Monday, May 31, 2010

Running Far in the GUCR

Race: Grand Union Canal 145M Race
Date: May 29, 2010
Location: Birmingham to London, United Kingdom
Time: 43:22

There they waited at the Start in Gas Street,
Some eager, some filled with trepidation.
Would it end in Nike's grace or defeat,
This race from
Birmingham to far London?
The Gods of Rain came first to the party
And from a few soles their resolve they stole.
Few more yielded around mile seventy,
Unprepared to pay this long race's toll.
Forty odd rode out the storm and the night
And strode to the Finish like Colossi.
Better equipped they had been for this fight
And had too this thought as their main ally:
Look within you for courage and you'll find
It's limitless, much though it may be mined.

Wed, May 26 & Thu, May 27
Anu, Anju and I flew from SFO to London the evening of Wednesday, May 26. We landed in Heathrow at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 27. We took the Heathrow to Paddington express and quickly checked into our hotel rooms before heading out for lunch. We had planned to walk to Paddington later in the evening to pick up Indu, who was landing at 6:30 p.m. from India, and take her to the hotel. Indu arrived on schedule too and we headed to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was passable.

Fri, May 28
Indu and I headed to Hertz to pick up the rental car I had reserved. We were given a brand new Audi. It had less than 10 miles on it! I decided to drive the major part of the way to Birmingham and it was astonishing how my brain instantly switched everything over to the left side. How amazing the brain is! The four of us ate lunch in the same Italian restaurant where Anu, Anju and I had eaten lunch the day before. We then piled into the car and headed up M4 to Birmingham. The plan was to get to the Red Lion Inn by 5 p.m. to pick up my bib# etc.

We reached a bit early and got to meet Christian Hottas and his friend Christine Schroeder both of whom were running the race. I also met a few people who had started the Thames Ring 250M race in June, 2009. Pat Robbins, the eventual winner of this year's GUCR in 26 hours and change, was one of them.

Dick Kearn, the RD, eventually showed up along with the volunteers. I picked up my bib#, paid the race fee and also picked up T-shirts I had ordered for Anju, Anu and Indu. These were crew T-shirts.

It was off to the hotel after that for some much needed sleep. On the way there the girls picked up some Indian food to go.

Sleep was hard to come by. Not because I was nervous about the race (in all honesty I was not even a little bit nervous) but because I was worried about the 3 women and whether they would be able to find the meeting points we had decided on in advance. Dick Kearn had sent out UK Postcodes for possible crew meeting points and I had taken a lot of those codes and created a document with Google map screenshots. Even though the car had a GPS unit I was still worried.

Sat, May 29
I finally fell asleep at 2:30 a.m. only to wake up at 4:00 a.m. in order to get ready for the race. My breakfast was chocolate milk and a croissant.

(Taping my feet in the hotel room on race morning)

I spent the good part of 30 minutes taping up my big and little toes in addition to the heel and the ball of each foot. One more trip to the toilet and I was ready to roll.

Around my waist I had the rain shell I had been given at the end of the 2009 Dick Collins 50M and it proved to be the most wonderful piece of clothing for the first 7 hours or so.

(Just before the Start)

Anu and Anju accompanied me to the Start. I reached there around 5:30 a.m. Gas Street was a hive of activity with runners and their crew members all working feverishly to get the runners ready. I met a few friends, from the Thames Ring race, including the Thames Ring winner, Jon Kinder, who went on to finish second 27 hours later.

(Pre-Start interview. Keith Godden and Jon Kinder in leading roles!)

Dick said a few words and we were off!

Miles 0-31
The canal on the right separated us from the tall buildings of downtown Birmingham. I must have been over hydrated for I stopped to pee at least 4-5 times in the first hour. About 6:20 a.m. the drizzle began and turned to rain off and on for the next 9 hours or so. That's exactly what the weather forecast had said would happen.

Around 6:35 a.m. the phone rang. It was Arun Simha asking for an update! I told him I was doing great!! :-)) The buildings started to get sparser as we headed out of the city center and into the countryside. A church here, tropical looking trees there all made for almost idyllic vistas that did not change much during the rest of the race.

(The early miles along the canal)

My backpack had 3 small cartons of chocolate milk. I had lugged the milk all the way from the US. Since the girls were meeting me for the first time around mile 31, I intended to spread those 3 cartons across those miles. The heavens had opened up even more by the time I got to the first Feed Station (as they call Aid Stations in the UK - how cute!). I had my chocolate milk, had them top up the bottle that had Pocari in it along with the water bottle and I was out of there in a flash. As far as the Feed Stations went in the first 70 miles, I was in and out within a minute or two. I did not linger long and managed to socialize even in those few minutes, something I am wont to do and like to do in races.

Keith Godden and I played leapfrog for most of the first 30 miles. He had sent me an e-mail last year, in November or so, with the offer to mail me a copy of the Trail Running Association's newsletter that had coverage of last year's Thames Ring 250M race. The article had a picture of me running into the mile 82 Checkpoint (CP# 3). I eventually received the copy in December and was grateful to him for his kindness and I was looking forward to meeting him. It was indeed wonderful connecting with him and running those 30 odd miles "together". I took a few pictures of him and he reciprocated by taking some of me.

(Keith Godden)


We actually ran up and through Shrewley Tunnel together and then for a bit beyond. I had to stop to pee so he kept going.

I then found myself running with a few other runners on and off. I remember talking to one runner who had run the London to Brighton 56 mile race. Another runner had started the GUCR the year before but stopped at mile 70 because he had gone out too fast. This was only the second time he was attempting a race longer than a Half marathon! Amazing!!

The second Feed station came and went by again. I refilled my Pocari bottle with more Pocari powder and left the aid station soon. I wanted to meet up with the girls as soon as I could.

(One of the users of the canal)

I ran a lot, a lot, of those first 30 miles. In fact, I ran a huge portion of the first 70 miles. I would hazard a guess and say it must have been around 60 miles.

The bridge under which I was to meet up with the ladies came soon enough and I was very happy to see their cheerful faces.

(Coming into the 31 mile meeting point)

I quickly replenished my supply of chocolate milk and gels and headed out as soon as I could. The ladies were looking to go and check on the phone I had purchased the day before for use in the UK.

Miles 31-70
I continued to run for many long miles before walking 5-6 minutes every hour. I wanted to get to mile 70 as soon as I could. One of the places I had been looking forward to revisiting was the Braunston Tunnel. This is where I had spent 20-30 long, really long, minutes looking for the path to the other end in last year's Thames Ring 250M race. This time around the path was crystal clear in my mind. It was wonderful to exorcise my Thames Ring ghosts.

I was with 3 other runners when we went over the tunnel. On the other side 2 of them stopped to get some food from one of their crew members who rode up on a bike. I continued on and the phone rang. It was Anju asking me where I was. I knew I was within a mile or so of the 48.5 miles bridge. This is exactly where they were! I soon came to the bridge and was very happy to see the 3 beautiful ladies.

(Coming to the 48.5 mile meeting point)

(Mile 48.5 meeting point)

I asked them to meet me again, for the last time until mile 70.5, in the very next meeting location which also happened to be a race Feed Station. This was in Weedon a.k.a the Heart of England.

I met up with them again in Weedon.

(Coming into the 53.1 mile Feed Station - Weedon, Heart of England)

(The 53.1 mile Feed Station)

I was in and out of that Feed Station and on my way to get to mile 70.5 i.e. the Navigation Bridge. Another place I was looking forward to revisiting was the Blisworth Tunnel. Right at the top of the climb, I realized that darkness was setting in and so I spent a few minutes putting in fresh batteries in my hand torch as well as my headlamp.

I was soon back running along the canal. It was around here that my blood sugar plummeted. I popped a gel but suddenly my ability to run was gone. So be it. I power walked most of the way to the 70.5 Checkpoint i.e. the Navigation Bridge. I finally reached and was very happy to do so. I sat on the bridge and enjoyed Anu and Indu's pampering. I wolfed down 3 hot soups and 2 cheese sandwiches.

(Putting in lots of calories in the 70.5 mile Feed Station)

I then headed to the car to change into warmer clothes and replenish my supply of chocolate milk. Anju was my pacer for the next 10 miles. I had changed into Tevas for, hopefully, the rest of the way. I had used the Tevas during a 26 mile stretch in last year's Thames Ring 250M and also for the last 36 miles of last year's Lean Horse 100M and they were the best thing I could have done.

Miles 70-120
Anju was wonderful. She was very supportive and inquired after me all along. Those 10 miles took what seemed like long, really long hours. This included passing many bridges whose numbers would increase infinitesimally i.e. Bridge 74A, 74B, 74C, 74D and then it would start all over again a few bridges later. Anu and Indu called us a few times to ask where we were and we would give them the bridge number and not be able to tell them how close we were to them!

The Peartree Inn Bridge, at mile 80.4, came eventually. This is where Anu was to take over pacing duties for the next 16 miles. Anu and Anju swapped places and soon we were off. Anu has placed me in many races before and she knows how to get me going. By now my nausea, which had reared its head during Anju's pacing stint, had achieved full blown status. I could only walk fast not run. So be it again. Anu would shuffle ahead and come back to encourage me. I kept plodding on steadily.

The mile 84.5 Feed Station came eventually around dawn. I ate a bit here, drank my chocolate milk and, at Anu's insistence, was soon out of there. The sky had a lot of light by now and the Sun's rise was imminent. The rains of the previous day had been replaced by loads of sunshine on Sunday. The day started to get warmer by the hour. I was still only able to walk so walk I did. The miles went by slowly but went by they did. It must have been around mile 95 or so that we spotted the familiar figures of Christian Hottas and Christine Schroeder ahead. We soon passed them and were also upon the Ivinghoe Bridge where Anu would swap places with Anju. I ate some more food here including some much needed coffee.

Anu, like Anju before her, had done a superb job of not only taking care of me but also motivating me to push now and then as best as I could.

Anju and I set out from the Ivinghoe Bridge at around 9 a.m. or so. My desire to answer Mother Nature's call had now become a pressing problem. It must have been within a mile or so that we came upon an opportunity to use the restroom. I was lucky that the Inn, closed at that time, had the owner in the backyard about to leave. He was kind enough to open up the restroom to me. I spent a good 10 minutes in the toilet. It was like I had been given a fresh lease on life!

We soon came to the Grand Junction Arms, the 99.8 mile AS. One of the 3 runners who had been with me going over the Braunston Tunnel was here and seriously contemplating dropping out of the race. His feet were killing him (he did drop there). Anju shepherded me out of that AS as soon as she could and we started the journey to the next meeting point with Indu and Anu which was under Bridge 140, mile 104.3, in Berkhamsted. This is where Indu was to take over pacing duties for the next 4 miles i.e. until the next meeting point at Bridge 149 and mile 108.5.

I was power walking now and Anju had to shuffle or jog to keep up with me. That was a good sign. The nausea was hanging around but I was determined to make good time. The phone rang again and we told the girls to meet us under the bridge. Once we got close, I changed my mind and decided to go to the car. It was a wonderfully warm afternoon. The sky was dappled with clouds, none of them rain-bearing. People were walking the tow path and enjoying the lovely day. I reached the car and sat down for a couple of minutes to enjoy a chocolate milk. Despite the nausea, I was able to drink chocolate milk at will.

(Do swans preen?)

Indu and I started by running the first mile or mile and a half as and when the nausea permitted me to do so. I then slowed it down to a fast walk and those 4 miles went by in a flash. Anu took over pacing duties again from mile 108.5. This is where things got interesting.

Anu's foot had not been doing too well. Anju's ankle, twisted weeks before this UK trip, was in bad shape too - hats off to these ladies for pacing me despite their aches and pains.

It was with Anu that I turned up the walking into real power walking. I set off at a blazing walking pace and Anu, finding it easier to run than to walk, would go ahead and come back for me only to do it all over again. We passed a lot of bridges here and Dick Kearn's detailed notes gave us mileage numbers for many of these. I was thus able to calculate my pace - it was between 13 and 13:30 min/mile. The phone rang once more. It was the girls asking if I would like French fries. Would I ever!! So we met up under Bridge 165. The French fries and the ketchup were manna from Heaven!!!

It was here that Anu asked Anju and Indu to meet up with us in the Springwell locks race Feed Station at mile 120.3. In all the confusion, Anju and Indu understood that we would meet again at mile 118.0. Anu and I soon covered the next 5 mile at the same rapid clip that we had started off her pacing stint at. To our surprise Anju and Indu were nowhere to be seen. Anu was hoping that they were held up and still on their way there to pick her up. I quickly ate some food and while doing so had an idea. Steve, another runner, had been with me on and off for the past many miles. He and I reached this Feed Station together. He had gone off to the side to his crew car. I went over there with Anu and asked his wife if she would be kind enough to ferry Anu to the 133 mile Feed Station in Southall. She mentioned that they would be making a stop, to help Steve, around the mile 126 or 127 mark. That was fine with Anu.

I left with a bit of concern for Anu and the girls. Where were they? It was just past 5:00 p.m. now and even though sunset was not for another 4-5 hours, it was starting to get a tad chilly. A mile or so after the Feed Station I asked Christian Hottas, who I caught up with, if he had a spare flashlight. He said he did and that it was in his drop bag in the 133 mile Feed Station. That took care of the flashlight/headlamp problem for the night. I now had to make arrangements for warmer clothing just in case I was not able to meet the girls.

The phone rang a couple of times. It was the girls! It got cut off each time. What was going on? I had another great idea. I took Steve's wife's phone number from him and called her to find out about Anu. They were fine and making their way to the 127 mile meeting point. I started to run. I was in Urgency mode by now - I had to get to Christian's drop bag as soon as possible so that I could head on to the Finish and, maybe, not need the light or warmer clothing. I flew down the path at 8:00-8:30 min/mile pace. Before I knew it I was at the Cowley Lock Bridge (#188). Steve's wife and his other crew members were outside an inn. Anu had run to their car to get warm clothes for me. She had found a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Seeing her running towards me with all those clothes made me choke up - I could understand how worried she must feel not only for herself and the girls but also for me knowing that it was going to get colder.

I tried to call the girls on their phone. Dark thought were going through my mind. What if something had happened to them? I had even called Vandi and Vasudha to confirm their phone number. Finally the phone rang and it was Anju asking me where we were. She and Anju were waiting back at the 118.0 mile meeting point. I quickly told them to head off to the 133.0 mile Feed Station and that Anu would be there. I then called Steve's wife to have her inform Anu that the girls were OK and that they would meet her in the last Checkpoint. This took a huge load off my mind. I was free to run without worrying now.


I flew. Flew is truly the right word. It was as if every muscle and tendon in my body came together in those 6 miles to the last Checkpoint. I passed many runners who had been at least an hour ahead of me. I finally made it into the Southall Feed Station sometime around 9 p.m. Mission accomplished. The lovely ladies, reunited now, were waiting for me. This feed station, unfortunately, had no hot food. Neither did the pub in whose parking lot our car was parked.

(Southall Feed Station, mile 133, interview)

(After having changed into warmer clothes)

I quickly changed into warmer clothes, put on my headlamp and started off with a few gels in my fanny pack. I had left the backpack behind. I did carry 2 bottle, both filled with water.

The Grand Union Canal for the next 2 miles was pretty sad. Booze bottles here and there. Signs of nighttime fires. It was obviously a section used by homeless people. British Waterways, working on a section of the canal, had closed it off 2 miles into it and Dick had given us detailed turn-by-turn direction to reconnect to the canal further up by taking a detour through an urban neighborhood. Carr Road to Rothesay Ave to Currey Road to Oldfield Lane. Oldfield Lane led to the Black Horse pub which was on the canal. I promptly went into the pub to use their restroom facilities. That took about 15 minutes and the little bit of rest did me a lot of good.

Upon joining the canal, I saw a signpost that told me that Paddington was 7.75 miles away. I had been along the canal for about 2 miles after leaving the 133.0 mile Checkpoint. That meant that the urban diversion had been approximately a couple of miles long. I was pretty much alone here at this point. Sleep was starting to make its presence felt but I was able to keep it at bay by singing Hindi songs loudly. Looking back with around 6.5 miles to go I noticed lights. They soon caught up with me. It was Steve, his friend and his wife. We walked together in companionable silence. The rest of their crew was meeting up with them with approximately 6 miles to go. We soon spotted them and Steve stopped to eat and drink while I pushed on.

Sleep was coming on in waves now. I would have periods of intense sleepiness followed by spells of clear vision and thought. Across the canal on the left I was passing factories and manufacturing plants that had people in them for the parking lots were full of cars. There were similar companies on my side with the occasional aroma of foodstuff wafting across my nostrils.

Out of the darkness ahead I saw a light coming towards me. My alertness went up just in case it was someone I would not like to meet in a dark alley (or canal path!) at night. It turned out to be Christian Hottas's friend, Hartmut, who was supposed to run the race but had dropped out a few weeks ago. He had walked the 3-4 miles from the Finish and I was the first runner he met. He promptly reversed direction and started to walk with me. He was a boon. I could not have asked for a better pacer. He kept me regaled with stories of running in Germany and his other exploits. Sleep came in waves still but I was better able to control it. I did ask him to wake me up in 5 minutes while I sat down on a little bench for my one and only stop in those last 12 miles. That 5 minute nap helped. I kept asking him about how far the Finish was because I knew that the girls would be waiting anxiously for me. The phone even rang a few times and I gave them a best guess of where I was.

Finally Hartmut pointed to a very distant light and told me that the Finish was kind of near there! That perked me up tremendously and I called the girls to let them know I was close. It must have been about 300-400 yards to go to the Finish when the phone rang again. It was Rajeev Char asking me how I was doing. I told him I was 300 yards from the end and that it was the most beautiful experience ever. It was! I had gone further in the Thames Ring 250M (183 miles) but had failed to reach the Finish line. This was, now, the longest successful race finish I had achieved.

The 3 ladies were waiting for me. With a few hundred feet to go, one of the race volunteers came out to warn me not to get too exuberant with my celebrations as someone was sleeping. I kept that in mind when I crossed the Finish line! Anu, Anju and Indu were there to hug me, take pictures and even record an interview of me.

(A blurry picture of me post-finish)

What an epic race it had been. Never for once, during those 43 hours and 22 minutes, did I ever doubt that I would not make it. I pushed hard when I needed to. My past 100M races had shown me that I could turn it up as and when I had to so I was confident of that ability even during those few times that I was a bit close to cutoffs.

A big Thank You to Dick Kearn and his amazing band of volunteers. They kept me alive with their hot soups and good cheer. I am looking forward to next year's Thames Ring 250M (June 22). Anthony Taylor and Dick Kearn have already confirmed that I can start to get excited about my participation.

Anu, Indu and Anju were the best crew members and pacers ever. Always loving, always helpful they fill my memories of the race with a golden glow that is not about to fade for a very long time. I love you three!!

This 145 mile (233K) race finish means that I have qualified to apply for the 153 mile Spartathlon (from Athens to Sparta) run annually in Greece every September. I will send in my application one of these months for the 2011 race.

Race Reports

Paul Ali

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My Facebook album


Run 100 Miles said...

Jeeez. Rajeev, good stuff man. The videos made it all the better.

You're on a different level.

Much respect.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Incredible. Fantastic achievement. Congrats again.

The description of the events take you there, Anu, Indu and Anju seemed like the perfect paces. Love the videos/

Rajeev said...

@Christian - Thank you, kind sir!

I don't know if I am on a different level than you are. All I know is that it's fun to test one's limits. Barkley for you, right? Now that's a scary race!!

@Vivek - thank you, my friend. Hope your running is going good.


Rajeev Char said...

Another awesome report! Great work and congrats again! Just amazing! Reading this was a huge and welcome distraction from the tedious rev rec conference I was at today :-) Thanks for getting it out today.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Rajeev! What an accomplishment...:) Wishing you all the best for Spartathlon. I am sure it would be a dream come true!


Rajeev said...

@Rajeev - thank you, my friend. I'm glad the blog was of some use. :-))

@Arul - thanks, buddy!

mike said...

Good job!
What is your training miles per week/long run like?

ckayrun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ckayrun said...

Raveev, this was the most enjoyable report. You are not only a poet, but an awesome writer. I'm glad I saved it until I had time to read it slowly and soak everything in. A very hearty congratulations to you. This is an adventure that you will always have in your heart.


P.S. Sorry it took two posts to get the typos out...

Rajeev said...


Thank you very much, love.


Rajeev said...


My peak weeks might be between 60-70 miles. I use 50K-50M races as training runs for my 100M races. Other weekends I may run, as the longest run, between 20-24 miles.

AV said...

8 minute miles at mile 130. That's just crazy - in a good way! Congrats. The entire report is an inspiration. Gotta run today :-)

Rajeev said...




Tapori said...

Coach - As always..very inspiring ,awesome report. Congrats ..

Rajeev said...


Thank you, my friend.


Anonymous said...

Hey Rajeev,
I'm very impressed, you are getting really good at these super-long races. And to think that I still knew you when you were doing 50k's :)
Congratulations! Swiss Chris

Rajeev said...


Thank you, my friend. It was a fun race to do for sure.

Good luck to you in the Tor des Geants.


Kiran said...

Rajeev - this was awesome. I had heard the story from Anju 2 weeks back, but reading it and seeing the videos made it so much more real.....You're amazing and inspiring.....

More power to you & good luck in Athens....I'll look forward to seeing the pictures/videos/write up of that one too - yes, I shall be an armchair ultra marathon runner!


Anonymous said...

Very very cool.....way to go Rajeev


Preethi Gopalan said...

Great blog inspiring to read this and coach Anu's blog too at filled with positive energy to keep going beyond all negativity and challenges

RooBaRoo said...

I held my breath so many time reading this beautifully recoded report. What a PHENOMINAL feat!! You are a god. - Roo

jai shori said...

Rajeev , you're awesome Man!! you blew my mind.. wonderful journey so far and i am sure more to come.. all the very best coach... :)