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2001 Race Story
2001 Race Story
The official report of the 2001 GUCR including the "Organiser's Tale"
Postponed from its usual date in May, Britain's longest annual race started at 6.00 a.m. on Saturday 25th August. The original field of 63 competitors was reduced to 44 by the date change and a further seven were lost to injury and sickness. The remaining 37 set off at first light from Gas Street Basin Birmingham undeterred by the prospect of hurdling fishing rods throughout the 145.4 miles and long night ahead.
First timer Sam Kilpatrick was the early leader going through the Catherine de Barnes checkpoint at 11 miles in 1 hr 37mins, fully 3 minutes ahead of a pack including previous finishers Rob Goodwin, Barry Gould and course record holder Rod Palmer. Last year's front-runners Glynn Marston and Chris Fanning along with Henk van der Beek and Steve Low made up this group. Penny Elliot was first lady just ahead of Pat Cummins with Ramona Thevenet-Smith and Anke Molkenthin five and eight minutes behind respectively. A half hour gap before a group of five 'virgins' at the tail end gave concern, first that they were possibly lost and then over the long 'race spread' so early in the event.
Three hours and twenty seven minutes after the start Chris Fanning was first to Hatton Locks at 22 miles. As the day warmed nicely for spectators and support crews Sam went through a minute later with John Beasty having moved up to third only 4 minutes behind. Ramona and Penny came in together at 10:45, but a longer stop for Penny gave Ramona an eight minute lead.
By the third checkpoint by Birdingbury Bridge at 36 miles the warm weather was making running hot and uncomfortable. Chris and Sam were battling for the lead ahead of Rob, John and Rod all scorching through before midday. Two hours behind the leaders Penny came past only 7 minutes up on Ramona with Pat a further 40 minutes back. Anke, who had come all the way from Germany at very short notice, was bravely continuing despite the obvious discomfort of her disability. Others too were struggling to go on, indeed only 33 runners left the checkpoint - four of the tail five having called it a day.
The Buckby Lock checkpoint at 48.5 miles often sees many retirements. This time, when at ten past ten Steve Kerr opted for a ride back with the checkpoint crew Joan and Ian Clark, it meant only five had stopped before the 50 mile mark. The lead three, Chris, Sam and Rob, had passed through within 10 minutes of each other, almost eight hours previously. Penny, maintaining her 7 minute lead on Ramona was through at five thirty-five while Pat and Anke were there soon after seven at exactly the time the front runners were leaving checkpoint five - Navigation Bridge.
It had been Sam in first, 3 minutes before Chris. These two were obviously having quite a battle while Rob, still in contention at this 70.5 mile point, was only 14 minutes behind. Henk was fourth ahead of Rod and 1999 winner Nevil Stonehouse in sixth. Seven minutes before midnight Ramona arrived now 47 minutes in front of Penny the only ladies still running officially. Pat Cummins, having slipped well outside the cut-off time of I am, decided to continue accompanied by Anthony Taylor and monitored by his crew. In total then there were 23 brave souls venturing on in the dark towards Fenny Stratford.
When competitors reach Fenny Lock checkpoint they know that at 83 miles they are well past the half way mark. As they turn to the second of the two maps used to navigate the route, there is a feeling that they are somehow on the home leg. For the person manning this point though it is a long and often cold night. All the runners go by in the hours of darkness, grateful for the offer of a drink and a few words of encouragement as their passing is noted. Sam Kilpatrick was first on Shane Wilkinson's list at 10 pm with Rob Goodwin and Chris Fanning next 19 and 27 minutes later respectively. An hour after this frenzy of activity Henk van der Beek in fourth was next, followed at 1am by a retiring Rod Palmer. Rod's demise promoted Glyn Marston, dismayed at his hero's departure, to fifth at 1:44am. When Ramona arrived at six minutes past five she was the only female competing, Penny having given up on her effort at Wolverton. When Shane finally checked Rory Coleman and David Turnbull through 24 hours after the start he thought there were sixteen still in the race. Unfortunately for Rob Goodwin this was not the case.
One hundred miles of running is a fair achievement in anyone's book. Most sane people would be more than happy to go that far. For GUCR runners though the magic 100mile mark is just a place on the way to somewhere more important - a convenient place to stop if you must, but not where you really want it all to end. At 3:30 am it ended there for Rob who arrived at the Grand Junction Arms in third place 1 hour and 10 minutes behind Chris who had retaken the lead, 17 minutes clear of Sam. Henk was third followed by Nevil, Glyn and Mark Edmunds. Mark, an experienced Iron¬man, had come all the way from Bermuda for his first ultra and was still well in the running. Sam Fell was next in, but he could go no further so Jim Wallace now became seventh. Eighth overall, Ramona was 45 minutes ahead of Ray Willett, Barry Gould and Gary Barnes all running together. Behind them another trio of Rory, David and Ian Webber brought up the rear.
It was still very close between the leaders at the Springwell Lock 120 mile checkpoint, Chris arriving just 13 minutes ahead of Sam at 7:59. Nearly five hours later Henk still in third came in an hour before Nevil then Glyn. Jim Wallace moved up another place when Mark had been forced to retire at 106 miles. Ramona took seventh spot at 17:49 just ahead of Ray then Gary. Half an hour behind them Barry came by tenth leaving David and Rory at the back, Ian having stopped at 102 miles.
All twelve runners who continued beyond Springwell were still going at the Hambrough Tavern 133 mile point. With only a half marathon left to do they are unlikely to give up here. In fact the Cambridge Harriers crew manning this checkpoint simply don't allow retirement! Chris was now a full hour ahead of Sam, and Ramona had dropped behind Gary and Ray, otherwise positions were unchanged.
When Chris Fanning crossed the line at Little Venice just 31 hours and 5 minutes after leaving Gas Street Basin he became the second fastest in the race's history. Only Rod Palmer at 28hrs.58mins. in 1998 has been quicker. Sam Kilpatrick finished second in a creditable 32hrs 54mins and Nevil Stonehouse was third well outside his best in 37hrs exactly. Glyn Marston laying the ghost of a DNF last year made fourth in 38:57 ahead of Henk van der Beek overcoming acute blisters for fifth in 39:54. In sixth place Jim Wallace achieved a time of 42:22 then equal seventh were Ray Willett and Gary Barnes in 43:38. First lady Ramona Thevenet-Smith was ninth overall in 44:19, leaving Barry Gould, another well outside of his best, the last to finish inside the official 45 hour race limit in 44:45.
As mentioned earlier, runners seldom fail to finish having reached The Hambrough Tavem. Although well outside their previous times Rory Coleman and David Turnbull maintained their cheerful progress to finish together in 46:06. Even more remarkably, the two runners who had been outside of the cut-off time of 19 hours at the 70 mile checkpoint but had decided to carry on, made it to the end. Patricia Cummins and Anthony Taylor, both starters in the original 1993 race, finally passed under the finish banner at Little Venice with times of 52:53 and 53:26 respectively.
The Organiser's Tale
The 2001 GUCR was not without its problems (not that it ever is). The change in date due to foot and mouth outbreak (which had already necessitated much phoning; alternative route seeking; mail posting; and sleeplessness) meant that half the original field were not available on the day, that there was a Waterways Festival blocking the route at Milton Keynes, that the period of darkness was longer, that the organiser would not have much time immediately before or after for organising, (hence the late production of this account) and that Phil would not be available for the first day's navigating etc. All things considered it's a wonder we had a race at all. If you are really stuck for something to do and can't find any wet paint to watch, read on for the "organiser's" view.
You would think that as this was the seventh GUCR I would by now be able to find the start. In normal circumstance I would, but, having had only 40 minutes sleep*1 finding that Birmingham City centre was not where we left it last time came as a bit of a shock to Hannah and me. Someone in Birmingham City traffic department probably knows what is going on but I'm b******* if I do. There must interesting footage on the city centre CCTV tapes of a white van apparently driven by a lunatic in the early hours of Saturday 25 August. Not that this would be the only act of lunacy that day...... here is a very hazy version of the goings on, not only that day, but also the two after it.
It was with some relief that we eventually turned in to Gas Street to find that it was only just turned 5am and, even better, that Trevor Leigh was waiting and ready to help. Hannah set about getting refreshment on the go while Trevor sorted registration and I ran about like a headless chicken achieving very little. Shane Wilkinson arrived to record the activity on camera. (Most competitors should receive at least one of Shane's pictures with this mailing.) Glyn Marston presented us with sufficient malt loaf, courtesy of Warburton's Bakery, to feed everyone there for the whole weekend (if only I'd remembered to offer it) *2.
I have just had a spooky coincidence Trevor called for a chat 8:45pm Tues 9 October, not 2 minutes after I typed his name.
Phil Redden turned up as support for Riverside Runners team mates Gary and Ray and also to return the Winner's Trophy. Joan and Ian Clarke were there to help too, ahead of their stint at the Buckby checkpoint. Everything seemed to be going well until Rory Coleman, probably the most experienced man there, sheepishly confessed that he'd come without his number - thus number 8 became two fat ladies for the duration. Then the annual 'Where are you?' call came. This year it was the turn of Matt Trim on behalf of Mark Edmunds to phone from the far side of the basin. Mark and his crew made it round to Gas Street in plenty of time and very generously presented me with T-shirts from Bermuda for our helpers. (I have a photo of Trevor Joan, lan, Hannah and me wearing these shirts at Catherine de Barnes Bridge, and very nice we look too. So next time you're in Bermuda visit The Hog Penny Restaurant and Bar - for a T-shirt if nothing more) As is the norm the clock sped round towards start*3 time before I remembered half the things I intended to announce . We all passed through the hole in the wall to the towpath and, after the usual confusion over which direction to run, at 6am precisely, 37 unusual people began the 2001 version of Britain's longest annual race.
Underfoot conditions in the early stages were not as bad as on some occasions judging by the lack of mud splashes on runners' legs as they appeared under Catherine de Barnes Bridge. Indeed, had the banks been a little softer we could have been in a rare old pickle when trying to turn the truck. The consequences of putting a wheel over the edge - a half lift with wall demolished or full lift with some very heavy tackle - might have depleted the race budget somewhat. (In the end I bottled it and reversed out.) As the runners came by we, in our Hog Penny shirts, began to warm up nicely. When the five at the tail of the field were so long coming we began to sweat, fearing that they had gone astray. Just as the decision was made for Joan and Ian to stay while the van went on ahead (the benefit of plenty of helpers aptly demonstrated)*4 our tail-enders came into view. Confident that Ian Hope would already be on station (he was) we stayed to see the last of our flock through before setting off to meet him at Hatton.
The day had warmed considerably by the time we reached the second check. Too hot for two tops we removed our 'Hog' shirts vowing that when Mark reached Little Venice we would greet him wearing nothing but our 'Hogs' in a mooning guard of honour. (To this day I don't know whether Mark was unaware of this and would perhaps have done better or was aware and couldn't face the prospect.) Ian had, of course, everything well under control so we took the opportunity to relax a little and meet some of the crews. So pleasant was this that we took our leave of Ian, Joan and Ian a smidgen too late to reach Birdingbury Bridge in time for the leaders' passing! This is not the first time it has happened so, if you see me at Hatton next year, please remind me.
Fortunately we were at the third check in time for our 'guest' unsupported (Rod was without crew on the Saturday). Again we were grateful that the extra help left with the tail-enders' kit bags at Hatton had been able to cover the race spread. Usually the sole advantage of this large spread is that activity for the checkpoint crew comes in short bursts with plenty of time to wander over the bridge to the pub opposite. This year, though, there was a little more activity than usual. Trevor was in charge of the clipboard, Hannah had her nose in a book, Ian Hope was catching a few rays (and maybe some Zs) and I fiddled with the lights in the back of our truck. Across the canal a young man seemed to be in some disagreement with his girlfriend. The argument became more heated until the youth began struggling with the girl apparently trying to throw her into the canal. Trevor was already on his feet and I climbing out of the truck when to our horror this thug bit the poor girl's face. A man in the pub garden ran to her aid prompting the animal to release his incisors' grip and run off over the bridge towards us. Now, one always imagines that people who indulge in that sort of behaviour can't be too bright, but for this bit of scum to make his bid for freedom in the direction of a group of runners - at least two of whom were rugby players - was foolish to say the least. Needless to say, but it wasn't long before he was unceremoniously brought down and restrained to await the arrival of the police. Determined to demonstrate his stupidity to the utmost, the moron tried again to run off before the law came*5. This once again gave us the opportunity to demonstrate the action of gravity on a body when its legs are no longer under it! This excitement and the resultant time spent while names, addresses and statements were given, filled what would have been a very large gap between runners. When the last few arrived they brought word that one of their number had pulled out and would need collecting. Bizarrely the runner had borrowed a phone and called his wife at home who called another runner, who then spoke to us! Not surprisingly Chinese whispers had distorted the description of his whereabouts*6, but after consulting the map Mr I. (always find my man) Hope was soon on his way to pick Frank up. Trevor loaded his car with three retirees and set off for the station. Hannah and I moved of to Navigation Bridge with no time left to make the customary social call at Buckby.
Joan and Ian had a long stretch at the third checkpoint. It has occurred to me since the event that it was heartless to station them at the point where Joan had to give up on her run. Also, in their pre-race info, I'd naively predicted that all runners would be through by six o'clock. Why I did is a mystery as there were 10 runners still to go through at that time last year (the last ones through by 8.30pm) So, when Steve Kerr arrived at ten past ten this time, Joan and Ian must have been very pleased to see him. Sadly Steve was not able to go on so there were three very tired people in the Clarkemobile when it arrived at Navigation Bridge.
Regular GUCR helpers Jim and Jane Locke were ready at the cut off point in plenty of time to see the leader though and the HQ van carrying the checkpoint supplies arrive. By this time Hannah and I were so tired we barely knew what day it was and were very happy to hand the van and responsibility for our unsupporteds over to the Lockes. The plan was that we would then catch up on some sleep. In the event it was just too tempting to pay a visit to the Navigation Inn and sit in the warm evening air watching runners come and go or in some cases come and stay. Simon Bolton was there to relieve Ian Hope and Trevor of transport duty. Phil Gadd also joined the group having been to his brother's wedding earlier. Frank had come from Birdingbury in Trevor's car so we were quite a large reception party. The combined effect of tiredness and a couple of pints from the pub have dimmed my recollection of events at the bridge. I do recall that Simon was called on to fetch Anke from Nether Heyford and that she was a welcome member of the waiting party. Two lans, a Joan and Steve must all have been there too. I vaguely remember that a great deal of nonsense was talked as the night drew on and that we were entertained by the sounds of some very energetic copulation from the pub. (To think I'd been worried about the noise from our generator!) A dark shadow fell over these happy proceedings when, to my dismay, we received the news that the towpath was obstructed by the festival at Milton Keynes*7. The leaders were able to blag their way past the security staff while the event was still on, but later runners found the site totally closed. This resulted in some taking long detours and/or risking all in making daring assaults on the fences, though at least one found an easy route past on the other side of the canal. We could do little except try to warn others of the problem and I must accept full responsibility for what can only be described as a cock-up. Obviously this problem put a damper on my evening and I had other grounds for concern.
As the cut off time drew nearer I became increasingly apprehensive at the prospect of informing three runners that I would have to close the remaining checkpoints before they reached them. This would be particularly upsetting as all three had a long association with the event. Indeed Anthony and Pat had both been part of the original 1993 race and were right at the top of our 'must get to the finish this time' pile. Derek too had always been part of the race having supported Pat previously before deciding to run with her this time. How could I possibly 'pull them out'?
In the event no extractions were necessary. Anthony had support in the form of ultra runner extraordinaire Steve Partridge and was going to continue without need of our checkpoint crews. Pat was, in the best tradition of this race, adopted by Anthony and Steve and was therefore able to go on. Derek had been struggling for some time slowing Pat's progress and was sentenced to two days in the van for his crime. (I dread to think what someone as tidy and organised as Derek made of our shambolic activities, but I do know that for the rest of our weekend he was jolly good company and a welcome addition to the crew.) At 2.50 am Anthony and Pat set out for London. We - the van, two cars and various sleeping passengers - first made a frantic dash to deposit Pat's bag with Steve and Kathy at Wolverton, then set off for Fenny Stratford to visit Shane on the graveyard shift.
Remember Shane? He drove off from Birdingbury (sadly before he might have caught the crime on camera) to reconnoitre in daylight his checkpoint at Fenny Lock While there he met with Sue Clements, a competitor last year. Sue had just come from the Canal Festival at Milton Keynes, but more importantly, had recently run on the Isle of Wight with of Gill Green. Gill you should know is ladies' record holder, last year's winner and holder of the GUCR Ladies' trophy. Thanks to Shane and Sue's assignation the trophy was returned without any extra cost to the organiser!
We left the HQ van and accompanying vehicles in the street and walked quietly to the C.P., as the natives in the area are known to have particularly sensitive hearing. Talking in whispers we learned from Shane that 8 runners had already passed through and that he'd already had two complaints about the noise. (One of these was prompted by Sam Fell's triumphant passing, but I can't remember the reason for the other.) By only a few minutes we were in time for Mark Brunning's arrival - which was just as well as he was the only true 'unsupported' still running - but we were also lucky to be there for the busiest hour of Shane's duty with no less than six more passing through. It seems that by this time the natives were sound asleep as there were no more grumbles - not even when Gill Webber, dozing in her Freelander, shifted position enough to set the alarm off! At ten past five in the morning we left Shane to his lonely vigil. At about the same time Cliff Robertson was leaving Newbury towing the Treston trailer while Mavis Chiverton, on her birthday, and John Mason departed Compton - all to come together at Springwell Lock in time for the first arrivals - the leading four already being well past The Grand Junction Arms.
Having spent a long cold wet night at Bulbourne last year you would think that Jonathon Lee would want nothing more to do with the GUCR. To my surprise he offered to return this time and brought wife Liz along to share the joyous experience. Obviously a romantic evening meal and a night under canvas at a beautiful canal-side location can sound appealing, put the right way. Actually the reality of their splendidly appointed checkpoint was not too arduous given the warmer weather this time. Unfortunately the full extent of their hospitality was not used as all the totally unsupported runners retired before the one hundred mile point*8 (I hope being able to witness the ritual cocoonment of Nevil Stonehouse for a precisely timed nap in some way made the Lees' trip worthwhile. I know I enjoyed it.) Yes sadly Mark Brunning, who'd been delighted to get on to the second map at Fenny and seemed to be going well, phoned to announce the end of his race at Leighton Buzzard. Trevor Leigh duly set off back with Mark's bags while I, fearing parking problems in the vicinity of the finish, was anxious to be on our way towards London. As Ian and Anke were still
sleeping together asleep in my car, Derek, Steve and Frank agreed to travel in the back of the van for a short trip to refuel and then on to Springwell.
As there were no unsupporteds' bags to be dropped off our visit to the fourth feed station was purely social. Mave and John had taken charge of the trailer from Cliff and had already seen Chris and Sam, only thirteen minutes apart, pass through. They were expecting us to drop off Sam Fell's bags, but although listed as unsupported he had been crewed for some time and his bags handed over at Navigation Bridge*9. We were able to let them know that as Rob Goodwin had stopped at Bulbourne the third placed runner would not be through for at least 2 hours. Henk actually arrived 4¾ hours after Sam Kilpatrick left (incidentally 5 minutes before Chris reached Little Venice) - checkpoint crews need plenty of patience. Because we would not be able to see any more runners at this point we loaded up our passengers, who seemed to be OK after their first ride in the back, leaving Mave to her birthday presents and John to the Sunday papers as we drove on to Southall.
The Cambridge Harriers crew at the Hambrough Tavern are all very experienced ultra runners. They are well aware of the needs of runners and of the benefit of a few encouraging words. When we pulled up in the truck their tent was pitched neatly right on the towpath, to save runners taking extra steps, and only a few yards -from the pub, to save the crew taking extra steps. They had been on station since 7.15am (well before my predicted time of 9am for the first runner, I might add) and as Chris didn't make it there until 10.43 were pleased to have a distraction. Hannah, Phil and I were obvious distracted too as it wasn't until, by chance, Derrick McCarrick called my mobile to ask how Steve was doing that we remembered he, along with Derek and Frank, was still locked in the back of the lorry! We thought about leaving them all in there, but it seemed cruel not to let them enjoy the magnificent vista from the pub across the water to the back of the B+Q warehouse. As had been case at Springwell, we informed the C.P. crew that sadly there would be no unsupporteds needing their attention, but typically they vowed to stay on for the last runners who stood a chance of finishing within the time limit. I'm certain that Two Fat Ladies and David are grateful, as am I, that they did. Again, because I was concerned that the Notting Hill Carnival would make it difficult to park in Delamere Terrace close to the finish, after a bit more chat we were soon on our way to Little Venice.
Whether as a result of the carnival or of our early start, the drive into London was the simplest ever No stops for traffic and three empty parking bays on arrival - if only it were always so. Steve Frank bade us a relieved farewell and set off for Paddington Station. Derek of course had no choice but stay and cheerfully helped attach the finish banner to its frame. Thankfully he was also on hand to keep the frame aloft during our pathetic attempts to tie off the guy-ropes. With the finish ready then had plenty of time to set out the table and chairs, hook up the generator, have a brew and cook something to eat. Ian Hope arrived with Anke who declined our invitation to stay in favour of a journey to Ely. In view of the state of us by this time, probably a wise choice. At last able to relax we sat back ready to cheer our winner in. We knew that Sam had slowed a bit by Hambrough, but, as the race had been so close all through, we couldn't be sure that it would be Chris first into view. The matter was pretty much obvious though when the Blackwater Valley crew arrived. Soon after, two figures could be seen approaching at a fair old lick. They seemed to be going too fast for the end of such a long race and at least three of those waiting were expecting the buddy to drop respectfully back. Instead he pushed on and for one moment looked about to steal glory, but thankfully Chris was just able to breast the tape first in what was without doubt our fastest ever finish!
The trouble with ultra running - apart from the more obvious physical ones - is that the end often comes as a bit of an anti-climax. Chris had run 145+ miles and yet was met by just five tired officials (I'm counting Derek as one of us now) and his own crew. (This of course is much more than Rod had in 1998 when he beat us and his crew to Little Venice!) In most events the large crowd watching the winner gradually reduces as more families leave. In some longer trail races spectator numbers increase as more support crews arrive. Unfortunately with such a long race spread GUCR finishers tend only to be met by their own and the organiser's people. At least it does away with all that pushing in the funnel The ignominy is made worse by the trophy presentation taking place not inside a hall full of admiring athletes, but outside a B.W. pump-out facility full of you can guess what! I didn't know until much later that there was one extra witness to the hand over this year. For some reason understood by much cleverer souls than I, my mobile had not disconnected when I called Jan to say we had a winner and she had heard - in the manner of a state funeral - the 'ceremony' relayed.
For me there is always a great sense of relief as soon as we have one 'home'. After the elation of getting the race under way there is a roller-coaster ride of highs - as runners get further than they have before (e.g. Ian Webber and Marks Edmunds and Brunning), and lows - when friends are forced to retire (e.g. everyone who did). Throughout the day too, as we hear of each drop out, the dread grows that perhaps no one will make it all the way. It is bad enough that all the helpers receive no payment for their time and effort. Imagine how I would feel if there were no finishers and even this small reward was denied. With Chris's arrival these dark fears were allayed. Thankfully Chris and his crew did not spoil the moment by telling of a further obstruction on the path at Apsley Locks for if they had, there may have been a suicide by drowning that day. Although sad that there would be no unsupported success we were content that we had fulfilled our guarantee reasonably well. Ian left to return the car to Compton. All other helpers except the Springwell and Hambrough crews had headed home. With little left to worry about we sat back and awaited Sam's crew. Even the stress of waiting was reduced as, with no unsupporteds left, we could be fairly certain of advance warning of the next runner's arrival when his or her crew showed up. The amount of warning varies greatly as it often takes longer to drive the last few miles than expected, or, the support wildly underestimate how long their runner will take to cover a similar distance. Either way the crew is almost always there before the runner and thus we do not have to spend the whole time staring into the distance as we do when unsupporteds areexpected.
Having dropped an hour by the time he went through C.P.9 it would have taken a superhuman effort for Sam to maintain his pace to the end. The fact that he dropped only another fifty minutes or so is credit to his determination and a level of fitness that had him looking remarkably well at the end. Come to think of it he looked better than some do at the start. Well attended by his squad, Sam was soon tidied even further and on his way home. We, knowing that there would be at least a three hour gap, ventured for the first time ever into the pub not fifty yards from the finish.
I must point out that we do not usually have time for such luxury but this year, seeming particularly well informed of runners' progress, could see no just reason not to indulge. I should also make it clear lest Pat should think otherwise, that we had virtually to force Derek to come in for a drink. We would have felt guilty sitting comfortably sipping our pints while he watched the towpath, but I realise now that he was probably feeling guilty while Pat and the others were still battling on. I still cringe with embarrassment when I remember that I asked him if he knew how awful you feel when you retire from a race, completely forgetting how he came to be there with us. While in the bar I took a call from Henk who had been keeping himself amused since Navigation bridge by calling from time to time to heap prolific abuse upon the race organiser. I just wanted to say, Henk, that being called a mucky runt (the phone might have been breaking up a bit) didn't detract from the enjoyment of my pint at all! Other calls from Jan were keeping us informed of runners' progress and that Mave and John had left Springwell with Barry, David and Two Fat Ladies expected soon, to Anne and Cliff Robertson who had returned to collect the trailer. Steve Partridge was also keeping us informed of Pat and Anthony's whereabouts and as a result I was able to persuade Cliff that he should abandon his intention to wait on for them. (As it was he didn't drop the trailer of at my home until 10.30pm-at least 16hours after he parked it at the CP.)
Back on the towpath we resumed our watch with Nevil's crew. We spotted a runner pounding towards us, obviously out for his evening training run. As he quickly drew nearer realisation dawned that this was indeed our Nev going like the clappers. Whether trying to beat the clock or the devil himself I know not, but it was a truly awesome sight. This impressive performance made Nevil the only (for seven hours or so) person ever to have three GUCR finishes. Very much part of the event it is always a pleasure having the Stonehouse family around. When they set off home Hannah, Phil, Derek and I were left to wonder who would be next as Glyn had taken a lot of time from Henk since the Grand Junction Arms.
It was Glyn's family first to our van. They were able to confirm that Henk had slowed considerably (when we saw his feet we knew why!) and that Glyn was going well. This was cheering news as I knew how disappointed he'd been to fail last time and, with publicity surrounding his attempt again this year, did not want him to suffer another let down. While waiting for Glyn we were treated to one of those bizarre incidents that make race organising such a rewarding experience. As we sat in near darkness after thirty five hours or more focussed almost entirely on the race and its participants, one of the lovely ladies supporting him decided that now would be a good time to change the ring tone on her mobile. We were treated to the entire Nokia repertoire, all the way through, twice. I've no idea why I find this so strange, but I could tell by the puzzled looks on Hannah and Phil's faces that they found it equally surreal. Anyway, I doubt if Glyn had dared dream of finishing in fourth place as he certainly looked well chuffed when he did. (You can read about life as part of Glyn's crew in the October edition of running Fitness. There are pictures of Rod, Nevil and Henk too. I can provide photocopies of this and other pieces from mags. if you're desperate for more reading.)
We didn't wait long before the Blackwater Valley team, including Steve Low who'd retired at the cut off point, turned up heralding Henk's finish. I was looking forward to this as I knew that, for Henk, failure was not an option and although we expect runners to push themselves beyond their normal limits, I do not want them to die trying to finish. (Anyone who knows the Mark Green story knows that I could have happily killed him at some stage, but that's a different matter.) As it was Henk didn't look too near death - though I have seen healthier feet! After the exchange of a few pleasantries, similar in content to the calls I'd received, his crew deposited their man in their transport and left. We, now the only official crew still on duty as the famous Cambridge Crew were on their way home, waited on for another star to brighten our night.
The star came in the form of Jim Wallace. Jim had been one of the runners we witnessed passing through Shane's checkpoint at least half a lifetime earlier. He ran with Ramona until Navigation Bridge, but was half an hour up and on his own there at Fenny. At the time he'd impressed us with his quiet but purposeful approach to the race and we were pleased that he was able to keep it up. He looked just as purposeful at the end, but did have the decency to look knackered, unlike Sam! Earlier reports from those wonderful souls at Hambrough told us that we could expect Phil Redden and rest of Gary and Ray's team to be next to visit. They didn't warn us that the curvaceous Miss Whiplash, complete with PVC frock, thigh boots, whip and suitably subservient man, would also be visiting. This couple were on their merry way home from a party and thought they might as well join ours. (It would be nice to be able to say that incidents like this mean it's never a dull moment waiting Little Venice, but the reality is that there are lots and lots of dull moments.) Although this was Ray's first GUCR finish as a competitor, he and Gary have a long association with the race (ref. Hall of Fame). I don't think either on any previous occasion will have witnessed such rousing applause from waiting
thong sorry throng. (My mind slipped back to Miss W. then.) Another unusual point about their finish was that they had been accompanied by their lady 'buddies' for a large part of the race. perhaps roles will be reversed next time?
With so many runners coming in such a relatively short time it hadn't occurred to me that we were drawing closer to the 'official' time limit. It would be a terrible pity if runners pulled out because they thought we would pack up and go if they were not there within 45 hours. Should I have made it clear in the pre-race info. that we will always wait? These are the sort of thoughts that pass through a tired organiser's mind. I needn't have worried on Ramona's account as it wasn't long before the biggest support entourage I have ever seen arrived. My memory may be letting me down, but I swear there were three buddies, two bodyguards, a navigator, a nutritionist, a masseur, a makeup artist, a hair stylist, a manicurist, a podiatrist and a cyclist in attendance. However many, they did a good job. They got their runner home, which, as so many people feel the need to tell me, is quite a hard thing to do. Also there to clap the first lady in it was a treat to have Sue and Rob Goodwin, who had been responsible for introducing the GUCR to Ramona.
Barry Gould is another of our regulars. If he could keep going he would equal Nevil's three times a finisher achievement and thus make Nevil the first rather than only three timer. Although a long way off his best time, the Fat Boys crew from Colchester were confident that their man would be OK. Barry must have been fairly confident as he surprised the Cambridge Harriers by 'running through' at their C.P. Ever cheerful, Barry is well liked by us all. Naturally we were especially pleased to see him come into view, smiling as usual, with 15 minutes to spare. How he manages to look so relaxed after such a huge distance is a mystery.
Where David Turnbull and Two Fat Ladies had lost so much time was another. How come these young veterans(?) of many ultras and treadmill events were at the back? Could it be that the attention lavished on them by their lovely wives was actually impeding their progress or had they fallen foul of Marston's syndrome? (Marston's syndrome is a little known affliction first recognised during the GUCR 2000. Affecting runners who may appear on TV, in the early stages of a race it can cause exceedingly fast running. In the later stages it usually manifests as frequent unnecessary kit changes or, more seriously, an uncontrollable urge not to run too fast lest the affected person should appear in any way dishevelled.) As Two Fat Ladies Coleman is to be featured in a documentary about addiction and some background filming was taking place on the day of the race, I suspect acute Marston's. (This form, in addition to the other symptoms, causes the runner to look as though he is enjoying himself, naturally impossible.) If I am wrong and the former reason was the problem, in future, Phil and I will happily entertain their wives in the HQ van. This should vastly improve all our finishing times. When Rory and David passed under the banner they brought the total of finishers from thirty seven starters to twelve. (Rory also became the third 'three timer'). By the usual reckoning this would be as many as there were likely to be. We knew that Pat and Anthony were still pressing on, could they make the total fourteen?
Brian Taylor came up from Worthing to meet up with Derek and Pat. He called Jan at 10.10am and was told that Derek was with us and that Pat was continuing supported by Anthony's crew Steve and Kathy. Having spoken with Derek soon after Chris finished, Brian volunteered to join the Partridge Family (I bet he gets fed up with that old chestnut) and help. Knowing that there were now two vehicles on hand for the pair still 'out there' and, thanks to Steve's progress reports (my notes of which I subsequently lost), *10 aware that we had at least a four hour wait, some sleep seemed a good idea. Hannah claimed the bunk in the truck cab while Derek, Phil and I made ourselves as comfortable as you can on tables in the back. The chance of four hours uninterrupted sleep seemed an unlikely possibility based on our previous vigils at Delamere Terrace. It proved so this time too when another up-date from Steve forced me awake. Derek was already back on duty at the finish so, as it was daylight, I stayed up too. Also as it was daylight I could see that some thieving toe rag had made off with three of our chairs at some stage during our slumber! *11 Hannah and Phil were obviously finding it hard to relax as it wasn't long before we were all staring westward in the hope of seeing our friends' approach. It probably seems a little silly to most folk, but we do become very anxious for 'our' runners. This year we were especially so. Anthony had five previous starts and Pat three. Both had been on the line with me at Gas Street on 31st July 1993 when it all began. Hannah and Derek were there that day too while Phil has been the major helper on every race since 1995. Six people then with a very long running connection. We all knew what was involved and how hard it can be. All six were desperate that this time would be 'the one'.
Steve, Kathy and Brian (another veteran of several earlier supporting campaigns) joined us at the finish. This could only mean that Pat and Anthony were on their way. For what seemed years we stared and stared. When we first saw Pat in the distance I thought it couldn't be her because she was alone. As she drew nearer my concern for Anthony grew, but when she crossed the line Pat allowed herself small celebratory smile and, thankfully for me, said "He'll be along soon, stopped for one more rest." Knowing that he was OK and having Pat to hug was a such a relief. I know I'm a big Jessie, but couldn't keep a dry eye and most of the others seemed to have the same problem. When Anthony came into view we were all set to give him a rousing reception, but couldn't resist a laugh when, on fifty yards from the line, some Japanese tourists asked if he would take their photo. Gentleman that is, Anthony politely suggested that perhaps he might be allowed to finish his race first, if they didn't mind. Nobody minded at all.
So with a hug and another tear the GUCR 2001 was done. Perhaps it wasn't quite over until we drove in to Compton or until the truck was unpacked or until I took it back on the Tuesday morning. Perhaps it isn't done until now that this story is finished or until it's copied and posted. It'll be over by the time you read this far for sure and many of you will already be thinking of the next one. Aahh! there is no end! *12
**** Lessons learned / Improvements next time.
*1 Go to bed at 9pm on the Friday.
*2 Make a list of all food, pack early and label everything so that we all know where things are.
*3 Have a script.
*4 Gratefully accept all offers of help - better that some have little to do than be found lacking.
*5 Let Trevor kill any miscreants. He wanted to this time and it would have been quicker.
(We've since heard that the lout got three months.)
*6 Stress even more that all retirements are reported to Jan. Any ideas for getting the message
*7 Investigate all threatened closures and find possible alternative routes.
*8 Admit more unsupporteds?
*9 Make sure we know when part-time supporteds will have their own people with them.
*10 Use a Dictaphone to take notes.
*11 Tie every thing to the van.
*12 Don't embark on long winded accounts of the race.
THE UNOFFICIAL RACE REPORT
As is the tradition for the Grand Union Canal Race we like to give credit to the also-rans and in this instance a nearly-ran. As is also tradition I apologise for any inaccuracies, it being so long after event that I finally get round to writing this.
Mick Cattell was due to run but missed meeting up with Derrick McCarrick in London on Friday and, as he didn't have details of their accommodation in Birmingham, was forced to return dejectedly home to Sheerness.
Frank McDonagh might have wished he'd stayed at home too when forced (I think by a dodgy knee) to be 'First One Out' at Fosse Locks. (See org.’s story.)
Jack Denness appears, arms triumphantly aloft, at the head of the pack in Shane Wilkinson's photograph of the start. Unfortunately it was too soon after the Badwater Ultra for 'Death Valley Jack' to triumph here.
Derrick McCarrick is not only invisible to Mick Cattell, but also to Shane's camera. I can't find his image on any of the race photos. Did anyone see him in daylight, is he a vampire?
David Danbury, on reaching the feed station at Birdingbury, covered about 330 miles more last year when he had been unable to get down from Glasgow in time for the start.
Steven Kerr bravely pressed on leaving colleagues Frank and Jack at Birdingbury. He made it to Navigation Bridge, but as a passenger in Ian and Joan's car from their checkpoint at Buckby.
Robert Gill demonstrated my ineptitude as organiser. He phoned the HQ van when he stopped, but I lost the paper with details of where, when and why. (Again ref org.'s)
Anke Molenthkin came all the way from Germany to run, with obvious painful impediment, for an all too brief a spell of the GUCR. We had the pleasure of her company (I think I'm in love) at Navigation bridge on Saturday, but on Sunday she appeared momentarily at Little Venice then was gone......... to Ely of all places!
Andy Ives, though still fairly cheerful, did not look at his best (last year 38:17) when we saw him at Birdingbury and later succumbed to the heat at High House Bridge, Nether Heyford.
John Thornhill had been well up the field all day before calling Jan himself at 7:48 in evening "between 65 and 70 miles" - which would put him round about Grafton Bridge I'd say.
Derek Cummins has supported Pat on three GUCRs. This time they ran together, but at Navigation Bridge Derek was forced to join us in the van while Pat went on. I'm sure he'd have run after her had he known what he was in for.
Bryan Jones is a very welcome GUCR regular having run (a finisher in 98), or helped in the first four. Sadly he had had enough GUCR for this year on reaching the cut-off with half an hour spare.
Brant Taylor, on his first trip, was mid field at 70 miles and had been going well thus far. I hope there are no regrets and that his decision to stop was not premature.
John Beasty, attended by brother Alan, is another who arrived several hours ahead of runners subsequently finished when he pulled out at Navigation Bridge. I am confident that the Be Boys will be tempted back for another go.
Steve Low was wise taking time to consider before opting for the support car at Navigation Bridge. So many runners in the past have regretted rushing that decision but it must have been tough for him later on when team-mates Chris and Henk finished.
Penny Elliot and Bryan Evans ran their race together. Worried by the problems of negotiating the obstructions on the towpath and with Bryan suffering badly from sore feet they ended their race together at Galleon Bridge near Milton Keynes. Penny has already declared her intent to finish next time.
Allan Pollock seems to be the only person not to have had difficulty avoiding the fences at the Waterways Festival. Apparently he crossed to the other side at bridge 81, continued on the cycle path and crossed back at 82 - easy! Allan was not finding the running so easy, he retired 1½ miles later at Peartree Bridge.
Rod Palmer's achievements as two times winner and fastest ever finisher are obviously high standards to live up to. When you fail to meet your standard there seems little point in continuing and this was the case for Rod when he stopped at Fenny Stratford simply blaming 'tired legs'. With a name that is as synonymous with Canal Race as Grand and Union, I'm sure (and sincerely hope) he'll be back.
Mark Brunning spent last year's race with Jonathon Lee manning the Grand Junction Arms checkpoint in the cold and wet. The weather was much more pleasant this time and Mark was particularly pleased to 'get on to the second map' at Fenny. His enjoyment terminated at 90 miles in Leighton Buzzard.
Sam Fell had an all too brief experience of the GUCR in 2000, pulling out at Birdingbury vowing that he'd had it with ultras. Of course he didn't mean it and was back this time going much better all the way to the magic 100 mile point, but was unable to continue beyond as his feet were bleeding from wearing ill fitting shoes.
Rob Goodwin and wife Sue are GUCR regulars. Rob has been finding it hard to reproduce his 1998 success stopping at 70, 100 and again 100 miles in the years since. Sue doesn't think all this pulling out early is good for him so has promised me she'll keep him in to the end next time.
Ian Webber and his wife Gill are also very much part of the canal race scene, Ian having run every time except the first two. This time he went further than ever and, on hearing that he'd passed the Grand Junction Arms, I thought this was going to be the year. The long downhill finish from Tring summit was too much for his worsening knee problem which put paid to all our hopes. I'm certain the Webbers will be back and Ian will be top of our unofficial 'must get him to the end this time' list for sure.
Mark Edmunds lives in Bermuda. To come all that way just to subject yourself to a lot of discomfort for no obvious reward singles him out as being a little bit mad special. He was well up in the thick of the race, in what I believe was his first true ultra (as against his Iromnan exploits), and deserve
d much better than being 'Top of the Also-rans'. We enjoyed his cheerful, uncomplaining company and look forward to the possibility that he will take part again. Well done Mark.
A big THANK YOU for all the help in making the GUCR 2001 possible to:-
The British Waterways Braunston Office, in particular Jan Dunseith and Lisa Jarvis.
Ian and Joan Clarke
Hannah and Janet Kearn
Jonathon and Liz Lee
Jim and Jane Locke
Cliff and Anne Robertson