Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Liverpool to Leeds - 130 Mile Race

I started writing this a number of weeks ago, but I thought it was right to finish, even though these memories are sweet and painful (for various reasons...)

Update: Looking back at this blog, it wasn't the best that I could have written about such an epic, eventful and scenic race experience. After the race, It took me quite a while to write this blog and then my race partner/ actual boyfriend decided to - without warning - end things, so it wasn't a happy time. Anyway, there's always next year...


I never did end up writing a blog for this. It was all too tiring at the time and I just wanted to savour the feeling of lying down in a comfy cosy bed. This was what I dreamt of and promised myself and George for approximately almost all of the 127+ miles.  This dream then turned into some sort of mantra/ chant: ‘Big fluffy pillow, big fluffy pillow’. This later evolved into the words, ‘Big soft, king-size mattress’. It’s true what they say, you always do forget the pain that you go through at the time. You forget the tears, the psychological torment, the throbbing feet, the sweatiness, the cold, the ‘almost falling in a canal whilst falling asleep’! 

Prior to this Northern Canal adventure, we had promised that we wouldn’t run this one too. My third GUCR had been tough. I actually got the best time I have ever gotten, but it was mentally tough going and it rained a lot. Me and George promised ourselves at the time that GUCR was our big adventure for the year and that there would be no more long canal adventures in 2014, if ever. But we HAD to do it. Something told us we had to do it.

We had already signed up and it felt wrong not to do it. I’m so happy we did decide to do it, because it felt like such an amazing achievement at the end. It was so tough battling poorly tummies, feelings of not being able to move forward, rain, a freezing cold night section and me falling asleep on my feet. That bed waiting for us at the Hilton in Leeds seemed like an impossible goal, but it wasn’t. If you just keep moving and keep motivated and want it, you can do it. It’s tough, but you overcome the struggles and you get there. When you get there you forget about the problems you overcame, they don’t mean anything anymore, because you’ve achieved success and that was the goal all along.

The night before

I know a really good Argentinian steak house in Liverpool called ‘Meet’. It’s super tasty and a good change from having pasta the night before a big race.  It was an excellent decision. We ate rib-eye steak and ribs and drank some tasty beer. So, protein and carb-loaded up, we found a Sainsbury’s express and bought lots of ultra-munchies. I find that buying multiple meal deals does the trick. I also love Coke when I’m running an ultra and it really perks me up and the fizz is satisfying, so I bought lots of coke with my meal deals. I also bought lots of crisps, a big variety of Pringles and things that were easy to eat. I also had a few choccie raisins, which I put in cute children’s’ sandwich bags with animals on them (although I almost always crave savoury over sweet on an ultra, so not too much chocolate). After this shopping extravaganza it was back to our Travelodge for some final preparations and sleep. We set our alarms for 4.30am. The race started at 6am.


The Leeds and Liverpool Canal main line is 127 miles (204 km), although I think we ended up running about 135 miles. My main impressions of this canal were that it is much prettier than the Grand Union and much ‘hillier’! It crosses the Pennines and even visits Skipton and Shipley, in Yorkshire.  I think scenically, Skipton was one of my favourite bits. I’ve done marathons up in those hills before and it’s a very picturesque area. However, it was quite a long stretch in very quiet countryside and because I felt very tired at the time, some bits dragged on a lot here. I needed the mental stimulation of people and civilisation and things going on. I think my least favourite bits were around Blackburn. There were some dodgy bits near Leigh and then up to Blackburn and some weird people. There was also a scary dog at one point – some sort of angry Staffordshire bull terrier, that I literally thought was going to bite us.

The night section

The night section was very tough. I’m so glad I was not alone. The temperature plummeted considerably and I felt so cold. This was bad for a number of reasons.  The colder it got, the more tired I felt. It also meant that there was no place for tiredness. Being tired was bad because it made me slower, but we needed to keep on moving in order to keep warm. It was a bit of a vicious circle.  I also seem to remember it raining pretty badly. When we found a toilet during this section, we actually barricaded ourselves inside it for about 10 minutes, to gain some warmth and composure back.

We got lost

I think it was around Foulridge Tunnel and it was during the night section. We read and re-read the navigational instructions, but we couldn’t find the right path or the right gate. During situations like this, where you’re just not sure of the way to go, your mind tends to ‘make sense’ of the directions before you. Sure, that could be a bridge, why not? I can’t see a path, oh maybe they think this road is a path? That sort of thing. In the end we must have taken approximately a 3 mile diversion down some country roads and we followed road signs to the town we were headed for on the map. Amazingly, this worked and we were able to find the canal and re-join it. It was slightly stressful. It was so dark out there, we were worried that we would struggle to find and re-join the canal. There was a check point not too long after this. A positive outcome of getting lost was that it made me alert. My sleepiness just disappeared and I was so concerned that we were lost that I became more aware and awake.

The dream

The last 20 miles or so really dragged. Our feet hurt, our legs hurt, and we were knackered. And the miles went so slowly, so we’d run to a barge and walk, run to another boat and walk. However, some nice things also happened during this section. At 113 miles, we stopped at a pub and had half a pint of pale ale. I freshened up a bit in the pub toilets. The drink really hit the spot. At 6 miles to go, a lovely man who was supporting another runner bought us an ice cream. We were about to buy one anyway, but he insisted on buying it for us. I thought it was so kind. I think things like that put a big smile on your face and that feeling is amplified at this stage in a race.

Little by little, that finish line got closer. Before we knew it, we could see what looked like a city and tall buildings. Knowing that we were nearly in Leeds was the best feeling ever. The last few miles were a bit of a tease, because there were mile markers by the canal and it was pretty slow going. There were also a few twists and turns and we’d think, ‘Oh it must be there...ahhh, it’s not’!

Running over the line, I was so sleepy, but so relieved. We had made it. We got our medals and our bags and we hobbled to our hotel, which was conveniently situated just around the corner. It was such a relief to get clean and be in the cosy warm. It was definitely a lot harder than I had anticipated and tougher. We were also slower than we thought we might be, completing it in just less than 37 hours (36hrs 57mins to be precise). It was worth it. We got there in the end.

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