Written by Phil Bradburn - https://untrainingultrarunner.com
“There is nooooo way that I am going to run this race – I have seen what it does to people! And those swans…. And those dodgy people around Milton Keynes hiding under bridges like trolls….. and the mooring hooks that everyone trips over, and the low bridges that runners crash into…. And those bloody fishermen with their stupid long carbon fibre poles who make you hurdle them on Sunday morning as you approach Hertfordshire…. NOOOO WAAAAAAAAY!”. Me…… September 2017
So obviously just over 6 months later I would find myself stood on the start line in Birmingham ready to run the race. That’s standard practice right?!
The run up to the GUCR was far from perfect for me. I had injuries galore (I had not been 100% since the Grandslam in 2017 and had picked up a minor injury on a marathon (Moyleman in February) and as a consequence had a few weeks of on / off training and low mileage. You can read more about my whining and see the inevitable kit laid out here. Nevertheless, I was manning up and I was feeling ok about the race and very excited to get started. I had assembled the most amazing set of crew and buddy runners and issued detailed instructions on how to handle me.
Friday before the race
On the Friday afternoon we headed up in the car, after ramming my friend Marek’s car full of gear and food. At points I thought we would never fit it all in! I certainly don’t travel light!
Anyway, I had left Marek (left) and Susie (Right) to get on with it while I went to the loo. I was too nervous to help much and was just getting in the way.
Soon we were on our way and we were contending with shit traffic for the whole journey despite leaving our house around noon. There is a lesson for you boys and girls – traffic is shit on a Friday of a bank holiday weekend!
Anyway, we were having the best time on a road trip and I was getting chance to check out the pre-race chatter on facebook and to start panicking about how come I didn’t know that I had to take completed reverse sides of the race numbers with all the details of emergency contacts! I had read and re-read all the details and documents and don’t remember ever seeing it. Then I found the bit and then started worrying even more that I had completely forgotten to take in some vital detail that would probably get me DQd or something. I was really nervous then! ARGH! I checked the weather forecast – well, that was a shit idea! It was getting hot and wet for the weekend! with Thunderstorms. Oh… JOY!
Anyway. We eventually got to Birmingham to torrential ran! We were staying in the Premier Inn, on the other side of the canal to the start line. We dropped our stuff off there and then quickly made our way to registration in the Travelodge and picked up a sheet with a new diversion on for the race, and my race tech t-shirts and hoody, plus buffs. I also signed the disclaimer.
Soon we were off to O’Neills for the traditional pre-race meal (burger and chips and a couple of pints since you ask). And a quick catch up with Mark Thornberry, Karen Webber and others. I spotted Joanna and Stephen Turner as they were leaving (but they were out of ear shot so I didn’t bother trying to catch their attention).
Around 8pm we left and picked up some water at the supermarket across the road. The whole place seemed to be full of runners who all stuck out amidst the nightlife of Birmingham. We bumped into Jo and Stephen. She was crewing and buddy running for him. I’m sure I’d see him tomorrow on the race.
We made our way back to the hotel in the drizzle and after seeing Mark Thornberry and Karen Webber we made our way to bed. Sorted my stuff out. Set a tonne of alarms and tried to get some sleep. The night before I had managed zero sleep with some flight path change in our village and I was pretty exhausted and also a bit pissed off. This was my last chance to get rest before the race.
Morning of the race
We woke up around 4:30am and had porridge and black coffee – and tried to have some nervous poos. Nothing was working properly yet so I’d likely end up crapping on the side of the canal in Birmingham at some point! But thankfully things rectified themselves and I was able to “go” before leaving the hotel at 5am.
Milling around in Gas Street
Stood around at Gas street at the start, I was feeling a bit nervous. Lots of tough runners and I knew that over 40% just wouldn’t make it and a fair chance that it would be me. I have had some disrupted training this year and my build up didn’t quite go to plan but none the less, I did manage about 300 miles of training in April and a good couple of 70 mile weeks at the start of May before my taper – so I was fairly ok with that. Not everything goes to plan and I guess that is part of the beauty of doing these races.
What I was less ok about was starting the race feeling exhausted. My sleep was interrupted on the Thursday night due to never before heard planes circling over our village. Gatwick must have changed its flight paths. It made me angry. Then Rob Pinnington told me to man the fuck up or words to that effect in a message on Facebook and that seemed to do the trick. Friday night was a better night sleep in the Premier inn just overlooking Gas Street in Birmingham. But I still felt pretty knackered. Not the ideal start to a race that would see me running all weekend.
We milled around at the start. I was reminded by James Adam’s blog that it looks like a reverse Graduation ceremony – lots of youngsters standing around seeing their older parents off! Bumped into a few friends and crew of others. My wife Susie and friend Marek were there to see me off. Marek had driven us both up there on the Friday (5 bloody hours to Birmingham and it had rained overnight)
Soon Dick motioned that we should go down to the canal for the briefing. He didn’t want to start late like a previous year. While I was stood there listening to him do the briefing, I found it a bit of an out of body experience – I had seen so many race briefings at the start of GUCR on Youtube, and it was hard to think I was actually experiencing it for myself.
06:00am – Gas Street Birmingham – Start
We soon shuffled off into a half jog before the canal path went through a tunnel and then widened out. The usual chatter. Been here before? Done this one? It’s hard isnt it? All that kind of nervous chat while you each other weigh up the extent to which you should feel out of your depth. I had a brief chat with Paul Gilbertson as we jogged along the canal. He was looking like he might be fast! So at some point he pushed on.
I had agreed to meet Marek and Susie at the first yellow crew point – just before Catherine de Barnes Bridge which I remember being pretty rural by that point.
I soon joined up with a chap called Rod and another chap who were running together. I am useless with names so I’m sorry if that was you! We were just enjoying the miles and in some ways it felt easier to be running my pace but chatting to others.
The ground was good. There was a little bit of spitty rain, but nothing bad at all.
07:42am – Elmden Heath – 9.7 miles
I had been running well, but was low on water so I filled up when I saw Marek, and Susie. But there were no snacks – so I asked for some savoury and some sweet at the next crew point about 5 miles later. What I learned is that all the crew points were “about five miles later” whether they were 2 miles or 8 miles. That’s clever motivation.
08:22am – Knowle Locks – 13.7 miles
I spotted Susie here and grabbed a bag of sweets and a bag of savoury food. In practice it was crisps and some salted peanuts, and some Haribo. Susie had said she got to hold an Olympic torch from 1948. And a chap had borrowed it from Jeffrey Archer and was using it to raise money for Sense – the charity. They are doing a relay with it from Much Wenlock to Crystal Palace. Susie was so happy about holding the torch! I marched out of the checkpoint and munched all my stuff til it was all gone
09:02am – Kingswood – Bridge 65 – 17.2 miles
I’d grabbed a couple of ham wraps from Susie and I’d eaten them both during this section. The first one coming out of the crew point. I was hoping it had not developed mould as it was next to my sweaty body (was remembering Dawn Gardner’s incident !!!)
10:07am – Hatton Top Locks – 22.5 miles
This was the aid station 2. I came running in and saw Susie next to the café. I asked for a calippo – she went to get one for me as I munched on my ham wrap on the way to the aid station. I saw Karen Webber and the other crew for Mark Thornberry here – and I filled up with some squash at the aid station. Susie passed me my calippo as I left.
My shorts were really pissing me off – and I had for the eleventy billionth time managed to scrape them out of my crotch. They kept riding up and pissing me off and was actually thinking of ditching the fucking things altogether on the race (obvs still running with compression shorts underneath!)
Thanks for the photo Ross!
I left the aid station munching my calippo.
Chap on canal: “Is this a sponsored walk today?”Me: “It’s a run from Birmingham to London – non-stop, for most of the weekend”Chap on canal “Yeah fella… are you sure?…. it’s just that you’re walking!”
I could see Fi McNelis in the distance – but I couldn’t catch her – she was going super strong. I had to stop briefly to wee (checking the colour – which was looking darker than it should…. so I realised I would have to up the drinking).
I finally caught up with my favourite Slam friend Georgina Townsend. When we both did the Centurion Grandslam in 2017, we would regularly spend some miles together because we would have a tendency around 30 – 50 miles to run at a similar pace (i.e. I could keep up!). A swan stood in our way. Protecting her cygnets. FUCK OFF SWAN! It just stood there hissing at us like a big white snake and doing her job well. A passer by helped to distract her while we pushed past behind.
11:09am – Bridge 42 – Ford Plant – 27.4 miles
I got a top up of bottles and pushed on. I caught back up with Georgina and the others and just got pulled along for some good easy miles. I went through the 31 mile point just before noon . Neither me, nor my crew remember anything at the next crew point.
12:49pm – Blue Lias – 35.1 miles and then Birdingbury Bridge CP
I was really hot at this point. I was getting regularly doused with water to keep cool but I was a little bit off the pace and had dropped the group. I picked up the back piece to my hat so that I could keep a bit cooler. I soon hit the aid station, saw Keith Godden and moaned about the heat and filled up with water. I bumped into Georgina again, and said that I’d see her shortly when she caught up with me. I was feeling way too hot and bothered and super grumpy! This wasn’t going to be a good day. I had my crew moaning at me about not drinking, but I had been refilling at aid stations too – and having extra drinks along the way.
2:01pm – Jacksons Bridge – 40.1 miles
When me and Georgina run together we have such a great time – just chatting shit and moaning – which is great because it is only ever a positive experience. I rarely speak to other runners while on a race but we both seem to be able to groove along and chew up the miles as we do. We eventually bumped into Ian Shelley – hugs all round and we had a bit of a catch up with his race so far. He told us a runner had ended up in the canal trying to avoid a cyclist. I remembered that I had to clamber over / through a tree at some point but can’t for the life of me remember when or where it happened.
After a few miles and still chin wagging as usual, and moaning about all kinds of stuff we jogged down the side of a bridge and spotted my whole crew! Hugs all round. It was beautiful to see everyone.
3pm Braunston Marina – 44 miles
Our crew said that there was ice cream ahead! WHOOOOOOOAH! Music to our ears. So we headed off at breakneck speed to go get ice cream. There’s nothing more motivating for us two it would seem!
A few miles later, hoping we would find the rumoured source of calippo and ice creams we had been hearing about we accosted a random chap….
Us – “Hey, is there an ice cream shop here?”
Him – “There’s a stop up there. At a pub. It just beyond 2 bridges and there are refreshments”
Us – “But…… ice cream shop?”
Him – “There is an aid station”
Now that didn’t seem right at all to us……
Anyway, we saw a sign for a shop and ice cream at that second.
Him – “Wait for the aid station – they have refreshments”
Me and Georgina looked at each other and I could tell we were both thinking that this guy was an obvious imbecile……
Us – “Or….. we will go get ice cream now!”
No bloody competition is it!
So we grabbed ice creams and cold drinks (I had a calippo and a strawberry milk drink) and walked while we ate. A couple of other runners looked super jealous and relayed a similar convo with the random chap.
We got back to jogging and ran on. Eventually we made it to the Buckby Top Lock. Georgina was running low on drinks and I told her that my crew would sort her out. My shorts had AGAIN stayed rammed up my crotch!
4pm – Buckby Top Lock – 48.5 miles
It was lovely to see my crew. I had stones in my shoes and Paul Pickford cleaned them out (or so he says!) and when he was putting them back on me he pulled my leg up….
“ARGHHHHHHHHHHH” i screamed.
Thinking I was cramping, he tried to straighten out my leg even more… I turned the air blue! In fact my arm muscles hurt so much from bracing against the intense pain.
Anyway, stocking up on more junk and getting ice cubes shoved in various places (buffs around wrists etc) I headed out with Georgina for the next bit. I got two calippos as I left the crew stop (Thanks Vanessa!) and a tonne of ice poured down my back including down my arse crack. Which stung like hell. As we were going under the road I discovered I had an ice cube down my arse crack.
“Georgina – here is a calippo you can have – I have two!…. But….. we need to stop. I have an ice cube in my arse. Can you do me a favour?”
At this point Georgina looked fucking horrified “Ummmmmmmmmmmmmm……….”
I realised what I said and clarified quickly that I didn’t want her to fish an errant ice cube out – just to stop and hold everything else while I did FFS Georgina
Me: I have ice down my arse crack. I’m gonna have to get rid of it.
More jogging….. and then we rounded a corner and spotted my crew again at the official checkpoint
Thank again Ross Langton for the photo.
You can see how bloated and fat I was / was feeling! And my shorts up my fucking crotch AGAIN!
5pm CP4 Heart of England – 53.1 miles
We stopped here briefly. My crew was moaning at me that I wasn’t drinking or eating. I gave some half arsed excuses and then got on my way. Georgina was still in the aid station and as I passed she said she would catch me up.
I ran on and I knew that this next section would be hit and miss in terms of seeing my crew but that I would see them at some point probably around 60 miles.
Anyway, the temperatures seemed to be getting higher and I was starting to feel a bit sluggish. I saw Jo Turner a couple of times at various non-descript places along the route, and then I went under a bridge and recognised it as where I should have been able to see my crew. They weren’t there so I figured they may have gone on to the next point. But I didn’t see them there either. I was getting grumpy because of the heat and I was slow. I walked. I jogged.
It was at around this point that this happened:
Random lady: Can I ask? What is it you’re doing?
Me: Run from Birmingham to London
RL: Oh right? Is that like a marathon?
Me: 145 miles.
RL: Where will you sleep?
Me: It is non stop – probably have a few short kips
RL: Are you doing it for charity?
Me: No….. just for kicks!
At this point RL shouts after me YOU’RE CRAAAZZZZEEEEEEEEE
Eventually it occurred to me that it was starting to get to late afternoon and it would be going dark soon. These miles wouldn’t click away at all. I was getting irritable. I know it is hard for the crew (I had done it the previous two years and getting between places was difficult – but I was starting to fear that I wouldn’t see them at 60 miles either and I would have no headtorch to get to the 65 mile point where I would be able to meet my first buddy runner – Tracey Watson. So I phoned my wife and moaned a fuck load about needing water, torch etc and that I’d managed to miss my crew. She said she would find out what was happening and let me know.
I felt better instantly. I knew they would be doing their best but they didn’t know how slowly I was moving so probably had unrealistic expectations of when I would arrive with them and I didn’t want to be in a position of where I wouldn’t be able to complete even half of the race.
I came across another crew and managed to bag some water off them. It was then that one of them noticed my Steigen socks (they’re Australian and the only ones that I wear these days because they’re so thin and comfortable and didn’t get a single blister during the slam last year and the chap explained he had been responsible for getting them ot the UK and US). We had a chat while I drank their water. They were tended to their own runner who was getting what looked like a lovely massage and his legs were on the ice box. I felt guilty when his crew made him move his legs so they could get something for me! Anyway, I had a nice drink of water (I’d got bored of my own – it tasted funny and hot).
On I trotted, in search of the bridge crossing so that I could avoid the Northampton Branch. As I switched sides of the canal I came across Jo Turner and a lady and child who had a cool box.
Jo – “anything you need?”
Me – “Yes….. icecream?” I ventured tentatively – not expecting anything to come of it
Jo’s friend – “here is a calippo – it’s a bit melted but you can have it”
I was ecstatic! so I skipped down the canal (metaphorically) and poured the melted strawberry / cream calippo into my gob.
7pm – Gayton Junction – 60.6 miles.
I was pretty grumbly here. I got a bad time for not drinking my water (but I had other stuff but no one believed me LOL). It was lovely to see Paul, Lou and Vanessa. Hugs all round. They told me to get moving and they would see me at the Buddy pick up at 65 miles. I had a little sit on the bench. We saw Mark Fox who asked me about Chris Larmour (his runner) but I didn’t know at the time who that was.
I ran on. I was desperate to get through the Blisworth tunnel section before dark. This was the bit where you divert away from the canal for a mile and a half before rejoining it. I didn’t want to be running in the traffic in the dark (albeit with a headtorch) because I had read horror stories in other blogs about runners missing the turning.
My fears were short lived. Steve Turner was just ahead of me and moving really well and I was enjoying some good running as the temperatures were coming down and there were some downhill tarmac sections.
Eventually I rejoined the canal on a beautiful bouncy track surface – I really was bounding along like Tigger! I reached Stoke Bruerne but no sign of my crew. I hadn’t looked ahead at the instructions so I didn’t know where I was going. I phoned Susie and we established that I was at the top lock – not the bottom one. So I carried on until eventually I spotted them.
8:23pm – Stoke Bruerne – 65 miles
My crew – and others were there. Also spotted friends Paul Commons and Karen Grieves who were there for their runner – Ian Shelley. I changed into my warm top, had a pot noodle and put my main headtorch on. After a stop we left there at 8:23pm – with Tracey Watson my buddy runner – and with Fi McNelis. We were looking for a bridge to cross – couldn’t see it so we crossed another one.
I put on some good jogging for a bit and then needed a wee. I told Tracey I needed to change my shoes from my trail shoes to my road shoes so I’d like to make sure that my pale blue new balance 880s were in the car for the next point. She texted once I stopped for a wee.
I think we were making good time and after a little while we saw Navigation Bridge – basically the half way point – and I was delighted to be hitting it in the twilight! That was the sign that the run was going ok. I knew that a lot of people drop here so I was pleased I was feeling good and that I felt full of beans!
9pm (ish) – Navigation Bridge 70.5 miles
I was in and out of the checkpoint quickly – only giving my number and we pressed on. Some good jogging going on and we were with Stephen Turner. He’s such an amazing runner and he and his wife had just been to Romania for a race. He had also done TP100 a few weeks earlier. I don’t know how he does it! Anyway, I didn’t have any business being as close to him as I was and generally we were leapfrogging along this whole section.
10:50pm – Proud Perch – 75.8 miles
I was still grumping about my shoes. I was being a total asshat. I needed my shoes. But just didn’t have them. So was getting super grumpy. I shoved some caffeine bullets and headed off again with Tracey. I had changed into New Balance Zante V3 which gave me some much needed relief as they felt much lighter on my feet and they had more cushion in them. I would need to change when it rained though – because they have zero grip – but for now they were nice. We didn’t seem to see any nightlife through Milton Keynes – perhaps the weather kept them all indoors! I was now drinking Mountain Dew but the problem was that I was suffering badly from being burpy, bloated and indigestion.
I was mainlining Rennies to the extent that my crew were googling “calcium carbonate overdose”
00:20 – Peartree Bridge – 80.4 miles
This was where I buddy ran with Pickford in 2017. I had a sit down. Got stones out of my shoes and faffed for a few minutes while I moaned some more about my pale blue new balance shoes. Marek was saying that he could get to this point in 20 minutes – but I decided to press on – he could meet us later and before it rained.
As we left the checkpoint it was spitting. Soon after Tracey insisted that I stop to put on my jacket because it was threatening to rain. We saw Stephen Turner and he was still running in short sleeves and insisted that the rain would “blow over”
01:29am – CP6 Bridge 99 – 84.5 miles
I got into the checkpoint and Tracey handed me over to Pickford. I had my jacket on already because Tracey had made me put it on incase it started to rain – which it had already – but was only light at the moment.
I had another moan about my shoes and switched into some Pearl Izumi Road N3 which were more sturdy than the NB Zante v3 and had some grip incase it rained. The aid station people had told me that it was a lot of tarmac for around 8 miles. So I judged that it would be the right shoe choice.
This whole section is a bit of a blur but essentially it pissed it down. A lot. We had been pressing on and seemingly with the thunder, lightning and heavy rain all the frogs and slugs and snails had come out for a party. Frogs. Loads of them. During the biblical rain and thunderstorms overnight. I accidentally crunched some of them. I thought I was hallucinating anyway. So it’s almost like not real.
It was weird too as, even with the canal on my right hand side, there was the illusion that we were running up hill. Such an odd experience. I commented on it at the time to Pickford.
02:10am – Soulbury Three Locks – 87 miles
We saw Vanessa, Susie and Lou here. This crew stop is near a pub and we spotted Jo Turner waiting for Stephen. Cuddles and hugs and more Lucozade and a lump of chocolate. Made my spirits soar
03:15am – Tesco Leighton – 90.5 miles
I’d had a brief sleep on a bench when it had got a little warmer. Pickford had shielded me from the wind and let me have just five minutes sleep. I was so tired I just needed a quick shut eye. I didn’t actually get to sleep but the rest was really good and I had been aware of my pace dropping.
04:28am – Slapton Lock – 94.2 miles
We met Tracey and Pete here. They were not letting me sleep in their lovely car so I grumbled and marched on. We also saw Jo waiting for husband Stephen here. He had had a sleep so was full of energy and soon bounded past. We had had thunder and lightning and heavy rain most of the night.
06:10 – 06:40am – Grand Junction Arms – 99.5 miles
I arrived at the aid station and felt like I had broken the back of the race. My pace was reasonable but I really, really needed a sleep. I walked to the car up what seemed to be a cliff face! and got into the front of Marek’s car. I was finally united with my pale blue new balance YAY!
I took my old socks off and noticed a big blister from the soaking during the night. I changed my top into a short sleeve one for the day time. Susie had passed me a new pair of Steigen socks. I noticed when I put one of them on that it was a 3/4 length sock. I had made an error when I ordered it from the website because I prefer 1/4 or 1/2. Anyway. I moaned about it to Susie. I already had one on. She said I could have a different pair to put on, but I couldn’t be fucked. I would rather just put the second sock on and moan like fuck!
Snuggled up under a blanket and tried in vain to stop the light keeping me awake, and the pinging noise from Marek’s phone from keeping me awake. I had 15 minutes, plus an extra 5 minute snooze before I was moved on from the comfort of the car.
I thought I was hallucinating my nut off at several points of the race. Bloody pandas across the other side of the canal. Like the Godzilla tree that I saw near Tring…… and the hanging ape off some old disused factory! The things you see on the canal!
08:00am – Cowroast Lock – 102.5 miles
This is where possibly my biggest disappointment. The crew were there. The whole crew AND WITH MCDONALDS BREAKFAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I went and sat on a bin – keep it classy Bradburn! I eagerly got started on a hashbrown. But a few bites in – I couldn’t take any more. I took a few bites of the double sausage and egg mcmuffin and struggled too. Damn my stupid body !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I even had Susie give me it component by component – but I couldn’t even do that. I felt a failure at being able to finish a fucking McDonalds. How weak am I? Usually I can hoover one down in 2 minutes flat and here I was struggling like an idiot. I couldn’t even drink a cup of coffee. I’m useless! I felt like I had let the crew down because I had failed a Mcdonalds!
Off I headed with Paul once again and next point he would hand over to Tracey.
08:23am – Berkhempsted – 104.3 miles
I didn’t stick around at this point – we had 2 minutes only just to change things over from my buddy Paul. As we left I asked Tracey if she had the maps? No….! Paul still had them, so I walked ahead and she went back to retrieve them. I then demanded my sunglasses then decided I didn’t want them. I’m such an asshat.
Anyway, as I carried on I eventually saw Lou Fraser with the maps and we walked together perhaps for a mile while Tracey caught back up. Was nice to see Lou and have a walk in the warm weather. I stopped and moaned about stones in my shoes. Emptied out some non-existent stones and then marched on saying goodbye to Lou. Tracey caught back up with me before the next bridge crossing.
9:40am – Boxmoor – 108.5 miles
We bumped into Jan Strachan here who was out to see us come through along with other runners. Lou and Vanessa were here to tend to me. I didn’t stick around and we soon got on our way. I remember last year buddy running here and we had somehow got stuck in the car park of the pub.
11:35am – West Watford – 115 miles
Changed back to Paul to buddy run with me. I found it hard to find somewhere suitable to sit such that I would be able to get up again! So I had to walk up some steps to a suitable place to sit at the correct angle. I had some strawberries, and I had more Lucozade. I was basically force fed more and more LOL.
1:31pm – CP8 Springwell Lock – 120.3 miles
I was with Paul and we came into Springwell lock. The aid station was across the lock but they took my number this side to avoid it. Jerry Hunter handed me a piece of paper and there was a message from my mate Marcel McKinley. I’d met him a couple of years ago when I was crewing GUCR for my friend Michael.
I had a brief lie down on the bridge. It was soooooo lovely. I had some strawberries. My whole crew was here. More ice. I had a 5 or 10 minute shuteye here. Anyway, on I went with Paul after a kiss from my wife Susie (after she had force fed me some mango slices)
During the heat of the day, I was walking and moaning like fuck. It was a couple with their son. The conversation went something like this between them and me and Paul.
Canal people: Wow – is this a sponsored walk today?
Us: No….. it is a run.
CP: Oh right, you’re walking though?
Me: (indignant!) I have run 120 odd miles already, that’s why I’m walking
CP: Where from?
Us: Birmingham to London. Through the night. No overnight sleeps.
CP: For charity?
Us: Nope. It is a race – all for fun
CP eyed me up suspiciously……. Perhaps I didn’t look like I was having fun.
Sunday 2:36pm – Wide Water Lock 123 miles
I got an amazing massage from Vanessa and Lou. More ice including in a pack on my leg where I was really swollen.
3:57pm: Cowley Lock – 127.5 miles
We saw Susie here and I had a Ginsters pasty, Paul had a ham and cheese sandwich and we cracked on. We soon went through the Tescos car park because of work being carried out on the canal path. We were getting closer and closer to the end, though slower and slower.
A group of teens / early 20 somethings were walking down the canal and were interested in what I was doing. They couldn’t really comprehend running from Birmingham to London…. just because….. but they seemed quite impressed.
Near here Javed Bhatti ran up to us – he was moving well and said that the left turn was only about half a km ahead (it wasn’t – I reckon it was 2 miles in the end!) I’d met him at Ultrafest in summer 2017 – and he had been doing a talk about sleep and ultras. Fascinating stuff. I told Paul about the fact he had done the double Spine race – basically done the race and then turned back and went back to the start. Over 560 miles in total! Insanely tough guy! Anyway, you can see me having a sense of humour failure in the photo below.
Lou and Vanessa met us with a McFlurry. OMFG. It was amazing. It was melted but I didn’t care. It cooled me down. Gave me some calories and I particularly enjoyed the chocolate pieces. They’d bought it a while ago when I was moving better and we’d misestimated times. So I had only myself to blame. But I enjoyed it anyway.
Eventually, with more moaning from me, and whinging about the sun and the fact it was getting hotter, we arrived at Bulls Bridge and the infamous left turn….
5:30pm Bull’s Bridge – 132 miles
This is such an iconic spot and with 13 miles to go to Paddington it is the main photo opportunity for GUCR runners. It instantly makes you think about the first half marathon you did and how this distance seemed so far when you first started running. And how it would feel even further right now! In my head I did some calculations. So.…. I’m going about 3 miles an hour….. that’s about 4.5 hours plus any stoppage.
Walking up the slope of the bridge was tough. I got to the top. Pickford manouevred me into the right position for the photo. I could barely stand up!
What I didn’t know was that I would have a whole minute of swearing rant at everything and everyone and no one and nothing at the appearance of more floating walkways. Fucking hell.
Going through my mind was Fuck this shit. Fuck this canal. Fuck the other canals. ARGHHGHRGHGHGHGHGHGHHGH but I wanted to finish and I’d enjoyed it – I just didn’t want to enjoy it any longer!
When you’re not sure that you can trust your legs, and the feedback you’re getting, then try walking on a plastic walkway floating on the canal. I felt seasick and super pissed off. I even had a go at my poor buddy runner Paul.
My rant involve me going on about how I was going as fast as I fucking could and he could just fuck the right off now. Anyway – it lasted about a minute and Paul just agreed with me and said yeah yeah just keep moving, I know….. its hard, just keep moving along.
My mood wasn’t helped by having to pick my way through a building site because the fencing had collapsed onto the canal path.
Eventually we arrived at the next checkpoint Hambrough Tavern CP9. Thankfully there were no hissy swans at this point.
6:05 pm – CP9 Hambrough Tavern – 133 miles
I got into the aid station. Filled up with some drinks and then went for a brief sit down with Kenneth’s crew. I stole a seat. I didn’t ask. I just sat down. I was so tired. My buddy runner Paul let me have a quick 5 minute sleep before getting me to my feet and getting me moving. Kenneth’s crew were bloody amazing people. They were willing me along at every opportunity when they saw me.
I felt ABSOLUTELY FUCKED! I was tired, hungry, thirsty but didn’t want to eat or drink. I wanted to get to the end, but I also didn’t want to get there. My brain was frazzled!
The heat of the day just wasn’t abating. If anything it seemed to be getting even hotter. This wasn’t doing my mood any good at all. I was finding it hard to drink enough. My feet were mashed – it felt like there were a billion hot coals in my shoes – and my left leg was still swollen and every time I started up again after stopping, my legs and feet took some time to warm up again so they were moving and not so painful. I left the aid station around 6:05.pm.
On any other day, I would be finished within a couple of hours. Easily. Not today with 130 odd miles in my legs….
I moaned and moaned and moaned. In my head the Hambrough tavern (from my memory of previous year buddying / crewing Paul Pickford) was that it was half way on the 13 mile stretch to the end. But of course it wasn’t. There was 12 miles to go! My brain was playing tricks on me and fighting against the evidence around me.
Positive Phil ……Oh look…. an aircraft….. oh look a sign saying “Northholt”….. yeah but we must only be 5 miles from the end by now surely……
Realist Phil ..…. you’re deluded…… you know that northholt is no where near Little venice. Don’t be so retarded.
Positive Phil ….. but you remember last year…. its close
Realist Phil…. but your buddy runner is on the phone telling your crew that you still have 9 miles to go…..
Positive Phil…. it’s just round the bend of the canal…..
Realist Phil … you’re totally fucked up – look….. no sky scrapers, you’re in suburbia! Greenford?! Look…. face facts… you’re out here ALL EVENING!
And so it went on with this unspoken internal dialogue back and forth. I think it was my way of keeping my brain occupied so that it couldn’t stop my body moving forward slowly and to take my mind off tromping through possibly the least cared for section of canal along the whole length of the Grand Union.
8:39pm – Piggery Bridge – 139 miles
Eventually we met up with my crew beyond a bridge. Vanessa and Lou were there plus Kenneth’s crew. I was so happy to see them. They had asked me what I needed and I’d given a message via my buddy that I wanted a fruity non gassy drink. They had got me oasis I think. It was nice. I managed to lie down for a bit to try and get a bit cooler and eat a calippo. I then had a second one. It tasted so good and I felt great.
I was pulled to my feet and just about to start off. Vanessa asked whether I needed long sleeve top for the last section. I felt fine but instantly I started to shiver uncontrollably which worried me and I asked for a long sleeve merino top. If I was having to death march this in, I didn’t want to risk not finishing. The temperatures were still high but I felt so cold. Paul and Lou made me into a cuddle sandwich and kept me warm while Vanessa came back with my top. I changed and put my headtorch on my head in readiness.
And off we went……. more canal towpath. At least it was flat. If only I could run this section I could be finished soon! But all I could do was moan at the sun. Moan about my feet. Moan about the psychopathic cyclists who couldn’t be bothered to use their bells or to give space and there was no way that I could react to them to change course. So I just kept walking as fast as I could in a predictable line.
This section was so soul destroying. We seemed to stay in suburbia for ages and the large buildings in the distance didn’t seem to get any closer. I didn’t recognise anything (despite cycling this before) and then what seemed to be a mountain ahead indeed was a mountain! The biggest bloody hill I’ve seen on the canal. I could barely get up it!
Anyway, as we got the top, we had to leap out of the way because of an asshat cyclist. And then we tentatively made our way down the other side. Then things messed with my head. I had to negotiate not getting run over by a moped rider on the path, then the path was shut and we had to find our way back onto the canal.
The next bit was the last stretch, none of it was familiar. I was as grumpy as hell. I had a meltdown claiming we were going the wrong way. Pickford was having none of my bullshit and let me look at the map.
We were getting closer but in my head it felt ever further away – I think as I was moving slower and slower. Eventually I realised that I was doing this, I could do it, and I was going to finish and I could definitely make it from here. I couldn’t move any faster but I was surprised no one had over taken in the last several hours.
Eventually the train line came close. I remembered a section of graffiti near the westway. I saw Trellick Tower. And eventually – the finish line in sight!
10:38pm The Finish line – Little Venice – 145 miles
Paul said, give me your headtorch. I had a bit of a strop and moaned I couldn’t see where I was fucking going and didn’t want to fall over before the end. He was only trying to help and I felt bad about being a grumpy fuck.
Coming to the finish line I was aware of runners behind me. I turned around and muttered a greeting and motioned to go on ahead, my buddy runner moved out of the way, and I said watch out for the mooring hooks. “Hey dude… it’s fine. We will stay behind. This is how we roll”.
That….. Is what you need to know about GUCR! No sprint finishes like in some of my 100s last year. This is a different beast.
I didn’t stop my watch. Dick shook my hand. Put my medal around my neck and he said “Gosh – 4 runners all together!”
I embraced my wife for what felt like a whole minute. I couldn’t believe I had finished. That I could now finally sit down and sleep without interruption for the first time since Friday night. It was now Sunday night!
I saw the famous yellow sheet of plastic with all the finishers on. How I longed to be on that piece of plastic with scribbled names and finish times on. Staring at the names of the runners on that board just filled me with awe.
The atmosphere was amazing. People I had never met before greeted me. Other runners. Other crew. Random strangers. And most of all my crew. It was so lovely to see them all and thank them for helping me to finish this race. Tom Garrod shook my hand and told me that Mimi – my coach would be so proud – and I shuffled off to the car (I felt instantly cold and really needed to sit down).
GUCR 2018 – 40h 38 minutes. Well inside the 45 hour cut off and 32nd place out of 54 finishers and 98 starters. I felt pleased with that given my injuries in feb and march, and the weather I contended with on the race weekend. It would have been nice to be sub 40 – but hey – I don’t mind that much! I did what I could do on the race and whats 30 odd minutes on a race that takes all weekend!?!
That was by far the hardest race I’ve ever taken part in and the one where I have eaten the most ice lollies – approx. 10 callipos! There is absolutely no way I would have been able to do it without the best crew and buddy runners ever.
Paul Pickford for buddy running 55 miles with me through the shittiest thunderstorm and rain, and putting up with me for the death march to the end.
Tracey Watson for being a total loving bitch to me pushing me along and beasting my ass on the sections she buddy ran with me.
Lou Fraser for being so kind and giving up her time all weekend to dish out cuddles and calippos and to put up with my whining about shoes.
Vanessa Jane Armond for being amazing and putting up with all my diva strops and doing her best to make sure I was eating and drinking (even though I was making it hard for her!)
Pete Watson for being there and helping out and driving my crew around and also ferrying another runner to the train station.
Marek Kowalak for giving up so much of his long weekend and spending it away from his family to spend it with a moany goat instead driving to Birmingham then all the way back at the end. Super star. And crewing for most of Saturday with Susie and being there to drive me home.
And Susan Bradburn of course. Just perfect. Putting up with me whining and whinging. I still can’t believe it took me 10 minutes to eat half a McDonald’s mcmuffin.
Thanks also to Mimi Anderson for coaching – and helping me relax about the race when I had a month or so of frustrating injuries and getting me to a good position for the start of the Canalslam series.
Thanks also to Rockstar https://www.rockstar-sport.com/ for their support and for having me as a member of their running team.
Thanks also to Dick Kearn Keith Godden and Wayne Simpson for the most amazing race. And to all the volunteers and helpers and all the wellwishers along the canal and to get a little piece of paper with a message on from Marcel Brandon McKinley near Watford was great plus all the messages that friends were sending on and which Paul was reading to me. It really is a special atmosphere and I will definitely be volunteering in the future. I just loved how people were so amazingly 100% pleased for me to finish – even completely random people I didn’t even know. Just beautiful.