After my unsuccessful attempt at the Grand Union Canal Race at the end of May, I decided that I would try again…
Being the impatient person that I am, luckily for me there was another option meaning I wouldn’t have to wait a whole year.
The Kennet & Avon Canal Race, organised by the same people in the same format, was being run for the first time this year on 28 July 2017. A little soon, perhaps, for another go at such a huge distance but worth a try, surely.
So, I purchased my one way train ticket to Bristol hoping to cover the 145 miles back to Paddington on foot.
The race started on a Friday at 6 am, so I journeyed down on the Thursday afternoon to register and stay overnight. Whilst sitting on the train waiting to leave Paddington, I spotted some luggage tags on bags looking very like those I had!! Yes, other mad entrants. Upon leaving the train, I introduced myself and it turned out that 2 of them, Fiona and John, were staying at the same hotel as me. I had met Fiona briefly before on another crazy event so, when she was told at the hotel reception that she had booked the wrong night and there were no more rooms available, I offered her the sofa bed in my room which she gladly accepted.
After getting food surplies and going to registration it was off to the pub with some other runners for an early supper – then an early night with the alarm set for 4 am. The race start was under the clock tower at Bristol Temple Meads station, and after a short walk from the hotel and dropping my bags in it wasn’t long until Dick made a short speech and we were on our way.
With only 76 starters I knew that I would be on my own for a lot of the race but I didn’t have a problem with that and set off at a nice steady pace.
It was 13 miles to the first checkpoint just before Bath which passed fairly quickly, the weather was cool and it was pretty along the route – all was good.
Leaving CP1, it was 14 miles to CP2 which was an absolutely lovely stretch of running. Heading through Bath, and then on through Bradford on Avon, crossing 2 aqueducts. The sun was shining, although not too warm and I was listening to Eddie Izzard’s life story on my ipod.
After my downfall on GUCR, i decided to take this one a little steadier. I reached CP2 at 11.20am which was just 10 mins ahead of my plan but still 1hr and 25 mins ahead of the CP closing. I had a drink and took some fruit out of my drop bag and cracked on.
It was now over 17 miles to the next CP but I knew we were going to pass Caen Hill Locks and I was looking forward to that. A couple of other runners, Roz and Kate, caught me and for a good while we were passing each other, breaking up the running with a walk. By the time we reached the locks at mile 35 the 3 of us pretty much marched up the hill together. Thanks for the company girls.
After that it was a bit of a slog for about 8 miles to reach the CP. but worth it, as there was hot food – soup and potatoes – and I had a sit down to change my socks. I was determined to look after my feet this time and had spent a lot of time researching blisters and how to try and prevent them. For me, this meant engo patches in my shoes, taping of all the problem areas with kinetic tape, blister powder and twin skin socks. And for good measure, I laced my shoes with the ‘heel lock’. It appeared to be working well as my feet felt good, but after only 45 miles my feet, ankles and legs were all aching and tired. I hoped that the food would give me a lift and set off for CP4 at 60 miles.
I decided that some music may lift my spirits but that just got on my nerves after about half an hour. I know that there are highs and lows but I couldn’t seem to get the negative thoughts out of my head, and then it started to rain. On with the rain jacket, but then I was too hot… it’s a good job I was on my own with only myself to moan to!
With about 4 miles to go until the checkpoint Kate came past and urged me to run so that we would reach it by 8pm. Try as I might I just couldn’t keep even an ultra shuffle going and I watched her disappear into the distance. Finally, after what felt like an absolute age, I reached the CP at 7.45pm – 45 minutes behind my schedule. I decided my feet were still good and didn’t need attention, so just had a sit down with a coffee. Roz arrived not too long after me, she mentioned her hips were painful and thought that she would probably walk most of the way now. I didn’t know if I could face walking for over 80 miles but there was time if that’s what was needed.
Knowing it would be dark before the next CP at 72.5 miles, I got my head torch out of my drop bag and set off. It started raining again and as darkness fell there wasn’t a lot to see and everything from the waist down was beginning to ache. No highs were forthcoming…
The maps weren’t really needed on this stretch until coming into Newbury – the first sign of life I’d seen for a good while. After going through the town, I convinced myself that I had gone the wrong way, although I was on the correct side of the water. After not coming across the CP, I was doubly convinced that I’d gone the wrong way and turned round to head back to town to see if there was an alternative that I had missed. I met another runner who was sure we were right so I turned and followed him and loe and behold, just around the corner from where I had turned around, there was the CP.
Already feeling low, this finished me off and so with 74 miles on my watch I decided I’d had enough, my head nor heart were in it and so I told the CP staff I was calling it a day. I called Geoff to let him know, and so he could come and scoop me up, and then sat down to wait. Whilst waiting, Fiona came into the CP with none other than the marvellous Mimi Anderson – even the prospect of reversing my decision and going on with them couldn’t motivate me!
Sadly, Fiona didn’t manage to get very much further due to a foot problem, neither did Kate who was at the CP feeling very unwell nor Roz – who also called it a day a bit further along.
In fact, of the 76 starters, there were only 37 finishers.
As I hadn’t reached the CP until 12.30 and they were due to close at 1.15am, Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins was kind enough to give me a lift to the next CP at Reading, as that didn’t close until 7.30am, and I could wait for Geoff in relative comfort.
And so ended my second attempt at a canal run. I can’t make excuses, I wasn’t ill or injured but I was extremely fatigued. Whether that is due to running 100 miles less than 2 months previously and then 100k 2 weeks after that, or just the fact that I am expecting too much of my ‘old’ body. Whichever it is, I will recover and earn one of those Canal medals….
In the meantime, I have the lovely SVP 100km to run this weekend (Saturday 12 August) and un-finished business at the Centurion A100 in October.