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 going to be a bit of a test to recover and train to be ready.
The KACR covers 145 miles of canals and rivers – from Bristol Temple Meads station to London Paddington – non-stop with an overall time limit of 45 hours and rolling cut-offs at checkpoints along the way. If you stop for more than 45 minutes you’re deemed to have retired.
I was really looking forward to the race. Training had gone well – much better than my injury prone GUCR preparation and I was feeling ready and confident about the distance. My A goal was around 36 hours. My B Goal was 40 hours. My C goal was to finish in 44 hours.
A week of a couple of easy 5km jogs brought me to the race weekend and the inevitable kit shot!
The journey to Bristol
Susie saw me off at our local station for a train to London before going onto Bristol.
I arrived at Paddington Station to find that the train was delayed (grrrr) and that the seat reservations that they insisted on were not going to be honoured (double grrrr). Nevermind…. Gave me time to get Mcdonalds meal and milkshake and some water for the train. Eventually there was a bunfight to get on the train to Bristol Temple Meads and I found a seat. We were on our way. I got a message on twitter from Allan Rumbles saying that he and Fi McNelis were on the train – two carriages further down. I decided to join them for a chit chat…. And so we did!
We made our way to the hotel – Travelodge in Mitchell Road (Pro: It is where registration is held. Con: no air conditioning in the rooms!). We had agreed to all meet up beforehand for a trip to the supermarket for some snacks for the next day and water. On our way we stopped for a coffee and Fi had a moist flapjack. She was convinced the barista girl was eyeing me up – but both me and Allan were convinced that it was Fi that was holding her eye and why we had our drinks brought over to us in a Pret!
Shopping for scooby snacks
Soon finished we were blitzing the tesco express for water and snacks. I grabbed a couple of porridge for breakfast at 4:30am in the room and we headed back. Registration started a little later than planned but it was beautifully smooth. And somehow I had found myself at the start of the queue. I had thought everyone else had already finished!
I picked up my hoody, t-shirts and buffs that I ordered, picked up a diversion map, and said hi to a few friends including Georgina Townend, Roz Glover and Rich Cranswick (who were both volunteering), Keith Godden of course, Lindley Chambers, Maxine Lock and no doubt others I have forgotten to mention.
The pub the night before the race
Off to the pub next. We found it completely empty! Lots of excited chat and new people to meet. We all sat together – about 12 of us.
I had the burger and chips with a couple of lager shandies. Allan Rumbles ordered a HUUUUUGE sharing platter to himself – which was undoubtedly the best value thing on the menu at only a quid more than my burger and chips but with about 20 x the quantity of calories!
Soon it was around 9pm – and already later than I planned to go to bed. Me and Allan headed back to the hotel and I met up with Lee and Susie before going to bed. They were half of my crew for the next day
The (non!) sleep
Didn’t really happen. I swear I got about two hours maximum. The room was hot so i opened the window. Then it was too noisy so I shut it. Then it was too hot so I opened it. Then I shut it because it was too noisy. GRRRRRR annoying AF! I even woke before my alarm so figured there was no point getting another ten minutes sleep and just got up and got my stuff sorted out. The time goes so quickly in the morning it is worth being super prepared. I forced myself to eat two bowls of porridge. Do two visits. Soon it was 5:10am and time to go to reception to meet Lee.
Heading to the Start
We turned up at the amassing runners just down from the railway station. It was good to bump into Alan Rumbles, Fi McNelis, Georgina Townsend and others. I managed to grab a lovely cup of coffee from the volunteers at the start. Soon we were walking up to the station for the briefing. 55 runners lined up at the start line
Dick gave the usual thing which is becoming really familiar to me now and dropped his arm and we were off!
I started my watch and noticed it wanted me to calibrate my compass! ARGH FFS. I had it on a funky setting that was going to last the whole race and more besides. But I forget it always wants calibration first. That’s a lesson already.
Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station – 6am – 0 miles!
Off we went. I was keeping things easy. The pace seemed fast though of the other runners and soon I found myself with a HUGE gap of possibly half a mile between me and the runners in front. I was aware that there was a big group of runners just behind me and while I stayed to the side, no one overtook so I figured I wasn’t holding anyone up.
I was so glad to get running after tapering for the race. Soon my I hit my head on a branch and my hat was knocked clean off! I stopped to get it off another runner who had picked it up for me. Good start
Soon we were on a trail and I bumped into Andy Persson who I had met the night before in the pub. We jogged along for a while chatting to each other. We were around the same pace for quite a few miles just happily jogging and chatting and enjoying the scenery. At one point he pulled his tiny video camera out (link here).
I wasn’t meeting my crew until 13 miles in at the main checkpoint 1 – so I just ran for a couple of hours just settling into my easy pace and drinking little and often. I was running a little with Helen Pike – who looked really strong and she seemed to be adopting a run / walk pattern from the start.
CP1 – Locksbrook Inn – 13.7 miles – 8:04am (2:04 hours)
Soon I came into the first checkpoint. Grabbed some tomatoes and grapes from my crew and a double water bottle change. And off I went once again! I was running on my own once again. I went over the bridge next to the pub and turned left down the path.Soon I spotted Fi McNelis ahead. We had a brief chat and I carried on running.
I had around 10 miles to go before the next time I would see my crew. I figured that this would be fine. I could fill up with water using the water taps (I spotted one a few miles later) and I wanted to make decent inroads into my race without losing too much time with stops and starts.
The heat of the day was rising, but everything was absolutely fine. I had been running in heat in training and I was very much used to it. Before then I had been running in the cold and then being screwed by even moderately warm weather during races. This time I hoped would be different.
According to the map there was due to be a watertap around mile 20. I missed it. Couldn’t see it anywhere. Nevermind I was soon to be with my crew.
Mile 23.5 – Avoncliff Aquaduct – 10:01am (4:01 hours)
I saw Susie and Lee who were part of my crew. As I approached Lee ran into a cafe! I was hoping I was right in what was coming next and I was not disappointed as he turned up with a very posh version of a calippo. LUSH!
They added ice to the top of my hat, and buffs, and changed my water. And off I went once again. I was loving the race. I had already started to incorporate tactical walking breaks into the run so that I wasn’t destroying myself, and especially as the heat was rising. I was coping just fine though.
Not long after this I spotted a sign outside a cafe….. Calippo SLUSH!!!!!!! – WOW – I couldn’t miss this opportunity. I mixed one myself and had coke, orange and strawberry and marched along while enjoying it so much! I knew that my friend Georgina Townsend would be getting one too – and come to think of it – I was wondering when I would bump into my Grandslam and Canalslam running Calippo pal! We usually run around the same pace around 30 odd miles in. But I didn’t know whether she was in front or behind.
CP 2 – Parsons Bridge – mile 27.4 – 10:55am (4:55hours)
Spotted Roz Glover at the aid station – who took a photo of me looking like a simpleton idiot villager with my hat . She said she thought I was having too much fun!
I added more water and a took some orange squash with me. It wasn’t long til my next crew point. But I took the time to soak my hat again and wipe my face over with a cloth at the checkpoint.
Mile 30 – Semington Bridge – 11:45am – (5:45 hours)
Hot now but I was still feeling ok – but commented on the heat to Lee and Susie when I met them. I grabbed some more S-caps (making Lee run back to the car for them). Some watermelon of several varieties. I also drank some of Lee’s coke (sorry Lee!). I left with a goody bag full of strawberries and grapes.
Georgina, Dave and another runner – caught up with me shortly after. Great to see them. We ran together for a few miles until we reached Caen Locks. At least I wasn’t the only one in a silly hat!
Me and Dave walked up that section as it was up hill – and then he jogged the final bit. There was a cafe at the top. In we went. I grabbed a can of Sprite and a blackcurrant posh calippo. Georgina soon appeared and I knew she would do that same.
Mile 39.5 – Bridge Inn – Horton – 1:50pm (7:50 hours)
We left together and chatted a while. Did some jogging. It was a hot part of the day. Eventually I met up with my crew who gave me more calippos and they gave Georgina one too – she carried on through – and I caught back up with her a mile down the canal. We jogged together on and off and I ended up at the CP3 just ahead.
Cp3 – Mile 45 – The Barge Inn – Honeystreet – 3:05pm (9:05 hours)
Ginger beer was my abiding memory. It was wonderful! It was here that I saw Lou for the first time. She was in cheery spirits which was great and exactly what you want in a crew. I soon left after topping up my water and a brief sit down. I walked out of the CP for half a mile – that’s how I find it works best for me – means I don’t throw up.
Mile 49 – The Waterfront – Pewsey Wharf – 4:10pm (10:10 hours)
I met Lee and Susie here. More ice. And off I went again. I also grabbed a Longhaul Turmeric Chicken which was lush. It’s always good to have something that is savoury, easy to eat and easy to carry (it has a screw cap on the pouch). I tried them in training and found it to be like a delicious cold spicy curry.
Mile 56 – Freewarren Bridge – 5:50pm (11:50 hours)
I spotted Lou across the bridge. I went over to meet her. I was in good spirits. More water. More milkshake. A lemon french fancy. And a couple of swigs of cold coke. Lush. I had a brief sit down here.
CP4 – Mile 60 – Oakhill Down Bridge – 7:02pm (13:02 hours)
I did some good running into this section and was having a total blast. I was pleased to bump into Rod Viggers here – we remembered each other from the start of the GUCR. He seemed to be supported by some running group called the Shinsplints!
Vanessa was here and she had some lush Oasis citrus drink! Just perfect. I didn’t fancy the cake that she had brought along and I was offered a hot drink or food by my wife. I was happy to wait another 6 miles. I was also making the calculation about whether I would need my headtorch yet but figured that it would act as a motivation to get to the next crew point for me to pick it up there. I said I would change into long sleeves there and put my torch on, and have some warm food.
It was during this section I started to feel a bit tired. I was stumbling along at points. I whacked a caffeine bullet in and 15 minutes later all was good with the world and I was flying along with no issues at all! I managed to bust the zip on my racevest which is annoying since I had only had it for about a month! I had to shift my gear around to leave that pocket free.
Mile 66 – Dundas Arms Kintbury – 8:33pm (14:33 hours)
Soon I was with my crew – Susie and Lee this time. I was feeling pretty hot so I removed my t-shirt I was running in and stayed topless for 5 minutes before putting my long sleeve merino top on (albeit with sleeves rolled up). I stole some of Lee’s drink again!
Susie gave me her leftover chips while she made me some cheesy pasta using the chinese knockoff Jetboil that we got a few weeks ago. It worked well, but I was finding it hard to eat fast enough. Soon I was on my way again. Virtually kicked out by my crew . This next section I loved so much. I was enjoying running and it was quite an urban area so was making a change to have something different to look at. I put in a reasonable amount of running before this aid station and I was pleased to see my crew here.
CP5 – Mile 72.4 – Whitehouse Roving Bridge – 10:28pm (16:28 hours)
I was feeling happy and strong. I had been really fancying a milkshake here. So I asked for some milk. Lou went to the supermarket though Lee had managed to get some from the volunteers for my strawberry Nesquik. I felt good. I was smiling. Off I went.
This next few miles I don’t really remember many details. I was feeling pretty tired. I stumbled along frequently. Sometimes I jogged. I changed positions with a couple of runners on and off and I used a tonne of caffeine bullets. I saw my crew at Thatcham Bridge at 11:33pm (75.5 miles in 17:33 hours) and Aldermaston Wharf at 12:46am (80.4 hours in 18:46 hours). Maybe they will help me fill in the details!
I was close to the next checkpoint. I ran past the Cunning Man pub – and saw no signs of life….. Then i noticed from the maps that the CP was at a bridge – so under the bridge I went and then I saw the beautiful sight of the checkpoint. I had planned to have a brief sleep here. I knew I would have to – I was suffering from feeling really mentally exhausted.
CP6 – Mile 86.5 – Cunning Man Bridge – 2:47am (20:47 hours)
I saw Susie, Lee and Lou here. I gave instructions for a 10 minute sleep. I closed my eyes. But it was a noisy checkpoint and I couldn’t actually doze off. But even a rest was fine and I left fairly refreshed. I walked for the first half mile and then got running again. I got a bit confused with the directions though and got freaked out by being on apparently the wrong side of the canal. I retraced my steps and was still confused. I had to make a decision. I decided on balance I was probably right in the first place. But I must have added an extra mile. Anyway, the next section I would see Lou and Susie in Reading.
As it was getting lighter due to the lighting near Reading, my headtorch started dimming and then it ran out. Dammit! I couldn’t believe it. Hardly any warning at all. I grabbed my emergency headtorch (only 50 lumens though) and held that in my hand to illuminate my way ahead. I would have been screwed without it. I called Susie and told her I needed a replacement battery or torch. I also had to get some reassurance from Lou on the directions (she is a local and apparently as a teenager spent alot of time hanging around the canal in Reading!).
Mile 89.5 – The Oracle – Reading – 4:15am (22:25 hours)
Finally I ran through the Oracle Centre food court and I spotted Lou and Susie. A quick refill, head torch swap and Lou said it was due to rain in 20 minutes time. Great – i would get to try out my new La Sportiva Hail jacket. It was starting to get lighter but was still headtorch time because it was just street lighting and I would soon be in the countryside again.
There were a few groups of lads wandering around – I shouted a greeting at them – and they returned a greeting. I couldn’t say whether it was positive or not. I was beyond caring. I figured if they wanted to cause me any hassle I would outrun them anyway as I was feeling pretty good. Though they would probably catch me within 100 metres in reality.
I finally came to a section I knew from the TP100 (which has some of the route in common – though in reverse) – and ran past the Watersports centre. I was feeling blinking marvellous in contrast to every other time I have been there. I bumped into one of the organisers of the Round Reading Ultra. He pointed me in the right direction along the river Thames.
Soon after it started spitting and then the heavens opened. I dived under a tree (which wasn’t much help in sheltering me) and then I put my waterproof on. It felt great. I pushed on through the rain and even under the tree covered wooded sections it was still heavy. Finally I made it to my crew.
Mile – 94.3 – Sonning Bridge – 5:09am (23:09 hours)
I decided to have 20 minutes sleep here. I wanted to get some sleep while it was still dark and while it was pissing it down. I went in the back of Lee’s car and had a kip. I knew a sleep would help me and it would be time well spent. It was just after 5am. I had been moving for almost 23 hours. I woke up – pondered changing my shoes but decided not to.
I got back on the trail – started running well and soon overtook another runner. It had stopped raining and it was light now and I felt rejuvenated. I ran practically the whole way to the crew point in Shiplake (the instructions were confusing to me though and it was only because I ran TP100 that I could piece together the route). During this section my feet had blistered – i think due to the rain and the trail section I had just done.
Mile 97.5 – Shiplake – 6:28am (24:28 hours)
I had a brief stop with my crew and then got moving again. I had some prawn cocktail crisps and a LongHaul Chicken & Turmeric Pouch of food. I was feeling great! And the Turmeric chicken was bloody lush! Slightly spicy and was so welcome!
This next section went on forever. I remembered the route perfectly – it went through Henley but I was convinced at one point that I had missed the turning to the checkpoint. But both a local and my crew Lee said I was spot on track. After a bit of fast walking due to the bumpy ground and that the heat was rising – I finally made it to the CP7.
CP7 – Mile 102.8 – The Flower Pot – Aston – 8am (26 hours)
My mate Rich Cranswick was here manning the checkpoint. Great to see him. Always so cheery! I grabbed another LongHaul Turmeric Chicken from my crew and I I soon got a shift on. The sun was up. It was 26 hours in and I was slower than at GUCR. I wanted to beat my GUCR time but didn’t know if it would be possible. But 145 miles is a long way and I knew that I could put serious dents into my previous time by jogging when I could. So I did. I ran through a beautiful country estate with lots of sheep and cows. This is truly stunning. I remembered it from TP100 in 2017.
It was only around 5 miles to my next crew point but it took what was close to 2 hours. Which made me think that given the jogging I had done – it must have been a bit further! There was a diversion to deal with and I had to ask my crew for directions again. I was on the right route but I was having doubts. I soon made it to them but my feet were bloody killing me due to two blisters. One on each foot. OUCH!
A brief stop with them at Marlow – at 9:46am – and off I went again. The next point would be at Cookham in about 4 miles. My feet were hurting with every single step. I manned up and got jogging. The route was getting busy now with joggers and dog walkers. There were lots of steps and steep bridges to go over. ARGH!
It wasn’t long before I approached Cookham – and a toilet! I had been dying for a toilet for ages. While I was in the cubicle I noticed what looked like a spartathlon buff on the floor next to the toilet. I figured it was probably full of shit so I left it. There was no toilet paper but I had packed some in my bag for such an occasion. Top tip that! On leaving the loo, I saw my crew Lee – who directed me to the car.
Mile 112 – Mill Lane Cookham – 11:05am (29:05 hours)
Another milkshake but I couldn’t really take any other food. Didnt fancy anything much. I started off on my way and shortly I felt some rubbing in my compression shorts. Tooo late. My undercarriage was rubbing. The reason was the compression had gone in that area. This was a problem. I tried to arrange so it didn’t rub but I had to walk to the next point. I would have to get a change of shorts. I found the instructions a bit confusing through Maidenhead but I eventually found the Jubilee River.
CP8 – Marsh Lane Car Park – Mile 116.5 – 12:30pm (30:30 hours)
I was so pleased to see this checkpoint. What a great sight. I had to change my shorts. Used Lou’s Dryrobe while I did so because there was nowhere to change, and i slathered a load of sudocrem down my pants. That would sort everything out! I had a milkshake and some ginger beer. I also bumped into Ian who was on the aid station.
I soon got moving. I had around 6 miles to the next point. It was along the Jubilee River and it was bloody hot by now. At least I wasn’t experiencing pain down below – only in my feet. I jogged where I could and walked where I had to. Soon I felt raging hunger! I remembered I didn’t take any food with me! ARGH – that was due to the shorts issue. I found some cashew nuts that I had squirreled away and some sweets. I ate those and that helped abit. Soon I realised I had been walking along in a daze and then panicked that I had missed the turning into Slough. I checked with a cyclist who confirmed I was still ok and soon after I spotted my crew (turns out I was confused because I wasn’t expecting to see them at that point and there was some issue with the crew point postcode). Anyway, more milkshake and food and off I went again. The next bit would be where I would see Lou – around 5 miles on.
Mile 120 ish – So this was Slough!
My feet were hurting whether I jogged, or whether I walked. At least if I jogged, then I would be finished hours earlier. So the choice wasn’t hard for me this time. I had 25 miles to go until I could finally stop and have a proper sleep. That’s the thing that I really hanker for – not having to tell my crew to wake me up in 10 or 20 minutes during the race.
I jog / walked up a slight incline through slough town centre and eventually I turned right onto the slough arm of the Grand Union Canal. I was getting closer to the end, but still had almost 25 miles to go. The canal seemed to be slightly uphill – which is clearly ridiculous – but it felt good to run. I managed to overtake two runners who looked like they were suffering a bit – I chatted as I went by, but I couldn’t slow down – I found it too hard to get going again. I ran all the way until I met Lou at Iver.
Mile 125.8 – Iver – 3:03pm (33:03 hours)
She had a lovely Milkshake ready for me. Had a brief chat and off I went again. I was close to the penultimate checkpoint. I think I walked a bit of the rest of this section to the checkpoint so that I could make sure I was drinking my water and eating. It was a beautiful experience going under the M25 and then over the bridge onto the main Grand Union canal. I remembered this section from the GUCR in May.
CP9 – Mile 128.3 – Yiewsley – 4pm (34 hours)
Mile I finally came under a bridge and into the checkpoint 9 at 4.00pm. I spent ten minutes here – eating 2 calippos and getting ready for the last section. I wanted to run as much as I could – even if only a few minutes at a time – but as soon as I started I ran most of the way to the Bull’s Bridge turning. As I had left the checkpoint a chap had come in and I was determined he would not overtake me so that was extra motivation.
I must have run a solid 4 mile section – and I started feeling hungry. So I ate some sweets for a bit and then jogged on a bit This whole section from Bull’s Bridge is grim. It is usually the slowest section, some of the ground is uneven before it improves significantly before then end, and there is ALL OF THE LITTER AND DETRITUS! It’s like a local dumping ground for unwanted furniture and life.
Mile 136 – Greenford – 6:10pm (36:10 hours)
After what seemed like ages, I met up with my crew – Lee, Susie and a lovely surprise in the shape of Spencer Milbery! I had completely forgotten that he might come along to run the final 9 miles with me. I had done the whole race so far without a buddy runner and it had worked well for me this time now that I had learned so much from more experienced runners like Paul Pickford and Tracey Watson who buddy ran with me on GUCR.
It was great to see Spencer. My pace was slacking. I needed a bit of a change. I had a brief sit down in the pub car park, drank some more milkshake (strawberry) and a melted calippo. Off we went. I did a couple of decent sections of jogging – about half a mile at the start, and another mile or so a little later. I told Spencer I didn’t need to see anyone before the end. I just wanted to get this finished.
The rest of the time I was putting in a good walking pace. We chatted about races – Spencer was doing North Downs 100 shortly after, and training, and my race. It was nice to have some chat after what had been a quiet and well spread out race. We hit “Sainsbury’s Mountain” which is a horrendous “hill” and I goaded Spencer into running up it while I struggled up it. The route was getting more urban now, I was still moving along nicely. Sometimes putting in a jog, but mostly just moving as fast as I could while walking. Spencer made a joke about my next race being a “fun run” because it is only 130 miles rather than 145 miles of these two races I found that pretty funny.
Spencer asked me if I had a time goal. I said I just want to finish. To tell the truth I didn’t want to talk about the time. I thought I was doing well and faster than GUCR but it would have killed me to find at this point that I was slower. So I preferred not to know. That was my thinking anyway, but Spencer mentioned 38 hours something and I was blown out of the water. I couldn’t believe it! Could this be possible? Could I really be near the end and complete it faster than GUCR?
We came into Little Venice. I was dying for a wee….. I briefly thought about stopping at the toilet but carried on.
The finish line I knew was further on from here by perhaps a half mile. The towpath was crowded with people out for a night out – it was still early on. It was light. No headtorch – in contrast to my finish at GUCR.
We ran past some slightly tipsy girls who looked like they were on a hen party and finally came through a tunnel – almost running into Dick Kearn.
“HEY DICK!!!!!” I shouted. A few people turned round – no doubt thinking I was shouting abuse at them for being in the way.
Dick said hi and gave me the thumbs up. I saw the finish line gantry slightly hidden by trees and gave it a little jog in to the end.
I was finished! I couldn’t believe it. It was still light. I could have a proper sit down and not have to be rushed to get up again. I stopped. I gave a bow – i don’t know why… I just did it. I must have looked like a total tosser!
I tried to stop my GPS watch and because my brain wouldnt work and that it was new, I had no idea what I was doing. I finally paused it. 38 hours and 32 minutes. 20th position out of 33 finishers and 59 starters. More than 2 hours faster than GUCR which was only 7 weeks previous! And my watch battery still had battery left! RESULT!
Keith Godden was there to hang my medal around my neck. “Hey, Phil – come on…. This is what you are here for” he said. As he put the medal around my neck, my legs buckled and I shouted “FUCK!!!!! My fucking quads!!!!!!” Susie captured the moment perfectly
And of course the famous plastic results board. Green for the KACR. Yellow for GUCR
I wandered over to find a seat under the gazebo. One of the volunteers made me an amazing cup of coffee. My mate Lee put my hoody on for me and I wrapped up in a blanket to stay warm.
It was then that a random tipsy girl wandered up. Couldn’t believe we had run from Bristol and insisted on giving me a bottle of Rose wine to drink. I decided to save it to cool it down and drink the next day. Lovely gesture – but I found it hard to answer her questions because I was so exhausted!
Canalslam 2018 – 2 races down….. 1 to go. Proud moment. I am so grateful to my wife – Susie – and my friends Lee Kelly, Lou Fraser and Vanessa Armond who all crewed me during the race (and mostly getting no sleep!) and also Spencer Milbery for seeing me in by buddy running me for the last 9 miles or so.
Thanks to Mimi Anderson for coaching. Rockstar Sport for their support. Thanks to Keith, Dick and Wayne and all the canal race volunteers and crews for being amazing and putting on an awesome and so beautiful a race.
Strava link – https://www.strava.com/activities/1734729499