Monday 2 June 2014

Grand Union Canal Race Report 2014: GUC-king hell that's a long way!

"Put One Foot in Front of the Other One" by Fun

"You need to run more."

I love my wife! It's not that I hadn't been running much recently; my training had become more consistent since the start of the year as we finally recovered from a difficult year of no sleep, and I was finally getting back to my level of fitness from the previous year. I was back to commuting to work through running and getting plenty of speedy miles in, with a couple of podium places in local ~10K races indicating that I might be getting in good shape for the coming season. What I hadn't done recently was many long runs on the weekends. Well, long runs anyway. My short run is 10 miles, so my sense of scale is a little skewed. But with some long (long) races coming up, my wife was a little worried that whilst my speed was looking good, my endurance might not be up to scratch.

My first A race of the year was the upcoming Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR) - 145 miles along the Grand Union Canal starting in Birmingham Gas Street and finishing in Little Venice, London the following day. The GUCR is something of an institution in the UK ultra running community, and if you've ever raced in this country then chances are you've bumped into Race Director Dick Kearn, who is a mainstay of support throughout these events. He's easy to spot these days with his rather spectacular beard. I actually met him in my first ever ultra way back in 2011. I chatted to him at the end and asked if he had ever done anything like this before. Little did I know...

Dick Kearn in all his beard glory. Photo C/O Ross Langton
The community involved in the race is very close-knit, with many people running the race year on year, and it is probably on most UK runners' bucket lists. For this reason, entrants are decided through a lottery system. I applied last year but didn't get in, but I was lucky enough to be selected for this special 20th Anniversary edition. Yes, there have been idiots doing this kind of thing for 20 years (and then some). As there is a slightly better chance of getting a place if you supply your own crew, I entered as a "supported" runner meaning that I had to find some people willing to listen to me whinge for 30ish hours. This was surprisingly easier than I expected, and a quick message put out on Twitter gave me the dream team of Simon Edwards, Liz Grec and Tim Lambert - Team Awesome Stupid! The sheer selflessness in the ultra running community always amazes me, and these guys were willing to give up their entire weekend to help some stupid side-burned twat run halfway across the country. Amazing!

I'm not so great at planning, and normally don't really bother beyond figuring out how to get to the start line. I very rarely worry about pacing strategies or nutrition strategies, and instead rely on just running at a comfortable pace and eating when I'm hungry. I find anything else is just complicating matters. But now that we had a team, I felt that at least some semblance of a plan was probably in order. So Liz and Simon came over a few weeks before the race to discuss "tactics". By which I mean I said "I'll meet you every 10 miles or so and you can give me some gels", and then we watched the Eurovision Song Contest. The closest that we got to a specific plan was to roughly plan out the times I would be likely to hit the 50 mile and 100 mile points. I was planning on just going for it and seeing what happened, so figured that a ~28 hour finish would be doable. So I figured that 8 hours to 50 miles, another 9 hours to 100 miles, then 10ish hours to the finish would be a good estimate for my A game. But I wasn't going to stress if I wasn't making this pace, and said to the guys not to bother telling me the times, or even what was going on around me with respect to other people. There would be no point even thinking about racing until at least past the 100 mile mark.

I was originally due to share a room on Friday in Birmingham with my good friend Dan Park, but he had unfortunately pulled out of the race. This left a spare bed, meaning that Liz and Simon (who would start proceedings without Tim until the afternoon) could crash in with me. I met them after work and was chauffeured through the rush hour traffic to central Birmingham to the Premiere Inn where we were staying. We headed straight over to registration to say hi to everybody and grab our team t-shirts, then headed next door to O' Neills for some food. After negotiating the various technological traps that seemed determined to prevent us from ever making it to bed (we broke the lift and the door to the corridor), we finally made it to the room. It was a bit snug, but I managed to get a good night's sleep - although I apparently managed to keep everybody up all night by laughing in my sleep. That's a new one. I seem to recall that I was dreaming I was in a comedy trio with Gary Dalton and his brother. We must have been good. Jokes are always better when you have to laugh at them yourself right? Ha ha ha.

Looking oddly hench here... Photo C/O Ross Langton.
We wondered down to the start and managed to say hi to a few people before lining up without too much ceremony in the Gas Street basin. After a quick brief from Dick, we were sent on our way. I headed off at a comfortable pace and just settled into a rhythm ready for the rest of the day, although appeared to take off well ahead of everybody else. I honestly wasn't sprinting off, just getting into a natural pace. I was just behind another guy, who I later realised was Bruce who was one of the guys I had leapfrogged backwards and forwards with on my first 100 miler. He apparently has a habit of sprinting off early, and I had a few comments like "don't try and keep up with Bruce". But I was happy, relaxed, and in the zone listening to Needful Things by Stephen King on my iPod. I was ready for a great day!

Well, pretty much ready and relaxed. There were three things that I was a little concerned about. Firstly, I wasn't sure how easy navigation was going to be. I mean, I know that you just run next to the water until you get to London, but it's not necessarily that simple. There are various points where you break away from the main canal, or where the canal goes off in different directions, and making sure that you are on the right side of the water is pretty important. But we had great maps from Dick and the team, and Paul Ali had kindly leant me a little A4 cheat sheet which I had laminated and planned on using to avoid any mistakes. I also had a GPS route on my Garmin as a backup (although didn't really use it), and then the full maps were there just in case. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible, and the cheat sheet worked brilliantly meaning that I didn't have to spend much effort on making sure I was going the right way.

Secondly, the stomach issues that I ran into at the South Downs Way 50 a few weeks ago hadn't really sorted themselves out. The last thing I wanted was to have to pit stop constantly to sort things out, but I had a feeling that I was going to have to. I thought maybe it was a lactose intolerance, but cutting milk and cheese out of my diet recently doesn't appear to have helped much.

Can't tell which is the canal and which is the tow path... Photo C/O Liz Grec.
Lastly, I had been suffering from plantar fasciitis for a few weeks which I didn't seem able to shift. I hadn't really run much as I was trying to let it settle down, and had seen my physio a few days before to see if anything could be done, but it was still a bit dodgy. Running on it wasn't actually too bad, but afterwards it would become very sore. But I figured I would just roll with it and see what happened.

This race was largely a precursor to my main race of the year, Spartathlon in September. It is roughly the same length (although Spartathlon will probably be a little warmer), so I wanted to remind myself that I could do the distance, and also to test out things like kit selection and the like. Since I am going to have to take time away from my family for the race, I figure that I'm really going to have to finish...

The first 10 miles to the checkpoint at Catherine de Barnes bridge were a nice warm up, setting the scene for what was to come. My foot felt good, with only a slight niggle of any notice, and the weather wasn't too bad with just a little drizzle to worry about. I met Liz and Simon for the first time just before the first race checkpoint. It was F1-class! I was using my waist belt and planned on having a small bottle, a couple of Torq gels, and my jacket at all times. At each meeting I would swap my bottle, swap empty gels for full ones, and grab some proper food (usually fruit, but with a bit of other stuff thrown in for good measure) before heading straight off again. I waved hello, swapped my bottle, crammed in some grapes, and I was off again. Text book!

I went straight through the checkpoint, briefly pausing to say hi to various people, before heading off back on track. I was currently in first place, but was trying not to think about it. For one thing, Paddy Robbins (the course record holder and "Mr. GUCR") was running, and I really wasn't expecting to beat him. For another there was a long way to go yet.

A rare sight of sunshine! Photo C/O Liz Grec.
Once out of Birmingham, the course is actually surprisingly scenic. The idea of spending 30 hours on a canal at first thought sounds pretty boring, but it is honestly as pretty as many other events in the country, taking in open fields, woodlands, marinas, rows of lock gates etc., and there is plenty of traffic on the canal to keep things interesting. Plus dodging angry swans is always good for keeping you on your toes. But I had my book to keep me company, so was perfectly happy with the isolation. I was meeting up with Liz and Simon every 8 or so miles, and we got our pit stops down to a fine art. I would stop for a couple of minutes to make sure I ate something proper each time, have a quick chat, then get on my way. I also bumped into the crews of some of the other front-runners, and it was nice to see them along the way and say hi as well.

A few miles after my second pitstop, my stomach really started acting up, so I decided to do something about it. Not a great sign so soon in the race, but no use worrying about it now. I just needed to fix it. We were running alongside some woodland, so I figured that I would climb up the bank for some privacy. No such luck, and I quickly slid down the thick wet mud face first. Brilliant, I'm covered in mud with about 130 miles to go. Awesome. Luckily nobody was around to see that. A little further I managed to find a secluded area and sorted myself out. I planned ahead this time, so luckily my Buffs remained intact...

Feeling much better now, I got back into the swing of things. Just in time, as the slight drizzle quickly devolved into a furious rainstorm, becoming so bad that I even ended up putting my jacket on. Shock horror. I came into Hatton Locks feeling good - and very, very wet. Javed Bhatti was here taking photos, and James Adams took a little jog with me down to the checkpoint. He very kindly told me about the lovely cooked breakfast he had just eaten. Yeah, alright, rub it in.

Starting to rain a bit as I headed into Hatton Locks. Photo C/O Ross Langton.
Straight through the checkpoint again, and I was off into familiar territory (well, kind of). I studied for a long time at the University of Warwick, and spent most of my time there living in Leamington Spa, so it was quite interesting to head through Warwick and Leamington along the way. Not that I saw many sites - just more bloody canal. But it definitely brought back some memories. In particular, my 21st birthday, where a friend of mine (whose birthday was the following day) spent the whole day drinking and bowling, before heading out on a pub crawl. We ended up down by the canal where we attempted (very unsuccessfully I might add) to steal an oar (bloody students), before heading home to collapse in a drunken heap. I thought it was about 4am, but turns out we only made it out as late as about 9pm. Man, we were cool.

Stockton locks came up, and felt like a mountain compared to the rest of the route (which was as flat as you might imagine). It was still raining, but less heavily now, and I was getting some quite funny looks from people as I went through. But hey, they were out in the rain trying to push a long thin boat uphill on water, so I'm not sure that they really had the sanity high ground that they thought they had. I went through the checkpoint at the top of the locks still in first place.

36 miles down, about 110 still to go.

That's a really silly way to think about a race like this. To have run almost a marathon and a half, but still have over 100 miles left to go, is a depressing thought. I honestly think that one of my biggest strengths in this game is my stupidity. I mean, I know that I'm not really stupid (I have a couple of pieces of paper to prove it), but I can quite happily not think about things. Maybe "self-inflicted naivety" is a good description? In some ways, a race like the Piece of String Fun Run plays into this kind of thinking, because if you don't know how far away the end is then you don't need to worry about it. Just run. The minute you start counting down, the sheer enormity of the task will come hitting home. A sense of scale also comes into it. To run a distance for the first time, you don't have that positive reinforcement that comes from having done it before. If the furthest that you have run is 50 miles, then to realise that you have more than twice that still left to go can seem crazy. But if you've done 100 miles, then that can be put into more perspective. I have never had part of my brain thing that tells me "whoa, now wait a minute, that's just too far". Think about it - if nobody ever told you that 100 miles was a stupid distance to run, would you think that it was? I like to think of it as "running stupid", and it's the reason that I'm yet to really find a limit where I say, "no I can't do that"; I'm just not going to impose one on myself until I reach it.

So instead, let's just carry on running!

I reached the Napton junction soon after the checkpoint, where the canal takes a hard left (one of only a couple of key navigation points to really be aware of along the route). This was followed soon afterwards by another key turning point at Braunston. Liz and Simon were genuinely concerned that I might end up heading up here and end up in Newcastle. Cheers for the confidence guys...

... Yeah, I don't know either. Photo C/O Liz Grec.
The route briefly left the canal here and headed up another mountain and down a wooded track for half a mile before rejoining the canal on the other side. Somewhere after this section, I was joined by another runner who completely scared the shit out of me. He was motoring (or else I was crawling), and for a moment I thought he was just somebody out on a morning run. I was also caught up by Pat Robbins, and we chatted for a little bit as we headed towards the 50 mile mark.

As I met up with Liz and Simon, I was delighted to see that Tim had joined the party. I said not to worry too much about updates on the other runners at this stage, but it was useful to know that they weren't flying off ahead of me. I had hit the 50 mile mark almost bang on 8 hours, so was very happy with my pace. I was also feeling really happy in general. My fuelling was going well, my stomach wasn't showing any major issues, my legs felt great, and other than the niggle in my foot everything was feeling good. I realised that I wasn't really using my watch at all, so dumped it with the guys. I was setting my pace entirely on my comfort levels, and it was working out just fine.

A couple more junctions followed, which were easily negotiated, followed by a pretty lengthy diversion away from the canal while it passed through a long tunnel. As I came to the top of the track, I had a brief moment; I knew that I had to turn right, but I didn't know if it was right at the end of the track (following a very small lane) or head left here up to the main road and then right. I figured it was the latter, but wanted to be sure. As I was double checking the map, one of the other runners' crews saw me and confirmed where to go. Of course they missed a trick here, and could have sent me completely the wrong way!

I really didn't like this bit, as it was completely on the road, in slightly dodgy light, in the rain. I was very conscious of the cars, so made sure to make myself as visible as possible. A mile or so up the road, I saw a van pull into a junction, and figured that this was probably my turning. It was Dick and Dave Merret, and I took great pleasure in the fact that I was ahead of the course markers. The track down to the canal was pretty overgrown and nettley, so I was kind of happy to not be first through since the worst of it was mostly trampled down now.

The weather started to improve a bit, and the sun even came out. I reached the 70 mile checkpoint at Navigation Bridge, which is kind of the mid point of the race, feeling good. James Elson was here helping out Dick before heading off later to run with Pat towards the end of the race. Pat was steaming ahead, but I was keeping up with the other guys ahead of me. I headed on a bit to meet up with the guys, and was told that the guys ahead of me weren't looking as comfortable as me. I'm not sure if this was true or if they were just trying to play mind games to keep me pushing, but I was determined to just focus on my own race for the time-being, and not get sucked into a race with 70 miles left to go.

Going well - it must be an early shot. Photo C/O Ross Langton.
A little further on and I was greeted with some chicken nuggets and chocolate milk shake, and the protein was gratefully received. I was still eating pretty well, and things felt good in general, but I could feel a niggle in my left knee. I wasn't too worried about it yet, but was aware of it as the last thing that I wanted was a repeat of my knee issues from last year. The light was starting to fail slightly after running through Milton Keynes, so I took my head torch with me just in case. My original plan was to get to 100 miles and then change into some clean clothes and re-tape my feet, but I figured that it made sense to do that at the next meeting point now that it was getting dark.

As I approached bridge 107, I could see a flashing light up ahead as Tim guided me towards the car in the car park next to the bridge. I stopped here to fix things up ready for the second half of the race, and took time to dry myself off, strip off and replace all of my clothes, retape my feet (the tape from the morning had worked brilliantly, and my feet were feeling good with no hot spots) and put some new shoes and socks on. Bliss! It's lucky that I have no shame. After chugging down a bit of proper food, I was sent off to chase down the light of a runner who had overtaken me during my little break.

I felt fantastic! Fully reinvigorated with a change of clothes, but in particular now that I had clean dry feet, running just felt nicer. There were about 10 miles to go until the checkpoint at 100 miles, where I would be joined by Simon who was going to buddy run with me for the first half of the final 45 miles, before Tim took over for the last 25 miles or so. I caught up with the guy who had crossed over the bridge ahead of me, and we worked our way over the bridge at Marsworth to get back onto the Grand Union path. We came into the 100 mile checkpoint at about midnight, meaning that the second 50 miles had taken around 10 hours. Longer than I had hoped, but not too shabby.

Now there is a big difference to running 150 miles compared to 100 miles. Inevitably it becomes a war of attrition, and the winner is the runner who slows down the least. Barring injuries, my running style seems to lend itself to not utterly destroying my legs. At the 148 mile Viking Way Race last year, my legs were actually fine by the end of it and I was back running a few days later. It was cocking up my navigation that really screwed me up. My running pace had not really changed much in the last 20 miles (slow but steady), fuelling was going well, and my feet were in one piece. If I could hold it together I would be on for a good finish.

I headed off with Simon, ready to make a dent in the last third of the race. I'm not really used to running with other people, and I'm not the most talkative person when I'm racing. I pre-warned Tim and Simon about this and figured that I would just do my best to not be a whiney son-of-a-bitch the whole way. At this stage the sleepiness was starting to creep in, but as long as I could keep moving it wasn't an issue.

But then I couldn't keep moving.

The niggle in my knee was gradually getting worse, and it was clear what had happened. I was over-compensating slightly because of my right foot, and for some reason doing this for 100 miles wasn't great for my knee. Who'd have thunk it? Ordinarily, this is where I would stop. If there's the chance of an injury, I'm not willing to push on and make things worse just for the sake of finishing. I care more about being able to run day-to-day, particularly as it is my main source of transportation. However in this case, I really wanted to convince myself that I could get to the end in preparation for the psychological battle at Spartathlon in September. So I decided to just man the fuck up and get it done.

Simon did an awesome job of encouraging me, but it was really tough going. Walking was proving to be tough enough, so pushing into a run involved some serious teeth clenching. Plus, because I had slowed right down, I was getting cold (and the odd shower that hit us really didn't help). Also, because I couldn't keep the adrenaline up by running, the tiredness was really hitting me. I just wanted to run, but that wasn't happening.

I think I broke him. Photo C/O Liz Grec.
The sun started to come up, and it actually looked like it was going to be a nice day. There were lots of people out fishing, although from the look of them (and the distinctly shifty looks they were giving us), I suspect that they shouldn't have been. As we approached a small bridge, there was a rather large heron sitting on the corner of it. He seemed to wait until we were right on top of him before flying off, and we felt his wings brush against us as he headed off across the water in the hazy morning light. Simon was amazed by the experience, and it really seemed to touch him. I was just pissed off that I had to break stride to avoid it flying into my face.

I was trying to keep a smile on my face, but it was becoming hard. We met up with Liz and Tim, and I just had to stop. The car was right there, and I just wanted to close my eyes for 10 minutes. I knew that any more than 20 minutes and I would forfeit the race (it was actually 40 mins I later found out, but probably for the best I didn't know that), so I asked them to wake me up in 10 minutes. Dropping out had never entered my head here, but I later found out that the guys had thought that this would be the end. I was woken after 10 minutes, and pressed snooze on Simon for another 5 mins. After a quick prod, I was up and out the door. I looked like shit, but actually felt a lot better. My head wasn't as wooly, and I at least wasn't concentrating on the fact that I wanted to just go to sleep. The morning was proving to be bright, clear and warm, so Simon and I set off with renewed vigour.

After a slow and ambling start, I found that if I gritted my teeth and got into a running gait, it actually hurt less than walking. The trick was to keep it going, so I just focussed and cracked on. Simon ran along with me, encouraging me to keep things going, and pretty soon we were actually pushing a pretty good pace. He picked up the phone to Tim and told him to hurry up and get his kit on because we were flying. This was a surprise to everybody, and Tim had been prepared to have to walk me in to the finish. As it was, we might just get in for lunch.

When we met Liz and Tim at checkpoint 8 (Springwell Lock), we were all feeling much better again. The adrenaline had hit me and I was feeling surpassingly good. My knee was absolutely screaming at me, but if I forced myself into a run I was able to get through it. If this had been approaching the finish, the sheer good vibes would have seen me to the finish. But unfortunately there was still a marathon to go.

I swapped Simon for Tim a couple of miles later, and Tim was fully prepared to start racing. He had his eyes on a couple of runners ahead of us and wanted to chase them down. At first I was game, but the adrenaline gradually wore off. I could probably have gritted my teeth and pushed for 5 miles to the finish - but there were more than 20 miles to go. Right now I just wanted to get to the end in as little pain as possible.

Things weren't helped by my first navigational error of the whole race just after Harefield Marina. We were well inside the M25 now, and approaching London proper, which really was a positive boost. But as we crossed bridge 182 (one of the steepest bloody bridges I have ever seen) things didn't seem right. We were no longer alongside the canal, and seemed to be heading further away from it. We stopped to ask a friendly fisherman if we were on the right course, and he thought we should probably have stayed alongside the canal rather than crossing over. We pulled out the map, and found that the bridge number on the cheat sheet was actually wrong, which was not helped by the fact that whoever had made the GPS track had also apparently made the same mistake. This was a bit of a blow, and I think that Tim blamed himself as he was in charge of navigation, but it honestly wasn't his fault. I thought I had checked the cheat sheet against the map, but must have missed the slight discrepancy in bridge numbers. Oh well, it wouldn't be a Sam Robson ultra without some kind of navigational cock up. Back over the ridiculously steep bridge we go (seriously, I almost had to clamber up it on hands and knees)!

Navigational error caught on camera. Well one of us is right... Photo C/O Liz Grec.
We were back on course now, and it was a relatively straight shot into London central from here. Tim used to live around this area, so knew the canal well. We were even on the last page of maps, so the finish was within sniffing distance. Although having said that, the pungent smells of central London can probably be smelled from Birmingham... The going was getting slower, and I was finding it harder and harder to MTFU. The end might well have been relatively close compared to how far I had already run, but it was still a long fucking way away!

Tim pointed out various landmarks to me along the way, and we discussed various things like how strange it is that you can get so close to people that you may have only met once or twice before (the beauty of Twitter and Facebook), the mental aspect of running, and how I'm just like Jez Bragg (I forget the context...). As we took the turn North at the Bull's Bridge, we entered the "finishing straight", since there would be no more bridge crossings before the finish from here. The final checkpoint was up ahead, but before we reached it we had to negotiate a rather loud rave on the other side of the river. The wump wump sound blasting from the speakers sure got my attention, and Tim and I discussed past lives as drinkers and how that kind of thing really didn't appeal any more. The ravers, who had obviously been going all night, looked awful and I can't say that it appealed to me. But then I wasn't really one to talk...

We came into the final checkpoint where James Adams and Nici Griffin were hanging around to cheer people on for the final push to the end. I felt a little unsteady on my feet, so sat in a chair and promptly closed my eyes for a quick power nap. I pride myself on generally being a friendly person, and try to always be happy and smiley for volunteers at the aid stations. I'm also pretty undemanding I think, and don't like to put people out - even my own crew despite that essentially being their entire raison d'ĂȘtre! However, I feel that my sparkle wasn't quite up to scratch at this point. I apologised to Nici a few days later just in case I wasn't smiley enough for her. She promptly told me to shut up, and that I had even been voted "Politest Person to Crew" by her and my crew. Daww! You guys!

This was it now. The home stretch. Except it was still a half marathon away. What's that, like an hour and a half? Ahem.

Is this a wind up? Photo C/O Liz Grec.
It was now just a case of getting to the finish in one piece. The running sections were fewer and farther between, and we were getting sloooowwww. So slow in fact that our ice-creams melted and Liz and Simon had to eat them for us. Dammit. Things were looking particularly dire when we were overtaken by a guy out walking his dog. Alright mate, slow down. It's not a race. Geez. After his dog almost killed Tim, we actually chatted to him briefly. "Ha, you'd better have run a 10K already fellas to be walking like that!", he laughed as he caught us. "Sort of!", we laughed.

Tim was trying to keep me going at this stage, and after what felt like a particularly long section I needed to sit down somewhere to take the pressure off of my knees. But there was nowhere to sit anywhere. In desperation, I spotted a piece of wood in a little clearing and perched on it, hoping to god that it wouldn't break under me. I could have sat there for longer, but Tim dragged me on.

As we came to our final meeting with Liz and Simon, I was happy to be given a bottle of Pepsi and some more chocolate milk. I had a bit of a funny turn here and had to hold on to Simon as I felt a little whoozy. But I got a nice surprise as I was informed that my wife and daughter had driven all the way to the end to see me finish. The last time they did this was at the Viking Way, and I had kept them waiting for ages. I was determined this time for them to not have to hang around for too long. I gritted my teeth one final time and prepared for the last 10 Km to the finish.

Too slow losers! Photo C/O Liz Grec.
So off we went, with images of seeing my little girl in the next hour or so etched onto my mind. We actually covered this section in a surprisingly good time (relatively speaking of course), and despite the really rather depressing levels of rubbish that greeted our arrival into central London it was a pleasant finish to the race. The sun was shining very brightly now, and I was even starting to worry about sunburn (which given the previous day was quite amusing). Some of the landmarks of Central London like the Shard were coming into view, and the signposts to Paddington were gradually counting down towards zero. I didn't really know what the finish looked like, so we just kept plugging away until it came into view.

And suddenly there it was, with Liz, Simon, Jen and Lottie all waiting for me. To a smattering of applause, I asked Jen to bring Lottie over, and ran across the line with her holding my hand. It was a lovely way to finish, and it's just a shame that I missed the photographer so there's no photo of it. I shook hands with Dick (who had been doing his best Santa Clause impression for Lottie), got my medal, then had a big hug with my awesome crew. Despite the fact that I had essentially walked the last 45 miles, I still managed to sneak in a Top 10 finish, finishing in 32:28:00 for 10th place. Not at all what I had hoped for, but I was very happy with it considering.

For one thing, there were a lot of positives from this race: 

Firstly, my nutrition was spot on. I didn't eat too much crap, and instead ate a lot of fruit to keep me going, and a large selection of Torq gels fuelled me right up until the end. I haven't turned into a ravenous blackhole of eating afterwards, and in fact my appetite has been completely normal all week, which is a good indictment of how things went.

Secondly my gear choice was also spot on. I decided to try running in my Salomon Sense Mantra (rather than my usual Speedcross) in preparation for Spartathlon, where I think that these will be more appropriate (I don't have road shoes really). I also used my UltrAspire Impulse waist pack which worked brilliantly (no bounce and only a tiny amount of rubbing), which will probably again do the job for Sparta. Also, I was very comfortable throughout and in particular had no issues with hotspots or blisters on my feet, which is actually pretty incredible considering the conditions on the Saturday. Taping and Drymax socks score another win.

Okay. One blister...
Also, my pacing was pretty much spot on. I find that running to feel works well for me, so this bodes well for Sparta. Whilst I haven't done a huge amount of long running recently, the endurance is there. I now have plenty of time to get in tip top shape for Greece.

Finally, my crew were freaking awesome. It is still amazing to me that they were willing to give up their entire weekend to help drag me (literally as it turned out) towards the finish. Although we chat on Facebook and Twitter, I actually haven't met Tim, Liz or Simon that many times, but they had absolutely no hesitation in volunteering when I put out the call for help. For the first 100 miles, they were a well-oiled machine, giving me exactly what I needed (whether I knew it or not), and getting me in and out of our meetings in record times. After things deteriorated, they became a source of inspiration and support, prodding me to keep going and making sure that I had everything that I needed to finally make it to the end. I remain convinced that crewing is harder than running, and these guys were with me for the duration, through good times and bad. I will forever be grateful for that.

Now I just need to figure out a way to get them out to Greece in September...

So that was it. The aftermath isn't too bad. My knee and foot are still quite sore so I won't be running for a while (so South Downs Way in 2 weeks is probably off), but I am cycling with no issues. It truly was an honour to have been involved in the 20th anniversary of Dick and Jan's baby, and I can fully understand why it has the reputation that it has. The support from Dick's crew was amazing, and I can only offer my heartfelt thanks to everybody that helped out over the weekend. You guys really make these events what they are! Congratulations to everybody that took part, particularly Pat who went on to win the race despite running into some issues in the latter stages (it's horrible to say it, but it is kind of nice to know that even the best guys can have a bad day out there). I will be back again, as I think that if I can go in and not get injured then I can hit my A race target of ~27 hours. Maybe next year. 

But for now, let's get ready for Sparta!


  1. Sam - great report, it really is a fantastic race. Hate to say it but I think I was one of those who came past you in the night before the M25...the one I think was you gets a mention in my own report. I didn't start with 27 hours in mind but thought best case that 8 / 10 / 12 hours for each 50-ish mile section at a push would be possible. It nearly was...

    1. Yep, sounds like me! I'm still confident in my split times, so hopefully next year I can start without the injury and not fall part in the last 50 miles. Great work on 4th place!


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