Written by Phil Bradburn - https://untrainingultrarunner.com
This was the final race in the Canal Slam series – which includes the legendary Grand Union Canal race and the Kennet & Avon Canal Race – which are both 145 miles and which take place at the end of May and end of July. You can read my blog about each of these races if you click on those links.
Having trained as hard as my little (fat) body would allow – working through injuries since the Centurion Grandslam in 2017 (which left me nursing an injury at the end of the year) and a bit of a disappointing start to the new year with various groin strains and calf pulls, I felt it was a bloody miracle that I made it to the start of GUCR and KACR let alone finishing both of them in 40h38, and 38h32 respectively.
Phew! Part and parcel of completing these annual race series is good training, good recovery, good luck and good race strategy. I never have got all of these in line together. I am a stubborn idiot with lots of great support from my wife and family and friends and my coach so if I didn’t finish any of these races then the blame would be firmly at my own feet and head. It helps of course that I bloody love running, and I’ve learned to at least like walking fast (which is handy for some portions of these races).
Friday before the race – Pluckley to Brightwell – cum – Sotwell
On Friday me and my wife Susie had headed off to Oxfordshire to meet Vanessa. I have been blessed this year with the most amazing and experienced crews – and they have learned so much about handling me during races. I too have learned alot about how to stay positive and resist the slip into being an idiot with my crew. It’s never intentional, I just have had a tendency to moan and whinge a lot when things get hard. I managed to crack that at the last race – KACR and I was hoping to be equally good this time around.
When we arrived at Vanessa’s she had somehow misplaced her phone and was turning the house upside down trying to find it. In the process she lost her car keys. FML!!! Eventually keys and phone were reunited with Vanessa and we loaded the car up with what seemed like the WHOLE of the kit and equipment that I own for running.
Brightwell – cum Sotwell – to Widnes
A trip to my parents was straightforward (though riddled with congestion and the weather was looking horrendous!)
We soon arrived in Widnes – which is about 25 minutes drive from the start of Liverpool Leeds Canal Race in Liverpool near the Pier Head. It was great to see my parents and we were rewarded by a lovely spag bol (salmon and potatoes for vanessa) and lots of cake! My mum had also made a cake to celebrate my race too
After dinner we talked about the plans for the race, and gave my mate Graham a quick intro to the world of crewing a race
Went to bed early to settle down to a light sleep before waking up at 4am and getting dressed and sorted. The journey to the start in Liverpool was pretty easy – though we ended up going the wrong way down a road and doing a u-turn in full view of a police car. YIKES!
Registration – Saturday morning 5:20am
There was a gazebo erected on the pavement near to the Radisson Blu hotel. The wind was stronger than I expected and it was pretty cold – a shock given the hot weather we had been experiencing for months in the UK during the summer.
I registered, picked up my hoodies and t-shirts, buff that I had pre-ordered and then went back to the car to rest before getting out to chat just before the briefing. I then had to drag myself back out of the car to go and get a diversion sheet for later on in the race (around 72 miles). I had forgotten to do this 2 years back and had ended up traipsing around a shitty housing estate in the dead of night and having to ask a gang of kids for directions. As it happened back then it was fine and I didn’t end up as a crime statistic (or worse…. LOST!)
The usual suspects (minus a notable exception Georgina Townsend who had health issues and couldn’t make the start line for the finale of the canalslam) – Fi McNelis, Javed Bhatti, Allan Rumbles and others – including one of the organisers Keith Godden. The amazing band of volunteers are just brilliant. There for the fun and to support the race. They get nothing in return other than the overwhelming thanks of the other runners. I will volunteer in future years on some of the races – I just love the vibe of this race.
Start – 6am – Old Hall Street
Soon it was almost 6am and we crossed the road to the start of the race. Keith did his briefing – “don’t overdo the painkillers…..!” and we were off. All 36 of us. It was a small start line, but you could bet that given there were 8 other canal-slammers here, everyone was pretty motivated. I had counted around mid-60 people entered on the provisional start list on the website – so wondered whether injuries had decimated the start line.
I set off with Fi – we had a lovely little catch up, and both said that it wouldn’t be the same without our running pal Georgina who can always be relied out to bring some comedy-drama and calippos to the races I soon let her go ahead (by let…. I mean she was running faster than me and I couldn’t keep up without breathing through my arse!). She told me she had some rather driving rock music to run to so I figured that would keep her company.
I was using my new Suunto 9 and had it on the absolutely best GPS setting (which predicted over 40 hours on 1 second recording) but I had also set it up so that there would be no display showing to minimise battery consumption. That of course meant that I couldn’t check my current pace without pressing a button – but it felt easy though we seemed to be running pretty fast. That’s quite difficult because with a small pack of runners and starting on rested legs (having done virtually nothing since the KACR four weeks earlier) I was in danger of going too hard and may suffer later.
Everyone was so excited up front after a few turns a heap of runners missed a key turning onto the canal itself! I had settled in towards the back but then found myself almost at the front – which was weird just one mile in – and I didn’t want to be there! Over the next few miles it seemed that the previous front runners had settled down a bit and approximately 10 other runners overtook. On a race this long it is so important to run your own race and that’s what I intended to do. I kept running to feel and didn’t bother to turn on my watch display to check how I was doing. There were, in any case, stone mileage markers counting up the distance from liverpool and counting down to Leeds. So I could keep a handy check on my progress.
I remembered from 2016 (DNF at 90 miles) that there was a lot of tarmac on at least the early sections and I was glad to be wearing my New balance road shoes which were lovely and springy and comfortable. For the most part, I just jogged along, keeping things easy, and trying to settle into a nice sustainable and comfortable pace.
I remembered lots of this route and remembered the two bridges we had to cross too. At around ten miles, I spotted the section where there was a cancelled diversion (apparently the hot weather had caused problems during the summer and they had to do some towpath works). Jog, eat, drink, jog, eat, drink, wee, jog, eat, drink and then in the distance I saw the first checkpoint.
Checkpoint 1 – Br 16 – Running Horses – 14.5 miles – 8:26 – 8:29 – (2h26m)
This was the first main checkpoint. It had rained a little bit before getting here. I saw Vanessa and Susie. I swapped my bottles out. I grabbed a couple of ham sandwiches from Susie and took them away in a bag. I took a bag of sweets as well.
I spoke to a chap early on. A lovely guy with a homely northern accent. I really miss the north sometimes and the overwhelming openness and friendliness of others (working in London if you look at someone the wrong way they seemingly want to gouge your eyes out!). We had a chat for a few hundred yards. He was saying that he had done 3 peaks in Yorkshire before and he was already feeling pretty shattered on this race. He said he was a bit worried because some of the other runners seemed to have run 150 mile races before and a few 100s. I told him to stick with it and keep it easy. Don’t worry and focus on checkpoint to checkpoint. I think that’s what I said – at least I hope so!!
During the first section there was lots of tarmac and while the route went through a relatively urban area it was really well kept towpath and surroundings (litter free canal towpaths and signs proudly announcing that they were litter picked by various local groups). Contrast this to the London end of the Grand Union Canal which is used by both the GUCR and KACR, and which is absolute filth. For a few moments, I remembered how angry I felt during that section on both of those races (fortunately the overwhelming positivity and great experiences I had during those races could not be swamped by the litter and my feelings of wanting to gouge the eyes out of anyone who drives to the canal and empties their household and commercial rubbish for others to clean.
But I digress……
The towpath and the scenery was as I remembered. Simply beautiful. I knew that I would have a thoroughly enjoyable time. I resolved that I was going to do the best job of eating and drinking that I could. I would be the best eater and drinker EVER in the history of canal racing. I was using water – pure simple water – plus separate S-CAPs for electrolytes to supplement the salts and minerals etc I would get from the 100 callipos and other food and drink I would have over the next day and a bit.
I was also using my new Salomon Sense Ultra 8 race vest that I bought from Alton Sports. Absolutely perfect and meant that I had everything I needed for the race, where I needed to store it. After a little while it began to rain. It was still sunny so I thought I would just carry on without stopping to put my jacket on. It was lovely to be jogging through the rain and I was really loving life. Five minutes later the rain didn’t abate and got harder, and the sky greyed over.
Time to put the jacket on. I was using a La Sportiva Hail jacket for the race and it was a new one this summer for me having found that my old Kalenji one from Decathlon was way past it’s best. Soon my jacket came back off again as it heated up and the rain stopped. I remembered to drink, and I resolved to eat early – unlike on KACR when I found I didn’t want to eat much til later on. I took a longhaul endurace Sweet potato and Quinoa pouch. The previous time I had one of these it tasted nutty (sesame seed as it happens!) but this time my taste buds made it taste much more like a vegetarian version of the chicken and turmeric one.
I came across Richard again and he was feeling worse for wear. He was saying he had stomach cramps. I told him to walk a little bit, and offered a couple of s-caps which he took. I wished him well and carried on. I hoped to see him later or at least on the finisher board – sadly he pulled out around halfway. I hope he will be back!
Checkpoint 2 – Br34 – Ring O Bells – 25.7 miles – 10:45 – 10:50 – (4h45m)
I came into the checkpoint and the first thing I said was…..
“I think you need to be on calippo duty!!!!!”.
It was warm. Warmer than I expected and I felt sweat on my forehead. I was going to need ice and calippos. I swapped out my bottles. Took some crisps and some more sweets. Always good to have a selection!
I was feeling reasonably good anyway so I carried on along the towpath. After a while I caught up with Fi and Carl who were running closely together and had a few words. I ran a little with Carl and had a catch up about his KACR race (which he hasn’t completed yet and was the reason he had entered LLCR the day afterwards).
After a while he decided to drop back a little leaving me to trot on. Eventually I was looking for a bridge that didn’t exist so I went over the one that did (after some confusion on my part) and then spotted an ice cream opportunity! RESULT! I noticed that the instructions for this race were much easier and fewer in number than for GUCR and KACR but that it does help to apply a bit of common sense…. WAKE UP BRAIN!
Posh Cheshire ice cream was on the menu. I really wanted a calippo. FFS. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ICE CREAM OUTLETS! I don’t think I was fully able to conceal my disappointment to the young woman behind the counter, but nevertheless I was going to have to make do with Strawberry full dairy ice cream in a tub.
I managed to throw all of my change on the floor but I had an ice cream in my mitts! Result! I resolved to walk until I finished the ice cream. While I was doing this, Fi caught up with me. It was lovely to see her and have a chat. We pushed each other on for a bit. During a walking break I said that I was going to have a brief moan – I complained about my piriformis hurting but I was going to MTFU and manage it.
Jog, jog, walk walk, whine about piriformis…… Fi suggested I ram my thumb into my arse and pulsate it. I did that and she reminded me that the pain wouldn’t necessarily get worse and that she had suffered 40 miles with her piriformis on a previous race. With my thumb pulsating in my arse cheek I was taking my mind off the pain and also giving myself something to focus on other than whining about it!
Crew point – Br42 Apley Bridge – 30.5 miles – 11:50 – 11:53 (5h50m)
Eventually I spotted my crew, who said that Javed had been asking how far I was behind him…. I think they told him 5 minutes and he had got a scoot on I saw Fi carry on through. She was running strong. I hoped I would share some miles with her later on.
My crew hadn’t managed to pick up any lolly-ice or callipo but I grabbed a few other bits and pieces, changed my water, had some lucozade and trotted on. It was still warm weather. I was feeling positive and enjoying the race. The canal is just SOOOOO pretty! I thought to myself how lucky I was to be able to run on a bank holiday weekend along a beautiful canal and to see my friends and wife regularly.
After a while I came into a town and had to do a funny bridge manoeuvre before heading onto the left hand side of the canal in a slightly different direction. At this point I had caught up and been caught by another runner so we mulled our decision before carrying on. Part of me remembered this section from 2016. But I didn’t know whether than was for good or bad reasons! Anyway, I pretty much thought “fuck it” and went with my gut instinct……
My stomach hurt. It was cramping. I needed the loo. I had to walk for a mile or so to avoid an “accident”. Eventually I spotted a toilet and went in. After a long stop I came back out and spotted Javed Bhatti who carried on running – we said a brief hello.
I spotted my crew. My mate graham was here with susie and vanessa. I grabbed a couple of fruit pastille lollies. While my crew filled my hat with ice, Allan Rumbles turned up and took some ice. I quickly headed off. Fi also had a fruit pastille lolly – she was there before me!
I then cracked on. This was the section where there were some locks to climb. I decided against jogging the flat bits and just walked this section because I find changes in pace over a short distance really mess me up. So I kept a good walking pace and passed a few other runners. I have really practiced my powerhike and I can get a good pace going.
The weather was warm and I remembered that there was a pub further up. So I got some money ready and leapt at the chance to order a packet of crisps and a half lager shandy. There were some cyclists and others outside the pub and they were amazed that I had come from Liverpool that morning. I polished off my shandy. They wished me luck and I was on my way. I walked to the top of the lock section and then as the towpath turned a corner I dropped into a jog which I kept up for a while. Eventually I arrived at the next checkpoint. Aware that I had probably taken a while to get here!
Checkpoint 3 – Br63 Red Rock Bridge – 40.2 miles – 14:24 – 14:26 – (8h24m)
I came into the aid station and there were several runners in the aid station. I spotted Javed and Fi who I think were both eating. I grabbed some ice. Changed my water. Had a strawberry milkshake. I took some crisps (monster munch), a longhaul chicken and turmeric pouch and some fruit pastille lollies and headed off again.
I am grateful to my crew that I was able to get in and out of aid stations in 2 minutes flat! Really well tuned crew these days It was going to be about 5 miles to the next time I would see my crew so I cracked on. It was just over an hour until I spotted them again.
They had found it hard to find the “right” bridge but they were roughly in the right place and I was grateful for some crisps and a mixed bag of sweets/nuts plus a change of water. I pressed on. It was just over 45 miles in and I was feeling quite good still at this stage and I could feel that the weather was just how I wanted it. Not too warm and not too cold.
After a little while I made it to the Br88 Whithnell Fold crew point (50 miles in and at 16:46 – leaving at 16:50). Graham and Susie were here. They were brandishing all kinds of goodies. I took a banana milkshake which was delicious and I grabbed my usual combination of crisps, and sweets. I again swapped my water over (though I hadn’t really drunk much over this last section and I was scolded by my crew for not having done so). I somehow managed to practically fall over a cliff edge piece of tarmac! I’m so bloody clumsy!
I dutifully drank a litre of water (while protesting……) and then shoved off. They quite rightly wouldn’t let me go until I had drunk – especially since I had 10 miles before the next time I would see them (though I did have a checkpoint (no crew allowed) slap bang in the middle (and which I did take advantage of for a filll up of water!)
Checkpoint 4 – Br96a Navigation Pub – 55.1 miles – No crew allowed here
I arrived at Navigation Pub – remembering vividly from last time I ran in the race. Last time it was dark when I went through here. This time it was still light. I stopped for some water and then I pushed on. No crew was allowed here anyway so I just ran through with a few nods to the volunteers and some of the other runners who I recognised. I took the opportunity to drink and eat some of my snacks while I walked swiftly, and after a few hundred yards I broke into a trot again.
Soon I was switching over a bridge and onto another branch (I think!) and some bits of up. I remembered again from last time. I was having a nice little trot, and sometimes I would drop into a strong power hike. I find the way to deal with these distances is to not push it too hard and just keep it nice and easy.
I was pleased it was still light and I was doing well. Occasionally I would pass by Debbie Jewson, before dropping to a walk, and then she would pass me. We carried on like this for several miles – she seemed pretty strong going up the slight inclines that I was deciding that I would much rather walk!
Crewpoint – Bridge 107a Norden Bridge – 60.8 miles – 19:23 – 19:40 (13h23m)
I came into this crewpoint after what felt like quite a tough section and I was feeling tired. It was still warm but I could see that it was going to get cold soon but I was still hot and I was sweaty. I reckoned I would have about an hour or so before it went dark and figured that I might be able to make it 5 more miles before sitting down for food, taking the opportunity to change into night-time clothes and getting my head-torch on.
My crew point a swift end to the plan that I hatched in my head….
“The next point is 10 miles away”
I had a mild WTF moment and had a moan. This wasn’t what I was planning. I must have been a right drama queen. They basically told me to man the fuck up and get on with it.
I really didn’t want 10 miles before eating or changing. They tried to get me to change at this point but it didn’t feel right. We discussed back and forth for 10 or so minutes while I changed bottles and took some food for my pack.
Anyway as I headed out for the next section after a few steps I realised that I did need to change to long sleeves after all. It was cold. And I didn’t want to change on the side of the towpath in the dark by torchlight. So I took another few minutes sorting out before I headed off on the towpath again with my night time long sleeve gear and led arm bands and main head-torch on my head (albeit not switched on).
And off I trotted…..
I could see the brothers in front of me. I had been catching up with them at their stops with their crews, and then generally they would then jog past me again. I had seen them a few hundred yards ahead – glimpses here and there. I went past a sign saying footpath closed and diversion. I ignored it. I was sure that there was only one diversion mentioned still in force. I went past another sign saying closed. I ignored that too. Even though both were clean and new I figured that there were not in operation.
Eventually the two brothers were running back towards me saying it was closed ahead. We used their iphone to navigate back on to a road and around the closure and back onto the towpath and straight back onto the correct side of the canal. We saw Debbie running ahead of us about 200 yards. She obviously worked it out before we did. That perhaps tells you something about men and women!
We came up to another diversion through a pub car park and this is one I remembered from the previous time I had run this race. This was easy and were were in the centre of town again (with some fairly happy people hanging around and who were really excited that we were running from Liverpool).
Checkpoint 5 – Business First Car park – 70.6 miles – 22:12 – 22:35 (16h12m)
I came jogging into the checkpoint. I remembered this one from the last time I attempted the race back in 2016. I soon saw my crew.
“I’m having a sleep. 10 minutes. First… I want a pot noodle, and a blanket over me while I sit in the car”.
My crew was marvellous. They had already made my pot noodle (a curry one! My wife didn’t want to give me anything too spicy) and allowed it to cool enough for me to get it down me. They changed my bottles and did the checkpoint admin and let me get my food down before a ten minute sleep. I find a little shuteye (regardless of whether I actually fall asleep) is a great boost which lasts for hours. I had no idea at the time whether I was on track for my A, B, or C goals and I didn’t much care. In my experience the last 20 miles of the race is what makes the difference and how you can approach those final miles.
This next bit had a section that I had previously found difficult in 2016 – and it was as it rose away from the canal. The instructions were to go through the underpass and follow the towpath east signs. There were a couple of times I was doubtful of my direction choices, but eventually I got to a bit that i remembered well from the last time I was here and soon I was scurrying across the road (taking good care not to get mowed down) and then up the steps and down a fairly steep slope eventually leading back to the canal. I stopped on the side of the canal for about 20 billion wee wees
I came up to the diversion that was pre-published and expected a set of steps after the bridge. There were none. So I had to go back on myself a few yards to walk up the steps before the bridge. Jogged past a couple of security dudes and over the bridge. I had checked out the diversion on google street view beforehand so I knew exactly where to go. I went past a (closed KFC, pizza hut and mcdonalds!!! Argh! Unlucky!)
I soon made it to the roundabout and over the next bridge. On the way over I saw that the path I was supposed to take back onto the canal was closed off. So I figured I would have to go past it and find an alternative. I did for a few moments consider whether I could either squeeze through or climb over but I would probably have fallen over and cracked my head – I’m so clumsy!
I entered what looked like an entrance to an industrial area and a car park at the end. I had sensed I would probably find a set of steps upwards – and there they were! Lots of them! At the half way point there was a path that headed onto the canal. I’m not sure where the other steps lead up to – maybe a bridge?
Happy I was back on the canal I ran – walked some more.
This whole section was one which I was a bit worried about. Back in 2016 I had got lost. And it was at the time impossible to work out where to do, to look at the map and instructions. I had looked on line at google streetview and done my best to memorise the route as it rises away from the canal (it disappears into a tunnel at Foulridge) and down a track and road into the village itself before rejoining the canal.
Thankfully things went more smoothly this time and I was soon on the down hill section into the village where I was meeting my crew. I took the opportunity to check my headtorch battery, and I changed it as a precaution. I had a few hours of darkness left and there’s no point messing around changing the battery on a towpath when i could do it with my crew. I had a brief stretch on the wall (my legs were a bit achy) and then I headed off again. I had said too that I would have a kip at the next aid station.
This next stretch was easy peasy along the path. It is a relatively easy section though, with blisters, there were some bits which were a little painful.
Checkpoint 6 – Salterforth Br151 – 84.1 miles – Sunday 2:35 – 3:05 – (20h35)
I came into the checkpoint – which I remember was just after the bridge (I read a few blogs afterwards from other runners who couldn’t find it for a while) but I came in and saw my crew (they gave me a pointer towards the checkpoint itself). I announced my bib number and that I was going for a power-nap. I shoved a couple of caffeine bullets in as I got into the car.
I let my crew deal with the water and food and I got in the driver’s side and had a 15 minute shut eye. It always helps so much. I also applied sudocrem to my feet, which were feeling a bit sore with blisters. (sorry vanessa for leaving sudocrem slathered tissues in your footwell!!!!). Soon I was off again feeling really refreshed. I would jog a bit and then walk a bit and then every 10 minutes (not an exaggeration) I would stop for a wee wee!
Overnight I found a beautiful peace in the countryside. I was slowly putting one foot in front of the other through the peaceful night. Some sections were really rutted. Some sections were easy and flat – and inexplicably some sections seemed to be up-hill without the use of locks!
This is a hallucination I often experience during the night on canal races. I am sure it must be the body telling the brain it wants to work and then the brain producing an apparently uphill sections to make it ok to walk. Either way, power-hiking anything that looked and felt uphill seemed to be what I wanted to do.
By this point most of the sections were 6 or 7 miles in distance in mentally it seemed more manageable in comparison to the 10 mile sections in the middle of the race. At one point I crossed over a bridge and spotted the two brothers and their crew with them. They offered me a slice of pizza! I was like “What? Really? You have PIZZA?!?!!?” I took them up on their offer and snaffled a pizza that tasted like everything I wanted in a pizza. For all of the world it tasted like a mighty meaty pizza. Later I found out it was a margherita pizza with stuffed crust. What can I say….. it was delicious and my taste buds must have been out of whack to have thought it was meat
My blisters were hurting and this section had some pretty badly rutted towpath which was driving me up the wall. Every time my feet shifted in my shoes due to the rutted path, I grimaced. This was annoying but I tried to stay positive. I was enjoying this race thoroughly and I was way past where I had got to in 2016 when I had DNFd. I was counting up the bridges and it was already very much light! I finally came across my crew. They were hanging out at a bridge at approximately 95 miles in.
Br174 Thorlby Swing Bridge – 95.4 miles – Sunday 6:50 – 6:56 – (24h50)
The two brothers left the checkpoint just ahead of me as I came in. I had a bollocking for not drinking enough water…. (AGAIN!) and I asked for a longhaul endurance pouch – specifically a chicken and turmeric one. I had been stuffing these as much as I could. Susie had to go running back to the car for one. So tasty and while I love the sweet potato and quinoa ones, the slightly spicier chicken and turmeric are definitely my favourite. I took some more crisps and my pouch with me and cracked on.
More footpath and busy road in the distance, and eventually I was running along some railings next to a road. I spotted Carl (i think) having a snooze in the car. Meanwhile I cracked on. The weather was favourable. I whacked another caffeine bullet in and off I went. I don’t know whether these things actually do anything but I do seem to move better about 20 minutes after stuffing one in my face (it takes about 20 minutes to chew one into submission!). The canal became more urban and I soon reached another bridge and my wife, and Vanessa.
Further on approx 5 miles i had managed to jog up to and past another runner. I felt good again and was ploughing on. The footpath was good quality and while my feet hurt when I ran, they also hurt when I walked. So I basically MTFUed and jogged along. Soon I spotted a lady at the side of the path and she jogged into the checkpoint with me for about half a mile
Checkpoint 7 – Br182a – Bradley Bridge – 100.4 miles – Sunday 8:11 – 8:16 – 26h11m
I saw a plastic bag on a seat and saw some chocolate and started rifling around in it. Then Susie said…. OiOi that’s someone else’s….. I wanted chocolate! Susie gave me her Bueno and I swear it was the most lovely thing I had eaten. I went through the usual process, gave my number at the checkpoint, water etc.
Not much point hanging around. I thanked Graham who had been crewing for about 20 hours at this point and he went home. It was great to see him and I was wondering what he thought of his first taste of crewing. I cracked on. It was generally good quality towpath. Crushed gravel and very even. Run, jog, walk and everything else in between. Occasionally I would stop to stretch my legs out by bending over and crouching down. It really felt nice.
There were a few runners out by now. Some fast looking athletic types. Occasionally we would share nods of acknowledgement and other times they would be engrossed in their tempo run and drills. Sometimes a jogger would go past me one way and then the other as if mocking my slow pace.
Bridge 191a – Silsden – 104.5 miles – Sunday 9:30 – 9:35 – (27h30)
This was in town and I was handed the most delicious thing…. a petrol station special breakfast of a breakfast sandwich! Lush! As it was raining I popped my jacket on, while avoiding cyclists being bad citizens by cycling under a bridge and soon I was off again.
The canal soon left the urban bits behind, and became a little more green. I was loving the countryside.
Soon I was descending through a lock system and I spotted the Jenkins brothers and their crew. I had the offer of a doughnut. As appealing as that genuinely sounded to me, I didn’t think I deserved one (WTAF!?!?!) and i carried on. At the bottom of the lock system there was a chapin the pouring down rain with a brolly insisting that the chap in front of me was just round the corner and that I could easily catch him because he wa fucked….. And looking at 5pm finish.
Whatever…. I was running my own race. Jogging when I could and walking when I couldn’t. I trick I was employing was to make sure I was eating and drinking whenever I was walking. But I didn’t have anything I fancied. I took some strawberry sweets and immediately wished I had grabbed a doughnut when I had one offered to me. For a few moments I wondered if I should go back up the hill to get one…. Then I realised I was an idiot and pressed on to the next checkpoint.
I was wet. Really wet. Everything was grey. The rain was fine and everywhere. It was that kind of rain that means that you get soaked within minutes. I was trudging along a very soggy towpath and wondering just how many hours I was going to take to get to the end while the bridge numbers counted up slowly. I was nearing on the final aid station before the last 12 or so miles to the end.
Checkpoint 8 – Bridge 209a – 114.5 miles – Sunday 12:50 – 12:58 (30h50m)
I arrived at a gazebo in an industrial estate. If I was not doing a canal race I would have found this a rather sorry site, but as this was the final aid station it was like an oasis in the desert. Except on this canal race it was like a desert in an oasis given the amount of rain that had pissed down on me over the last few hours.
I came into the gazebo to find the Jenkins brothers there, with their crew, plus canal race volunteers and other runners. I sat on a chat at the edge of the gazebo. I was still getting rained on and it was freezing as I sat there. I grabbed some crisps from my crew and some other food in shoved it in my pack. I didn’t
I had a choice. It was wet and cold. I could have trudged the rest of the way well within the cut off – or I could man up and run when I could. I chose the latter. I downed 4 caffeine bullets (400mg of caffeine in 4 minty chews) and went off like a mentalist. I’d run for what seemed like ages…. And then I’d walk for a bit, and then repeat and then after awhile I would see a stone mile-marker post counting up the distance to liverpool, and down the miles to Leeds. I could tell from this that there were about 6 miles left.
I soon met my crew at the next point. It was very wet by this point but I was feeling great. My feet hurt like shit but they would hurt for less time if I moved faster. Running at this stage wasn’t as painful as walking and it was a damned sight faster (well, a bit faster anyway!). I briefly sat in the drivers seat for brief respite from the rain. Didn’t bother changing my water bottles, but I did get rid of all the empty packets of junk I had and after a few minutes got moving again.
As was becoming a pattern, I would walk for about a quarter mile from a crew point and then start jogging. I would see a marker up ahead and challenge myself to run at a good pace up to and past it as far as I could. Sometimes I would just make it to that point, and sometimes I would will myself to go further and stick with it until it became too much. This was the pattern that I settled into.
My wife had insisted it was 4 miles to the end. The last marker I had seen before I met them had said 6.25 miles. I had decided to believe the marking stones instead. If it came up short then it would be a bonus
I was aiming for Bridge 226. Bridges came and went. Things that looked like Bridges came and went (but without the reward of a bridge number to count off). Things that looked like they were once bridges came and went. Things that I wished were bridges passed. All the time the bridge numbers were counting up slower and slower. I jogged when I could but mostly walked.
At this point I checked the bridge numbers on the map…… 225….. 225a, 225b…..225c…. All the way up to H. Joy of joys!!!
Finally with what I estimated about a quarter mile to go I got a jog on and rounded the bend in the canal to see the finish line gantry.
And off i went….. As fast as my little legs would carry me.
Crossing under the finish line gantry was an amazing feeling.
Dick was there waiting to put a medal around my neck.
Finish – Br226 Office Lock – 126.8 miles – 16:15 (34h15m)
“Wow – you certainly got a trot on there!” he said as I tried to work out how to press stop on my watch.
Dick hung my finishers medal around my neck. I mumbled a few words of thanks and appreciation for the organisers of the race and the volunteers and then had a hug with my wife – Susie – and Vanessa and had a sit down and asked for a coffee with “all of the sugar and all of the milk”.
Hanging around the finish Gazebo
It was the best coffee I had had for ages! It was nice to be able to sit down with no time pressures. I glanced at the finish board. I was the 13th name on that board. Turned out my new Suunto 9 recorded the whole race, without me having to charge it, and it was recording every 1 second and still had 13% left. That makes it good for 40 hours approx on the absolutely best GPS setting without resorting to the clever battery settings that it has available on it. Recommend highly!
I had a scan for some of those ahead of me…. I saw that the Jenkins brothers had finished about 25 minutes ahead of me (I had seen quite a bit of them during the race and their crew had been marvellous). I also saw that Javed Bhatti was not yet on the board.
I’d been chatting at the start with Javed, and I think between the two of us as there was an hour on the Canalslam that separated us, we both wanted to make sure we finished ahead on this race. I had seen him running strongly on this race and in front for quite a bit of the first day. I hoped he was ok.
I sat around chatting and soon Allan Rumbles and David Allan came in to the end. Allan had had a good race and I was pleased to see the old codger!
Reflections on the Canalslam
It was still sinking in. I’d finished the LLCR130. Which I had previously in 2016 DNFd. I felt quite a sene of achievement, and that was before Canalslam result – which it turned out gave me 5 / 9 ranking of those who completed the race series in terms of time. Just over 113 hours.
This race series – is a special one. Run between the end of May and the end of August it leaves little to chance. Anything other than a minor injury and that’s it up the swanny.
Grand Union Canal Race – 145 mile from Birmingham to London
Kennet and Avon Canal Race – 145 miles from Bristol to London
Liverpool Leeds Canal Race – 130 miles from Liverpool to Leeds
These are races with a small number of entrants – no more than 100 runners – and so friendly. Some runners have crews and supporters along the route and there is a custom of each helping each other out. Other runners crews have given me many cold drinks, or offered me food, and my crew have handed out calippos, ice and drinks and food to others. It’s what makes it special. Everyone is in the same boat (figuratively speaking) and happy to lend a hand.
In a world of big brash commercialised races these are a great series to support into the future. If you haven’t taken part in any of these races, consider entering. They have all of what you need and nothing that you don’t. Finishing the Canalslam 2018 is my biggest achievement so far. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do it, and an amazing group of good friends and my wife to crew me on my races this year. Love you all xx
Strava link – https://www.strava.com/activities/1801121392
Thanks to everyone who has helped me. I couldn’t have done it without any one of you! x
- Paul Pickford (Buddy Runner – GUCR)
- Tracey Watson (Buddy Runner – GUCR)
- Spencer Milbery (Buddy Runner – KACR)
- Lou Fraser (Crew – GUCR, KACR)
- Vanessa Armond (Crew – GUCR, KACR, LLCR)
- Pete Watson (Crew – GUCR)
- Susan Bradburn (wife and crew – GUCR, KACR, LLCR)
- Marek Kowalek (Crew – GUCR)
- Lee Kelly (Crew – KACR)
- Graham Cleary (Crew – LLCR)
- Mimi Anderson (Coach) – http://www.marvellousmimi.com/
- My mum and dad (looking after us in Widnes before LLCR)
- Rockstar Sport (http://rockstar-sport.com) for continued support and great gear!
- Caffeine Bullet (www.caffeinebullet.com/ – 15% off with BradBuriedAlive code)
All the other runners – including those who I have shared some miles with
The other runners crews who gave me drinks and food, and encouragement
And most of all, the amazing Canalrace CIC who organise the races – Thanks Keith Godden, Dick Kearn and Wayne Simpson and the amazing volunteers too! You’re all special and you put on an amazing set of races! Thank you!
Check out the dates for the three Canalslam races in 2019 – here