grand union canal race 2016
At this point last year, I had to make the tough decision to pull out, just 3 weeks due to a suspected medial meniscus tear in my left knee, amongst other set-backs.
This year was ‘The year’ I was to take on the legendary Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR).
So, after entering again, and my name put into the hat draw for GUCR, I was accepted.
Training was now to be set out by myself in the form of a 21week training plan, right up until the event start of 28th May2016. Getting the balance between my training runs, the business with my wife Caroline Wilson (also WifeCrew) who was my support for GUCR, my own training had to be planned carefully.
Gaining the hours and mileage on my feet, alongside my strength conditioning program, I knew that I could utilise our own fitness training facilities to full capacity and surrounding trails along the Deben river, also further a field, but right on my doorstep.
Now, to the early decisions that needed to be made from the outset, started with myself.
How was my body right now? Applying a lot of Myofascial release work, foam rolling and dynamic stretches to prepare the body for what was coming within training.
Within our fitness training facilities, we have artificial grass through the entire flooring,
hence we train, we encourage all clients to try barefoot training. Benefits being a natural stance
and allowing the body to settle into a good structure, basically as we did before shoes came along as humans in civilisation.
The advantages, not only gave me a great feeling for my strength training but also allowed my legs and feet to adapt to a natural barefoot feeling over the coming months allowing me to transition towards my new runners that I was planning on using from here on in.
Zero drop running shoes, the Altra Olympus 2.0 with max cushioning in their off-road trail shoe.
Why Zero Drop might you ask?
After I was continually getting achilles and calf problems within my running training previous, the shoe which had a heel stack of 12mm dropping to 4mm, was changing my gait and not for the better, especially with the amount of miles I was to clock up in the coming weeks.
This was next item on the list to address for approaching the GUCR a 145 mile Ultra run in under 45hours!!! (5.5 marathons) with cut off points to reach, or your out!!!
Another EPIC CHALLENGE rang to mind which is, why I signed up for it. Especially as I’m an all or nothing person. Thinking about the distance, I knew in my head it had to be broken down into stages in order to achieve this bad boy!!!
Knowing I had my WifeCrew, her Nutrition Guidance and Self belief, I knew I had a good trio behind me. If one element was missing, it would be almost impossible to even think of attempting an event of this magnitude.
I knew I had to make my training time productive and effective, although it was going to be brutal.
In the back of my mind IT WAS GAME ON!!! and this was the order of the day and weeks to come.
I did in fact clock up over 660miles in training within 21 weeks, so what was another 145 to get through extra.
Training had its bad moments, flipped out ankle (suspected fracture), sickness bug at Xmas,
muscle strains, but, nothing was going to stop me getting to that start line, and it didn’t.
On the day
Setting off, myself and WifeCrew travelled up the night before straight from coaching clients,
to then switching hats and needing to coach myself!!! We were fortunate to stay with a family friend, otherwise it would have been stay in the back of the car!!
As usual, before any event we’ve taken part in, we spent a few (more than we should) hours preparing everything, large containers of food, clothing, equipment etc… then to fit them into an order within the back of the car so that WifeCrew was happy with where everything was, in order to help me when I decided that at checkpoints that I didn't want anything lol.
After only a few hours sleep from myself, getting up at 03:30 was the start, probably
the last chance of sleep for a few days.
We arrived at Gas Street, Birmingham with 20mins to spare. I registered in, collected the infamous event t-shirt, only to be worn when you've earned the finish line.
Realising how over dressed I had been because of rain early on leading up to the start, but kept composed, a brief speech from Dick and Keith, then, 5,4,3,2,1, was the off at exactly 06:00.
So, soon after starting I knew that I had to strip off a few layers, whilst a lot of competitors passed and I was then alone!! No worries I thought, lets catch up, but steady. Music was playing in my ears, as I’ve always done in training, pace was spot on and comfortable for now was the plan.
Thoughts of representing myself, WifeCrew, my clients and raising awareness for
Asperger East Anglia were at the forefront as I plodded along.
With all my training being solo up until now, with a handful of these with maybe one other. It sounds odd but I like training solo most of the time, as it was just me and the off-road.
Even though it had been a while since I ran with others be 1 or even 2 people, I kept my planned pace and was feeling great.
Heading out of Birmingham was a bit tricky, but hey, a bridge is a bridge right??!!!
I soon hooked up with two chaps, Chris Morgan and Mark Bissett, who were now pulling my pace at 10:00 - 10:30 min pace. This was not my original plan pace, but I felt inspired by these two ultra athletes and felt good to keep their pace.
They had a good plan, based on their experience which was great to hear about whilst running with them. Shortly after joining the chaps, I arrived to a very happy WifeCrew face at CP1, where I had to stop, change clothes, refuel liquid and whole foods.
It was then a quick WifeCrew check for my next stop point for pitstop 2 and I was off to try and catch up the guys, who had carried on by now.
About mile 10, I had a nice little addition to the event where I stacked over, whilst running with the guys, cut hands, bruised and cut right knee, to which I was told ‘they are mere flesh wounds,
Pace was still good, conversation inspiring, felt good, all boxes ticked again.
CP2 WifeCrew pitstop.
The Chaps carried on as before, so I spent little more time at this stop. We discussed fuelling up until now, pace timing up until now and when the next stop would be more beneficial to keep on track.
By now, I as brief as it was and inspiring to run with Chris and Mark, I had to switch back to my original plan and run solo to achieve and maintain my own pace, but held my own for the first marathon.
Prior to the start of GUCR, both myself and WifeCrew had amazing chat with the legendary Tom Boother (recently returned from his epic Lands Ends to John O’Groats run), who was introduced to us by one of our clients. Tom gave us at least 30mins of his time, which was completely invaluable based on his event achievements.
We both learned a lot from him and tried to implement this into the event planning stages.
So for me, it was back to 11:00 - 12:00 min pace, and by now was heating up nicely,
which I knew I preferred to the cold, my body responds better and breathing.
The Question of Hydration.
This was now key, along with the electrolytes, especially as I sweat a lot during training anyway.
Knowing the most I had run in training in a single stint was 36miles (55miles over single weekend)
I knew I had to break this event down into more manageable chunks for each stage. I think methodical, so every 15mins checking what I was doing and going through was a norm for me.
Reaching the 70.5miles in under 19hours was essential. This was what kept me motivated and going at this point.
I still felt good as the miles progressed, 30,40,50 onwards, but I felt an additional hotspot that I had received a couple of weeks prior to the event of GUCR and this was starting to rear its head again, ahhhhhhh, the last thing I need. So dealing with it was essential, then off again.
I wish I could say I had a lot of time to take in the scenery, but I was busy looking at not falling over again. There was a lot of encouragement from, not only ‘every participant’ that passed me or I managed to pass within the GUCR, but the canal boat owners who recognised the event from previous years.
This all added to the ‘Jay keep going’ mantra. Along came another checkpoint, where I met the WifeCrew again, but also another crew who were there for Ian Shelley who I met for the first time, this was his second attempt at this GUCR, a Very inspirational man.
From a conclusion, of many thoughts whilst whilst running along, was that I began to confirm that UltraRunners ARE a different amazing breed and fantastic culture to get to know. Part of which why I’m so passionate and love it so much.
What could have been catastrophic to my event journey, was when I ran past a set of bridges. Thankfully for one other runner (who surprised me by being on the opposite side of the canal),
I didn't make a wrong turn and could have ended up heading towards Coventry and not London.
Now, arriving at the next checkpoint, I met up with Ian and his Crew again, along with WifeCrew,
from here on in, we all decided to stick together and carry on as a giant team.
My pace was now better established, with the help from Ian, who brought back into my head with a plan of run, walk, run and set intervals especially as we were now approaching 60miles.
For me, by now, at the next check point, the temptation to lay down/ sit was so immense but
NOT ADVISED (even just for a short while as advised by Tom Boother).
Unfortunately I met the ground quickly after this brief lapse moment of nice thought, and sat down, bugger!!!! Uh oh!!! but, meant that I could have food in me, which by this time was very difficult, as my body was rejecting food and only able to take on fluids, pot noodle sprayed everywhere!!!!
After struggling with a single pot noodle, I was able to also get further food into me, via cocktail sausages, crisps, steak and vegetable gloop, etc…. for a happy body moment. I just prayed that my food would stay down!!!
It was then to attend to the other hotspots and a good dose of body glide to an ever sore arse was the plan before getting ready to head off again!!!
By now we both knew, myself and Ian, that we had to get going if we wanted to remain in for the chance of half way at 70.5miles in under 19hours. This was also the stage last year that Ian had reached before his DNF from last year and he did not want to repeat it again this years attempt.
So, with this in mind and putting my own personal goal into play, we set off.
FOR THE RECORD
I’d just like to say how amazing and supportive everyone who has believed in me for this event. Family, friends, clients and who I’m fundraising money for Asperger East Anglia.
So, Why Asperger East Anglia?
From more than 3 months ago, I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, having been misunderstood by previous professionals up until recently. Knowing now why, I could run and run and run with a head focus and not much else going on up there. Literal not lateral, a bit of a forest gump you could say.
Back to the story…
With both of us plodding along and the helpful fact that Ian had run this far into the event before, this helped ensure that we stayed on route, where, I think I might have got lost again, especially as the route took us inland away from the main canal by now. We later picked up the canal path again and back to more bridges!!!
‘Thoughts, facts and stats’!!! (in no particular order)
Back to dirt tracks and the canal again. Pace, was now more realistic for us, around 12:00 min miles and walking 16-17min miles.
I thought to myself, NOW its getting tough within this beast event, really tough.
It was now getting to the ‘relentless feet forwards momentum’ mantra.
Making it to 70.5mile cut-off in 18hours and 10mins was what happened next, thank goodness!!!
This felt a good stage to get to, now it was just the fact that we were half way and
had to do it all again!!!
Here, by myself and Ian was decided to try a 20minute snooze in the car (not together I just wanted to mention), after having stuffed our faces again with whole foods for fuelling the next few miles.
So, after 20minutes of no snooze!!!, as we couldn't settle, at all.
His crew and my WifeCrew helped hauled my arse out of the car and helped me try and stop shivering before the set-off again.
For me, setting off was very painful, I looked like the albatross from the animation ‘The Rescuers’ trying to take off!!! Fits and starts!!! but the wheels were again rolling.
Head torches were full blaze now (Ian’s more so than mine, apparently!!!), which made grass tunnel vision interesting as to not fall in the canal fun!!! everything looked 3D to me lol, bugger.
Having thoughts as you do, especially from much earlier on in the day, we were hearing from other competitors that quite a few of the top athletes had to DNF for various reasons.
For me personally this had a double edge effect of oh no!!! but hope for myself and Ian of continuing on further up the field.
We reached the next prearranged checkpoint just under the 80mile mark, but having now completed 3 marathons back to back. Quite rightly I thought, what a fantastic achievement so far.
But, in agony, at this point I knew I had to attend to my swollen and now squishy left foot.
(these are after shots, as too dark at the time)
WOW & OMFG was the reaction after I had taken my sock off from WifeCrew and Ian’s crew. It was one, giant, pillow blister that had progressed from under my two compeed plasters, the hotspot earlier in the day, so it was out with the needles to drain and cover as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Whilst repacking my kit pack, Ian popped his head around the boot of the car to let me know that that was it for him.
His body was not letting him carry on, sickness, disorientated etc… so decided to STOP completely. A decision he had to make quickly knowing that we were about to set off again, but a sensible one considering what he was putting himself through.
So, with a ‘GoodLuck Jay Buddy’ they departed. NOW, my decision on how I felt at this point was next to be decided, carry on, stop, carry on, stop ahhhhhhhh!!!!
I knew I was very capable of reaching the next few checkpoints, 07:00 was the next, giving me 4hours to reach 5miles, then the proceeding checkpoints etc…
But, again with my body screaming, feet in agony, exhausted having been going for nearly 23hours with little sleep, this, was tough!!!
WifeCrew had the faith in me that I could carry on, but the severe risk was literally running myself into collapse to gain the needed miles towards the ever shortening checkpoint cut-off times.
I knew I had been here before, same feelings when I took part in MdS2013 and how fatal it was to push and carry on beyond the body limits, even thou the mind was much stronger.
WifeCrew was also being realistic towards me and my capabilities so whilst deciding, the next thing I knew, I woke up in a panic after what seemed like 30minutes sleep, my decision had actually been made for me.
With this, ‘the’ phone call to Event HQ was made, to inform them DNF on this occasion.!!!
On Reflection and What I learn’t
Firstly, thanking Dick, Keith and ALL volunteers for an awesome event and opportunity of taking part this year.
WifeCrew had been amazing and essential for getting me to where I did - what a great learning curve for both of us.
I also learn’t a lot from every competitor I met along the GUCR. I’ll be taking those snippets of advice along with my training and future events, definitely.
GUCR, Thank you for being a beast, but I will come back and conquer to the finish.
This was my first event with a DNF (did not finish).
What did the DNF teach me?
Again, I knew that taking on this type of a challenge was what I personally needed. Something for me. I teach and coach clients daily, which I love doing, BUT, having something like this to test myself and walk the talk was what inspired me to take up yet another epic challenge.
To over come not just the long mileage and hours of training, but the organisation that I thrive on in preparation, making sure that everything is covered even before the start line.
The only thing that can't be prepared is step by step in the actual event, hour after hour the body and mind gives you signals, be them good or warning signs, so the advice I would give to you, would be, feel your run. Don't ignore warning signs that something is getting worse and worse and before its too late, it WILL stop you.
Despite me feeling good with the pace, mileage, time, fuelling etc..... there was obviously some combination that made my decision to stop within the event and not able to carry on. Not even a giant blister was to change my decision of stopping.
Even after nearly 25hours on my feet with little sleep, something was missing in order to carry on. Which on reflection now, I need to work out in order to get my body and mind further next time in any event that I take on. So, even though I didn't complete my GUCR this year, its a learning to other times. Preparation IS KEY though, then prepare and plan some more, I would also advise.
I was happy with the decision that I made to stop when I did, brave and professional I was
told by WifeCrew, as 78.9miles is not to be sniffed at.
Not just for myself but any of you who have been in similar event situation can also learn massively from what you went through. Seem it as not steps backwards, but positive progression to get even better next time.
For me personally, now I want to get more miles under my belt in the form of 60-100 miler single stage events. AND, to finish them comfortably before heading back up to beast level of the GUCR.
Plus it will be good training for when I head back out for MdS 2017.
Do some more research by finding an endurance sports pediatrist to help Fix and maintain the feet situation, a must I think.
Research the hell out of hydration and sweat ratio for myself. Then practice and apply salt tabs limits for what works with myself. Again, this should be a main part of your own preparation and training regime, pre and post.
To be a good runner, run some more!!!
Learn from every run you head out and do, then apply it for next time. Learn how you feel with varying levels of discomfort, pain etc... this can make or break your event, regardless of how much training you have put in.
In my mind, I knew that I could achieve far more than I had in training. Pushing to limits is a good lesson, but, knowing when to hold off, when to push and when to see how much damage going further would do to you, regardless of the keep going and I must finish mentality.
Test your limits
I experienced this out in the sahara desert. I knew that I could not DNF. I was to push myself to that crossing line twice on each stage of the event, suffered, but got through it.
I want to achieve so much many more events, I feel that you have to choose which ones 'are' worth the limit breaker against what you can get away with.
You don't have to follow my lead, but take snippets from this blog, in what ever capacity you can.
You are far more capable than you realise. Go find it!!!
Thank you GUCR, the pleasure was all yours, until next time!!!