It seemed fitting to do my "100th Marathon" somewhere like this. It was the closest race to my first proper ultra back in 2007, when I did not know anyone at the startline and there was a real sense of not knowing what was going to happen. 4 years on I've done a few of these things and now the main concern was finishing in good enough time to get some good drinking done in the pub. I chose this as the 100 as it was local, involved canal, was as close as I could get to my first ultra and thought it was my best bet of getting a load of friends along to join me (either running or drinking) on a winter Saturday afternoon. I managed to balls up the numbers though and this was actually my 101st. I accidentally did a marathon a couple of weeks ago cos I was bored (I'm a bit clumsy like that). Still, those who were signed up couldn't back out now.
I've come to know quite a few people who do this kind of thing now too. It's great to know that I can turn up to these things and always know loads of the people there, just like walking into the Wargrave Arms on a Wednesday night or in the Subway on Tottenham Court Road any day of the week. It was hard to move without getting involved in a conversation, so much so that I never made it to the pile of bacon sandwiches at the back of the pub we were all gathered in. I had banked on having one of those before the start. This could be catastrophic.
The race started a bit late because about 50 people came up from London on a train that got there about 10 minutes before the start. The train was full of runners, I've never seen such a thing outside of Switzerland. There were the usual looks of suspicion from the "normal" people wondering why so many men and women in skin tight black clothing with pipes sticking out of their bags were shamelessly lubricating themselves in the vestibules of the 7.27 from Marylebone. That is a proper posh train station too, it's the only terminal station in London that does not have a Burger King in.
It was around 8 degrees and wet underfoot but not raining. We were told that these were the best conditions the race has ever been run in. I recall last year the drizzle at the start (that turned into rain) and the snow covered paths and icy water you could not help but wade through. The start was the usual, everyone setting out like it was a 10k. All of the pre-race agreements of "I'll run with you or try to keep you in sight etc etc" quickly disappeared as everyone fled like rabbits fleeing from a gunshot. I ran on ahead a little bit to join the madness. It can be helpful to shoot out at the start if it means having to queue less at the stiles early on. Still, it leaves you panting like a fat sweaty asthmatic just 1 mile into an ultra.
I tried to keep Drew in sight who I think was determined to beat Claire and setting out fast. He had also cheated the week before by recceing the course. Reccing IS CHEATING. I'll make a T-Shirt. He was easy to catch cos he was walking up the hills already in his silly calf socks. I yelled at him for walking uphill already (it's only allowed when everyone else is doing it or no one is looking). Rob Westaway was in a rush to get to the canal because he loves them so much and he just ran on.
First checkpoint, no meat based snacks yet but just grabbed a couple of jelly babies and ran on, trying to keep up with the people who knew the way but I lost them in a pursuit through Chesham. Here I caught up with Natalie Vendette who missed the start of the race and started at CP1. She was debating all week about buying some fancy GPS gadget which she was wearing, telling her her heart rate, ambient temperature, blood glucose level and average pace but unfortunately these £300 devices are not advanced enough to tell you what the actual time is and therefore she missed her train.
I chatted to her a bit and then Rob Treadwell, David Miles and Mark Cockbain caught up and Rob was a better map reader than me so went along with them. There was another Serpie there who I didn't know but quickly discovered it was John Hudspith. Doing his first run of over 30 miles. The route got a lot muddier through the fields, we ran through a paddock with all those horse jumpy things. I cleared all the jumps whereas Mark clipped one. I really need to get onto the race organisers about that, he should get a 10 second time penalty or something. Our mucking about didn't impress a horse in the field who made a bolt for the gate as we opened it and we had to scramble over the railings to get out but keep the horse in. I laughed as I thought of that horse eating Claire Shelley later on.
CP2 is outside a pub and it would have just opened, it was about 11.15. We were making good time and looking forward to hitting the canal. The beautiful fields, trees, horses, donkeys, emus (yes emus), pretty villages and nice buildings were all getting a bit too much. I was having sensory overload that only starting at a long brown body of water could fix. Shortly before getting to the motherland we ran through Denham (very posh) and got excited about passing Roger Moore's house. I don't know exactly why I think it's Roger Moore's house, whether someone told me last year or whether I just made it up. It was massive with about 4 Rolls Royces outside.
Anyway, soon we were back on the canal, and all was good again.
We still stuck in the group of about 6 of us and headed down towards the left turning that signals only 13 miles to go. Someone always misses this every year and is hilarious for all but the person who actually does it. It seems that all Brit ultra runners are having a go at the Spartathlon this year and we discussed that a little. It's going to be great, if you are reading this and have not signed up yet then do it now. It's going to fill up. Forms are here.
45 is the magic number now. 45 is the average number of miles I have to run each day in the States. Sometimes it's more, sometimes less. I need to get myself confortable with this distance and this was feeling mostly comfortable. I don't plan on running any 45 mile stage in 7 hours when I get out there, more like 10. I was quite pleased about how I was feeling here and that I was getting stronger towards the end. Mark did point out though that we'd be doing the same again tomorrow and the next day and the next day and etc. At least there will be no mud in the States.
Turn left just before Toys R us and just a half marathon to go, around 2 hours. Rob was running on ahead, stopping to wait, taking photos and then running on ahead again. We passed Henk's bridge (CP 9 in the GUCR) where in the GUCR you'd be met by a sleep deprived Henk who offers his unique brand of encouragement to those who have done 133 miles and only have 12 left. There were the usual mentals who feed the geese and ducks from huge sacks of bread and they can be a challenge to fight through.
I got faster in the last 10 and lost the others. I caught back up with Rob Westaway who seemed to be enjoying the canal a lot. Drew was also just ahead looking quite feverish having consumed 16 energy gels in the race. Surely he knows that the "consume every 15 minutes" thing they put on the packet is just marketing bullshit to get you to buy more? I also passed Tim Adams about 3 miles from the end, it seemed everyone had set out too fast, or just wanted to spend more time with the canal.
I finished in 6.47, about 20 minutes quicker than last year which is promising as it might mean I am in better shape than last year (though still too fat). Mark Braley, Jon Hoo and Dave Ross were already at the finish and dressed already. I hung around to watch Tim, Drew, Rob, Rob, Mark and David finish and headed to the pub to get a few pints down me before Gemma was due to finish. She did in 8.23, about 2 hours faster than she thought she would. It was just getting dark as she, Mark Bell, Carrie Doyle, Mel Ross and Daniel (who gave me a bottle of whiskey at the start in celebration but I decided not to drink it at the start) all came in. All of them had only wonderful things to say about the canal.
Back into the pub for more drinking and Steak and chips. Then off to the other pub for even more drinking and another steak and chips. It was a great day, such a convenient finish location and made me more excited about watching the GUCR later this year. 45 miles done without too much bother. Can I do it again for another 69 days? Without Canal? Hmmmmm