recceing the route helped hugely, obsessing over Google earth for 6 weeks and repeatedly testing myself to mentally remembering the route saved time by not referring to the map and notes. I still made some mistakes but reasonably minor and am sure I would have made more without putting in the homework.

Fourth….ahem! The rather personal chaffing! I plan on buying some Under Armour Heatgear Sonic shorts To help cut down on the thigh rub. During the race I didn’t feel a thing and put this down to adrenaline and endorphins, as soon as the race was over and especially dunking into the bath..ouchy!!! Utterly red raw and bleeding.

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Lesson five..my feet are pretty tough! Only started to get blisters appearing in the last 5 miles. One small one on the sole of each foot. I used 1000 mile compression socks and along with Balega socks they are fast becoming my favourite socks to run in.

6th..Don’t hang around too long at the checkpoints. It’s good to stop and refuel and hydrate. It’s nice to be social, polite and have a chat. But it shouldn’t turn into a mini party of scoffing and nattering! I reckon I may have wasted as much as 1 hour 45 minutes at checkpoints. I need to set a routine, fill water bladder, grab food and take a drink then move on..5 minutes tops.

I didn’t realise I was learning so much! I wonder if they do degrees in Ultra Running..they do other weird degrees so why not! anyhow..

lesson seven..electrolyte tablets are invaluable in my opinion. In the London marathon I cramped badly at mile 20 which hampered the last 6 miles and stopped me getting a better time than I achieved. During the ultra I didn’t cramp once and I put that down to adding the electrolytes to my water. I just need to choose a more palatable flavour next time. Cherry/orange! what the hell was I thinking! Citrus or blackcurrant will be fine next time I think.

 So I learned a fair amount from this race alone and I can’t wait to do more! I have the Stour Valley Path coming up soon and at the moment the Stort 30 booked in October. I am toying with the idea of signing up for the Cotswold way..102 miles! For no better reason than I have the time off work and my sister lives in Bath, so she can peel me off the Abbey floor and shovel me into her house to recuperate. Also to any other ultra beginners and aspirer’s, you do not need to do more than 30 miles at a time in training, that is plenty enough. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and i’ll see some of you soon on the start line.

From Disaster to Triumph Over 70 Miles

Previous to this race I had only run one official ultra, the Stort 30 last October. I had been looking for another ultra to do and www.challenge-running.co.uk who run the Stort 30 also have the Saffron Trail ultra. Saffron Walden is my local town 4 miles from where I live, the ultra has the final checkpoint in my village and being born in the county of Essex it looked like it was meant for me to do. After completing the London Marathon in April I began trying to increase my runs again visiting Scotland for a 35 mile run. I also made a point of getting out on the course to help cut down on navigation time and had a 30 mile and 35 mile run on a couple of different sections. Knowing that certain sections are really wet and muddy I was hoping the weather would stay dry for a few weeks and dry the course out. This is the UK! no such luck, for the 3 weeks leading up to the start it had been raining. So from then on my hope was it would at least be dry for the run and make things reasonably comfortable.

Saturday July 12th 2014…Saffron Trail Ultra day. I had all my gear packed making sure I had all the compulsory kit plus anything else I thought I would need.

Waterproof Jacket (not just wind proof), My Berghaus Gore Tex jacket

Spare baselayer top and bottoms

Good quality headtorch with spare batteries, LED Lensor H7R.2

Working mobile phone (fully charged and on so we can call you if there are any changes or emergencies)

The capacity to carry 1lt of fluids either in bottles or a bladder.

Full size space blanket (not cut down), I took an emergency bivi bag

Hat or buff.

I also took a battery pack to keep my phone charged up, gels, cake, gloves, my own race notes (not used in the end) and electrolyte tablets.

I left home at 13.43, an hour into London, 10 minutes wait for my connection and then another hour out of London to Southend. The weather forecast was looking pretty bad with a storm moving in around 16.00, passing through, followed by another around 2am. I arrived in Southend at 16.00 and the weather was dry and very humid, no storm as forecast and took a slow walk toward the start area and was there for 16.15…no one in sight. The registration didn’t open until 17.00 so obviously I was a bit early and Lindley the race director hadn’t arrived yet. 16.45. 17.00, 17.10…something’s wrong! 2 other runners had turned up. I tried Lindley’s phone, no answer. A few minutes later one of the other fellas got through to him…the registration had been set up a couple of hundred yards back along the road. Panic over we made our way there, had all of my kit checked, registered and collected my number. I then just took time to chill out and keep calm and got talking to another runner. before long we were given the race briefing mainly safety, responsibility for litter, sensibility and looking out for other runners etc. 18.00, the magic moment, everyone was away! I took off really slowly as I set my GPS and Nike+.

My plan had been to make good time over the first 3 legs which was 28.2 miles, effectively get time in the bank for when I tired later on and helping to keep a reasonable average overall. I was pleased with the opening effort with my pace fluctuating between 8.0 minute miles and 9 minute miles. The county would be described by most as undulating, the hills maybe small but pretty damn steep! With the weather so warm and humid I was sweating heavily, I made sure I drank regularly and ate my cake. I had pretty much memorised the course and had no need to refer to my notes, little more than 2 miles in at Raleigh Castle Thunder was raging over the Thames Estuary, the storm was on it’s way in. I arrived at the first checkpoint in Hockley around 19.45, 45 minutes ahead of my set schedule. The next leg was a shorter 6.6 miles a quite straight forward heading North onto the banks of the river Crouch and then following it West to the village of Battlesbridge. I was taking 1 Torq gel per leg to help with electrolytes and energy. When I got onto the river for the first time I started to feel tired, still sweating in the humid air and moving at a reasonable pace maybe I was setting out too fast. I pushed onwards, the rain had started and lightening was streaking all around, It was a picturesque sight along the river. I wasn’t feeling good, another runner caught up with me and told me that the checkpoint was only a couple of miles away, he left me behind. I eventually came out onto the main road that follows into Battlesbridge and the checkpoint. I felt ill. I had some drink and something to eat, I couldn’t hold it down. Only 17.7 miles in and things were going downhill quickly, I couldn’t understand why! Was it the heat, humidity, not eating enough or the gels. I had some soup some more drink, topped up my drink bladder and added electrolyte tabs. Another group of people had caught up with me, Debbie, Graham and an American in the country on business who thought he’d give it a shot, Tre. While I tried to get my head straight they refuelled and I set out with them.

The next leg was 10.7 miles from Battlesbridge to Danbury slowly heading North through the county. I felt a little better and matched the pace of the group, it was comfortable if slow around 12 minute miles. It was good and I needed the time to recuperate. As we headed out across fields, railway tracks, through woods and along roads I was feeling comfortable again. I took another gel. About 3 miles in nearing East Hanningfield I started being sick again. The others moved off ahead, I tried to move after them, sick again. This continued for a few miles, I felt like I had been clobbered with a hangover from hell, I had around 50 miles to go…I was going to quit. I pushed on again and caught up with the group and helped navigate our way, I didn’t let on I was thinking of giving up. It was dark now as well and 2 thoughts from other experienced ultra runners were going through my head, never quit on a low point because invariably if you take your time you will start to feel better and never quit in the dark because the dark makes things seem gloomier and worse than they are. I would decide at CP3.

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grave2

 Before entering East Hanningfield village you pass through an abandoned graveyard, the church burned down in 1883. Debbie had arranged for her husband to meet us prior to reaching the official checkpoint to fuel up. He met us in Danbury only a couple of miles short of the checkpoint, I can’t thank him enough for his help. He gave me some eno salts, vegetarian sausages, cheesy biscuits and fruit pastilles. It really picked me up and made me feel better. We headed on to CP3, there were a couple of runners there and I overheard one of them dropping out, I filled by water, took on more food and filled my pockets. I wasn’t going to quit, I felt better. The next leg headed around the south side of the city of Chelmsford following the river Chelmer for the most part before turning North to Stacey’s Farm near Broomfield. We crossed over fields and could see the city lights, over a small bridge and onto the towpath passing under the A12. I now had a terrible backache and had to stop and take some Ibruprofen and adjust some kit, the rain was taking it’s toll on my gear. They all headed off. Got set and carried on, I couldn’t see them, no bother just stick to the river path and I should catch them. A little further I thought I could see head torches and knew they couldn’t be far. I just couldn’t seem to catch them, and headed on into Chelmsford. Passing through the city centre was a bit surreal with everyone spilling out of pubs and clubs drunk and drowned rat me running by. Heading along something didn’t seem right, I had taken a wrong turn, damn!! I hadn’t used my notes and realised I failed to take a left and was on the wrong stretch of rivers, I had turned along a subsidiary stretch. I turned around and made my way back onto the correct stretch, with my mistake they had to have a good 30 minutes up on me now, I was going to have along way to go on my own. nearing Stacey’s Farm I was met by Maxine one of the checkpoint helpers. There had been an altercation with a farmer and they had to move CP4. I filled up my water with her and changed my torch batteries and carried on to the checkpoint. I’ve never felt so hungry!! I had piles of cupcakes, chocolate cookies, sausages, sausage rolls, sweets, crisps and a couple of coffees! Food never felt so amazing! I probably waisted 15 minutes there and was told the other group were about 15 minutes in front at my arrival, so about 30 minutes by time I got going again.

 Leg 5 was up to a track named the Flitch Way which runs along the site of an old railway line near the village of Great Dunmow. I was having regular walking breaks by now and being sensible walking up hills to conserve energy. I found the section straight forward with no mistakes or dramas. There were a lot of overgrown areas so I was getting badly stung and scratched by brambles. I was wearing 1000 mile compression socks so it minimised the worst on my lower legs but my knees and lower thighs were getting a beating. After plenty of twists and turns, field crossings and roads I came up to the Flitch Way and made it along to CP5. The group were now 50 minutes ahead of me, I didn’t think I had much chance of catching them now. I was still inside the cut off time and was beginning to feel really good to the point I was doing far more running than walking. I didn’t stay long and cracked on, I was heading into home territory and feeling more confident. The following leg was going to be a tough one and headed to CP6 at Broxted. Coming up to a wooded area and farm building I could see runners, I caught up with them, they were feeling things and starting to find it hard going. They told me the group were only a short way ahead, I charged on. Rounding some trees The way ahead sloped up a slight hill across a field, I could see the group I had been with. It really boosted me to keep working and after 10 minutes or so I had caught them again. They were tiring as we headed into Little Easton, I was feeling strong again and decided to leave them. I had now passed 5 people. following the paths along I saw 2 runners way off course as I headed along the correct path I whistled to them, got their attention and waved the right way, they seemed to ignore me. I carried on, now I ‘d passed 7 people! A touch further along they made up the half mile and we discussed they way to go, I was happy with the direction we were going, they weren’t, again I left them. Following on to Tilty and through a field with Abbey ruins out across the fields I saw the same 2 runners heading towards me! They had taken some wrong turns ended up on the right track but in the wrong direction. Yet again I left them and pulled out another half mile lead. Making the CP6 2 other runners were only 100 yards ahead. Ernie was there again and I had another dose of eno salts, I was told they were tiring badly and slow so I grabbed a banana and carried on after them. within half a mile I had caught them, it was Colin I had been speaking with at the start plus one other. I told them I was on home ground and to follow me. Again I began to pull out a lead on them and began to play Psychological games with them. Every time they came into view I made sure I was running, as soon as I was out of sight I would take a walking break. I had about a 1 mile lead on them. At Henham they had obviously put a good effort in and I saw them about 1/2 mile behind. I started running again told hold the lead charged through a really muddy and slippery woods which I was hoping would slow them down some. Flew downhill on painful legs and had to walk uphill again. As soon as it levelled I started running again, downhill for about 1/2 mile and onto a road section. Some more woods and into Widdington, across the fields, along  some track way and into my home village of Newport. Along the High Street to the last CP7…65 miles done and 5 to go…I was going to make it come hell or high water. Took on more drink and grabbed a banana to take with me, I was feeling absolutely dead on my feet having now passed 9 people over the last 2 legs. I forged on having to walk large sections, there are some steep hills in the last 5 miles. I wanted to run into the finish as well not walk. Now filled with paranoia I kept checking over my shoulder expecting them to have caught me, it didn’t happen. I followed the road up to a cut through on fields, through parkland on the edge of town and was running again. I passed a couple out for a jog “You can go ahead of us you look faster”, “I don’t feel like it, i’ve run in from Southend 70 miles away” queue flabbergasted expressions. out of the park gate, along to the traffic lights, cross, 200 yards and into the finish at the town fire station. I had made it..all 70 miles under my own steam, from throwing my guts up and thinking of quitting to digging in, grinding out the pain, discomfort and making it. And not just making it either but finishing in 5th place which amazed me, I thought I would be middle of the pack at best.

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I am now recovering, my legs generally are no worse than doing a marathon but my thighs are red raw and bleeding which is the most painful thing to deal with at the moment. I have some more ultras planned and am supposed to be going to the south downs on Friday 18th July to run 35 miles, it may not happen. Thanks to Lindley at www.challenge-running.co.uk and everyone that I met along the way.