Written by Scott Harris - http://runninganimo.com/

77k/48 miles with 1000 metres ascent around the island of Jersey

Cancelled!? What does that mean? It took my mind a few moments to realise that Flybe had cancelled my flight 10 minutes before boarding. There wasn’t time to hang around swearing and I was quickly on the move to see if I could get on another flight. Fortunately I was able to though it wasn’t scheduled to leave until 17:45 having already being delayed by an hour. It was a long stressful wait in the airport knowing that there would be a good chance the flight would be delayed even longer or maybe Flybe would decide to cancel this one as well. It was delayed for another 30 minutes, so now instead of arriving in Jersey at 15:00 I wasn’t going to arrive until after 19:00. Great!

Instead of a relaxing afternoon I was 4 hours behind. It was very frustrating and I felt like I was in a constant rush never being able to distance my mind from the race. Sorting out my kit, then my drop bag, going over my race plan, checking the weather forecast whilst eating, making sure I didn’t take on too much or I’d have trouble sleeping as soon as I had everything ready. It probably wasn’t until around 23:00 I cursed Flybe one last time and managed to fall asleep.

5 hours of solid sleep as I rose at 04:00. I had a couple bananas and an energy bar for breakfast, checked the weather and got ready. I still wasn’t sure about the weather so around 05:00 I decided to go for a jog around the hotel car park. It helped make my mind up and I was set. Soon it was time to head down to the start line, give in my drop bag which I’d see a few hours later and wait. I bumped into Paul Burrows who was running around the island 7 times in 7 days. We had a quick chat and I wished him good luck on his mammoth challenge.

Everyone lined up ready for the start at 06:00. I went over my race plan in my head proving to myself that I memorised it sufficiently. I had average paces in mind for the first 3 aid stations and was happy that I’d be able to achieve these. We set off and I ignored all those that went off faster than me, if I can stick to my plan or almost stick to it I’d have a great day. Head down, now and then looking at my GPS watch to ensure I wasn’t running too fast. Something was wrong. All the stress and nervous energy I had been feeling whilst at the airport was still there. My stomach felt unsettled which made it hard to focus. I wasn’t moving too badly but I wasn’t happy at all. Thankfully I knew where a public toilet was just before Gorey. I was grateful but lost a few minutes.

I wanted to make up the time I lost but I knew it would be stupid to do so immediately, so I had to be patient and make up the 5/6 minutes I lost over the rest of the race. It was difficult knowing I was behind but I stayed patient and kept my speed steady, but for some reason I still wasn’t able to focus as my stomach remained unhappy. I got to the first aid station at St Catherines  (17.44k/10.9 miles) in around 1 hour 22 minutes so I wasn’t quite as far behind as I thought I was. But things weren’t going well as I started on the trail. I didn’t know if my stomach was hungry or upset so I didn’t want to eat anything. I changed the settings on my watch so I was viewing the route rather than the speed and distance as it would just stress me out.

There was no way I was finishing the race without eating. I had a shot blok; it felt okay so I had another a few minutes later, but I was convinced that my stomach would be dictating the pace of the race today. Many negative thoughts filled my mind as I struggled on to La Fontaine where my drop bag was waiting. Why do I run? Why do I spend so much time and money doing this? It was looking bad but I kept going. I walked some of the steps to be surprised that I couldn’t run immediately afterwards. I walked a hill I would normally run up easily. It really was disturbing how much I was struggling so early on into the run. I even thought about sitting down at one point on the tempting benches that I passed along the cliff path now and then.  I wasn’t thinking it, but I knew somewhere in my mind was the knowledge that you don’t quit when you feel bad, you don’t stop moving, you will feel better again, it will pass; where do you want to be when that happens? Having already thrown in the towel, or on the trail running?

I had some flat coke and some watermelon once I reached La Fontaine (35km/22 miles). I was still negative and questioning myself for drinking coke thinking that would mess up my stomach more but it didn’t. Shortly after leaving my stomach began to settle, I was able to focus and my legs started to gain rhythm. Yes!. It didn’t take long until I was feeling great and started moving with ease. I saw a runner ahead and overtook them. Soon I saw two more, overtaking them both on a steep hill running as they walked. I questioned myself for doing so and slowed to a walk before reaching the top realising I still felt good, so started running again. I pushed on.

I arrived at Grosnez (47k/29.8miles) to be told I was in 3rd place to my complete surprise. I had a couple pieces of fresh pineapple, some more flat coke and moved on excited by being in 3rd. I knew 1st was a long way ahead but 2nd was only a few minutes in front. I decided against going after him, I’d just stick to my own pace and hope they would come back to me. I was very pleased to find the tide was in on the west of the island. I had already decided to run on the road rather than the beach due to a niggle I had a few weeks earlier. Running on sand isn’t fun at the best of times and I was sure it was going to pull on my calf and cause it to tighten. With the tide in the runners in front wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the slighter shorter distance the beach offers.

My mind was still focused and I was moving well. It was flat and easy to run but was quite tough to do so, I kept going knowing I’d soon be able to slow down once I got back on the trail. Someone beeped their horn as they drove by. I waved not really sure who it was. Moments later Bryce was stood there waiting for me. It had been lonely race up to this part so  it was great to have someone to chat to for a few minutes as Bryce asked how I felt and updated me on the guys in front. Thanks Bryce!

I got to the final aid station, Beauport (62.4k/39 miles) feeling pretty good. I knew there wasn’t much further to go. I just had to keep running and I might be able to see 2nd place soon.  I had more fresh fruit and flat coke with my stomach feeling absolutely fine. I left still feeling good though struggling to work out how long it would take me to get to the finish. Just keep moving I told myself.

I passed through St Aubin knowing it would soon be over. At this point I’d taken my singlet off concerned that I might get a cut nipple due to chaffing. Apologies to the people of Jersey for running half naked, but I took a guess that would be a more pleasant sight than blood streaming down my body clearly visible through my white t-shirt. I could roughly see where the finish line was and ran as fast from St Aubin to the finish line as I had all day.

I crossed the finish line in 3rd place in a time of 6:46:13 taking 50 minutes and 45 seconds off from last years time. That felt good, real good. To think how bad I felt for the first 3 hours and now I was stood at the finish line having run over 50 minutes faster than last year. It turns out I managed to run a negative split by about 2 minutes as well, obviously due to struggling early on in the race, but negative splitting an ultra feels awesome. Those negative questions I asked myself early on in the race were emphatically answered upon crossing the finish line.

It’s a great race and the 4th time I’ve taken part. At one point I actually said “wow” out loud as I was admiring the scenic coastline over my shoulder.  It’s a beautiful island, a well organised race and I’ll no doubt be back again next year. I keep getting faster each year so fingers crossed I can maintain that record.

Thanks to Digby and everyone else for organising the race and all the helpful volunteers at the aid stations.

Big thanks to my parents for supporting me and looking after me after finishing.

And well done to Paul for running Round the Rock 7 times in 7 days!

Race website hereand relax

Full results here

My run on Strava here

Thanks to the guidance from Sandi and Sage over the recent months.

Written by Rob Pinnington - http://ardrobsrunning.blogspot.de/

Finally after what seems like an age (but is only fifteen months), five thousand kilometres of training and three failures (Spartathlon 2013, The Hill 2013 & Tortourderuhr 2014) I have finished a 200km race and got a medal, a t shirt and a bottle of Newkie Brown!
ROB 'Is that it? A medal and a shirt'
DAVE 'There's a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale in the goody bag'
ROB 'BEER! Excellent! I'm happy now

 

 

It has been a long journey of rediscovery, rediscovering what the secret to the finishing of a plus 200km race.

 
1)    Some said fitness. Could be, but I am fitter than ever before. I have a very low resting heart rate and over the past year a built a lot more speed. I have lost weight, as well, at least seven kilograms.
2)    Some said mental toughness. Could be, but I have been through a lot of bad stuff which I won't list here because of its personal nature and I don't want to get into a competition. During all this I have managed to keep my life in a sensible order.
3)    Some said physical toughness. Could be, but I run through a lot of pain. I am mystified by why people complain about blisters and currently have a hernia.
4)    Some said the personal desire. Could be, but a Spartathlon finish is one of the things I desire most.
 
In my previous blog, I noted that food, or rather lack of it, during a race causes my desire to finish to vanish. I had been told this before. To quote 'if you are feeling lethargic, slow down, refuel and then start again.' Somehow I had missed this tip or just ignored it. Tim Noakes writes in the Lore of Running that the 'symptoms of hypoglycaemia include...an intense desire to stop running....the athlete senses the impossibility of completing the race.'
 
With this in mind I prepared lots of food for Mark Cockbain's Coast to Coast Ultra. Gels, energy bars, rice puddings, crisps, scratchings and cheese, lots and lots of cheese. I put this all onto a plan and added up the calorific content, it was nearly twenty thousand. A lot for a normal two days, but as I was going to be running for nearly thirty eight hours at a burn rate of five hundred calories an hour, it is about right. The Ugly Unt questioned if I could eat all this without throwing up but I rarely throw up...it is a waste of beer and food if you ask me.
 
I gave this plan to my crew with the instruction to ensure I ate this amount as a minimum. This is an appropriate point to mention my crew and thank them for their fantastic service. My son Ross, who crewed for me on the ill fated Tortourderuhr attempt, and Chrissy, my most excellent wife, for whom this was her first crewing duty. They were great throughout the race and kept me going, offering food and encouragement all the way. I really can't express my thanks enough for what they did. I better stop with the praise now, otherwise I will be far too soppy.
 
My loyal crew
 
We left Germany on the Tuesday before the race and traveled to Ijmuiden in the Netherlands to catch the sleeper ferry across to Newcastle. Arriving on Wednesday morning we drove to a pleasant Bed and Breakfast place in Embleton. The next few days were spent doing a bit of course reconnaissance and a lot of casual touring.
 
After I posted the link to the tracker for the race on Facebook I received some excellent encouragement that helped me focus. I also received a few personal messages that really rammed home that I had a lot of backing among my friends in the running community. Either that or I was being guilt tripped into finishing :-)
 
A couple hit home
 
‘I love the way you just list your performance on the DNF as it happened... your blog doesn't just inspire, it reassures’
 
I was also told 

‘You Got This’
 
And 

'You had better nail this race as Mark has put this on especially for Sparta training '
 
These really inspired me. 


My complete kit list for the race was quite simple.
 
·       A couple of hats.
·       A Sparta buff.
·       A Montane Minimus jacket.
·       A Care Keep Warm top for coldest time of the night.
·       An Asics long sleeve top with sleeve mittens that I bought in 1998.
·       A couple of technical t shirts from various races.
·       A pair of leggings by Alex.
·       A couple of pairs of shorts by Adidas.
·       A couple of pairs Sealskins socks for the rain.
·       A couple of pairs Wright socks.
·       A couple of pairs of Drymax socks.
·       A pair of Asics GEL-Trail Lahar 5 G-TX shoes.
·       A pair of Asics GT 2000 shoes.
·       A Adidas sports watch with just the time displayed in very large numbers
·       Two backpacks with large bladders. (one was a gift from a friend and another was a gift from a marathon)
 
When we woke up the weather was bad. It was bucketing down. Therefore I chose to start the race wearing the following items
 
·       A hat from the 2012 Frankfurt marathon.
·       The Asics long sleeve top.
·       A lime green technical t shirt from Jungfrau marathon 2006.
·       The Montane Minimus rain jacket.
·       The Alex Leggings.
·       The Sealskins socks.
·       The Asics trail shoes.
 
I covered my feet in Lipidro cream and taped my nipples with Leukotape.  My nether regions were liberally plastered with Vaseline.
 
We picked up a packed breakfast at six am consisting of a cheese sandwich and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, arriving at the start for registration shortly afterwards.
 
 
 
 
I introduced my crew to the others there and caught up with some old friends. Alex and Mark Cockbain where already there and Mark noted my sarnie was a typical northern start to the day. Lawrence Chownsmith was there to crew for Martin Illot.  Lawrence mentioned that he had a few issues with the instructions.  He could understand that RHS meant Royal Horticultural Society but what did LHS mean? Was there a Liberal Royal Horticultural Society? Drew Sheffield was soon taking the mickey out of Jon Steele’s Hokas, announcing the sale of the firm to Tommy Hilfiger and the cancellation of all the star runner contracts. He does this so convincingly that even an old cynic like me was fooled.
 
Chris Rainbow expressed concern that the tracker might interfere with his pacemaker. This turned out to be completely unfounded as he finished second.
 
Riccardo Giussani a veteran of the Hill and Viking way was there sharing crew with Dave Fawkner.
 
Jason Lewis and Tom Forman were both very ebullient making everyone laugh.
 
Marks briefing was short and simple and can be summed up as don't be an idiot and finish in time. Tom Forman was at the start line in the pouring rain in a cotton t shirt and shorts. I thought what an idiot. He is not going last long, just like on the Hill.
 
 
Jon Steele shook my hand at the start just to assure me that he wasn't going to beat me up like my hallucinations made me think he wanted to on the Hill.
 
 
 
As we started I missed Jon Steele going to the water’s edge and almost falling in. He had to be rescued by Dave Fawkner and others.
 
As I ran off I was soon regretting wearing so much, as although it was raining heavily, it was rather warm. Within a mile or so I had to strip to the waist to remove the long sleeve top and put that along with my rain jacket in my backpack. Perhaps Tom was not such an idiot after all.
 
During this exercise I was overtaken by everyone else, ending up in last a position, something I clung onto with a savage desperation for much of the race. Fortunately Steve Gordon was on unofficial sweeping duties and pickup my bum bag carrying my food for the first ten miles.
 
We started a slow climb and reached the first crew point at Lamplugh School. Confusingly for the crews Lamplugh School is not in Lamplugh. I changed backpacks and got a new bum bag of food.
 
Me and Chrissy at Lamplugh
 
At this point I had caught up with Ricky and Dave and we ran on together for a while. Dave was constantly checking the map which drove me a little crazy...I don't know why but it did. I would be very thankful later on for his skills on that map. The first or last person of our group was shouting the warning 'car!' as one approached. This soon degenerated into cries of 'broom broom' and other childish nouns. It seemed very funny at the time.
 
I met my crew at a place called Watered just past the creepy named Fangs Brow Farm. This has magnificent views of Loweswater. This stunning vista caused a lack of attention as I didn't change backpacks, which turned out to be a mistake.
 
As we climbed even higher to the Whinlatter pass I lost Dave and Riccardo as they were far too strong for me on the hills. It was about here that I chatted to the great charity raiser Tony the Fridge running sans fridge. I noted that his name is grammatically incorrect and should be Tony and the Fridge. He told me the fridge gets lots of weird messages via twitter.
 
The torrential rain started again and that combined with lack of rain jacket and no food or water was seriously dragging my mood down. I passed a road sign saying only two miles to the pass and was a little cheered although I had the shakes on by now.
 
I came to a turning to go on to an off road section that was manned by the bright and cheery Drew and Claire.
 
'Only two miles to the pass' shouted Drew.
 
'Ah fek' I thought, 'either he is over estimating or I am not going to make it by the cut off.'
 
Although Mark had said in his briefing that as this was the first running the internal cut offs didn't matter, I was still concerned and this was upsetting me even more.

I eventually came to the end of the trail to see Mark pointing the way on the turning. It was raining heavily and he was standing there soaked to the skin looking as if this was normal. The man is impervious to rain.
 
'Just down to the bottom, turn left up the hill and right at the top'
 
Typical! Another hill.
 
I reached the car park and saw Chrissy sheltering under the hatchback of our CRV. Normally seeing her would cheer me up but I was in no mood for positivity.
 
.'You are doing brilliantly, well done.'
 
I was last, soaked to the skin, freezing, hungry, thirsty and it had taken me four hours fifty to cover twenty four miles. How can that be brilliant?
 
I barely acknowledged my crew as I stripped off my top and frantically searched for a dry one and something to eat. I shrugged Chrissy away as she tried to dry me off with a towel. I was throwing things around in the back of the car like a spoilt child chucking his toys out of the pram.
 
As I turned to storm over to Alex to register my late arrival Chrissy said
 
'Everyone else has turned up happy and laughing with their crew. YOU!!! YOU TREAT US LIKE THAT!!!'

I felt suitably admonished...then Drew said something witty, I forget what, and as I laughed, I felt even more guilty about my behavior. I could be enjoying this and I shouldn't worry about little things. Just accept and move on with a plan...I resolved at the next crew point to be happy and smiling and to enjoy it.
 
I went over to Chrissy and Ross and apologized. I told them I would cheer up.
 
'You better' was the reply.
 
I ran off down the path to the bottom of the pass. I am better at down hills than up. I claim it is because as snowboarder I run down leaning forwards 1) to reduce the appearance of the slope and 2) to ensure that as my legs turn over my foot fall is not a breaking one. Others point out, that being such a Fat Unt, gravity pulls me down faster.
 
As I run down I am chatting to myself that I need to cheer up and see Ricky and Dave asking someone the way. The sign post had fallen over at the junction of two paths.
 
'Guys we are going downhill to Keswick it must be this way.'
 
They followed me down and laughed as I kept singing out loud 'smile, be happy, every little ting gonna be alright.'
 
The rain was getting worse but I had my rain jacket on so it wasn't too bad. In fact rain is just liquid sunshine.
 
We overtook Martin Illot who was suffering from the rain.
 
As we hit the bottom of the valley we had to cross the long flat bed of the former glacial valley. Loads of tarmac flat as pancake. l loved it as I am not really a trail runner and prefer the security of tarmac underfoot.
 
We saw Steve and Tom up ahead and soon caught up with them. As a 4*4 came around the corner Tom shouted the warning. But instead of car he exclaimed 

'Vehicle!'

'Tom you try and come across as one of the lads but really you are a posh twat. I mean who really says vehicle? '
 
'But it was a vehicle and not a car' he protested feebly.
 
It didn’t help, as I continued to take the mickey out of Posh Tom for the rest of the way into Keswick. Just as we reached Keswick, I heard the dulcet tones of James Adams behind me. He and Gemma were holiday in the region and he was greeting all the runners he saw and running to the crew point with us. I was pleased he noted I was wearing a Spartathlon T shirt, as this was the reason I was  doing this race.
.
As we reached the crew point I greeted Chrissy with a cheery smile and a big hug. I introduced her to James.

'So you are The James Adams, don't you have a book out?'
 
Chrissy meeting THE JAMES ADAMS
 
She is not even interested in running and she knows. Chrissy told me the Ugly Unt had called and said that of course I was last because I am a Fat Unt, but that also makes me a diesel engine that will just keep going.  This raised my mood even more. 
 
I quickly swapped bags this time and added a sweat shirt as we were to go off road onto the Old Coach Road which climbed steeply and was rather exposed to the wind. We soon started to the climb and I was warming up nicely...past a stone circle and then up and down through some fields. Finally I hit the Old Coach Road. This was a horrible rutted track. It was so bad it reminded me of The Hill.
 
Up and up we went. I could see six runners in front of me. Winder and wetter it got. Then they went off the Old Coach Road and I stupidly followed them. Initially the route was ok but then we had to make a sharp right to steeply clamber over bogs and barely marked foot paths.
 
I reached the next cut off point at 3:30pm about 15mins before the deadline.  Loads of runners we sitting down and refueling at the point.  I never sit down as I fear I won’t get up again. I stripped off my sweat shirt and at this point I should have changed my socks.  I didn’t change them during the whole races and this was a big mistake.
 
Amanda Goodwin and her sister were making vast qualities of tomato soup and that was a welcome break from my other food.
 
Drew Sheffield joked as he was doing the timings he could make me first.  He also complemented my crew and said I could appreciate them more.
DREW: They are a great crew love them more
 
I set off before most of the others, as being so slow I can’t afford to wait around at crew points. As I ran along to Greystoke, I overtook Jon Steele and Phil Turton and was caught by Steve Gordon. He commented on my Spartathlon t shirt and said this race was one on his bucket list. I said, rather rudely in hindsight, that I thought bucket lists were a dumb idea. I think a lot of the terminology in Ultra running is silly and I have no truck with it. This obsession with diets, shoes, drop heights, new bits of kit and technology annoys me intensely. I mean, seriously, we are here to run, not buy new toys out of boredom.
 
At the Greystoke, Chrissy swapped my bag and bum bags and then gave me a pint and packet of scratchings.  This is what had motivated me to sped to Greystoke and reaches it before the people I had left at High Brow. I was at 46miles, a third of the way in,  no longer last and feeling great.
 
 
I moved on to Great Blencow and saw Jon, Phil and their crew camped on a roadside picnic table.  Phil was feeling sorry for himself, so I clipped him around the ear and told him he was running with Jon ‘Man of’ Steele and there was no way he wouldn’t finish. I asked Shirley Colquhon, Jon’s wife, about the Chia seeds they rave on about.  She kindly gave me an energy bar containing them. How nice is that?
 
I left them and then found my energy leaving me . It was probably the pint I had at Greystoke. I was slowing a lot and Jon and Phil soon overtook me.  As they did I used my best spooky voice to creep Phil out
 
‘Drop Phil, you know you want to’
 
Thankfully he ignored me.
 
It started raining again, proper northern rain from the Lake District. I didn’t have my Montana Minimus with me as I had left it with Chrissy to dry off in the car.  Fortunately I had a red plastic poncho similar to the one I had used in DeutschLandLauf. Cheap and functional it would get me to Penrirth. I was slowing again and I knew the reason.  I greedily eat Shirley’s chia bar and my homemade energy bars as well as two gels and felt better.
 
Chrissy met me halfway down the Fells Road which is another steep incline, just after Riccardo Tom and Dave overtook me. Chrissy and I chatted as we walked up the hill, this was great and added to my positive mood. Although I was back to last I was in no way dishearten.  I felt great seeing her just and as we reached the car she gave me a chicken fillet from KFC which I ate quickly.  Food make Robbie happy!
 
I reached Langwathby at sixty miles at dusk and changed into my Care Keep Warm Top and collected my head torch. This was going to be a tough section climbing the ten miles to the top of the Hartside hill during darkness.  I was moving slowly but steadily.  I was convinced I was lost, but a quick call to Alex and Mark who saw me on the tracker raised my confidence and I plodded on. 
 
I called the Ugly Unt and we chatted complete tollox for a while .Although there had been storms up on Hartside as the leaders arrived some four hours before me, I had a clear night and saw several shooting stars. All I could think was 'wow how great was it to be alive and doing this race.'
 
I could see the headlights of the cars at the Hartside cafe above me and eventually just as I neared the summit Mark came down to greet me.
That is me coming up the hill
‘You are doing fine Rob. This is the last hill, just keep plugging on.’
 
I met Chrissy and Ross at Gargill at nearly 80 miles in and the night was perfect. As I crossed over the very highest point the stars were shining brightly and I turned my torch off to get an improved view. I could see the Milky Way and the several constellations.  I noticed that the trees were covered in a light frosting and this just added to the beauty of it all. This took away the pain in my feet.  I had been wearing waterproof socks for over twenty hours.  The blisters that had formed had burst and starting to move after a stop was painful.  I could have changed the socks but it was too late. I was frighten the skin would tear off as I changed them and expose the red raw and bleeding skin. 

I used the usual mental tricks to turn blisters into friends keeping my feet warm and stopping as little as possible.
 
I dropped down into the Miners Arm Pub in Nenthead and saw Chrissy with Dave’s crew member Ginny. I had overtaken Riccardo, Tom and Dave. It transpired they had taken a wrong turn. For those that don’t know Tom Forman is notorious for his lack of map reading skills.  My advice is not to let him near one. However Dave confessed it was his error.  We refuelled and march up yet another hill..
 
Mark another hill.
 
Chrissy drove up to mark the easy to miss turning and I soon fell behind the others and regained last place.  It was soon daylight and just before the County Durham border marked by a large stone pyramid I turned my torch off
 
Durham
I ran down to Rookhope passed some disused mine workings catching up with the others and shared my special night fuel. A bag of Worcester sauce favoured crisps with lumps of cheese in it. Tom remarked this was like rocket fuel.
 
There seemed to be hundreds of dead rabbits, birds and sheep on the road.  No idea why though. 
 
At Rookhope Amanda and Chole were cooking up bacon sarnies.  Chrissy told me earlier she couldn’t understand why they argued so much.  Then someone mentioned they were sisters, which kind of explained everything. I ate the bacon and had to get rid of the bread.
 
After Rookhope there was yet another steep climb, for which I had to turn backwards to save my quads. 
 
Mark another hill.
 
Just outside Stanhope I needed to evacuate my bowels.  Perched on a wall and I noted this meant that I was eating enough. I used a few leaves to wipe my bum and got a little itch.  Then there was another march up to Parkhead.
 
Mark another hill.
 
The climb went on forever and as I reached the top Drew and Claire said they would order a bacon sarnie and tea for me. How kind! I mentioned my feet were trashed.  Drew replied that your feet always get trashed on things like this. Which somehow seemed funny.
 
Bacon Sarnie at Parkhead
 
Mark passed me in his car and mentioned this was the last hill out of his window.  Yeah!  Like I hadn’t heard that one before.
 
I had reached the 100 mile by 9:20am or 26 hours 20 minutes I was really pleased.  Ok so that is not a fast 100 mile time by any stretch of the imagination, but the rain and hills had slowed this Fat Unt down. Chrissy gave me a kiss as I walked in and handed me the bacon sarnie. Drew was on top form as we chatted to the evil cyclists.
 
Actually I ought to mention I normally have a big problem with cyclists.  I live in Germany and run on trails and hills at weekends.  The cyclists are so rude and dangerous.  They barely say hallo or even thank you for getting out of their way and I have had arguments with them on more than one occasion. However the cyclists on this route were very polite friendly and safety conscious.
 
It was mentioned to the cyclists we were running the route which was greeted by exclamations of shock, surprise and disbelief.  I love it when that happens.
 
As I left Chrissy put my rain jacket on. As I already had my Care Keep Warm top on I thought this unnecessary, but the Waskerley Way turned out to be part of the Pennines, ‘An area of outstanding natural beauty said the sign.  Beauty, my arse!  It is a barren windswept sheep filled wasteland.  




If it is so beautiful how come no one lived there?
 
Although I left before the three musketeers, they soon overtook me. After a while I called Chrissy and she told me she was meeting me earlier than planned at the Rowley crew point some 107 miles as the other crews were there.  I was pleased with this news and had more tomato soup from the Goodwin sisters. 
 
As I left I asked Chrissy to get me three cheese burgers at the next stop in Consett. As I approached this point I was a confused as there was several possible route through the town and I wanted to get to the one that went past Tesco’s, the meeting point. I called Ross and he confirmed I was heading in the correct direction.  A cyclist tried to stop me to put me back onto what the correct route was, but I wouldn’t stop for anyone. 
 
As arrived in the car park I saw the other support crews with coffees in hand.
 
‘Chrissy is over there’
‘Hiya’
‘Hi can I have my burgers please’
‘I haven’t got them    I went for a coffee with the girls.’
Part of me wanted to scream WTF! But another part said it doesn’t matter we must keep moving. Zebra thinking, there is no point in arguing about something you can do nothing about.
 
Both of those voices were wrong. I could have, should waited for the burgers there and then.
 
Instead Chrissy pointed me to the correct route. I was a little distracted by how good she looked on no sleep and her concern for me. She did her funny little skipping run which is so cute and I completely forgot to refuel.
 
I entered a park a bit dazed and confused and had to call Mark again to determine the correct route onto the Derwent Way. I needed food and water had none. I called Chrissy and arranged to meet at the Derwent Walk Inn just off the route. I ate one of the cheeseburgers and loaded up with gels. I could have taken the other burgers with me. Another mistake! These were the only things that would stay down as the energy bars were too heavy.
 
I knew time was moving on and I wasn’t going fast enough.  I resolved to run as fast as I could ignoring the pain in my feet. I got to Rowlands Gill at 117 miles and changed out of the Care Keep Warm top and into the Spartathlon shirt which hummed something rotten, but I didn’t care.  I refuelled with gels and cheese in crisps packets.
 
Chrissy poured water over my head to cool me down and showed me the way the others had taken.  I was a bit confused but found the way back onto the Derwent walk.  I couldn’t see properly and it took me a while to realise I had lost a contact lens. 
 
I called Chrissy and asked to meeting me in Newcastle somewhere along the water front and to bring my distance glasses, ALL the gels and the other backpacked filled with water. About  this time I received a text from Mark saying he wanted to see five mile per hour from me to reach the finish in time and that I must run.
 
WHAT THE FUCK did he think I was doing? No point in wasting energy on him though,  run,  run like the wind.
 
I ran on through the never ending park to try to reach the bridge over the Tyne in a reasonable time. 
 
As I got there I overtook Laszlo Berdan from Hungary who had been walking with a broken ITB since Parkhead some twenty miles before hand. This managed to finish at just before midnight. That is dogged determination for you.
 
Riccardo caught up with me and we ran on for a while
 
Eventually I met Chrissy and Ross on the roadside.  They had moved away from the car which was not good because I might have need something they didn’t have with them. 
 
True enough they didn’t have the replacement backpack.  I didn’t panic as they quickly said they had a bottle of water to refill the one on my backpack which Ross did.  I took out the remaining contact lens and put on my glasses. My phone battery was dead so I handed the phone to Chrissy and asked for the gels. Chrissy only had three with her.
 
‘ I didn’t think you would need them all and I got you some energy bars as well’

Again I didn’t panic I just ran on, shouting behind me as I sped off.
 
‘I have no time to wait, I’ll see you at the end’
 
My feet were even more battered from the fast running on pavements, but I knew from a road sign I was less than fourteen miles from the finish with more than three hours to go. 
 
I kept shouting to myself ‘YOU GOT THIS!’ to keep me going
 
I was getting excited and ran what seemed to be very fast, but probably wasn’t, along the Newcastle Quayside, which incidentally is well worth a visit. There is a marvellous view of four bridges that span the Tyne.
 
Four bridges
.
I passed Kate Hay-Heddle with Riccardo at 127 mile at 17:44pm
 
‘YOU GOT THIS!’
 
I continued my way along the route 72. The distance to the end at Tynemouth was going down and down every ten minutes or so I saw the miles on the signs dropping
 
9 miles,
8 miles,
7 miles,
6 miles,
5 miles,
5 miles
Hang on  that’s not right.
 
‘It can’t be five miles again!’
 
I saw a cyclist and he said it was five miles to go.  I asked a pedestrian
 
‘This is Tynemouth right?’
‘No lad, this is Willington Quay.  Tynemouth is miles that way’
 
I had no choice but to carry on. I had no phone to call anyone with and no money either. I got back onto the route 72 and looked desperately for the change to the route1 as the instructions said.
 
I then saw Dave in the distance and ran to catch him up.
 
‘Fuck this, I have been going round in fucking circles for a fucking hour! The fucking little shits around here have been turning all the fucking cycle signs around!’
 
There was a lamppost nearby that had two cycle signs on.  One pointing to Newcastle where we had come from and one pointing to Tynemouth where were heading to.  Unfortunately both of them where pointing in the same direction.
 
‘Let’s call Mark, or failing that follow the road signs to Tynemouth.’
 
Dave called him and we set off again. We went around a marina and then came across another twisted cycle sign.  Dave got his GPS out and directed us up the road to the centre of Tynemouth.
 
We ran on time was against us as we had less than hour left.
 
How far away were we really? Ahh the tension was killing me.
 
I left Dave and ran on as I could see the sea and the Tynemouth Priory which was the site of the ending. Unfortunately I couldn’t see Mark, Alex, Chrissy or any sign of the end
 
I frantically looked around and decided to head down to a car park that appear to be overlooking the coast.  At this point Mark drove past and stuck his head out of the car window.
 
‘I am going to disqualify you for taking the wrong route.’
 
I must have turned bright red with anger and was about to exploded and kick his car door in when he quickly said,
 
‘I am only joking with yer man.’
 
I followed his instructions to go down the path and be confronted with a short climb to the finishing flags.
 
Mark another hill.
 
I got there and Mark shook my hand.  I frantically looked around for Chrissy and Ross as I had been dreaming of crossing the line with them. This race was as much there’s as mine. I couldn’t have finished it without them and I want to share this taste of victory with them. I was distraught and almost cried. Big soppy idiot.
Alex called Chrissy but to no avail.  Dave arrived shortly after me as did Riccardo. I wasn’t last, in fact I was fourth. A long way fourth as Jon Steel had finished two and half hours ahead of me.  
Dave called Ginny and she had Ross and Chrissy with her. As it was blowing quite a bit Alex bundled the three runners into her car to stay warm and wait Chrissy and Ginny. I stated shivering quite badly.
 
I didn’t follow the example of other finishers and take a dip in the see as the Ugly Unt said it would cause a tsunami that would flood Denmark.
 

 

All the runners on this race had to put up with the rain and the hills. We all did a fantastic job irrespective of if we finished.
 
The crews were great.  Each and every crew helped all the runners even thought this was a race. That is one of the things I love about Ultra running.  Special mention goes to Amanda and Chole and their seemingly inexhaustible supplies of tomato soup and bacon sarnies. But my crew was the best,  Chrissy and Ross had to put up with a grumpy Fat Unt and did so without a barely a word of compliant.
 
The organisation was superb and deserve thanking the marshals Drew, Claire,  Kate, Tim aand of course the race directors Alex and Marl Cockbain.

I eventually found the route one I was looking for in Scarborough!



Lessons learned
Don’t wear Sealskins for 38 hours as they trash your feet and change socks every 40 miles
 


You can run a lot faster under pressure than you think you can
Crews need more respect than you give them
Don't believe road signs
Chill more, accept the set backs and move on with a plan
Don’t decide so quickly and ensure you always have enough fuel and water irrespective of what it is.
I have sky high confidence.  I just need to work on speed and heat and I will be ready for the big one
SPARTATHLON!
The Death March (Pic - Ian Coreless)

The Death March
(Pic – Ian Coreless)

One two buckle my shoe, three four knock on the door, five six pickup sticks” I chanted away to my daughters favourite song the only thing I knew to help keep some rhythm as I trudged along, the distinct crunch of snow under foot and the cold burn of thin air in my lungs…here it was…the “Death March”…the one that Ice Trail Tarentaise is known to induce. Now 42km and some 4000+ vertical meters into the race and I was concerned about one thing…legitimately concerned…. only about one thing..….survival!

The Ice Trail Tarentaise is a 65km/5000m+ Sky race set in the stunning mountain town of Valdisere France. It is billeted as one of the hardest Sky races, kilometre for kilometre, around and for good reason! Combining extreme altitude with anywhere between 40-60% of ice and snow covered trail, 60 of the 65km held at above 2000m, 2 mountain summits above 3300m, temperatures that can range anywhere between 20deg and -15 and a mandatory kit that includes CRAMPON’s (albeit running ones). It’s a complete monster!

Valdisere itself is surrounded by sheer walls of vertical rock and high alpine forest, it is one hell of an inspiring place to stay. As soon as we drove into the town it put a smile on my face and made Chamonix even look a little douche grade!

After a few days hiking and “jogging” the town came alive and it was race weekend. I got the pleasure of watching my wife Tymeka push the limit on the vertical km, so steep was its terrain that Tymeka (despite not taking poles) was forced to pick up a stick and half a discarded broken ski pole to help haul herself up the slippery, wet and steep slopes that made up the VK course! It was INSANE!

The Vert K madness (Pic- Ian Coreless)

The Vert K madness
(Pic- Ian Coreless)

Before long it was race morning and I was lucky enough to have another awesome crew of ANZAC’s (Aussie and NZLers) to stand shoulder to shoulder with against the Europeans again. This time I was joined by Matt Cooper, Vlad Ixel and Scott Hawker.

The weather was dubious on the day and we had been warned of rain, low cloud and maybe snow on the summits. I donned my usual race kit but opted for a buff instead of the visor and headed for the start line.

Before long the crowd assembled and we were off! The start was fast, I mean real fast for this type of race clocking off sub 4min/km’s for the only few flat km’s we would see that day. I settled in somewhere in the top 10 with Vlad and Scott close behind and Matt just ahead.

It was here in the opening few kilometres of the race that I nearly lost my life!! We ran along some tight single trail and in the light of my headlamp I noticed some horses in a paddock just meters away, I thought nothing of it and kept running. However about 100m down the trail I heard some very heavy footsteps coming up from behind….I had thought it was just someone sprinting up to take positions early but when Vlad behind me screamed “WATCH OUT” I knew something was terribly wrong.

I spun around and just as I did caught the eyes of a stampeding scared horse in my head lamp, he was right there less than half a meter from me and he was on track to take me out!!! I froze in complete shock (and little bit of fear) and at the last second he darted off to the right of me and into the bushes I assume scared by my bright light!! My heart was racing…but there was a race to run so I spun back around tripping and wobbly trying to process what just happened and took back off after Matt.

The course basically climbs straight up from Valdiere to the summit of the Grand Motte Glacier at 3600m covering 1850 vertical meters in about 15km. For much of the initial climb I was running with Matt and Vlad with Scott not too far behind and I was feeling good. I had a goal of finishing top 10 and if I was holding no fatigue from Worlds then top 5 was maybe on the cards. The field at Ice Trail was deep however and included both Luis Alberto Hernado (Sky running world champ) and François d’Haene (2nd Sky champs) as well as IAU Trail Champion Tom Owens amongst a swag of other elite Europeans.

Talking tactics the day before with my head tactician Indie

Talking tactics the day before with my head tactician Indie (pic – Ian Coreless)

Before long the landscape started to change as we pushed further and further upwards into the sky. Softer trails studded with trees quickly gave way to rocky treeless alpine access roads and then finally to snow, ice and blue alpine sky. A quick stop for crampons and a jacket and I was back off through the 1st check point and still running…well kind of…towards the summit .

Its here that the full force of the first and biggest climb is felt as we turned up on the final kick to the summit. The course took us directly up a ski run that would have had to be 40-50% as we broke through the 3300m altitude barrier. I was bent over like a pocket knife hands on knees, breathing like a pack a day asthmatic and with a cadence that resembled a drunk stagger as opposed to a running race.

Matt was right beside me and we worked together to push further upwards chasing the leaders that we could now see further up the icey slope, but I was starting to falter. I could feel the deep fatigue in my legs from the sky champs and my hamstrings and glutes where working overtime, thankfully some encouragement from Matt helped me crest the summit with my dignity in tact.

The view from atop the Grande Motte can really only be likened to that of the summit of Everest. Cloud hung low below us like a sea of white with just a few 4000m mountain peaks breaking though in the distance, we were certainly on top of the world!

We where still in the top 10 at this stage and was I really looking forward to the 1000m+ descent that was about to come. However the down hill was a wolf in sheep’s clothing! We had to return back down the 50% Ice slope! The slope was about 800m long and had recently had a grooming machine over it so there was not a soft spot to be found. Pounding down the icy ground feet slapping everywhere was a horribly painful jarring experience. There was no were to hide on this section, no rock to bound off no berm or twist to change your gait….just pure painful pounding and I would compare it exactly to running down a 50% grade of concrete for 800m at full tilt.

ANZAC's ready to rock!!

ANZAC’s ready to rock!! (Pic – Ian Coreless)

It was no surprise then that soon after this punishing section of the descent my quads had packed their bags and headed home and it was only 20km in! The rest of the descent was much nicer but I was unable to really enjoy it for what it was on my shaking quivering mess of legs.

We rolled down maintaining our positions towards the 30km checkpoint. I had arranged for Tymeka to crew me so was looking forward to seeing her and Indie and picking up some much needed energy and spirit. As we came in Tymeka was nowhere to be found, dam it I thought. I stood there for a second to think about my options but realised there was only one. Push on without fuel.

The next section was more runnable than I had thought with a few ups and down before a long climb up towards the Co de lIseran. I was out of fuel and starting to bonk having to walk sections I sure my mum could run up. However all despair aside I somehow crept away from Matt (turns out his back packed it in on the descent too) and started to reel in a couple of Euros who where using poles in front.

Basically for the next 15km a YoYo battle would ensue between myself and these two other runners. On the runnable uphill I would reel them in and then on the super steep stuff they would power away with their poles, on the down hill I would reel them in and then we would do it all over again.

Finally the course burst out onto the only road section for the 2km run up to the restaurant on the Co de lIseran. I was in full walk/run mode unable to go more than 200m running without a break and making goals out of the Altispeed runners who had joined the course a few kms back.

At last I hit the restaurant at the Co de lIseran and to my utter surprise Tymeka was there! And just in time as well. I grabbed some much needed gels, water and punched as much Red Bull into me as I could. I learnt that Vlad was just ahead and Matt and Scott where both a way back with issues.

All smiles pre race

All smiles pre race (Again – Ian Coreless)

I set out of the checkpoint to what would be the hardest few hours of my running life. Although I felt better than before my legs were now nothing but unresponsive lumps of meat dangling from my hips. As soon as the steep upward grind kicked in I slowed to a despicable pace. My mind started to wonder thinking about all kinds of random things and begging for escape… and it began, the Ice Trail Death March.

I blocked out everything around me and focused on only survival, a genuine concern about my ability to make it to the finish had crept into my mind and for the next few hours my world was reduced to the next 30cm in front of my feet and a horribly catchy children’s rhyming song.

The climb up to the summit of the Co de lIseran was far harder than I could have imagined. It was filled with false summits, loose scree rock, snow, ice and the thin air of 3300m..again. It sapped all energy from me and turned the screws of fatigue so deep I doubted I would ever run again.

The final push  (Pic- Ian Coreless)

The final push
(Pic- Ian Coreless)

I finally made it to the summit and didn’t dwell, knowing full well there was nothing but cold death waiting for me if I stopped up there. I began the ginger descent and it took 10 or more minutes for my legs to come around and start working.

I burst into the checkpoint at 55km, exhausted, ruined but above all still alive. I learnt from Tymeka that Luis Alberto had dropped and some of the front runners where looking very rough. I was now in about 17th after losing many places on the shuffle up the last summit. Tymeka gave me a kiss and promptly kicked my ass back out onto the course….got to love a supportive wife.

There was just one more up hill to go and as I shuffled upwards again on loose scree and snow I heard the familiar voice of Ian Coreless as he snapped away some pictures of me well and truly inside the hurt locker. Maybe it was this little pick me up from Ian or the 8km of down hill that now lay before me, but a smile cracked across my weary face, my eyes brightened a little and I shouted….. “This is Sky RUNNING”!!! Then threw myself down the mountain like a racehorse with my jockeys whip cracking behind me.

Finish line fury

Finish line fury

I ran…no I flew down that descent faster than I have ever moved before and left many other runners in my wake. It had everything fast twisting single-track, deep snow, technical forest trail, scree the lot…. it was a down hill runners dream!

I ran myself from 17th to 13th in those last few km’s including another finish line sprint, I closed the gap on Vlad who I hadn’t seen for hours from 10min to just 60sec! I was done and I loved it!

Ice Trail really was a beautifully punishing race that will grind you into dust if you show but the slightest weakness. For me I had my lowest of lows and my highest of highs at Ice Trail, it was far from my perfect race but it taught me a lot about myself and racing in the mountains. While perhaps my worse result on paper it is for me among my greatest achievements and I can’t wait to do it again!

Kit Used
Shoes: La Sportiva Anakonda
Top: Compressport Trail Singlet + Compressport Arm Warmers
Bottom: Ron Hill Advanced Racer shorts
Compression: Compressport Trail Quads and R2 Calf Sleeves

Nutrition:
Endura Gels
Red Bull
Anything I could get from the check point when I ran out of gels.

Written by Alistair Flowers - http://alistairflowers.com/

After finishing my first ultra I can definitely tell you that it was one of the hardest things I have ever done but also one of the most enjoyable. I don’t think I had really quite grasped just how far 40 miles was until I got to about the 50k mark! I went through a lot out on the course – mainly mental which was a surprise, I thought my mind was stronger than it turned out to be but I was glad my body turned out to be more than capable.

I’m happy, and proud, to say I finished the 40 miles in 8th place with a time of 7:24:19. At the very least I wanted to finish in the top 10 and I’ll admit that before the start I had harboured ideas of a podium place – I continued to hold onto this idea until I was passed and dropped into 3rd at mile 18! It was at this point I realised I had underestimated the task at hand and gone off far too quickly but I’ll write more about that in the lap breakdowns below.

One of the biggest problems facing almost everybody on the day was the heat and humidity – I for one could not get enough water all day and because of this I feel more proud of my top 10 finish because of the climatic conditions than I would have if it had been cool. I finished the race dehydrated and depleted of salt; if I run in similar conditions again I’ve learned I’m going to need to add more Nuun tablets to my water and I’m going to need to carry two handhelds instead of the one I used this time around.

To round off my summary and introduction I would just like to say a MASSIVE thank you to the amazing crew and pacing support of a Miss Gabrielle Lee who was on hand at the end of every lap with supportive words, quick water/electrolyte refills and the nous to change up the food in my lap bags to something I could handle after the end of the second lap. A big credit to her as well because she paced me out at the start of my second lap which was not part of the race plan at all!

Before

We set off for Grimsthorpe on the afternoon of Thursday 31st July. It’s a two hour journey and the sun had been shining all day long! Everything was prepared and ready to go all we had to do was find our hotel, check in and then head up to the race area to set up the crew tent.

Shortly after arriving at our hotel though the weather abruptly changed! The humidity peaked and then the clouds burst for about two and a half hours of torrential rain. My heart began to sink at this point as my research of previous year’s events told me that The Grim Reaper would be a very, very muddy course if enough rain fell for long enough. I tried to blank these thoughts from  my mind and set to making up my lap bags for the race. Each bag contained one energy gel, an Anzac biscuit and 6 Haribo Tangfastics – as you will read, the content of the bags changed drastically after mile 20!

Once all the final preparations had been made Gabrielle and I set off for Grimsthorpe Castle to set up the tent and to say hello to other competitors, the Race Director and crew and to get a feel for the place. Miraculously it stopped raining almost as soon as we began the 6 mile drive and the heat and humidity began to build again! This cheered me up no end and when we arrived at the race area I was heartened to feel that the ground underfoot had not turned to bog and mud. After setting up the tent and sharing a few words with various people Gabrielle and I retreated back to our hotel in the village of Little Bytham for dinner and an ale or two.

Lap 1 – 16k/10 miles (1:16:40 – 2nd at end of lap)

There is a first time for everything and as this was my first ultra I thought I’d go for another first and start from the front row. In my mind I was thinking about a top 3 finish and I thought I wouldn’t harm my chance by starting with the front runners! The plan was to knock off every kilometre between 4:50 and 4:58 pace for this lap…that plan soon went out of the window when the hooter sounded and we were set loose on the course! Over the next 16km I ran an average of about 4:40 or thereabouts. Granted, I was feeling strong and confident and I was really enjoying being out at the front of a race for the first time in my life – it was strange seeing just one other person in front of me for almost the entire way. He slipped from my view around the 13km mark and I never saw him again!

I was conscious that I’d abandoned my race plan at around 14km when the Race Director shouted the guy in front was about a thousand yards ahead and I was looking strong. I ran on by with a thank you and listened out for him shouting out to whoever might be behind me and when I heard nothing over about 100m I broke one of my cardinal race rules – I looked back and saw not a soul! I’ll be honest, I can’t remember now whether that scared me or whether that spurred me on but I reckon it was probably a mixture of both. I ran on oblivious to anything for the next 2km with a smile on my face and enjoying the feeling of running a race pretty much stranded between the leader and the rest of the field!

I ran into the aid station at mile 10 to see Gabby already waiting to refill my handheld with 500ml of water and a Nuun tablet. We didn’t say much to each other and I just remember grinning as one of the race crew told me the leader was about five or six minutes ahead of me. I already had my pre-prepared lap bag in my waist pouch so after about a minute of information gathering and water refilling I set off again in a bid to close the gap on the leader and to create a gap between myself and the rest of the field!

Lap 2 – 32k/20 miles (1:32:14 – 4th at end of lap)

After stopping very briefly at the end of my first lap I set off full of vigour and had decided to settle into my plan having abandoned it during the previous 10 miles! Lap 2’s plan had called for an average of 5:35 per kilometre and so I slowed to this pace and was feeling very comfortable now that I knew what to expect from the course seeing as it was a ten mile loop. I was rolling along with a smile on my face and not feeling particularly taxed all the way to the half way point of the lap – for some reason my cardinal rule of never looking behind in a race was broken again and I allowed myself a peek down the switchback as I came out of a wooded area onto a long stretch of road section. I saw nobody and so I thought my plan was working! I had a feeling I wouldn’t be catching the guy in first but I also felt as though nobody was going to be chasing me down anytime soon either.

I believe this was a mistake on my part – over confidence led me to rely on my plan too much and I zoned out of the race for a while. With 15 miles gone my mind switched off and I didn’t hear the guy who, at that time, was in 3rd creeping up behind me! If I had been more attuned to the situation then I might have been able to press on a little and hold onto my position but at around mile 18 he glided past me with a friendly word and asked if I knew how far the leader was out front. I replied as far as I knew the guy was maybe seven or eight minutes ahead and without another word off he ran! This blew my mind because as I watched him increase the gap I saw him eating and I realised then that I’d made a big mistake – I had not touched a morsel of food at this point and I’d been fuelling myself on a bowl of muesli and just under a litre of water. So it was that I pulled my waist pouch around and pulled out an Anzac biscuit – I had vowed that the gels were for emergencies only as I really wanted to complete the 40 miles on real food.

I took one bite of the Anzac and realised it was going to take some effort to chew, swallow and digest it – not only that it was also going to require me to take on more fluid just to keep my mouth from drying up. My splits from Strava tell the tale of this section of the race! At 28 klicks I’d been on my pace plan running merrily along at 5:30 and then I was overtaken, dropping into 3rd. At 29km I started to struggle with eating and slowed to 6:17 for that kilometre and was again unexpectedly overtaken by the eventual winner of the race, dropping into 4th. At kilometre 30 I was struggling with digestion and so had slowed to 7:00! Between kilometre 30 and 31 I was battling with my mind fiercely. I was arguing with myself about the stupidity of my food choices, berating myself for blowing it so early into the race and feeling generally annoyed that I was finding it tough before I’d even got to the marathon mark, it was then that I noticed I was about a kilometre from the end of the lap and still very much in the game for a podium spot if I could salvage my pace! So it was that I ran into the aid station at mile 20 trying to look strong.

All pretense of strength collapsed the minute I got to my cool box and Gabrielle. I think Gabs was pretty shocked to see my mental game had gone out of the window so early on! The plan at this point had called for her to force me to eat a banana and a handful of rice but that too went out of the window – as soon as banana touched my tongue I wanted to throw up so I spat it out before even chewing it and when I threw some rice into my mouth it felt like I was chewing gravel so I spat that out too! So, for the next four minutes Gabs tried valiantly to buoy me up and to feed me Haribo, water and orange pieces whilst at the same time emptying out my pre-prepared lap bag and filling it with orange slices and more Haribo whilst quietly jettisoning the Anzac biscuit that I had, before the race, felt to be my secret nutritional weapon!

Leaving the aid station on this lap was the hardest point of the race for me even though I hadn’t even gone marathon distance! It was so hot and humid, my race/hydration/nutrition plan had gone out of the window and I knew that I had only just got to the halfway point. Another 20 miles of constantly changing terrain with very little by way of shade awaited!! The plan was for Gabrielle to run out with me at mile 30 for 5km to keep my spirits up but she adapted to the situation and, although wearing a dress and a normal bra instead of her sports bra and running shorts she laced up her Mizuno and paced me out from the aid station – I will be completely honest, I think if I’d have been on my own at this point I’d have probably stayed in the aid station a lot longer, dropped a few more places and might not even have finished!

Trying to keep my head up approaching the half way point!

Trying to keep my head up approaching the half way point!

Lap 3 – 48k/30 miles (2:08:08 – 7th at end of lap)

I know there is no shame in walking during ultras but it took me a bit of time to get that into my brain during this lap. Gabrielle constantly had to gee me up for the first 5 klicks before she peeled off and headed back up to the aid station. We walked a little, we ran a little, we walked a little, we ran a little and then at about 3km into the lap I finally picked up my spirits and my pace and ran 2km before bidding farewell to Gabs.

I don’t really remember too much about the first seven miles or so of this lap. The main thing I recall is repeating to myself over and over “Hike the ups, run the downs” and so this is what I did – on the flat sections I also ran 500m and then hiked 500m regardless of terrain. The Grim Reaper course is difficult, in my opinion, because of the changing terrain – it’s made up of around 50% pavement, 15% grass and 35% crushed limestone. Normally I like to run on road and I love running on gravel, limestone and other hardpack trail surfaces but, equally, I hate running on grass because it saps all the energy from the legs! Therefore I found three particular sections of the course very hard going.

At around the 6km mark after a short uphill section through some woods you find yourself on a long stretch of flat grass – I think it was probably just over a kilometre long which meant it just wasn’t feasible to hike the whole section if I didn’t want to lose places but having said that I dropped from 4th to 5th at this point even with the run/walk strategy in full swing! Then, with about 2.5 miles to go you find yourself going from a largely downhill pavement section into an open, very hot and very humid wheat field. I could find no discernible trail on the field at all and so on every lap apart from the first I hiked three quarters of the field and ran the last bit as it swung around to a gentle rolling downhill limestone trail section. I ran out of water at this point on the second lap and also the third because I just felt the need to hydrate because of the heat in the field! Finally, with just over a kilometre to go you transfer from limestone hardpack to the final grassy field. Although this field is eminently more runable than either of the fields preceding it, because it’s at the end of the lap I found myself struggling with the idea of running it even though I knew at the end of it was a 500m limestone/hard pack trail followed by the final 500m stretch of pavement to the aid station!

Anyway, I digress! The reason I don’t remember much about the first seven miles or so of this lap is because at around this point I was awakened from my mantra of “Hike the ups, run the downs” by a rather large herd of cows straddling the course. Now, at the best of times I’m pretty scared of the bovine species and as this could not be described as the best of times I was feeling pretty petrified! The worst part was that I noticed them just as I was about to pick up my pace from power hike to run but stopped dead in my tracks instead. Because the cows had calves with them I thought they posed an even greater threat than had they just been adult cows on their own. I looked behind to see that the guy behind me was also looking pretty lost for words and the guy behind him suggested we all run through together. As the three of us began the cows started to pick up their pace too and ended up running by us and we ran through the middle of them! Looking back, this was where I lost my 5th place and dropped to 6th. I ran and hiked the next two miles shoulder to shoulder with the guy in 7th – he confided that his hamstring was giving him hell and he’d need a big push to get out of the aid station at mile 30. He had no idea he was in the top 10 until I told him! I thought it would help him out but although surprised and happy with the news he urged me to carry on to the end and so I pushed on from here.

I got the aid station feeling pretty pleased that I had only one lap to go! My shoulders at this point were killing me but my legs felt quite strong so to keep them that way I took the time to put on my compression socks, eat some orange and drink some water. All the while Gabs was filling a lap bag with orange pieces and more Haribo. I asked the race crew which position I was in when I arrived at the station and they told me I was in 7th so I decided I’d wait for the guy who was behind me who I’d run with to see if I could persuade him to come out on the last lap! I spent about 10 minutes at the aid station and he came in just as I was planning on getting a move on – he was still in 8th at this point but couldn’t get over the cramping in his forearms and legs. It was sad to see him pull out at such a late stage but he gave me encouragement and told me to get a move on!

Leaving the aid station at Mile 30. One lap to go...

Leaving the aid station at Mile 30. One lap to go…

Lap 4 – 64k/40 miles (2:13:43 – 8th Place)

Gabs paced me out again on this lap and joined me for about 6km, we went with the run/walk strategy again and found ourselves next to the guy who had just taken 8th for most of the first 5km of the final lap! Once Gabrielle peeled off at the 6km mark I bunny-hopped between 7th and 8th until about the 8km mark at which point I picked it up a little and headed out for the last five miles determined not to drop out of position again!

My strategy was firmly entrenched at this point: power hike 500m and run 500m on the flat, hike the ups and run the downs – no matter how difficult! And boy was the last push difficult! My friend William who was running the 100 miler caught up with me just after Gabs had peeled off to return to the start and we hiked and chatted for a short while – his indomitable will spurred me on a lot during the last ten miles as he was never really too far in front of me. We ran a few sections and hiked a few sections together and I took solace from the fact he was looking so strong and hadn’t even got halfway through his own race and his first ultra! (He finished in 17th place, 24:43:11 and it seems he hobbled the last 30 miles on a broken ankle!!)

Again, I digress, largely because at this point I was feeling slightly confused and a bit emotional as I was nearing the end of my first ultra! Just like the previous lap I can’t remember much detail about this one. All I know is that on the final downhill pavement section with about 4 klicks to go I found myself running with the second placed lady in the 40 and eventual 9th place overall finisher. We exchanged a few kind words and encouraged each other to keep on keeping on – the next time I saw Jessica was as she crossed the finishing line looking happy, tired and very surprised when they told her she’d finished as 2nd female!

Another thing that sticks out about this lap is losing my 7th place with about 1.2km to go! A guy who I thought was running the 70 was gaining on me and as he approached I asked how he was doing, he told me he’d had a tough lap and wasn’t feeling so great – I told him he should take solace from the fact that although he might not feel strong he was looking it…and then I asked which race he was in. We made eye contact, both smiled and then both said we were in the 40 and then I remember him saying “Well, I guess that means we’re racing to the end!” and then somehow he managed to pick up his pace! I tried to cover the move but as we came off the limestone and hard pack trail onto the final field I broke into a walk and he carried on relentlessly towards the finish – in any other race to date I would have relished the prospect of a racing finish but I was just too happy to feel the finish getting closer. I really didn’t want to risk upping the pace and potentially imploding and having to power hike the finishing straight and possibly losing my position in the top 10!

The best thing was that instead of giving up after losing out on 7th so late in the race I looked up and saw Gabrielle jogging towards me! I broke into a run for a little bit until we were shoulder to shoulder and then power hiked it to the final gravel path section that leads into the 500m finishing straight. Being an amazing pacer, Gabs could see I was feeling dejected about losing my 7th place so she told me I was being chased down by some other runners in the 40 and as I got onto the final path I started to run again! The truth of the matter was that there were runners behind me but they were by no means chasing me down, nor were they running the 40 miler but I cannot begin to explain how important it was for my morale and my race to be told that at this point. Gabs took one final photograph of me on the gravel path and then ran up to the finish line to get a shot of me coming in to complete my first ultra!

About a hundred metres out Jennifer (a lady from the winning 100 mile relay team) and Gabs shouted out for a sprint finish! I grinned to myself and thought I’d give it a go and, I have no idea how, I managed to pick up my pace significantly and sprinted those last hundred metres like my life depended on it!

Afterwards

Yeah, I’ve finished my first ultra in 8th place. Yeah, I’ve finished it with just one blister. Yeah, my pacer and crew member was totally amazing over the preceding 7 hours 24 minutes and 19 seconds. But when I’d finished and sat down I felt like the happiest man in the world because Gabrielle gave me a yellow Jelly Baby thus proving that ultras do crazy things to your mind and your appetite! Another bit of proof to support this fact is that I craved tea almost as soon as I got my medal around my neck – I haven’t drank tea, or milk, for well over a year but I went straight to the kettle and brewed up with milk and two sugars. I had another two after that as well!

It took a long time for me to feel settled once I’d finished. Gabs kept the Jelly Babies coming and kept plying me with water but for some reason I could not face eating anything other than Jelly Babies. After leaving the aid station area and heading back to my own crew tent I stripped down to my shorts, threw myself on the ground and asked Gabrielle to pour a litre of water all over my body from head to toe – once she’d poured it over my back I turned around and urged her to pour another litre over my front! Shortly after this I got some pretty bad cramping in my calf muscles and rushed to get my compression socks back on. We had a laugh about this for almost an hour as my calf muscles kept forming into very random shapes and making my legs involuntarily spasm – in between severe spasms they just danced their own merry dance.

After a short lie down and some phone calls we took the tent down, I put on some non-running clothes, grabbed an ale from the cool box and then did the rounds of the campsite/crew area to say congratulations to 40 mile finishers and good luck to those 70 and 100 mile runners that were still around. It was awesome to meet so many new people and to see a few people I knew at the race. The sense of camaraderie, fun and encouragement is something completely different from anything I’ve experienced at any other race and I hope my next ultra will be just the same in terms of atmosphere.

So, that’s it! The longest race I’ve competed in so far and the longest race report I’ve ever written!! I hope you’ve enjoyed the read 

Written by Paul Ali - http://ultraavon.com/

This is probably the longest blog I’ve written but I suppose it’s fitting for the longest running event in which I have participated. Be warned, you may need to be an experienced Ultra-endurance blogger to make it through to the end of this report. I’ve tried to add names, times and details as best I can remember but this may not be 100% accurate especially after 30-40 hours of no sleep. Anyway, read, divulge, enjoy and feel free to comment.

Pre-Race

I’ve written up the pre-race thoughts in a previous blog so I won’t repeat that information here.

For those that haven’t read it the brief summary is that we had just about hobbled home in 2010 GUCR, had trained a bit harder for the 2011 GUCR and had a sub 40 hr target in mind with a 38-40hr race plan agreed with the crew. To be honest, I was pretty confident that we were going to make the sub-40 target as it seemed to be a fairly modest goal.

Stouty (Fetch: Stouty), Shane Benzie (another GUCR entrant) and I travelled up by car on Friday from Reading to Birmingham. Stouty’s mate Paul Reed (so that’s another Paul) drove us up and was going to provide crew support for Stouty and I (Shane was an unsupported entrant) Saturday morning. The rest of the crew; Alan, Matt B (Fetch: Cheeky Conswala) and Matt C (Fetch: Cogs1) were travelling up Saturday lunchtime and were going crew the remainder of the race. In addition, Stouty had also organised some buddy runners (Harris, Nina and EJ) for a bit of company after the allowed 65 mile point.

We arrived in Birmingham at around 6pm and went direct to the Travelodge to register and collect our numbers. I checked in there and Stouty and Shane went to check in at their hotel which was a few minutes to drive away. There was some pre-race talk of meeting in O’Neills with other runners/crew and we decided to meet there and get something to eat.

Stouty and Shane took a bit longer to arrive than I had expected and I was hanging around in the pub surreptitiously trying to spot a GUCR t-shirt on someone. However, a short while later Ogee turned up with Firemannotsam and soon there was a small group of us having a chat, drink and something to eat. It was good to put a few names to faces at last. I didn’t get a chance to speak to everyone but a quick hello and name check to Rajeev, Claire, Jerry, George, James, Jany, Paul W, Mike, Dino, Allan, Lindley, Sue and Neil (apologies if I missed anyone at the table). Stouty (who I introduced as “The Wife” as we run all these events together) and Shane turned up shortly afterwards and also had something to eat.

The mood was generally positive with a little bit of apprehension (Claire!). The cold hard reality was that 50% off us probably wouldn’t finish the race that weekend which was a sobering thought. Ogee was feeling a little disappointed he wasn’t actually doing the race anymore following his withdrawal a few weeks earlier but a decision had been made and Firemannotsam was now relying on him to crew. It was a really enjoyable couple of hours and gave people a chance to meet and talk beforehand which sort of bonded everyone together, a pre-race meet the night before should be made a compulsory part of the race agenda in future.

I had something to eat and headed back to the hotel at about 9.30pm to get my kit and equipment ready for the next day. I had my camelbak packed, clothing laid out and even put some compeeds on the heels in preparation before I drifted off to sleep at about 10.30pm armed with ear plugs in to negate the street noise from outside.



Race Day

Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep fantastically well and awoke at 2am to the sound of my stopwatch going off every hour. I was still awake at 3am as the stopwatch was thrown across the room but eventually drifted off and dozed to about 4.45am when I got up. Despite missing the comforts of your own bed, I was paranoid about oversleeping especially as Stouty and Shane were staying elsewhere and I think this accounted for my poor sleep pattern. As a contingency, Stouty and I had agreed to call each other in the morning to check we were both up.

I had a cup of tea and a pot of blueberry porridge for breakfast, looked out the window to see a late night reveller worse for wear struggling to walk around a bollard and got changed into my gear. To avoid chaffing, I applied a liberal amount of sudacream to the usual spots (including my feet), this worked really well as I did not suffer from any chaffing at any point during the race. I find sudacream a better option than Vaseline in these situations. I also used one of the tri-belts (available for purchase pre race at £2) for displaying my number which was easy to clip on/clip off when you changed clothes. I had my tri-belt from last year and had my spare number pinned on this in case I needed to use this.

I walked to the start of the race with a couple of other runners and waited for Stouty, Shane and Paul R to turn up so I could handover my overnight bag. The weather was cool and overcast with plenty of grey clouds in the sky, it looked like we might have some rain in the morning. Stouty and the others arrived at about 5.45am, we got a quick picture before I bumped into distinctive Ex-Pat Scot very briefly but didn’t have time to chat as we made our way down to the start.



We spotted Lurker and give her a quick hug before we took our usual position somewhere near the back of the group. Lurker had been Stouty’s saviour last year as she looked after the mess called his feet midway through the race, we were rather hoping with better preparation that we wouldn’t have a repeat this year. 

Start to Checkpoint 1 (Catherine de Barnes 10.7m)
A few minutes before the scheduled start time Dick gave his pre-race speech and warned runners to take it easy and not to overdose on painkillers and a few moments later we were off with 92 runners jogging through the quiet, built up area of Birmingham and ducking under the low bridges.

@UltraKent had an early incident when he cut his hand on a bench to the cries of “man down” and the joked threat of the earliest withdrawal ever but he continued on. Stouty and I jogged together with Firemannotsam and chatted casually as we headed towards Checkpoint 1.

The race plan was to complete the first 50 in about 10 hours or so and with Checkpoint 4 being 53.1 that was our target to hit in about 11 hours at a comfortable pace, we then aimed to run what we could in the light before fast walking the night leg and aiming to get to Grand Junction Arms by breakfast leaving us with the rest of the Sunday to complete the last 45 miles.

A couple of miles in there was an instruction to turn left and “do not cross the bridge”. However about 10-15 runners went across the bridge but were called back to some small amusement as I had done the same thing last year. With the threat of rain, some runners had put on waterproof jackets but a few miles into the race, we see one or two people taking them off as they were too warm with the extra layer.

The 38-40 hr race plan had predicted a Checkpoint 1 arrival at 7.47 – 7.57 and we had planned a 10 min stop to eat some pre-made sausage sandwiches at that point. Stouty and I had been debating whether to eat at Checkpoint 1 or not but came to a decision to follow a pattern of eating little and often even if we didn’t quite fancy it (which we didn’t at the time).

We arrived at 7.47, spot on the timetable but literally a minute before Paul Reed arrived and we decided to press on to the next Checkpoint. However, as soon as the opportunity to eat the sandwiches had passed I started to hunger for the sandwiches. 



Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2 (Hatton Locks 22.5m)

I recall this part of the run as uneventful as Stouty and I chatted whilst making reasonable progress across the track path and grassy banks next to the canal. The weather was still cool and overcast at this point and the skies grey.

We ran along with another runner Bob for a little while and had an unfortunate incident when a startled rabbit jumped into my path. I stopped to let it run back but it panicked and then leapt straight into the canal and probably didn’t get out, I felt bad at that point. We also seemed to be playing leap-frog with a short dark haired lady (Helen?) for a lot of the morning who was making really good progress but she eventually drifted off ahead of us as the run progressed.

We also spotted Binks a few times (armed with camera of course) who was crewing for Drew Sheffield and we also got a “Fetchie” shout from Winelegs I believe at one point, it was quite nice to have that little extra community support. I had added a few GUCR runners on twitter and was posting the odd message and checking progress of others on the way although I did forgot to add the #GUCR hash tag a few times. I wasn’t aware at the time that Ogee was providing constant updates to the Fetch forums.
About 3hrs in, Pat Robbins (previous winner from 2008, 2009 & 2010) caught up with us. For someone who has that constant pressure of being viewed as the man to beat each year he was remarkably relaxed about the race and we had a brief chat on route. He commented to us that “he had a target in mind for the race and if that got him in first then great and if it didn’t, it didn’t”. He dropped back briefly following his planned run/walk strategy but overtook us a short while later as he continued on ahead. It’s good to talk to other runners on route as it firstly kills some time but also you do get that feeling that there is collective willing “from everyone for everyone” to do well be it from fellow runners, crew or passers by who pick up on the race.
At the 20 mile point we captured a video message from Stouty to his family:
Our next meeting point with Paul R was actually a Hatton Locks bottom (this was due to certain Checkpoint restrictions in place to reduce crew traffic at different locations) and so we decided to stop briefly at Checkpoint 2 to refill our drained hydration packs just in case he missed us again. We didn’t tarry too long, thanked the marshals and continued on. The predicted arrival time was 10.02 to 10.21 and we rolled in at 9.53 so we would have been spot on if we had stopped for our sandwiches at Checkpoint 1.
Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3 (Birdingbury Bridge 35.9 miles)
We covered the mile and a half to Hatton Locks Bottom and met Paul who had our sandwiches which we wolfed down before carrying on towards Birdingbury Bridge. I think we also ate some crisps (Monster Munch) of course as I recall insisting to Stouty that he pass me the pickled onion flavoured packet that was in the food bag.
Despite starting right at the back we now judged our position about half way up the field with about 40-50 people ahead and a similar number behind us and we had started to recognise a few of the crews for people who were running at our sort of pace. Ogee was here supporting Firemannotsam but was taking on the big brother role and looking after all the Fetchies (top bloke). I remember commenting to him that he was looking leaner than the last time I saw him, and it appears his injury concerns are history and he can continue working towards Spartathlon later this year.
 
We often find the 20-30 mile part on an ultra the toughest as training runs don’t usually exceed these distances but with the couple of stops at Checkpoint 2 22.5 miles briefly and then at 24 miles, this leg was broken up quite nicely.
 
Shortly after we left the meeting point we were caught up by another runner (Adam) who had travelled back from Dubai for the race where he works 9 months out of the year. We jogged with him and chatted for a while before he continued on at his own pace.
 
We got to the 30 mile point (Butt Bridge 34) in about 5hrs 15mins which was 30 mins ahead of our planned schedule and took a brief video clip here. We both felt pretty good although the inside of my left knee was a little sore probably due to running on the uneven ground.
 
I think it was around here when Claire (Ultratigger) caught us up and we jogged together very briefly before she ran ahead near where there are a group of locks which get higher and higher, she looked really strong and the running seemed effortless to her.
 
The next agreed meeting point was at Birdingbury Bridge, we had estimated an arrival time of between 12.56 and 13.27 and we actually arrived slightly earlier at 12.40 so about 16 mins ahead of schedule. We met Paul R here again and I used the deep heat spray on my knee and at that point had no blisters to report. However, my calf was feeling a little sore as I had a little niggle a couple of weeks before and even paid for a sports massage the week before the race to have some work on it but that little niggle was still there and getting a little worse. We saw Dino Ilaria at the checkpoint having some food, refilled our hydration packs and then moved on.
As we left the Checkpoint we spotted LucyG who was marshalling during the race and waved a hello before pressing on.
 



Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 4 (The Heart of England Pub 53.1 miles)

Again making sure to thank the marshals, we set out from Birdingbury Bridge towards Checkpoint 4. At that point the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to rain lightly and then got heavier and so we stopped briefly to put our matching “his and her” rain jackets (yes we have the same jacket but different colours I’ll have you know) at which point Dino Ilaria passed us looking quite strong. We continued along a grassy narrow part of the bank for several minutes before the rain eased off and we stopped to pack our jackets away. I had tightly wrapped my rain jacket in my bag and secured this together with some elastic bands but after 20 minutes wear and some rain it was a lot more difficult to fit it snugly back in to my backpack.

At 40-odd miles, I shot a quick bit of video. Stouty reported his legs as aching but ok apart from that.

I had tweeted that some videos had been added to YouTube but had a message back they someone couldn’t view them. Thinking there was some problem uploading them I didn’t bother to add any more, so apologies if you were expecting to see some more live updates. I think what had happened is that my uploaded videos were still processing so couldn’t be seen at that time as I checked after the race and they were ok. I guess that means you will see these videos for the first time now.

At this point, Stouty and I were following a run 2 miles, walk ½ mile strategy and being quite disciplined in following this as we headed towards the next crew meeting point at Braunston Locks where Crew 2 (Matt C, Matt B and Alan) would take over for the remainder of the race although Paul was going to collect our buddy runners for Sunday that evening and return so he would still be tracking our progress during the race.

However, partly due to a combination of us being at the fast end of the schedule (relatively speaking of course) and partly due to travel/traffic/diversion issues, it wasn’t clear whether the guys would meet us in time. Matt C (Cogs) had access to my location via a phone app and had been monitoring our progress. It was agreed that they would go onto Buckby Top Lock and meet us there instead with Paul Reed meeting us briefly at Braunston.

Paul Reed met us at Braunston Locks and we paused for some food. Surprisingly for me, I didn’t have much of an appetite and passed on the Jaffa cakes and Mars Bars but ate some flapjack and a couple of satsumas, gulped down an energy drink and grabbed a large handful of jelly babies. As we were eating, we saw Anna Finn approaching and wished her luck as she carried on ahead. My knee was still a little sore and required the further attentions of the deep heat spray. The weather had been steadily improving following the earlier rain and it was now warmer and sunny but still a little breezy.

We left Paul R and continued on to Buckby Lock where we met the crew at the pub opposite the lock, it was now starting to feel like a warm summers day. Matt B had brought some freshly made pasta for “lunch” and we had planned a longer stop to consume some food and change into new socks. I ate a few mouthfuls of pasta but didn’t really fancy much more and swigged down some full fat rocket fuel coca-cola (well recommended for sugar and caffeine content). I was feeling a little sick to be honest and blamed it on the jelly babies, I made a mental note to switch to wine gums from this point onwards. I also changed socks, checked my feet which looked ok but decided to change into my old comfortable but not too beat up trainers as my current pair were a little damp. With hindsight this may have been a slight error of judgement but we’ll cover that later. I thought I felt a slight blister on my little toes so as an extra precaution put a gel toe-cap on each little toe for extra protection.

 



We walked a little first before jog/walking the next 4-5 miles to Checkpoint 4 at Weedon.

We got to Checkpoint 4 and stopped briefly to refill hydration packs, said our goodbyes to Lurker who had kindly been following our progress and messaging us via twitter and left at 16.45. The race plan had predicted a 16.50 a 17.36 arrival time so we were a few minutes ahead of schedule. We had made our target of Checkpoint 4 by 11 hours, had no real injury issues barring tired aching legs and a couple of minor niggles to knee and calf and felt as if we were in a good position.



Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5 Navigation Bridge (70.5 miles)
We did pass one runner ahead who was limping visible as we caught him up, it was a chap called Mike and unfortunately had suffered a pulled ham-string and was limping slowly, his race was over as he could barely walk let alone run. We asked if there was anything we could do for him but he had called into Race HQ already and would limp on manfully to the next meeting point/Checkpoint.

Our next planned meeting point with the crew was at Stoke Brueme’s Bridge at 65 miles. This was the point when buddy runners were allowed and we were going to be supplied with one each as Matt C was going to run a leg and as a bonus Stoutys neighbours were visiting friends in the area and Harris was going to join us for a leg.

Stouty and I were continuing our run/walk strategy of a 2 mile run followed by 1/2 mile walk and we seemed to be on track when we met the crew. However, I do recall us slowing down when we met the crew. We were running low on water but didn’t have too far to go. We did pass another runners crew who kindly offered us some water but we had just enough to continue and knew the crew weren’t too far ahead.

I would comment that I found it noticeable this year how the crews really got into the spirit of the event and offered support or supplies to other runners, more so than in my previous experience (which was absolutely fine). At a few points, people offered us support as our crew reciprocated this offer to other runners.

We also met Mike’s support crew further ahead as they were asking if we had seen him. We had to quickly explain he was hobbling a few miles back and I think they went out to collect him.

Matt and Harris joined us and we started jogging/walking to Navigation Bridge although we had started to slow. However, wWe were still in good spirits as we were 3 hrs ahead of last years time already and we actually got to Navigation Bridge in the light! The predicted arrival time was 21.03 to 22.07 and we got there at 21.00 so again pretty much on plan.

Speaking of the plan, I had devised an excel spreadsheet with a rough pace guide which predicted checkpoint arrival times. I had used our 50 mile Thames Trot run as a template for the first 50 miles and then made an allowance for a reduced pace the further the race wore on including a planned brisk walk during the night leg. The crew were armed with copies and I had carried a mini (laminated of course) version of the plan marked with checkpoint meet times, locations and distances. Coupled with the Garmin, this gave us a pretty much exact picture of our progress against plan during the race. (Happy to share the document with anyone who wishes to use it in the future – just add a faster pace than me and you’ll be fine).

Stouty had refused to wear his Garmin and just wanted to run and then ask me questions about how we were doing, how far to the next Checkpoint etc. I was at the opposite end of the spectrum (i.e. a control freak) and wanted precise plans, times, distances etc. That little race plan I carried was brilliant, it told me everything I needed to know to answer Stoutys questions. The only difficulty came when the first Garmin started to run out of battery life at 12 hrs from a full charge (Garmin 305) at about 57 miles (2 hrs better than the advertised 10 hrs though). We started the second Garmin at that point but then had to keep adding 57 miles to the distance, no mean feat during the darkest hours when you’ve been on your feet for 12 hrs +! I think we grabbed our head torches at this meeting point in case it got dark earlier then expected and Matt C also carried a portal power unit and charged my phone so I had a full battery for the night leg.



Checkpoint 5 to Checkpoint 6 Bridge 99 (84.5 miles)

We had a cup of tea at Navigation Bridge and saw another runner there with large frizzy hair (Rob?) before we moved on. By this point I had a continuous thirst and was finding myself urinating frequently. I put this down to a lack of food inside me to absorb the water I was drinking as I had not really eaten much by this point and was still feeling a little sick, nothing major but just not feeling 100% right.

The crew had a small gas stove with them and we asked for some hot food at our next meeting point at new Bradwell. This was to be our last crew meet for the night as once again we had planned to walk the night shift at a quick pace, conserve some energy, give the crew some rest and then see how we fared in the morning. We also had two official Checkpoints before we had intended to meet the crew so we could get a hot drink there and refill hydration packs as required.

It was about 4 miles to our meeting point at New Bradwell Bridge by which time Harris had departed and it had started to get dark. Matt C had the Champions League Final game on an internet radio station and we listened to Barcelona dominating United and eventually winning. I don’t recall us doing a lot of running at this point but we had factored in a reduced pace at this point.

We met the entire crew there as Paul Reed had returned with buddy runners EJ and Nina. Matt B and Alan had got the gas stove working and we had half a tin of sausages and beans each aswell as a few snacks along with a pint of Orange Juice and Lemonade from a nearby pub. I felt a little better after the food which was probably the most I had eaten all day and we got our night gear on (leggings, hat, gloves and a warm top) before we said our goodbyes for the night and carried on. This was one of our longest stops and slightly longer than I hoped but it was necessary. A small handful of runners came past us at this point including Firemannotsam who was still running well at this point.

Our crew were on standby during the night but we were only going to call them in a real emergency to be honest.

We started our brisk walk but were both feeling sore and had both started to get blistered feet. Last year I had worn compeeds around areas of my heels prior to the race start as this was the point I often blistered. This had worked fine last year but I had really suffered bad blistering on the toes where my taping effort was insufficient. After last year I had blisters on every toe and my little toes were two red stumps being stripped clean of all skin and the toe nail.

This year, I had invested in a few pairs of toe socks following a tip from Runners World (thanks Mimi) and they seemed to work in my practice runs (Compton 40, Ridgeway 40). I had also suffered from a bit of chaffing in various areas last year but the coating of sudacream was working well so far.

I thought I had all the bases covered, in fact I didn’t suffer any chaffing at all, had no blisters on the toes so far but my bloody heels were killing me! I was a little annoyed that despite taking exactly the same precautions as last year, the gods were conspiring against me to put another obstacle in my path.

We shot a couple of late night videos which can be seen here:

By this point Stouty had a large blister on his heel and so we hobbled towards Checkpoint 6 and arrived at around 1.30. This 10 mile leg from the crew meeting point had seemed pretty long, especially as we had been walking and we weren’t covering the miles as quickly as we had during the day.

I checked my feet, drained a blister on my left heel to relieve the pressure and put some more compeeds on them. However, my left heel was really sensitive and it hurt to walk on it. I spoke to Andrew Smith the marshal there who kindly dug out a bid of lint cloth which I used as padding on my heel, we were patched up but still hurting a little. There were a few people at the Checkpoint when we arrived but I can’t recall names or faces I’m afraid.

We thanked the Marshals and left Checkpoint 6 at 1.47, our predicted arrival time had been 12.52 to 2.08 so at that point we were closer to the 40hr finish point and had slowed to the tail end of our race plan but were still within tolerance.



Checkpoint 6 to Checkpoint 7 Grand Junction Arms (99.8 miles)

This was the longest hardest leg for the both of us and it seemed to take an eternity even at a brisk walking pace. As we left Checkpoint 6, an unknown runner passed us and then another (Iveagh – a tall Irish guy) caught us up and decided to stick with us for the night as the night leg can be tough and the company’s a bonus. For us, it was dark, there was no moonlight, the canal banks can be narrow at points and were tired from 12+ hrs of exertion. Personally this was my hardest leg as despite my efforts in the past week to get some extra sleep, a combination of a poor nights sleep the night before, an early start and running for most of the day meant I felt tired at night to the point that I was falling asleep on my feet. You know this is happening and you start playing this dangerous game of closing one eye, then the other and then you pick yourself up with a startle as both seem to close at the same time.

I just had my wits about myself to recognise this and grabbed one hand on Stoutys backpack as he led me through parts of the route. This is where the benefit of having a buddy runner or teaming up with someone is clear, left to my own devices I could have easily fallen into the canal or bush or even a canal-bush if I let my guard down for a few seconds and I’m thankful to Stouty for getting me through that part of the night. I did take a couple of pro-plus tablets at this point which also seemed to help.

Iveagh was kind enough to let me borrow his portable charger as I had forgotten to pick up the spare Garmin at the last crew meet and the current Garmin was unlikely to last until the next crew meet. At this point, the weather felt a little breezy and there may have been some light drizzle which I found helpful in keeping myself awake. I perked up a bit and  marched to the front of our little group and then upped the pace to marching speed as we passed the Tesco Store in Leighton Buzzard.

However, the tiredness seems to hit you in phases and as we started to see the first signs of light my body started to shut down. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced “hitting the wall” during a race before but this felt like it. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, my limbs we feeling heavy and the mind was starting to wander. I decided to use the 1 emergency energy gel I was carrying to give me a kick. That proved to be a mistake as soon as a started to swallow the goo like gel substance my body rejected it and I spewed the entire contents back up. I sipped some water and carried on but wasn’t feeling too great.

Most of the night time conversation was with Iveagh as Stouty followed us a few yards behind but Iveagh continued on ahead when it got a bit lighter as Stouty and I stopped for a few mins around Slapton Lock to check our feet which were feeling more and more uncomfortable.

I also had my first “sit down” (nudge nudge wink wink) here. My advice is to use wet wipes as you can also wash your hands with a clean one and bring a couple of sandwich bags to carry the used wipes with you until you find a bin.

We were about 5 miles from the Grand Junction Arms which is a great point to reach at nearly 100 miles and we plodded on with sore feet for over an hour until we arrived there at 6.15, the race plan had predicted 5.56 – 7.29 so we were closer to the 38 hr time now. Despite the various niggling injuries we were in a great position, 100 miles done in just over 24 hrs, the tough night leg out of the way. Once we met the crew, had breakfast and sorted out our feet I felt we could make some real gains on our schedule. We had 14-16 hours left to cover 45 miles so even a 3mph walk would get us home. If we could run/walk parts of this and exceed this pace then I genuinely felt at that point we had a chance of coming in at around 37 hrs and exceed our expectations.

We grabbed a cup of tea at Checkpoint 7 and saw Iveagh tucking into his breakfast. We didn’t stay too long as we had planned to meet the crew at Cowroast Lock and then thanked the marshals and then moved on. We were told that Matt Giles had retired not too long after arriving at Checkpoint 7 in a blistering time of 14-15 hours, he set out again but returned a short while later and couldn’t carry on I think due to exhaustion and a knee injury. It was interesting to hear details and messages being relayed during the race on other peoples progress. We did check to see if Shane had retired but there was no reference to this and we assumed he was still making progress. (Stouty had called him a couple of times but didn’t make contact)

Just before the Checkpoint, we captured another video clip in which Stouty describes our feelings and emotions. It wasn’t a high point of the race and Stouty looks visibly tired in the eyes.

Crew Tips

I think the guys had also settled into different roles during the weekend. Matt B (who had crewed for me last year) appeared to be the team organisor. Alan (again another 2010 crew veteran) was our nominated driver and spent most of his time at checkpoints running back to the car when we asked for something else we had forgotten and Matt C was more hands-on with his first aid skills coming into use when attending to injuries/sore feet. So I think the team worked pretty well. EJ and Nina were also going to meet us at the next point and act as buddy runners for most of Sunday, in fact they ended up accompanying us to the end so Stouty and I had someone else to talk to for a while.

Our race schedule was also fairly accurate (although I was hoping we could dip under the 38-40 hr bracket from this point) and had the relevant information marked (meet points, times, menu etc). A couple of times during the race we did alter pre-planned meeting points but it was simply a case of selecting the next postcode on the list and heading there.

I was also carrying an iPhone and had given Matt C (another iPhone user) access to the “Find My Phone” application. With this facility, he could track my phones location remotely on a map application without me having to constantly run an application on the phone (I think it must just ping my phones location even when it is in standby mode) as opposed to me transmitting a constant GPS update which kills the battery life. In fact, my wife also used the application to track my progress at home. It was extremely useful and accurate but does involve giving someone access to your iTunes Account details (I had recently changed my credit card on the account and the old one wouldn’t have accepted payment which gave me some comfort over Matt going mad and downloading hundreds of pounds worth of apps or music!)

The other crew tip was to have all your kit, food and equipment neatly organised for easy reach and access. I had packed all the food and equipment into two plastic containers. This allows you to see what’s in the box easily and the container can easily be carried in and out of the boot of a car. In addition, if the weather is wet then it will protect the contents. Within the kit box, I had various sub boxes of items (i.e. plasters, batteries, spray etc) all labelled again for easy access. I had produced a detailed list of every item in each box but it was fairly easy to see and pull out what we needed. The only supplies the team had to purchase on route were some extra compeed blister plasters (we had other cheaper blister plasters but these were simply not as good) and some extra strapping for Stouty’s ankles.

In terms of food, we had lots. My love of Monster Munch crisps has been well documented but the rest of the list included; tinned food (sausage and beans, meatballs, spagehetti), tinned fruit (pear, peaches), mars bars and jaffa cakes (usually a favourite but I didn’t touch anything chocolate as I had been feeling queasy), snack bars, porridge pots (well recommended and you can just add water), bananas (didn’t touch), satsumas (went down very well), wine gums (lovely taste and you can chew them), jelly babies (made me feel sick and won’t touch again), biscuits (didn’t touch), pot noodles (went for Sainsbury’s basic and they were – spat out the contents of these at one point), flapjack (good) and a large box of home made welsh cakes from my Mum (awesome). Matt B has also made some fresh pasta on the Saturday morning which we added to the menu. We also had a few energy gels and powders but had only planned to use these if needed.

I bought enough food for the crew to snack on and still had loads left over. The guys found café’s or pubs to eat their main meals and then snacked on other items as needed. There are a couple of Tesco’s on route and if they needed anything else they could have easily acquired it on the day.

Our spare kit was carried in a sports bag and then we had assorted bottles of water, sports drinks and coke (again well recommended for the sugar/caffeine content) packed into the car. It isn’t necessary to bring all the water out each time so the guys could grab a small supply for each checkpoint.

Finally, we had a small gas stove for cooking hot food which we only used once the night before but possibly should have used again. I think the guys may have had some initial trouble getting it going but we had been supplied with some hot food, so they got there in the end.

Overall, the crew were well organised and we have no complaints over the service we received. Great job team!

Suspicious Behaviour?

The following information was passed onto my by the crew, I’ll repeat it here but make no further comment upon it as we don’t know the exact circumstances of the incident and I didn’t witness these events firsthand.

Early on the Sunday morning, a white van pulled up and appeared to drop off a runner who appeared to be taking part in the race. The runner was described as male, wearing a fluorescent yellow t-shirt, shades and a hat and he ran off quite quickly. Unfortunately, the crew didn’t get a glimpse of the runners number but they thought it most strange that they had been at the canal bank quite some time waiting for us and never saw this person run past them, the crew considered this behaviour a bit odd.



Checkpoint 7 to Checkpoint 8 (Springwell Lock 120 miles)

After the Grand Junction Arms stop, Cowroast Lock was only 2.5 miles ahead and it wasn’t long before we met the crew under the Bridge. This was going to be a major stop as we both needed running repairs on our feet and we had planned to refuel with some hot pots of porridge.

We both sat down on the canal bank just after the bridge as Alan brought out the porridge all made and ready to eat. The checkpoint meetings and crew organisation was absolutely spot on now with a quick text being sent a mile or so before the planned meet with a list of requirements and the crew having everything ready when we got there.

We ate some food and Matt C tried to pad Stoutys heels which were suffering from blisters.

I sorted out my own feet and drained the blisters on my heel and then padded my running shoes as best I could with animal wool. My feet were uncomfortable but runnable and I decided to take some ibuprofen (I had resisted taking these until I felt I absolutely needed to).

As we were eating breakfast, a small group of runners passed us. Matt C asked if they wanted anything but they seemed ok and carried on.

After a longish stop, we were ready to carry on and had about 6 miles to go until the next meeting point at Boxmoor where EJ and Nina were going to meet us to run. In addition, my Dad (Baz) was going to meet us and give us some morale support.

After this stop we immediately got a bit of a run going and we made reasonably quick progress towards Boxmoor. However, with a mile or so before the checkpoint Stouty pulled up a bit. We had a quick chat and agreed that I could run to the next meeting point and wait for him there. I didn’t want us to tarry too long at the next checkpoint as we had just had a major stop but with the weather coming out warm I wanted to change out of my night gear into some fresh clothes and have a quick chat with Baz so I was hoping to run ahead and gain a few extra minutes to do this before Stouty caught up.

I ran ahead by myself until I could see the crew ahead. Baz captured this on film and I looked pretty ok at this point.

I had a complete change of clothes here (including shorts) which to be honest smelt and ate a bag of monster munch crisps.

Stouty had something to eat and I think Matt C looked at his feet again but we were soon off with EJ and Nina accompanying us. The next agreed meeting point was Springwell Lock (Checkpoint 8) but this was 12 miles ahead so would be one of our longest legs.

The weather was really nice at this point as we jogged a bit and walked a bit towards the next Checkpoint. It was good to have some different company to talk to (no offence Stouty) to take your mind off the run. I was still finding myself diving into the bushes far more frequently than a supposedly fit guy should but put this down to plenty of water (I still had a feeling of thirst I couldn’t shake but was drinking plenty) and a lack of food to absorb it. My calf was also feeling pretty sore at this point.

I think we slowed down a bit on this leg as we arrived at Springwell Lock at around 1pm (predicted time 11.32 – 13.25) so we were closer to a 39.30 finish now but had some contingency in the plan for the last 25 miles.

When we arrived at Springwell we stayed on the right hand side of the river as our crew were there but called in our numbers. We got news from the crew that Shane was still going and only about 10-15 miles behind us, so he had exceeded his effort from last year (got to 80 odd miles and fell asleep on a park bench!).

Stouty wasn’t feeling great at this point and Baz leapt in with some morale support by thrusting a video camera in his face and demanding he announce his retirement from Ultra races at this point and we have the video clip of Stouty saying “Never, never again”.  It was then my turn for the Spanish inquisition (which was all well intentioned and amusing to play back later) but I shook my head, refused and can even be heard saying “We could do better” so I think I was starting to realise that the pace was slowing due to the various accumulated injuries. The rest of the body felt ok and I had definitely woken up from my night time slumber but the legs and feet were feeling the affects of the race now which is pretty relentless with mile after mile of canal path.

The crew had acquired some extra tape/strapping and Matt C tended to Stoutys ankles and strapped them up at this point.

The good news was that we had less than a marathon to go, the bad news is that this was now looking like it was going to take us about 8 hours to finish. If we hadn’t been suffering as much, this would have been the point where could have gained some time. The race plan allowed plenty of contingency time (which we eventually used) but this also afforded us the opportunity to make some gains, based on our current progress we wouldn’t be making any gains.

Checking my phone, I also picked up the messages that Claire (Ultratigger) was close to our had just won the womens race in about 30 hrs which was an absolutely amazing effort.

Checkpoint 8 to Checkpoint 9 Hamborough Tavern (133 miles)

We set off from Springwell Lock with EJ and Nina and headed towards our next agreed meet point at Cowley Lock about 6-7 miles away. Matt’s first aid worked well at first as we managed a trot but a short while later Stouty was visibly limping. I recall trying to set a good walking pace but there were no attempts to run beyond this point, we had now planned to march home and we looked like we were going to be under the 40hr mark (as per the original planned aim).
At Cowley Lock, Baz said goodbye as he was heading home. We had received a message that Shane had pulled out at 107 miles and was now heading home. That was a pretty good effort from Shane and he actually exceeded my expectations as I had joked with him in the car journey to Birmingham that he wouldn’t get beyond the 102.5 (Cowroast Lock) marker. He did, but unfortunately only a few miles further. Matt C joined us as buddy runner at this point.
I think Matt C and EJ had both cottoned onto the fact that I hadn’t been eating much and insisted I ate something. I didn’t feel like it but tried to snack on a few small items of food although jelly babies and mars bars were an absolute no go for me as I was still feeling a little sick.
We continued on from Cowley Lock. There was about 6 miles to go Hamborough Tavern as we marched on towards the famous left turn which marked the start of the last leg. I was pacing ahead slightly with Stouty & others behind and I’ll admit to feeling a little emotional for a moment or two. The ibuprofen must have been wearing off as my feet, calf and knee were killing me and every step felt like torture.
I was also starting to process my thoughts and feelings about the race in my head and was unsure how I felt at that precise time. All my training runs and efforts for the last 6 months had been building towards this event and I was physically suffering (although had no doubts about finishing as I could easily walk it in) but mentally had different emotions as this was a mixture of pleasure in bettering last year and making our target and some real disappointment in not doing better. We all know the GUCR is a tough, long and unrelenting race and will often throw challenges at you through injury, blisters, weather, sleep deprivation etc. I guess the mark of achievement for finishing these races is whether you can overcome these challenges (some good runners today didn’t make it). In some cases you can’t (an injury may physically prevent you from continuing) but often the issue is there to be overcome and sometimes that’s the challenge of the race.
About a mile or so before the left turn, I needed to use the facilities and dived into a bush again. I was still feeling unwell and was also a little sick at that point. EJ who had been walking with me turned round to find I had disappeared from sight and as Stouty caught up they all thought I had fallen down the small bank into the bushes and started calling out for me. I responded with a sheepish “I’m ok” thinking they would leave me alone as I finished depositing the contents of my stomach from both ends of my body but they started to press further “What are you doing? Are you having a No 2?”. I responded with another sheepish “Yes” and Matt waited for me as Stouty and EJ carried on.
A little while later we arrived at the left hand turn and Matt C ran on ahead to prep the crew. Stouty was really starting to struggle now and had dropped behind me and so I arrived at Checkpoint 9 a couple of mins ahead to be greeted by Andrew Smith and Henke (I think) who said “You don’t want to sit down, Paul”. He was right, I didn’t but was waiting for Stouty so made some vague comment about waiting for my race mate and had something to drink. The crew tried to get me to eat something and I may have eaten a couple of welsh cakes although I still had that sicky feeling in my mouth. I was quite keen to push on now and just finish this damn race!
Stouty arrived a couple of minutes later but wanted to stop for something more substantial to eat. I wasn’t happy to stop for too long as I was now eyeing 39-40 hr finish times and I suggested I walk on slowly and pause at our final crew meeting point at Piggery Bridge and wait there if he was still a behind me. Matt said he would accompany me and I think EJ or Nina were going to follow Stouty.
Checkpoint 9 to The Finish at Little Venice (145 miles)
I set out by myself at a slowish pace and sent the following tweet “Just left Checkpoint 9. Stouty stopping to refuel. Plan to wait at Piggery Bridge so we finished what (we) started together”. I missed out the “we” bit of the tweet but you get the message.
I was still feeling a little queasy and still frequently urinating. A short while after Matt C caught me up I was nearly sick again but stopped at the throat retching part and didn’t bring anything up. Stouty actually hadn’t stopped that long at Hamborough and was visible behind me and so we walked on with our different buddies towards Piggery Bridge.
Matt C was being supportive and asking how I was doing and it felt good to get a few thoughts off my chest. I actually started to feel better at this point onwards. I wasn’t really tired, the weather was coming out really warm and I had taken another ibuprofen so the pain was being numbed. Stouty looked in a worse state than me to be honest and I didn’t want to be another burden to the crew again so basically just “manned up” a bit and carried on.
We arrived a Piggery Bridge to see the whole crew there. We didn’t stay too long as we were close to the finish but just before we left ActiveEight (Sue) turned up looking for a bit of support as Firemannotsam was really struggling ahead and wanted to know if we had any suitable painkillers or pro-plus tablets. Paul Reed had something in his car which he went off to “fetch” (like the pun?) and I had some pro-plus left over in my backpack and we agreed to catch him up ahead.
ActiveEight said he was only a mile ahead and hobbling slowly with Ogee for company. From her description it sounded like he had a bit of a meltdown and had refused to move at one point, surely he couldn’t be considering throwing in the towel with a few miles to go?
Stouty and I started to move on at a slightly quicker walking pace. EJ and Nina were going to continuing buddying us. Matt B, Alan and Paul R headed onto the finish whilst Matt C was going to run ahead and catch Firemannotsam and Ogee with the medication and then go onto the finish. I sent a tweet to the effect of “firemannotsam needs rescue or something”, I thought he may find it amusing…. in about a weeks time.
Matt C caught up with Firemannotsam and Ogee and handed over what we had, rumours of 5 pro-plus being taken in one go have yet to be confirmed. I was pacing ahead of Stouty and caught the guys up. Firemannotsam was hobbling badly, had gaffa tape strapped round his knee and was moving slowly but he was still moving. I tried to give him a bit of encouragement although I’m not sure how much he was taking in at that point. Ogee was also encouraging him and keeping him going, so I knew he was in good hands.
After a quick chat with the guys, I decided to hang back for Stouty who was doing a “Firemannotsam” (i.e. hobbling along) but a couple of minutes behind us. We started the race together and we were damn well going to finish the race together.
We paired up again and continued on with the girls until we started to recognise the familiar signs of the finish. Ahead of us we could see Ogee and Firemannotsam but it seemed completely pointless trying to catch them up as the finish was about our own goal. In fact, if we had tried it there may have been a comedy sight of a group “zombie shuffle” towards the finish… best not to embarrass ourselves further.
We shot a couple of videos in the last couple of miles. I think this neatly illustrates Stoutys high and low points during the race.
 



With a mile to go, our buddies ran ahead to the end to await us coming in and Stouty and I marched in together. It was still light, we were under 39 hours and we were nearly home, the mood was good! I spoke to my wife and daughter who wanted to be on the line when we finished and so I put the phone “on speaker” and gave the girls a running walking commentary for the last few minutes.

As we passed the park on the right and followed the angle of the canal around a slight bend to the left we saw the fantastic sight of the finish sign and a small crowd of people who started to give us a wave and a cheer. I jokingly asked Stouty whether he wanted to complete yesterdays suggested finishing pose (he had offered to carry me on his shoulders as we crossed the line if we finished in the light – although this may be grounds for disqualification for receiving a lift?) but he didn’t rise to the bait.

There was some encouragement from the finishing crew to jog the last 50 yards which I nearly fell for but Stouty resisted and I recall Stouty raising our arms up in a victory pose and I gave him a bit of hug on the shoulders as we walked the last few yards to the finish home. Looking back at a few pictures, I definitely caught the sun as I was looking a bit tanned, unshaven and well a bit dirty.

Stouty was happy as the aim this year was to get some applause at the end of the race, previously we had finished so late (1.30am in the morning) that a barge owner had complained about the noise and we had received a welcome but muted celebration.

As we crossed the line, it was great to see the entire crew there giving us some applause and cheers along with a few other finishers, supporters and marshals. Dick was waiting on the line with a couple of medals for “the local boys” (we don’t live very far away from him) which he placed around our necks and gave us the usual firm handshake and congratulations.

We spoke to a few other people who congratulated us (name checks and thanks to Binks, Winelegs, Springypanther and a few others including a couple of marshals). We spoke to Ogee, Firemannotsam and Iveagh our Irish buddy from the night leg aswell and sat down on the side of the canal with a can of Stella each just to take in these last moments of the race.

It was great to finish in the light with a few people around and receive some support and congratulations from other people and crews, it felt pretty good at that moment. We saw our names being added to the board together in a final finish time of 38hrs 52mins.

I was happy to have achieved the original goal but I had that immediate feeling that we should have done a little better. The last 25 miles took us maybe 8 hours, so that’s where we could knock off a couple of hours (I was going to say “easily” but stopped myself there) next time. Still, it was a new Personal Best time and you shouldn’t ever be disappointed with that.







Aftermath

Alan took me back home and I fell asleep in his car quite quickly whilst Stouty was taken back by Paul Reed. I got home and had a bath, the toes were pretty much ok which was a big bonus but I had a large blister on each heel including one which had filled with blood. I was half tempted to get the camera and capture it for the benefit of the facebook group but couldn’t really get out the bath. I eventually got out after a good soak and then crashed out about mid-night and awoke about 6am the next morning. I spent about 2 hrs thinking of moving towards the kitchen for a cup of tea but waited until the missus and daughter woke up for that.

I actually felt much much better than I had the previous year. My knee and calf were injured (the calf more so), my heels were blistered but I could hobble around. I had a cold bath (not quite ice cold) and soaked in there to see if that would give me any benefit and had a lazy day with the family but did sleep again that afternoon for about 3 hours.

I managed my first run on the Thursday lunchtime as I returned to work, the feet are a little sore as the new skin is formed on your feet, the sore knee is settling down but the calf is still quite sore so will be taking it easy for a couple of weeks. I feel pretty good that I had recovered much quicker than last year where I was wiped out for a week, had shredded toes and couldn’t walk for a couple of days. I have noticed that an effect of wearing the toe caps is that it may have cut off some circulation as my little left toe felt a bit numb for a couple of days.

Summary

I really enjoyed the whole weekend from meeting people on the Friday to the running, chatting, banter with crews and runners over the weekend. I think we felt a little like “outsiders” last year, basically we were a couple of ex-amateur footballers trying to get into one of the UK’s toughest races with all manner of athletes who had been doing it for years and we had never run more than a half marathon race before our first Ultra in 2009. We felt like we didn’t belong last year to be honest.

However this year, largely thanks to Fetch we had a few more acquaintances and some other external support. It was a really great feeling to see people you didn’t really know encouraging you via Twitter or Fetch and willing you along to the finish. In addition a few crews recognised us as along the way and gave us some encouragement which was fantastic. I guess it’s nice to feel part of the running community.

Physically, we were better prepared and ran more than the previous year and we have both recovered reasonably well. The final time of 38.52 is what we had planned (our checkpoint window was 38-40 hrs) but I still feel a little disappointed over the sluggish finish and end result although I’m not sure I’ll ever do another race where I can boast a 5 hour improvement in my Personal Best time. At least, it gives us a target next time and we can now boast 2 starts and 2 finishes. Someone did comment that cutting out the tweeting and videoing may save me another half an hour aswell… but I do like to capture details/pictures of the race for the blog.
Someone asked me after the race how I would rate my run (must be a marathon talk listener) and after a bit of consideration would say the event is definitely a 9+ out 10. When I entered the GUCR, it was a six month build up to an event and you I enjoyed  the whole journey (X-factor cliché I know). In terms of result, I would rate it as a 7/10, good result, on target but room for improvement and I think we are capable of going a bit quicker if we can manage our feet better and avoid injuries.
To be fair, when you run with a buddy you end up running at the slowest persons pace the whole way round. My slow phase was definitely part of the night where Stouty literally dragged me along (and helped me avoid falling asleep or perhaps falling into the canal) although I recovered well into Day 2, where Stoutys ankles started to give him some real issues as the race progressed particularly from Sunday lunchtime onwards and he deteriorated from a run to a jog to walk during the event. We always said we would start and finish the race together and that’s what we did. Never leave a man behind is the motto and on another day it could have been me hobbling along at the end and I know Stouty would have stuck with me.

Would we do anything different? Probably not, the planning and organisation was spot on really and nothing went wrong as such. We may well have benefited from getting the crew to provide more support during the night or even having a buddy runner during the night but our plan was to fast walk this leg. We did our level best to avoid blistering and this was much improved from last year but I guess can be worked on further (if anyone has any further tips we would love to hear them) and injuries on the run are just a matter of luck really. Overall, I’m happy with the planning and organisation and we did improve on certain areas so our GUCR race experience and know-how seems to have improved.

Next time? Well I may be back another year to tackle it unsupported for a different experience. Will “The Wife” (Stouty) return? Well he did declare his intention to retire from the GUCR several times over the weekend but you never know, let’s put it down as a maybe.

And we come to a few thank you’s. Firstly, the crew were once again brilliant and looked after us really well (despite the slow start!), so thanks to Paul R, Alan, Matt C, Matt B, Nina, EJ and Harris for all the support, assistance and company over the weekend and to Baz for the morale support aswell.

Thanks to Dick and his team including all the people who make the effort to put on the race, it is a special race and one which I am delighted to have completed again.

Thanks to my family, Sal and Annabelle for supporting me before, during and after the race and thanks in advance for letting me do the race again in the future…

Finally, thanks to the running (Fetch / Runners World / GUCR Facebook) community for all your support, tweets and messages. It was really good to put a few names to faces and I hope to see some of you again at future events.

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Paul McCleery's Centurion Double slam

Written by Paul McCleery I first ran an official ‘ultra’ back in 2012 after taking part in a local relay race that covered 36’ish miles. I ran the first leg but...

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The Laveredo Ultra Trail 2018

The Laveredo Ultra Trail 2018

Written by David Caulfield - https://davidcaulfield5.wixsite.com The Most Beautiful Running Race You've Never Heard Of The Lavaredo Ultra Trail is an ultra marathon staged in the Dolomites covering a distance of 120 kilometres...

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Arseny's 2nd place in PYT166: Thailand 1…

Arseny's 2nd place in PYT166: Thailand 100 miler

Written by Arseny Chernov So, I snatched the 2nd place in inaugural Pong Yaeng Trail 166 km in Chaing Mai, Thailand. I started at 10:00am on November 9th, 2018, and it...

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Leadville 2018: The Rush is Still the Sa…

Leadville 2018: The Rush is Still the Same

Written by Katrin Silva - http://runkat.com/wordpress “Remember how it felt Throwing caution to the wind Hanging on the ragged edge Now it’s coming back again Feel the cold sweat trickle down Hot blood in your veins A little...

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South Downs Way 100 - Martin Bell

South Downs Way 100 - Martin Bell

Written by Martin Bell - https://thedeterminedrunner.wordpress.com Well where to start? Chris, John & myself were all to make the journey down south from Aviemore to take on our 1st 100 miler in...

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2018 Hardmoors 60 and Subsequent Finding…

2018 Hardmoors 60 and Subsequent Findings

Written by James Campbell - https://jamescampbell78.wordpress.com Background My 2018 Hardmoors 60 Race Report is conspicuous by its absence from these pages. Usually, it’s a case of “James runs a race, race report appears...

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2018 Hardmoors 110

2018 Hardmoors 110

Written by James Campbell - https://jamescampbell78.wordpress.com I came into the third race of the Hardmoors Superslam feeling really strong, which in a way is a good thing since it involved running further...

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2018 Hardmoors 30 Race Report

2018 Hardmoors 30 Race Report

Written by James Campbell - https://jamescampbell78.wordpress.com It’s genuinely scary how quickly this race seems to have come around.  It feels like only a couple of weeks ago that I was embarking on...

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Robin Hood 100 - 2018 ‘The Road To Spart…

Robin Hood 100 - 2018 ‘The Road To Sparta’

Written by Andy Day I’ve done a few of Hobo Pace events before & I’ve got to know the organiser Ronnie. He’s a genuine guy with a clear passion for running...

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361˚ Sensation 3 Shoe Review

361˚ Sensation 3 Shoe Review

Written by Sim Benson www.jenandsimbenson.co.uk Price: £119.99 Weight per shoe: men’s UK11 335g women’s UK6.5 265g Find out more www.361europe.com/en Overview: The Sensation 3 is designed as a high mileage trainer with a good blend...

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Don’t Stop Me Now: My Grand Slam Finish …

Don’t Stop Me Now: My Grand Slam Finish at Wasatch

Written by Katrin Silva - http://runkat.com “Hug me. Time to get comfortable getting uncomfortable.” My favorite aid station sign, and sound advice for finishing Wasatch The Wasatch 100 is the last race of...

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La Sportiva Grand Tour of Skiddaw

La Sportiva Grand Tour of Skiddaw

Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com Pure Outdoors Events 1st September 2018 http://www.pureoutdoorsevents.co.uk/index.php/the-grand-tour-of-skiddaw 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...

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a long mARCh

a long mARCh

Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com Mud Crew Arc of Attrition http://mudcrew.co.uk/event/the-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...

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Mozart 100 - Ross Hay

Mozart 100 - Ross Hay

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...

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Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race – 130 mile…

Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race – 130 miles – 2018 and thoughts on the Canalslam

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...

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The 2018 Kennet and Avon Canal Race 145 …

The 2018 Kennet and Avon Canal Race 145 miles

Written by Phil Bradburn - https://untrainingultrarunner.com With 7 weeks between Grand Union Canal Race and the second race in the Canalslam series – Kennet and Avon Canal Race – it was always...

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Race Report: Jurassic Coast 100 Miler

Race Report: Jurassic Coast 100 Miler

Written by Jamie Chaffey - https://mountaintrailrunning.com The Jurassic Coast 100 follows the historic clifftop trails along England’s southwest coast. I’m in the process of accumulating points to eventually enter the UTMB one year...

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