It was hard trying to remember what to take with me on a 43 mile run through the countryside and canal. It's been more than 4 months now since I have run more than a marathon. What do I need? $10 dollars and a cuddly badger were my previous most important items. I decided to go with the bag that had been on my back across the entire LANY race. It's still in good condition though the strap across my belly seemed to be a lot shorter. I lengthened the strap, then had another bacon sandwich.
Claire, Drew and I got to the start pub early before the train from London arrived where more than 50 others would pile in and block up the toilets. One of the two toilers got blocked anyway and we still had to queue. Ahhh toilet queues I have missed you. The strained faces on those who are waiting, the relaxed strutting of those on their way out, the idiot who only needs a wee and queues with everyone else despite all the urinals being free. The strange moment when you hold the door open for the next person to go in, as if you are asking "do you approve of what I have done here? Smell that". UK Ultra running I have missed you.
It was freezing. -3C as we parked. The UK has escaped a proper winter so far but this was the coldest it's been for a while. It was great bumping into some guys I've not seen for ages again, like Steve Gorden and James Elson.The usual suspects were there, Oli, Tim, Dave Ross and loads of others who I didn't see because there were more than 200 people there. I saw Robin Harvie in the crowd too who looked nervous from doing his first long run since the double London Marathon last April and also a chap called George who said I gave him advice about the UTMB in a race last year. I remember it now, he said I told him not to use sticks cos it's cheating and he didn't use them and finished the race respite the horrific conditions. He spoke about wanting to run the Spartathlon this year which was great, using it to qualify for Badwater. I'd suggest doing them the other way round.
Anyhoo, the race started and the key here is to get ahead of everyone else in the first 400 meters so that you can get over the gates that lead into the narrow paths. Hold back and you risk having to queue for ages while everyone else lifts their creaky body parts over a stile. I ran ahead near Tim, James and Oli and managed to get into the fields before most of the others. I was then free to run at my own pace, after an asthma attack.
I ran behind James, Drew, Claire and Danny who all seemed to be going fast. Drew usually sets out fast in this, trying to impress some girl. I was trying to keep up as I had no intention of getting the maps out and these guys seemed to know the way. I was struggling though, I'd like to think it's because I was a bit poorly and had a cough, or that I was wearing the minimus shoes again and they were not quite working but the most likely explanation is that I am just a fat unfit bastard.
I slowed briefly to mourn a dead badger on the road and soon after I lost everyone and started walking along what I thought was the right way just to wait for someone to catch up. I got the map out but realised I had no idea where I was on the map. Fortunately Dave ROss and a group of others came bounding along (Dave had got lost and added a few miles). I followed these new guys.
Given how crap I was feeling in conparison to last year I thought my time would be much slower. The second half of this was on canal and last year as soon as I hit the canal I increased the pace and overtook quite a few people. Now as soon as I hit it I just stalled, knackered and groin really hurting as I mentally prepared myself for the 3+ hour slog to the finish.
The checkpoints on the canal had a lot more food which was great. Sausages, sausage rolls and pork pies were being scoffed and I drank a lot more water than usual, the sky was clear and the reflection on the water meant that we had two suns glaring at us. It still wasn't as bad as Okalhoma. I passed a guy running who said he was having trouble keeping his heart rate below 170. I didn't really know what to suggest other than "take the HRM off".
At the left turn on the canal, 13 miles to go I unexpectedly caught up with Claire and Drew. Obviously they had set out too fast too and the easy running of the canal was now difficult. I shuffled past, expecting them to come bounding along again later.
This was such a contrast to the last year where I just felt myself getting stronger over the last miles. I took a few walking breaks and had to sit down a few times to stretch but fortunatley the familiar last few miles of the canal came and it started to go quickly again. Trin caught up with me with a couple of miles to go and we chatted about future plans. She has a lot on this year including the amazing GUCR which I am really looking forward to running again. Even though I feel knackered now I will be a whole lot more knackered after 143 miles of canal come June. I said to Trin that the lead woman was just ahead of us, we could see here and whether she fancied a sprint for it. She didn't but still managed to pull ahead of me.
Completely unexpectedly I finished under 7 hours and only a few minutes slower than last year where I thought I'd run well. I then found out that James had run it in 6 hours flat and I was with him for the first 20 miles. Obviously we smashed it in the first half and most of us struggled for the second half. The pub at the end was good though. Nice steak and chips and several pints and chatted to James, Tim, Danny and others. It was a great day overall.
All in all not a horrific day. How on earth I did that every day for 70 is currently unthinkable.