Written by Katrin Silva - http://runkat.com
Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com
Pure Outdoors Events 1st September 2018
Race Director Gaynor Prior
Event HQ Chris Preston
Event Manager Clare Shannon
Race Winners: Andy Swift 6.35.40 and Sabrina Verjee 8.07.00
1976 – the drought year! That was when I first went to the Lake District. I’d like to say I’ve been back every year since, but it would be a total whopper. 2018 was the next time I went back. Yes, this year. We’d stayed in the Dales and popped over to Windermere for the day. I really thought it was time to go back and have a look around! A couple of years ago I was having a bit of a mooch running with a few guys including Jacqui Byrne and she said she was running Skiddaw. I had a look at it online – 42 miles in the Lakes looked good – and tucked it in my head . So, it ate away and after the Windermere visit this year, it ate a bit more until June when I couldn’t take it any more. It was a bit of a risk as it was sandwiched between The Plague and Cotswold Century but I somehow thought they could all dovetail. It won’t go down as one of my best ideas. Besides, what was I going to do for training – the highest point in Oxfordshire is 261m, hill training at its best.
6 weeks ago, I tore my calf, so no running. 3 weeks later I slogged through the Plague picking up the inevitable niggles and didn’t run for another three weeks – Grand Tour of Skiddaw weekend. The whole family and another family were supposed to be heading up for a weekend in the Lakes, but somehow I found myself alone driving up the heavily congested M6. I’d hoped to get there with a bit of daylight, but watched the sunset around 8pm as I turned off at Junction 42. A few country lanes and thankfully the satnav took me to Lime House School Race HQ and campsite. I parked in a field where I was to camp, and went straight to registration and received a very friendly reception, collected my number, dibber, vest, tracker and Mountain Fuel gel. And pins, don’t forget the pins. I was pretty tired after the drive so wanted to get my tent up and crash. I bumped into Nici as I came out of the sports hall registration. I don’t know how she recognised me in the dark, but she said it was my beaming smile. Such wit.
The tent went up pretty well, not that it was big, I stuffed everything inside that I’d brought and went to sleep. No, no I didn’t. I lay awake listening to a dog barking most of the night. I can’t fathom why the owner didn’t shut it up. I didn’t mind the owls and deer making noises, but the dog…
I think it was around 6am when Guy Garvey woke me up telling me to throw my curtains wide – I was in a tent, I didn’t have any. It was, however, looking like a beautiful day. Nice and warm too. I munched on some flapjack I’d made with added chia seeds for breakfast, got my stuff together and pins, where are my pins? I went back for more. I didn’t know where to put my tracker either and was told it would be okay to tuck it into my upper running vest pocket.
I stood around until race brief where I was told the route was approximately 44 miles (eh?!, thought it was 42) and then we had around 10 minutes to kill and as I was standing next to the mobile canteen, I thought it would be rude not to take advantage of some freshly ground coffee. Double espresso done and it was time to race. I say race. We were told if we wanted to race we’d have to get up front as there was a kissing gate not far away and would cause a bottleneck. I stayed where I was in my usual spot.
And off we went. And then stopped.
It was for around 5 minutes but it was nice to have the rest… There were quite a few kissing gates on this section so whilst the field of runners spread out, they also bunched at the kissing gates. I got a bit frustrated with this and tried the run ahead of others to get to the next gate before you technique. It was the first mistake of many in the day – – the majority of the field would be passing me on the way back. It was nice to see Nici, Sharon and Jacqui at a road crossing as they were helping out with marshalling duties – there were others, I just don’t know their names. I pootled on over the sparkling new Bell Bridge which had been trashed by Storm Desmond in 2015.
There was some nice pottering along here and I was feeling a bit excited about the views opening out. I must have been daydreaming a bit here because I went flying. I was blatantly tripped by some root, bramble or twig – I don’t know which one as they were all grinning and not owning up. I really don’t like that sort of thing, hanging around in woods doing nothing but photosynthesising. Go get a job, like oxygenating the planet. I jogged on with a flesh wound of pride.
The first checkpoint was in Caldbeck and Nici and Sharon were there post-road-crossing detail and were now on dibbing detail. The Byrne was sat on a wall cheering runners on. I went inside and filled my bottles up, ate some peanuts and a banana. And so to my second mistake of the day – I didn’t bother drinking any water because I couldn’t be bothered to take my cup out of my vest. You can’t make it up. Well I was going to pay for that before long.
And so to the hills…High Pike at 658m is, according to Wikipedia, the most northerly of the Lakeland fells over 2000 feet. It’s uphill. I am terrible at going uphill and a lot of people I’d passed at the kissing gate section were sauntering by chatting away whilst I blew out my backside. The route was waymarked this year for the first time and there were loads of little red flags marking the way up. Not needed today but if the clag had come down they’d have been most useful. Eventually got to the top…
..and then started downward. I was getting thirsty already and saw a marshal at a refuge – Lingy Hut – and he said when we got to a sign we should turn left. It was a really good downhill bit – by Grainsgill Beck.
Head down there and turn right..
I really enjoyed it, going as fast as I could, which compared to a fell runner would have been risible, but it felt good. There was a sign at the bottom about a mine but I didn’t stop and then turned right onto some very runnable terrain. It should have been runnable anyway. I got a mile or two along and then simply crashed. I was done already. Out of water and praying for an aid station. I hadn’t checked where they were so had no idea when one would come along. What about those houses up there? Nope, that’s Skiddaw House. Nothing doing. I remembered I had a nakd bar and ate that. I’m not sure whether the bar started to kick in or a change in terrain snapped me out of my slump. The path went upwards and onto a bit of a ledge looking ahead towards St Johns in the Vale (I think). It was beautiful to see a bit of valley and hill with clouds and sunshine coming out across part of it. Stunning stuff.
I headed round towards my right and Keswick and Derwent water came into view. Then I saw what I hoped was an aid station (thankfully it was – Latrigg). It took a bit of time to get there and I saw some runners coming back towards me. I asked them why they were coming back and they pointed over my shoulder. I looked around and there, disappearing up to the clouds was Skiddaw. I was suitably impressed.
I got my cup out this time and let it overfloweth to slake my thirst type thing. And there was meat and potato pie! I’ve never fuelled up on that before and wasn’t sure about it, but carbs, fat and salt can’t be all bad on a run. A few salty crisps too and I was ready for storming the Skiddaw – let the ascent begin. There’s a Simpsons episode where Homer is supposed to be climbing the Murderhorn and he’s been through about 3 oxygen bottles.
Summed me up perfectly
The scene pans back and it shows he’s just set off only marginally above Marge. That was me. Again, my uphill skills and all that training in the white horse vale were paying dividends with embarrassing riches. A family of sloths on holiday from the Amazon rainforest walked by chatting away. Followed by some other slow animals that I can’t remember the names of. It was great though, looking back over Keswick – the traditional start of the Bob Graham Round at the Moot Hall steps.
Keswick and Derwent Water
The views eventually disappeared as I went into the cloud. There were plenty of tourists doing the climb as well. I’d been chatting with Jacqui’s friend, Sharon D on the race and she was ahead of me going up but it was levelling off and I managed to catch her up with a bit of running and we had a bit of a chat. There’s a bell that the race organisers put on the trig point and I was desperately listening out for it as a guide that we’d be near to the top. I couldn’t hear it. There seemed to be even more tourists coming down now and I was desperate to ask them if it was far to the top but there was little point, it wouldn’t come any sooner whatever they said. We’d started going upwards again and Sharon forged ahead out of sight. I was following the cairns in the mist on my own.
It was Sharon. She’d got a bit disoriented in the cloud but she was heading the right way, we walked together and soon came across a couple of marshals. How they hadn’t frozen to death I don’t know – despite warm weather clothing. They said it wasn’t far and sure enough it wasn’t. We rang the bell and thus began our tour of campanology.
Some young lads were sheltering by a cairn and asked us if we wanted any sausage roll for some reason. Very kind, but I declined. I wanted to get under the cloud as I knew I’d get cold soon if I stayed, so we headed back to the marshals we’d seen before. It’s down there, they said. It was great! Steep scree, I didn’t know how to go at it. I’d read about the brakes off, brain off theory but there were people coming up as well.
Brakes off, brain off. Photo courtesy Pure Outdoor Events
I did the best I could. Legend fell runner Billy Bland had described how the only time he’d got injured going off Skiddaw was when he was a bit older and tried braking a bit too much. I’d say I flew down because it felt like it, and I overtook quite a few people, but looking on Strava it wasn’t very fast. I got to a bit that levelled out and there was a photographer there for the race. I simply asked him if he could make me look like a runner.
Trying to look like a runner. Photo courtesy Pure Outdoor Events
The path went upwards a bit and I thought I’d try my new cola caffeine gel.
“Don’t worry about stomach issues, always try new gels at the top of a mountain in the middle of a race” suggested no one ever, but then I don’t think meat and potato pies are on Kilian Jornet’s nutritional agenda either.
Another welcome downhill bit ensued, and stunning views when I dared to look up.
I got to the bottom and chatted to a few runners – NDW50 man and walking pole girl. I needed to take a quick pitstop and went behind a wall. What came out was orange. Evil orange. I was seriously dehydrated.
I don’t remember too much about the next bit, just bimbling along, occasionally chatting with the odd runner or two and then the aid station at Peter House Farm came up with welcome relief. There was a car coming along the road we were heading up and we moved to get out of the way, but it pulled over. Who got out of the car? – None other than my niece Sam! What an amazing and welcome surprise. I knew she was tracking me and lived not too far away in Penrith, but I hadn’t expected her to turn up. I was joyous. I had a fight with some wasps over some cheese and pickle sandwiches and had a chat with Sam and she’d said she thought I’d dropped as my tracker had stopped working. I was a bit annoyed about this as I knew my family was keeping track of me and they’re good fun to watch, (I watch them myself as well).
Runner 112 is erased from existence
One of the marshals had a bit of tape and now taped my tracker to the more exposed shoulder part of my running vest and it did eventually work again. Not sure what happened with it. Sadly had to say goodbye to Sam but she said she’d be at the finish. I was then travelling through a field and there were a couple of guys I spoke to and asked if the race was actually 44 miles, more or less?
Actually it’s 46!
Eh!? I initially thought it was 42, then it was 44 and now it’s 46? Where did the 4 bonus miles come from. I spat my dummy out. I was running along now trying not to trip up, but it wasn’t roots or branches this time, it was my lower lip. I was shot in this race around the 10 mile mark, I didn’t want to do any more than I needed! I was glad I knew now though, rather than finding out at mile 44 that I hadn’t finished! The two guys ran off but I overheard them saying that the rest of the route was mostly rolling countryside with a few pulls every now and then. (The “pulls” were steep up bits that didn’t last too long).
Rolling countryside (route marked) with pulls
Maybe I should have run a bit more, but I couldn’t help stopping to take photos
For a fair bit of this part of the race I found I was running on my own, l would look around and no one was there and then people would appear from nowhere and pass me. Was I going backwards or what? I was following the route markers and up until now I hadn’t taken a wrong turn but now, by a farm with the road going ahead, was an arrowed sign that was leaning to the right – was it right or straight on? Absolutely no idea which way to go.
What’s that Richard, you didn’t bring your course notes?
Well, I printed them off, they’re in the car.
Well, you’ve got a compass, surely you brought a map then?
There was a GPS download on the Pure Outdoors Events website. Goes without saying, you uploaded that onto that expensive device on your wrist.
Ah. I mainly use that for daily step counting….Oooh look, there’s a guardian angel disguised as a runner – Bright Orange Top Lady. I know she’s an angel as she has a gps system around her neck and is telling me that the direction to go is along the road.
And I was thankful for a bit of road running if I’m honest. I sort of followed Bright Orange Top Lady for some considerable time as other runners caught us up or we caught runners up. The road was now exacerbating the grit and pebbles in my shoes and it felt like sandpaper rubbing away. I resolved to stop and found an ideal place against an open barred fence thing on a bridge over a brook. In hindsight it wasn’t wise because if I dropped my shoe, then I’d have had to play Salomon pooh sticks and leg it after a disappearing shoe as it meandered down the stream. Shoes emptied (although there’s always one bit of grit that hangs on for dear life), I felt a bit more comfortable. We left the road and I was talking to a chap with a Liverpudlian sounding accent for a while, then I pushed on a bit and caught BOTL up. I thanked her profusely as I’d hung on to her coat tails a fair bit. She looked at her gps and said we were on Caldbeck common. And then we got to the corner of a field wall and she said that that was it, we’d done the loop so we were now heading back the 10 miles we’d come out on. Then she disappeared! It was pretty flowing downhill though and I ran as much as I could towards Caldbeck. Reaching Caldbeck I suddenly dropped again. Absolutely wiped out. I knew the aid station was close, but I reached out for another bar to eat. I was still eating it when Nici’s dulcet tones shouted at me to get a move on. The Byrne was still perched on the wall – although she denied it, I could have sworn she’d sat there all day. I went inside the hall and decided I’d shovel as much food in my face as possible – no more energy slumps. Soup and lots of cheese and pickle sandwiches. Cup of tea. Coke. Absolutely fantastic. People came and went but I’d stopped caring. Eventually I got up and decided to finish. 7-8 miles to go along the riverside. Hopefully those nasty bits of nature had moved on by now as well.
Off I went. Bloated and feeling sick from all the food I’d eaten. So I had to go slowly and let it settle a bit. I was good at going slow anyway, so all was well. I pushed on and stopped, as I’d done a lot of times this race, to take in the surroundings and take a photo or two. There was a wide bit of river at one point and I was almost expecting a kingfisher or dipper to fly along, but sadly it wasn’t to be. I was so banjaxed by now that I kept stopping at gates and rested my head on them and I was blowing away. I was heading through a field when a farmer pulled up on a quad bike. For a fleeting moment I thought he was another angel and was going to offer me a lift. Sadly this wasn’t the case, he just asked me about how many runners I thought were left. Over Bell Bridge and off the road again. I decided to take one last gel, no point in taking it for a 40 odd mile walk and it might just help me get to the finish. I looked behind me and there was another runner the other side of a field. I wasn’t going to be overtaken again so I started to run and resolved not to stop again – which I didn’t until I got to the final field full of cows. Dammit. I’m not overly afraid of cows, but have a healthy respect of them having witnessed (first-hand) them charging rather too close for comfort. Thankfully, they weren’t interested so I got through them and the kissing gate without event. Just a little run along to the finish and Sam was there to cheer me on. I couldn’t make out if she wanted to hug me or not, but she just told me to hurry up and finish so that’s what we did. The same lady that was on registration the night before dibbed my finish and said hello again. She took my tracker and dibber and got me a coffee. There was a makeshift bar in the sports hall – the Stagger Inn – and I sat down with Sam with my slate finishers medal. I did my best to talk but was feeling out of it. Sam was brilliant and got me a pizza. And a second pizza. And coffee. We chatted for a while and I agreed to meet up with her the next day for lunch.
Some showers never have hot water. I don’t believe these ones had any cold. They’d been turned up to Fires of Hell heat. Absolutely marvellous. I would love to have had a drink in the bar afterwards but was so shot that my tent was calling. I wasn’t falling asleep any time soon as I was aching and full of adrenaline and feeling happy with the world. And there was loud music playing and huge whooping going on as other runners came in to finish. It was a great sound to hear and I just lay there in agony but felt good.
After my shower the previous evening, I’d put my watch in a bag. My phone had run out of battery as well. So, when I heard cars leaving in the morning from the camp site and zippers going in tents, I thought it must be time to get up. I got out of the tent to be greeted to another balmy day (no music this time) but no one was about. I put my phone in the car to charge and it was only 7am. I went to the sports hall to have a look around and Jacqui was there having a cup of tea so I decided to have one. Sharon D joined us too and we had a bit of a chat. We were waiting for later because Billy Bland was coming to give awards out and have a bit of a chat and Q&A. There was also a light stretching session which Gaynor – the RD – was taking.
So the morning went by, the stretching was much needed and then we sat outside for a bit. Mr Bland turned up with cake made by Mrs Bland who was also there for a while. We then went back in for the presentations and Gaynor gave a bit of a washdown on the race. There’d been over 500 arrow markers put out. And a bunch of idiots that had either moved them or taken them down. Why? Who knows – it had sent a couple of the front runners the wrong way but luckily the crew were on it quickly to correct everything.
I think there were 140 starters with only one drop – someone who was ill, so sensible decision. That’s a fantastic finish rate. Course records, third time win in a row in the ladies (who’d also had a storming LL100 earlier this year) and the third place male had run a half marathon that morning in 1.20 for a 4th place finish!
Billy Bland then gave out the awards and then had a chat about his running and, of course, Kilian Jornet who had recently taken his long-standing (36 years I think) record for the Bob Graham Round. He mentioned being buggered a lot and had also mentioned that Kilian too looked buggered at the end of the BGR. I had to laugh at the thought of Kilian picking up this expression then going on to to win the UTMB (sadly he didn’t), then being interviewed on Eurosport – so Kilian, how do you feel? – buggered. Not standing still, Mr Bland then got changed into his cycling gear to ride his bike back home. I’m not a fan of selfies and don’t care for celebrities, but I did ask for a photo with this fell running legend. What a guy.
Mr Bland with a groupie
I drove slowly back to the M6 trying to take in as much of the scenery as possible, then headed to Penrith for chilli made by Sam. It was great to see her again and have a bit of a chat before heading back home on a much quieter M6 than when I came up.
So, how did I feel after the event? Buggered obviously! But I felt appreciation, awe, bewilderment – for both the scenery and the runners. I slogged up Skiddaw, but these guys raced up it. The Bob Graham Round STARTS at Skiddaw then takes in a further 41 fells – all within 24 hours. Billy Bland’s 36 year record was 13.52 and only beaten this year by Kilian Jornet in 12.52. I took nearly 12 hours just to get round this course!
My 42 mile race length supposition came from me not looking properly at the Skiddaw race page.
Note to self – read the information properly before starting
I’m not sure how the approximate 44 mile turned into 46 though, but this is NOT a complaint at the RD – they must be utterly sick of Garmin/Suunto Johnnies moaning about bonus mileage (and taped seems for that matter).
I confess, I hadn’t looked at the map properly to work out aid station distances. I got my water and food badly, badly wrong. I paid for it plenty too, with quite dramatic energy crashes.
I’d been complacent about the route as I knew it was fully waymarked. To not have downloaded the GPS was real indolence on my part.
Pacing was just ragged. If I may make a plea – I’ve never done anything like this before – well, sort of half of it on Man vs Mountain, but it doesn’t compare.
Having chided myself, what were the good bits?
It was utterly amazing. I loved it. Value for money as well. Helpful marshals from start to finish, good food, beautiful route and a fantastic introduction to the Lakes. Generous cut offs if you don’t want to rush, but some fantastic runners at the pointy end if you want to race.
The runners that I talked to on the course and the next day over breakfast were great company and really friendly.
Gaynor clearly knew her stuff and put on a great event and it was fantastic to see and meet a running legend at the end.
Can’t fault it. Top marks!
Huge thank you to Gaynor for putting on a great show and the stretching session the next day was a great touch.
Billy Bland for showing up and giving us a few anecdotes.
Mrs Ann Bland for bringing chocolate cake.
Nici, Sharon and all the marshals whose names I don’t know, for their friendliness and helpfulness, you made the race run smooth as clockwork.
The friendly people I met.
The Lake District. For being utterly stunning.
Oooh, and the weather. Damn near perfect.
Jacqui for pointing me in the direction of the Lake District.
Finally, Sam. Thank you so much for turning up at the aid station and for pampering a whimpering mess at the end. And for the chilli the day after.
To the Lake District. I waited 42 years to see you again. Let’s not leave it so long next time!
Written by Ross Hay
Last weekend at 5am in the morning I was at the start line of the Mozart 100. How did I end up here for my longest race to date (103km with 4600m of elevation change)? Two and a half years ago, I was 50lbs heaver and I had to make a decision to buy new trousers or lose some weight, so started counting calories with myfitnesspal. I also thought Id start running so I could eat more! In order to motivate myself, I decided to enter some local races. 6 months later, Id lost the weight and was doing a half marathon in Davos on the trails. The whole experience and atmosphere blew my mind, and seeing people doing ultramarathons (specifically the K78 race I would end up running the following year) inspired me to want to run longer distances in the mountains.
So here I was on a sunny day in June running across the hills that were made famous in the Sound of Music. The start is in the old town of Salzburg surrounded by historic, medieval architecture. Not that I took much of this in in the dark while desperately trying to start of slow and steady for what I knew was going to be a long, tough day, compounded by a less than ideal training effort over the previous months due to substantial travel with work. The first 7 – 8km were nice and flat on a mix of roads and gravel paths before heading up the first hill. This didn't seem to bad though and was followed by more gently rolling paths and roads. I was beginning to wonder if this would be easier than I thought!
I had wondered if I should drop down to the 61km Ultra at the drop bag aid station at Fuschl (30.5km), but I was feeling strong and fresh so decided to carry on after drinking a coke and eating a packet of salami sticks. Shortly after, the first big climb up Schafberg kicked in. It was tough going, but with poles (which I had only practiced with a little before) I was overtaking people (only to lose places on the subsequent decents. I also had a good chat with some kids from a local international school who were doing a trail walk about getting lost – they had just climbed down a small cliff face having taken the wrong route.
By the time I reached the lake at Sankt Wolfgang, I was feeling pretty spent and hot. But joy! A kiosk selling ice cream appeared! I was enjoying my ice cream while walking to the next aid station 1km away I totally forgot my poles, so added an extra couple of kms running back to get them. As I climbed the next major peak of Zwolferhorn I had my first low. I really wasn't sure Id be able to make the cutoff at Fuschl and for a moment considered if I should go back and catch a shuttle back to Salzburg. I pushed on though with the attitude that if I miss the cutoff, I miss the cutoff – if that ends up being the end of my race, then so be it.
Although I didn't feel strong, I continued to push up the hill overtaking people again. And again the downhill felt a lot harder than it should. Mental note to do more hills in training! Back at Fuschl I had a good 1.5 hours before the cutoff, so had another quick coke, some sweets and off I went having picked up my head torch for the later stages.
Next followed a lovely rolling path along the lake. I knew there was a bit of a hill before descending to Salzberg, but had no idea how tough it would be. This felt the hardest section of the course after a long day as the sun started setting. At the top of Nockstein I had to put on my headtorch for the final decent to the town, watching fireworks over the city. I knew there was a last ‘surprise’ hill before the finish line, but had no appreciation of how steep it would be! Asking at the final aid station, they said it was 200m high, but only 2.5km to the finish.
I felt drained, but knew I would finish come what may now I was over 100km and had 3 hours to get there. I had a coke and started up the steps. I think because the finish felt so close, I got a rush of energy. I was (at least I felt I was!) flying up the steps, overtaking several people, go to the castle at the top and then headed down the trail to town. Towards the bottom, you hit some old cobbled streets and people having dinner or drinks start cheering you on. I come up to some traffic lights where another runner is waiting to cross. I can help it – with everyone shout I put on a turn of speed I hadn’t had for 50km and start racing through the Old Town to the finish line to come in 171st in 18 hours and 8 minutes – what a feeling! Evenbetter, my friend doing the half is there waiting for me with a burger and a beer!
Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com
Mud Crew Arc of Attrition
RD Andrew Ferguson
1st Female Maryann Devally 32.26.32
1st Male Steven Wyatt 23.44.18
*Some photos were taken in situ, some in more clement weather.
Short version: Up. Down. Bog. Repeat.
I’m not a fan of writing blogs when I’ve DNF’d (again), but if I wait to finish before I blog about the AoA, it’s going to be a long time coming.
The Arc of Attrition describes an arc on the Cornish Coastal Path. It is hard. Very very hard. It has a very high DNF rate, this year was no exception – something in the region of 66%.
Anyway, I completed the (ahem) Arc of Attrition 50 last year and not satisfied (my crew – Tariq – wasn’t satisfied either), I demanded a rematch. My IT band had “gone” last year which meant going downhill was exceptionally painful so there was no point in continuing. This year, apart from a Christmas cold, training had been going reasonably well until two weeks out when I tore/strained my calf. Joyous! I just had to rest it and see what happened.
Inclement weather in Cornwall had taken its toll on the Coastal Path and caused it to collapse in numerous places, the worst situation was between Loe Bank and Porthleven – 30 minutes extra time had been added to compensate for a detour in this area. The precipitous weather had also meant that the majority of Cornwall had turned into a quagmire.
There were approximately 150 runners this year and the briefing was in the Blue Bar in Porthtowan as usual – this is where the finish is – or so I’m told! Competitors are then taken on a coach over to Coverack to the start of the race. It was blowing a hoolie at Coverack, but the sun was out so the 20 minutes or so wait wasn’t too bad. I had a quick chat with Drew Sheffield (who stormed to a highly impressive 3rd place on his Arc debut), Tim Lambert, and noted that Paul Ali still had “that hat”. We had a minute’s silence for former Arc competitor, Matthew McSevney who had attempted the race twice and was going to attempt it again but was tragically killed in a road collision when he was knocked off his bike.
The hooter went and we were off – at least for a short while, then we queued to get through a narrow gap – there’s a lot of races start like this, it’s just something you have to get used to, unless you vie for a position at the front. Getting going, it was surprisingly warm in the sun but it was clear from very early on, this was going to be heavy going underfoot. There was also a very strong headwind. I was hoping my calf would be okay but “ping”, it went! I thought that that was it, but thankfully I could keep going. I reached the Lizard, but realised I was behind time already. There were about 5 diversions on the path – mostly minor, but time was everything in this race.
It was then on from here to the main diversion. I’d reached Porthleven last year before nightfall, but I was reaching for my headtorch before Loe Bank. I put my headtorch on and…..nothing. I’d put fresh batteries in that morning but kit fail!! This is why the mandatory kit demands two headtorches! Thankfully Tariq also had two spare head torches as back up, so when I next saw him I got one that worked – the importance of crew! And so to the diversion. I was really hacked off at it, if I’m honest. I think that in total for all of the diversions, it probably cost me an hour and this large one was full of mud for a good mile. With tight timelines I couldn’t afford to lose any time – more on this later. I got confused at Porthleven as I nearly went into the pub where the checkpoint was last year. Thankfully a MudCrew ArcAngel took me to the proper aid station. I didn’t stop though, just got my bottles filled and a jacket potato for the road.
Caught up with Tariq at Praa Sands, whinged about the diversion and grabbed one of his amazing flapjacks or two and wandered off towards Mounts Bay. I like rounding Cudden Point where you can see St Michael’s Mount – albeit in the dark – I wish they’d light it up, it would look pretty impressive, but I guess that’s a cost cutting exercise from the National Trust! There’s a place just before Marazion where I took the wrong turn last year. I took it again this year and ended up on the beach. Back I went and bashed my head on a branch for my troubles. Then there’s another bit where you do have to go down to the beach – down a metal staircase. Got into Marazion and my spine was beginning to feel compressed. It usually does (age you see) but not this early on. It was beginning to hinder my running and this section is a 6 mile bit of road where normally one can take advantage of not sliding around in mud and make a bit of time up. Into Penzance, famous for pioneering ultrarunner Humphry Davy – a bit of a word on him – frustrated by the lack of the availability of Petzls in the 1700s, he invented a portable torch so he could run in the dark. By shear coincidence, some local do-gooder bumped into him on a night run and struck up a conversation with him:
D-G “What’s that you’ve got there Humphry? Is it a safety headlamp to save all the miners?”
HD “Errr…yes. Yes, that’s exactly what it is.”
The rest is history.
I had a bit to eat at the Penzance Aid Station and took a couple of paracetamol. Also bumped into Tim Lambert and we both had a chat about having to get a shift on. So, no more hanging around, and onto Mousehole. I could feel the paracetamol take effect and my back stopped hurting so I could do a bit of running. There’s a garden on the way to Mousehole which has loads of scarecrows in it. It’s pretty weird looking at them with your headtorch, but I like it. Into the quaint fishing village of Mousehole. There’s a beautifully illustrated children’s book by Antonia Barber which tells the story of the Mousehole Cat and why Mousehole puts all of its house lights on for Christmas Day. I’m thinking of writing the sequel entitled, the Mousehole Fat Cats which is about all the city slickers buying up the houses in Mousehole and why it’s now all in the dark.
Thankfully, some nice MudCrew helpers had put day-glow sticks to follow through Mousehole – it’s a small place, but a labyrinth for sure. I was grateful for the extra guidance.
I always think that after Mousehole, it starts to get hard (proper hard is after Lands End). This is the up, down, bog bit that I described at the start. Depending how you look at it, it’s also the fun part! I have run this section in the summer without 40 or so miles in my legs and it’s a really beautiful area. With low hanging branches. This is also where there are bits of scrambling to do where you can use the grey boulders either side of a large drop/step to lower you down. What I did, repeatedly, was mistake dead gorse for the boulders. My hands still have gorse thorns in them. Souvenir. Lamorna Cove is possibly one of my favourite areas, it has a nice descent and a scramble, a small harbour and another scramble out, which I got wrong, scrambled up one bit then had to get back down to find the right bit!
Not much further on, you come across a beach full of huge boulders – St Loy – which could be quite easy to get lost on. But because of all the mud, it was easy to follow where people had gone from boulder to boulder to cross the beach.
Mooching on, I crossed Porthcurno where they laid the telegraph cables to America many moons ago, then up the steps adjacent to the Minack Theatre. This is where my “Arc 50” ended last year, so, after stocking up with supplies, I was happy to push on to Lands End. Porthgwarra was a mile and a half away, but with the strong winds I could already hear the lament of the Runnelstone Buoy – a buoy moored a mile offshore fitted with a hydrophone to protect ships from the Runnelstone Reef (I’ve lifted that information from Wikipedia, so it must be true). I’d been here before spotting choughs as it’s an RSPB area. Come to think of it, it was blowing a gale then as well. When I reccied this area in the day time, I could see Lands End, so I just headed straight for it. During the race, I had latched onto some other runners here and one of them clearly knew the proper way. It took a while but I got to Lands End eventually. My calf was playing up pretty badly now and MudCrew took me straight in to get seen by a physio who taped my leg up a treat – it really helped.
My taped up leg. Got a bit muddy.
By this time, sadly, I pretty much knew my race was run. Dill Cowdry, who sub 30 “houred” last year, estimated to allow 8 hours from here to Lands End, and I didn’t have that. He is also a lot quicker runner than me, so I would need around 10 hours. My newly taped leg worked well, but my compressed spine wasn’t playing ball. I shuffled the mile into Sennen and I got to the car park where I was guided through by MudCrew helpers and a few day glow lights back on to the coastal path. Dawn was beginning to break, very, very slowly. It was very grey and drab, but I was more than thankful that the heavy rain predicted in the night hadn’t started. Yet. Unless you are super-fit, weigh next to nothing and are agile as a kitty cat (of which I tick no boxes), there are few runnable sections from here to St Ives. There was a field of bog and if you have a moment – I’m thinking when John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, he wrote about the Slough of Despond. This. This was the field to which he referred. And after that field was another field, which I couldn’t see due to the amount of surface water that covered it. Normally, I would try to mince around a bit of mud to save my feed from getting wet. No point. Just pummel through and hope your shoes don’t get sucked off! About a mile from Cape Cornwall I came across a chap who’d sat down in a sheltered spot. I asked him if he was okay and he clearly hadn’t realised I was there. He jumped out of his skin and gave me a look of thunder for making him do so! I put my hands up placatingly and I got chatting to him. He was wanting to be picked up and I told him it wasn’t far to Cape Cornwall. I wished him well and pootled on. I came across more MudCrew (were they in every cove??) in Porth Nanven and whinged to them that I was going to be timed out. “There, there” – they said – “run along whingey pants!” I bimbled along to Cape Cornwall and it started to rain. And wind. Tariq was there and I said I was going to be out of time. He treated me with the same contempt as the MudCrew guys, so off I went.
The weather was really taking a turn for the worse now and this really left me in a state of self-pity. Wallowing in self-pity is great. It goes hand in hand with ultra running at times! On a positive note, I had a tail wind, which helped the rain lash against my back. I reached Pendeen Watch and rather belatedly put on my waterproof leggings. I was trying to give Tariq my best puppy dog eyes. Please, please let me drop. He told me afterwards that he told me to put my leggings on in the boot because if I’d put them on in a nice comfy seat with the heating on in the front, I wouldn’t have got out. After Pendeen Watch is a 14 mile section which is largely inaccessible and off I went out into it. I realised very quickly that my leggings were falling down. I took off my soggy gloves to try to tie them up properly but, after putting my soggy gloves back on again, I realised that, along with my headtorch, I’d had another kit failure. I was just walking along holding them up! I could chide myself for not having checked my kit, but where’s a force 10 gale with rain when you need it?! My upper back had joined my lower back’s protest now and whenever I went up hill it was aching. I’d slowed to two miles an hour and realised it would take seven hours to get to St Ives. Bizarrely in all this wilderness, there was another MudCrew with a clipboard (unless I was hallucinating) asking how I was? “I just want to go home.” I couldn’t believe I said that. She just replied – yes, I think most people are feeling like that! I pushed on a bit more and a man and woman at the top of a hill stood there and clapped and said they were there to cheer people on! Had I lost the plot or what?! What were these people doing there? Much appreciated though.
Ooh, and I saw a couple of gannets too! (And whilst I’m on a wildlife tour – last year I saw a badger coming up the trail towards me near Porthcurno).
I think I had gone about five miles and I was now starting to cough quite badly. I was wet, cold, not really able to move and realised I was going to be in trouble if I didn’t do something about it – put bluntly, the course had well and truly broken me. As remote as this section is, there were houses dotted about so I realised there must be roads leading to them(!). I was going to try to call Tariq, if I had reception, to locate my satellite tracker, so he could pick me up. As it turned out, I could see a runner at the bottom of a hill walking with two other people who had “normal” coats on so I slopped and slithered my way down the hill as quickly as I could without falling on my ass, and then hollered to them. They stopped and waited politely as I negotiated the boulder field (slight exaggeration) in the slowest of motions, to get within earshot. I asked them where they were parked and they said Zennor. I walked with them and tried to phone Tariq but got no reception. They then offered to take me into St Ives with them as that’s where they were heading. I could have cried. Maybe a slight exaggeration to say they saved my life, but they certainly saved me from deeper trouble. Looking at the satellite trackers it looks like it was David Dicks and crew. If it wasn’t David Dicks, then sorry, but if it was, then to you all, I am eternally grateful. Thank you.
So close! Needed to get to St Ives, dropped at Zennor.
Having arrived at St Ives I was shivering and teeth chattering and I was put under blankets and given a hot chocolate straight away. Allan Rumbles mentioned in a Facebook post about bursting into tears at someone’s kindness at this stage and I can only say that it took every will not to do so myself here as it would only have hindered the guys trying to sort me out. Sometimes I can’t believe how stupid this all is – we pay to do this, then whimper when it all goes wrong and have a hurty knee, whilst volunteers sort us out! Ah well, what can you do! I was brought food. Then more food. And more hot chocolate. Tariq had met me at St Ives and brought dry clothes which I now changed into. The adventure was over. I got to 75 miles. Close but no cigar.
One goes back to the hotel, attempts to sleep, realise the legs are hurting so you can’t sleep and there’s a rush of adrenaline kicking in. Awake in the early hours I tried to think if I could have changed anything – I was only a few miles from St Ives and if I could have made that cut off, I could have continued to the finish. I mentioned earlier about the diversion and how it cost me time, I took a few wrong turns here and there….. and many other excuses to hide behind. But excuses are what they are. In truth, that was the best I could give and it wasn’t good enough. This is a race that requires a pace of 2.8 mph to finish. I couldn’t manage that, so that is my fault. I have to train harder for it. Make no mistake, you have to know what you are doing and be in very good shape to get to the finish line – that is why the DNF rate is so high. The Race Director, Andrew Ferguson, makes this very clear – this is an extreme coastal ultra. It is very difficult – not to mention dangerous and this must be appreciated. Some ultras do time cut offs that graduate ie 10m/m for the first few aid stations then 12m/m, 15m/m etc. This race you have to keep going – you can’t “bank” time (well maybe if you’re elite, you can, but for the likes of me, you can’t). However, therein lies the appeal!
I can’t recommend this event enough – but prepare for it – get down to Cornwall to reccie the course (and get some money into the community while you’re at it), do your hill repeats, do your squats etc.
The Thank You Section:
Mr Tariq Malik – without your support there would be no weekend of misery. There when I needed your help.
Stillion Vs The Arc FB group – many thanks for being interested and keeping tabs on me!
MudCrew: What can I say? What an event this is. It gets under your skin! Andrew Ferguson, Jane Stephens and Andy Trudgian – superb organisation and an utterly amazing event. You must have nerves of steel sending 150 or so people out in the night with cliff edges on one side and mineshafts on the other!
The ArcAngels – I think there were nearly 150 (so 1 to 1) – you guys were everywhere – and I mean everywhere – to support and encourage, feed, water. Superb.
First Aid/Medics – Again, thank you so much for your support. My EAB worked a treat and the rapid treatment I got at St Ives was very much appreciated.
The National Trust, RSPB, National Trails for maintaining this constantly changing coastline – the recent diversions are testimony to this.
Whoever was responsible for getting the diversion in place around Penrose at such short notice to make this race possible.
Thank you all.
I usually like to dedicate my race to someone and this one I would like, if I may, to dedicate to Matthew McSevney – as a mark of respect, MudCrew sent his family a finisher’s buckle.
Written by Phil Bradburn - https://untrainingultrarunner.com
This was the final race in the Canal Slam series – which includes the legendary Grand Union Canal race and the Kennet & Avon Canal Race – which are both 145 miles and which take place at the end of May and end of July. You can read my blog about each of these races if you click on those links.
Having trained as hard as my little (fat) body would allow – working through injuries since the Centurion Grandslam in 2017 (which left me nursing an injury at the end of the year) and a bit of a disappointing start to the new year with various groin strains and calf pulls, I felt it was a bloody miracle that I made it to the start of GUCR and KACR let alone finishing both of them in 40h38, and 38h32 respectively.
Phew! Part and parcel of completing these annual race series is good training, good recovery, good luck and good race strategy. I never have got all of these in line together. I am a stubborn idiot with lots of great support from my wife and family and friends and my coach so if I didn’t finish any of these races then the blame would be firmly at my own feet and head. It helps of course that I bloody love running, and I’ve learned to at least like walking fast (which is handy for some portions of these races).
Friday before the race – Pluckley to Brightwell – cum – Sotwell
On Friday me and my wife Susie had headed off to Oxfordshire to meet Vanessa. I have been blessed this year with the most amazing and experienced crews – and they have learned so much about handling me during races. I too have learned alot about how to stay positive and resist the slip into being an idiot with my crew. It’s never intentional, I just have had a tendency to moan and whinge a lot when things get hard. I managed to crack that at the last race – KACR and I was hoping to be equally good this time around.
When we arrived at Vanessa’s she had somehow misplaced her phone and was turning the house upside down trying to find it. In the process she lost her car keys. FML!!! Eventually keys and phone were reunited with Vanessa and we loaded the car up with what seemed like the WHOLE of the kit and equipment that I own for running.
Brightwell – cum Sotwell – to Widnes
A trip to my parents was straightforward (though riddled with congestion and the weather was looking horrendous!)
We soon arrived in Widnes – which is about 25 minutes drive from the start of Liverpool Leeds Canal Race in Liverpool near the Pier Head. It was great to see my parents and we were rewarded by a lovely spag bol (salmon and potatoes for vanessa) and lots of cake! My mum had also made a cake to celebrate my race too
After dinner we talked about the plans for the race, and gave my mate Graham a quick intro to the world of crewing a race
Went to bed early to settle down to a light sleep before waking up at 4am and getting dressed and sorted. The journey to the start in Liverpool was pretty easy – though we ended up going the wrong way down a road and doing a u-turn in full view of a police car. YIKES!
Registration – Saturday morning 5:20am
There was a gazebo erected on the pavement near to the Radisson Blu hotel. The wind was stronger than I expected and it was pretty cold – a shock given the hot weather we had been experiencing for months in the UK during the summer.
I registered, picked up my hoodies and t-shirts, buff that I had pre-ordered and then went back to the car to rest before getting out to chat just before the briefing. I then had to drag myself back out of the car to go and get a diversion sheet for later on in the race (around 72 miles). I had forgotten to do this 2 years back and had ended up traipsing around a shitty housing estate in the dead of night and having to ask a gang of kids for directions. As it happened back then it was fine and I didn’t end up as a crime statistic (or worse…. LOST!)
The usual suspects (minus a notable exception Georgina Townsend who had health issues and couldn’t make the start line for the finale of the canalslam) – Fi McNelis, Javed Bhatti, Allan Rumbles and others – including one of the organisers Keith Godden. The amazing band of volunteers are just brilliant. There for the fun and to support the race. They get nothing in return other than the overwhelming thanks of the other runners. I will volunteer in future years on some of the races – I just love the vibe of this race.
Start – 6am – Old Hall Street
Soon it was almost 6am and we crossed the road to the start of the race. Keith did his briefing – “don’t overdo the painkillers…..!” and we were off. All 36 of us. It was a small start line, but you could bet that given there were 8 other canal-slammers here, everyone was pretty motivated. I had counted around mid-60 people entered on the provisional start list on the website – so wondered whether injuries had decimated the start line.
I set off with Fi – we had a lovely little catch up, and both said that it wouldn’t be the same without our running pal Georgina who can always be relied out to bring some comedy-drama and calippos to the races I soon let her go ahead (by let…. I mean she was running faster than me and I couldn’t keep up without breathing through my arse!). She told me she had some rather driving rock music to run to so I figured that would keep her company.
I was using my new Suunto 9 and had it on the absolutely best GPS setting (which predicted over 40 hours on 1 second recording) but I had also set it up so that there would be no display showing to minimise battery consumption. That of course meant that I couldn’t check my current pace without pressing a button – but it felt easy though we seemed to be running pretty fast. That’s quite difficult because with a small pack of runners and starting on rested legs (having done virtually nothing since the KACR four weeks earlier) I was in danger of going too hard and may suffer later.
Everyone was so excited up front after a few turns a heap of runners missed a key turning onto the canal itself! I had settled in towards the back but then found myself almost at the front – which was weird just one mile in – and I didn’t want to be there! Over the next few miles it seemed that the previous front runners had settled down a bit and approximately 10 other runners overtook. On a race this long it is so important to run your own race and that’s what I intended to do. I kept running to feel and didn’t bother to turn on my watch display to check how I was doing. There were, in any case, stone mileage markers counting up the distance from liverpool and counting down to Leeds. So I could keep a handy check on my progress.
I remembered from 2016 (DNF at 90 miles) that there was a lot of tarmac on at least the early sections and I was glad to be wearing my New balance road shoes which were lovely and springy and comfortable. For the most part, I just jogged along, keeping things easy, and trying to settle into a nice sustainable and comfortable pace.
I remembered lots of this route and remembered the two bridges we had to cross too. At around ten miles, I spotted the section where there was a cancelled diversion (apparently the hot weather had caused problems during the summer and they had to do some towpath works). Jog, eat, drink, jog, eat, drink, wee, jog, eat, drink and then in the distance I saw the first checkpoint.
Checkpoint 1 – Br 16 – Running Horses – 14.5 miles – 8:26 – 8:29 – (2h26m)
This was the first main checkpoint. It had rained a little bit before getting here. I saw Vanessa and Susie. I swapped my bottles out. I grabbed a couple of ham sandwiches from Susie and took them away in a bag. I took a bag of sweets as well.
I spoke to a chap early on. A lovely guy with a homely northern accent. I really miss the north sometimes and the overwhelming openness and friendliness of others (working in London if you look at someone the wrong way they seemingly want to gouge your eyes out!). We had a chat for a few hundred yards. He was saying that he had done 3 peaks in Yorkshire before and he was already feeling pretty shattered on this race. He said he was a bit worried because some of the other runners seemed to have run 150 mile races before and a few 100s. I told him to stick with it and keep it easy. Don’t worry and focus on checkpoint to checkpoint. I think that’s what I said – at least I hope so!!
During the first section there was lots of tarmac and while the route went through a relatively urban area it was really well kept towpath and surroundings (litter free canal towpaths and signs proudly announcing that they were litter picked by various local groups). Contrast this to the London end of the Grand Union Canal which is used by both the GUCR and KACR, and which is absolute filth. For a few moments, I remembered how angry I felt during that section on both of those races (fortunately the overwhelming positivity and great experiences I had during those races could not be swamped by the litter and my feelings of wanting to gouge the eyes out of anyone who drives to the canal and empties their household and commercial rubbish for others to clean.
But I digress……
The towpath and the scenery was as I remembered. Simply beautiful. I knew that I would have a thoroughly enjoyable time. I resolved that I was going to do the best job of eating and drinking that I could. I would be the best eater and drinker EVER in the history of canal racing. I was using water – pure simple water – plus separate S-CAPs for electrolytes to supplement the salts and minerals etc I would get from the 100 callipos and other food and drink I would have over the next day and a bit.
I was also using my new Salomon Sense Ultra 8 race vest that I bought from Alton Sports. Absolutely perfect and meant that I had everything I needed for the race, where I needed to store it. After a little while it began to rain. It was still sunny so I thought I would just carry on without stopping to put my jacket on. It was lovely to be jogging through the rain and I was really loving life. Five minutes later the rain didn’t abate and got harder, and the sky greyed over.
Time to put the jacket on. I was using a La Sportiva Hail jacket for the race and it was a new one this summer for me having found that my old Kalenji one from Decathlon was way past it’s best. Soon my jacket came back off again as it heated up and the rain stopped. I remembered to drink, and I resolved to eat early – unlike on KACR when I found I didn’t want to eat much til later on. I took a longhaul endurace Sweet potato and Quinoa pouch. The previous time I had one of these it tasted nutty (sesame seed as it happens!) but this time my taste buds made it taste much more like a vegetarian version of the chicken and turmeric one.
I came across Richard again and he was feeling worse for wear. He was saying he had stomach cramps. I told him to walk a little bit, and offered a couple of s-caps which he took. I wished him well and carried on. I hoped to see him later or at least on the finisher board – sadly he pulled out around halfway. I hope he will be back!
Checkpoint 2 – Br34 – Ring O Bells – 25.7 miles – 10:45 – 10:50 – (4h45m)
I came into the checkpoint and the first thing I said was…..
“I think you need to be on calippo duty!!!!!”.
It was warm. Warmer than I expected and I felt sweat on my forehead. I was going to need ice and calippos. I swapped out my bottles. Took some crisps and some more sweets. Always good to have a selection!
I was feeling reasonably good anyway so I carried on along the towpath. After a while I caught up with Fi and Carl who were running closely together and had a few words. I ran a little with Carl and had a catch up about his KACR race (which he hasn’t completed yet and was the reason he had entered LLCR the day afterwards).
After a while he decided to drop back a little leaving me to trot on. Eventually I was looking for a bridge that didn’t exist so I went over the one that did (after some confusion on my part) and then spotted an ice cream opportunity! RESULT! I noticed that the instructions for this race were much easier and fewer in number than for GUCR and KACR but that it does help to apply a bit of common sense…. WAKE UP BRAIN!
Posh Cheshire ice cream was on the menu. I really wanted a calippo. FFS. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ICE CREAM OUTLETS! I don’t think I was fully able to conceal my disappointment to the young woman behind the counter, but nevertheless I was going to have to make do with Strawberry full dairy ice cream in a tub.
I managed to throw all of my change on the floor but I had an ice cream in my mitts! Result! I resolved to walk until I finished the ice cream. While I was doing this, Fi caught up with me. It was lovely to see her and have a chat. We pushed each other on for a bit. During a walking break I said that I was going to have a brief moan – I complained about my piriformis hurting but I was going to MTFU and manage it.
Jog, jog, walk walk, whine about piriformis…… Fi suggested I ram my thumb into my arse and pulsate it. I did that and she reminded me that the pain wouldn’t necessarily get worse and that she had suffered 40 miles with her piriformis on a previous race. With my thumb pulsating in my arse cheek I was taking my mind off the pain and also giving myself something to focus on other than whining about it!
Crew point – Br42 Apley Bridge – 30.5 miles – 11:50 – 11:53 (5h50m)
Eventually I spotted my crew, who said that Javed had been asking how far I was behind him…. I think they told him 5 minutes and he had got a scoot on I saw Fi carry on through. She was running strong. I hoped I would share some miles with her later on.
My crew hadn’t managed to pick up any lolly-ice or callipo but I grabbed a few other bits and pieces, changed my water, had some lucozade and trotted on. It was still warm weather. I was feeling positive and enjoying the race. The canal is just SOOOOO pretty! I thought to myself how lucky I was to be able to run on a bank holiday weekend along a beautiful canal and to see my friends and wife regularly.
After a while I came into a town and had to do a funny bridge manoeuvre before heading onto the left hand side of the canal in a slightly different direction. At this point I had caught up and been caught by another runner so we mulled our decision before carrying on. Part of me remembered this section from 2016. But I didn’t know whether than was for good or bad reasons! Anyway, I pretty much thought “fuck it” and went with my gut instinct……
My stomach hurt. It was cramping. I needed the loo. I had to walk for a mile or so to avoid an “accident”. Eventually I spotted a toilet and went in. After a long stop I came back out and spotted Javed Bhatti who carried on running – we said a brief hello.
I spotted my crew. My mate graham was here with susie and vanessa. I grabbed a couple of fruit pastille lollies. While my crew filled my hat with ice, Allan Rumbles turned up and took some ice. I quickly headed off. Fi also had a fruit pastille lolly – she was there before me!
I then cracked on. This was the section where there were some locks to climb. I decided against jogging the flat bits and just walked this section because I find changes in pace over a short distance really mess me up. So I kept a good walking pace and passed a few other runners. I have really practiced my powerhike and I can get a good pace going.
The weather was warm and I remembered that there was a pub further up. So I got some money ready and leapt at the chance to order a packet of crisps and a half lager shandy. There were some cyclists and others outside the pub and they were amazed that I had come from Liverpool that morning. I polished off my shandy. They wished me luck and I was on my way. I walked to the top of the lock section and then as the towpath turned a corner I dropped into a jog which I kept up for a while. Eventually I arrived at the next checkpoint. Aware that I had probably taken a while to get here!
Checkpoint 3 – Br63 Red Rock Bridge – 40.2 miles – 14:24 – 14:26 – (8h24m)
I came into the aid station and there were several runners in the aid station. I spotted Javed and Fi who I think were both eating. I grabbed some ice. Changed my water. Had a strawberry milkshake. I took some crisps (monster munch), a longhaul chicken and turmeric pouch and some fruit pastille lollies and headed off again.
I am grateful to my crew that I was able to get in and out of aid stations in 2 minutes flat! Really well tuned crew these days It was going to be about 5 miles to the next time I would see my crew so I cracked on. It was just over an hour until I spotted them again.
They had found it hard to find the “right” bridge but they were roughly in the right place and I was grateful for some crisps and a mixed bag of sweets/nuts plus a change of water. I pressed on. It was just over 45 miles in and I was feeling quite good still at this stage and I could feel that the weather was just how I wanted it. Not too warm and not too cold.
After a little while I made it to the Br88 Whithnell Fold crew point (50 miles in and at 16:46 – leaving at 16:50). Graham and Susie were here. They were brandishing all kinds of goodies. I took a banana milkshake which was delicious and I grabbed my usual combination of crisps, and sweets. I again swapped my water over (though I hadn’t really drunk much over this last section and I was scolded by my crew for not having done so). I somehow managed to practically fall over a cliff edge piece of tarmac! I’m so bloody clumsy!
I dutifully drank a litre of water (while protesting……) and then shoved off. They quite rightly wouldn’t let me go until I had drunk – especially since I had 10 miles before the next time I would see them (though I did have a checkpoint (no crew allowed) slap bang in the middle (and which I did take advantage of for a filll up of water!)
Checkpoint 4 – Br96a Navigation Pub – 55.1 miles – No crew allowed here
I arrived at Navigation Pub – remembering vividly from last time I ran in the race. Last time it was dark when I went through here. This time it was still light. I stopped for some water and then I pushed on. No crew was allowed here anyway so I just ran through with a few nods to the volunteers and some of the other runners who I recognised. I took the opportunity to drink and eat some of my snacks while I walked swiftly, and after a few hundred yards I broke into a trot again.
Soon I was switching over a bridge and onto another branch (I think!) and some bits of up. I remembered again from last time. I was having a nice little trot, and sometimes I would drop into a strong power hike. I find the way to deal with these distances is to not push it too hard and just keep it nice and easy.
I was pleased it was still light and I was doing well. Occasionally I would pass by Debbie Jewson, before dropping to a walk, and then she would pass me. We carried on like this for several miles – she seemed pretty strong going up the slight inclines that I was deciding that I would much rather walk!
Crewpoint – Bridge 107a Norden Bridge – 60.8 miles – 19:23 – 19:40 (13h23m)
I came into this crewpoint after what felt like quite a tough section and I was feeling tired. It was still warm but I could see that it was going to get cold soon but I was still hot and I was sweaty. I reckoned I would have about an hour or so before it went dark and figured that I might be able to make it 5 more miles before sitting down for food, taking the opportunity to change into night-time clothes and getting my head-torch on.
My crew point a swift end to the plan that I hatched in my head….
“The next point is 10 miles away”
I had a mild WTF moment and had a moan. This wasn’t what I was planning. I must have been a right drama queen. They basically told me to man the fuck up and get on with it.
I really didn’t want 10 miles before eating or changing. They tried to get me to change at this point but it didn’t feel right. We discussed back and forth for 10 or so minutes while I changed bottles and took some food for my pack.
Anyway as I headed out for the next section after a few steps I realised that I did need to change to long sleeves after all. It was cold. And I didn’t want to change on the side of the towpath in the dark by torchlight. So I took another few minutes sorting out before I headed off on the towpath again with my night time long sleeve gear and led arm bands and main head-torch on my head (albeit not switched on).
And off I trotted…..
I could see the brothers in front of me. I had been catching up with them at their stops with their crews, and then generally they would then jog past me again. I had seen them a few hundred yards ahead – glimpses here and there. I went past a sign saying footpath closed and diversion. I ignored it. I was sure that there was only one diversion mentioned still in force. I went past another sign saying closed. I ignored that too. Even though both were clean and new I figured that there were not in operation.
Eventually the two brothers were running back towards me saying it was closed ahead. We used their iphone to navigate back on to a road and around the closure and back onto the towpath and straight back onto the correct side of the canal. We saw Debbie running ahead of us about 200 yards. She obviously worked it out before we did. That perhaps tells you something about men and women!
We came up to another diversion through a pub car park and this is one I remembered from the previous time I had run this race. This was easy and were were in the centre of town again (with some fairly happy people hanging around and who were really excited that we were running from Liverpool).
Checkpoint 5 – Business First Car park – 70.6 miles – 22:12 – 22:35 (16h12m)
I came jogging into the checkpoint. I remembered this one from the last time I attempted the race back in 2016. I soon saw my crew.
“I’m having a sleep. 10 minutes. First… I want a pot noodle, and a blanket over me while I sit in the car”.
My crew was marvellous. They had already made my pot noodle (a curry one! My wife didn’t want to give me anything too spicy) and allowed it to cool enough for me to get it down me. They changed my bottles and did the checkpoint admin and let me get my food down before a ten minute sleep. I find a little shuteye (regardless of whether I actually fall asleep) is a great boost which lasts for hours. I had no idea at the time whether I was on track for my A, B, or C goals and I didn’t much care. In my experience the last 20 miles of the race is what makes the difference and how you can approach those final miles.
This next bit had a section that I had previously found difficult in 2016 – and it was as it rose away from the canal. The instructions were to go through the underpass and follow the towpath east signs. There were a couple of times I was doubtful of my direction choices, but eventually I got to a bit that i remembered well from the last time I was here and soon I was scurrying across the road (taking good care not to get mowed down) and then up the steps and down a fairly steep slope eventually leading back to the canal. I stopped on the side of the canal for about 20 billion wee wees
I came up to the diversion that was pre-published and expected a set of steps after the bridge. There were none. So I had to go back on myself a few yards to walk up the steps before the bridge. Jogged past a couple of security dudes and over the bridge. I had checked out the diversion on google street view beforehand so I knew exactly where to go. I went past a (closed KFC, pizza hut and mcdonalds!!! Argh! Unlucky!)
I soon made it to the roundabout and over the next bridge. On the way over I saw that the path I was supposed to take back onto the canal was closed off. So I figured I would have to go past it and find an alternative. I did for a few moments consider whether I could either squeeze through or climb over but I would probably have fallen over and cracked my head – I’m so clumsy!
I entered what looked like an entrance to an industrial area and a car park at the end. I had sensed I would probably find a set of steps upwards – and there they were! Lots of them! At the half way point there was a path that headed onto the canal. I’m not sure where the other steps lead up to – maybe a bridge?
Happy I was back on the canal I ran – walked some more.
This whole section was one which I was a bit worried about. Back in 2016 I had got lost. And it was at the time impossible to work out where to do, to look at the map and instructions. I had looked on line at google streetview and done my best to memorise the route as it rises away from the canal (it disappears into a tunnel at Foulridge) and down a track and road into the village itself before rejoining the canal.
Thankfully things went more smoothly this time and I was soon on the down hill section into the village where I was meeting my crew. I took the opportunity to check my headtorch battery, and I changed it as a precaution. I had a few hours of darkness left and there’s no point messing around changing the battery on a towpath when i could do it with my crew. I had a brief stretch on the wall (my legs were a bit achy) and then I headed off again. I had said too that I would have a kip at the next aid station.
This next stretch was easy peasy along the path. It is a relatively easy section though, with blisters, there were some bits which were a little painful.
Checkpoint 6 – Salterforth Br151 – 84.1 miles – Sunday 2:35 – 3:05 – (20h35)
I came into the checkpoint – which I remember was just after the bridge (I read a few blogs afterwards from other runners who couldn’t find it for a while) but I came in and saw my crew (they gave me a pointer towards the checkpoint itself). I announced my bib number and that I was going for a power-nap. I shoved a couple of caffeine bullets in as I got into the car.
I let my crew deal with the water and food and I got in the driver’s side and had a 15 minute shut eye. It always helps so much. I also applied sudocrem to my feet, which were feeling a bit sore with blisters. (sorry vanessa for leaving sudocrem slathered tissues in your footwell!!!!). Soon I was off again feeling really refreshed. I would jog a bit and then walk a bit and then every 10 minutes (not an exaggeration) I would stop for a wee wee!
Overnight I found a beautiful peace in the countryside. I was slowly putting one foot in front of the other through the peaceful night. Some sections were really rutted. Some sections were easy and flat – and inexplicably some sections seemed to be up-hill without the use of locks!
This is a hallucination I often experience during the night on canal races. I am sure it must be the body telling the brain it wants to work and then the brain producing an apparently uphill sections to make it ok to walk. Either way, power-hiking anything that looked and felt uphill seemed to be what I wanted to do.
By this point most of the sections were 6 or 7 miles in distance in mentally it seemed more manageable in comparison to the 10 mile sections in the middle of the race. At one point I crossed over a bridge and spotted the two brothers and their crew with them. They offered me a slice of pizza! I was like “What? Really? You have PIZZA?!?!!?” I took them up on their offer and snaffled a pizza that tasted like everything I wanted in a pizza. For all of the world it tasted like a mighty meaty pizza. Later I found out it was a margherita pizza with stuffed crust. What can I say….. it was delicious and my taste buds must have been out of whack to have thought it was meat
My blisters were hurting and this section had some pretty badly rutted towpath which was driving me up the wall. Every time my feet shifted in my shoes due to the rutted path, I grimaced. This was annoying but I tried to stay positive. I was enjoying this race thoroughly and I was way past where I had got to in 2016 when I had DNFd. I was counting up the bridges and it was already very much light! I finally came across my crew. They were hanging out at a bridge at approximately 95 miles in.
Br174 Thorlby Swing Bridge – 95.4 miles – Sunday 6:50 – 6:56 – (24h50)
The two brothers left the checkpoint just ahead of me as I came in. I had a bollocking for not drinking enough water…. (AGAIN!) and I asked for a longhaul endurance pouch – specifically a chicken and turmeric one. I had been stuffing these as much as I could. Susie had to go running back to the car for one. So tasty and while I love the sweet potato and quinoa ones, the slightly spicier chicken and turmeric are definitely my favourite. I took some more crisps and my pouch with me and cracked on.
More footpath and busy road in the distance, and eventually I was running along some railings next to a road. I spotted Carl (i think) having a snooze in the car. Meanwhile I cracked on. The weather was favourable. I whacked another caffeine bullet in and off I went. I don’t know whether these things actually do anything but I do seem to move better about 20 minutes after stuffing one in my face (it takes about 20 minutes to chew one into submission!). The canal became more urban and I soon reached another bridge and my wife, and Vanessa.
Further on approx 5 miles i had managed to jog up to and past another runner. I felt good again and was ploughing on. The footpath was good quality and while my feet hurt when I ran, they also hurt when I walked. So I basically MTFUed and jogged along. Soon I spotted a lady at the side of the path and she jogged into the checkpoint with me for about half a mile
Checkpoint 7 – Br182a – Bradley Bridge – 100.4 miles – Sunday 8:11 – 8:16 – 26h11m
I saw a plastic bag on a seat and saw some chocolate and started rifling around in it. Then Susie said…. OiOi that’s someone else’s….. I wanted chocolate! Susie gave me her Bueno and I swear it was the most lovely thing I had eaten. I went through the usual process, gave my number at the checkpoint, water etc.
Not much point hanging around. I thanked Graham who had been crewing for about 20 hours at this point and he went home. It was great to see him and I was wondering what he thought of his first taste of crewing. I cracked on. It was generally good quality towpath. Crushed gravel and very even. Run, jog, walk and everything else in between. Occasionally I would stop to stretch my legs out by bending over and crouching down. It really felt nice.
There were a few runners out by now. Some fast looking athletic types. Occasionally we would share nods of acknowledgement and other times they would be engrossed in their tempo run and drills. Sometimes a jogger would go past me one way and then the other as if mocking my slow pace.
Bridge 191a – Silsden – 104.5 miles – Sunday 9:30 – 9:35 – (27h30)
This was in town and I was handed the most delicious thing…. a petrol station special breakfast of a breakfast sandwich! Lush! As it was raining I popped my jacket on, while avoiding cyclists being bad citizens by cycling under a bridge and soon I was off again.
The canal soon left the urban bits behind, and became a little more green. I was loving the countryside.
Soon I was descending through a lock system and I spotted the Jenkins brothers and their crew. I had the offer of a doughnut. As appealing as that genuinely sounded to me, I didn’t think I deserved one (WTAF!?!?!) and i carried on. At the bottom of the lock system there was a chapin the pouring down rain with a brolly insisting that the chap in front of me was just round the corner and that I could easily catch him because he wa fucked….. And looking at 5pm finish.
Whatever…. I was running my own race. Jogging when I could and walking when I couldn’t. I trick I was employing was to make sure I was eating and drinking whenever I was walking. But I didn’t have anything I fancied. I took some strawberry sweets and immediately wished I had grabbed a doughnut when I had one offered to me. For a few moments I wondered if I should go back up the hill to get one…. Then I realised I was an idiot and pressed on to the next checkpoint.
I was wet. Really wet. Everything was grey. The rain was fine and everywhere. It was that kind of rain that means that you get soaked within minutes. I was trudging along a very soggy towpath and wondering just how many hours I was going to take to get to the end while the bridge numbers counted up slowly. I was nearing on the final aid station before the last 12 or so miles to the end.
Checkpoint 8 – Bridge 209a – 114.5 miles – Sunday 12:50 – 12:58 (30h50m)
I arrived at a gazebo in an industrial estate. If I was not doing a canal race I would have found this a rather sorry site, but as this was the final aid station it was like an oasis in the desert. Except on this canal race it was like a desert in an oasis given the amount of rain that had pissed down on me over the last few hours.
I came into the gazebo to find the Jenkins brothers there, with their crew, plus canal race volunteers and other runners. I sat on a chat at the edge of the gazebo. I was still getting rained on and it was freezing as I sat there. I grabbed some crisps from my crew and some other food in shoved it in my pack. I didn’t
I had a choice. It was wet and cold. I could have trudged the rest of the way well within the cut off – or I could man up and run when I could. I chose the latter. I downed 4 caffeine bullets (400mg of caffeine in 4 minty chews) and went off like a mentalist. I’d run for what seemed like ages…. And then I’d walk for a bit, and then repeat and then after awhile I would see a stone mile-marker post counting up the distance to liverpool, and down the miles to Leeds. I could tell from this that there were about 6 miles left.
I soon met my crew at the next point. It was very wet by this point but I was feeling great. My feet hurt like shit but they would hurt for less time if I moved faster. Running at this stage wasn’t as painful as walking and it was a damned sight faster (well, a bit faster anyway!). I briefly sat in the drivers seat for brief respite from the rain. Didn’t bother changing my water bottles, but I did get rid of all the empty packets of junk I had and after a few minutes got moving again.
As was becoming a pattern, I would walk for about a quarter mile from a crew point and then start jogging. I would see a marker up ahead and challenge myself to run at a good pace up to and past it as far as I could. Sometimes I would just make it to that point, and sometimes I would will myself to go further and stick with it until it became too much. This was the pattern that I settled into.
My wife had insisted it was 4 miles to the end. The last marker I had seen before I met them had said 6.25 miles. I had decided to believe the marking stones instead. If it came up short then it would be a bonus
I was aiming for Bridge 226. Bridges came and went. Things that looked like Bridges came and went (but without the reward of a bridge number to count off). Things that looked like they were once bridges came and went. Things that I wished were bridges passed. All the time the bridge numbers were counting up slower and slower. I jogged when I could but mostly walked.
At this point I checked the bridge numbers on the map…… 225….. 225a, 225b…..225c…. All the way up to H. Joy of joys!!!
Finally with what I estimated about a quarter mile to go I got a jog on and rounded the bend in the canal to see the finish line gantry.
And off i went….. As fast as my little legs would carry me.
Crossing under the finish line gantry was an amazing feeling.
Dick was there waiting to put a medal around my neck.
Finish – Br226 Office Lock – 126.8 miles – 16:15 (34h15m)
“Wow – you certainly got a trot on there!” he said as I tried to work out how to press stop on my watch.
Dick hung my finishers medal around my neck. I mumbled a few words of thanks and appreciation for the organisers of the race and the volunteers and then had a hug with my wife – Susie – and Vanessa and had a sit down and asked for a coffee with “all of the sugar and all of the milk”.
Hanging around the finish Gazebo
It was the best coffee I had had for ages! It was nice to be able to sit down with no time pressures. I glanced at the finish board. I was the 13th name on that board. Turned out my new Suunto 9 recorded the whole race, without me having to charge it, and it was recording every 1 second and still had 13% left. That makes it good for 40 hours approx on the absolutely best GPS setting without resorting to the clever battery settings that it has available on it. Recommend highly!
I had a scan for some of those ahead of me…. I saw that the Jenkins brothers had finished about 25 minutes ahead of me (I had seen quite a bit of them during the race and their crew had been marvellous). I also saw that Javed Bhatti was not yet on the board.
I’d been chatting at the start with Javed, and I think between the two of us as there was an hour on the Canalslam that separated us, we both wanted to make sure we finished ahead on this race. I had seen him running strongly on this race and in front for quite a bit of the first day. I hoped he was ok.
I sat around chatting and soon Allan Rumbles and David Allan came in to the end. Allan had had a good race and I was pleased to see the old codger!
Reflections on the Canalslam
It was still sinking in. I’d finished the LLCR130. Which I had previously in 2016 DNFd. I felt quite a sene of achievement, and that was before Canalslam result – which it turned out gave me 5 / 9 ranking of those who completed the race series in terms of time. Just over 113 hours.
This race series – is a special one. Run between the end of May and the end of August it leaves little to chance. Anything other than a minor injury and that’s it up the swanny.
Grand Union Canal Race – 145 mile from Birmingham to London
Kennet and Avon Canal Race – 145 miles from Bristol to London
Liverpool Leeds Canal Race – 130 miles from Liverpool to Leeds
These are races with a small number of entrants – no more than 100 runners – and so friendly. Some runners have crews and supporters along the route and there is a custom of each helping each other out. Other runners crews have given me many cold drinks, or offered me food, and my crew have handed out calippos, ice and drinks and food to others. It’s what makes it special. Everyone is in the same boat (figuratively speaking) and happy to lend a hand.
In a world of big brash commercialised races these are a great series to support into the future. If you haven’t taken part in any of these races, consider entering. They have all of what you need and nothing that you don’t. Finishing the Canalslam 2018 is my biggest achievement so far. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do it, and an amazing group of good friends and my wife to crew me on my races this year. Love you all xx
Strava link – https://www.strava.com/activities/1801121392
Thanks to everyone who has helped me. I couldn’t have done it without any one of you! x
- Paul Pickford (Buddy Runner – GUCR)
- Tracey Watson (Buddy Runner – GUCR)
- Spencer Milbery (Buddy Runner – KACR)
- Lou Fraser (Crew – GUCR, KACR)
- Vanessa Armond (Crew – GUCR, KACR, LLCR)
- Pete Watson (Crew – GUCR)
- Susan Bradburn (wife and crew – GUCR, KACR, LLCR)
- Marek Kowalek (Crew – GUCR)
- Lee Kelly (Crew – KACR)
- Graham Cleary (Crew – LLCR)
- Mimi Anderson (Coach) – http://www.marvellousmimi.com/
- My mum and dad (looking after us in Widnes before LLCR)
- Rockstar Sport (http://rockstar-sport.com) for continued support and great gear!
- Caffeine Bullet (www.caffeinebullet.com/ – 15% off with BradBuriedAlive code)
All the other runners – including those who I have shared some miles with
The other runners crews who gave me drinks and food, and encouragement
And most of all, the amazing Canalrace CIC who organise the races – Thanks Keith Godden, Dick Kearn and Wayne Simpson and the amazing volunteers too! You’re all special and you put on an amazing set of races! Thank you!
Check out the dates for the three Canalslam races in 2019 – here
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