2003 Race Story

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by Dick Kearn

2003 Race Story

The official report of the 2003 GUCR - a Year for Records

The GUCR 2003 - a Year for Records

The weather forecast was ‘mainly dry with sunny intervals and some intermittent local showers’ - nothing unusual about that. The pre-race bush telegraph had reported the possibility of a new record being set - same as ever there then. The race HQ van being late for registration is not exactly a novelty either, but fifty-four starters is definitely something new.

Actually there were only 51 on the line for the typically shambolic, but precisely timed, start at 6am. Come to think of it one of those was there in body only (I’m sure Mark Dabbs’s mind was somewhere else), but at least we achieved the magic fifty - our first record of the weekend. Three more runners began their race slightly later. Allan Pollock was ten minutes behind and Ray Willett with Gary Barnes a further thirteen (about as late as he was in1999, making Gary the only person to start late twice - another record!)

To run the Paris Marathon, run back to London, run The Flora London Marathon, fall off your motorbike and spend three weeks in plaster is perhaps not the best training for ‘Britain’s Longest’, but Glyn Marston is not the sort to let such minor matters prevent him being in the leading group at the first check. I suspect that team mate Lee Adshead was probably trying to rein Glyn in, but if you know how enthusiastic Glyn is you will appreciate what an impossible task this would be. Also in the lead pack of four were Claude Hardel, looking very comfortable, and Meredydd Evans who, as Colin Evans in 1999, holds the record for the earliest arrival (07:18) at Catherine de Barnes.

In fifth here was Alicja Barahona some four minutes ahead of course record holder Rod Palmer and already with a lead of 13 minutes over Penny Elliott, Joan Clarke and Anke Molkenthin and 50 minutes over Sue Clements in the ladies event. The late starters were making up for lost time as Allan was through 32nd and Gary and Ray had caught up with their Riverside team-mates to pass 48th and 49th. Making good progress on their sponsored walk, and acting as unofficial sweepers, Jack Denness and Steven Kerr were last through equal 52nd as Mark Dabbs had already lost the plot - which I think gives him the record for the earliest retirement.

At the 22 mile Hatton check Claude was 10 minutes up on Meredydd who was a further 10 up on Glyn and Lee. As this pair took a longer break, Alicja, Rod and Kim Stanley left the check 3rd, 4th and 5th. Keith Curwood was 8th away with Neil Shepherd and Andy Ives 9th. In the ladies race Anke was 2nd, 35 minutes behind Alicja but 9 & 13 minutes ahead of Joan and Penny respectively as they left. Sue Clements was now equal 38th overall with Chris Flint.

At the first full feedpoint for unsupported runners by Birdingbury Bridge, there had been some changes in the top ten. Claude was now ahead of Meredydd by 22 minutes then came Kim, Alicja, Rod, then Keith. Graham Baker had moved up to 7th with Andy and Neil 8th then Lee and Glyn 10th, these two arriving exactly an hour after Meredydd.

Forty-eight miles is a long way to run in most people’s minds. For some it is further than they have ever run before, for a few it proved too far - only 43 runners were able to proceed beyond the New Inn checkpoint before it closed. The order of the first four was unchanged but Graham arrived 5th with Rod 6th. A close group of four, Glyn, Andy, Neil and Lee made up the ten. Anke had been forced to retire on the path over Braunston Tunnel so Penny was second lady (17th overall) then Joan (21st) and Sue, still with Chris, (41st).

The long stretch from the New Inn to the 19 hour/70 mile cut-off check at Navigation Bridge often proves difficult for all but the strongest. Some drop out along the way while others make it to the bridge only to decide enough is enough. As usual some of those who had looked strong earlier were not to go beyond the cut while some early tail-enders were able to press resolutely on. Among the leaders, Meredydd had slipped back and Lee retired so of the 34 continuing, the top ten now read; Claude, Alicja, Kim, Graham, Rod, Glyn, Neil, Andy, with Mark Pierce and Simon Laporte entering the frame for the first time. At the back, Sue and Chris left 30th; Anthony Taylor 32nd; and, jointly bringing up the rear, Simo Simpson and Stephen O’Connell were away right on the limit of their maximum rest period.

The new checkpoint at Bridge 99 is a picturesque site. Although of the leaders only Claude saw it in daylight, its beauty enticed some of the runners to stay longer than at other spots. This, and the fact that some found it so pleasant there that they stopped completely, meant considerable changes in race positions. The full sequence of those pressing on towards the 100 mile check was Claude, Alicja, Glyn, Andy and Neil (=4), Simon, Stuart Shipley and Michael Gilbert (=7), Penny, John Poole and Peter Johnson (=10), Mel Richards, Luke Cunliffe, Chris, Trevor Leigh and Barry Mason (=15), Gary, Keith, Ray, Allan and Joan (=20), Sue, Gordon Knight, Anthony, Simo and Stephen (=25). There were already over 9½ hours of ‘race spead’ at this point.

There were almost 3 hours between Claude and Alicja with more than 3½ between her and Glyn on arrival at the Grand Junction Arms. Simon now led the rest of the field, which, with the retirements of Keith and Stephen en route, was fairly evenly spaced through, to Gordon now struggling at the tail. Unusually (you could say this is a record) there were no retirements here.

Sadly Gordon did not quite make it to Springwell Lock at 120 miles. The others did and again nobody dropped out at the check, so 23 were on their way to The Hambrough Tavern. It was a bitter blow when Allan Pollock, having come so far, was forced to stop, short of the last checkpoint, at Cowley Lock. Although Joan and Anthony were outside the official checkpoint closing time, all those who made it to 133 miles were destined to reach the Finish at Little Venice.

Claude Hardel was first under the banner having improved Rod’s 1998 record by a very respectable 1 hour 23 minutes to 27:35. Alicja Barahona took second overall (the highest ever female place) and obviously first lady in 33:06 - taking an astonishing 6 hours 32 minutes off the record set in 2000 by Jill Green. Overcoming his ankle injury, Glyn Marston became the first to complete ‘three in a row’ coming third in a new P.B. of 36:05. Despite a lack of training during events in the Gulf, Simon Loporte demonstrated remarkable consistency by finishing ‘four out of four’ in fourth place with 39:57. At his first attempt Stuart Shipley should be well pleased being third ‘unsupported’ and fifth with 40:20. (Incidently 3 unsupporteds in the top 5 is a record.) Proving that being last at the Start can be a good thing, Ray Willett and Gary Barnes both improved on their previous bests, finishing joint sixth in 40:47. Ray thus became the second person ever to complete ‘three in a row’. Of the three runners next seen approaching the Finish Mick Gilbert made a spirited attempt at a sprint finish to claim eighth while Andy Ives and Neil Shepherd seemed content with joint ninth, all three being credited with an official time of 41:08. Having stayed together all the way from Gas Street in eleventh equal place were John Poole and Peter Johnson with a time of 41: 35. Through the wonders of modern technology Luke Cunliffe was able to pinpoint his position and give regular updates to the EventRate.com web-site race report throughout the whole race. Despite this distraction he finished thirteenth in 42:43. When competitors finish together it is usually because they are club-mates and started together or that they joined up somewhere en route and stayed together. Chris Flint and Sue Clements are club-mates but from the check sheets they seem to have started together then gone their own ways before joining up again to finish equal fourteenth in 43:04, Sue of course being second lady. Laying the ghost of DNFs in 2000 and 2001 Penny Elliott came to the Finish sixteenth and third lady. Barry Mason was so fed up with regular GUCR helper Trevor Leigh going on about the race that he vowed to accompany him whenever Trevor’s recurrent back problem finally allowed enough training to take part. True to his word he stayed with Trevor all the way to finish joint seventeenth in 44:14 which, considering that Barry had never run an event longer than twenty miles was no mean feat. Simo (Wayne) Simson overcame a severe dose of what in polite running circles is euphamistically refered to as stomach cramps. Not being one to give up, he came back (as had other things) well to finish nineteenth inside the official limit in 44:47. Mel Richards had passed the Hambrough check right on its closing time. Unable to pick up the pace he was able to keep going and reached his goal in 46:43 vowing to return and beat the limit. In 2000 Joan Clarke was forced to retire at 60 miles with a dodgy ankle. In the intervening years she and husband Ian have been valued helpers, but Joan always maintained that she would come come back and finish someday - she did in 48:32. Anthony Taylor holds the record for the highest number of GUCRs entered (8). Coming in this time in 48:52, four hours up on his PB, he was the last of this year’s record number of finishers!


The GUCR 2003 - unofficial race report

If you found the above race report as boring to read as I did to write I hope you will find this account a bit more interesting. If you were content with the factual race account; are easily offended; or unable to accept a jibe, I suggest you read no further. What follows is a report of all the retirements and the reasons for them randomly interspersed with odd information about the background goings on. All this is collectively known as twaddle and not really worthy of your time, but, if you really have nothing better to do - its hard to believe you haven’t, read on. It is my intention that everyone gets a mention but I apologise in advance for having more to say about some people than others, its just that I know more about some!

Most people receiving this leaflet will have taken part in the GUCR 2003 either as a runner or supporter. Some will have received it along with a letter thanking them for generously helping to make it possible. A few will receive it wishing that they had been there too but, for the various reasons of which I had been informed, were unable to come this time - they have my sympathy. At least six people, however, will receive this knowing that they were entered to run but could not be arsed to pick up a phone or write on a pre-paid postcard to let me know that they would not be coming. I’m not in the least bit bitter about this, but would like to point out that the back page does not apply to them and that the next time they have a running injury it might just be because someone somewhere is sticking pins in wax dolls.

Anyway, on with the tale. Pre-race preparations had gone reasonably well with most of the postings going out on time. As ever there were a few last minute entries but we’ve come to expect a call from Rod the weekend before race-day and Bob Brown and Phil Soanes seem to have learned from the master. Events at Treston Ltd and Budget Van Rental came together beautifully to enable us to have the vans early at no extra cost. Unfortunately this meant that Friday morning was spent driving for Treston rather than packing the checkpoint provisions. The upshot being that Phil, Hannah and I did not get to bed until 1am on race-day. We were up again at 3 ready to leave at 3.30. With twenty unsupporteds we needed another van this time and were due to meet first-time helpers Ray and Lisa at East Ilsley. Thankfully they were waiting as we arrived. We were also due to pick up Hanno Nickau at Oxford. He too was ready, but could we wait for his wife to return with his other bag? As a child Hannah never missed an opportunity to delay any departure by visiting the loo at the last minute. She hasn’t grown out of it and did not let this chance pass. For what seemed an age Hanno, his two bags, Ray, Lisa, Phil and I, waited impatiently at Peartree Services for her return. Thus is our late arrival at Gas Street explained.

Because of the late arrival, the extra entries, the T-shirt key and cycle pass issues, and my general ineptitude, things did not go too well at registration. I remember doing my best to sour Anglo-French relations by attempting to swindle Claude Hardel. Thankfully someone more familiar with money than I, was on hand to point out that the sterling notes in my hand did amount to the correct fee. At this our first meeting Claude must have thought the race organiser to be either a cunning cheat or simple moron. I am sure that after my profuse apology and several chats since, he now knows the latter is true. I also remember that the queue to register seemed to be growing longer the nearer start time approached. I am deeply grateful to Steve Broadbent for taking charge of things in the nick (every pun intended) of time and somehow organising Ray, Lisa and me into getting the job done. Other than these recollections and an enduring image of lots of people wearing ‘our’ T-shirts it is all a bit of a blur. With most runners on their way at 6am we were able to relax knowing that Jill Beggs and Ian Webber were ready for the first check at Catherine de Barnes Bridge. We were entertained during the promised half-hour wait before departing by first Allan and then Ray and Gary making their belated departures. Between them these three had 10 previous starts - you’d think they would have the hang of it by now. We also had time to say hello to John Foden of the TRA and RRC, initiator and organiser of numerous ultra events and other races, who had come along to see how it should be done. Also there and very much part of the party was Bryan Jones who had been due to crew for Mark from Bermuda but, as Mark did not show, was fortuitously adopted as part of the A-Team.

After an uneventful trip out of Brum and a skilful bit of reversing, the two vans and Jill’s Freelander were on station at C de B. We had plenty of time to spare - unless Colin/Meredydd was going to make a prat of himself again by arriving a quarter of an hour ahead of everyone else. He didn’t. He, and the others in the lead group (including a supposedly injured Glyn), arrived just 2 minutes up on Rod’s record schedule.

Most of the runners passed needing no assistance from us. The cycling crew supporting Phil Soanes and Bob Brown did however require some help. Phil Gadd was happy to remove a broken rack from one of their bikes - a job which seemed to bring him in close proximity to the shapely legs of its rider - and adopt some bags to add to those of the unsupporteds. As the rest of the field passed it was very pleasant to see old friends again or match faces to names of possible new ones. It was also fun to spot people with new names - we’ve already mentioned one, the other is Spencer, now known as Cliff, Summers. Cliff arrived asking after his friend Mark, which is my cue to begin listing (hopefully in the right sequence) this year’s entry in order of their race end.

Mark Dabbs topped DNFs in ’99 & 2000 with a BBS (Barely Bloody Started) this time. His call, logged at 10:22, gave ‘got lost in Birmingham - had to go home to sort a problem’ as the reason. There is no reason given for the delay in calling.

Because of this delay Cliff wasted 40 minutes waiting for his friend before continuing; Ian and Jill wasted an hour and a half waiting after Jack and Steve, the expected tail-enders, had passed (In fact Ian was heading back to Gas Street on foot when Jan’s call came); and I had two hours of anguish wondering whether to call out the Emergency Services to recover a stiff from the canal! I try to emphasise this as much as possible in the pre-race info, but it really is important that runners phone as soon as they retire or drop behind a schedule in line with the cut-off times. We aim to keep this event friendly and light hearted but if I may be serious for a bit:- If someone died during the event it would be a tragedy. Most of us, though, would say that there is an element of risk in any activity and accept it. If someone died and the organiser did nothing, despite knowing that the runner was overdue, then, as well as it being a tragedy, the consequences for the organiser, other race organisers and trail running in general would be extremely serious. There was no harm done this time, just a few more grey hairs for me, but please remember that it is alright you knowing you are OK, and that your crew know you are OK, but that if the organisers don’t know you are OK we are obliged to raise the alarm.

On with the tale. When half of the unsupporteds had passed C de B Ray and Lisa loaded the bags into the van and went on to Hatton to meet up with Ian Hope. This year Ian had the added luxury of the Treston trailer from which dispense his duties. He had also to put safety notices out at the Shrewley road crossing on his way to Hatton. The Treston trailer is known to have the aerodynamic properties of a parachute. Because of this and the extra job I was a little concerned that I might not be on station in time for the leader. Of course this was unfounded as the ever reliable Hopey was ready when Claude arrived, ever so slightly down on Rod’s best time.

Having left Ian and Jill to look after the tail-enders the A-Team arrived at Hatton in time to see the bulk of the field pass. I took my usual stroll up the towpath to avail myself of the BW facilities and was surprised by two things. One was that all the runners I saw chose to run on the quite stony gravel path rather than the well mown, soft grass either side. The other was to see John Foden again. Not, you understand, that the old bugger was still alive - I’m always surprised by that, no, it surprised me that he was sufficiently interested to come down the line and see how it all works. I reckon we might see his name on the entry list next time. Back to the tale. With no further retirements and already a spread of three and a half hours developing, it was time for the HQ van to move on to Birdingbury with the lead bags while Ray and Lisa stayed to bring on the others later. Just as we were about to load the bags the heavens opened. In our panic to get the bags loaded or under cover mistakes were made. From this point on we never quite got back on top of the bag transfer. I can only apologise for some of the bags getting wet and for them not all being in the right place at the right time. We will do better next year.

For once we were at Birdingbury in time for the leader’s arrival - but only just. David Seys, supporting Alicja, had agreed to bag a prime place for us in the car park. He duly vacated it for us as we arrived. It seemed not long after we’d set out our stall that Claude trotted round the curve to take on some sustenance. Although still down on Rod’s 1998 time (which we at the time failed to record) Claude was looking very comfortable indeed. We all had the perception that Claude was stretching our resources. I think this is because he was one of ‘our’ runners and we had not had an unsupported leader before. The clock on the van (did you see this wonderful technological improvement for this year) reassured us that he was not ahead of previous times.

As this is the first proper feed point for unsupporteds we are committed to staying until all our runners have passed, normally a period of at least four hours. This gives us time to finish sorting the equipment in the van and to take stock of how the race is shaping. During this leisurely process it suddenly occurred to me that as we were hoping to have all the bags accessible at all our checks, Ray and Lisa would need to take Claude’s bag on to Buckby pretty damn quick! Ian Hope, who had also joined us since finishing at Hatton, would take the mid-fielders’ bags on later and we could take the rest.

Alan Kiff was the first ‘proper’ retirement. Alan and his family are GUCR regulars. He has yet to complete the full distance and this time suggested that this might be his last attempt. With 24 years of hockey and another 24 years of running behind him he felt that perhaps his legs might be past their best. He very kindly offered to help again next year but, come the Spring, I think he might be tempted to have one last bash.

After fond farewells to Alan, his wife and son, Phil, Hannah and I settled to wait for Ray McCurdy and Mick Cattell. Mick’s son, who had the very difficult task of crewing for two people who were not running together, was there to keep us company. He suggested that we should have a game of cards to pass the time - which would have been fun had we a pack - but is a very good idea for next time.

Mick Cattell also called it a day at Birdingbury. Mick had been due to run in 2001 but had not been met by his now ex-mate at the station and was thus unable to get to Birmingham in time. This year he travelled up on the Friday to be sure but, unfamiliar with the city centre night-time noises (sirens, drunks and clubbers) managed very little sleep. He gave fatigue as being the principle reason for stopping but, as we were later to find, may have been talked to a standstill by Ray McCurdy.

Knowing that Jack and Steve’s crew would be looking after these two at the back, as soon as Ray was on his way, we packed up and moved off to visit Jonathon and Liz Lee at the Buckby check.
After three years’ duty at the GJA 100mile checkpoint, Jonathon was pleased to be seeing many more runners through and to be stationed outside a pub that was actually open! Like Ian, Jonathon had been responsible for putting safety signs out at the Braunston Tunnel road crossing on his way to Buckby. I have since learned, as did he, that Jonathon performed this task so enthusiastically that Mr Gatso felt it necessary to record the moment on his roadside camera. With three points on his licence, a £80 fine and his overnight accommodation, it turned out to be an expensive weekend for Jonathon, still - you’re worth it!

Nigel Cairns stopped at Buckby, “due to injury” is how Jonathon’s message is recorded in Jan’s log. I have no further information than that. I do know though that Nigel enjoyed the Compton Forty and, on hearing that the event was threatened by lack of helpers, has offered to marshal there in 2004. Thanks Nigel.

Anke Molkenthin did not quite make it to the fourth check. She is permanently on strong medication and this sometimes badly effects her running, this time forcing her to stop at the Braunston Tunnel road crossing. I was delighted to hear from her on Sunday when she confirmed that she was OK and would be back for another go “as I won’t let it beat me”.

Stan Dolan finished fourth in 2002. He was unable to repeat that performance this time and dropped out at the same spot as Anke. Although one of our unsupporteds, I have no recollection of the reason or of any transport being sent for him so can only assume that he was given a lift by Steve Partridge who was crewing for Anke.

Ron Gibbons was, I believe, the other runner being tended by Master Cattell. He retired at Buckby where Jonathon recorded the reason - “knackered”. As good a reason as any in my book.

At about the time Ron pulled out, Shane Wilkinson called Jan to let her know that he and Dave were on station at Bridge No 99. Soon after this at 7.41pm she received a call from some people on a boat moored near New Bridge No 103. They were anxious to know if transport was on its way for a runner they were sheltering. At that time Jan knew nothing about this but promised to find out. In fact help was already on the way but it was to be so long arriving that the boat people called again at 8.33pm, even more desperate for someone to collect the runner.

Because it illustrates the necessity of calls being made to Jan rather than the mobile numbers, I’ll tell the tale.

As we were driving down the A5 my phone rang. I passed it to Hannah who said that Ray McCurdy had stopped at Br 103. Should he wait there or go on? I assumed that Hannah was talking to Jan (she was actually speaking to Ray) so said that, as we had definite a fix on him, he should stay there and we would send someone. We drove on to Navigation Bridge and asked Ian and Jill to fetch him, but, on looking at the map, realised that the bridge they were heading for was not on a road. As I now understood from Hannah that Ray had called on a borrowed mobile I, again wrongly, assumed that we would not be able to call him back and get him to move on. We would have to hope that Jill and Ian’s Freelander might be able to get somewhere near. As it turned out the bridge was not even on a track. Ian eventually had to go on foot from the nearest road crossing. In the meantime, of course, Jan had been making frantic calls to find out from us what was going on and to reassure the boat owners. She was, after several more calls, forced to give the boaters Jill’s number so that they could establish direct contact, as Jan’s log records “I think they’re getting a bit fed up.” Ref Mick Cattell’s retirement!

All of this would have been avoided had Ray called Jan in the first place. She has maps, road atlas, entry forms and post-cards as well as all helpers’ numbers to hand. She would have ascertained his position, told him to move on to the next bridge, called us to fix the pick-up and sorted the job with two phone-calls. Those of you who will be entering again please remember that you are welcome to call the HQ van for a chat or in an emergency, but all retirement calls should be made to the home number.

While all this was going on, we were replacing the trailer with the HQ van at Navigation Bridge where Simon Bolton and Steve Bienkowski were waiting to assist Ian and Jill. Ian Hope then took the trailer on to Bridge 99 . Ray and Lisa left the ‘ambulance’ with us and set off to deliver the kit for the Grand Junction Arms check to Rob, Sue, Ramona and Andy at Bulbourne. (The ambulance, by the way, is the Kearn family tandem, equipped with food, drink and a simple first-aid kit. If an unsupported was late at a check the plan was for Phil to saddle up and peddle off to the rescue - hopefully to return with a grateful passenger! Sadly/thankfully the plan was not put into action this time, but it does conjure up a wonderful image. Does anyone know where I can get a flashing blue light for his helmet?) Incidentally, I think it was about this time, as orders were being barked, that Bryan coined a new surname for the organiser. I suspect that, with Hannah’s help, Tator may stick.

Ray McCurdy had been in two minds about running this year - a sprained ankle having interrupted his training - but after much deliberation decided to give it a go. He was also in two minds about continuing beyond Birdingbury - but after much deliberation decided to give it a go. When he reached Navigation with Ian and Jill, he was in two minds about joining us in the van - but after much deliberation decided to give it a go. When we finally parked in Delamere Terrace there was no deliberation - he went!

Lee Adshead ran as far as Buckby with his club-mate Glyn. His crew called Jan from Stoke Bruerne during the above drama and she has no record of the reason for his retirement. Coping with Glyn’s enthusiasm could be a possibility though. If anybody were to ask my advice, yes there are people that crazy, I would always recommend running your own race.

Bob Brown and Phil Soanes only decided to run a week before the event. They ran together all the way to Blisworth Tunnel and retired together at the southern end of the road section. Bryan Jones collected them and brought them to Navigation Bridge to be reunited with their cycling support - now minus one broken rack. I trust you will all join me in wishing Bob and his intended best wishes for their impending marriage and planned trans-Australian cycling honeymoon.

James Timmis has already registered his intention to have another crack at the race. He had slipped well behind his projected schedule when he stopped at Buckby where Jonathon, Liz and his relieved girlfriend were patiently waiting. James has kindly written to thank the crew for staying on and will be most welcome in future.

At 22.00 Jan’s log records a call from HQ van - ‘all is well there’. Ian and Jill have returned with Ray McCurdy. Bryan has returned with Bob and Phil (who are going to a hotel). Ray and Lisa are with the GJA crew and will stay there. Claude has reached Bridge 99. Ian hope will bring Claude’s bag back to Navigation. Bryan Jones will support Claude to the end as he is likely be reaching the checkpoints before the crews. Sorted!

Nick Folbigg stopped at Stoke Bruerne. “Just can’t get my head round it” is the simple, honest reason given.

Tim Pollard reported his retirement to Simon at Navigation Bridge, content to have run 16 miles beyond his previous best.

Steve Broadbent could not top his very successful Paris to London marathon run (read about it in July Running Fitness) by finishing the GUCR. It is reported that he stopped because the grass was too wet - what sort of excuse is that!

John Amans finished second in 1999. At the time he said something like “That’s that done. I won’t be back again.” How many times have I heard that! It seemed that John meant it as I had not heard anything of him for so long. In fact many times in the intervening years I have spoken of him as being almost unique in that he could let it lie. Having failed this time (“problem with the legs”) he probably wishes he had.

Soon after John’s message was logged Jan received a call from Sue Goodwin at GJA - concerned that they did not have Claude’s bags. This was my fault. When Bryan left to support Claude I thought he would be too late to catch him before Springwell. Jan phoned Bryan while he was on the way but he was reluctant to go against Dick Tator’s instruction so Claude ran 35 miles through the night without access to his kit. Sorry Claude.

Meredydd Evans did not get as far as he had in 1999 (100+ miles). His crew reported ‘muscles tightening up’ as his reason for stopping at Newport Pagnell Road Bridge, before Milton Keynes.

Mark Pierce suffered hamstring trouble which forced him to stop at Peartree Bridge, Woughton on the Green.

Cliff Summers was making a welcome return to the GUCR after failed attempts (as Spencer Summers) in ‘99 and 2000. An incident in the West Country earlier this year caused the injury which ultimately forced him to stop and resulted in the name change. Yes, you guessed it, he fell off a cliff! It is a shame that he had to stop as he was doing much better than previously, but he does claim this year’s ‘Most Original Excuse’ award.

Keith Ritchie was another who stopped at Navigation Bridge. “Feet killing me” is how the log has it. I trust they were his own feet.

Kim Stanley arrived at the new Water Eaton Bridge 99 checkpoint in joint third place. Unfortunately he could not resist the idyllic setting and so became the first on Shane and Dave’s list to have RTD next to his name.

Graham Baker was the other joint third. The ‘wheels fell off his wagon’ at Water Eaton too. He at first thought they could stay off, but has since decided to have another bash, which is just what we like to hear. Although an unsupported runner there is no record of transport being required for Graham, so again I assume a lift was provided by another crew.

Rod Palmer is regarded by all involved with the GUCR as THE man. Course record holder for 6 years and the only person to have won the race twice is more than enough to earn everyone’s respect. Only five minutes behind the two above, he was cold and shaking when he and Glyn reached the check and ‘just couldn’t get warm’. I am sure Glyn was delighted to leave in third place but also saddened to be leaving his hero behind.

Having had three from the first six stop at their checkpoint Shane and Dave must have wondered if they were making folk a bit too welcome. In fact only one other stopped there but in the meantime:-
With all runners through the 70 mile check inside the cut-off it was time for us to be on the move. Hopey had already gone with bags first to Bridge 99 and then on to GJA. (I made a bad tactical error here in that either Hopey or Ray and Lisa should then have returned to Bridge 99 to be on hand for any retirements. We would be heading that way too so all three vehicles would be at 100 miles - not a good policy.) Relieved of their duties, Ian and Jill disappeared to - I know not where, while Simon and Steve left to assist one of the support crews in finding their man. Phil, Hannah and I, with everything except the microwave (again) secure in the truck, set off to make social calls on the three remaining checkpoints while heading for London.

At the new Water Eaton site it was a relief to be able to talk normally without fear of waking the Troll of Fenny Stratford. Shane Wilkinson and Dave Millard had everything nice and cosy by the time we arrived. They had earlier had some difficulty finding matches for the gas stove, and had completely unpacked the provisions to find them. Dave was slightly less than amused when we pointed out that the stove has a self-igniter! We were only able to stay a short while but in that time saw three arrivals; Simon Laporte (who in his fatigued state had been convinced that some anglers he’d passed were market traders and that our flashing lamp was a fire), Stuart Shipley and Mick Gilbert - all three we were to see again at Little Venice. As there were now four lots of unsupporteds’ kit ready to be moved on we left bags for the other three and headed for GJA, leaving Shane and Dave to their vigil.

Andy Burr is a GUCR regular. This time he went a bit further than in the past, but had the misfortune to stop in the black hole that is Milton Keynes. Despite being able to tell Jan that he was in Chaffron Way it was two hours or more before he was picked up. This was largely my fault for allowing all the drivers to be at GJA and partly due to the difficulty of knowing which particular roundabout you are at when driving in MK at night. I hope the long wait hasn’t put Andy off as he, along with Allan Pollock, must be very close to the top of the Must Finish This Time List.

Keith Pritchard sounded very weary when leaving his retirement message on the answer-phone while Jan was arranging transport for Andy Burr. He had stopped at Peartree Bridge just half a mile from where Andy Burr was waiting and could possibly have given him a lift. Unfortunately Keith’s phone was turned off by the time Jan heard the message so she was not able to ask. Sod’s Law in action.

Hanno Nickau’s retirement is logged just over half an hour after behind Andy‘s first call. As Ian Hope was to collect Hanno after Andy, he too had a long wait for transport, but at least had some company and relative comfort at Water Eaton. During his wait Hanno experienced the end of a long cold night and the start of a bright new day. By the time I next saw him at GJA he, admittedly after some food, rest and a warm car ride, thought that maybe we had been a bit hasty in calling for transport and that he could have gone on. There’s always one! I trust Hanno will be back for another crack as he had been going very well.

As mentioned in the pre-race info, with the Goodwins and the Smiths on duty at The Grand Junction Arms, there was a wealth of ultra experience. Having erected the tent in plenty of time they were able to cope with Claude and Alicja’s passing during the hours of darkness despite the failure of the generator and light provided. We made our social visit during the gap between Alicja in second place and Glyn third so sadly missed seeing the team here in action. (We learned afterwards that Glyn arrived just as we drove away.)

While at GJA I realised with horror that we hadn’t yet collected the ladies trophy from Sue Clements’ crew. Obviously we needed to take it with us if we were to have it ready at Little Venice. A quick call to Jan furnished me with their number and, with much relief, I heard that they were not too far away and would deliver it. Many thanks to Brian for going out of his way so that we could be on ours. With both trophies (though, as we were to find later, not the finishers mugs) safely in our possession the A-Team and guest Ray McCurdy set off for a brief visit to Springwell Lock. Incidentally, on the journey, Ray suffered another bout of indecision about whether he could change his return ticket to Scotland if we reached London in time. After more than enough deliberation he was politely, but firmly, informed by Mr. Tator that we would reach the Finish when it suited us rather than his travel plans. This information was greeted with welcome silence for the rest of the trip - exactly the desired response!

Although they were on site an hour earlier than previously, Kerry and John found Claude and Bryan almost ready to leave Springwell when they arrived. Had they been there sooner they might (though I doubt it) have enjoyed the all-night lock-side party which was just finishing. As it was, they now had a four hour wait before the next runner was due with only our visit as distraction. In fact we were only there long enough for Hannah and Phil to knock up a bite of breakfast and for me to receive a rather odd call from Jan.

Apparently Shane had called saying that he was ready to close the check (already beyond the appointed time), but was still waiting for Nos 3, 45, 46 and 98 to come. In an uncharacteristic feat of memory I was fairly certain that 98 was Stuart Shipley who I’d recorded at Shane’s check, numbers 45 and 46 were Steve and Jack who we already knew were continuing ‘outside the cut-off’, and that as number 3, Anthony Taylor, was supported it should be OK to close. Jan called Stuart - just to be sure - and spoke to him well on his way to JGA! She then called Shane to say it was OK to close before calling Anthony’s support to warn that the checkpoint would be gone by the time they reached Bridge 99. They were somewhat confused by this because Anthony was then at Leighton Buzzard, having passed Water Eaton an hour before! I can offer no explanation for all this, other than the effect of tiredness, as Jan knew about Jack and Steve and the other two are clearly recorded on Shane’s sheet.

About half an hour after this flurry of messages the strangeness continued. A minute before 8am Jan had a call from Mick Gilbert. “I missed the GJA checkpoint, but am OK and back on course now.” Jan just had time to relay this message to Sue Goodwin at GJA before Mick checked in at 08.01!

Stephen O’Connell reported his withdrawal to the HQ van before calling the home number. He stopped at Soulbury Three Locks because of his bad blisters - a problem which has caused many to do likewise.

The HQ van, The A-Team and passenger were at this time heading for The Hambrough Tavern. We knew that the Famous Cambridge Crew would probably not have been there in time to see Claude and were much relieved to know that Bryan would once more be on hand for him. In fact we reached the checkpoint site a few minutes before Dave Steel, Dave Tull and Les Pullen, but Claude was already well into the home stretch by then. With little time to spare we left some provisions and set off for Paddington.

We pulled up in Delamere Terrace perhaps half an hour before Claude’s anticipated arrival. A quick recce revealed that, owing to the towpath works, it would not be practical to have the Finish under the bridge - we would have to hang the banner over the pavement. Expecting to have the banner on the bridge I had not packed its frame. A makeshift affair, involving the curtain track from the van, a street sign and a good deal of ingenuity from Phil and Bryan, was hastily erected. Almost in a state of panic I searched the van for the winners’ trophies. Always willing to blame someone else, I called Ray and Lisa to see if the trophies were in their van. The dual searches soon revealed that I had both of the big trophies and their replicas. Incidentally the other Ray, he of the McCurdy line, was so desperate to get his backside on a coach seat that he could not wait a maximum of thirty minutes to see a record set. I’ll say no more.

Claude Hardel finished The Ninth Grand Union Canal 145 Mile Race looking just about as fit as most of us do on the start-line! We have job enough convincing passers-by that people can run all the way from Birmingham, but usually it is pretty evident which ones among us have. I’m sure that anyone would have been hard pressed to guess on this occasion. Claude is a very worthy champion. He greatly endeared himself to us all when, after a nap in the back of the lorry, he kept us very pleasant company while waiting to applaud the second and third finishers in. He then accepted a lift to his hotel in Hammersmith from Bryan making his way home to Bristol. I was even more impressed when, after a meal and freshen up, he found his way back to Little Venice to see most of the other finishers home. When I mentioned that it was very good of him to do so he magnanimously said “These people have been hard at it much longer than I. Their effort is just as praiseworthy.” Actually he said it slightly differently in a French-accenty sort of way, but that is what he meant. I was particularly touched as it took me back to 1993 when very similar words were used at the finish of the South Downs 80.

Keith Curwood ended his race just south of Leighton Buzzard - another runner citing ‘bad blisters’ as the reason. Although an unsupported, he did not need our transport to collect his bags from GJA and made his own way home.

Jack Denness and Steven Kerr reported their retirement to Jan forty-five minutes after Claude had finished, having covered just fifty-five miles. I trust they will one-day recover their Death Valley form and return to conquer the GUCR.

For those of us in the HQ van, once we are installed at the Finish the passage of time becomes a bit of a blur (well a lot of a blur actually). We have a chance to relax and take stock while the other drivers finish the bag movements and cope with any other transport requirements. This year we had longer than usual to relax between first and second finishers. I considered the possibility of driving back to Hambrough Tavern so that we could give our unsupporteds access to their bags once more. In the end we stuck to the decision not to move bags there as, with the possibility of traffic hold-ups, it is better to be sure of having bags available at the end. The plan then, was this: Ian would wait at Springwell after delivering the trailer; Ray and Lisa would bring bags from GJA and then go back for the tent and gear; Ian would bring bags on to LV before eventually going back to collect the trailer and make his way home; Ray and Lisa would bring the last bags and any spare supplies to LV. Simple as that. Thankfully among these movements they managed to get the finishers mugs (which I had since realised were left in Ray’s van) to me before Claude rose from his nap for the ‘official’ presentation.

Alicja Barahona finished The Ninth Grand Union Canal 145 Mile Race over six hours quicker than any other female and in the ninth fastest ever time. Although pleased to have finished, Alicja was a little unhappy with her performance which she thought wasn’t as good as it should have been. She also pretended to be unhappy with Claude and told him she never wanted to see him again, ever! At least, we think she was only pretending. Since the event Alicja has been very gracious in expressing her thanks to all involved and also to David Seys for his support throughout. David did have a bit of a moment during his trip. When Jan phoned to say that Alicja’s camelback had been left at Navigation Bridge, he said “I will come back for it, but at the moment I’m lost in Milton Keynes.” Many crews will associate with that.

Glyn Marston has a remarkable record of three finishes in a row. He also has a remarkable band of supporters. When they pull in to Delamere Terrace we know their man is not far away. This year was no different and soon after their arrival the ever cheerful Glyn came in to take a very worthy Third Place Most runners would have used an accident such as his to justify withdrawal or early retirement, but then most do not have his determination. All credit to him for having the self-belief and strength to see it through.

Simon Laporte seems to have no concept of failure. Four finishes from four starts is testament to that. This year his training suffered as a result of the war, but so long as he was back in time to start he was adamant that he would run - and finish. Despite the mild hallucinations at Water Eaton Simon had the presence of mind to get us to contact his girlfriend and warn her that he would be later than predicted - how thoughtful is that. As it happened she arrived in good time, nipped round to a nearby friend’s for a drink and missed his finish by about five minutes - shame on you Maggie.

Gordon Knight stopped just over half way in 2002. This year he was well beyond three-quarters when his crew called from Croxley Green to say that he’d pulled up with ligament damage so severe that they were considering a trip to hospital.

Allan Pollock called me from Cowley Lock to say that he couldn’t lift his legs and would have to stop. I thought it a terrible shame to stop so near to the end and advised him to have the maximum break before packing up. We agreed that he would call again if he was resuming - sadly he was not able to make that call. He is officially top of the Must Finish This Time List.

I hope Allan’s brother won’t mind me repeating this tale , especially as he was quite upset by it, but in my perverse way it amused me. It seems the GUCR may have claimed its first fatality. Possibly attracted by the succulent aroma of crewman warming food for runner, a young pup bounded into the road and tried to arrest the progress of white van man. Needless to say the puppy was successful in arresting progress only temporarily whereas the van stopped the dog for ever. I don’t know for sure what had been warming, but wonder if Allan enjoyed his mash and beans or was it was rice pudding and jam?

Allan had made his call just before the fifth arrival at LV. I should have relayed the message to Jan immediately, but, in the excitement of another arrival, forgot. Two hours and several phone-calls later the Cambridge Crew at Hambrough Tavern learned that they were no longer waiting for number 48! More proof, if any were needed, that all retirement calls should be made to the home number! Apropos of nothing Jan received over 80 calls and made 75 this year - another record.

Stuart Shipley is listed as the third unsupported finisher in the top five. We cannot take full credit for his performance though since Mrs Shipley also played a large part in seeing her man all the way to the end. I am not totally sure but I think Stuart may be heartened by the above tale as I think it was he who as bitten twice by different dogs on his way into London!

Gary Barnes and Ray Willett did not make a very good job of showing their Riverside Club-mates how it should be done when late for the start at Gas Street. They set a much better example at Little Venice, both being quicker than before, and now have a total of six finishes between them. They have sportingly volunteered to relieve the Cambridge Crew of duty at Southall next time - Don’t be late guys!

Mick Gilbert was one of three distant figures approaching the waiting throng in Delamere Terrace. He managed to drag up enough energy to produce a fair attempt at a sprint to finish several yards ahead of the other two. Mick stayed overnight in the HQ van but slipped away almost unnoticed during my early morning nightmare - more of which later.

Andy Ives and Neil Shepherd had been together all the way and were not tempted to split by Mick’s burst for the line. Andy is a GUCR veteran with finishes in 1999 and 2000 to his credit. Phil and I had been concerned by his DNFs in the last two years, but were delighted to see one of our favourites return to form this time. Neil was ready to pack it in at 96 miles but was encouraged by the crew at GJA to stick with it. He has already gone from the ‘never again’ stage to the ‘perhaps I could do it quicker’ line of thought. We may well be seeing him again.

John Poole and Peter Johnson are another race-long pairing. I am always astonished that people don’t fall out doing this, but then I’m a miserable git. Anyway, as they were sharing support it was probably a good idea. (See, I did manage to resist saying ‘pooled their resources’.) I well remember the dejected look on John’s face when he stopped at Navigation Bridge last year (although I neglected to record his retirement at the time!) so was especially pleased to see him cross the line this year

Luke Cunliffe was undeterred by a DNF last year and immediately declared his intention to do better this time. He did a lot better this time and even managed to maintain sufficient presence of mind to phone in reports of his race to the excellent eventrate.com web-site which was updated while the event was in progress - technology, eh! Luke was also carrying one of those GPS gizmos which showed the total race distance to be .......... Well, we’ll keep that a secret for the time being, but I promise to tell all before the next one.

This isn’t precisely in chronological order, but here seems a suitable place to insert it. Luke has also submitted a post-race report including some photos (the one of Hannah is particularly unflattering!) to the site. I’m not sure if the report will still be viewable by the time I get round to finishing this, but if you get the chance it is well worth a look. I am particularly encouraged not only by Luke’s kind words for the people who make this race happen, but also by the fact that he found time to appreciate the view en-route. Last year a runner, and I’ve genuinely forgotten who, remarked that “The trouble with the GUCR is that there’s nothing to see, the scenery’s boring.” At the time I bit my lip, but it has rankled ever since. We like to think that this event is a bit special and, if you can tell a motor from a butty, a Lister from a Bolinder, or even a blackbird from a heron, it is. Luke has restored my faith.

I can’t resist recounting this little story too. Luke’s wife Charlotte came to see us at Little Venice. She had the notion to pay a surprise visit on Luke and wondered if we could give an idea of where he might be. She had spoken to him earlier and knew where he was then, so, after inputting the data to the on board predictor, I guesstimated that he should be in the Springwell Lock area. I called John and Kerry (if Charlotte had phoned it would have spoiled the surprise) to ask if he’d passed yet. John said “He’s here now,” Bingo! “boring everyone to a standstill talking about distances on his GPS thingy!”

Sue Clements and Chris Flint are both London Vidarians. They appear to have been together for much of the race, but also had periods apart. Either way they finished together. Sue was about 1½ hours down on her winning 2002 time to take second lady this year. While Sue was soon whisked away in a warm car with Brian, Chris pondered the possibility of finding transport home. I invited him to spend the rest of the night with us in the truck and fully intended to drive him home in the morning, but he, like Mick, slipped away early while we were dealing with a bit of a problem.

Penny Elliott had to finish this time. I really mean she had to. She knew she could do it, I knew she could do it, but after two DNFs we both wondered when she would do it. After last time though we made an agreement that she must get this canal nonsense out of her system and that there was only one way to achieve it - she must finish in 2003 (if only to save husband Ian from having to navigate Milton Keynes again)!

Trevor Leigh and Barry Mason will hopefully forgive me for saying that there was a touch of comedy about their final approach to the Finish. Both were fairly uncomfortable in the foot department in any case, but Trevor (who has since been offered work as a water diviner) had succumbed to the pull of the water and developed a severe list to port. The comedy continued when the pair rested on our thoughtfully provided chairs which, owing to the camber of the pavement, acutely exacerbated the tilt. Sadly Hannah’s camera did not record the scene, but I gather Trevor has photos and look forward to seeing them. Joking apart, we were really thrilled to see these two home. Trevor has been a staunch supporter of the GUCR over the years and would have competed sooner had it not been for repeated back problems. That Barry was able to fulfil his promise of “I’ll do it with you when you’re able.” despite never having competed at anything above twenty miles, made this all the more special. At the time I decided to let Phil (who had not been feeling one hundred percent) sleep on, but since have regretted not waking him to see our friend finish.

Simo Simpson had more than the usual blisters and tired limbs to contend with during his race. Not that there’s anything unusual in runners being a bit nauseous or for that matter having a touch of the trots. But when your cylinders are firing in opposition and the governor's gone, then you’ve a nasty problem. Thankfully his crew were able to track down an all night chemist to help bring things under control thus enabling him to continue and amazingly finish inside the ‘official’ limit.

At this juncture, that is with the last of those finishing within 45 hours safely home, I would like tell to you something of the goings on at Little Venice.

Most years runners finishing the GUCR are met only by their own crew (if they are lucky enough to have one) and the A-Team. This year saw more members in the welcoming committee than most. Although not the intended Finish point, the banner suspended over the pavement attracted the attention of passers-by, who sometimes helped swell the meagre band applauding each arrival. We also had more than the usual number of visitors with GUCR connections. I have already mentioned that Claude returned after he and Bryan had left. Ian Hope also spent time with us before returning to Springwell for the trailer and making his way home. Ray and Lisa too stayed well into the evening after delivering the last batch of bags. Ian and Jill stopped by duly refreshed, only to be teased that this was how we were used to seeing them in Delamere Terrace, as normally Ian had retired by this time. It was a treat too to meet former winner Nevil Stonehouse again. Nevil, whose walk down from his home to see how things were going had taken longer than expected, confirmed that ‘Little Venice can be quite hard to find’ - many support crews will agree with that! Incidentally, Nevil had booked to run again this time, but was forced to pull out through injury. Another crocked for this year was Mark Brunning. In fact poor Mark has been more crocked than not as far as the GUCR is concerned. He somehow still maintains his interest and I’m sure one day will complete. During Mark’s visit a red police car pulled up by the Finish causing some concern among those not in the know. These officers were in fact colleagues of Mark from the diplomatic protection squad (hence the red car) who, having presumably tucked all the diplomats safely into bed, came to see what he does for relaxation.

As the long evening became night our guests departed and passers-by dwindled. Phil, who had not been feeling too well all weekend, was forced to retreat to the cab bunk. As Saturday night became Sunday morning only Hannah and I, plus any crews, were on hand to see our runners home. There was precious little in the way of ceremony. At 3am when the race was ‘officially’ over and all our unsupporteds were accounted for, we retreated to the cab for some sleep too. We agreed that I should keep the light on my side of the cab on so that incoming crews would wake me in time to catch their runner’s arrival. I would only wake Hannah if someone specifically asked for food or drink so that she, as well as Mick and Chris asleep in the back, could remain undisturbed.

Mel Richards is a big man and for the GUCR he had a big crew. As I awoke there seemed to be family and friends arriving from all directions, making this probably the largest reception ever at that time of day. For me it was all a bit of a blur, but I seem to remember that although Mel was pleased to finish he was not happy with his time and intimated that perhaps he might return to do it quicker. I hope he does.

Joan Clarke promised to ‘finish it next time’ when injury forced her retirement in 2000. Other racing commitments have prevented her from competing in the two intervening years, but she and husband Ian have been welcome members of our team in both. To say that I was very pleased to see her reach Little Venice would be a bit of an understatement. It is probably a good thing that Ian only woke me in the nick of time to see Joan and buddy Dianne cross the line as I tend to get a bit emotional when my friends finish!

Anthony Taylor is another with a long association with this race. In fact he has competed more times than any one and is fondly regarded as part of the ‘fixtures and fittings’. Having knocked a substantial chunk off his previous best time, I hope and suspect that he will return next time to finish inside that crucial limit.

My joy at seeing my friends Joan and Anthony finish was somewhat tempered by the realisation that all was not well with the HQ van. Taking this final opportunity to bore you all rigid I’ll explain.

When Ian Clarke roused me, I found Mick Gilbert doing some bizarre exercise in the back of the van. He was attempting to liberate himself by lifting the rear shutter against the pull of the bungee that I’d used to hold it down. Despite much fraying, the rubber bands somehow were resisting his efforts. I unhooked the bungee, allowed the shutter to rise, and recoiled in horror. The sight before me was not at all what I expected. OK the sight of Mick first thing in the morning is bad enough, but what bothered me most was that the interior lights, which should have been shining brightly, were a very, very, dull red. By the time I’d run to the cab to turn off the lights the battery was completely flat. I have to admit that from this time onwards I was no longer thinking much about the race, but focussed more on how to get out of this predicament. We could simply sit back and call the RAC. This would result in much mickey-taking, and possibly a hefty bill, from my friends at Budget Rental. It was to be avoided if at all possible. On the other hand, if we could get the tail-lift up; if there was enough air in the tank to keep the brakes off; if the battery would recover enough to open the fuel cut-off solenoid and if we could get a tow; we might yet be OK! The crucial thing was to allow the battery to recover, but why was it so flat? It should cope easily with a few lights on. Then it dawned on me that on Saturday we had tried to get the cigarette lighter in the cab working so that we could charge the phone batteries. We were unsuccessful, but I had reset a thrown trip in the fuse panel. Perhaps that trip had gone in the first instance because of a fault somewhere? We opened the fuse box, tripped the switch and were rewarded a few minutes later when the battery recovered enough to give ignition lights and the satisfying click of the solenoid working. We could now see from the gauges that there was still enough air pressure for the brakes - things were looking up. I would have been prepared to tow the truck with the tail-lift down, but, as we had carefully parked with the front wheel on the kerb (to stop any rain running forward) close to a lamppost and the tail-lift was below the kerb, we could not move in either direction without raising the tail-lift above kerb level. Thankfully we were able to use the ratchet tie-downs that secure the tables (and everything except the microwave) to winch the lift up clear of the kerb. Now all we needed was a tow.

I regret not making a note of his name, but I am deeply indebted to the kind gentleman supporting Anthony Taylor. Without protest he allowed this total stranger to unpack his boot to find the towing eye and then attach his car to the front of our lorry. At the agreed signal he then provided sufficient momentum to bring the stricken wagon to life and the GUCR 2003 to a close. Whoever you are sir, I owe you a pint!