Sunday 5 August 2018

Kennet and Avon Canal Race 2018

This is a special race for me - I went to university in Bristol, went to school in Thatcham, and now work in London. When I was at university, I wanted to do a bike ride home - it was about 75 miles along the Kennet and Avon canal but never did. Now as a grown up, I was going to run from Bristol to Thatcham and then carry on another 70 miles to London.

My preferred race style is the point to point - it helps with motivation and seems like a more impressive achievement. This race was getting a train from London Paddington to Temple Meads. The start line was outside the station and the finish line was next to Paddington station. Very simple logistics and to explain to others.

I had a last minute panic as I realised I had picked up the wrong race vest - this was a bladder only UD pack and the bladder was at home. I had a last minute trip to Black's to buy a Eurohike budget jobbie. Not ideal but better than no water.

I got the train after work on Thursday - I treated myself to a first class upgrade as I only needed a single. I enjoyed a chilled 90 minute journey which doubled as a last minute recce. Then checked into the Travelodge. Cheap as chips but lacked air conditioning - just a noisy fan. I got everything packed the evening before having learned by lesson at Lon Las.

I headed over to the start line with Chris - my roommate. All quite relaxed - lots of people and things going on. I met a few people including Ian Hammett. I had quite a damp back which I put down to sweat and being not very good at filling the new bladder. We got there with about 20 minutes before start. I picked up a British Waterways key and dropped off my drop bag. Before long, it was time to head off.

I made a conscious decision to go off very slowly - it had worked well at the SDW100 and I didn't want to ruin my race in the first 2 hours. I ran with Allan Rumbles, Kate Jayden, ultra legend Javed Bhatti, and Phil Bradburn as well as my roommate. I bumbled along with people streaming past me. First two miles were a shade under 10 minute mile pace and the third included a walking break. I went for a 25/5 run walk which seemed to suit me at the early stages.

10 miles came up in 1:45 and the first aid station appeared slightly earlier than I expected just after 2 hours. It was a very quick refuel with the bladder being topped up, fanta in the bottles, and some snacks.

My back was soaked again as the bladder leaked. It had retained the majority of the water but not ideal. The next section through Bath was lovely - it was a bit strange going through the centre as people were heading to work. There had been a lot of commuter cyclists on the Bristol to Bath section and this quietened down after Bath. Not much to report - a famous aquaduct after 22 miles and shortly after a cafe which sold posh calippos and coke. An excellent combo.

We stopped again in Bradford-on-Avon. I went for a cloudy lemonade and a San Pelligrino. The sugar and fluids were much needed. We rolled into the 27 miles check point. I had gone through the marathon mark in 4:49 - pretty slow but what was needed today.
Elite atheletes at work

We had picked up Georgina who has done a ridiculous number of races. She did the Centurion GS100 plus 6 other 100s last year. Oh and 200 marathons more than I have. The 27 mile checkpoint report for me is simply "happy". I picked a couple of gels, some sweets and a flask full of Irnbru. I was in 31st place out of 59 at this point and ticking along nicely.

We picked up Phil Bradburn along this stretch before coming to Calne locks - one of the 7 wonders of the British Waterways. There were 29 locks for the boats to navigate - it was a gentle walk for us and a selfie opportunity. The locks are in the top right of the photo.

At the top, there was a cafe which was excellent. I had a can of coke, a fanta, and a sausage roll. I had been on pure sugar so far so thought I should eat something solid. I downed the fanta and put the coke in my flask. It was nice but I hit a low point as I struggled to digest the food. Chris stayed with me a while but eventually pushed on and left me slowly run/walking. He was planning a proper feed at CP3.

I caught up Chris at CP3 as I went for a quick stop - thanks to impromptu crew Lou who was out supporting Phil and Jayden. There was a tap just after the aid station which nearly made me cry it was so joyous. My temperate was a bit high but nothing bad. The tap sorted things out nicely. I also had the bonus of the leaky bladder irrigation system which was keeping things nicely cool - although damp shorts weren't ideal.

Toasty McToastyface
I crossed through 50 miles in about 10:15. I have 10 hours as the benchmark to get to 50 so was a bit outside that and I was pretty happy with it. At some point on the leg, Lou appeared with lemon calippos. She also had one for Andy who had been running with me. This was a "recovery run" after a 350 mile across Sweden. There is always some ahead of you in this game...

Chris had dropped me again but again I caught him at the checkpoint and left before him. The volunteers are amazing and helping get me back on the towpath in super quick time. 60 miles were covered in 12:27. I was due to meet Nathan - a classmate from school who I hadn't seen in nearly 20 years at Kintbury. He was going to buddy run me from Kintbury for a bit. I had hoped to get to 66 miles in 13 hours but got there in 13:45 (7:45pm). I apologised for getting there late but we were on our way after to a wave goodbye to Nathan's family who had come out to cheer.

I probably spoke to Nathan more than on this race than I did in the 7 years at school. We have both found ultrarunning and he had recently done the 100km race to the stones. Chris headed on to get away from our Thatcham chat and he was looking strong. Soon the 72 miles checkpoint appeared of Newbury. It was next to the (now closed down) pub that I used to go drinking at as a teenager. We were halfway to London.

I had been running from bridge to bridge by now having abandoned the 25/5 hours ago. Everytime I saw a bridge, I ran to it and then under/over it. I could walk once I was through

Yet again I caught Chris at the aid station - he was a having a proper fill of quiche and beans. I tried some quiche but couldn't face it. I had my first coffee or the day plus some snacks and headed on. I was getting plenty of calories through gels and sugary drinks. Next up was Thatcham - home for 14 years.

Chris disappeared up the towpath for the final time (he finished in 34:03) - I took an extended walking break and his headlight disappeared up the trail. There was a really drunk man trying to push a bike across the bridge in Thatcham and a few random people on the canal so it was good to have Nathan with me. He said his goodbyes at the Rowbarge / 79 miles. An excellent shift. His knowledge of bridges coming up meant I ran a bit more than I might have done otherwise.

This was the first time I had self-navigated. I had people around me for most of the race and it was fairly obvious. It actually helped keep me alert as I checked off each bridge as I passed it. I had gone light with water at the 72 mile stop and had just run out by the time I got to the 86 mile checkpoint. The checkpoint is just past the Cunning Man pub - I was looking forlornly at the closed pub before we worked out it was the other side. Andy had rejoined me and we stopped for CP6.

This was an excellent stop with Paul Ali refilling my bottles. I made a switch to base layer which caused much amusement in the aid station. Apparently I'm lined up to be July for the KACR calendar. "Fine spirits - Mr July for KACR calendar" is the official observation. I mentioned I was on the sugar train which caused some concern. They got me some rice pudding which hit the spot perfectly. A takeaway coffee in my excellent "light my fire" cup and I was on my way. I was up to 15th place with 86.5 miles done in 19 hours.

I left the aid station alone and made good progress until Fobney lock - there was a bridge over a weir but the obvious main path was a bit further on. I lost a minute or two but nothing serious. The next section was Reading town centre which was thankfully fairly quiet. I turned off my headtorch so as not to agitate any locals with bright lights. I was through the Oracle centre and out the other side fairly quickly. I said hi to Michael Wiggins's buddy runner and was back out the other side. A few random people making their way home but no trouble.

Mile 92 was a big milestone - it was the end of the Kennet and Avon canal and the start of the Thames. This bit is on the Centurion A100 and after a couple of hundred metres, was the Reading aid station - except nobody was home... I hooked up with Ian Kittle and we knocked out the miles. We then passed the Henley aid station. Except this wasn't the TP100 - we had another 3 miles to our checkpoint. It was getting light on this stretch and the headtorches were put away by the time we reached Henley.

There was a big moment crossing the Henley Bridge - the big 100. It was done in just under 23 hours and not too many dramas. Within minutes, it started spotting with rain and then it hammered down. I was soaked in the time it took to get my water proof out. Ian didn't have one so speeded off down the path. Chris had been soaked on the GUCR so warned me to have one from the start and I'm glad I did.

I arrived at the 102.6 checkpoint which was in a pub car park. This was well timed - I changed my damp top and picked up some supplies - some pom bears style crisps and more gels. I asked for rice pudding which they didn't have - I had overnight oats which were excellent. A big thanks to Rich Cranswick and company. "Kit change and he's off!" was the official report. I left with Ian towards London. I chucked the dodgy bladder and switched to hard bottles which I stored in my pack - including a bottle of coke I picked up on the way.

We had a shocker here with navigation. The path goes through a fancy estate and the signs aren't obvious. The aid station team came out to correct us twice - thanks for the patience with us - our heads weren't right after 24 hours on the go.

Ian dropped me on this section and I was starting to fade. I had set a new mileage PB of 103 miles shortly after leaving the aid station. The weather rain stopped and the weather heated up and I was starting to struggle. My feet were soaked but getting warm. This would be a disaster for blisters. I stopped a couple of times to sit on a bench and take my shoes off to attempt to dry them. I normally take spare socks but didn't today - lesson learned.

Marlow had a minor detour as a park was closed this wasn't too big a deal - I assumed the diversion would be signposted but it wasn't. I fired up strava on phone and navigated back on track. I was having a fairly low section as people were out and about and getting on with the days. I even ran past somewhere selling ice cream without buying one - I clearly wasn't feeling well. I think the photo shows the element of crazy that was sneaking in

The next section was familiar which helped and hindered me. I went past another Centurion aid station at Cookham - the 3rd on the Thames but I only had one for the KACR. Not having a crew for day 1 didn't make much difference due to the excellence of the volunteers and having the drop bag fairies but slogging out day 2 on my own was quite tough. This was a 14 mile section which I did mainly on my own and I don't think I stopped at any shops. I bumped into Andy again as I came off the Thames. Apparently he had fallen asleep against a fence for 10 minutes which had helped a lot.

We were now on the Jubilee river. This was possibly the least inspiring river I have ever been on. It was a baking hot gravel path with lots of cyclists coming past. The aid station was fairly early on and was desperately needed. I slumped into a chair and started to sort myself out. I had change of socks and top and the took off the base layer. The volunteers were excellent here and made me a bacon sandwich. They were quite strict with me as a I got a "David - you aren't eating" and "David - you have already had 15 minutes". This is just what I needed. I left with less than 30 miles to go which I was banking on taking me 10 hours. Lou made another appearance to help me out here which was lovely.

Another baking few miles and I made it Slough. This was even crapper than you might expect. Again I wasn't feeling great as I walked past a McDonalds. It was midday and I couldn't face the public and also crossing an extra road. I had hoped to be here for breakfast.

 It was stop start as I had to cross over pedestrian crossings and muppets on bicycles getting in the way. There was one guy who had cut me up on the pavement and he nearly got hit by a car a bit later. It was a close shave and I was disappointed when the car stopped in time. I picked up some Mountain Dew from a shop and then got lost as I turn the wrong way when I came out. I was back on track after some directions for a lovely member of the public. I had a quick chat as I explained what I was doing and they thought I was mad. Slough took a bit longer than I thought to get through - especially with the detour but at last I was on the Slough Arm of the Grand Union canal.

It didn't start well as I had to walk around 3 people drinking cans of Holstein Pils at the entrance to the canal. The Mountain Dew was fighting back and I now had pain in my side. I had a burst of cramp in the abs as I got changed at mile 116 and now 5 miles later, getting rid of the gas was painful. The pain built over the next few miles and dipped a bit after a burp and stretch but slowly came back. I was in quite a lot of pain when I got to the junction onto the main GUCR. The Slough section had hundreds of discarded beer cans and general crap so I hoped it would get better on the main section. I counted off every bridge and mile marker.

I took a celebratory bench stop and only had about 2 miles to the last aid station. I was really struggling to get close to 3mph so I had at least 7 hours to go. I had hoped for a sub 36 hour finish but was looking at 38 hours+. This would be after 8pm. I dragged myself into the last aid station not feeling great. My side pain was either cramp, a pulled muscle, torn muscle, or internal organ failure (hypochondria had set in). I have a recollection of a runner sprinting past topless and flew past me. I hadn't seen this person before and it seemed like they were cheating at this... They had a race number on too...

I collapsed on a grass bank by the aid station for a lie down and maybe a sleep. I put my cap over my face and had a rest. There was a lovely lady who came to look after me. I asked for something savoury and she produced some quiche and a cup of tea. This was lovely. I had arrived at 14:30 and have given myself 30 minutes to rest up. I had a chat with Lindley and a few other and felt better. I did a couple of sit ups to test my abs and they felt fine so I could cross torn/pulled abs off the list.

I exited the aid station at 14:48 and only had 17 miles to go. Yes just a half marathon a bit to go. I can knock this off in 2 hours on a good day. It was going to be more like 6 hours today with 33 hours in my legs... After a mile or two, the famous left turn appeared. This is famous from the GUCR and represents the last piece of navigation for the day. Just stay on the right side of the canal... I had seen a few runners near the aid station but was on my own now. I kept ticking off the miles. Some were even below 20 minutes.

The pain in my side was getting quite bad now - it helped to stretch which I did every mile or so. I even gave myself 15 breath's worth of eyes closed time at one point. I bumped into Lou again with 6 miles to go. She gave me a caffeine bullet - a sweet with caffeine and electrolytes. It was a refreshing minty taste and Lou said it would give me a lift in 20 minutes or so. I was willing to take anything at this point. It was nearly 6pm or so by now...

Another benchmark was passed. I would have needed a sub 36 finish to get into Sparathlon but the actual criteria is 220km or more in less than 36 hours and I passed the 220km mark in about 35:40 or so.

This section of the canal is full of rubbish including sofas, broken bikes, cans, and general crap. One of the highlights though was a curry factory which smelled amazing. Shortly after was a sewage works though. I could start to see things like Wembley and the Shard coming into view. For the first time in hours, I saw someone behind me. It looked like two runners - I really didn't want to lose a place now.

I took the maverick idea to run. I had been running on and off until Slough but hadn't for a few hours. To me surpise, my side hurt less when I ran so I decided to run. I picked up the pace and ran for a minute and then walked for a bit. I kept this up and started to run a bit more. Mile 143 was 15:41 it felt really quick. Mile 144 was 14:59! I could also see the countdown to Paddington on the signposts.

I really picked up the pace towards the end (caffeine bullet effect?) and could feel the end coming. It was getting busier towards the end and I knew I was almost there. The last mile or so had some ridiculous bridges one of which felt like climbing over the pyramids of giza. I kept thinking I was lost but kept plodding.  I thought I had taken the wrong canal but eventually the famous gantry arrived. I jogged over the line and did the traditional finish line press ups...

The finish crew were brilliant. They helped me get changed with a bit of beach towel banter. Stupidly, I had only packed skinny jeans and a tshirt - I will bring a hoodie next time as you get cold quickly when you finish. Pam Storey then did a sales pitch on the 24 hours of Crawley but I wasn't mad on signing up to another race just yet. They were also disappointed I wasn't doing the Leeds Liverpool canal race 4 weeks later...

I finished in 37:43 for 18th / 33 finishers and 59 starters. My longest run by 43 miles, and longest time awake by some distance (4:45 Friday - 22:30 Saturday). I celebrated by having an upper crust baguette and sparkling water on the train home. My very kind neighbour gave me a lift for the half mile back from the station...

So thanks again to the volunteers. Early on they provided the F1 style pits stops to get me back on the road and later on it was army field hospital to get me back in battle...

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