Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Grand Union Canal Race 2012 - Report

By now some of you will probably know that I did not finish the full distance but covered 96 miles and unlike last year I have no regrets for this was a real adventure against nasty weather conditions, here is my story.

The Night Before - 1st June
At about 4.45pm a once quiet hotel lounge soon began to fill up with Hokas wearing, tracksuit clad men and women awaiting the arrival of Dick Kearn, the Race Director of the GUCR event. Smiles, waves and laughter ensued as we met old and new friends. Check-in was easy, sign the disclaimer, grab your GUCR t-shirt (pre-ordered), get a map then discuss the option of going to the pub after for a meal. Before we did I met up with Marit Bjerknes, Knut Kronstadd and Rajeev Patel, Marit and Knut are from Norway, Rajeev from America and we all went for a short walk up the canal to get our route sorted. Then it was time to get back, sort my kit out and then to meet the others for a meal of fish and chips followed by a lovely cool glass of cider. I retired early after a hot bath ready for the big journey.

The day of the race - 2nd June
I was up at 4.40am having had a reasonable 6 hours sleep with little disturbance from the party-goers, washed, dressed in race kit and ready for the day, packing my last bits I went down stairs to collect my pack lunch breakfast and had just finished my cornflakes when I noticed Javed Bhatti outside so we decided to walk to the start together where I would finish my food there. It did not bode well as it was absolutely tipping it down but this did not dampen the pre-race dark humour from the competitors.

From left to right: Javed Bhatti, Keith Godden, Rajeev Patel, ?,?
Lindey Chambers and me in the front

 The picture above shows me sneaking into a posed picture, hands full of orange juice, mouth full of pain au chocolat.

The Start
At 5.50am we were called down the the start where we were given last minute instructions and at exactly 6.00am we were sent on our way. My plan was to run at an average of 5 mph (8kph) for about 50 miles something I was pleased to keep up and hit the 50 mile mark at about 4.30pm.

The early rain made the going tough with one runner slipping on the Birmingham brickwork very early, I have a feeling he dropped out early as it looked quite painful. You can see from the picture above  I was wearing my smock, hat and a pair of gloves and was as snug as a bug in a rug, anything to keep the weather off and to preserve what energy I had. The pack takes a long time to spread so it was time to listen to the chatter mostly from Lindsey who seemed to be able to talk continuously but it was all good stuff, I was less forthcoming today as I was looking ahead all the time

Check Point 1
This check point is 10.7 miles into the course at Catherine-de-Barnes Bridge which provided cold drinks and snacks in the form of orange cordial, Cola, and sweets. I grabbed a few drinks and filled a clean cup with snacks...time to "Snack on the Run" no need for bags. The weather had dried up for the time being so I had taken off my smock.

To Check Point 2
I was pleased to see the back of Birmingham and its suburbs, the canal around there can be dire but the weather had settled down now to heavy rain but canal here is lined with trees which makes it protective but heavy underfoot it was here I was quite focused still and was looking forward to a nice cup of coffee and a change of socks but first I had to traverse a series of locks, I could see the check point at 22.4 miles in Hatton ahead but I could also see the sweet shop so popped into buy a can of Coca Cola and a packet of crisps then ran into the check point, powdered my feet, put a new set of socks on (Absolute bliss considering how wet my feet were) had a coffee then went about guzzling my can of coke, it was brilliant, I could feel the sugar go to work just around the time I  can get a dip so was feeling great for the start of the next 14 miles.

To Check Point 3
It is a strange thing in the race that you feel you are the only person on the course but at check points people appear quite quickly behind you but now I felt quite alone but would be spurred on as I passed someone or indeed they would pass me with a brief conversation about the weather or to ensure we were both safe and happy to trudge on. The important things to remember are to eat so ever so often I would snack on a gel or chocolate biscuit and more importantly not to get to set in your mind of what to expect at check points. The maps told me "Hot Meals and Drinks" your mind can conjure up images of plates of soup, pasta and potatoes but in reality it can be something very simple that can be cooked on a camping stove.

My pacing was getting extremely methodical almost monotonous and had so far covered 36 miles in 7.5 hours just under 5 mph very pleasing indeed.

This check point holds one of my favourite memories of the run, one of the helpers daughter of about 9 years old was obviously given an "important  job" of preparing a humongous plate of scones covered in spray cream, jam and strawberries. She came up to me and said "Do you want a scone Jerry?" to which I replied (jokingly) "As long as I get extra strawberries" to which she went ahead reorganising the strawberries on them so that I got an extra 2 :-) She then handed them to me, her hands covered in cream and jam to which she licked them clean!!!! Best damn scones I have tasted in years. The"Hot food" comprised jam roly-poly and custard.

All stodged up I moved out to Check point 4

To Check Point 4
Now is the time to take a different tact, I was beginning to walk more now, I was still in a very positive mood, almost bullish but I was becoming aware of a blister forming on my heels and it began to annoy me that after all this training without trouble GUCR was pulling on my weaknesses, the terrain was pulling at each one of them. As the weather had changed for the better and I had changed into a dry shirt and my showerproof jacket as my smock had chaffed my armpit raw but I had now protected it with a thick layer of Vaseline. I was still in good spirit and was happily laughing and joking with the canal boat crews when I came across one of the strangest of sights a boat with 8 pirates on board I shouted "Curse you Black Beard!" to which the Pirates all turned and shouted "AHHH HHHHAAAHH" in unison turned away and carried on drinking their beer....what a great stag party.

Further up Rajeev caught me up so we spent a little while chatting he helping me with my gait problems that were appearing due to the now nagging blister in my heel and then we saw a boat called "Ubique" and we then spent a happy 10 minutes talking about various words and there strange meanings and origins. I love this type of chat, it passes the time away and gives you respite from the problem at hand.

The weather began to move in now and it was important to get a change of kit. The strange thing is I don't remember Check Point 4 very well apart from a few jokes and just to get a change of socks. Having taken my head torch with me I put it on just as dark really fell and soon came aware of a darting movement in my peripheral vision and then creatures dart in and out of the beam...it was Pipistrel bats flying in to grab the odd insect or moth that was attracted by my light, these were my friends for about an hour.

To the halfway point
 The symbolic half way mark is at Navigation Bridge (70.5 miles) is near Cosgrave this is an important check point where you get hot food, hot drinks and the chance to get dry and warm kit on. It is known for a large number of people to drop out here as this is where hypothermia will have set in or are psyched out by the vision of "the same again" but harder. I traipsed in hungry, cold and in a very buoyant mood. I was welcomed by a very attentive group of helpers who bent over backwards to help in any way. Hot soup here is like nectar to the Gods. I stripped off, grabbed my thermal top, added a layer and wore both waterproofs and my now dry gloves (put them inside your jacket against your body they dry out) grabbed two cans of energy drink from the table, bid my farewells and shouted "I HATE MILTON KEYNES" laughed and stepped into the night with whoops of farewell from the onlookers.

I was tired and the hallucinations arrived
Yes indeed, the foul weather, the dropping temperature and my now painful calf's which were pulling something horrible were taking a strain on me. I am still amazed to realise how upbeat I was however this is the time of hallucinations and whilst I am happy for one or two, my world became just one hallucination as 1.00am came and went. I saw a Stag standing on a bridge shake his antlered head at me and I blinked and he was replaced by a bush with two branches, I saw a cats head in the path but by far the worse was me talking to non-existent runner. I know now that what had happened was a lady runner came up from behind and spoke to me, I looked to my right and "saw" her but in fact it was my shoulder and strap which my mind changed into a hooded runner, Sue was in fact behind me all the time!

Sue moved off ahead as I preferred my own company and was going through Milton Keynes and because the hallucinations were so vivid decided to stop under a bridge for shelter and have an energy drink as I approached a young lad jumped out in front of me and shouted "Gi' me your money!" without thinking I pulled the energy drink out raised it above my shoulder and shouted "F*** O**" he then said in a high pitched voice "Oh God" and skirted around me and ran off. I asked later if anyone had seen the man and was pleased to find out it was not a hallucination.

The rain continued
The weather was awful now, I was cold, feeling a little down, I have come accustomed to have bad patches knowing that I will get through them but I had my doubts now as I found my heels and now legs were grumbling and were very painful, I refused to take painkillers. Worst still, I was hungry and the hallucinations were bugging me as they were now longer fun but reminding me I was tired.....and a liability for the water was only feet away.

Check Point 6
This is based in Water Eaton and in a way I was dreading this check point as last year the food was rank, the water tasted foul but this year it was well manned by very helpful voluteers, well stocked with food and this time I chose hot sweet coffee and Cola to give me a boost choosing to fill my bottles at a Waterway tap.

Other runners were looking tired now, some wrapped in blankets having 40 winks others saying what I was thinking all smiling, all tired. This year the weather was paying its toll. I left in good spirits for what was my last stage.

To Check Point 7
I had three main issues:
  1. Hunger
  2. Body temperature
  3. Pain
A vicious triangle, I slowed down because of the pain in my legs and heels which in turn brought my temperature down which in turn required me to eat which slowed me down which brought my temperature down.

I had a plan, my good friend Mike Reeves was going to turn up between now and the next check point with food and he being a trained sport physio maybe able to unlock my calfs which hopefully would break the triangle...this was a GOOD plan and kept me enthused and driven, however the Grand Union path had different ones! The dawn chorus enlivened me and the hallucinations ended, the circadian cycle back to wakefulness, the rain now drizzle but now the wind gave chase.

The end game
It was getting hard, really hard, my plan whilst good was a pipe dream and when I stumbled for the last time I took a hard look at my position, I was ahead of check point times, I was in a good place mentally and to be realistic I was soon to be a liability. I made the call, no remorse, I had had an incredible time but the course and conditions were against me so I made my way to the 96 mile mark where I was picked up and dropped off at Check point 7 for an egg and bacon sandwich with a bowl of baked beans.

I was soon met by Mike Reeves whom I wish to thank for his kind help, if somewhat shortened self-adventure and selflessly taking me home

GUCR 2013?
We will see the Delightful Mrs S has some things to say to me especially after looking at my poor swollen feet!


  1. Sorry you had to pull out. What an adventure !

  2. Great report - you have such mental strength.



  3. Well done matey. See you again.

  4. Awesome run and report, well done! You went through a great lot before you stopped. It must have been very hard to carry on and just as hard to pull out. You did an awesome job. Rest well!

  5. Jerry, you did amazinly well, I couldnt even think of doing a quater of what you have done! And your report is good, it must be all the practice with the words in Scrabble :-)

  6. Well done Jerry a fantastic achievement in such tough conditions.

  7. Fantastic report as ever Jerry - amazed you managed to carry on for as far as you did, it's just mind-blowing in those conditions.

    Well done and thanks for sharing your GUCR adventure :)

  8. Good job. Bravo.
    Now let's enjoy the rugby test-matches!

  9. Sorry you stopped at 96 miles. It will be better next year for sure!


    1. Thanks Rajeev, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the weekend. I just need to get some more experience, good weather and I will crack it for sure.

  10. Well done Jerry . A great read, you had the weather against you all the way and still what an amazing achievement .i fancy jam roll an custard now !! Andrea :)