For a few weeks the plan has been that I was to do a 30 mile reconnaissance mission from Kings Langley to Little Venice along the Grand Union Canal, my running mate of choice was Gemma, my pal from many a race.
The late Friday message via Facebook was:
"See you tomorrow Jezza! We will wait probably just outside the main entrance of Paddington ... I think if we aim to start around the Trove (30miles out) that's a good bet- WD17 3TT."
The Day of the recce
Now on the 0559hrs train from my local station I sat there wondering if it had been a good idea having an Indian meal the night before and whether I should have worn my smock as the weather was pretty cool but miraculously dry and still.
At Paddington, the well oiled worlds of Gemma and myself clashed when, as I stood at the main entrance I heard in a shrill voice "Jerry, JERRY, over here!" and there I saw them pull up in the car and I jumped in ready for the quick drive to the start point in Watford. In that short 20 minute drive I think every subject from mad pecking peacocks to house moves, pasta in tupperware and tennis lessons were covered leaving me with the thought of what Gemma and I were going to talk about during the next 5-6 hours! I was not to disappointed discovering that when we joined the canal path it was her turn to be called "Gemma, GEMMA, over here!" and there, just over 100 metres away was her parents gambolling down the path towards us on their morning walk!
The run starts
The Grand Union Canal was absolutely beautiful, mist rising from the water, the paths wet but easily navigable. I had noticed that Gemma, who wears the same 5 litre pack as me, was well padded out with extra kit and I had no doubt that after a few miles I would be carrying, hats, gloves, snood and arm warmers. I no longer grumble as I am so used to it when bits of kit get handed to me :-)
The next 10 miles went like a blur as we chatted and caught up on news that had happened in the past 7 months, when I say the two of us talk a lot, it is an understatement and we were seen laughing and jumping around the numerous muddy puddles. It was 5 miles into our run whilst Gemma was into a very in-depth story that she was shouted down by:
and with me jumping up and down in glee when I spotted the Springwell Lock Monkey, one of the more bizarre but iconic images on the canal. Even Gemma was taken aback by my antics but it was great to see it in the true light of day as I fear next time it will be in the dark as it will be 120 miles into the run.
This mad moment set the theme of the run as ever so often when it went quiet or one of us hogged the conversation the other would shout "Monkey!"
As the run went on the topic of tactics, food needs, locations of pubs and taps were discussed and discovered. There were the usual trips and stumbles one where I tripped on a branch causing it to whip the back of my leg causing me to whelp ( I have a big red welt on my leg now) but there was nothing that was going to stop us today for we were strong, in great humour and determined our fitness showing through.
As the miles were eaten up we began to notice that the number of industrial and residential buildings increasing, the thoughts of Bulls Bridge in my mind, another iconic point where runners must turn left towards Paddington (see top image in report)
Although 17 miles in to the run we treated this as the halfway point to eat some food and enjoy the scenery.
We were off but for the first mile the path was a bit rough and I fear that footfall is less here but once we were over the worst the paths turned to solid gravel and concrete paths as we got closer to Perry Vale and Notting Hill. There is every point in a run when the moral dips and it was 22 miles for me when this mile just seemed to hang onto me and not change. I believe it was my little head getting confused and so I had a bite to eat and within minutes I was right as rain again, these are the small signals that I have got used to.
Gemma, has youth and experience on her side as her light step carried her ahead which was a great incentive for me as her back gave me something to aim for as we pounded out the miles. Her excellent knowledge of London evident when she told us the building to aim for as targets with distances and, as ever, a good story attached to it. Although separated by 10-50 metres we were in our own little worlds now as we focussed on our individual runs to then have a short walk break filled with the odd joke about how we seemed to have seen the same 2 swans the whole journey, always just ahead of us never behind!
The last mile
Having had 5 hours or so with countryside it is always a bit of a shock when in the last mile the city of London envelopes you like a sheet of glass, shadows and concrete. People appear from nowhere and where once there was an empty path you are dodging, people, bikes and pushchairs but up ahead, just around the corner we could spot the imaginary finish point of the run and ducked over the "line" as my Garmin clicked 30.05 miles.
Thoughts of of our run fresh in our head we strolled off to the coffee shop for a warm down and hot drink, very pleased with the run and absolutely loving the company of my trail buddy, Gemma