Sunday, June 05, 2011

Running Far in the GUCR - Part Deux

Race: Grand Union Canal 145M Race
Date: May 28, 2011
Location: Birmingham to London, United Kingdom
Time: 41:30

In far London lay the big prize
Sought by ninety-two pairs of eyes.
Off they went with hope in the breast
That well they would fare in the test
And make it past the next sunrise.

Zeus looked down kindly from the skies
On the Will, staving off demise,
Which hoped to finally get rest
In far London.

Heard were many dejected sighs
As, for the fight, feet failed to rise.
The rest bravely managed to wrest,
From Nike, the Cup of Conquest:
Their dragons they'd cut down to size
In far London.

How similar this year's race was to last year's. Ergo the poem above, a rondeau, is similar in theme to last year's sonnet.

The biggest thing I learned is that I have to go back to the drawing board for my Spartathlon training. Just under 4 months left and I have to not only step it up but make a few radical changes. Que sera sera.

Thursday, June 26
I landed in London around 1:30 p.m. and soon found myself on the Piccadilly line making my way to the Euston Road station and a cafe near it where I was meeting a Facebook friend for tea around 3:15 p.m. It was raining when I emerged above ground but quickly found the cafe and made it there without getting very wet. The friend had been waiting since past 2 p.m. and had to leave around 4 p.m. for another appointment. We talked about a lot of things during our 40-minute chat. It was refreshing to meet someone who had no running background. It was also coincidental that the friend's neighbor was running the GUCR too. Small world!

Off I went to Euston Station and after asking about the fare to Birmingham I was faced with the choice of taking the next train, at 4:15 p.m., for the cost of UK Pounds 74 or wait until off-peak hours (after 7 p.m.) to pay a fare of UK Pounds 18. Not wanting to sit in a station for almost 3 hours I paid the higher price the result of which was a walk from Birmingham's New Street station to my hotel, Jurys Inn on Broad Street, in daylight.

I deposited my luggage in the hotel room and went downstairs to pick up water etc. from a store across the street. It was then off to Pushkar for dinner. By the time I fell asleep it was 2 a.m.

Friday, May 27
I woke up around 8 a.m. and went downstairs to eat breakfast. After breakfast I went up to shower after which I went out again to walk along the canal and up and down Broad Street.

I returned to the hotel room and found myself falling asleep just past noon. I woke up feeling refreshed around 2:15 p.m. After freshening up I went out to grab an early dinner. I ate dal and rice in an Indian restaurant. James Adams had sent a message to a whole bunch of us that he would be in a pub called O'Neill's around 4:15 p.m. The pub was right next to the Travelodge where we were to pick up our bib numbers between 5 and 8 p.m.

James was in the pub as promised and we hit it off immediately. He is a very talented runner, having finished the GUCR in 30 hours and change in 2008 in addition to the Spartathlon (twice) and Badwater. Very soon other runners were filing in. We eventually had a full table with Claire Shelley (she went on to win the Women's race the next day!), Allan Rumbles, Paul Ali, Mike Blamires, Jeremy Smallwood, George Fairbrother, Dino Illaria, Lindley Chambers, his friend Sue Albiston, James Adams, Gemma Greenwood, Sarah Hutton, Neil Bryant, Stuart Shipley and a few others.

I ate a couple of orders of French fries. We soon dispersed with Allan, James, Claire, Lindley, Sue and I heading along the route for a half mile or so to reconnoiter the course. It was back to my hotel room after that. Having slept the 2 hours around noon sleep was now hard to come by. I tried repeatedly but was forced to switch on the light and the TV often.

Saturday, May 28
I eventually gave up around 3 a.m. Needing to be up and about by 4 a.m. I did not see any benefit to lying around in bed until then. I quickly ate breakfast (milk and a chocolate croissant) and got down to the business of showering and taping up my feet. I finally left the hotel around 5:25 a.m. and made my way to the Start area on Gas Street.

(In the Start area. Photo courtesy of James Adams)

I met Sharon Weldon, Christian Hottas, Christine Schroeder, Keith Godden and a lot of other people I had come to know from my UK races from the past 2 years.

(Waiting to start the race. Photo courtesy of Christian Hottas)

Dick Kearn's race briefing was short. Something that stood out was "Please avoid painkillers. They take the pain away but leave behind the killer bit". Nice advice. Right after that we were off.

(0.2 miles into the race)

Start to CP#1 @Catherine de Barnes Bridge (10.7 miles)
My tentative plan was to make it to the first Checkpoint, at 10.7 miles, by 8:00 a.m. and eventually to 70 miles in anywhere between 14-16 hours (8 - 10:00 p.m.). That would give me a good springboard to try to go under 40 hours.

(Powering to the first Checkpoint)

(Less than a mile from the first Checkpoint. Photo courtesy of Gemma Greenwood)

The miles went by quite fast. I was talking to another runner and before we knew it we were at the Checkpoint. I reached at 8:03 a.m., downed a milk carton and left in 2 minutes flat.

CP#1 (10.7 miles) to CP#2 @Hatton Locks (22 miles)
The runner I had been talking to had gone on ahead and now I was all by myself. I took up a 25-minute run, 5-minute walk method that wound up working for me for the next 50 or so miles. The 25 minutes would go by almost unnoticed as did the 5-minute walk breaks. I was making good time.

(~ 13 miles from the Start. Photo courtesy of Gemma Greenwood)

It must have been about around mile 19 or so that I came upon a friend, Stephen Thomson, who had finished the 2009 Thames Ring 250M and last year's South Downs Way 100M race (where I had missed the 56M checkpoint because I got lost). He lives in Birmingham and he had decided to get a 20+ mile training run in along the same route as the GUCR just so he could encourage friends running the race. He ran with me all the way to the Checkpoint where his wife and kids were waiting for him. He wished me luck and I powered on towards the actual Checkpoint. Here too I was in and out fast, maybe a couple of minutes at best. I had reached the Checkpoint at 10:30 a.m. i.e. 4.5 hours into the race.

CP#2 (22 miles) to CP#3@Birdingbury Bridge (35.9 miles)
I continued to use the 25 Run, 5 Walk strategy. It was working so why not? I was still using a gel every 45-50 minutes in addition to a salt tablet every 2 hours or so. In addition to the milk I was drinking at every Checkpoint (I was getting it from my drop bag) I was also partaking of crisps, a few cookies here and there and roasted peanuts. This section is hazy in my memory. I was mostly alone and in a zone of sorts. CP#3 duly arrived at 1:22 p.m. (7:22 into the race).

I did sit down here for I wanted to eat some of the canal soup that Dick Kearn, the RD, had mentioned in his e-mails a few days before the race. The soup took about 5 minutes to be made so I busied myself by eating a few more crisps and peanuts. The soup was one of the tastiest things I had eaten all day. I texted as much to my friend, Anu Singh, and she cautioned me against eating too much in the feed stations. She remembered what had happened to me after gorging on a lot of food in the 70.5 mile CP last year!

CP#3 (35.9 miles) to CP#4 @Heart of England, Weedon (53 miles)
It was back to the 25+5 grindstone again. It must have been a couple of miles out from the CP that I hooked up with a runner, Per Hjorth, who was running the race for the first time. He was wearing a cute blue hairpiece.

(Per Hjorth in the Heart of England, Weedon feed station. Photo courtesy of Jonathan)

He and I were either together or within sight of each other for the next 80 miles or so. It was in Braunston that I helped a cyclist carry his bike up a steep set of steps that crossed the canal. Soon Per and I were at the steps that would take us onto the path that went up a moderately steep hill and to the other side of the Braunston tunnel. I ran up the hill all the way partly to use my quads, muscles that had lain kind of dormant all day, and partly to thumb my nose at the hill.

Back down to the canal it was again. Per and I talked about various runners that we knew and we soon arrived at the Norton Junction (48.3 miles). Allan Rumbles was here and we greeted each other. I went into the inn there to use their toilet facilities. The innkeeper was kind enough to fill my bottles with water and a pub customer even bought me a bag of crisps! You English people are the best!!!

I arrived in CP#4 at 5:38 p.m. i.e. 11:38 into the race. Back calculating I would hazard a guess that I passed 50 miles in around 10 hours 30 minutes. I again had some milk and left soon after.

CP#4 (53 miles) to CP#5 @Navigation Bridge (70.5 miles)
This section of the route goes over the second tunnel, the Blisworth tunnel (at mile 62.5), and involves over a mile of asphalt. I remember going over the tunnel with a couple of other runners and then making my way down the trail to the canal. In spite of having gone to the restroom at 48.5 miles the urge to go was back and as strong as ever. I used a pub on the lock by the canal. I remember coming out of the restroom and noting the Barcelona-Manchester United score (it was tied 1-1 then).

Back onto the towpath again. I ran+walked as best as I could until, with about 2-2.5 miles to the next CP, twilight set in. My headlamp was useless in that hazy light and I resorted to walking until it got dark. Once the lamp was switched on I discovered that the towpath was not in the best of conditions, making for treacherous, in my opinion, footing. So I walked all the way to CP#5 arriving there, with a chilly breeze blowing atop the bridge, at 10:19 p.m.

CP#5 (70.5 miles) to CP#6@Bridge 99, Water Eaton (84.5 miles)
After eating some baked beans and a few cookies and getting into slightly warmer clothes, i.e. my Polartec American River 50M jacket, gloves and my Lean Horse beanie, I was about to leave when Javed Bhatti showed up as he had promised he would a few days before the race. He is one of the nicest people I know - very supportive and encouraging. He and his friend, Fiona McNelis, offered to pace me for a couple of miles. Their company was more than welcome! I had texted Emily Gelder, who was going to pace me from 99.8 miles onward, that I would probably not get into CP#7 until after 7 a.m.

We ran some and walked a lot of the next 2 miles before they bid me adieu and turned around to go back and wait for Christian Hottas to show up at CP#5.

A really strange thing happened that put paid to my hopes of making it to 100 miles in around 25 hours. Every gel I ate instantly resulted in severe acid reflux. It would shoot up into my throat. This made it very hard to keep my caloric input going and, as a result, I was forced to walk along at a pedestrian pace.

Very soon I found myself walking along the towpath with Per Hjorth and Sarah Hutton. Sarah's legs were starting to seize up. I would stop now and then to pee and they would continue on and disappear around a bend. I would trudge on and eventually catch up with them only to have the cycle repeat itself some 30-40 minutes later. Our little train finally spotted the dim lights of the CP ahead in the distance. We made it there at 2:56 a.m. (20:56 into the race if you are still awake and keeping track).

I promptly asked for some hot chocolate, ate a lot of cookies and also crisps. I also asked the Anthony Taylor, the co-RD of the Thames Ring 250M, to wake me up in 20 minutes. I tried hard to sleep but with the sound of the generator behind me and the runners coming and going I was unable to sleep at all. I had now been awake for 37 hours straight. I left CP#6 around 3:23 a.m. Sarah had already left. Per was right behind me.

CP#6 (84.5 miles) to CP#7@Grand Junction Arms (99.8 miles)
This section was a long one. Per was ahead of me and I kept him in sight. He was walking at a pretty good pace and I must have been too for I pretty much kept the same distance between us.

Very soon the pre-dawn light brightened the sky and the darkness retreated with every passing minute. It was still cold and I was loath to take off my warm jacket lest I caught a chill. The phone rang around 6:00 a.m. It was Emily informing me that she and her friend, Clare Shobbrook, were in CP#7. She asked me if I wanted them to come to a point closer to where I was so I could rest. I gladly accepted their generous offer. I turned Data Roaming on in my iPhone and quickly looked up Post Codes (Dick had sent them to crewed runners last year) for meeting points ahead of me.

I met Emily and Clare around the 94.5 mile point and they promptly left me in the back seat of the clean car, whose floor promptly got dirty with all the canal dirt I brought in, to get some sleep. It was probably around 7:00 a.m. or so. I tried, unsuccessfully once again, to sleep for 15 minutes. I finally got up when they returned and starting walking again. Emily and Clare drove off to make their way to CP#7.

I reached the CP at around 8:53 a.m. I promptly gathered my toiletries and went off to the Grand Junction Arms pub's bathroom to use the toilet and freshen up. I felt like a new man when I emerged 15 minutes later dressed in fresh clothes all ready to attack the new day.

I quickly ate some beans, some more peanuts and crisps and, with Emily Gelder now by my side, set out to get past 100 miles and onto the Finish. It must have bee around 9:20 a.m. when we left CP#7.

CP#7 (99.8 miles) to CP#8@Springwell Lock (120.3 miles)
It was still not possible to run. Emily tried to get me to shuffle a couple of times but my heart and body were just not in it. So we walked. Very soon she and I came upon a runner who was sitting on a bench by the side of the canal. She asked after his health and quickly asked me to go ahead while she helped David. Very soon I could hear them talking and coming up behind me. David soon passed me. He and I were to play tag for the next 10 miles or so. He would go ahead and I would catch up and pass him. Then he would pass me. This made for an interesting morning in a beautiful part of England.

Emily is just one of the sweetest people you are ever likely to meet. Very, very helpful and supportive she was the best thing I could have asked for in those miles. She even massaged my legs 2-3 times between then and the Finish. I owe her the latter part of my race!

Clare met us around 105 miles and it was great fun to down a generic Red Bull during the small stop. It kind of settled my stomach but I was still finding it hard to run.

Emily asked me to go ahead. I started walking and it was soon after that I decided to try a small nap. I distinctly remember setting my watch alarm for 5 minutes hence and I actually got 4 minutes of deep sleep sitting on a step! I was instantly awake as soon as the alarm went off. The 5-minute nap had done me a world of wonders! I felt reinvigorated. Emily soon caught up with me and we surged ahead.

It must have been around 110-111 miles that I asked Emily if Clare would be kind enough to get me French fries. They had worked last year, around the same point in the race, and they were my last hope this time around.

Such coincidence that Clare agreed to meet us at the same place that I had eaten fries last year! Unfortunately traffic had slowed her down and she had not yet reached the bridge when we got there. Emily asked me to continue on and she would bring the fries to me.

It must have been right here that I attempted to run once again. Maybe the Red Bull had done its magic. Maybe my brain had woken up and decided that it was tired of walking. I was able to maintain a decent 10-11 minutes/mile pace for the next 1.5 miles or so. I kept looking back to see if I could spot Emily but she was nowhere to be seen. I kept moving on and suddenly she was by my side, holding a Macdonald's bag of fries! Manna from Heaven brought to me by my own angel - Emily! The fries revived me tremendously!

I soon started running, like I had the year before, at 8-9 minutes/mile pace and soon passed Per Hjorth and David who were walking together now, and blazed into CP#8 at 2:10 p.m. (32:10 into the race). I must have spent 5 minutes here having my bottles refilled and handing over my drop bags to Clare to take to her car. Clare were going to drive on to the pub at 127.5 miles.

CP#8 (120.3 miles) to CP#9@Hambrough Tavern (133.2 miles)
Emily was in Clare's car eating something and changing clothes so I took off at a sedate pace. Emily soon caught up with me. We ran along and walked occasionally and, about 2 miles from the Checkpoint, Emily and Clare talked. I immediately asked Emily to request Clare to order French fries for me. As soon as we reached the pub I went to use the toilet one more time. I came out to find the 2 beautiful women sitting outside enjoying their drinks and food. I quickly polished off the fries and a glass of wine. I was on the road again in 6 minutes or so around 6:45 p.m.

Just like last year I put the hammer down and started running fast. It must have been a few miles into the run that I suddenly heard my Mom, who had passed away the week before in India, start a conversation with me. I told her that I missed her and she talked about how she had given up on Life after suffering a fractured leg a few days before she expired. I asked her if she was going to be with me during the run and she replied in the affirmative. I powered on secure in the knowledge that my Mom was by my side.

I reached Bull's Bridge junction around 7:42 p.m. I quickly got onto the Paddington arm of the canal and continued to run. I reached the final Checkpoint, at Hambrough Tavern in Southall, at 7:56 p.m. I had my bottles refilled and asked Clare to tell Emily, who was still in the Tavern using the restroom, that I had left.

CP#9 (133.2 miles) to the Finish, Little Venice (145.4 miles)
I ambled along and Emily finally showed up about 0.75 miles into the run. I had decided, before she showed up, that the blister in my left foot that had been bothering me for the last 40 miles or so was getting too painful to continue running on. So it was going to be a long 12-mile walk to the Finish.

Emily and I walked along talking non-stop about Badwater etc. I will be crewing her next month in that iconic race. It must have been about 5 miles to the Finish when I got a text from James Adams asking me how far I was and that he was coming to meet us. True to his word he showed up with about 2.5 miles to go. Emily and James talked about this and that and I moved steadily on listening to their conversation. James left us with about a mile to go since he could take a bridge across to where his girlfriend, Gemma, lived. Emily and I moved on and before we knew it we were in sight of the Finish.

With about 300 yards to go I called Anu and she promptly put me on her speaker phone. It was gratifying to have Anu, Nishad, Malhar and the others listen in on my finishing yet another GUCR!

I was blown away by the times that the men's and women's winners had recorded. Pat Robbins broke his own record of 26:24 by running a phenomenal 25:37 while Claire Shelley finished in 30:00 even. Hats off to you both!!

Emily and Clare, who had picked up food and a bottle of wine for me for my post-Finish celebrations, dropped me off to my hotel, the Novotel, soon after the Finish. I was in bed by 1:00 a.m. and woke up early to eat breakfast before packing up and taking a cab to the airport. I was back home in San Jose by 6:00 p.m.!

I had wanted to go under 38 hours for this race. I finished 3.5 hours slower. I have to really rethink my Spartathlon strategy. More pain in the offing? So be it. :-)

Let me first start by thanking Dick Kearn and his amazing corps of volunteers. They were extremely helpful and caring. I thank you all for helping me finish this long race. You folks are awesome!

James Adams - a special shout out to you. You are an inspiration! I love your sense of humor and your amazing talent at running long, hard races. I am looking forward to meeting up with you again in Athens for the Spartathlon. Good luck in your run across the USA which you start on June 19.

(Clare, on the left, and Emily in the hotel lobby after my finish)

Clare Shobbrook - you are a doll. You did not even know me before the race but you went miles out of your way to help me. I am moved, very moved. You have a lifelong friend in the US!! Hugs to you.

Emily - what can I say about you? You are the most wonderful soul. I feel like you and I have known each other (in another lifetime maybe?) forever. What an amazing pacer you are. Caring and infinitely helpful. I am so looking forward to returning the favor when you start Badwater at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, Jul 11! A huge hug to you and lots of kisses. I am your #1 fan!!

Mom - this race was for you!

More GUCR info:


Kannan V said...

Muy cool, congratulations.
Happy to join you in your training runs for the spartathalon, Rajeev.

Anonymous said...

Wow, fascinating to read all these details. You have given respect to french fries now :-) Really sorry to hear about your mother. Good luck with Spartathlon.


Shalini said...

Wonderful read, Rajeev. I am amazed that you could drink milk during the run. It doesnt make you sick to your stomach?
The conversation with your mom was incredibly touching. It's a tough thing to lose your mom or dad. How awesome that she was with you and that you were able to sense it so vividly on the run.
CONGRATULATIONS. It's inspiring beyond words to read about it.

Ian said...

Nice report Rajeev. Congrats on the race. I need to do one back in my homeland (but not that distance). Have fun at Badwater. Still remember meeting you there inside Cafe 49. I'll have to add Emily to my list of runners to follow. Nice job

Rajeev Char said...

Wonderful report! You are just amazing!

Umesh Krishnaswamy said...


Always a great read! All the best for Spartathalon.


Rajeev said...

@Kannan: I will keep you in the loop once I get back to sustained training.

@Shachi: Never knock French food.

@Shalini: Thank you! Our bodies are amazing! Milk has helped me a lot the past couple of years.

@Ian: England is beautiful! Emily will do well in BW. She won the Spartathlon last year and I have a lot of faith in her.

@Char & Umesh - Thank you!

James Adams said...

Awesome Rajeev. Was so nice to see you during the race and near the end. Really looking forward to Athens later in the year.
I really think Laurie would love this race and will try to get her to do it and I'll crew for her. This really is the most special race in the UK.
Hope you get a chance to say hello when I am out in the States. Would be great to see you.
Have fun in Badwater. Emily is in very good hands indeed. She can give that race a proper smashing.

gobarefoot said...

Congratulations Coach, Sorry to hear about your Mom.

Avon said...

Good report Rajeev and nice to meet you. I look forward to catching up again at a future GUCR.

PS Love the subtle race colurs.

Anonymous said...

Awesome run and as always a pleasure to read. Keep it going.
Cheers from the swamps of Louisiana