I’d heard a lot about this race, but never run it before. However after an early off season break (Oct & Nov), I wanted a January race to start the year, and a chance to recce the last 20 miles of the GUCR tipped the balance in favour of this event. In hindsight this was a great choice as I had been thinking of CTS Dover as it’s closer to home, but it was cancelled at the last minute.
Unfortunately my December training did not go to plan. A cold, leading to a chest infection and bad asthma, led to a two week break, so I came into this race off very limited training. A single 20 mile run being the longest I’d managed since the 1st Nov. Despite this I figured I should be able to manage 6 1/2 hour finish (9 mins per mile average). At the start I met up with several friends, runners from the British Spartathlon Team, who all seemed to be targeting good times.
The race starts with the “Race to the gate”, a half mile dash downhill along Wendover High Street before a right turn through a gate and onto the trail. This section is traditionally run like a one mile time trial – flat out. I wasn’t quite sprinting, but I didn’t want to get held up in traffic, so went out fast, but was probably in 20th place at the gate. After that I settled down for the first few miles at a steady 8:30 min/mi pace. I soon found myself running with the Centurion Running Team: James, Drew and Tim. James told me he was planning on running round in about 6 hrs, so I decided to stick with them until the canal, as the first section is a little tricky to navigate. The route is not intuitive as it follows a number of different paths, rather than a single long distance trail. Their pace was a little quicker than I had planned, but felt comfortable enough, and meant I could relax and not worry about getting lost.
It had been very cold at the start, and I’d put my jacket on, but soon warmed up and after a couple of miles I took it off, and shove it in my race vest. The ground itself was quite icy in places, with some slippery road sections. The trails though were in good shape, and far less muddy than I’d expect for January running. There are a couple of hills early on, but on the whole it was a much flatter route than I had anticipated, which was a relief, but also meant there were no opportunities to take walking breaks and was I running steadily for the first 20 miles or so.
Eventually we ran through a park and arrived at the canal. It was looking impressively bleak; the tow path strewn with litter and graffiti on various walls . Hopefully this will inspire me to get a move on in May, just so I can escape.
The weather forecast was for a dry and sunny day, but it started raining not long after we hit the canal, and I was glad I had my jacket to hand. There is no mandatory kit for this race (apart from a phone and the route map they provide at registration), but I was carry waterproofs and a first aid kit anyway. It was pretty cold for a while, and I was struggling to keep up with James and Drew, but navigation on the canal is easy enough, so I didn’t need to stick with a group.
The only ‘navigation’ is the left turn at Bull’s Bridge. It’s signposted “13 miles to Paddington” at this point and I was glad to see the sign. After 30 miles of running I was really feeling it, and started taking short walk breaks to try and recover.
The race is described as 45 miles, but a number of people had told me it was a bit shorter and more like 42. After 40 miles I was pretty tired, and not knowing if I had just two miles to go, or five was a little frustrating. Always expecting the finish line around the next corner, and just wanting to stop and rest. So it was a relief to see the finish line with just 42.5mi showing on my Garmin.
I crossed the line in 6:20:33. Slightly better than I had expected and fun to be back at a race. It was a struggle to keep going at the end, so I need to get a good few months of solid training in if I’m to have a good race at GUCR in May, but I already knew that.