I didn't look that bad..

I've just stumbled on this website while browsing through a huge number of posts for the GUCR 2009 on the runners world forum. It is from the TV company that were documenting the race. The photo of me with the headtorch was taken at Tring at 99 miles. I look quite good there (if I do say so myself) and was quite suprised to see it as I recalled feeling crap.


That was before my confusion as to where the 100 mile point was. I thought that was it but I was to later discover that it was a further mile down the canal. It was such a trivial thing but it sent me on a downward spiral that threatened to end my race.

I don't recall any photos or videos being taken at the 120 mile point but if there were they would make for an interesting comparison. Like those "before and after" photos you get of people addicted to heroin, you could have 2 photos and say "this is what running in the night through Hemel and Watford do to an otherwise healthy male".

Next time I'll remember, Tring is 99 miles. I'll write it down on my hand.

Grand Union Canal Race Report (Long Version)

I have thought about finishing this race for well over a year now. It has been the single biggest thing on my mind since I decided I was going to do this. In all the previous training runs and races I thought about the moment I’d cross the line. It always made me feel better.

I thought about it when justifying what I had to do to get there. The time and cost, drifting away from some friends, stalling career and a failed relationship. The glow I got from just thinking about finishing this made it all seem worth it. I truly hope that some time on Sunday those sacrifices would be justified.


The alarm woke me up at 4am. I hit snooze and closed my eyes. Then, in an unexpected moment of clarity so early in the morning I thought what difference is another 9 minutes sleep going to make to what I have planned today? Arriving at the answer pretty quickly I jumped out of bed and staggered for the light.

Maypole in Birmingham is a strange place to put a Travelodge. I can’t imagine anyone having any real reason to come here, except of course for one day of the year where the car park fills with very sedate looking men in full running/hiking gear and some equally nervous family members organising stacks of food big enough to feed the whole family for a week.

Gas Street Basin

I knew what the start looked like from the videos and photos online. When I first got there is was quite empty which felt strange. All the runners had spilled onto a nearby street, almost as if they were waiting for a coach to collect them. All were talking with quiet confidence about running this race. All were set on finishing but in reality less than half will. It doesn’t seem to dampen any spirits though, everyone I’m sure were looking forward to the start in their own way. I was.

The horn sounded soon after we all decided to huddle together by the side of the canal. It was a very civilised and English start: “after you sir, no please I insist”. Much more respect and decorum than in other races where there is a melee at the start for the sake of gaining a few yards. A few yards don’t really matter here, not in a race that I’ll still be running this time tomorrow. I was in it now.

I’d not let myself think about running this race until I was actually doing it since all I all I wanted to think about was finishing. For as long as possible I just imagined what I would feel like when I crossed the line and only now did I start to really think about the 30 odd hour slog to get there.

I tried to resist any attempts to draw me in to thinking about it. This explains why I was quite indifferent in a meeting I had with my support crew a week earlier to discuss practicalities. I didn’t want to think about practically running this race, it was too hard.

Opening the race instructions and touching my race number made my skin go cold. Packing all the food and drink to take to the hotel made me feel sick. For so long I have described this race as a moment in the future, obsessing about the successful outcome of finishing. I could no longer think just about this moment, I had to think about getting there. 45 hours, 145 miles, 500,000 steps, 20,000 calories, one sun-rise, maybe 2 sun-sets. It was almost like someone has just rudely put these obstacles in between me and my finish.

Sleeping before the start?

The first few miles did involve ducking below a few low bridges. I hoped there were not too many of these later; I’m not much good at this at the best of times. I ran with Shaw Pye for the first 5 miles. After less than a mile we did take a wrong turning and ran into a dead end. As if the race wasn’t long enough. It wasn’t the distance that mattered, if I can get lost 1mile into the race with loads of other runners around in the daylight then how will I fare when it’s dark, there is no-one around, I’ve been running for 20 hours and hallucinating?

Apparently you lose an inch in height when you run a marathon. That meant that I stood to lose 5.7 inches by the end. I’ll only be 5”4 and those low bridges would no longer be a problem.

Shaw was running a bit quicker than I wanted to; trying to keep up with the lead group of about 6. Rather than openly admit to wanting to go slower I said I needed to duck into the bushes for a minute. I did and watched them slowly disappear into the distance.

Catherine De Barnes Bridge – 10.7 miles

The first checkpoint was after 10.7 miles at Catherine De Barnes Bridge. By this time I was already alone. I put on a sprint finish for the cameras and met Campbell, Ben and Simon who were 3 quarters of my support crew for the race. I felt nice and warmed up and it was good to see the first checkpoint and my crew, all looking very smart in their official supporters’ jerseys.

It’s funny how I now consider 11 miles as a warm-up. 3 years ago that was a long run. I’d spent the last week worrying about some stabbing pains I was getting in my legs. I was not carrying any injuries but parts of my legs were hurting for no reason. I dismissed this as my brain trying to trick me into backing out of doing something stupid. I ignored my brain which is often the right thing to do because sometimes it’s an idiot. The pains in my legs were no longer there, I felt good even though I was only 8% into the race.

Sprint Finish worthy of a 10 miler

I was at the second checkpoint at Hatton Locks (22 miles) in about 4 hours. I saw Harley Inder who had run it last year and was part of a film crew taking footage of this event. I told him that the shorts he was wearing were criminal. He said I was looking good and that I should take it easy. A long way to go.

Between 20-40 miles my support crew were getting concerned that I was not taking enough food. I was getting plenty of energy drink but the plan to eat constantly along the way was not happening. I’d advised them before that they would probably have to force feed me as I’m unlikely to want to eat much, even though I need to. I always took protein bars with me but just ended up carrying them along for another 10 miles. At about 35 miles I was treated to a battered sausage. Not the kind of food I planned on eating but it went down a treat. I think Campbell had meant to get me a sausage roll but the guy in the chip shop was a bit confused.

I’ll introduce my support crew in order of appearance.

Campbell I’ve only just met. He runs marathons and ultras and appeared to be really excited and intrigued about supporting me on this race. I’m really glad he was so enthusiastic, I was going to rely on that.

Ben I’ve known for a few years now. He runs the occasional marathon when he’s not writing theses. Since he got a proper job he has taken a worrying turn towards triathlons. I hope that by doing this I can help convince him to come back.

Simon has always been a (very slightly) faster marathon runner than me (5 seconds sometimes). I spent a few weeks as a faster runner than him, however he beat my time again the week before. That’s enough about Simon for now.

Gowan likes to get himself in situations that may result in being moaned at by me. He supported me on my first ultra and as long as he’s there I know I won’t be running my last. He laces cakes with Malibu and pizzas with mushrooms so I’ll have to be careful what I take from him.

Around 40 miles the path became quite overgrown and footing was a bit more difficult. Nettles and other plants had taken over the path, making it difficult to keep up a good pace, which was probably a good thing. No point rushing. I was startled for a moment when I almost stepped on a snake. I knew that there were a couple of snake species resident in England but never thought I’d encounter one in a race. I sent a message to the support to say I just saw one and for reassurance that I’m not going delirious yet - I wasn’t even a third of the way in. Unfortunately I misspelled the work snake and my support then took the piss out of me for being scared of a nasty shake. Great, it’s barely afternoon and they all think I’ve lost it already.

At 46miles the canal goes underground and some minor navigation is required. This was the first time I took my map out of my pocket. The path basically goes up a long incline through some fields and at the top of this hill were my support team. They informed me that I was 6th and looking much better than those in front of me upon whom I was gaining. It was time I sent an update to everyone.

I set up a text group on my phone to keep people up to date with how I was doing. Partially because I’m sure they wanted to know but mostly because the replies gave me a lift. It was 2pm and I sent “46 miles in 8 hours. Only 99 to go J ”. I looked forward to reading the replies.


The one reply that stuck with me for some time was from Ian who congratulated me on “a good start”. I suspect that although he was being factually accurate in his appraisal of my first 46 miles there was an undertone of sarcasm there. I did think about it for a while (had quite a long time to think). 16 months ago I was making a really big deal of a 45 mile race that I trained for quite a lot. I finished it and was really pleased with the outcome and wrote a story about how fulfilling the whole experience was. Look where I am now. 16 months on I’ve just completed the same distance, a bit slower but feeling very fresh but with 99 miles to go. 45 miles seemed enormous to me 18 months ago but here I was running in a race where that enormous distance was nothing more than “a good start”. It might have depressed me, instead it reminded me about how far I’ve come over the past year. The start was good, now for the middle bit.

The middle bit

My Garmin usually tells me when I’ve run further than I ever have done before. The battery life is only 10 hours though and so I couldn’t wear it in this race (unless I had 4). I like to at least congratulate myself silently when I pass this longest point which would be 54 miles, however I had no way of knowing. I did not think too much about the distance or the time, I just kept reminding myself how good I was feeling in what was now the longest I’d ever run, both in time and distance. I stayed focused on the finish. Not long after my crew supplied me with a subway, Italian BMT to celebrate. I should have mentioned before that I don’t like sweet corn, I’m suspicious of its crunchy noise and it has no place in a sandwich. As I was ungraciously devouring it the film crew approached and asked if I wanted to be interviewed. I said yes and continued eating. I’m not too sure what I said to them at that point, it was probably great marketing for subway though.

Heavily concentrating on not eating sweetcorn

I’d been advised by a friend that my crew would have to really force food into me. I told them as much and now I was there I resisted food sometimes. I previously ran the Thames Meander (54 miles 9 hours) with very little solid food and at 60 miles was still not feeling hungry. Strange how watching a film or getting a train makes me hungry but 10 hours of running does not. I was going to need them later on to get a bit more aggressive in their feeding. I was always going to say no and that would have been disastrous.

About 60 miles in I saw a runner ahead. He was going too slowly to be a recreational jogger so assumed he must be part of the race. It then occurred to me that I’d run over 50 miles without seeing any other runner. I had no idea it would space out this much. My preference was to run on my own but I’d always imagined that there would be people just ahead and just behind. I don’t know why - dividing 75 people across 145 miles makes for lots of lonely runners. I chatted briefly and passed him. He looked like he was struggling. Another couple of miles I overtook another who was also struggling. They’d hit walls early on that surely I would hit later on. I couldn’t think about it now, just keep going and deal with that if/when it happens.

Around 65 miles the canal goes underground again and I had to run along some roads above to rejoin it. I needed to ask for directions a couple of times and was heading in the right direction. I got the first pangs of paranoia as I followed the route given to me. Because I couldn’t see the canal straight away I started walking and looking around. I followed a path with a big yellow arrow on it (I worried that this might be someone taking the piss). I jogged up this path and then for some reason turned around and ran as I was sure this was not the way, until another runner came and insisted that it was. He’d done it last year so following him was fine. Within a minute we were back on the canal.

Don’t you get bored when you are running for so long? The second most common question asked of me by non-runners, the first being “Isn’t it bad for your knees?” – The answer to both is emphatically no. I can’t really remember exactly what things I thought over the course of this run while I still had control of my thoughts. It’s as if running moves you to a lower state of consciousness where you are free to think silly things that may not make sense.

I thought about how vicious geese get when they have chicks and what my chances would be if I had to fight one. At this stage I was a good bet, later on I’d have struggled. I thought about the cow that charged at me in the Dartmoor Discovery race last year and wondered whether I could currently outrun one. I probably had the advantage due to the terrain. I tried not to think about work too much, I was here to enjoy and challenge myself, neither of which ever happen to me there. Then I got a craving for a Coke. I never usually drink Coke but I just really wanted one just then. My crew obliged.

I thought about finishing mostly, that moment of seeing the finish come into view and then sprinting for it. I looked forward to having the medal hung round my neck as a symbol of completion. Medals are nice to have as a reminder of races you have done, thought I doubted I’d need anything to remind me of this race. They are nice mementos.

A GUCR finishers medal would be my second most prized possession, the first being something I already own. Earlier in the week I’d bought a one way train ticket from London to Birmingham, a fairly unexciting piece of card. If I finish this race this will be transformed from a worthless piece of paper to my most treasured thing. If I didn’t then it was going in the bin.

To answer the original question again, no I don’t get bored while running because I’m not boring. I can entertain myself with my own imagination in a way that maybe they can not. I felt sorry for them, sat at home waiting for the Apprentice to come on.

Still showing my number - that being the rule :)

Still feeling good I came to the 70 mile checkpoint and met my team. Gowan had now arrived and Ben and Simon were planning on going to a hotel they booked to get some sleep. Alright for some. I was interviewed again by the film crew who again commented on how fresh I looked. I was still in 4th place and looking strong. They asked what was on my mind and I said running in the dark and staying awake. They’d asked how I planned on dealing with that and my honest response was that I don’t know. One regret in the training going into this race was that I’d not done any night running before. This was going to be the biggest challenge. I still had a couple of hours of sunlight though and my original goal was to get to half way by sundown. I was hours ahead.

Only about 85 miles to go

Running through Milton Keynes was more pleasant than I thought. Gowan and Campbell were planning on meeting me about every 5 miles at this stage but they missed me at one meeting place because I was still going faster than they expected. Faster than I expected to be doing at this stage. Time for another update.

78 miles. 3 Marathons. 14 hours. Feeling ok still. 4th place”.

About 80 miles in I saw Shaw ahead of me walking. He looked very unhappy. He’d sat down at the previous checkpoint to eat and done something to his hip which prevented him from running. His Dad was walking beside. I chatted briefly and said that sometimes these things just go away in races like this. I hoped he’d get back running soon and would have liked to have run with him, especially as night was falling. Since I still had running in me I went ahead, now in 3rd place.

I didn’t enjoy overtaking Shaw. I know it’s a race and all that but there seemed to be something undignified about passing someone who had been unlucky as he had. Obviously I want to do the best I can but I wanted to be competing against others at their best. I was also worried that just overtaking him would have bad consequences for his morale. I know that if I was walking and someone passed me in that fashion it could break me.

Just before night falls. Gowan and Campbell take over


The 85 mile checkpoint just outside Milton Keynes was where Campbell started to run with me. Night was falling and I was starting to feel sleepy. I’d been up since 4am and didn’t get a great deal of sleep the night before. It worried me that I was feeling this way even before the sun had gone down. I started to think about those 9 minutes I gave up in the morning.

Leighton Buzzard was the 92 mile point. We met Gowan who was waiting by a bridge next to a pub with some rather unsavoury chavs in the beer garden. They seemed disturbed by the thought of people out running at this time of night when they could be in a pub drinking hooch. My attention was then distracted by Pat Robbins and his support runner cruising past me like I was stood still. He was looking in really good form. 92 miles and still that fresh? I looked like that about 10 miles ago. That seemed like a long time ago.

I asked Campbell to run ahead of me so I could follow. The headlamps made parts of his clothing glow as he ran along the canal in pitch black. I couldn’t imagine doing this without a team of people to support me. I don’t think I really appreciated how hard it would be to support a race like this, neither did I really thank the guys for giving up their time to support me. My job was straightforward if not easy, just keeping running till the end of the canal in London. Theirs was not so easy. They had to make sure they navigated to the right places at the right times without much info from me. Getting the right food, saying the right things. I wouldn’t have liked to be there without them. We passed lots of houseboats and could see the TV’s inside. It was the night of the Eurovision song contest, almost worth cancelling the race for.

The next checkpoint was 100 miles and in Tring. I’d been thinking of this for a long time. 100 miles was a milestone in itself but arriving at Tring would feel like I was almost there. I’ve run to London from there twice now and the path there on would perhaps seem familiar.

It just didn’t seem to come though. I felt like I was running forever and Tring was getting no nearer. Several times I stopped to get the map out and confirm that we were headed in the right direction. It seems like irrational paranoia as I write this but the consequences of taking a wrong turn could have ended my race. In fact we were not running that slow, it just felt that way. Time seemed to be standing still. There were quite a few locks which involved inclines and I was in no mood to run up them. After what seemed like hours I finally arrived into the 100 mile checkpoint in 19 hours. Well ahead of target (24 hours) but had quickly gone from feeling “quite good” to “quite poor”.

Harley and the film crew were there again and interviewed me as I drank hot tea. He congratulated me on getting there so quickly and still in good shape. I can’t remember what they asked me or what answers I gave. I think I still managed to fool others into thinking I’m still ok. I wasn’t.

I met Harley just over a year ago when he was in training for this race. We were on a bus from Ealing on our way to the Finchley 20. I was aware of the race at that point but didn’t know too much about it. We chatted about this, the Marathon De Sables and Tring 2 Town (which we’d both done a month back). It is possible that this conversation prompted me to start my obsession with finishing this race in 2008. I can’t really remember where it started. That day was not so successful for me, I didn’t even finish the 20 miles, I dropped out at 15. Now look at me, I’ve just finished that race 5 times over.

Tring 2 Town again

We got moving again, my chatting had died down somewhat. I yelled “GO” and “STOP” to Campbell like he was a husky dog. The plan was to meet Ben in Berkhamsted and then run 17 miles with him. I didn’t really bother myself with the details of how they planned to support me; I just wanted to have my stuff as near to me as possible.

About 10 minutes after leaving the Tring checkpoint Campbell pointed out the start of the Tring 2 Town race, a slope leading from the main road to the canal. I was devastated. I thought I’d just passed 100 miles when in fact this was the 100 mile point. There are 45 miles to go from here. It shouldn’t have mattered too much, it was only a mile, however at this stage the little things were getting blown up by my faltering and tired mind. This was just the start.

Berkhamsted was a 103 miles and this is where we saw Ben and Gowan. We had to be quiet as we were outside someones house at nearly 2 in the morning. Ben was to run with me for 17 miles until we met Simon who was parked in Springwell Locks near Watford. I wanted to get there by 6am (more than 4 hours) so that I could send my next update to inform people that I had less than a marathon to go within 24 hours.

I was in quite a lot of pain by this point. Both quads were very sore, the left knee hurt along the ITB band and both ankles were sore. I wanted some Nurofen gel. When I was informed that this was with Simon 17 miles away I fumed. I wanted it even more. I asked (ordered) Ben to start running and I followed. He kept a greater distance between us than Campbell did which was probably wise. I was in a foul mood and was only capable of talking in catty remarks. I complained some more about how much pain I was in and how I needed the nurofen and how 17 miles was too far to go. I moaned then moaned some more. Then it started to piss it down.

We passed Berkhamsted station which is where we cross a bridge. I remember this from before and the familiarity gave me a short-lived lift. Hemel Hempstead took an age to get through. My legs felt like they were falling apart, the backs of my knees felt like they’d been slashed. I moaned some more about Nurofen and hot food. I didn’t even want to eat hot food, I just wanted to moan about it. I’d been transformed from the chirpy runner I was at 92 miles to a monster.

Key to running races like this is to be able to separate your body and mind. Your body will keep pressing on the mind that you should stop. I felt it even before the race started and had to tell myself that it wasn’t real. Some of the pain I was feeling now was real for sure but my body was really beating my brain up about it. I’d let the suffering into my mind and it spread like an infection. Within 10 miles I’d gone from mentally strong to mentally weak. My body was ready to stop a few hours before and at about 117 miles it had convinced my mind to do the same.

There were many symptoms of this surrender. I was flying off the handle at any slight obstacle, like two bridges with the same number on or lack of hot food. I was disgracefully rude to those who’d given up a lot of their time to help me through this. I started to feel cold. My mind was telling me that dropping out would not be that bad, 120 miles is still pretty good, something to be proud of.

For the first time in the race I was unable to think of finishing; only of the misery I was going through right now. Since I couldn’t see the finish anymore I couldn’t see the point of running. I started walking.

At about 3 miles till the next checkpoint it was getting light again. It did not have the lifting effect I was expecting. This had been a moment I was banking on to spur me on some more whereas it just reminded me of how little ground I had covered during the night. I told Ben to run off and come back with the Nurofen. I doubt it would have made much difference. In fact Ben had long considered giving me Imodium and telling me it was Nurofen for the placebo effect. It maybe would have worked, but then I would have killed Ben for keeping that from me all this time. I looked on ahead for what seemed like hours. Occasionally trying to get back into a run but unable to I limped on and started performing the worst case scenario calculations. I had no idea what pace I was doing but figured I couldn’t be hobbling faster than 3 miles an hour. With 27 miles to go at 24 hours on the clock that would be another 10 hours and 34 hours – and a really miserable 10 hours at that.

I sent another update at 6am – “24 hours. 118 miles. Still 4th but walking now”. I guess I wanted to inform people not to expect too much from me now, I wasn’t expecting much from myself.

I saw Simon running up the other way at last and he smeared my legs with the Nurofen I’d been moaning about for hours. I hobbled into the checkpoint at 120, well over an hour later than planned.

I sat down for the first time in a day. I took off my shoes and socks and discovered 3 enormous purple blisters at the ends of my feet. For about 50 miles I’d been thinking there was a stone in my shoe but could not find it. Now I knew. I ate a hot sausage roll and drank some tea. I changed my shoes and socks, though not without moaning that I didn’t have my preferred shoes available. Ben and Simon commented (privately) that I was having a J-Lo moment and considered going out to get some rose petals to lay down in front of me as I ran. I’m not much of a drama queen usually, I guess it’s useful to know that I only become one after 100 odd miles of running and 24 hours of non-stop movement. I hope they forgive my frivolous demands, they know I’m still Jenny from the block.

I sat for about 20 minutes in all. Stopping for so long can be dangerous in this race, you feel like you are only 20 minutes from a coma at any point. I needed to be helped out of the chair and standing up was painful. I could no longer isolate parts of my legs that hurt, the whole lot was burning. There were no photos taken that I recall and the film crew had gone to the end. I wondered how long it would be till I was there. Simon was ready to run with me for a while but I said I wanted to be alone now. The rain fell heavier as I limped down a slope to rejoin the canal. Less than a marathon to go.

I’m no psychologist but I am aware of the presence of subconscious thought. It’s what takes over when snap decisions are required, like life and death situations. It drives instinctive and instant behaviours when the body is under threat and logical conclusions of the rational mind can’t come quick enough. I don’t know whether this extends to longer time periods when the body is under prolonged duress. I can’t explain it.

I still had plenty of time to finish this race. I still could have crawled to the end in under 45 hours (the cut-off). I still could have walked in 36 and got the time I expected in the first place. Time and place became unimportant at this point, all I wanted to think about was finishing.

I tried subsequently in the race to pick the words to describe what happened to me at this moment but I still can’t do it. It seemed to happen independently of any action or decision by myself. The best I can do is to say that at Springwell Lock at 7am on Sunday 25th May my body and my mind had given up. As I descended that small slope and the rain fell harder my soul stood up and told those two quitters to go and fuck themselves, I’m going to cross that finish line with dignity. I started running again.

The first mile was excruciating, like running in acid. I just leant forward slightly and ran straight through all the puddles. The water on my calves gave slight relief, my body still complained and the mind concurred. I didn’t care; I’d fallen out with those two and was not listening to them anymore. I promised myself I’d keep on running till the end and that was what I was doing.

The slow shuffle increased in pace. It was not long before I felt like I was running again. I met Ben and Simon at 125 miles and did not want to stop. I think I was running at 6mph for the first time in 50 odd miles. I felt great, I didn’t know whether it was hurting anymore because I wasn’t listening. I continued to the next meeting place which was 130. I could not quite believe the turnaround. I’d won them back, sailing through 130 miles I had managed to convince my body and conscious self that I was going to do this. I stopped under a bridge to take a call from Campbell who had now rejoined the crew. I asked him to meet me at Bulls Bridge Junction (the left turn that signals only a half marathon to go).

Running long distances can take you on an emotional rollercoaster, that’s part of the appeal. I recall from my early marathons the low feelings when quite a way into the race but still far from the end. Having run quite a few now I have to look to harder things to get these feelings back. The thought of starting a race that I might not be able to finish was exhilarating. I was not at all prepared for this, the sick feeling I had in the days before the race, the phantom pains, dreams about being in the race.

I knew there would be highs and lows but did not expect the lows to be so low. 10 miles previously I was crushed, possibly the worst state I’ve been in my life. In the space of 2 hours that turned around into a euphoric feeling unlike anything I’d felt before. For the first time since Berkhampstead I could see the finish again, I thought about crossing the line. The emotion completely overwhelmed me, so much so that as I approached a gate I stopped, hung onto the railing and cried.

It was only for 10 seconds or so, I just leant into my arms and sobbed for a while. It came on suddenly and I didn’t really care if anyone was around. This was possibly the highest I’ve felt in my life and I’m going to save this moment. About 9.30am, pissing down with rain along a polluted canal towpath in a building site in Hayes I had a life affirming moment I will never forget. It was beautiful.

Soon the nasty logical brain took over, at least it was on my side now. Come on James, stop being such a baby. You’re a grown man, snap out of it. Grrrrrrrr.

I was still sobbing slightly when I met Campbell and Gowan at Bulls Bridge. They decided not to film me, though I wouldn’t have minded. I was so glad to see them and I hoped they’d forgive my behaviour earlier. I felt so good I almost felt guilty since I can’t believe they would have felt the same. I was on the home straight now, 13.5 miles to go.

Inevitably the pace slowed again, I didn’t mind too much. The logical brain did make a good point that I have actually run quite far and there was good reason for my legs to hurt and my pace to be quite slow. We were back on speaking terms, since now we had the same goal.

With about 10 to go I met Dave Ross and his friend Edward who had originally come to support someone else but she dropped out earlier. It was great to see them and I felt a bit more conversational than before but not much. I wasn’t really ready for two way conversation, it was nice just having them in front of me and chatting, except of course when they mentioned a 100 miler that Edward did a few weeks ago that he didn’t finish because he got back spasms with 4 miles to go. I have SEVEN miles to go, SHUT UP.

The rain stopped but the puddles made the run difficult. I was in no mood to dance around them so I ran through most, the water helped the pain. Dave and Edward ran on ahead as the canal started to get busy. I’d been told that the next runner behind me was “miles” behind, I didn’t really come here with a competitive finish in mind but felt that 4th has been mine since half way. I didn’t want to let it go. Quite often a fresh jogger would come up behind and overtake; I just assumed that anyone who can run faster than me at this point clearly isn’t in this race. My race number did say “145 miles” and Birmingham – London” on it, I kind of hoped that those out and about on the canal would see that.

6 miles to go I saw Simon and Ben who supplied me with a nice warm long sleeved Serpie top. This was the 4th top I’d worn in the race. I put it on and felt like I was glowing, it was the perfect temperature and dry. This is it now, still more than an hour to go but felt like this was the glory leg.

Lou Reeves met me with about 4 to go. It was great to see her as she’d been quite active in the replies to the text messages in the night. She was in more of a chatty mood than I was, I liked hearing her talk but didn’t really want to talk myself. I said to her to go easy on the questions. She obliged and just chatted to herself like I wasn’t there, which was nice.

The path was quite hard now which allowed for some pretty speedy running, unfortunately I could not take advantage and was reduced to a shuffle that couldn’t have been much more than 4mph. We joked at the start that given the shorter stride we would do this 233km race in it would probably take half a million steps to complete it. It was suggested that we count them (and if you lose count you have to start again). I didn’t, but knew I had only a few thousand to go.

I’ve been obsessed with this finish line for so long now, over a year of anticipation and 30 hours of pain. From talking to Harley on that bus, sending off the application, booking the hotel and train ticket I just thought about that white banner. Predicting the feeling as I ran right into a wall that marks the end of the Grand Union Canal made all the work seem worth it. It was hard to explain to others in words why I’d do something like this but I didn’t care. I only needed to answer to myself.

The hardest part of the race coincided with me forgetting about why I was here; to finish. As soon as I could think about it again I felt better. I knew exactly what the finish line looked like as I’d seen the videos so many times. The moment I’d been waiting for was about to happen. That white banner was about to appear.

It really does appear out of nowhere. My eyes were hurting as I tried to spot it in the distance but then it just jumped out after a kink in the canal. No longer did I have to imagine what it would be like to cross this line, I could actually experience it now.

Somehow I managed to break into a proper run and flew through the line. I didn’t look at my watch, I didn’t even start the timer. I just knew that I started this run on Saturday at 6.00am, it was now 12.36pm on Sunday. Simple maths would reveal my time, I was in no state to make such complicated calculations; someone was on hand to write it down. 30 hours and 36 minutes of running, and so much more.

I remained composed as I sunk my head and Dick Kearn (race organiser) hung a huge slab of metal round my neck. It was hard to get up again, it’s quite big. It was really great to see so many people around the finish. My support crew produced cake and champagne to celebrate the victory. I sat down and paraded my blisters. Campbell surgically lanced them while the cameras filmed and passers by looked in disgust.

The numbers will always be important to me. 145 miles, 30 hours and 36 minutes, 12.39 minutes per mile average pace, 4th place and 10th fastest finisher of all time. These are the things that will appear alongside my name if you look in years to come.

By far the most important part was the experience I had doing this race. I’ve thought so long about the finish and how great it would feel. I was so sure that crossing the line would give me the greatest feeling ever. I was certain that crossing the line that I’d worked towards for a year and obsessed about in all my waking hours and many of my sleeping ones would lift me higher than I have ever experienced. But it didn’t. That moment came a few hours before.

I find it hard not to cringe sometimes at races and holidays that say “discover yourself” and “push yourself to your limits and beyond”. I guess it’s time for me to get out of marketing. I can truly say that this experience has satisfied both of those claims without needing to shout about it on the website. It was something that perhaps can’t de described in words, but I’ll try anyway.

After 24 hours of running and 120 miles I felt like I'd reached my limit. My body was broken and my mind didn't want to take part anymore. It was rationalising the effort that I had already done and was being quite congratulatory. Most people would not dream of running 120 miles. It said to me "well done but it's time to leave now".

And I had done well, this was something I could not imagine myself doing a year ago and could not imagine anyone doing a few years ago. There would have been no shame in stopping at this point would there?

Maybe not, but imagine you are doing something long and hard and you have this moment when you feel like it should be over. Imagine some ghost of you appears just ahead with a brush and a big tin of red paint and says "well done buddy, you've done really well to get this far but this is it, this is your limit". He then starts to paint a red line right in front of your eyes.

A rational brain would say "he has a point, I've gone quite far". However there is nothing rational about running 145 miles. This is no place for those who like living in spreadsheets and having everything planned to perfection. This is a place for emotional imperfectionists who are willing to risk the debilitating feelings of failure in order to experience the kind of highs that can not be described.

The ghost with the red paint seems like a labourious metaphor for what got me back out of that chair at Springwell Locks. I really can't describe what happened there other to say that I got out of that chair because I wanted to kick this fucker into the canal.

So I chased him, past the line that he had just laid out and down along the canal. I got faster and faster but so did he until he disappeared out of view. That was good, I did not want to see him again. It was when I realised that I wasn't going to see him again that day that the waterworks started.

Though I was far from finishing the race when I had my emotional moment in Hayes I realised that I had already finished in every respect apart from the running. 13 miles from the end but already knowing that I was going to finish? It is very strange but also very liberating.

My hardest times in this race came when I thought too much about the present and not about the end. The finish line was all that concerned me for so long, a year before I crossed the start line. As soon as I forgot that I also forgot why I was here in the first place and that is when I started to beat myself up.

This experience has given me so much that justifies the sacrifices that I mentioned earlier. It has given me moments that I hope I will never forget. I don't believe I'll experience similar feelings to this very often, even if I do longer or harder runs (of which there are very few, none in the UK). I'd still like to try. The GUCR isn't one of those over-hyped corporate races with flashy animated websites that add £20 to your entry fees and spouting the usual tosh of "discovering your limits and beyond". However I did just that. I hope the ramblings above give some idea to how good it felt. But I know it can't, you really have to be there.


GUCR Race Report Report

This is a report about writing a report. If I kept on doing this I would disappear into infinity.

I have just finished the first cut of my report on the GUCR. I took a day off work to write it and it just flowed out of me fairly easily. It brought back some memories and emotions that I never want to lose. I was asked who I was aiming the report at, I've thought about it and realised that I wrote it for myself.

I realised while writing this and also reading Ian's epic on the MDS that it is very important to capture all that you can from things like this so that you remember them. It's something you do on your own and though I had a support team there with me they were not sharing the same experience, not like if we were treking. When you've written about that experience you have the choice of letting others in to see it. Sometimes you may not want to.

Then the next "writing" process starts where you have to take what you have and present it to the audiences that you want to. It's a bit like marketing, but with more substance. I'm pleased with what I've written which in turn was based on what I did. I have to make a decision now as to who I want to push this to.

I've just sent it to a few people who expressed interest in reading about what I did. I'd call them Advocates. They will read it anyway. I'd really like to see it on the GUCR website as I believe that it will be read in the same detail it is now. I was looking on that website keen to drain all the info I could on the people who did this race. All those who may enter in future I think will benefit from reading this.

There are then the people who may be interested in the general torment of doing something like this even if they have no intention of doing it themselves, or any running.  

Then there comes the question of the "wider audience".  The general running crowd are exposed to lots of broad articles and quick fixes. "5 foods that make you faster", "7 steps to a perfect 10k" and so forth. To reach these guys I am going to have to shorten it significantly and probably concentrate on the superficial (like the pain and feeling "really pleased" at the end and probably some cliche about "never again" with some exclamation marks).

 I know that this is where the money is. I know that if I ever intend to make a living out of this then I need to reach these people. I'm still undecided as to whether I am going to try to in this case.

 Food for thought.

GUCR 10 days later

If I had to plot a graph of my recovery it would be of the r= 100(d-1)/d variety, where r is recovery on scale of 100 and d is the number of days. I was really excited by my progress on the first few days but now I am suffering the long tail of slight niggles that don't want to go away. The back of my knee (i really should find out what that is called) still is really tight and now I've got a throbbing pain in my right knee. There was a temptation to do the St Albans half marathon this weekend, more just to see people and go for a jog, but I probably won't now.



2 days later

I'm recovering physically faster than I thought I would. I still have pain in the right shin and general stiffness but I can walk ok. I still have not slept a great deal but am feeling tired all the time. Not too focused at work (though thats not uncommon anyway) and I've had heartburn for 2 days.

Word of advice to anyone doing this. Take some time off work. Not for recovery but for reflection. I felt pretty miserable when I arrived at work this morning having experienced the weekend that I did. I guess not everyone finds their jobs as unsatisfying and unfulfilling as I do. My feet were to big to fit into my shoes and had to walk around the office in socks. Stange looks indeed but I enjoyed expaining why.

I sent a few emails around to thank those who may have not realised they helped. Harley Inder was always a welcome site dotted around the route. He ran it last year and helped me along, particularly at the 100 mile point where I started to fell the pain. Ryan Spencer on fetcheveryone.com produced a video on you tube which helped and we also exchanged emails. His advice and reassurance was very helpful before the race. I also contacted Mat Dowle who produced the video on the website. That video really pushed me into wanting to do this and then helped me though it. I hope I'll have a video a bit like that to show for this. I don't recall any footage taken of me when I was really low so it might give the wrong impression.


GUCR - Job Done

It's Monday evening and I'm trying to figure out what I did with my bank holiday weekend. You know that feeling you get when you spend a bank holiday doing nothing and then moan on the monday night "oh I wish I'd done something this weekend". I left work on Thursday afternoon and can't decide whether that feels like a long time ago or not. What was "yesterday"? Did I leave Birmingham yesterday or the day before? I've only slept once since then.

Well actually I've had a couple of naps too. I just don't feel that tired. Legs are very sore and getting up is really hard. I was overtaken in Tesco today by an old lady, in the biscuit aisle. I wait for the green man to show at the crossing and I can't get to the other side before he starts flashing. The "rule of thumb" is that it takes 1 day per mile to recover from a race. Roll on October 15th when I shall be recovered from this. Luckily I am not a thumb and don't need to observe such rules.

Still not sunk in. Last night was very emotional again and I cried some more when I got home. I've just read all these previous blog entries and realised that I probably worried too much about things that i didn't need to. I didn't fall asleep, I had no trouble eating and those pains did not stop me running.

I still had no idea it would be that hard. But I also had no idea that I could be that hard. It was the greatest challenge I've ever faced and I met it head on and got the job done. I'm feeling fairly normal right now but I vividly remember the euphoric highs and crippling lows of the past days. I'm scribbling notes of it all to write a story that will blow away anything I've done before. So much happened to me that I don't have to fill it with random nonsense about animals or bridges (though they will appear).

Around 7.30am on Sunday the 26th May 2008 at Springwell Lock near Watford I made a decision that has changed who I am. I could describe my entire experience soley at this singularity. I'm trying to put it into words, it's hard. But then again, so am I.

GUCR - 1 day left

This is it I suppose. Ben collected my food and drugs stash last night to take up to Brum. Now I am at home packing my clothes. The waether forecast looks to be more rainy than it said earlier in the week. I've been advised to take lots of shoes. I'll have 3 pairs, that should be enough.

I woke up with the pain in my right shin. This doesn't seem to want to shift. It is real? 3 days is a long time for my mind to play tricks. I'm going to need it to be focused for the next 2 days.

I updated my facebook status to say I'll be running a mile for each friend (119 of them) and then a marathon on top just to finish it off. I'm getting quite a few good luck messages which is nice. I have not assigned a particular mile to each friend. Maybe I should? Spend 10 minutes thinking about each person before running a marathon. I don't know what I'm going to think about to get me through this. I'm sure I'll think of something.

I found a hammock while packing. That could be a sneaky way of having a sleep during the race.

I think I may be overdoing the eating part of my pre-race prep. I feel so full. I am forcing myself to eat, even though I don't feel hungry. I've got that strange loved-up sickly feeling. I've not felt that for years, and that wasn't because of a race. 


GUCR - 2 Days to go - Don't want to talk about it

Usually it's great when people at work are talking about you. In a good way of course. Because a big long stupid run is the norm for me at the weekend I don't really get too much airplay anymore over the usual conversation topics (The Apprentice, Prison Break, the air con being broken). My exposure has increased over the past few days as people recognise that this is a big big big long long long really really stupid run.

I am visibly nervous about it, my friends can see that. I'm trying not to get involved in too many conversations about it as for the first time I feel like I am actually doing something stupid. 3 marathons in 3 days is perfectly normal, this is wrong.

I had an email exchange from a guy who did this last year. Made me feel a bit better. He said there is no point starting this race unless you are determined to finish.


My approach before the race was very similar to his. longest run of 54 miles, no night running. I'm telling everyone I'm going for 36 hours. I really don't know though.

From 6pm tonight I will have less time between now and the race start than between the start and the finish. I plan to sleep twice in that time period.

GUCR - 3 Days to go - Phantoms

The phantom pains are still shooting through my legs. I hope they are phantoms anyway. My knees ache and the sides of my legs hurt too. Im pretty sure it's nothing. It does take me back a bit though.

One reason I decided to do this race was to regain the feeling of terror that I had when I did my first marathon. A feeling that I have yet to feel again. I think I'm feeling it now. It's affecting my sleep, its all I think of at work, I've pretty much failed a diploma assignment because I can't concentrate for more that 10 seconds on anything other than running. I'm not too worried. I need to get out of marketing anyway (more on that to come). It does bring me back nicely to the last time I felt this way and that was before the London Marathon in 2000.

I applied as a joke to amuse my friends, a theme that still goes on now. I saw it in a "cool things to do one day" section of a magazine and thought I'd apply cos there is no way they are going to let me in. They did.

I pinned the acceptance letter on my bedroom door and let the other 8 housemates read for themselves what I was in for. They laughed, obviously. Thinking it was a slightly less risky thing to do than a usual night out that involved stairs.

I didn't do much training. One 13 mile run which nearly killed me. Not least because I did three laps of my local area in Manchester and 3 times I passed a shop called "Uptown Girl". That got me singing.

I guess I was more nervous because I knew absolutely no one else who was doing this or had ever done a marathon before. I was really looking forward to being the only one ever to run "The Marathon". I probably was hanging around the wrong people. So I got a train down the the capital, stayed in some room in a hotel and had no idea really what to expect. I didn't know London at all, but luckily there were loads of other people around in the morning so I just followed them. I do recall being crammed into a train at charing cross station. This is just a one off isn't it? No.

When I get properly nervous (as I was) it manifests itself in a strange way. My nose bleeds. It's happened in exams, it's happened a school, it's happened in, erm, situations that I won't go into on a family blog such as this one. So there I was at the start line in pen 8 (way back) and it started bleeding. I had no tissue and the race was about to start. I had no option but snorting.

It took about 15 minutes to cross the startline (this was before chip timing too so it was a bloodbath at the start, even without the nose). After that I saw saw toilets at about the half mile stage. I ducked in and spent a few minutes trying to stop my nose bleed, shoving tissue up it. It got a bit better but was no fixed and I was worried about being last in the race at this stage - with good reason. I was.

I emerged from the toilets to find no one around me running. I was officially last in the London Marathon. I started to run and had to overtake the 2 sweeper vans that were clearing up all the rubbish behind the runners. I then overtook the first runner who was running inside a large table with a hole cut out in the middle for him.

Looking on the bright side at least I was overtaking more people that were overtaking me. It was really crowded but I didn't mind as I wasn't running very fast. There were so many things that were new to me that I'd like to have known before the race. Like the state of the toilets. At 15 miles I needed one and it was not a pleasant experience. Also there were people at the side giving out vasaline. Till then the only time I heard of vasaline used in sport was to rub on legs to keep them warm. What did I need it for? My legs weren't cold? Only later would it dawn on me why.

I made note of the sponsors and what they supplied for the race as I felt very let down my one. There was lucozade and vittel supplying the drinks, TNT doing logistics, Addidas making the shirts, The Times publishing the times. Another sponsor were Immodium. What where they supplying? I needed some of that and there was nothing around.

I had to walk for much of it after about 20 miles. It really hurt. I hobbled home in 4.35 - way off what I wanted to get but probably no worse than I deserved given my training and approach. I was quite pleased, and of course I was the first person of anyone I knew to run "The Marathon".

I do giggle sometimes at how terrified I was before the start of that race, to the extent that it had physical effects. I hope I don't have a nose bleed this weekend, or need to use a toilet after half a mile, or have to walk after 20. I can deal with all these things much better now. My biggest regret from running the FLM in 2000 is that I didn't do it again till 2003. I applied each year but joined the ballot bingo like everyone else. I was lucky to get in the first time and I didn't even realise. I've discovered since then that there are so many other races out there that there is no excuse to stop running if you don't get into "The Marathon". So much stuff here and overseas.

I can blame naivety for so many of the mistakes that I made in London 8 years ago. I wonder how many I can blame on this come the weekend?

At least I know what to do with vasaline.

GUCR - 4 days to go - One way train ticket

I just bought a one way train ticket to Birmingham. It will be a great souvenir if I finish this race. I'm a bit worried about having to explain at Birmingham station why I want to keep the ticket.

This brought back memories of my first ever "long" run that changed my running world forever. It was december in 2005 and I was in training for my first ultra (Tring). It was a saturday before the Serpentine christmas ball and I just wanted to do a long run. The intention was to run along the Bath road and see how far I get in 5 hours. In about 5 and a half hours I got to Reading.

It was 36 miles of fairly uninspiring locations. Hounslow, Heathrow, Colnbrooke Bypass, M25, Slough, Maidenhead some random villages along an A road and then into Reading via the east. If you were going to pick a nice run you'd be hard pushed to do worse that that. However the whole experience was exhilirating. I just left the house with a few supplies, stopped in shops and petrol stations along the way and arrived in a place that was miles away from where I started. I was amazed at how I could cover that distance on foot without really trying. The harsh looking industrial side of Reading looked like a palace when I arrived there.

I'll never forget going to the train station and buying a ticket back home. I'd deliberately ran near a railway line so I could turn back home at any point. I paid £15 for a ticket back to Ealing. I'd run so far that it was outside all the London zones, outside the M25 and far enough that I had to pay a proper train fare to get back. I was glowing on the train. No one else knew.  It was great.

I got back to the house with about an hour to get ready for the party. Since I'm a bloke thats time enough. I put on my penguin suit and walked to the tube and still felt in pretty good shape. I enjoyed telling people that night what I did (partially as an excuse for not being able to handle my beer that night) but mainly because I was so pleased with myself. people were genuinely impressed, except the girl who was impressed at first when I said I ran to Reading by saying "WOW that's really far" and I sarcastically returned "It depends where you start".

I still have that ticket from Reading in my box on medals and running numbers. I hope the Birmingham one will make it's way in there is 6 days time. I won't keep it if I don't finish.


GUCR - 5 Days to go

I forget that there is a limit on the amount of pain killers you are allowed to buy in the supermarket. 2 boxes max. I hope that will be enough. I've got all sorts of creams and sprays too. It's going to hurt anyway.

I've just started packing a bag for the weekend for Ben to take up to Brum in his car. The contents quickly became too big for the bag and are now housed in a very large plastic box. Within are about 30 chocholate bars, milkshake, bombay mix (high cal), energy gels and powders, drugs, plasters, jaffa cakes and binoculars. Still only half way to filling it.

It's dawned on me now that this is my next race. I've always had something to do between now and then and now there is nothing. This is the next thing I will run. I'd like to say it's not affecting me too much but I think it is. The feelings have changed from the stupidity of it to the practicality of it. It's been great talking to people about what I'm going to do at the end of may, but now I'm having to talk about how.

And I really don't know. It's funny how you can go from feeling quite relaxed and prepared about something as I was a few weeks ago to all of a sudden feeling really underprepared. It's rare that I feel like this nowadays and when I do I just reference some point in the past where I felt the same before a race and ended up doing fine, such as the Athens marathon, gatcliff 50k or the Jurrassic Coast day 3. This one is a bit different though. it's a bit longer.

Still on my mind a lot is staying awake. I've felt so lethargic recently, probably a result of schoolwork and coffee. I hope to get that all out of the way soon and have thursday and friday to relax and sleep more. I'm worried about the food, I don't have much practice at eating as I tend not to need much food during the races that I've done. The Thames Meander I didn't eat anything solid and felt ok. I am pretty confident that I can eat anything though.

I didn't really give due respect to how my support crew will do this. I am so grateful that they are coming along however I've just not been thinking about them much. I figured let them worry about the logistics and I'll do the running. Not really fair as this is my race.

I'm also worried that I won't finish.

GUCR 6 days to go - Awfully big in the window

Apollo 13 was on at the weekend. I tried not to watch it because I had work to do and I really liked the film. However I did see the part where they are headed back to Earth and they still don't know how exactly they are going to start the landing module up. At some point Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) calls mission control and asks for the sequence no matter what state it's in, saying "the world is getting awfully big in the window".

This is getting awfully big in the window. For so long it's been some silly thing that I had planned for some point in the future. Now it's so close that it's no longer a dot on the horizon but a huge mass slowly rotating in front of me.

It's been easy to talk about this and all the training I've been doing. Explaining that I'm doing marathons every weekend and lots of miles in between is part of a plan to finish this race. Now the training has been and gone I've got to move into "performance" mode. I need to think practically about how I will run this race.

My legs hurt. I know they don't really but I feel stabbing pains. My brain is trying to trick my body into giving in I think. Stupid brain.