Niall's Notes on Supporting

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by Niall Dinwoodie

Niall's Notes on Supporting

Niall Dinwoodie’s 2006 Personal Notes on Supporting

The first thing to note about supporting the GUCR is that it really requires 2 crews in 2 vehicles; it’s just too long for a single crew to navigate and drive safely. Our experience was that a crew of 2 was good for the first 24 hours but a second joining in early on Sunday was needed, especially as the runner still had 50-odd miles to go!

Food and drink are personal things for the runner, best to ensure lots of variety as, by Sunday, taste is more important than nutritional value (just as well pot noodles come in different flavours!). Support crews also need food, something runners often forget so if you’re the crew, be ready to fend for yourself. On that note, there are fewer shops/quick eateries on the route that you might expect (and the 24 hour Tesco in Leighton Buzzard isn’t on Saturday, see photo) and you will also have less time to search, particularly if meeting up with your runner frequently. It is best to keep a couple of thermos flasks of boiling water as it is difficult to set up a camp stove at many of the potential meeting points – too close to roads and no flattish ground – so take the opportunity to brew up whenever possible.

Staying the night before the race in Birmingham is the obvious choice for most people; there are plenty of hotels close to Gas Street Basin but be warned, the area around the Basin is a prime Friday night drinking spot so expect lots of noise late into the night. We ended up moving room at midnight in an effort to get some sleep! I’d try specifically asking for a room on the car park side rather than the Basin – it is probably worth anyone staying in the local hotels to notify them in advance of the intention to go to sleep early and be up very early; if we all ended up on the same corridor of a hotel it would be better for us and the other guests.

For the race itself, Dick provides a list of potential meeting points as well as the 10 check points. I guess this list may change year on year but the 2006 list ran to an additional 25 locations. It is very tempting to plan for meeting at all of these, even with the intention of “just checking” rather than having specific feeding plans. The danger with this for the runner is that it eats up time, great if your intention is just to finish and take all the support you can, and puts a lot of strain on a single support crew. The distance and type of road can mean there is the potential for the runner to get between points faster than a car. I met up with my support 28 times, totalling over 5 hours stationary for a race time of 42 hours – but I did finish. I would recommend arranging to meet at points approximately 2 – 3 hours apart once you’ve settled into the race and are sure of your kit. More frequent contact would be best during the night and if the conditions are changeable.

Some pointers on stops used in the 2006 race:

A361 above Braunston Tunnel – avoid using if possible, dangerous for parking and it’s on the one downhill stretch the runners get!

Stoke Bruerne Bridges 54 and 55 was a good stop – parking and the runner has tarmac road over the Blisworth Tunnel so can predict arrival time quite well and give the crew enough warning to let them get something to eat!

Stops around Milton Keynes were fine, Dick’s directions essential for non-locals. Towpath is pretty good from this point in compared to the earlier mud so less chance of wet feet in typical weather.

Tesco Leighton Buzzard to Slapton Lock Bridge 120 is a good example of a journey being easier for the runner than the support crew.

Bridge 165 (West Watford) is difficult for the crews but is in the middle of quite a long str etch.

Springwell Bridge 176 to Wide Water Lock – don’t take the simple looking back road to the east of the canal, go back onto the A412 if you value your paintwork and don’t have satellite navigation.

Hamborough Tavern is not the sort of area you’d want to spend time alone sitting in a car. Fortunately it was a checkpoint so plenty of company for the support crews.

Little Venice – parking was amazingly easy, but then it was midnight on a Sunday!

Niall Dinwoodie completed the 2006 race in 42:04 through the support of Gillian Dinwoodie, Albert Bell, Carolyn and Sean Dwyer, the encouragement of other runners and all the crews met along the route.