It all started so well…
Friday night after registering I had dinner and a couple of beers in O’Neills, catching up with the other runners before getting an early night. I actually managed a decent sleep before getting up at 4:45 for a quick breakfast, and a 5 minute walk to the start line.
My plan was to run easily for the first few miles, and I managed to rein in my enthusiasm and start at a 9 minute / mile pace, well behind the leading pack. I was entered as a supported runner, but my crew were not due to meet me until Hatton Locks (22 miles into the race), so I was carrying plenty of food, and taking walk breaks every 25 minutes to eat.
I arrived at the 1st checkpoint only 1 minute off my schedule, and only stopped to top up my flask with water. At Hatton Locks, the 2nd checkpoint, I saw my two children first and they jogged with me towards Sarah, who helped refill my flasks and provide some more food. From now on I would see them every hour of so, at various meeting points along the canal.
Then I got lost…
Not physically lost. My body was still running along the Grand Union Canal, but my head has taken a wrong turn and gone somewhere else. Normally I am very disciplined in a race, but I started taking random walk breaks, and even forgot the basics of eating and drinking properly. For some reason I just couldn’t focus on the process. It was a lovely day, and perfect for running, but a large part of me just wanted to be somewhere else.
It became a mental battle: part of me looking for an excuse to drop out; part of me searching for the motivation to carry on.
I told Sarah I wanted to drop but my explanation “I can’t be arsed” got short shrift and I was sent on my way.
At about the 60 mile point I tripped on a tree root, and after stumbling a few more paces hit the dirt face first. I picked myself up and wiped myself down with a buff. Unfortunately there was no real injury. A grazed elbow and bruised thigh was not the sort of ‘gory race injury’ that I could use to justify a DNF.
Mid race reset…
I arrived at Navigation Bridge and saw the children on the other side of the canal in the pub garden. Sarah was getting then some dinner. The met me on the bridge, and handed over a head torch, as it would be dark in an hour or so. Both Ian and Gill Thomas were at the CP, so I stopped for some soup and a chat to try and reboot my race.
Leaving the CP I was feeling better, and tried to get back into a regular run / walk rhythm. Looking at the splits from my Suunto, I actually picked up the pace here, and was looking forward to the night section. Generally I enjoy running through the night, and felt that if i could stay focused this could still be a good result. I was actually only about 45 minutes behind my target time, despite slacking off at every opportunity.
Milton Keynes came and went with no incidents. I lingered a little too long at Bridge 99, but my crew were taking a break to try and grab some sleep, and a hot cup of tea from the volunteers at the checkpoint went down very well.
I arrived at Soulbury Three Locks at about midnight. The path runs right in front of the pub, so there were plenty of people about, and one group of girls asked what I was doing. When I said I was running to London I’m not sure they believed me, but when the penny dropped they gave me some cash. It wasn’t enough for a train fare or taxi, so i’ll give it to charity.
Next stop was the Tesco at Leighton Buzzard where Sarah and the children were waiting. Again I made good time along the tow path, and arrived in good spirits. They had a pot noodle for me and some warmer kit as it was getting colder on the canal.
The next section is very rural. I was running along the tow path, dodging the frogs on the path and the moths that are attracted to the headtorch. One of the moths managed to get trapped between my glasses and my eye, fluttering around and nearly putting me in the water. Fortunately I managed to get my glasses off to free it and stop short of the water’s edge.
Marsworth Junction and I don’t get on with each other. In 2017 I spent 15 minutes trying to work out which way to go. This year I was determined not to make the same mistake, and approached it with a map in my hand, carefully following the marked route. I swear those maps are wrong. It doesn’t help that you have to swap from Map 4 to Map 5 at the critical section, but I finally made my way to the Checkpoint, but from the wrong direction after a detour via Watery Lane.
I stopped at the CP for a tea and Sarah had more hot noodles for me. My daughter was up despite it being 3am, and thought i had seriously injured myself. I had an orange stain all over my eye, face and glasses – Moth poo!
Cleaned up a restored I set off again.
The final drag …
Leaving the CP I was very stiff. Looking back at my Suunto data is looks like I sat there for twenty minutes. I walked for a while to try and loosen up, and then tried a gentle jog to catch the runner in front. I managed to catch Sandra and her buddy, but my left Achilles was seizing up, and causing me to limp, landing heavily on my right leg. I walked for a while.
Even a brisk walk was making me limp. I tried a few different strategies: shuffling jog, power hike, gentle amble… anything faster than 25 min / mile pace was an awkward limp. My mind might be back in the race, but now it felt like my body was giving up. I have history in this race (see GUCR 2017 for the full story), and it ended badly. My left Achilles had seized up, but I had limped on for 40 miles before quitting. In the end my crew had to carry me from the canal as I couldn’t even stand. I’d spent a month on crutches (with severe periostitis), and needed a six month break from running.
So I now had a choice: limp the remaining 40+ miles to Little Venice and risk another serious injury; walk very slowly and resign myself to another 18hrs
I plodded on for a while until Dudswell lock and bridge 138. I crossed to the right hand side of the canal and sat on the bench. It was nearly 5am, and I decided to throw in the towel. After phoning Sarah and asking her to come and find me, I took my pack off, lay down and promptly fell asleep.
Two days later and physically I was recovered. My race ending injury was little more than fatigue, and my only real issues were all in my head.