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.

 

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The Punishment And The Prize

After the improvement at St Peter’s Way it was back to training out on the local roads, trails and gym sessions. The gym sessions have moved away from the heavier weight sessions as I felt they were slowing me down a bit. I have moved to a lighter cardio based session switching between bodyweight and light weights. A general session will be as follows.

Treadmill – up to 5k at 16kmph

press ups – as many as possible,usually around 70 to 80…still can’t hit the 100!

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v sit ups – as many as possible

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chin ups – 10

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bodyweight Squats – 25 to 50, depending how achy I am

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pull ups – 8…one of my weaker moves

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pistol squats – 10 each leg

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straight arm plank alternating raising each opposing arm and leg

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lunges – 20

Treadmill – up to 5k at 16kmph

This round will usually take about 55 minutes, it’s working pretty well. My next bit of running was a bit of fun and charity raising doing the Vertical Rush for Shelter the homeless charity running up Tower 42 central London. WHAT. A. KILLER!!! That was one of the hardest bits of all out cardio I’ve done! I heaved myself up the 932 stairs and 600 feet in 7m 40s and finished 257 of 1099 entrants. By comparison my friend I went down with managed 6m 16s and finished 47th overall…what a result!

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 The next race booked was one of the Enigma Week At The Knees marathons on Wednesday 15th March at Willen Lake, Milton Keynes. I knew Steve Edwards was running and chasing a record of 700 marathons at sub 3h 30m. I have been trying to break 3h 30m with my PB standing at 3h 34m. After setting out from home early the day was starting to warm up already. After finding my way to the event and the registration and talking to a few people I introduced myself to Steve and told him of my plan to use him as a pacer for the day. We were soon ushered to the start were a few words were said and an award given to Tiago Dionisio who was running his 500th marathon, then David ‘Foxy’ Bayley set us on our way! I set out at the front with Steve and another runner as planned. Willen Lake is a lapped course and after the first lap I was a little concerned that the pace was a bit high running 7m 30s a mile. sub 3.30 only needed an average 7.55 per mile. By time the second lap came around even Steve dropped back a little and I mentioned to the other runner with me we needed to ease up a bit. By the fourth lap in hindsight I should of picked up my drink and didn’t..even Steve pulled me up and asked if I was going to drink. By mile 16 his words and the early fast pace came back to haunt me. I began to cramp badly, my legs began to lock up. I’ve fucked it for today!  It was all I could do to walk, let it pass, carry on for a bit, lock up again…so on. From being at the front I began to drift back with Steve eventually lapping me and finishing in 4th place in 3h 58m…what an embarrassing disaster. Steve had completed his 773rd marathon, Tiago in 2nd on his 500th and Frenchman Denys Baudry had something like 408 marathons to his name…me on measly number 18 inclusive of ultras..I didn’t feel quite so bad. Punished for not doing enough threshold long runs.

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Back to the drawing board and continued with the training. Next up was Canalathon 100k organised by cannonball events. My goal this year is to complete GUCR after failing at the 133 mile point last year so Canalathon was not just about finishing but time on the feet and kit testing. In a useful way I would be running this race tired too. I managed to get about 4 hours sleep and was up at 2.30am to drive up to the start at Sowerby Bridge West Yorkshire. The race started at 7am and headed along the Rochdale canal into the edge of Manchester and then turned back to Sowerby Bridge. The first 10 miles was gradually up hill passing loads of lock systems before gradually dropping down towards Manchester then a return of 20 miles gradually up before the final 10 down to Sowerby. I ran with a group early on which held a good pace and helped time pass. we slowly filtered apart and getting on towards the turn the legs were hurting so I made full use of the aid station filling up as much as I could manage. I headed on the return not feeling great but it happens often in long races and you learn to work through it as it invariably passes. about 35 in and I freshened enough to get a move on again…40 miles and back to a struggle. I had in mind the last 10 was down hill so forged on towards the 50 mark and the final aid station, again filling up for the final push. I used every bit of downward slope to gain momentum and kept myself going..I was picking a few people off. I love this part of a race when people begin to tire, it fires me up to push on really hard, see if I can pass them and turn it into what it’s supposed to be. A race. demoralise their efforts as I run on strong and cheekily egg them on to see what they have left ‘come on mate, stick with me!’ A couple of younger fellas were having a good day of it..I hadn’t once see them walk, just a steady well paced plod. After initially passing them, around mile 57 or 58 they caught me up and put me on the spot! The legs were protesting but I pushed and stayed with them..on..and on. Come on. Don’t let these youngsters do you! closer and closer. How far lads? ‘about a mile’…hold on to them, hold on to them. The finish line beyond the final bridge…half mile tops. Come on then lads lets see what you’ve got left. Giving it the 5k parkrun effort I left them behind. Not a great time by any means finishing in 12h 25m but a good distance on a route and surface very similar to GUCR. A real fun event and well organised, I’d certainly go back and do more of their events.

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After recovering from Canalathon I was feeling really strong, injury free and felt I may be getting back to some reasonable form. The next race up was Ranscombe Spring Challenge, an 8 hour enduro event. I’m not the fastest of long distance runners, I don’t claim to be, my Strava is open for anyone to see. Looking at previous Ranscombe results there only seemed to be around a half dozen that went for an ultra distance..I thought I’d have a good chance of finishing in a decent position if I could hold it together on the day. I know Naomi Newton Fisher having been in a few races together and asked for a bit of info as to how hilly it was. Another early start and a cold foggy morning lay ahead as I made my way to Kent. I found it fairly easily and got kitted up and made some conversation..little did I know what lay ahead!! The start soon was upon us and off we went on the first lap. The course curved around and onto a downhill section, so far so good. It then began to rise up across a field, slightly down again then a long rise that went some way, across an open meadow, turn right through a gate, across a ploughed field then onto a hill within a wooded area…shit!! this was a steep kick..slightly down again then even steeper still! eventually up on to a track way turning right and thankfully a long downhill section that slowly dropped down and about 1.8 miles back running parallel to a railway line through some woods and back to the start finish. After the second lap the first half of each lap was mainly uphill and the steeper arts of that were killing me. From the 3rd lap on I had to walk the steeper sections. Fill up at the aid station, out for another lap, fill up, another lap, fill up, another lap. Most people enter these events to rack up another marathon and drop once they reach that target..leaving the foolish amongst us to forge on to what ever ultra distance we can manage. The 7th and ultimately marathon lap came around. A large amount of people were beginning to drop as they completed their target. I didn’t know at the time but there were 17 of us eventually moving on to an ultra distance. This is my second enduro event and you easily lose who is on what lap, distance and how long they’ve taken. The more I pushed on the more I felt I could finish top ten. The rules are that the 7th hour is the cut off for completing another lap, arrive 6h 59m.head on for another lap..arrive at or just after 7 hours it’s race over! I began calculating how much more I could cram in. If I pushed had on these next few laps it would by me enough time I may just push myself up into a top 5 place. I arrived back on my 10th lap in 6h 45m. ‘Are you doing any more?’…’As long as there’s time I’ll keep moving’..out for the 11th and final lap..i arrived back in 7h 33m having completed 41.1 miles. Traviss came over with my finishers medal, ‘well done’ ‘I’m pleased to tell you you’re today’s winner!’. WHAT! My first out right win since being at school! I want this win to show people that tenacity and determination can count for a lot. I didn’t win because I was particularly fast but because I kept forging on as long as there was time on the clock. And on that day it was enough by 1 lap, 3.7 miles.

What a boost for the confidence and self esteem. Still cracking on injury free, strong and coming back into some form. Another race was needed. The only options I could fit in around work and pre GUCR were marathons. The next available option was Barrow Good Friday, Chocathon Easter Sunday or Boston, Lincs Bank Holiday Monday. Chocathon had sold out, Barrow or Boston. Steve Edwards had told me he was going to be at Boston..let’s see if i’m any closer to that 3.30. Another early drive and 1h 30m later I was up in Boston, Lincs ready for another race. I knew a few friends and online acquaintances were going to be there and kept an eye out for those I knew. I saw Richard Hayes who’s fairly easy to spot with his mohican, introduced myself and had a chat. I saw Steve Edwards again and had said I’d get a copy of his book. Typical! No book as he’d sold out. I also managed to catch up with my friend Gin Lawson from Sudbury Joggers, Alison Davidson and Colin Johnstone who introduced me to Haroon Mota. After chatting in the market square I made my way towards the front of the marathoners ready to see if my form was truly building and that 3.30 marathon was any closer. Boston, Lincs is flat as a pancake with Garmin ultimately telling there was 0ft elevation. A good course for PB hunters. The course heads out around fields and along the edge of the marsh land so can be empty of support. I was ticking of a perfect pace, 7.42, 7.55, 7.41, 7.54..right on target. On my previous PB i had stopped 3 times at aid stations and clocked 3h 34m. In hindsight if I hadn’t stopped that may have been the 33.30 there. Today I wasn’t stopping. Through the aid stations, grab a bottle, Freddo frog chocolate and some Tailwind. Through half way in 1h 43m..still on target. The day was warm and I was glad I went with my club vest to run in. Through mile 20 in 2h 39m, the pace had slipped a little now an average of 7m 57s. Still inside a 3h 30m marathon and well inside my PB of 3h 34m. This was looking to be a good day! 21, 22..I didn’t feel great at all!! I started getting awful stomach pains. I tried not to stop, I kept moving forward but I was slow holding my stomach with one arm and trying to keep momentum with the other. Maybe I had drunk too much water and was a bit bloated, I don’t really know but it wasn’t comfortable and I couldn’t run properly. My pace was dying. The 3.30 was slipping away rapidly. 9.22, 9.23, 9.52. Mile 24, it had eased off the 3.30 was dead in the water, I was now clinging onto the slim hope of a slight PB improvement. 8.08, 8.06..i’d picked up the final couple of the miles…too little too late! 3h 35m 42s, a minute slower than my PB. It was a disappointment that yet again a 3.30 was there but circumstance cruelly saw to my time being eroded away. I came away happy with that effort, It was a good effort, an on form effort and realistic of my current ability.

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Now sitting here I am 4 weeks away from GUCR, 145 miles from Birmingham to London. That nagging demon that has been hanging over my head for the last year. As mentioned earlier although capable of holding a fair pace I rely on tenacity, determination, sheer bloody mindedness. It’s a discipline where being a stubborn bastard can count for a great deal. I really don’t have a care for smashing myself to bits. On GUCR I was still positive in mind to the end, it was just a matter of the body had stopped responding to what I wanted it to do! I learned a lot about myself, how I may tackle this differently. For one I will have my friend, motivator and experienced ultra runner Mike Abel crewing for me. He has full permission to give me as much abuse and arse kicking as is necessary. I have had some great help and advice from some very experienced and knowledgeable people in the ultra running community. I thank them. They will be in my thoughts. I will not let any of them down. Least of all myself.

Running – Past 5 Month Update

Since the Grand Union Canal Race back in May i’ve continued to be fortunate and stayed injury free. The next race after GUCR on the May bank holiday weekend was the Saffron Trail race which I did two years ago. I was hoping to improve on that run, which I did do knocking 2 hours off my previous time but still finishing in 5th place. This blog post is an update of races and results over the last few months and what may lay ahead.

2nd July 2016 – Saffron Trail – 17h 1m – 5th place – PB

25th August – Club 5k league – 20m 12s – 6th place

4th September – Essex Way Relay – 1h 15m – 14th place

11th September – Thetford Marathon – 3h 51m – 5th place

18th September – Bath 50k – 4h 43m – 19th place – PB

25th September – Ely Marathon – 3h 34m – 4th place – 3rd Male Trophy – PB

9th October – Peterborough Half Marathon – 1h 30m – 342nd – PB

23rd October – Chelmsford Marathon – 4h 12m – 329th

30th October – Stort 30 – 4h 51m – 99th – PB

16th November – Stevenage Half Marathon – 1h 34m – 60th place

I’ve entered the draw for GUCR 2017 along with KACR. The LLCR is part of Canalslam but it doesn’t look like I can get the time off work to get all three races in. I recently had a day out for a run in North Wales a good 200 mile drive out from home. The weather was pretty harsh and a Spring or Summer re visit is on the cards. It’s a great route and definitely can be covered in a quicker time without the wind, rain, hail and snow. I put together a very amateur video using my mobile phone, it is very shaky but gives an idea of the route.

 

No races are booked at the moment for the rest of this year. The GUCR draw is taking place Friday 11th November which I hope to attend and training will continue trying to stay at least marathon fit. I have now completed 8 marathons and 8 ultras so am thinking of doing more marathons and start heading towards the 100 club.

Thanks, Baz

What A Difference A Week Makes!

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I’ve had some niggly injuries recently and think i have managed to shake of the worst. I had been working on getting the miles in again and also trying to find a bit of speed. Last Bank Holiday Monday (6th May) i had Ashdon 10k in North Essex. I had been for warned by club members that this was a hilly course…an understatement if ever i heard one! The route felt like one permanent hill, my legs were struggling and it was a real grind. If you can imagine the start was on a street about 100 feet lower than the finish point higher up on a hill. So from the start you were slowly but surely making your way around a loop finishing at a higher point. The time for Ashdon came in at 47 minutes 46 seconds, which seems slow against my previous times but for the route wasn’t all that bad! I felt disappointed at the time as i felt sluggish and slow and not particularly fit, in hindsight it was a good run. I didn’t stop at all even though my legs quite often were telling me to. Also the course was a good tester of mental strength as well as putting some good miles in the legs.

During the week i had a six mile run and a 5 mile run much closer to my average times i achieve. My lower legs have still been aching quite a lot and i really need to book in for a sports massage to get some of the slight tightness out and help them feel more relaxed. The diet hasn’t been completely strict, i have been eating all the good stuff as usual but with plenty of the  junk added along the way. It hasn’t affected my weight but i do think it may add to my sluggish race feeling. This last week i have been making a bit more effort on that front and have started drinking beetroot juice again which i feel helps even if it is a placebo effect. Heading into Sunday just gone i was feeling quite good. The Clapham Common 10k in South London which i took part in yesterday (12th May) is fairly flat. It is a mix of tarmac paths and grass tracks and only has a very slight elevation rise. I went into this in two minds, one knowing i had run a slow time last week but also that it was flat and i could get a good time if i could summon up the effort. A perfect day for running with it being dry, warm and breezy i got of to a good start and was almost unsure as to how i should pace myself. I decided to try and warm into it for the first couple of miles, it was a two lap course so as soon as the first lap was completed i began to push harder and found a good rhythm. I tried to catch someone that had been about 30 yards ahead of me for the whole race but i just couldn’t get them. It was a good way of sticking with a high tempo pace though and i was rewarded with a time of 44 minutes and 49 seconds which is my second fastest time finishing in 37th of 311 runners. It was really pleasing to have such a good run and i have more races soon as well. Henham 10k in North Essex on Sunday 19th May and then Hatfield Broad Oak 10k Essex on the next May Bank Holiday 27th which i am told is a PB potential course. So all being well that will be the race i will try and improve on 43 minutes 27 seconds.

 

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Hope you’re having some great runs in the warmer weather, Baz.