Written by Mimi Anderson - http://marvellousmimi.com/
Stupidest quote “I can’t believe there are so many hills in this race”
10 days post Double Grand Union Canal Race my legs feel good but won’t be ready to run for another few days. The events of the Bank Holiday weekend haven’t really sunk in it all seems a bit of a dream, but what an amazing dream it was!
The Grand Union Canal Race (or GUCR as its affectionately known as) is the brain child of Dick Kearn, a marvellous man full of character and a real passion for running. The race itself starts at Gas Street in Birmingham where it follows the Grand Union Canal all the way to Little Venice in London, 145 miles in total. The race is so popular that entries are done on a ballot basis and competitors come from all over the world to take part. Runners can be supported by their own crew, or unsupported where Dick and his team look after them. There is a time limit of 45 hours to complete the race and no stopping for more than 40 minutes is allowed otherwise the competitor is deemed to have left the race.
This race holds a very special place in my heart. I first took part in 2004 as a qualifier for Badwater Ultra Marathon and finished in a time of 39 hours 39 minutes which I was delighted with as my target had been to try and finish in under 40 hours (I had only been running ultras since 2001). My second run in 2010 was completely different, I returned with the aim of breaking the female course record, this I did by over 3 hours finishing in a time of 28 hrs 12 minutes (Debbie Martin Consani has since broken my record) I had achieved my goal and was absolutely delighted with my result.
With both races I loved the atmosphere of the race, the comradery of my fellow runners, the great support from all the support crew along the route and of course the distance so I knew that at some stage I would be back!
Why the double? Firstly it had never been done before and someone had to be the first and secondly I have always enjoyed pushing myself just that little bit further and doing things that perhaps other people wouldn’t consider. It was also very important that Dick knew of my plans as I felt it would have been very disrespectful to have gone ahead without his blessing.
As I lived in Kent and James Adams who was to be doing it with me lived in London it seemed logical to run from London to Birmingham and then run back with the race. Training went well apart from a few minor hiccups and the planning and crew were in place, now it was time to put one foot in front of the other and see what I could do.
My crew consisted of Becky Healey, Paul George and of wonderful husband HWMBO they all know me well and from my point of view I know that once I start I wouldn’t have to think about anything apart from the running which makes a huge difference.
We met up with James and Gemma at Little Venice just before 9am on Thursday 23rd May together with one of my coaching clients Tom, Kathie & her son. After a visit to the loo a few hugs James & I were sent on our way at 9 a.m. with a simple “off you go”
I must admit I was a tad nervous but excited at the same time, I love this sort of challenge it makes me feel alive! The first meeting point for the crew was 12 miles away at Hambrough Tavern, we got there on time, quick water refill then off to the next meeting point 10 miles further along. I remember commenting to James that I would have to try and remember everything for my blog, I can never understand how some people seem to remember every minute detail of their races whereas I struggle to remember one CP to the next!
The weather was due to rain from about midday and continue raining until the early hours of Saturday morning, not very pleasant but our skin is waterproof! We had a few showers before the 40 mile point but nothing to write home about.
James was struggling with pain in his groin which meant he kept stopping to stretch it out, you can imagine after only 22 miles he was feeling very disappointed and frustrated but kept going.
With a few miles to go before the 40.7 mile meeting point at Berkhamsted Bridge James told me he was going to stop. His groin was causing a lot of pain and because of that his head just wasn’t in the right place; to do this distance you have to have your mental head on. We walked the last mile chatting. It was very sad to say goodbye but he had made the right decision.
Having left James I had to make up over 30 minutes so picked up the pace feeling strong and positive, this is when I tend to be at my best, running alone, I get into a good space and stay there. I was meeting my crew 9 miles down the canal at Ivinghoe Bridge, the time seemed to fly by I was in my element. Thankfully as it wasn’t a particularly nice day there weren’t lots of fishing poles to be jumped over and sometimes I would race a canal boat! (thankfully fairly easy as they go very slowly!) I reached my crew in good time, now I only had about 25 minutes to make up.
The next meeting point was at Tesco at Leighton Buzzard where I would have a lovely coffee, this kept me moving forward as I didn’t feel I had had my quota for the day! Arriving at LB however I couldn’t see the crew anywhere, I ran passed the canal entrance to Tesco and thought perhaps I was in the wrong place so decided to ring them just to make sure – I had arrived earlier than they had anticipated and they were sitting in the car! I was given some food and decided to drink my coffee as I walked so not to waste time. I was now 18 minutes behind schedule.
I had now covered 54.5 miles and was really enjoying myself. The next 10 mile section to Peartree Bridge at 64.6 miles was good. It was tempting on a few occasions to pop onto one of the canal boats and join the owners for a little sundowner, but with my running hat on I resisted the temptation and continued on my way!
By the time I arrived at Peartree Bridge I was 1 minute ahead of my 34 hour Schedule, oh yes, result I was now back on track. FoxyDavy Baley and Veritie Yates joined me for the next 8 miles, which was wonderful, we chatted about their running, although I think they did more talking than me as believe it or not I don’t tend to want to talk very much when running – why do you think HWMBO doesn’t mind me running, peace and quiet!!
During the night my crew took it in turns to run sections with me, this was more from a safety point of view to make sure I didn’t fall into the canal and drown. It was extremely cold during the hours of darkness so long running tights, long sleeved top and jacket were essential, plus gloves because if me hands start getting cold it affects the rest of me.
At about the 100 mile point my bladder began to play up. This has happened before on other long events. It feels exactly like cystitis (although apparently its not) which makes running very uncomfortable because the bladder is always feeling full when in fact it’s empty, so unfortunately there was lots of stopping to try and have a pee and alleviate the pressure.
Luckily for me I was able to keep up a fairly good pace during the night which kept me ahead of my 34 hour schedule so by the time I arrived at Birdingbury Bridge at mile 109.1 miles I was just under 3 hours ahead. I stayed for a minute here before continuing towards Birmingham.
When I reached the Fosse Road I was in for a real treat. Paul had been running with me on the promise that we would have breakfast waiting for us; it felt good to sit down, eat a delicious bacon butty and a coffee, the best breakfast in the world and set me up for the remainder of the day!
Now it was light I ran on my own again which I was happy with, it gave the crew time to try and catch up on some sleep, especially as they were running with me on the return leg. My bladder was getting worse and extremely uncomfortable so I made the decision to powerwalk the last 22ish miles from Hatton Locks Top to give my bladder time to rest and hopefully recover for the return journey. Although I’m not very fast at walking I can keep up a fairly good pace; this wasn’t what I wanted to do as my legs were still feeling strong and I was more than capable of running but I had to look at the bigger picture of what I was trying to achieve.
At one point on Friday afternoon we had the most horrendous weather, a really strong headwind and hailstones blasting at our faces, OUCH! I met up with the crew at Knowle Locks where I had to get into the car to defrost I was so cold. Becky gave me my waterproof trousers, another jacket and waterproof gloves and we set off for the final 13 miles of the first half.
I was now on the final stretch and could get excited that I would do the first half in a good time and it would be faster than my original target.
My crew did a fantastic job of keeping everyone informed as to when I would be arriving at Gas Street and with only a few miles to go Becky told me that there were people waiting for me to arrive – I didn’t believe her, why would people come out to see me finish my run from London, I thought she was joking but as we got closer Paul Ali appeared and walked with us towards the finish, it was just marvellous.
Up and over the bridge I went, so close now. Paul ran off to take photos as I came in and as I got closer more familiar faces cheering me on, under the little bridge to the finish and yet more people, some I had never met before, it was extremely emotional and I don’t think anyone there had any idea how wonderful it was for me to have their support at that moment, thank you.
My run from London was completed in a time of 31 hours 50 minutes. To put it into perspective the course record I broke in 2010 was 31 hours 25 minutes!
Thank you to Paul for my PINK lucozade & diet coke!
After a hot bath, massage and something to eat I slept like a baby until 4.50 a.m., nothing would have woken me up!
Now for the return leg back to London!
My goodness I slept well, waking up feeling refreshed and marvellous! HWMBO on the other had was feeling slightly groggy and although it was definitely his turn to make coffee (it is after all “All about me”!!) I made him coffee – something wrong there, but better to keep him happy so he doesn’t get cross with me later! My legs didn’t hurt, no blisters and I could walk normally, things were looking up for the return leg. HWMBO was complaining of a sore knee and achilles, being the good wife that I am I ignored him!
My kit had been sorted the night before so all I had to do was get dressed, eat my porridge and enjoy my coffee before heading down to Gas Street for the start of the GUCR proper. Myself and my crew walked round to the start, it was lovely to see all the other runners and their crews milling around getting last minute bits sorted, runners looking apprehensive about what lay ahead of them but everyone was in good spirits and looking forward to getting going.
My aim for the Race was to finish in 36 hours, I wanted to do well and also enjoy “the moment”
The runners made their way to the canal where Dick gave a short speech and suddenly we were off. I had placed myself at the back of the runners as I certainly didn’t want to get caught up at the front with the guys who go off fast and was slightly concerned that although everything felt good when I began to run I might come to a grinding halt, so you can imagine my delight when I broke into a jog and I still appeared to be going forward, marvellous!
I was meeting my crew 10.7 miles down the canal at Catherine de Barnes, I was running comfortably and enjoying being around other people, I did walk up the ramps (rude not to!) and spent a bit of time running with Paul Ali which was lovely. My bladder was still feeling a bit dodgy but much better than yesterday so I ignored it as much as I could. The time seemed to fly by as I arrived at the first meeting point to see lots of familiar faces including Allan, Stouty, Pat Robbins and a lovely man with a dog who embarrassingly I can’t remember his name, very rude.
Becky treated me to some cranberry juice as it’s very good for the bladder, so at each CP I was to be given a cup of it, something I looked forward to as the day heated up. I made sure my number had been written down as I didn’t want to be missed! I literally spent a minute here, replacing my water, ate something then off I went to the next meeting point 8 miles on.
I was in heaven, the weather was a complete contrast to the previous two days, beautiful sunshine and running what more could anyone possibly want. Before I knew it I had arrived at Turner’s Green Bridge. Another bit of a sandwich was thrust into my hands, drink replaced and off I went again for another 6 mile run – this running lark is great!
Tim always made me stop at each meeting point for a photo! I was about 30 minutes behind my 36 hour schedule, but myself and the crew all seemed to be quite relaxed about this (although they did have words later!) It was at some point along this part of the Canal (I think) that I bumped into Drew Sheffield and Claire Shelley, more chatting and hugging and of course most importantly I had to find out who was at the front of the race and was delighted to hear that James Elson was in 2nd place and Di was leading the ladies, this put a huge smile on my face as I continued on my journey.
Onwards and upwards to Hatton lock. I got a huge cheer from various crews as I ran past the cafe, how jealous was I that they were eating bacon butties and drinking coffee. I passed one runner who was treating himself to breakfast, I enjoyed the smell as I ran passed.
Photograph by Ian Pusey
I was now 169 miles into my double. As this was the 2nd major CP of the race I made sure they had taken my number down, quick good luck from Pat Robbins which was lovely and off I went to meet my crew a few miles on.
I was still running and legs were feeling good, my bladder was getting better but now I had the added discomfort of my food going straight through me which rather put me off eating, but quite rightly the crew said I had to eat to keep my strength up; I got to know the bushes fairly well on the way down to London and could give runners fantastic advice on which leaves are best to use! (I know, TMI)
At about the 30 mile point I came across Ellen Cottom who was walking so I walked with her as she seemed to be going through a bit of a bad patch. Ellen had completed her first 100 miler on the Thames Path 100 earlier in the year in awful conditions but seemed to be lacking in her own ability which was a real shame as shes a determined lady. I’m not sure whether our chat was of any help but if was lovely to catch up and I moved on towards Cuttle Bridge at mile 34.6 where not only did I meet up with my crew but Ellen’s crew as well, it was turning into quite a party!
The great thing about being called Marina (that is my proper name) and running along a canal is that I’m constantly seeing my name on signposts – was definitely feeling the love.
As you can tell from my ramblings everything is a bit of a blur, not because I was tired, but I simply can’t remember what happened in huge detail between one meeting point and the next, so I apologise if I forget to mention anyone I talked to, I put it down to old age!
I ran through Birdingbury Bridge CP3 of the Race and continued on towards Flecknow Road at mile 41.4 (186 miles) still visiting the bushes on a regular basis, the imodium I had taken didn’t appear to be working, not very happy.
My crew were having a good time!
I was managing to keep up my fluids and although it didn’t stay in my system for long I was eating enough to keep my energy levels up. I even remembered to get some tissues from Ellen’s crew, something I forgot to ask for every time I met up with my crew so had been using leaves, eco friendly and all that!
It was between Flecknow road and Buckby Top Lock that I met up with Dudley, we kept on passing one another and smiling as you do! Just after mile 45 we headed off the canal and up the steps to go over Braunston Tunnel. It was very enjoyable talking to someone, but unfortunately I had to make a quick dash behind a hedge leaving Dudley to carry on. This was a hilly section so I was more than happy to walk. I met up with Dudley again at I think Whilton Marina where he had bought himself an ice-cream (lucky man).
Arriving at Buckby Top Lock I had to walk across the Lock to get to my crew, not easy when your legs aren’t used to lifting up that high – they were just testing my agility!
Photograph by Ian Pusey
I was very spoiled here as Lisa Hewitt from Ellen’s crew gave me some ice to put in my cranberry juice, perfect and less than 100 miles to go! Next stop was Heart of England CP4 of the race and mile 53 (198 miles), I was really close to the 200 mile point then only 90 to go – woohoo!
The crew treated me to a delicious rice pudding, oh yummy, but its goes down easily and does the job.
Apparently according to my crew I kept on telling runners that if they needed anything not to worry my crew would help them! I like to keep them busy!!
It was about drinks time on the canal, a wonderful sight as I passed various barges with the tables all laid up with crystal glasses, the best china and vast quantities of wine, oh it looked so relaxing, but do you know I would much prefer to be running on such a lovely Saturday evening.
Remarkably I was still feeling OK, although behind my left knee felt very uncomfortable and quite badly bruised which was getting worse plus my left shine was red and also felt bruised (I think the swelling I had on the top of my foot the night before had travelled up my leg), everything seemed to feel OK when I ran. It was a huge relief to meet my crew at the North End of Blisworth Tunnel, I stayed here for about 3 minutes having some food and a quick coffee. There was another runner who was having problems with his abductor (I think), I did suggest that he get Becky to tape it up but he seemed quite happy looking after himself.
I felt a bit low after leaving the crew heading up the road back towards the canal going over Blisworth Tunnel. Having sat down for 3 minutes my legs had stiffened up and were hurting and at one point I thought there was no way I could run again, but its amazing what the body is capable of after it has warmed up – also, why was I beating myself up I was walking up a hill for goodness sakes! (yes a hill)
Eventually I was back on the canal heading towards Navigation Bridge CP 5 of the Race and a real milestone, I feel that I can perhaps finish the race if I get to here. Just before the Bridge I come across Lindley who is looking very uncomfortable and walking. He was obviously in a lot of pain and said that his hip was causing him problems. After a bit of a chat I wished him good luck and ran towards the Bridge feeling elated to have arrived and still be in one piece.
Running a race like the GUCR is a really tough challenge but is made all the better when you arrive at the main CP’s to be greeted not only by your marvellous crew, if you are lucky to have one, but also by the race crew who will give you a real boost which at 70.5 miles or 215.5 miles in my case is much needed. It was marvellous to see Allan and James and to know that I would now have my crew running with me during the hours of darkness.
Very important to catch up with who was leading the race and was told that James Elson was in the lead – oh yes, go James go; I was delighted. The girls seemed to be running fairly close to one another so no one seemed to know who was first. I needed to get a shuffle on as I was 1 hour 28 minutes behind my schedule which wasn’t good (slappy hand moment)
Becky and Paul took it in turns to do the night shift with me while Tim drove, this is hard work for them, looking after me, running and trying to catch up with sleep, but they were all brilliant and never complained.
Dudley who had stopped to have a quick 20 minute snooze caught up with me while I was running with Becky, we met the crew at the Black Horse pub where a wedding was going on, luckily for the guests we stayed outside and drank our coffee.
I was doing a mixture of running and power walking, but more running than walking. Had to laugh as I thought I was running at a fairly good pace to discover that Paul was fast walking beside me, oops! By the time I arrived at Grand Junction Arms mile 99.8 (244.8 miles) I was only 1 hour 8 minutes behind schedule, things were looking up.
I had tried to stay off the pain killers; there is a rule with my crew that they are in charge of any form of drugs, that way it can be monitored. At this point of the race I’d had two ibuprofen (between the two journeys) but needed another as my left shine and behind the knee were very sore and when I ran I felt as though my body was jarring. However, I was very happy and still in a good place so always got to look at the positives!
It was definitely a Sunday morning as the runners were out in force, goodness that made me feel like an old slug as I trudged along. Becky who is brilliant at massage treated my legs to a gentle rub down at Bridge 165 (West Watford) and while that was happening I enjoyed a coffee, luxury.
I was still able to run, albeit slowly but it meant that I was able to get closer to my time of 36 hours. As I was running towards Springwell Bridge there were a group of children being given canoe lessons, one appeared to get stuck on the bank, you have no idea how tempting it was to give him a helping hand!
How glorious it was to reach here! mile 120.3 (265.3 miles) now I was on the home stretch with only 22 miles to go, this was a fantastic feeling.
I had a bit of a deja vu moment as we ran past Cowley Lock, this is where Gemma had met James and I on the way up, the end was in sight.
Arriving at Hambrough Tavern was a sight to behold, the swans were out in force so I decided not to go through them, not that they would have paid any attention to me they were far more interested in food, but they can be extremely vicious if you upset them. Lots of familiar faces which gave me a real boost and now I felt that perhaps I might make it to the finish line. I never let myself get excited about finishing an event until I can almost see the finish line, I don’t give up or feel negative and always keep a picture of the finish in my mind, but I sometimes think that if I let myself get excited and emotional everything will fall to pieces and my physical and mental strength will fail me.
As Paul and I set off on the last 12 mile section of the race I was finding running more and more painful, although I could still run my whole body jarred as I began to go into a run and I felt that I could go faster if I power walked, better to keep a constant pace rather than stop start, so that’s what I did. Paul stayed with me for 6 miles when Becky took over for the final sprint to the finish line. (Sprint hahaha!!)
I’m not quite sure what happened on the last 3 miles; I didn’t feel particularly tired and wasn’t falling asleep but my body seemed to have shut itself down in order to preserve any energy I did have left to keep my legs moving. Poor Becky was very worried about me and thought I wouldn’t make it so made sure I ate some food every so often. If she asked me a question I would smile – or so I thought in fact my facial expression didn’t change at all, it was as though the lights had gone out and no-one was at home.
I knew we were getting closer, but I couldn’t see the finish line, each bend in the canal I would strain to see if I could see the finish. We saw Ian Pusey who said it wasn’t far, now I could allow myself to get excited and believe that I was going to complete my epic journey.
Photograph by Ian Pusey
When I let my emotions go I tend to cry, I know pathetic but everything I have held onto while running just pours out! This was no different. Finally there it was, the finishing banner now I could run and cross the line that I had left at 9am on Thursday morning and only in my dreams had allowed myself to believe that I would see it again 290 miles later; but here it was; my feet seemed to fly, I could see Paul and Tim; Dick was standing just behind the banner holding my medal.
I finally crossed the finish line in 36 hours 49 minutes coming 5th lady and 23rd over all (88 starters). Poor Dick got the biggest hug from me and I remember saying “that was hard”! not sure which one of us was more emotional.
As soon as I had finished any energy I did have left my body left, everything felt like jelly; my job was done, my body had performed above and beyond the call of duty and was now telling me it was time to stop!
Without doubt I have three great crew, Becky Healey, Paul George and Tim Anderson, they did an outstanding job of supporting me in every way and for that I thank them from the bottom of my heart. They do their job so well it enables me to do my part for the team and run. We are a fantastic team and I always feel that crew should get a medal for the work they do. Crossing the finish line to become the first person to complete the Double GUCR was achieved because of the hard work of my crew.
I would also like to thank Dick Kearn the Race Director for giving me a place on the race; you have no idea how marvellous it was to see you at the end!
Congratulations to everyone who completed the race I hope you will be smiling for weeks to come. For those of you who for one reason or another were unable to complete your journey the fact that you stood on the start line is testimony to your guts and determination and I have no doubts you will achieve your goals, never give up. Dudley, it was marvellous to meet you and thanks for your company.
A very special congratulations goes to James Elson who won the race in 29 hours 10 minutes, Way to go James, well deserved and it couldn’t have gone to a better person.
Here’s to the greatest crew in the world!