1999 Race Story

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by Dick Kearn

1999 Race Story

The official report of the 1999 GUCR

Before I come to the race report proper, I'd like first to thank those who helped make it possible.

From Start to Finish with me in the HQ van was brother-in-law Phil Gadd. Now a veteran of four GUCRS, Phil takes care of the navigation and all the catering. He also took many of the photos and produced the Finishers' certificates. On duty throughout too was Bryan Jones. A finisher last year, Bryan not only sold T-shirts at the Start, manned the Buckby check-point and acted as sweeper at other CPs, but also very kindly donated some of the goodies available. Alan Kiff, who competed in the original 1993 GUCR, was on hand from Birdingbury Bridge and was, with his camper van in charge at the Navigation Bridge cut-off CP. As well as bringing his own supplies, Alan also provided some of the photos. Another 1993 competitor, Ian Hope, was manning the Hatton CP again this year. Ian stayed on to the end as pick-up and transport for retiring -runners. So far, he has never lost one! At Buckby with Bryan was my sister Mavis Chiverton. A regular helper at the Compton race, this was Mave's second GUCR. My son Diccon and his girlfriend Nicky Grayburn were on duty for the 'graveyard' shift at Soulbury. Diccon was glad of the company this time, having spent seven lonely hours on Navigation Bridge last year waiting for the errant Mark Green. In 1998 at Tring Cutting Jim and Jane Locke were as cold as they'd ever been. They returned this year to see if they could get even colder, and almost succeeded. For those who made it to Springwell, two-times winner, and course record holder, Rod Palmer and wife Margo were on hand. I hope they enjoyed seeing things from the other side of the fence this year.

I would like to point out that all those who helped not only gave their time, but also refused payment for goods supplied and expenses incurred. I hope I speak for all when I say we are very grateful for their generosity. I would also like to add a special thanks to my wife Jan, who has now supported me through five GUCRS. Without her backing it just wouldn't happen.

For most, the race began as usual at 6:00 am in near perfect conditions, although some early stretches of the towpath were very muddy. Throughout the morning and early afternoon the sun shone brightly and things became a little too warm for runners' comfort - although it was very pleasant for those of us just watching. A very brisk early pace from Colin Evans suggested that Rod's 28hour 58minute record was under threat, but after 50 miles the new leader, Steve Ward, was no longer gaining on Rod's times. In the early evening a very violent electrical storm and prolonged heavy downpour brought a dramatic reduction in pace and temperature. The cold rain forced many to take shelter and some to consider retirement.

By 7:30 pm at the 70 mile CP, the race had its third leader, John Pepperell. Rob Goodwin was next to arrive, but as Rob was unable to continue, early back-marker Nevil Stonehouse, in the tradition of the hare and the tortoise, moved up to second place as he set of to Soulbury. The night section often proves the turning-point for many. Not as cold as in previous years, but with cloud hiding the full moon, the lonely dark hours helped many decide to retire. Some rested, intending to continue after sleep, but, as we have often seen before, those resting for too long found it hard to resume the race, let alone finish it.
At the Soulbury (87 miles) CP, John Pepperell arrived half an hour in front at 24:19. He decided to wait until his support arrived with a torch, but in fact didn't leave until 04:55, now nearly 4 hours behind Nevil, 2 hours behind Colin Evans and 1hour 20 minutes behind Andy Ives in third. At the same CP, the trio of Gary Barnes, Gary Booth and Phil Redden, having made up time from their 20 minute-late start were passed, as they rested, by the 'Cambridge Crew' (David Tull, Ian Marshall and David Steel). John Amans slipped past David Turnbull in the same way, to lead the unsupporteds.

By the 100mile CP at Tring, Nevil had a good lead over Colin Evans, who set off, after a rest, in third behind Simon Laporte. The very much together Cambridge Crew was next away, ahead of John Amans and then Phil Redden, who had pulled ahead of the Two Garys. The ever-cheerful Rory Coleman's arrival at 09:52 brought a few smiles to the CP crew just before spirits were dampened when Colin Evans returned to the CP to retire, only minutes before John Pepperell arrived saying he too had had enough. At this point Bob Jones was not looking too happy, but was continued on his way undaunted. An hour after the late-starting-duo (formerly trio) had left Tring, Chris Sanders (whose badly blistered foot I had previously attempted to bandage) and Timo Pitkajarvi departed, bringing up the rear of this much depleted field.

At 9:04 am at Springwell Lock, Rod and Margo saw Nevil set off 5½hours ahead of John Amans, who now led the Cambridge Crew by 20 minutes. At 15:44 Rory Coleman was next away, with David Turnbull, Andy Ives, Bob Jones, Simon Laporte and John Owen all leaving within an hour. At 18:39 Chris Sanders set off, eleven minutes in front of a 2hour-rested Timo and the Two Garys.

In the well established tradition of the GUCR, the organiser was not present for the winner's arrival at Little Venice (Geoff Worsley didn't quite make it for me, and we've missed both of Rod's finishes). In my defence however, may I point out that Nevil was a staggering 11hours faster than last year! Nevil was genuinely surprised to win, but after such a carefully prepared and well-paced race, is a very deserved champion. In my panic at arriving 5 minutes late, I forgot to give Nevil his finisher's windlass, but at least I remembered to hand over the trophy.

By the time John Amans arrived in second place we were better prepared with the banner erected and the kettle boiled. John is now the highest placed unsupported finisher and his time is only 2 minutes outside the unsupported record. As always, it was a delight to see Rory Coleman approaching. He was pleased to finish third, although slightly slower than last year. This might have been due to the weather conditions, but was more likely caused by his prolific appetite for marathons. Rory is attempting over 100 marathons in a year, but he counts the GUCR and other Ultras as only one marathon, so his total mileage will be phenomenal! I can only stand in awe of the nicest madman you are ever likely to meet.

Equal fourth were the amazing Cambridge Crew. Anyone who has competed in team event where runners have to stay together will appreciate their achievement. If you haven't tried such a race it is difficult to imagine how much tension and ill feeling can be generated by being unable to run at your natural rate. The fact that these three were still speaking to each other, and finished together over such a huge distance, is a truly remarkable performance, of which they should feel especially proud. Seventh home was Bob Jones, who was being sponsored for his efforts. I bet the sponsor who offered £1 per mile now wishes he'd known of Bob's enviable reputation for never giving up. John Owen appeared surprised in Phil's Finish Line photo. This is possibly explained by the fact that John had wasted 10 minutes looking for the Finish at Halfpenny Bridge. Sorry we weren't where you wanted us to be John, but I think we know the right place, even if we don't always get there in time. Simon Laporte, in 9th place, had been partly supported by the Army Crew and also by us in the HQ van. At no time did he show any doubt about finishing, and in fact was the only survivor from the Aldershot Team. Equal tenth were David Turnbull and Andy Ives, who was unsuccessful last year. It is always good to see someone come back and have another go, and even better when they make it. David had joined the race from the reserve list, with only a week's notice. As an unsupported novice to Ultra he has every justification for being very pleased with himself. In fact, he was so happy that he has written and offered to help next time - an offer too good to refuse, thanks David. Timo's supporters did a good job of keeping us awake at Little Venice until he arrived. Timo, like Simon, had used the belt and braces method of having a part-time support crew as well as ourselves. He was so keen to let his father in Finland know of his achievement that he called him on his mobile before he crossed the line.

I mentioned earlier that it is good to see someone succeed after previously failing. You can imagine then that Phil and I were particularly glad to see Gary Barnes, on his third attempt, come into view. At his side, as he had been since their late start, was Gary Booth - both of them looking much less bleary-eyed than they had at the Start some 46 hours earlier.

Our elation at the Garys' success disappeared immediately when the figure of Chris Sanders limped painfully to the Finish from the wrong direction. Chris had earned a great deal of respect from the HQ crews for his stoic determination to continue despite the appalling condition of his feet. We were distraught at this cruel end to his race. Chris had been with the Two Garys at 140miles, but had become confused and disorientated after they had pulled ahead. Following a rest, he remembered what he was supposed to be doing, but not which way to go. Seeing some lights he went to ask directions at what turned out to be a pub, but while there was unable to resist the temptation to take a taxi to Little Venice. I don't mind admitting that there was a lump in my throat at this time - we become very attached to our runners and had desperately wished for him to finish.

As Chris left, uncomplaining, to make his way home, Phil and I packed everything into the van to head for Compton and some much-needed sleep.

In the race report I have only mentioned competitors who made it to Little Venice. With apologies for any omissions and inaccuracies, I will now attempt to list those who dropped out and the reasons why.

Patrick Hobbs suffered extrapolation. As a result of this affliction he worked out that he was behind schedule for the cut-off point and stopped.

Sally Adams was knocked out by a close lightning strike. She was totally flattened by this, but soon re-charged and made her way safely ohm.

Spencer Summers had been running with his friend Mark Dabbs. I'm not sure of the reason, but his retirement was before Mark's and Spencer 'phoned later to check on Mark's progress. (There must be a better way of mentioning St Michael, but I'm too tired to bother.)

Richard Herbert and David Howarth were part of the Army squad. I've lost destroyed information regarding their withdrawal for security reasons.

Andy Perry stopped at Buckby, probably as a result of a good soaking and the proximity of the Pub.

Mike Morfey had helped generate Sparky Adams' interest to enter the event, and he could not resist conducting her to the terminal when they were reconnected at Buckby.

Mark Dabbs 'phoned Mrs Summers from HQ van so both Mark's & Spencer's retirements involved phone calls. (Sorry, couldn't help doing it again.)

Nick Skidmore reported that at 17:40 hrs he was stopping “just past CP8, no, nearly at CP 10”. This must be some mystical point beyond Buckby and before Navigation Bridge.

Andrew Burr made it to Navigation Bridge, but only as one of lan's passengers in the pick-up car since Buckby.

Scott Burgess was last seen with his wife at the New Inn Buckby. He managed to tear himself away, but stopped 3 miles further at Watling Street Bridge.

Robert Gill 'phoned his 'missing' support crew at the Buckby CP, only to find that they were sitting on a bench behind him. He retired at 58 miles, perhaps to buy some lighter sunglasses?

Anthony Taylor making his fourth attempt was, like Pat Hobbs, suffering extrapolation. It first attacked at Bugbrooke, but he struggled on another 7 miles to Stoke Bruerne when, at 23:50, another bout convinced him that he wouldn’t make the cut-off time.

Ray Willett although slightly outside the cut-off time at 01:23, had a jolly good rest before making the dreaded call to Jan at 05:30.

Zachary Poulton similarly had to build up strength before making the decision to call at 03:00.

Shane Wilkinson arrived at Navigation Bridge with Chris Jenvey, as he had last year. This time though they were an hour later and destined not to make the Finish. Shane rested for 7 hours before making his call.

Steve Ward had been very fast earlier when leading, and didn't hang about when making up his mind to stop. Steve reached Navigation Bridge at 21:15. Alan Kiff recorded his retirement at 21:35.

Rob Goodwin was spotted in the back of his car on Navigation Bridge rubbing himself between the legs. He made some feeble excuse about groin strain and dodgy knees, but was probably just too embarrassed at being observed in this compromising position to continue.

Ken Caunter persevered beyond Navigation Bridge, managing another 4 miles to the New Inn at New Bradwell. It's funny how many pull out near pubs, but at 05:00 I doubt this one was open.

Chris Jenvey as I said earlier, was successful last year. This time 80 miles to Woughton on the Green was as far as he could go.

Mark Brunning came to Soulbury at 3:00 am saying, I thought, "I've got trouble with my ring'. As I'd never heard of anyone dropping out through jewellery failure, I assumed he was suffering the euphemistic stomach cramps, which afflict so many runners. It turned out he had tripped on a mooring ring at 80 miles and had twisted his ankle. This was a shame as he had been leading the 'unsupporteds'.

Adam Fraser-Hitchen and Paul Tolley retired amid some confusion on the part of Race HQ. Jan received Adam's call, on a very poor line, at 15:40. She called Rod to let him know, but he was already aware that not only Adam but also Paul had dropped out. I have a feeling that I was responsible for not letting Jan know about these two and it was a shame because poor old Bryan Jones had been left waiting for them at Tring.

lan Webber immediately volunteered himself and wife Jill to help with the race when told that it was sold out. A very late cancellation meant that lan was able to make his third attempt after all. This year, reaching 92 miles, he went further than ever before. It is something of a tradition that he and Jill have, shall we say, a slight disagreement at some stage of the race. It appears that the magnitude of the disagreement is proportional to the distance covered before retirement. I sincerely hope that lan enters next year as he and Jill are almost as much part of the event as Phil and I. I also hope that he completes the full distance next time as I'm not sure if our insurance covers divorce.

John Pepperell covered more miles than any of the others in the Aldershot Army group (Simon Laporte being an independent entry.) He was leader at Soulbury, but a 4½hour rest dropped him to 4th place - possibly not good psychologically. Obviously struggling, he slipped to 14th by Tring, but at least had the satisfaction of reaching the magic 100 miles.

Colin Evans started the race as a supported runner and was the early leader. When his support was unexpectedly called away Colin was adopted by the Cambridge Crew's crew and later by us. He was 2nd to arrive at Tring and 3rd to leave, but was shortly to return there to retire. To his credit, Colin took all of the ribbing about hares and tortoises in good spirit, especially as his nose was firmly rubbed in it by arriving with us in the HQ van for Nevil's presentation.

Phil Redden had been part of the trio dubbed “the late starters”. It was he who ran to the Start to inform us that the others (the Two Garys) would be arriving soon, having 'enjoyed' themselves the night before. Perhaps that early sprint made all the difference as, despite passing through Tring over an hour ahead of his partners, he retired 13 miles further on, while they managed to keep going to Little Venice.

Congratulations/commiserations (please delete where appropriate) to all GUCR '99 participants.
I look forward to meeting you at other events and maybe even at GUCR 2000.