As you will know by now I did not complete the full distance of 145 miles but I want to tell you my journey to 91 miles.Some would say this is a failed attempt and they would be right, I don't, I see this as a successful attempt without the finish line!
With the stark warning of the dangers of pain killers we were sent on our way, I don't think we had moved 5 metres before we started walking as we negotiated low canal bridges and paths about 1 metre wide which was not easy as 93 runners negotiated the route.
Birmingham, now revitalised is a mixture of old and new buildings, the former still showing in the central and surburban areas. It took a little while to get out of town and I think I should get a prize for the first blood injury after I stuck my arm up to prevent me knocking into a bench and scraped my hand against the canal wall causing a deep graze that bled prefusely. The morale was high at this point which is always very dangerous and George and I made a conscious effort to knock off the speed to a comfortable 5 miles per hour shooing other runners away if we felt they were drawing us in. The general conversation with other competitors was about "strategy", usual stuff about 25/5 techniques, knocking out a fast first half ready for a slower second but I just brushed the subject with a "never more than 20 minutes ahead" comment.
George and were very happy to find that as we ran along we were to hit the first checkpoint (10.7 miles) at almost 8.00am on the dot showing we were pacing well and feeling very strong.
Checkpoint 1 (10.7 miles) and onwards
At checkpoint 1 (Catherine de Barnes) I attended to my cut hand with antiseptic wipes and a plaster then went about scoffing a handful of biscuits and a few cups of cold drink, filled my bottles with water and nuun bugging out quite quickly.
We were now in rural parts and the path moved into rough path and hard mud. It came apparent that the flatness of the course and any incline felt like a mountain when the leg muscles moved to different sets and at about 20 miles I felt a little "wobble" as my blood sugars felt low and by luck there was a shop on the path where I bought a packet of crisps and a few bars of chocolate as reserves for a later stage. At Hatton Green we were to find checkpoint 2 and the start of 22 downward locks and at this point we happily entered for hot drinks and a pile of peanuts, biscuits and sweets.
Checkpoint 2 (22.4 miles) and onwards
This was an interesting section, both George and I were still in good spirits, both feeling happy that the last 2 checkpoints were under our belt and we were making good headway. Another thing that was mentioned was we were also pleased that the field had spread out by now which took away further pressure to run with people and at a pace you did not want to do.
At about 30 miles George shouted "That's the Allens ahead" and looking up I saw two people running towards us waving, indeed it was Brian and his son. Brian is from our running club and had said he would meet us at some stage. This was a fantastic morale boosting thing as we said hello to his family and had the chance to stop and chat for a little while but checkpoint 3 was a stones throw away and we were feeling hungry so we bid our farewells for the moment as we trundled off laughing and pleased we had met up. The photograph on the right was taken from Brian's Facebook page and was entitled "We are treating it like we are on holiday" That was an interesting comment I remember saying this to him as we were enjoying ourselves here and taking the pressure off. Looking at the clouds behind the weather was soon to change.
Check point 3 (36 miles) and onwards
To get to checkpoint 3 we had to climb up 10 locks, no mean feat a ~34 miles and by now we were getting hungry and the thought of hot food spurred us on and just as we were about to reach it we were met by the Allens again and we stumbled through feeling a little guilty that we were not giving them our full attention with our minds focussed on a large bowl of soup comprising spaghetti, pulses and baked beans with a pile of bread rolls and biscuits.
The weather was turning bad no as a large rain cloud came over and dumped its contents but luckily we were safely ensconced under a gazebo. In the picture on the left I am to be seen stuffing food and probably eyeing up a hot drink. I promise you I only had two rolls and only a handful of biscuits but it was a meal fit for a King (or Queen).
A few sweets and savoury snacks later we pushed on finding the Allen family tucking into their picnic further up the path and bidding our farewells we marched off. We couldn't have planned it better as now the clouds had blown over and the sun was out. At 39 miles we came to a fork in the river and there was a little confusion on the map reading side as we knew we had a turning soon but 4 miles ahead of ourselves looking at the next map in the series! I decided to cross over as a recce to read a sign and nearly jumped out of my skin squealing like a baby when a 2 foot Adder slid off ahead of me. We soon worked out our bearings and were off again
This was tough old section, the sun was out as we crossed into the midday sun reaching some beautiful scenery and bridge crossings. We chose this time to speak our wives and have a chat to say we were safe and all was going well as I know they were worried which in turn cheered us up. Around us we were aware of other runners as the checkpoints tended to bunch us together for a little while and ever so often you would see the glimpse of another runner as you rounded a bend. Passerbys would stop us to chat and we would explain what we were doing leaving them with opened mouths!
Our pace was still looking good averaging about 4 miles per hour but we were soon to focus on the checkpoint 4 where there were cold drinks and snacks awaiting. Due to the heat of the day we were pleased we had hired a British Waterways key that allowed us access to the locked water cabinets and taps so we could fill up. Before we could get there we first had to navigate over the Braunston Tunnel with the path taking us up a steep hill. This was probably the first time I felt a shift in our moods as we became more introspective. Looking back on this it was probably because we realised we had 100 miles to go at that time!
Braunston Tunnel behind us we battled on to Checkpoint 4 where hot drinks and snacks awaited
Checkpoint 4 (53 miles) and onwards
The little game of numbers is a great motivator, like here, we had just completed 2 marathons and we were focussed getting food on board, getting torches in our bags as it would be dark before we got to the next checkpoint and we had a long hill climb ahead traversing a tunnel under Blisworth hill, a horrible climb in the dark on a country road. I was cheered up to get a couple of texts and a phone call around this time from well wishers but when we finally returned to the canal side our pace was reduced to a fast walk and we were feeling stressed about times as we were trying to hit the midpoint checkpoint 5 well within the cut off time of 1.00am, both of us doing mental arithmetics about pace and time. I don't know why we were worrying about but one of the organisers was playing a good mind game at Checkpoint 3 about us having to hurry up a little)
Checkpoint 5 (70.5 miles) and onwards
We had been warned that a lot of people drop out at this checkpoint due to various reasons like:
- It was half way
- The night part was a downer
- People were cold or unwell
We chose to take this onboard, ignore what was going on around us and just eat, drink and get into our night gear. I grabbed a hot meal of baked beans, quiche and bread, ate sweets, chocolate and drank a hot coffee. My concerns here were my feet which were now blistered and sore, the roadside repairs were holding up but my left heel was bothersome.
As we sat there we heard that runners were dropping out, by that time 22, nearly a quarter of the whole field and saw 2 of those people do it at this checkpoint. We chose to move on and get onto the canal again. Then the race really started for us, we were 70 miles in, it was dark, windy with a fine rain and dark clouds on the horizon. Our moods were down, George not talking and grunting ever so often, I was having dark thoughts and whimpering when my foot was placed wrongly on a rut, my foot blister filling with fluid and my ankle grumbling a little. I was pushing the pace to about 4 miles per hour, a speed walk and I think at this point I was in a better place mentally than George but at around 2.00am I began to hallucinate badly as my mind wandered away and I saw a black crow attack me, it was so real that I even put my arms up and ducked, I saw a black cat walk across the water and a green cowled witch sitting on her canal boat!
As the weather front pulled in George and I stopped for a rest and had a can of caffeineated energy drink which perked us up no end and we continued on. By now by blistered foot was causing me real problems and I asked if I could stop up and check it, it was now enormous and I chose to burst it and was taken aback by the shear quantity of fluid that came out, I know now that this was a deep blister. I now found that my plasters were not in my bag but as luck would have it another runner passed by and he told me his sister was at the next bridge and so I walked on to find that she was a nurse and patched me up with some great foam padding! George for some reason had decided to go on ahead of me but with my injury covered I found myself running to catch him a new energy inside me as the sun came up at about 5.00am. Converstaion returned and George thanked me for pulling him along.
Checkpoint 6 (84.5 miles) and the end
This checkpoint never seemed to arrive, we were now tired and glucose depleted, heads a little fuzzy and I had it in my head we were going to have hot food but I was wrong. We were a bit grumbly and it was difficult to read the finer print of the map and judge distance. On arriving at the Checkpoint we were disappointed to be met with damp crisps, damp peanuts and just a few sweet offerings. After a good chance to rest we had 15 miles to get hot food. We traipsed on, my mood was now rock bottom and George asked if I could go on as he wanted to repair his feet and woul dcatch me up. I carried on walking and was then surprised to see him run up behind me all well and chatting an amazing turn around!!! We carried on for another 3 miles and George said to me "I just want to have a little jog to get my legs going I won't leave you" I knew that was going to be the last time I saw George for the race and so I hopefully carried on, my speed reducing, I was unable to quench my thirst even though I was drinking lots and I knew that if I did make it to the next checkpoint there was no guarantee I would be able to keep the pace on for another 18 hours so after much heartache I chose to make the call at 91 miles, my GUCR over.