Saturday 15th June is race day for 200 runners hoping to make it the 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne non-stop and on foot under the 30 hour limit. As usual there will be those fighting to make the cut offs, those fighting for the fabled 100 miles - One Day Belt Buckle for a sub 24 hour finish and those shooting for the title and this time, the prize money that goes with it. Petzl are sponsoring the race this year and the manufacturer of the finest headlamps in the game are putting up £500 for both male and female winners as well as prizes for second and third places.
Here's a quick run down of some of the pre-race favourites. As always facts are not checked and top of my head assumptions drawn so please excuse any ommissions, errors and please do leave a comment at the bottom with your own insights if you wish!
The exciting part about this years event is that there is no stand out candidate for the race win. There is a good sized field of very talented runners in the mens race and it's extremely difficult to see where the win might go this time around. The big gap is left by Ryan Brown last years runaway winner who unfortunately has been struggling with injuries in the early part of 2013 and will be sorely missed.
The SDW is a race that encourages faster opening stages with it's rolling and runnable terrain. As the experienced 100 mile guys and girls know, the race doesn't start until mile 60 and I think there'll be some carnage later on if the early pace is as high as it's threatening to be. Look out for some big changes throughout the day. It's going to be great to watch!
Robbie Britton: A late addition to the field and a member of our own Centurion Ultra Running Team, Robbie is one of the most talented young ultrarunners in the country. At 26 he has more 100 mile experience than most and has dedicated himself this past 18 months to going long, with 4 x 24 hour races including a 19th overall 239kms at the recent World Championships. He won the NDW100 in 2011, finished 2nd at the TP100 in 2012 with a 16:02 and has recorded 100 mile splits in the low 15s twice at recent 24hr events. He's strong on the hills, has learned how to fuel himself and is capable of anything he sets his mind to. Working in his favour he always runs his own race. Don't look to him to be leading in the early stages but rather hold his pace all the way to the line.
Warwick Gooch: Warwick impressed last year as he gutted out the win at Caesars Camp 100 in terrible conditions in 21:54. As those who have run Caesars know it is a brutal event and if he can run as strong on the SDW he will be many hours quicker than that time, putting him right in the mix.
Toby Froschauer: Toby chased Warwick all the way at Caesars in 2012 and run in to the finish looking as fresh as he started out. Again if he has maintained his form he will be right in the mix.
Martin Rea: Martin is a class act runner and comes over from Ireland with a host of ultra wins in his background including the Himalayan Stage Race, the London Ultra, Cardiff Ultra, Connemara Ultra and the old Tring to Town event. He is an Irish National 100km Team runner and leads the 3hr pace groups at London, Belfast and Dublin Marathons. He took it easy at the SDW50 and found his way to the track in 3rd overall so he has knowlege of the course for the final stages.
Justin Montague: Justin has been working his way back to fitness after an injury earlier this year that took a lot out of his running. Traditionally he would have been right at the top of the list for the win, with an incredible pedigree of short and long distance ultra success alongside is super talented brother Nathan. Justin's stand out Centurion effort was his 2nd place finish at the North Downs Way 100 last August in 18:48. If he can resurrect anything like the form he showed there, he will be a threat all the way to the line.
Paul Bennett: Paul is a superbly strong runner and has enjoyed wins and podiums at the 3 day South Downs Way VOTwo event, the Steyning Stinger and the South Downs Marathon to name just those on the South Downs itself. He lives and trains on the downs and has built up his 100 mile experience over time adding the West Highland Way and the original South Downs Way 100 to his CV amongst others. He's the first to admit he hasn't yet converted his talent in to a 100 mile performance but when he does get it right he will be hard to beat.
Martin Bacon: Martin's experience is second to none coming in to the race, both in terms of long distance (100 mile+ racing) and course knowledge. In 2012 he took a sub 18 hour third place at the TP100 and this year converted that in to the win. 100 milers aren't won in the first 100km but they are most certainly lost there and Martin's experience may well allow him to shine and pick up the proverbial pieces if, as there always is, we see some blow ups from the early leaders.
Sam Robson: Sam has it all to play for. He finished second last year in 17:23 and has publicly stated he is going for a sub 16 hour finish. If he is able to convert it would surely go down as one of the UK Ultrarunning performances of the year. Confidence is crucial to runners and Sam is going in strong.
Doug Murray: The man who seemingly smiles from ear to ear right from the get go, always a pleasure to have on the course, Doug had a great SDW50 and then ran in a superb 2nd place in the NDW50, just outside of CR pace and just 6 days after he ran 33 miles up at Marlborough. He could shock everyone coming in here.
We are very lucky to have such a deep and talent filled women's field at this years event. It's going to be as, if not more exciting than the men's race to watch unfold.
Emily Canvin: Emily comes in hot off of back to back wins at both the SDW50 and NDW50. She smashed the course record at the NDW50 and has got a huge amount of talent and natural speed. This will be her first 100 but if she can manage her effort and her fueling she might just have the legs to make it three Centurion wins out of three.
Jean Beaumont: Jean blew us away with her win at the Winter 100 in November. She looked untroubled, leading throughout and kept a smile on her face through some horrendous weather. She previously won and set the Course Record at the Northburn 100 in New Zealand, her homeland and must be the experienced favouite coming in.
Wendy Shaw: Wendy keeps getting stronger and stronger. Relatively new to the sport she has trained well all year and is looking to add her second race to her Grand Slam attempt. She took a solid second at the Thames Path 100 in March and will be looking to go one better. Another one to run her own race she knows how to pace and to fuel herself and will pick up any pieces later in the race if others start to struggle.
Nicola Golunska: For a while we weren't sure if Nicola would be in shape to make the startline after a bike crash left her on the injury sidelines for a long time. She ran an incredible race in the 2011 SDW Race taking the win and a third place overall. Anything can happen when she is on form.
Susie Casebourne: Susie lacks 100 mile experience but has competed at the very highest level in sport with 2 silver medals at the ETU European Triathlon Champs. She recorded an ultra win at the EL CTS event in March and is one to watch here.
So I think that's about it for now. Did I miss someone? Please do leave comments below if so....
The Grand Union Canal Race is one of the longer standing 'classic' British Ultras. The Race Organiser, Dick Kearn, isn't just a pillar of the ultrarunning community, he is the foundation of it. Many runners don't realise how often they have been helped by him, either directly or indirectly, in their ultrarunning lives. He sits on the committee of the TRA and has worked selflessly to try and better the sport for all of us, especially through the late 90s and early 00s when the sport was much smaller and enjoying less success than current boom times. He organises the Compton Downland Challenge (40), the Thames Ring 250 and the GUCR but helps every year along with his wife Jan, at Caesars Camp, SDW100, NDW100, TP100, Winter 100 and countless other trail events across the country. Dick has been extremely generous with his help for our events and I really wanted to run his pride and joy, the Grand Union Canal Race, to see how it really should be done.
The GUCR began in 1993, with 20 odd runners and 5 finishers, Dick himself winning it that year. After a short hiatus the race returned in 1997 and has been held annually since. For a long time it was the longest non-stop ultra in the UK at 145 miles, only recently being surpassed by a few others of note. Much like any classic ultra, those who have run it talk so fondly of the organisation, route, camaraderie and the event as a whole, that it's hard not to let the seed of one day running it yourself, start to creep in after a while.
I've had a busy year to date, personally, with time for a 100, an Ironman and a dozen or so marathons and ultras since the start of 2013, and thankfully to this point everything had gone to plan. Although a busy schedule i'd only really 'raced' twice, at the trail 100 Rocky Raccoon in Texas and the London marathon. I admit that there were times during March and April when our own Centurion calendar started to get busy, that I thought I wasn't doing GUCR justice in my training, but bit by bit the excitement started to build and I decided to plunge in with both feet. This is the only way to tackle an event of this nature. You are either in all of the way, or not at all. You can't fake 100, let alone 145 miles and I was definitely all in.
In terms of a report of the race, I could sum it up quite quickly by saying it went to plan. I came away winning the event in a time of 29 hours and 10 minutes, bang on schedule and without any major issues to talk of. I absolutely loved the whole experience and was more emotional at the finish line than perhaps I have been for any other event in the past which says a lot about what it meant to me. If you want to go in to the realms of the super long, it's really not necessary to look any further. Everything you've read or heard about this event is right on, it's just an all round heart warming experience. For those of you who enjoy detals of suffering, pain, mile splits, racing tactics etc, you may want to read on, otherwise well done for getting this far.
The race begins at Gas Street Basin in Birmingham at 6am on Saturday and travels 145 miles down the British Waterways network of canals all the way to Little Venice in London, a stones throw from Paddington Station. If you plot it on the map it just looks like an epic point to point journey run right from the start, and it is.
My planning going in was good. Not exemplary, but good. I had chosen the supported route so I had got a crew together to see me through the journey. I had worked out a nutrition plan. I had decided on gear, shoes, timings for the crew and all of the other little details you need to cover off to minimise issues on race day. And I had devised a pacing plan that I felt happy with. I'd talked at length to Debbie Martin Consani, the 2012 overall winner of the event, about her plan and she had kindly forwarded on her logistical prep and other details that saved me hours of pouring over maps etc. I can't thank her enough for being kind enough to share that information. I had two pacing plans, a fast and a slow. My time for 100 miles at Rocky Racoon in Feb was 17:32. I knew from my splits there that I could expect a roughly 9 hour 100km, 13:30 80 mile and a potential big slow down from then on if I couldn't eat properly. I felt that a 4mph average for the last 45 miles was do-able but would be much harder than it sounded, because with short breaks for food and high levels of leg/ foot pain it would be hard to keep enough running in there to balance out a walking pace. Rightly or wrongly I told my crew that my intention was to win the race. My fast plan was 27hrs30 and my slow plan was 30hrs30. I had no idea who else would be a contender, other than Craig Stewart who is a phenomenal athlete. I knew that if he had a good day I wouldn't be able to hang with him, and I was more than prepared for that. But I went in with total faith in my ability to churn out a sub 30 hr time and knew that something not too much faster than that would put me in the mix. The final confidence boost I took going in, was having the experience of Badwater behind me. The total disintegration of my race from 17 miles in to the 135 there, the cripplingly slow death march to the finish and the unprecedented pain and suffering of that event stood me up. I knew that however bad it got on the canal, it wasn't going to get close to that and therefore I knew I could put the distance out of my mind, and run my own race. Not worrying about the collosal mileage saved me a ton of mental energy and stress. It was going to be me, my crew and what I love doing the most, running long and relaxed.
Dad and I left home the morning of the race for the 90 minute drive to the start. When I hopped out of the car I was met with a sea of friendly faces, too many to mention. I had a couple of 'what are you up to today' type questions, before people found out I was actually running for once rather than helping or organising.
At 5:55am we wandered down to the canalside and Dick gave us a short brief on the day. 6am dead and we were off. I didn't want to get pushed along too fast at the beginning but I also just wanted to stay in the front and control my pace, so I settled in alongside Kevin Mcmillan and we chatted the first 11 miles away to CP1. Our pace average was 8:50 per mile, it felt chronically slow and I knew that there would be some behind who simply wouldn't be able to resist picking it up. Sure enough Craig popped out around 500 yards from the CP and pushed straight through without stopping building himself a 30 second lead. I stopped and changed bottle and food, said hello to the all time legend, GUCR champ and CR holder Paddy Robbins and pushed on now in 4th. Over the course of the nest 12 miles to Hatton Locks, Craig stopped a lot, met his crew, others came and went moving too fast and then slowing down and so on and so forth. The race shook itself out a bit and as I ran down through the CP at mile 22, Craig was 4 or 5 minutes ahead and the rest of the field were behind me. I felt relaxed and comfortable as I soaked up the abuse from Henk (Caesars Camp RD) as I barrelled through the CP.
Mile 22, photo courtesy of Rachel Smith
At mile 28 the next meeting point, I made a critical error. I came in to meet my dad and delved in to the food box, with my old racing chum Richard Webster told me not to race Craig, there were so many familiar faces around I got distracted and left without any food. I started to blow really quickly and struggled to maintain my consistent 9 min miling. The heat was just starting to get up a little and I cursed my stupidity. I had to stop for a bathroom break here and watched as Cliff Canavan King came past looking very strong on a rare uphill section. As time wore on, I got lower and lower and as we hit the exit off the canal at Braunston, I was in trouble. My first guardian angel appeared at that moment in the form of Drew and Claire. They'd come out to see me early on before they took over crewing properly at mile 65 and armed me with a handful of crisps, a gel and some coke. Within 5 minutes I was back on track and feeling spectacular after 15 very low miles. When I got to mile 45 I was flying. I grabbed handfuls of food and made my way out of the meeting point at a good clip which I maintained all the way until I hit the 53 mile CP. Just as I came in there, I passed Cliff who looked to be in trouble, walking in to the CP. I tapped him on the shoulder meaning it as a 'hang in there buddy good job' but I later got told it looked like a racing tactic as I didn't pause for breath going through that CP high fiving one of the boys as I ran hard straight through.
Mile 45 Photo Courtesy of Paul Navesey:
2 miles later I met my wife Lisa and my Mum who were down to crew 35 to 65 for me and they told me Craig was just a couple of minutes ahead and walking. I still felt incredible and couldn't hide my enthusiasm very well as I rushed picking up food and went straight on out. 10 minutes later I passed Craig and he had unfortunately pulled his quad, struggling to walk well I urged him to try and walk it off at least and puill it around. He sounded like he thought that could happen, I really didn't want to see his race end early but I also wanted to make the most of feeling that good so I pressed on. At mile 60 Gayton Junction I had quite the local crowd of Northampton spectators and my first full sight of the overnight crew: Robbie Britton, Paul Navesey, Graham Shircore, Drew Sheffield and Claire Shelley all there to cheer me on. What a crew this was: 4 GUCR finishes, 1 win, and every one of them an experienced 100 mile runner. I felt good, they said I looked good, I was in the lead and running strong, things couldn't be going any better at that point.
I was maybe 30 mintues down on tip top schedule but what else could I hope for! 5 miles later after the long drag up the road alongside Blisworth tunnel and I was at the canal museum mile 65, picking up my first pacer, Robbie.
Largely ignorning my pacing schedule to this point I started to concentrate on times from this point on. I had wanted to hit 65 in 10 hrs and was a bit perturbed to see that I had done it in around 10:25. The next section I broke up in to 5 mile blocks, where my crew met me, swapped in a bottle and some food, sometimes swapping in a pacer and keeping the overall pace high, running everything with the exception of 1 x 50 pace walking break every 2 -3 miles in order to shake my legs out. Doing that makes a huge difference to the efficiency of your running stride and saves you minutes after a few miles. Time ticked by fast as we rolled through the CPs at 72, 84 and on to mile 90 all with plenty of daylight still to play with. The one disappointment here was my increasingly regular toilet breaks. I didn't ask for splits to the guys and girls behind at any point, but I knew my toilet stops were costing me too much time and boy did I whinge about it.
As we got to mile 95 we switch on our Petzl headlamps and after a short stint of running with Drew, we rolled in to the CP at mile 99.8 with about 17:35 on the clock. I was now on plan still feeling great and without any other major issues.
At this point my crew took over in what I can only describe as one of those 'going above and beyond' type moments. I was getting cold and decided to go for the long tights here, but the one chair id packed wasn't around so rather than sit down I began to strip naked from the waist down in order to change. What transpired though was a wobbling mess of a runner, so Rob grabbed me from under my arms, Paul undid my laces, and two of the others changed my tights and shorts for me. Remembering it now it felt like I was being fed at the same time just to save precious seconds, but whatever the case it A. must have been horrendous for them B. was totally unexpected and C. worked like a dream! Within two minutes of being in, I was out on the trail running towards mile 105 with my new pacer Stu Blofeld.
With a stomach going rapidly south, more and more items from my food box were dropping off of the preverbial menu. First went the cheese, then the scotch eggs, then the sausages and crisps until we were down to cookies, baked beans, rice pudding and tomatoes with the odd gel thrown in. Still enough to go on but not ideal.
The crew short of a cooking pan, raced off to Stu's house locally to pick one up and began serving me warm baked beans every hour or so that we met. Seriously, this was formula 1 racing type stuff, I'd run to the CP, drop to a walk, wander up to the warm pan with a spoon, shovel it in as fast as I could, put the spoon back in and start running again. Wow.
It was dark now as we went through Berkhamstead at mile 105 and on other unknown towns that just blurred in to one. I knew I had a lead because looking back up the long dark lonely canal path, there were no bobbing headlamps behind. Robbie swapped in for Stu at mile 110 and I produced a real stomach clearing puke, the type where 8 retches in there's nothing left. But we started running again straight off the bat, a blank canvas on which to start eating again and feeling much better for it.
At mile 115 I had a small slip in to a river as I visited the number 2 in a secluded bush away from the canal, but again it was over and done with quickly and before long we were running in to Springwell Lock, mile 120 and the second to last major CP at 4:45am or 22hrs45 minutes in. James Adams, Allan Rumbles and Paul Stout were there, it was just getting light and the end felt very much within reach with under a marathon to go. Again I put down the food quite quickly and made my way down the final stretches before the left hand turn in to London proper. This was the one section of the race that looking back now, dragged. I'd only ever run this part of the canal before race day, but I'd run it 5 times in the old Tring to Town and then Country To Capital the past 4 years which has the same final 20 miles as the GUCR. I kept looking for the entry point of the C2C course on to the canal so I could count in familiar landmarks but it just never seemed to arrive. Drew with me at this point kept my spirits up here, but it only really turned around 3 or 4 miles later when we passed in to familiar territory.
Rob took over and around 2 miles before the left run, and 131 miles in to the race, Drew asked me if I wanted to know what my lead was. I said yes and he told me 2hrs and 12 minutes. Despite having 14 miles of a 145 miler still left to run I admit that at that point I waved my hands in the air as if to say well I can do this, it was just confidence that I felt good enough to finish the job off I guess. We turned left on to the final 12 mile stretch, made our way through the stinking Hamborough Tavern CP at mile 133 and pressed on at a brisk walk with very short bursts of running thrown in, towards the finish line. I managed to get a bacon sandwich down and yet another cup of coffee from the still seemlessly organised crew and pressed on to around 7 miles from the finish. At that point Drew jumped back in to pace me to the finish and let me know that reports of Kevin Mcmillan really picking up the pace in 2nd, were floating around. When your brain is that fried you start trying to do stupid calculations about how slow you could afford to go, based on Kevin running 7 minute mile pace the last 12 miles and still hold on.... In reality I knew I could walk it in from the turn and had taken the somewhat lazy option to do pretty much that. In my eyes why risk blowing up and collapsing to run a marginally better (but way off Course Record) time, as opposed to finishing feeling good and enjoying the morning sunshine? Also, my legs were starting to feel battered by now and some blister issues were mounting the misery I felt every time I ran so I was looking for the easy road.
In the end we ran the last 5 miles like we were being chased. We kept looking over our shoulders, expecting to see Kevin bolting around the corner. But luckily the margin I'd built in the first 120 was plenty enough and with 29 hours and 10 minutes on the clock I crossed the line in to a big hug with Dick Kearn and his massive beard, for a first place finish. The whole family were there, something that has never happened to me at a race before, so somehow they must have gotten a clue that I might just pull off the win....
In the end 53 people finished out of a total of 88 starters which is a phenomenal percentage given the distance. Conditions were almost perfect but nonetheless it must be one of the highest finishing rates in recent times. Provisional results are here.
What did I take away from all this?
Firstly, I haven't won anything particularly notable since the Three Forts Marathon in 2010. During the spring of that year I was in the best form of my life and everything felt easy. Im still not quite there but being able to convert a very precise race plan on paper, in to reality, over a course as long as 145 miles is a really satifying thing to have done.
Secondly, my old plan of eat as many gels as I can until I explode with minimal real food, is gone for good. I reversed it here after much deliberation. I always aim for 300kcals an hour during 100km plus races and that stayed right for me, but introducing 200kcals of real food/ coke and 1 gel per hour was a formula that held up well for 110 miles. After that, well I won't get hung up on it because a bad stomach after 20 hours of running is not really a shock and i was able to keep just enough going in not to break down in to a death march
Third, this is an incredible event. Even if you think it's something you wouldn't fancy because it's just too long, go out and see it next year. Drop Dick an email and volunteer for him. You'll never ever forget it. From a runners perspective, it was flawless.
Lastly and most importantly, I need to thank my crew. It goes without saying that running this race unsupported is a lot harder than running it with a crew. I was concerned in parts about mine, but they blew me away with their efficiency. I didn't need to sit down once the entire race, didn't wait for anything I needed whether it be a bowl of beans or a spare jacket. They put up with the usual whinging and pushed me on with encouragement every time i saw them. Having pacers helped enormously with the night section when it's easy to drop your pace and start getting cold. They gave up so much for me but as always, if you want to run the best time you can, you need to get a crew who understand you, what you need and can wipe those precious minutes and seconds off by catering to you as you meet them. I can honestly say that if I ran the race again, I wouldn't be able to make any time savings at all through better or different crewing. It was sensational.
Whilst GUCR was an A race, the 4th of 5 this year, the biggest thing I take away from this weekend is that the 5th goal is within reach. Sparta is 8 miles longer and has an overall cut off of 36 hours. It's totally incomparable to GUCR. The day time temperature is 20 degrees hotter than it was this year, it holds punishing road descents an ascents as well as the two mountains after 100 miles of running. I learned a lot this weekend and I will need to employ all of those things if Im going to make that statue in September.
Thanks for reading and sorry it was so long, but 145 miles IS a long way!!!
With the races coming thick and fast here at Centurion through this spring and summer, I'm going to keep the usual preview short and sweet. As always, apologies to anyone missed off, it isn't intentional and this is produced almost entirely from the top of my own head with little checking of results. Please comment on this post if you want to add or correct something!
The NDW50 is now in its third year with an unchanged course, although this year runners will have an additional 400 metres to cover turning in to the village and up to finish on the playing fields as opposed to the village green. With an expanding race and need for indoor facilities this was our best option.
It's worth mentioning that I still believe the NDW is the most difficult trail we hold events on. A lot of runners have looked at the overall elevation change and been duped in to believing that with 3000 ft less climbing over the 100, than the SDW100, it represents the easier option. But both the first and second 50s of our NDW races are punishing. The descents and ascents are short sharp and frequent. On the SDW, a better runner can keep moving forward at a good pace over the entire course but the NDW breaks your rhythm, chopping and changing underfoot and weaving its way eastwards via Box Hill, Reigate Hill and numerous other gradual drops and climbs. The weather this weekend looks to be fair for the most part and on reasonably dry ground, should make for faster than usual running.
Last year Steve Paterson took the overall honours in a stunning 7:22:45. Marie Dokes excellent 2011 mark of 9:20:07 was obliterated by Alice Hectors NDW100 50 mile split, however being in a different race Marie's mark stands as our course record.
Craig Holgate: Craig was our 2012 TP100 champion in 15:11, taking the win by over 50 minutes. He is a regular 2:3* marathoner with a pedigree of faster running at shorter distances behind him. He recently finished as Englands 1st and 2nd overall in the Anglo-Celtic Plate 100km. We haven't seen him on stop start hills like this as yet but on a good day Craig has to be the favourite going in. He races to win and rightly so, his talent is phenomenal. I believe he has won every ultra he has entered with the exception of the national 100kms second.
Graham Booty: Graham is a super talented runner over all distances. Nothing short of a perfect day is good enough for this man, I've had the pleasure of racing with him myself over the years and he is a strong as they come. His 20 hour Caesars Camp 100, and 4th place 18:23 at the TP100 (which he was very disappointed with) are good examples. Im not sure of his form this season but he will be in the mix if he is in shape.
Matt Winn Smith: Matt's background is in triathlon (unknown) but with an 18:35 at the TP100 where he came from somewhat off of our radar, he is surely a man to watch.
Dan Afshar: Brings podium placings at the Pilgrims NDW multi-stage event to the table alongside solid marathon times and experience at the super long including the MdS and UTMB.
The Ladies Field.
I should start by saying I'm absolutely delighted to see both the number of women as a percentage of the field, growing, but also the level of competition increasing. The field we have at the NDW50 exemplifies this.
Emily Canvin: Emily recently took home the trophy for first place at the SDW50, taking advantage of better navigation in to the finish, for an 8:23 which in torrid conditions was extremely impressive.
MG Spalton: Turned in a very good marathon at London just recently just over the 3hr mark and brings some excellent ultra experience with her, a combination which must be good for success here....
Tiffany Saibil: Tiffanys experience in and around Alpine races will render this course essentially flat to her. With some excellent results behind her including 30th at the 200 mile TDG it'll be great to see what she can do here in the UK.
Katarzyna Burdzy: Pacing a friend at Three Forts last year we found ourselves racing Katarzyna and her pacer all day and her fight for 2nd place was something to behold. With an 8 hour Thames Trot this year and the experience of the 2011 NDW50 behind her she could have a very good day this time out.
As I mentioned this is a very quick scan through so please accept my apologies for errors and people missed out. Lastly we have Paul Corderoy running hoping to bag his 2nd 50 and 3rd Centurion race of the year, on route to attempting to finish all 6 races and 500 miles with us in 2013. Good luck Paul!
The Grand Union Canal Race is a bona-fide classc on the UK ultrarunning circuit. Everything about it makes it so. For a very long time it was the longest non-stop foot race in the UK at 145 miles (since surpassed by the Viking Way, Thames Ring and the Spine). The Race Director, though he prefers not to be known as such, Dick Kearn, is an ambassador for the sport. Having raced at an exceptional level himself for many years, he has undoubtedly given more man hours of volunteering and managing not-for-profit ultra events, than just about anybody else. Just last year (and this is just the longer ones that I know of) he assisted for the duration of: The Thames Path 100, The Compton 40, The GUCR, The SDW100, The NDW100, Caesars Camp 100, the Winter 100 and served on the committee for the TRA as he has done for years. He is the man I most try to emulate when putting our own races together. The GUCR has been successfully running for many years under Dicks stewardship.
I'll be running the event for the first time this year. So how do you prepare for 145 miles with almost no elevation change and a real mixed bag of underfoot conditions? Well, as my good friend Neil Bryant would tell you, the best way to train is to run for enjoyment first and tailor training around that. For me, good training is a careful blend of consistent sessions/ weeks, reasonably hard selected training races and plenty of rest and recovery. This year I had 5 main goals. My year has been built around those and I feel much more comfortable in the balance I've created, after two previous seasons of getting carried away with the racing scene. I kicked off by training hard all winter and set a trail 100 mile PB of 17:32 in the US at Rocky Raccoon 100. This was just the start I was hoping for as the residual fitness from that big base of training should in theory hold good for months of consitent build. I also successfully completed my first Ironman in March. The balance here was a hard 100 with time completely off running afterwards, instead incorporating a little bike and swim enough to get round the Ironman 21 days later. I therefore came out of March feeling good and strong, with my fitness at probably my second best ever. The TP100 and SDW50 were very difficult races to manage and wiped whole weeks off of my schedule but I still felt reasonably good going in to my first London Marathon last weekend, my 3rd goal for the year to run a marathon PB still in sight. This was the first time I've purposefully gone in to a hard effort road marathon since 2010 and the last time I broke the 3 hour barrier, I had no real clue what would happen....
The beauty of running is in the variety. We all have our preference, trails, fells, canals or road, for me it will always be long days out on remote trails, but just now and again it is nice to slip on the road shoes and try to drop the hammer a little. London was everything I had been told it would be. The crowds were quite literally overwhelming at times and I really struggled to control the adrenaline in to a smooth and consistent run as I came through some of the areas with the bigger crowds. With timing clocks on every other mile/ 5km marker, water stations seemingly every mile and wall to wall support on a flat course with fine weather, the day was laid on for a PB. Thankfully I was able to run a strong effort and come in with the PB I'd hoped for.
With meetings up in the lake district this past week after the marathon, I decided to take the Friday off and do some exploration of an area that undoutbtedly holds some of the best if not the best running and scenery in the entire of the UK, an area I just hadn't seen enough of. I invited my old friend Neil Bryant up for a pretty big day out, though until we got there we weren't quite sure what we would do. Neil had been off running for a few months following 64 consecture ultras in his Trans Europe adventure in October, and is just returning to something like full fitness. I have to say he made light work of pretty rough terrain and when he returns to racing it will be with a bang. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented ultrarunners we have in the UK. I was carrying some fatigue from the marathon too, but we had time on our hands and decided we could best make use of that by getting out on the Bob Graham Round route.
I'm not going to explain what the BGR is as most readers will be aware of it. For those that aren't I would strongly advise picking up a copy of the book, Feet in the Clouds. It has always captured my imagination but pulling open the Harveys BGR map and spending many hours out on the fells themselves has certainly whet my appetite (and Neil's), to give it a crack sometime in the not too distant future. It is astonishingly steep in places, harsh going underfoot, difficult to navigate in rough conditions and absolutely stunning scenery. Pretty much everything you'd expect from having read about it. There's no doubt too that our affiliation with La Sportiva will pay off over this terrain with their Crosslite's & Crossover's handling the terrain underfoot so well.
Here's a few shots from our outing (all pics courtesy of Neil Bryant)
The Final Run in to the GUCR
So where to go from here? I have 4 weeks to o before I line up at Gas Street in Birmingham, hoping to fulfil the dream of making it to Little Venice/ Paddington in under 46 hours. I don't mind saying that my target is much less than that, after all, how can I possibly hope to run 153 much hillier, much hotter more brutal miles across Greece in September in 10 hours less than 46, unless I can do it here. I will post more about my preparation in due course with a summary of my training run in but I won't be looking for anything more than pure consistency and conditioning for what is a very unique type of event. I hope to be at Bewl Water and Three Forts Marathons this coming weekend so if you see a yellow Centurion Shirt do say hello.
Happy training and see some of you at the NDW50 before I get to spend all day (and night) and day on the canal.
Mar 21, 2013 (2 months, 4 weeks ago) | Posted by JamesElson
| Tags: 2013
With great sorrow and reluctance we have made the call to drastically alter this years TP100 course. The river is still flooded in places with flood alerts along much of its length. With heavy rain forecast Thursday night and throughout the day and night on Friday, the environment agency are predicting the river will rise again which will lead to the path being engulfed by water and hence impassable and dangerous.
Further to yesterdays email, we can now confirm that the 2013 TP100 race will be re-routed from its planned course and replaced the flood course. All of the details of this new course including aid station locations and cut offs are listed here at this page (link).
We are in the process of extending hire periods, repacking vans and co-ordinating the relocation of 80 volunteers. As such we ask you please to keep email traffic in to essential items only over the next 48 hours. All of the information you should need is as follows:
- The first 38 miles of the course are unchanged. At Cookham you will turn around and run back to Walton (aid station 1). At Walton you will turn around and head back to Cookham. At Cookham the second time you will turn around and run back only as far as Windsor where you will finish. Examine the aid station link carefully for the precise details. - The course distance is as close to 100 miles as we can make it, but will run very slightly long, potentially 2 - 3 miles. - The ONLY indoor Checkpoint is now at Wraysbury which you will visit at miles: 22, 54 and 76. As such you must be DOUBLY prepared for the cold and wet, the forecast is mostly dry across the weekend at the moment, however the temperatures will drop below freezing during the night. Mandatory gear is a minimum essential list only. - If you have a pacer you may have them meet you at Windsor the second time (mile 48) and they may pace you from that point through to the finish. - If you have a crew, your crew may ONLY get access to you at Wraysbury the first time, Windsor all times and Cookham all times. DO NOT get your crew to visit Wraysbury after the first time through or Walton at ANY STAGE OF THE RACE. We can't be any clearer on this, we will be in breach of our agreements and assessments with those venues and we will not be allowed back. Remember, your crew can meet you anywhere else you like on the course but please ask them not to do so in residential areas and to keep the noise to a minimum. The future of the race depends on this. - Your drop bags will be available to you at Windsor only. Miles: 28, 48, 82 and the finish. - There is a railway station at Windsor, within walking distance of the finish line, with regular trains back to London. - THERE ARE NO SLEEPING FACILITIES OR INDOOR SPACE AT THE FINISHING AREA. We will have shuttle buses/ cars running to Oxford for those that have accommodation or transport there that they cannot change. Windsor town centre is a short walk from the finish also, you will run through it three times during the race.
Finally, it is important that you are aware that should the heavy rain forecast over the course of the next 48 hours, lead to flooding on this new course then it will become necessary for the race to be postponed. We do not mention it lightly and rest assured we will do everything we can to hold a safe and enjoyable event, however if at any time we deem the safety of runners to be at jeopardy, we will be forced to take the necessary action to ensure that situation is avoided.
Thank you for your understanding and flexibility. We hope that you enjoy the race just as much on the new course.