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Rupert Chesmore’s GUCR 2004 report
The conversations usually started off with why (?) finishing with 'you must be mad...' Well I certainly was standing on a pavement in Birmingham at 6am on a Saturday morning about to step through an archway and onto the canal towpath and start running south, from Gas Street Basin to Little Venice, Paddington, 145 miles and 46 hours.
It was too late. Had I prepared enough? That £I5 entry cheque back in January seemed a dream. I had worked up to this with the 20 mile Grizzly in March, so stormy that 2 miles of the beach/route was washed out to sea, and then, the Compton 40 miler on the Ridgeway. My complacency caught up with me and I did not prepare correctly suffering cramp and blisters. My support crew (mainly Liza) really pointed out the obvious, eating property, resting etc. etc. Lesson learnt! I also realised that I was not that balding solitary club runner who disappeared off to strange places and came in on a Tuesday evening muttering about ultras, knee deep mud and the joys of running in the dark, but that I was part of a team effort to complete the distance and a group of others were going to give up all their weekend to help me do it.
Final long run to improve on /perfect the preparation was a month before the big one. A 53 miler from Winstone via most of southern Gloucestershire to Liza's house, eat a pasta snack and then home again. A 2am start and the job was all done in IO hours and most important of all I felt good at the end. 11 minute mileing and the omens looked good.
To get into the 'Hall of Fame' and avoid the cut off times at some 5 controls I would have to start at 15 minute mileing and then drop back to 20 minute pace averaging 18.3 minutes per mile. Sounded easy....
Two planning meetings c/o Liza's kitchen table brought together club regulars Dick, Claire, Jo and Liza with Jo's other half John and two conscripts from Dyson's, Owen and Paul. Dick most gallantly volunteered to take his narrow boat all the way from Sharpness up into the Midlands and then down the Grand Union so that there was a base for some of us to sleep in on the first night. He broke his own record in passing locks to get there but most importantly for me was able to describe a lot of the towpath from a runner's perspective. It was not going to be as smooth as I thought.
Final planning and panics in the last week, a tooth abscess resulted in an extraction and then a final wait for the weather forecast. Please not too hot.
Jo and John took me to the start, a very informal event (apart from the BBC filming Glyn Marston a competitor, for a series on compulsive exercisers) and the runners assembled. Jo was surprised where I used my Vaseline but it REALLY works and a final choice of clothing as it started to drizzle. We all shuffled through the archway and off! Bit of an anticlimax but just a matter of following the others twisting out of Birmingham. A great temptation not to go too fast but I got into company with two others who had completed last year (one was a real hero as he had done the Mauritania 333km race as well). Their advice was to go as you felt, not to hold back and get ahead of the cut off time as much as you could.
This would probably explain why I got to the first meeting point before J&J and left without seeing them. Still I did see them in a short while, (domestic harmony restored), speeds were recalculated and off I trotted. Mentally I had decided that this was not a ‘race' but a 'complete' and so broke it down into three thirds. The first 50 was no more than a training run (HA-HA!), the second a repeat of last years West Highland Way and the final 45 miles unknown territory. I was determined to keep something mentally and physically in reserve for that part whatever transpired. A small clockwork egg timer Velcroed to my wrist enabled me to follow Capt. Bob's advice of a 25 minute run and 5 minute walk pattern to make sure I ate enough and kept downing the liquids. Having left my early companions behind I jogged along at II minute pace. J&J kept popping up at regular intervals all day to restock my bum bag and change clothing. I was nearly paranoid (already?) about my feet and getting blisters so early so I kept changing my socks at every opportunity. The second part of my crew, Liza, Paul and Owen were due to meet us at 45 miles and they received an urgent call to 'bring even more socks'.
Having issued the crew with bright orange T-shirts (with company advertising on), it was a wonderful sight to see them all in the distance when I reached 45 miles. The first third was nearly over, I had company on the towpath but those worries of the final third were looming closer.
Next report. Milton Keynes by torch light, Dick's boat, drug deals, raves, fights in canal-side pubs, navigational problems and this only happened to the support crew!"
Running alone can be a little depressing, conversations a little one sided etc so the joy of having someone else to sound off to was wonderful. Owen took up the mantle for the stage over Braunston Tunnel where the towpath goes over the 'top'. On we went with the running/walk cycle developing more to walk/run and walking up the hill over Braunston. We got to the top, fine, looking forward to a good run back down when I had my first bad turn. Dizziness, total lethargy no go at all! I did not let on how bad I really felt but a few nibbles and a drink and when we got back down to the canal and my enthusiasm was restored. I knew that I would have bad times an the run but so early on and for no apparent reason. Perhaps it was the altitude or the absence of the canal I don’t know.
Lesson 1. Bananas do not travel well in a rucksack. We found that out when Liza swapped with Owen for the next stage and all the goodies were transferred to her bike. I had the first of many hot snacks here courtesy of Liza's 'Trangi' - real campers will know what this is - and I was served up pasta meals or rice pudding as many times as my crew could get me to eat. The use of 2 mobile phones enabled a hot meal to be ready every time I approached a meeting point, there was no hanging around with this culinary service.
At 60 odd miles we went up and over the Blisworth tunnel, nearly 2 miles long. The air ducts were not so obvious, neither was the route and Liza sped on with her bike to confirm the way. We only went a short way off the correct route but had made the mistake of not having the canal map with the runner. From then on the bike rider had the canal map and the car crew a road map. Trying to co-ordinate the two was not that easy with intermittent phone calls. More problems with this later but I was oblivious. Just keep going forwards 70 miles came up at Navigation Bridge, near Stoney Strafford. We were well up on the cut off times by some 4 hours at one point, even running 11th overall (but that did not last). Paul was to brave Milton Keynes with me as J&J went further south for a B&B near Hemel Hempstead, and Liza and Owen made for Dick’s boat at 90 miles to get some sleep. MK what can one say? UGH! Not the most inspiring but better in the dark. Head torches on but there was always a lot of street lighting nearby to help.
The inhabitants are a little strange but not as bad as a man on a bike peddling VERY slowly behind a runner and not even offering him a lift on his crossbar. I had a bad attack of cramp at one stage in the darkness and the local guy seeing me writhing on the floor hardly looked at me as he hurried on to the rave we heard nearby. We passed the magic halfway point as my pace slowed. I had become totally unaware of my average pace/timing etc and all that worrying was left to my crew. The organisers had promised us all hallucinations at any point in the race, and I saw the ground really move in MK. It was only a hedgehog but in poor lighting made the heart flutter. Mice apparently have a better effect.... Rats.. well..
The kitchen table plan was from the outset was for me to have 10mins sleep on Dick’s boat. This was one of the real lessons from Scotland last year. It would then be able to follow me as far as it could on a length of canal with few locks and the crew could feed me tit bits as they sat on the boat and I trotted along the towpath. On reaching a big flight of locks it would stop and they would transfer to the car. Fine, except we arrived 2 hours earlier than planned and you cannot start up a boat a 4.30 am. I crawled down into the boat and stretched out for a very short 10mins before Dick followed me out onto the towpath leaving the others asleep. Off into the dawn we ambled being overtaken by 2 runners - the first I had seen for nearly 35 miles. I seemed to take ages to get going every time I stopped but that I00 mile point was beckoning and ANOTHER pasta meal. Grand Junction Arms at 99.8 miles, another passage control. No74 in, No74 out and now real unknown territory.
From the waist upwards I was fine. Everything below was very, very tired, numb and sore. Thankfully no blisters yet, (but I spoke too soon!) and I was still able to eat and drink. Geographically I had no idea where I was and was totally in the hands of, by now, two support crews all the time. J & J were summoned from their B&B to get to an agreed site NOW. Missing their breakfast etc they got going only to get another message that I would not be there for another 3 hours! Anyway, they raided a supermarket for more supplies including marmalade sandwiches and more socks. Drying damp socks on the windscreen blower was not that effective. By midday the crew harmony was restored but that canal map/road map problem caused some grief as they tried to meet up at different points, even 2 different supermarkets. Old canal bridges are numbered, new ones not, and from the towpath you cannot read the street names, I just kept walking on....
Somewhere on that Sunday morning I realised that I needed to lie down, '5mins only' I said as I crumpled and out I went. I was unaware that as I lay out cold I was twitching and jerking. My loyal crew stood proudly beside me appearing not to notice as a local lady walked by. 'Oh, he always does this.' 5mins, up l climbed and onwards. I repeated this requirement several times before the end, and Jo was always worried that I would collapse onto a dog muck, she scanned the grass carefully, so kind.
The closer we got to London more house boats, some smart, others very hippy, others rotting hulks. All narrow boat owners have beards (just like Dick) and all drink like fishes. They all encouraged us, amazed at where we had started. The fishermen on the other hand were less friendly, reluctantly moving long poles and clutter. At one point there was a cloudburst. Under our bridge it was nice and dry but J&J had an accident as someone slid into the back of their car in the wet conditions. I just kept walking on. Apparently we had passed under the M25 and there was a surprising area of green country-side before the industrial wastelands. Inevitably meeting points were at canal-side pubs. One chosen turned out to be a strip joint and the next one was the scene of a fight as the crew arrived. Chairs did fly into the canal and Jo and Liza had to be held back from 'sorting them out'. The good name of the club was at stake. I just kept on walking ... and falling down. Thirty five, thirty, only a marathon to go, twenty, fifteen -this was painful. Blisters now up the side of one heel and all across the sole of the other foot. Finally the turn up the Paddington Arm 133 miles, 12 to go. Final passage control, No74 in, No74 out and a fluorescent flashing dog collar? “Put it on your arm for safety“. I'm a country boy born and bred so I was oblivious to the canal-side drugs dealing that went on as we headed into the metropolis. I heard another rave but was so impressed with the guy taking his whole sound system along on the towpath with a sack truck. Clever these Londoners. Damp patch in my shoe, biggest blister burst. Don't look, don't touch. Just keep forwards.
The two cars went ahead to the finish and then everyone agreed to come back down the path to finish with me. There was one problem with this. Someone who shall be nameless only admitted afterwards that (a) he had never driven a big 4WD like mine before (b) never driven an automatic and (c) never driven in London. But then he was in good company with the navigator who muddled up the blue M4 with the blue line of the canal on his map.
Out of the darkness somehow they appeared. Oh its just around the next bend, not far to go. That last few miles took a very long time. Suddenly there in the distance a yellow flashing light, a final hallucination? That’s the finish 50 yards to go and I managed to get back into a run. Small band of organisers clapping, photo flashing and Dick Kearn put a medal around my neck. That's it, all over. Final photo of all the crew, turn up across the road into
the car and asleep.
Yes I was No74 who went the whole way but if it was not for the team effort of the crew I certainly would not have done it. Without their moral and physical support I would have been a DNF. I can never really thank them enough for their time and effort. The real heroes are those who complete unsupported relying on the organisers only for food and drink.
Stats: 58 starters 23 finishers. I finished 21st in 43 hrs 43 mins averaging 18.01 mins per mile The winner took 32hrs 26mins
I was asked whether I would ever try and do such an event again. Of course I denied such thoughts, but then I did have my fingers crossed behind my back and I am MAD.