“Life is always either a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.”
- Edith Wharton
44:24:00 43:13:00 38:25:00
Running down a canal for 145 miles (practically 147 miles in reality) is always tough. This time around was my third GUCR adventure. I have written a blog every year and you’d think I’d have run out of things to say about it. After all, it’s a canal and it hasn’t really changed too much. They haven’t suddenly landscaped any hills or built a theme park. It’s just a canal. And yet, it always seems so captivating. There’s something about that stretch of man-made water that keeps me coming back. It keeps many ‘regular’ faces coming back. I admit that at around the 100ish mile mark this year that I struggled to see why I had come back. I was in a ‘touch’ of pain and it was bringing tears to my eyes. Yet, the pain is so easily forgotten and that is the danger. So, you inevitably end up going back, because you convince yourself that there wasn’t any pain. You forget the blisters and the mental torment.
|5am in the morning - feeling sleepy|
Now, I’d been looking forward to this year’s GUCR for many reasons, although I was also pretty nervous. I didn’t want it to be 'third time unlucky'. I’ve had a pretty good run of it so far and I don’t take finishing this for granted. I know that it can be unpredictable. However, I was nonetheless excited because this year George would be running it. Last year, he helped man the 133 mile Checkpoint for the entire time that it was open and he emerged just before the finish to walk/ run in with me. It felt really special and he also gave me a lovely post-run bottle of Guinness and got me home safely afterwards. This year we would both be running and that was both an exciting and terrifying prospect. I was excited for him to see what all the fuss was about and experience the full craziness of GUCR, after his taster in 2013. However, I wanted us both to finish and not to get injured. There was more pressure in some ways, because I wanted both of us to have a good time. We were also running unsupported this year and it would be the first time I had run GUCR without a crew.
Me and George had already decided that we would run our own races. I knew George would be quicker than me and I didn’t want to hold him back and stop him from getting the best time possible. However, I was also going for a GUCR PB, as I’d never gotten sub-40 hours. I reasoned that no crew would mean less stopping time and more pushing forward. This was a pretty organised strategy for me. We were also organised in other ways regarding race prep. We booked a Travelodge close to the start and packed our race bags full of tasty goodies. I made a mental list of everything I knew I would crave. I always crave coca cola. Always. So, we raided the Sainsbury’s close to the start on the Friday night and stocked up on meal deals, sandwiches, crisps, pot noodles, peanuts, M&Ms, coke.
I admit that I didn’t sleep the best with all the noise outside, but the Travelodge close to the start was still our best option with no crew and not having our own transport. Anyway, I have always said that you can’t blame a lack of sleep the night before GUCR for not finishing. I can’t imagine that many people sleep well the night before a big race. I never really do.
Start to Checkpoint 1 (10.7 Miles)
We wandered to the start and began to see some familiar faces. We grabbed a quick coffee and had a good chatter to some of the people we knew. The start of this race always makes me nervous. Before you know it, everyone is off and running. Me and George decided to run the first bit together and run our own race after the first check point. We started at a steady pace, not too fast and not too slow. I was pretty slow to wake up after only a few hours sleep. The Travelodge was hellishly noisy, with lots of trashed people partying all night on the streets of Brum and lots of beeping car horns. It was interesting. Nonetheless, we put in a good effort to begin with and tried to get comfortable. We had our OMMs on ready and near enough straight away, it began to rain. Upon reaching the first CP, I slowed down to get some food and go for a pee. I think the key is to start eating early. Start early and eat little and often.
‘The Middle bit’, also known as 10.7 miles to Checkpoint 4 (53 miles)
To be honest, this section is very much a blur to me still. Like when you have a dream and you wake up and it’s all patchy and you don’t quite remember what happened or who was in it. I remember that there were lots of ducks and ducklings and swans and geese and goslings. There was also a lot of rain and everything seemed soaked. The ground was wet underfoot and there were lots of puddles. I just kept thinking that I was glad about my footwear choice of comfy inov8 trail shoes. It was really pretty soggy and muddy out there. I was a bit disappointed that the weather was so miserable. I remember running GUCR in 2012 when the weather was torrential and it really dampened people’s spirits (literally!). It can really bash your confidence in your ability for finish the race and stay optimistic. It’s not nice running a marathon or a small ultra in lots of rain, so the prospect of running 145 miles in those conditions has the potential to break your spirit. This mind-set made me think about George a lot. How was he? How far ahead was he? How was he finding it? Then, just before CP 4 and the 53 mile point, I got a phone call on my back-up mobile. It was George calling to say that he had only just left the CP which I was approaching. I was so happy and also strangely emotional at this realisation. He had been on my mind for a while. I was so happy when he said that he was going to walk a little bit to eat some food and that he would wait for me to catch up with him. I was longing for the company and it was a major high point to consider that I wouldn’t have to run the night section alone.
53 miles to Checkpoint 5 (70.5 miles)
It took a little longer than anticipated to catch up with George. He was like a moving target. I kept looking out for his red backpack and was hugely excited when I spotted him. I had been running between ‘walking food-breaks’, with a quickly-disintegrating sandwich in one hand and a Del Monte fruit pot in the other. It was a little awkward. But, I needed to eat some food, so it involved a bit of multi-tasking. We caught up with how each other was doing and moaned about the rainy weather a little. It was so nice to speak to someone familiar. Despite the rain we were both making good progress. So much of this section is also a blur. I mainly remember Blisworth Tunnel after the 63 mile mark (or thereabouts). I know this bit well and I’m always glad I do, because I fear that if you’ve never done this bit before, then it could be confusing to run, for what seems like ages, off-road. I also kind of like this mile or so of running on the road, because it’s a nice variation from the endless canal. Also, once this bit is done, it feels like you’re well and truly on your way to the 70.5 mile mark and almost at the half way point.
I have never reached the 70.5 mile mark before – Navigation Inn – in the daylight. I was so happy, I think I cried. In fact, I’m pretty sure someone managed to capture a picture of me looking rather emotional...
|I'm pretty sure I was actually crying here - 70ish miles in|
After this point, we got out our head torches and warmer clothes and readied ourselves for the night section. This preparation also included getting out our mp3 players – anything to keep yourself entertained and wide awake during the night section is welcomed. As it turned out, we didn’t really need the warmer clothes. Even though it continued to drizzle during the night section, it never really got too chilly. In fact, I ended up rolling up my sleeves and taking off layers, especially my sweaty fleecy hat.
The Night Bit
‘The Night Bit’ was tough. It was tough last year, as I found myself nodding off and having to slap myself awake. It was tough this year for similar reasons. I wanted to close my eyes ‘just for a second’. I was run/walking in a meandering zig-zag and I looked like I was drunk, but I was just falling asleep. However, I still managed to get food down and I even brushed my teeth, so I wasn’t a complete wreck. Although, the sleepiness took a long time to wear off this year and it continued past 8am in the morning. Fortunately, we were a lot further ahead on our journey now.
The Next Day Bit
In complete contrast to the Saturday, Sunday was really warm and incredibly sunny. It was nice not to have the threat of constant drizzle and be able to dry out a bit, but I wasn’t prepared for the sun either and by the end of the race I looked a bit lobster-fied. Luckily for me and George, we managed to seek out any ice lolly suppliers along route and ultimately have two lollies at different points. This was especially refreshing since we had run out of water at one point earlier in the day. However, we did manage to track down a water point and make the most of our waterways key at around the 117 mile marker.
The Painful Bits
My feet were in a whole lot of pain. It started quite early on and just got worse. It was impossible not to get them soaked in the rain and flooded bits of trail and the skin went all white and macerated. I also had a few deep blisters under layers of shrivelled skin. At mile 100 I did manage to dry my feet and Sudocrem them, before putting on some clean socks which helped as much as it could. However, it was all about moving forward and clenching my teeth (and swearing...and a little crying).We ran to the red narrow boat, the black boat, the tree, the corner, the shadow on the path, the next bridge. We legged it. We walked. We hobbled. We had a little sniffle. We kept on going.
|The damage at the end|
We did it! (in daylight...)
Bits of the last bit that normally look so grim, that I remember having looked so dodgy from previous years suddenly seemed pleasant and friendly. We were nearing the end of the race, but the sun was still shining and it was glorious daylight! This was such an amazing feeling. I kept looking at my watch and checking the time against the distance to double check that I wasn’t going crazy. We would make it in daylight. Me! I’d get to see Little Venice in daylight. Bloody hell!
|Pulling a weird face/ attempting a smile|
As we inched closer and closer to Little Venice I started to notice familiar bits, although I always forget certain bridges and twists and turns on this last section. This year, the finish line was quite unexpected. I had experienced so many false ‘are we there yet’ moments in my mind that when we finally approached the actual finish line, it took me by surprise. I quickly grabbed George’s hand and made a run for it. I always like to run over the line on this one. I may have had a few little cries because of my feet and wanting to fall asleep, but I can run the finish. It didn’t beat me.
|Results are in...|
And, there we go. We were in. We made it and together. And because we made it over that line together, I felt this extra sense of accomplishment and pride. I was and am so proud of George. I’m so happy how we kept on going and pushing each other forward. We didn’t have a specific time in mind, but the time we got exceeded all expectations and was my course PB – 38hrs 25 mins.
|40 hours of being awake...Finish line wooo!|
I spent much of the race wanting it to be over and for my feet to be dry and rested. I also spent a lot of time contemplating why I was doing this race for a third time and if I was indeed crazy. I felt certain that I would not be back next year and that ‘this was it’, no more, I’d been there, and got several t-shirts and I was hanging up my smelly trainers. Well, that was during. On crossing that finishing line the pain miraculously disappeared. It does that with GUCR. It always happens. The truth is that crossing that finishing line is so special. It’s such a great feeling. Who wouldn’t want to experience that? Never say never (in a good way, not a Justin Bieber-esc way!)
In the meantime, GUCR adventures will have to wait...it’s the Liverpool to Leeds 130 miler up next!