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Postcards from a Canal: Repoman's 2015 GUCR report
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repoman




Joined: 19 Nov 2006
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Location: Riding eternal, shiny and chrome

PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 1:22 pm    Post subject: Postcards from a Canal: Repoman's 2015 GUCR report Reply with quote



Postcards from a canal: The 2015 Grand Union Canal Race

The Grand Union Canal Race is a 145 mile foot race from Gas Street Basin in Birmingham to Little Venice in London. Itís harder than Tough Mudder.

Sunday 24th May, sometime near midnight

Like distance doesn't equal rate and time no more -ďThe sweet part of the cityĒ, The Hold Steady

We are somewhere approaching Little Venice and everything is fcuked. The defining characteristics of how I usually gauge reality are letting me down: time, distance, place - nothing is stacking up. I'm not quite hallucinating but everything is fuzzy and indistinct. I'm desperate to look at my Garmin but I hold out, certain that my restraint will reward me. I decide that I will look once we reach whatever shape it is I can see up ahead: it must be at least 0.2 miles away I think. An eternity of strides are taken, slothful, resentful and imprecise. Rob nudges me away from the edge of the canal once again. Whatever shape it is that I am heading towards fails to crystallise, it's form remaining penumbral and elusive. I crack and look at the Garmin, lifting my wrist in a Tourettic gesture that has punctuated the last however many hours.

146.1 miles.

Exactly the same as last time I looked which was at least 2 miles ago. Fcuk. What exactly is going on here?

Friday 22nd May, late afternoon

Martin and I are in a bar in Gas Street Basin, enjoying a pint and the usual pre-race banter of injury stories, race strategy and sand-bagging. We are discussing the mythology of the Grand Union Canal Race, it's enigmatic race director Dick Kearn and the characters it attracts, many of them multiple finishers, proud of the race and protective of it. It is the antithesis of the Ironman culture that Martin and I have both moved away from in the last few years as we have got more into ultra-running. Independent, cheap, folk-loric and hard as nails. It's no wonder people love it.

Monday 18th May, afternoon, Wythenshaw Hospital

I am inserted into an MRI scanner, a canula in each arm trailing tubes back out of the machine behind me. The top of the scanner would be visible immediately above me if I were to open my eyes but I don't - it's way too like the start of Diamonds are Forever where Sean Connery is trapped inside a sealed pipeline. I have been in the machine for 30 minutes already, a disembodied voice in my headphones commanding me to breathe in, breathe out and then hold my breath as the machine clatters through its tests. To monitor my heart under load I am then remotely injected with drugs that accelerate my heart rate. I have been warned of the effects earlier but the experience is worse still. My heart pounds and a prickly sweat breaks out across my face and everything accelerates rapidly as my chest tightens. It's what I imagine coming up on MDMA would be like only condensed into 3 minutes and without the beatific euphoria. I feel wretched but the voice intones me to hold my breath for what must be 30 seconds and I just about comply, palpitating as the effect of the drug subsides.

Several times during the race I return to this scene in my mind. What I thought would be a straightforward medical examination had revealed a "murmur" which was subsequently refined to be aortic regurgitation and worthy of a full MRI of the heart under stress. The cagey consultants prognosis ranged from "live with it" to "stop running" and in the darkest hours of GUCR the latter option seemed very, very welcome. I just wasn't loving it anymore, it wasn't doing me any good and I wanted to stop. I wanted to be in my garage, fat, drinking a beer and pottering about with my old motorbikes. I didn't want to be in some sh1t hole in North West London next to a canal, proving nothing to no one.

With the perspective of distance I am of course thankful to have the opportunity, support of others and health to even attempt something like GUCR: that I couldnít recognise this at the time shows just how deep in the hole I was.

Sunday 24th May, late evening, Checkpoint 9, Southall

A complete stranger, Joe, has volunteered to run with me from the final checkpoint. He's a lugubrious Irishman from Tipperary and an ultra runner himself. He has already covered a good spell buddy running for his friend Fiona and was probably now planning a pizza and a pint but he clocks my distress and selflessly steps up. He's probably not expecting Wildean wit and sparkling company from me as we step out on the penultimate 6 mile stretch...

....and I definitely don't disappoint. As the crepuscular light fades so too do my last shreds of dignity and humour. I am a prissy, whiny, ungrateful prima donna and Joe shows amazing restraint in not pushing me straight into the canal. He is as lucid and and rational as I am antsy and unreasonable. I know that we do simply need to keep moving forward but I desperately want to sit down, just for 10 seconds. This section of the canal is straight, featureless and unremittingly tedious: there is simply the canal, the path and a hedgerow. No fence. No bench. No boat. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I just about stop short of asking Joe to form a human chair so that I can sit on him.

Saturday 23rd May, late morning, Hatton Locks

We have covered 22 miles and are sat on a bench outside a cafť with a pot of tea. My legs are absolutely battered, as if I have just run a hard marathon on the road. My piriformis is pinging miserably and our ordered bacon sandwiches havenít arrived. I decant my pot of tea into my soft flask and we crack on.

Jeez. This is way too early for this type of sh1t.



Saturday 23rd May, lunchtime, a lay by

Amy and her sister Morgan are crewing for us. Amy is a friend from Robís running club and new to crewing, but taking to it like a duck to water. Unable to get right next to the canal she pulls up over the road so that we can relieve her of her precious cargo. Wrapped in tin foil, heavy and deep, its shape is full of promise that doesnít disappoint. It is quite simply the most delicious and satisfying bacon sandwich I have ever eaten, plump fresh bread, generously filled with bacon, anointed with melted butter and finished with a money shot of HP Sauce.

We move off, lost in gastronomic reverie. I even forgive the cafť at Hatton Locks for the 30 minutes they took to make the bloody thing. It was most definitely worth it.

Saturday 23rd May, late afternoon, CP4, Heart of England

My wife Carole has arrived to crew for me for the last 100 miles of the race. Iím feeling in good shape and have dispatched the first 50 or so miles in under 12 hours. My A target was 11 hours but this is plenty good enough. I top off my flasks, eat loads and crack on. My aching legs are a memory, and everything seems tickety boo

Saturday 23rd May, late evening, a pub car park

I meet Carole and she has the Jetboil on the go. Fantastic - Expeditions Foods macaroni and cheese. 800 calories of cheesy joy which I shovel inelegantly into my face as I march onwards, macaroni spilling everywhere. Some kind of party barge tails me for a while blasting out Motown and old soul tunes as I gradually pull away from it, fortified. Life is good.

Iím counting my strides again. This got me into some difficulties at T184 last year (when I couldnít turn off my internal counting mechanism) but I have to do something to break things up. I know that a lot of people aim to walk the whole night section, but I want to average a minimum of 15 minute miles and I simply donít walk that fast even when Iím marching. I play with different run/walk ratios Ė 5:1, 4:1, 3:1 and keep each one up for an exact mile on the Garmin to get a reference point.

Iím enjoying the discipline and a good few hours drift by, my pace somewhere around 13 minute miles.

6 Pro Plus tablets course through the system. Dawn breaks, unnoticed.

Sunday 24th May, afternoon, somewhere near Watford

Glenn has come out to buddy run with me and has been keeping things moving along nicely despite my flat refusal to run on his command. Rob is somewhere up ahead with Rich, and Glenn and I have fallen into step with Liz Tunna. Liz is a GUCR veteran with 3 finishes already under her belt as well as countless other achievements.

Liz is sat on the lock, her trainers off trying to get some relief for her blistered feet which have been giving her a hard time for several miles when a runner wearing a pack comes along the path from the other direction. Slowly it clicks. Itís Clive and he is bearing gifts Ė a bacon sandwich, flapjacks, biscuits and more. He has been watching progress on the tracker and has come out to meet us Ė what a star.

The merry band set off again, mood lifted.

Sunday 24th May, somewhere half remembered, 100 miles or so

As requested, Carole has some clean socks, some different shoes and a can of cold Coke ready for me. I spend 10 minutes easing off my Hokas, checking my feet , changing socks and putting on my super cushioned Skechers. I stand up and take three strides as my feet unleash fireworks of pain in places that were previously happily dormant.

Like Peter Griffin in Family Guy I slowly walk backwards to the bench and spend 10 minutes reversing the process.

If it ainít broke, donít fix it.

Sunday 24th May, late afternoon

My mood has collapsed.

In my headphones, Scroobius Pip is interviewing Frank Turner as the canal describes a sweeping arc to the left. I have been on my own for a few hours, unable to keep up with Rob and Rich, and the company from the podcast is welcome. The towpath opens out and with no apparent context a low wall grows out of the ground, begging to be sat on for a minute. I oblige, as I fumble in my pack for something to eat. If in doubt, eat, itís all about the calories.

A group of teenagers on quads and dirt bikes are parked up ahead, relaxed, smoking, their helmets perched up on their heads. They look like the Mekon from Dan Dare but I doubt they would know what I mean even if it were to come up in the conversation, which it doesnít.

We donít converse. No one knows sh1t anymore.

Sunday 24th May, late afternoon

A man has a maxi scooter in pieces on a tarpaulin. The engine has been removed and parts are strewn across the canvas. He is prodding at the carburettor in his hands and petrol vapour wafts across the tow path. I am both full of admiration for attempting such work on a canal path, and appalled at his lack of little Tupperware pots to keep all the loose parts in.

It doesnít really feel like a conversation starter: I trudge on.

Sunday 24th May early evening, a canal junction

I finally arrive at the sign. Paddington 13 Ĺ miles.

I have read the blogs and the race reports and I am ripe with expectation. I want to feel the rapture, I am ready to rip off this growling gloom that has been creeping over me and burst into euphoric joy, knowing that the end is now in sight. Just a half marathon to go! 4 hours maybe and itís done. Yeah! Here it comes!

I get the phone out to capture the moment. And, well, you get the picture:





Nothing changes. I donít step up a gear. My feet still hurt. I turn towards London.

Sunday 24th May, evening, Perivale

The group of friends coagulate around the gap in the fence, some sitting either side, others spilling backwards up towards the road or past the fence onto the tow path. The sickly smell of skunk hangs over them, and in the gloaming, Jakob reaches out his hand to relive Piotr of the joint. Behind Piotr, Jakob makes out a figure wearing some kind of number, moving up the towpath towards them with a pained, shuffling gait. His addled brain struggles to make sense of it and he gives up, turning back to the group as the wraithlike figure melts away.

Monday 25th May, 00.30, Little Venice

Carole has come out a mile or so from the finish to meet me and walk me in. She has been absolutely fantastic, looking after me everywhere, never missing a meet up and always having the right thing ready. I am pitifully ungrateful, instantly wanting to know how far from the finish the car is parked so I can escape. She wants to share my joy in the finish but Iím all out of joy and canít fake it.

Dick is lifting the medal over my head. He firmly shakes my hand and says ďThank you for bringing it homeĒ What a great thing to say: just for a few seconds I feel a glimmer of positivity but it is quickly extinguished as I shuffle off from the finish line. My body, already near catatonic, has unilaterally decided to power down. Tea is offered, the swopping of war stories beckons, but I want none of it. I tell Carole that I have quit running, and that UTMB can go fcuk itself.




Monday 1st June, Glossop

It took several days distance for my funk to dissolve and an appreciation and love for both GUCR and my own achievement in finishing to break through the cloudy skies. In the moment it was grindingly hard and in the latter stages, remorselessly unsatisfying. I experienced a bad patch like no other: We all know that they happen, but usually they pass before the end of the race rather than several days afterwards. My usually sunny disposition was squarely defeated by a long flat strip of water.

Back in the present Iím thrilled to have been part of this epic race and full of admiration for everyone involved. My mojo is restored, my finishers sweatshirt is worn with pride and UTMB training starts tomorrow Ė I donít think Ill be complaining about a flat race for quite a whileÖ

With sincere thanks to everyone who got me through this epic: Dick and the amazing GUCR team, Carole, Amy, Morgan, Glenn, Rob, Martin, Rich, Clive, Joe and everyone else who was a part of this incredible rolling tapestry of souls.

Thanks to Ross Langton for the photos. The selfie is mine. Doh.
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Last edited by repoman on Tue Jun 02, 2015 3:54 pm; edited 9 times in total
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ed_m




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 1:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Didn't have trackers in my day, just sayin.
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DonkeySpank




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brilliant! I could visualise and empathise with every moment you described. I live a few hundred yards from Hatton Locks and have quite fancied a stab at the GUCR the last few years.

Maybe next year...
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gingerbongo




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report, and great effort !
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earthling




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Reminded me a little bit of a Quinten Tarantino movie going back and forth through time and space.

Loved the report Repo - not all your usual elegant sarcasm though - obviously this one took quite a lot out of you. Great achievement well done.
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hillwall




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome stuff. Well done.
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tunster




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 6:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

great job Nick. The experience will stand you in good stead and look forward to future tellings of "If you think this was bad........"

Was a bit worried with the "Tea is offered, the swopping of war stories beckons, but I want none of it. I tell Carole that I have quit running, and that UTMB can go fcuk itself."

Will give you a shout if we are going to be in the Peaks any time soon - alternatively you can join me Saturday morning for some monster Winter Hill reps if you fancy it one weekend?

Chamonix for me this weekend - your training weekend coming up as well? - if that doesn't get you inspired.....
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curry




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 7:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report, but maybe not one for the GUCR marketing dept.

Flat waterside races are definately not the most uplifting. I had a wretched last eight hours on TP 100 the year I finished but I am still drawn to this race.

UTMB will be a breath of Alpine air. Enjoy the training and see you in the lakes in July (if I make it to Dalemain in time to catch the 50ers
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veggieboy




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 8:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

All about you again eh mate!

Top effort, especially having t put up with Bateman for so bloody long. Did he offer you any cut price tattoos ?

And big up to Curry and your missus
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Tony Stark




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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm just gutted to find out you don't look like Travis Bickle.
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newMan




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 7:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wish I had know it was on we would of supported. We have a place above the Braunston Tunnel and train quite a lot on that section of the canal. I've biked all the way but I'm never running it.

Well done.
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TransitionTed




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

War of attrition mate
Well done 😊
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RiRi




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 8:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report as usual Nick. Smile
Massive well done for finishing, and to Carole for not killing you. Wink
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smitters




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 11:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Outstanding effort. One hopes that climbing back out of the hole makes everything around you seem a little better, whether it's mid-race or a few days afterwards.

Onwards and upwards (and downwards, and upwards, and downwards...). No scenery issues with UTMB for sure...
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p00key




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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 12:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fantastic effort Nick - I have to say it is on my to do list !
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