It is an interesting race format. Start of near my home in London, run to nowhere in particular, stop over in a hotel and the next day run back.
I'm always going to be sentimental about this canal as it was the scene of my first ultra and of my best race ever. I was not placing too many expectations on this after my collapse in Portland last week. I'd have liked to have taken both days fairly hard but was probably going to be restricted by my recovering body.
Many were in two minds about entering this as the price had doubled to £95 for the two days and last year the course was only 37.5 miles instead of 40. I decided to do it as it was so close to where I live there were no travel costs and there was nothing else on this weekend. Plus the organisers promised to make it 40, which was nice, I don't like wearing T-Shirts that big the wrong impression.
The start was a bit of a mess. Nick and I arrived before most and suffered a full equipment check. It's easy to get a bit complacent nowadays about stuff, though I'm still not sure how useful a whistle will be on a canal. They grumbled a bit about taking my bag to the finish (something that was included last year for half the price) and at first they said that the run will start by running to Kew Bridge, over it then along the river and back over.
The few of us who knew the area quite well knew that there was no way back over the river to the canal and could not quite understand where we'd end up going, then as we were outside ready to start word got around that we were running straight for the canal and not Kew Bridge. Not a great start and confirmation that it would be 37.5 miles again this year.
The start was fairly pedestrain. Ian and a group set out in front but were not going particularly quickly. I quickly realised 2 schoolboy errors that I made in packing my bag. Firstly I had forgotten all my food. Secondly I had not rinsed out my bladder and was essentially drinking washing up liquid.
I ran for a few miles with Drew and Nick but didn't like running on their heels so I ran off ahead. The first day was pretty uneventful. I was most worried about not having enough energy to get me round as I'd forgotten my food. When I arrived at the first checkpoint all they had was water (the website said there will be energy drink). I spent the time between the next checkpoint looking for a place where I could buy some food as I was unlikely to be able to run 37.5 miles empty. I could finish and it may be a useful fat burning excercise but it would do me no good training.
Fortunately the second checkpoint did have some chocolate and sweets and I took quite a few. I still was not confident on getting through without feeling hungry.
I managed to keep a fairly constant pace and overtook a few guys who had set out too fast. I got chatting to a guy who recognised me purely because of what I was wearing, my beige shorts and red top. The infamous runners world shot (July 2008 pg 107) of the Exmoor Marathon was etched onto his mind in a way he did not know. First time I have been recognised for my dress sense. He said he'd done the Exmoor Marathon and that it was his first. That is pretty hardcore. I'll never get to do my first again but if I did I doubt I'd do something like that.
It got much harder that I thought towards the end. I didn't remember feeling this bad last year. Technically the first day is "uphill" but only by a few hundred feet. There are regular locks that involve a short but steep incline. These hurt my back. Having run this course a few times now it has become familiar and I was waiting for a muddy grassy stretch followed by an area covered in trees. That was when to make the turning off the canal.
The finish was fairly unspectacular. I managed to avoid running into Tring like I did last year and finished at the hotel in 5.28. 6th place I think. I thought when I turned off the canal that it was not clear where to go once I was on the road. I knew where to go from previous times but others might not. I them discovered that the yellow arrow pointing people off the canal had now fallen and several people were running past it.
Day 2 was far more interesting, for me anyway. It was a trip down memory lane where I got to enjoy in the daylight the times when I really suffered last May. My legs felt fine and up to the task. I was looking forward to seeing everything again.
It started with where it nearly ended, the canal entrance from Tring. This is exactly 100 miles of the gucr route but I thought it was 100.5. Seems silly now how I'd let something like that really get to me but it did.
As I passed a lock near Berkhampstead I had a falshback of meeting Ben and Gowan who were gathered there with much of my food. I recall Ben offering me some sort of salad pitta which I dismissed instantly. Giggling about this to myself I managed to run over a bridge that I was supposed to run under.
I little while later I had to regret the very large cooked breakfast I had in the morning. In fact I didn't regret it at all. I tasted really nice and I wanted to get my moneys worth from the expensive hotel we were staying in. In reality it would only have cost me a few minutes. Well worth it to avoid eating porridge.
The most significant part of the whole weekend for me was passing springwell locks. I've passed them so many times but it was only now I was actually looking out for them. The last time I recall being there was when I sat down for 20 minutes and considered pulling out of the GUCR. It was odd seeing it in perfect daylight and without the tent. Last year I didn't really know where I was at this moment. This time it was easy to see. I looked at the sign for "Springwell Locks" and smiled. Remembering that the next 10 miles were to be the best running of my life last year I enjoyed a lift that sped me up for a while.
I didn't really have much of plan for this race (as usual) given that I'd been ill for a while. I wanted to try to get both days done under 5.30 but that was when I was feeling fine. I would have liked to do today in the same time as yesterday but I realised from the start that this was not going to happen. I was slowing from a lack of running recently.
I did have a reunion with some old friends. The Geese. Right now they all are grown up and without children and are fairly docile. They will get out of the way if you come running through and not make hissing noises. However I knew that soon these geese will all have chicks and will see me as a specific threat. I stared right into the eyes of those that will try to eat me come may.
The snow that was forecast for monday looked to be coming early as the end was nearing. Fortunately it only lasted a few minutes but was enough to start setting. The next day it was to snow moderately and bring London and much of the UK to a standstill.
The Glaxo building is the most distictive feature that signals the end of this race. Soon after seeing that you run under some enormous empty corrogated building and then off the canal onto the road. Finished in 5.54 or something. Came 6th again but 4th overall.
I was really pleased with the way this race went. I was not pleased with how it was organised. Ambition Events double the price and offered less for it. They grumbled when I asked them to transport a bag and the checkpoints were minimal. Many speculated that the high price tag was to fly 4 of them over from South Africa to bungle a race along a canal. Both races were again short even though I had assurances from them that this woulf not happen. I doubt I'd do this again despite being so local. I could do it myself. Begs the question though, If they make an arse out of a race along a canal near London then what on earth will they mess up when they send people to Namibia?