2000 Race Story

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by Dick Kearn

2000 Race Story

The official report of the 2000 GUCR

There were two major differences at 5.00 am in Gas Street this year. Unusually there were three of us in the HQ van (my daughter Hannah was there to help with the extra numbers and in case regular helper Phil Gadd was called away to the imminent birth of his third child), but even more oddly the natives seemed to be aware of what was going on! Presumably as a result of Glyn Marstons' TV appearance on the Thursday evening, we overheard people leaving the car park opposite joking about running all the way to London. On several other occasions too it was apparent that many people were aware of the race taking place. If these had been the only changes this time the race outcome may well have been different, but the weather was to play its part too.

At first the atmosphere was quite relaxed with runners arriving and buying their T-shirts from Trevor Leigh in a steady, orderly manner. As start time drew nearer the tension began to mount especially in the race organiser who was by now wondering where the rest of his entries had got to. By 5.55 am we were still expecting another 13 runners. In the nick of time, Barbara and Christian, from Germany, arrived to make the Start line, but at 6.00 am we could wait no longer and so it was that 38 competitors commenced their journey.

I think it would be fair to say that Penny Elliot was slightly distressed when she arrived at 3 minutes past 6. After a few platitudes and clothing adjustments, she was duly dispatched with her own start time of 6.07 am. With our clutter unceremoniously dumped in the van, we were off to Catherine de Barnes Bridge for our first indication of how the race was shaping.

As soon as Rob Goodwin arrived in the lead, it was evident that the underfoot conditions were even worse than is usual for this early section. He was well spattered with mud and didn't really need to tell us that it had been very slippery. The next six, including course record holder Rod Palmer and the leading 'unsupported' Steve Ward, were through within 3 minutes, so it seemed likely that this leading group would contain the eventual winner. Joan Clarke, leading the largest ever ladies field, was through in 11th place, while last year's winner Nevil Stonehouse adopting his usual tactic of starting slowly came through 23rd. The three Worthing Striders sportingly decided to go back for Penny Elliot and, appreciating the difficulty caused by too much race spread, very kindly asked us not to wait as they were well-supported. This meant that Alan Kiff, a veteran of the first GUCR and helper last year, was the last we saw at this 10.7 mile point.

The lure of another TV appearance pulled Glyn Marston into the lead by the 22 mile Check Point at Hatton, where the BBC Birmingham camera was waiting. At 9.15 am this was slightly outside the predicted pace, but again reflected the muddy conditions, or perhaps too long spent in makeup. Phil Redden, Chris Fanning and Barry Gould, together with those previously mentioned, comprised the leading pack of seven, who were all through in less than 8 minutes. Joan was looking comfortable, now in 10th with Sylvia Huggett, Julie Bolwell and Arlene Sawyers of Hastings equal second ladies, 17th equal overall. Christian and Barbara arrived at 11.07, an hour and 22 minutes ahead of the group now known as 'The Worthing Four'.

Birdingbury Bridge is the next Check Point and first proper Feed Station. At 36 miles it is usually the point where weariness begins to take hold. It was also, on this occasion, the point where everyone involved began to get very wet and cold. At 11.28 Steve Ward came round the bend, fully 9 minutes ahead of Chris Fanning in 2nd place - this being the first time an 'unsupported' had ever held the lead. Rob, Rod, Glyn and Phil passed by in the next 5 minutes leaving Barry (the subject of a university study involving weight, urine and blood cheeks) now 19 minutes adrift. Joan was still leading lady, in 15th place, but the Hastings Trio were next to arrive only 16 minutes later, with Jill Green 56 minutes behind them, having moved up the field ten places to 24th.

The New Inn Check Point by Buckby Lock is at 48.5 miles, approximately one third of race distance. In the past it has proven a popular site at which to retire for our competitors, but owing to a simple misunderstanding this year it was an early retirement point for the race marshals and was left unmanned from 18.00 hrs! As runners had not been told where this CP would be, this did not cause big problems for supported competitors, but unsupporteds would be expecting an opportunity to re-fill their bottles somewhere between Birdingbury and Navigation Bridges. As soon as we at HQ were aware of the problem another crew was dispatched to Stoke Brueme to meet the missed runners, the problem being that the relief crew could not go too far up the line in case they missed them altogether. This breakdown in organisation was obviously to the detriment of at least two runners. Brian Jones and Andrew Burr resorted to scrounging water from a boat crew as, having guessed where the Check Point would be, they had arrived at Buckby with empty bottles. Of course, this drama took place long after Rod Palmer had gone through at 14.02, by now occupying his customary first position. Phil Redden was next and Chris Fanning third. The Hastings ladies seemed to have upped their pace as they were 3 minutes closer to Joan, and now 63 minutes ahead of Jill.

In fact Rod's spell in front was not to last long, a pulled muscle causing him to slow and allow Chris a half hour lead at the Navigation Bridge CP near Cosgrove by a quarter past six. Rod was unable to continue and as Joan had stopped with a twisted ankle at Gayton (60 miles) the two bookmakers’ favourites were now out. This seventy mile checkpoint is for most competitors the place to prepare for the long night ahead. Already cold and very wet several had given up their attempt for this year. For those pressing on the temptation to stay longer than is absolutely necessary is great indeed. Arriving 9 minutes behind Rob Goodwin and 6 ahead of Simon Laporte and John Pepperell, Phil Redden, with only a 13 minute break left fully 20 minutes before this pair, now equal third. Using the same simple strategy Jill Green reduced the Hastings Team's advantage to 17 minutes when she set off at 23:15. The race field beyond the checkpoint now numbered 22.

The Fenny Lock checkpoint crew were still waiting at Stoke Bruerne (65 miles) for the runners missed at Buckby when the leaders passed through their proper checkpoint at 82.8 miles. Instead the race transport driver was at Fenny Stratford with sustenance if required, but in the confusion race numbers and times for the first eight were missed. We do know that only 19 made it this far and that 18 continued beyond. Jill had pressed on at a good rate in the 13 miles since Cosgrove and now led the ladies race by 20 minutes.

A further two competitors retired before the magic 100 miles check at the Grand Junction Arms, Bulbourne. At 02.07 Chris held a two hour lead here over Phil who was followed only 10 minutes later by Messers Pepperell and Laporte. Another three hours were to pass before Nevil and former third place finisher Rob arrived. Perhaps it is a measure of just how cold, wet and difficult this race had become, that these two experienced runners decided not to continue. Fifteen minutes separated Jill from the pursuing Hastings Trio. This lead was extended, but the trio reduced, (by Julie's retirement) during a stop of over an hour. With Barbara Szlachetka accompanied by boyfriend Christian Hottas bringing up the rear we now had nine men and an unprecedented four ladies making an unlucky thirteen heading for Little Venice.

Unlucky it was for Chris Fanning who, with a 'comfortable' 2 hour lead, became so uncomfortable that he was forced to stop at 115 miles through exhaustion. Thus Phil Redden became the race's sixth leader passing Springwell Lock (120 miles) 38 minutes ahead of Simon who had opened a gap of 47 minutes on John in just twenty miles. Gary Barnes went by fourth, Andy Ives fifth, ahead of Jill, now sixth overall and nearly two hours in front of Sylvia and Arlene.

Owing to the persistent heavy rain the towpath was badly flooded on the usually good 'going' between Bull's Bridge and The Hamborough Tavern (133miles). In second place Simon's advantage over John had been reduced to a few seconds when he came to the checkpoint 43 minutes after Phil had left. Both required some changes to their kit, but on hearing that the very experienced Cambridge Crew manning the checkpoint had virtually forced Phil to eat as "He wasn't looking too good." John finished his pit stop in only six minutes and set off in hot pursuit. Was it possible to make up 49 minutes in twelve miles?

In the race HQ van on the way to Little Venice things became a little tense as, for the first time, there were two runners 'in with a shout'. We were determined to be on hand with banner erected for the winner's arrival, having been a few minutes late on all previous occasions. Phil Redden had left the Tavern an hour before us and was likely to take at least another two hours to finish, plenty of time, in theory at least, to be well prepared for the race climax. Though heavy traffic and two diversions through road works along the way, resulted in some pretty frantic activity as soon as we'd parked in Delamere Terrace. The banner frame had to be assembled and positioned over the towpath, the trophies and 'medals' unearthed from the jumble in the van and, of course, the kettle boiled before we could be considered ready. Phil's wife and support crew joined us on the line as we waited anxiously to see if he'd been able to hold off John's challenge.

Thirty four hours and eight minutes after the race began at Gas Street Basin we had our answer. Looking much better than you would expect, given that most of that time had passed in dreadful weather, Phil Redden crossed the line to be the GUCR 2000 Champion. His policy of stopping at the meeting points only for as long as was absolutely necessary (and possibly the Cambridge Crew banana) resulting in a well deserved win. In the tradition of long races Phil waited at the finish to see the next man in. He didn't have to wait long however, as, only thirty four minutes later John Pepperell finished - in GUCR terms almost a dead heat! John's time of 34hrs. 42mins. was an amazing 3½ hours inside the previous best time for an unsupported competitor. Third home was Simon Laporte, another 'unsupported' in 35:28, no less than seven hours quicker than his time last year. Andy Ives while taking fourth place with 38:17 improved on his 1999 time by 4½ hours and Shane Wilkinson laid the ghost of a DNF last time with fifth in 39:25.

When Jill Green finished in sixth overall with a remarkable time of 39hrs.38mins. she took 4¾ hours from Sigrid Eichner's 1998 record. Jill's steady progress through the field, the result of maintaining an even pace with only brief stops, high-lighting the fact that you don't need to be fast to be first in a race of this length. Chris Sanders finished seventh in a time of 41:28, an hour and three minutes ahead of Arlene Sawyers and Sylvia Huggett equal second in the ladies race. Finally, Barbara Szlachetka still with Christian Hottas came through joint tenth in 48:46 to be the fourth lady this time and only the fifth lady ever to finish.

So that is the official tale of the eleven who managed to keep going to the end of the GUCR 2000. The race story wouldn't be complete however without mention of all the others involved in making this event the unique experience it is. Read on as we list first entrants then starters and finally, but most importantly, helpers who have all played their part. I hope you will all bear with me if some of the facts aren't quite as you remember them!

The GUCR 2000 Unofficial Story

Rory Coleman, a veteran of two previous events, spent the week prior to the race trying to turn himself inside out with gastroenteritis. Unable to run he spent the weekend with his head under a stone hoping to avoid any further mention of the GUCR on TV.
David Danbury missed his train from Glasgow doing the decent thing getting his mother-in-law to hospital when she was taken ill. Well done David - many would be tempted to catch the train regardless.
Xavier Neys made it across the Channel from Belgium, but his car broke down on the way to Birmingham. He caught up with us later and was able to 'Buddy' Jill Green for a while.
Steve Matthews put "I'm a virgin" in the best ultra performance section of his entry form. I think he found, like many virgins, that it hurts the first time. I sincerely hope that like most of them, he hasn't been put off trying again.
Sam Fell, he didn't, but I think it was sciatica that prompted his retirement at Birdingbury Bridge. When he first climbed into the car he spoke of this being his last ultra, but before reaching the station was already talking of next time.
Alan Kiff is a true friend of the GUCR. Last year he equipped and manned the checkpoint at Navigation Bridge. I can remember speaking to him there this time, but am unable to recall his reason for stopping.
Mark Dabbs and Spencer Summers both pulled out of the GUCR 1999. They both pulled out again this time - I hope not because of the absence of crew at Buckby.
Guido Reynolds only decided to enter in the last week. How mad is that! Ankle problems stopped him this time, but I have received his envelope for 2001.
Joan Clarke retired with a twisted at bridge 47 Gayton. Jan's log is obviously missing a word so I guessed at ankle in the race report. Whatever the problem I trust Joan Will soon recover and be back for another go next year.
Glyn Marston's TV performance was better than his race. He would have won easily if keenness were the only requirement and, having learned some lessons this time, is even more keen to try it again.
Worthing Striders are more than worthy of special mention. Richard Harwood and Pat Cummins were both starters at the first GUCR in '93, Richard being one of only four finishers. The pair returned in '98 when again Richard was a finisher. This year Richard's wife Sharon joined him on the start line with Pat there for her third attempt. Penny Elliot, a guest Strider, should have been there too, but at 06.00 was not, so three set off. When Penny started late message was passed to the others who, in a very magnanimous gesture, at first waited and then went back for their friend. Aware that they were some way behind the rest and that too much race spread causes problems, they kindly called HQ and asked us not to wait on at CPs for them. The team then acted as race sweepers keeping HQ informed of their own progress, with their crew also helping keep track of others during the difficult spell when Buckby was unattended. All four Striders retired at Blisworth Tunnel and, as I haven't seen them since the Start, I would like to thank the whole Worthing party for their thoughtfulness - it is very much appreciated.
Ian Webber in his fourth GUCR was another who pulled out cold and wet at Blisworth. The arrival of wife Jill in a warm car proving too much of a temptation.
Rich Downing, having crewed in the past, should have known how tough it is, but was drawn to try it for himself He stopped at Stoke Bruerne, but undeterred has sent an envelope for next year's form.
Andy Burr retired last year at Buckby where Bryan Jones was on duty. This time they ran together from Hatton until retiring at Navigation Bridge - I hope not as a direct result of our failure to provide the expected nourishment at Buckby. At the Finish in '98 Bryan volunteered to help in '99, but vowed never to run a GUCR again. At 02.00 on Sunday 28th May 2000 he wished he'd stuck to his words.
Rod Palmer evidently had a problem when he reached Navigation Bridge. For the course record holder to have dropped half an hour into second place meant something was seriously wrong. He was struggling with a pulled muscle in his thigh which, despite a valiant effort to continue, eventually forced him into the pub for a pint before heading home. (He didn't look too despondent when we saw him on Sunday - especially once he knew that his record was safe.)
Anthony Taylor is another who just cannot leave the GUCR be. This was his fifth start, but when he pulled out at about 80 miles he was still twenty miles short of his 1998 best so far.
Ray Willett first came to the race as support for Gary Barnes. Last year he tried it for himself and made 70 miles which he bettered by ten miles this time. At this rate of improvement we'll be cheering him over the line in 2006 and I look forward to that.
Barry Gould was the much perforated subject of a university study into the effects of ultra running. Although the frequent taking of blood and urine samples was possibly having a detrimental effect on Barry's race he very kindly offered a sample of stomach contents. This offer was turned down, but he wasn't to be deterred from this act of generosity and brought them up anyway!
Sue Clements had been keeping pace with club mate Jill Green for the early stages, but had to stop at three minutes to five on Sunday morning having reached a cold and wet Fenny Stratford.
Steve Ward has been amongst the leaders on both occasions when he has taken part, in fact he was, for a while this time, the first ever unsupported leader. Now all we have to do is get him to finish.
Gary Booth had been just about matching the two Garys' schedule for their finish last year. When he called it a day at Grove he left just one Gary to continue beyond 93 miles.
Julie Bolwell was one third of the previously very cheerful Hastings Trio. When her friends continued beyond the Grand Junction Amis she must have been saddened, or perhaps just relieved?
Rob Goodwin's wife Sue phoned at 01.38 on Sunday to say that he was stopping for a rest at Soulbury (87 miles), At 04.46 she called again to let Jan know he was going on "not in a very good mood". He didn't look too happy when he packed it in at 1 00 miles either!
Nevil Stonehouse also retired at Bulbourne where he was already over 4 hours behind his 1999 race winning schedule. Many ultra runners find it is almost impossibly difficult (it's hard enough at the best of times) to push yourself on when you have dropped outside of your expectations from a previous performance. He has my sympathy.
Chris Fanning looked to have his first GUCR well within his grasp as he passed the Grand Junction Arms two hours up on last year's winning pace and two hours in the lead. Sadly he was able only to cover another 15 miles before retiring. I hope he did not regret the decision later as so many have done in the past.
Gary Barnes completed the full trip in 46 hours at his third attempt in 1999. Things were looking good when, over 4 hours up on that pace, he passed Springwell at 13.46 on Sunday. Cruelly he was forced to do the sensible thing (i.e. stop) at 125 miles when his knee became very inflamed. Come to think of it the really sensible thing is not to start! Anyway, Gary gets this year's "So Far, So Bloody Awful" award.

Hopefully I have mentioned all the GUCR 2000 competitors as last year I managed to miss two in the first draft.

The GUCR 2000 Helpers

On call throughout the race on the HQ home number my wife Jan manages not only to relay all messages and keep track of progress and retirements, but also to sound calm and cheerful whatever time of day or night. Without her support the event would degenerate into a complete shambles well before the Start.
In the van Phil Gadd, the mainstay support of all five GUCRs that we've organised, is chef, navigator and photographer. He was able to stay to the end as wife Sarah did not release Joseph David into the world until the early hours of Friday morning.
Understudy for Phil, my daughter Hannah helped very much to ease the work looking after our unsupporteds and kept our spirits up during those long hours waiting.
With the van and back up transport was Trevor Leigh. Trevor had intended to compete but a prolapsed disc put paid to that. He was on hand from selling T-shirts at Gas Street to erecting the banner at Little Venice also providing shelter and transport for retirees along the way.
At the Hatton CP and main transport driver Ian Hope is another GUCR mainstay. He always manages to find lost runners and deliver bags and passengers to the right place. This year he did an extra solo stint at Fenny Stratford until the intended crew returned. Incidentally, in the original 1993 race Ian’s was the first known cave of premature withdrawal by crew!
At the New Inn Buckby were David and Rachel Turnbull. David was a last minute unsupported entrant and successful finisher in 1999. At the Finish in Little Venice he volunteered to help this time and honoured the promise despite moving all the way to Huddersfield.
My sister Mavis Chiverton was also on hand at Buckby. Mave was there last year with Bryan Jones and at Springwell with Lou Myers in '98. Undeterred by these experiences she has already offered to help next time.
Jim and Jane Locke are GUCR regulars who have looked after the very isolated Tring Cutting CP for the last two years. I thought they deserved better facilities (well a loo within a half mile) and to see more of the action. At Navigation Bridge this year they were to take over the HQ van while we rested. In the event we were too cold to sleep and pestered them for more hot drinks and nourishment than all our unsupporteds put together.
My son Diccon, his girlfriend Nicky Grayburn and Phil's elder daughter Harriet were booked for the graveyard shift at the 'mystery' Fenny Stratford CP. Diccon always seems to get the worst job and with the extra spell at Stoke Bruerne as well as a long wait at Fenny for a runner who eventually retired before he reached the CP, tradition was upheld.
The Grand Junction Arms CP at Bulbourne was manned by Mark Brunning and Jonathon Lee. Mark kindly offered to help when injury forced him to withdraw prior to the race. Having competed in 1999 he had a fair idea of the goings on. Jonathon, a colleague from Treston Ltd., had not attended an ultra before so perhaps didn't. For both the prospect of 12 hours at a pub probably seemed quite attractive. The reality of 12 hours in the Treston trailer outside a closed pub, not so.
John McDonagh is another competitor turned helper. On realising that he'd been unable to do sufficient training he returned his entry and volunteered "for anything". He and his wife were on hand to help from the start before being joined by his daughter and son-in-law for duty at the Springwell Lock CP. John by the way is a GUCR record holder. He completed the 1998 race, having missed the start by no less than three weeks. This may well be a world record but details are hard to come by.
After Chris Sanders' retirement only 5 miles from the finish last year 1 wondered if an extra CP would have made a difference. When Dave Steele offered the services of the famous Cambridge Crew I realised that here was an opportunity to have some very experienced help at this critical late stage of the race. All of these guys had either competed in or crewed at previous GUCRs. The fact that I had no kit for an extra CP was a possible hitch but Dave said "No problem, we can provide whatever is needed. Just tell us where to go." I am sure all eleven finishers are, as am I, very grateful for their generosity.