Monday, September 26, 2022

The Warwickshire Ring 111-mile Race

What: Warwickshire Ring Canal Race (111 miles)
When: June 25-26, 2022
Where: Coventry, United Kingdom
Result: 40 miles

It just felt good to run a race
(Ignoring the hard to run pace)
In England after all these years!
Leaving behind those Crohn's fears,
I ran with a smile on my face!

Discomfort I vowed to embrace,
With equanimity and grace,
As canal sounds blessed eager ears!
It just felt good.

First cutoff I did well to chase,
In this really long footrace,
With early miles in high gears.
(Reminder of those yesteryears!).
Then came pain. Then to stop the chase
It just felt good.

Back sometime in the last few months of 2021 Keith Godden, the RD of the Canal races, posted on FB that a one-off event, the 111-mile Warwickshire Ring Canal Race (WRCR), would be held on June 25, 2022. Unlike the other more famous canal races, this one would have checkpoints 23-26 miles apart, a la the Thames Ring 250M, and it would start and end in the Coventry Canal Basin.

Excited? You bet I was. Given my Crohn's 111 miles seemed a tad more achievable than the longer canal races that spanned the distance from 130 miles to 145 miles. I sent in my registration form and alea jacta est is what I would have said back then if someone had asked me about the race.

Kim was very excited that I had finally signed up for a canal race. She knows how obsessed I am with them and talk about them at any given opportunity. She was even more excited when I invited her to join us for the trip. She would help me with the race and pace me from 75 miles should I make it that far.

Our journey to England was uneventful and we landed in Heathrow at around 7 a.m. on Thursday, June 23. 

                                                                (Heathrow airport)

There was a lot of traffic on the motorways owing to a strike by railway workers (more on that later) and it took a bit longer than usual to make it from the airport to our hotel near Buckingham Palace. We did, though, arrive in time to catch breakfast.

                                                                   (The Rubens)

We freshened up in our rooms and headed out to check out paintings in the National Gallery and then wandered around that area. We also showed Kim Covent Garden. We ate a very light lunch as we had a 6 p.m. reservation for dinner in our hotel's Indian restaurant. We all dressed up in our finest clothes and enjoyed some good Indian food that evening.

                                                               (Dinner in the Rubens)

The girls all went off to bed almost right away after dinner but I could not sleep owing to a combination of jet lag and worry about how to get to Coventry on Friday given the nationwide rail strike. There was no strike on Friday but I was reluctant to buy two tickets to Coventry lest I find that the trains had been canceled or were late etc. 

I chose to find a private taxi to Coventry and chanced upon booking.com. A taxi was eventually arranged for 1 p.m. on Friday. The driver, Hitesh, arrived in a beautiful BMW 5 series and Kim and I were soon on our way to Coventry. Hitesh turned out to be the nicest person. He and I connected on many levels. During the journey he promised to take us back to London no matter where he had to pick us up from - somewhere on the Warwickshire Ring canal route or from back in Coventry depending on how my race went.

Our hotel rooms were pretty large and we dumped our bags in our respective rooms and took a cab to the Coventry Canal Basin to check out the Start area.

How familiar it all felt! Kim and I went for a short walk up the canal towpath as I wanted Kim to get a feel for the canal. It really felt like I had come back home!

                                                         (The Coventry Canal Basin)



                                                      (A ramp down to the towpath)

                                                  (Kim took a photo of me from the back)

We got back to the Basin and found familiar friends and even Keith Godden who was about to set up the table to hand out T-shirts and hoodies that some runners, including I, had ordered. Kim and I picked them up and eventually found a cab to head back to the hotel.

                                                   (With Peter Johnson and Kate Hayden)

                                                         (With Keith Godden, the RD)

We then went out looking for something for Kim to eat. She settled on a burger and fries which we took back to my room where I started working on my drop bag while she ate.

                                                   (Getting things organized for the race)

Soon enough everything was where it needed to be and it was time to retire for the night. I could not sleep as thoughts of previous UK races and jet lag conspired to keep my awake. I usually feel alone and vulnerable the night before a big race especially if I am alone in my room. I pinged Kim to ask if she wanted to go for a walk. She had just finished showering and she agreed to do so. She needed to buy a comb anyway so we found this shop that had everything we needed.

She went off to her room while I stayed awake reading or watching videos on Youtube. It must have been 2 a.m. or so when I noticed that Kim might be awake (she had checked a Whatsapp message) so I pinged her again and asked her to come to my room if she was awake. She brought the book she was reading and started reading while I tried to sleep. I must have dozed off for the next thing I heard was the sound of the alarm going off at 6 a.m.

I had a cup of coffee and got ready soon after. We took our bags down to the lobby where we called for a cab and then checked out.

The cab came in a few minutes. While we were waiting Kim and I took a couple of photos. It was race morning!!


                                                    (Waiting for the taxi outside the hotel)

The cab did not take very long to reach the Coventry Canal Basin. Was that a hive of activity. People I recognized and who recognized me hugged me. I was very, very moved when Dick Kearn hugged me and said that the race was now an official race as Rajeev had now showed up to run it. :-)

It was a tad chilly that morning but the area was a hive of activity because of the runners and support crew milling around.

Kim took photos and a video of me just before the start of the race. Soon we were off!

                                                                 (With Dick Kearn)

                                                           (Talking with Dick Kearn)




                                                                (Just before the Start)

                                                             (My race Start interview)

The first 26.5 miles were all on the right side of the canal, save for the first few hundred feet, so navigation would not be an issue. I soon settled into a pace that I felt I could maintain for many, many miles. I would, of course, be throwing in walking breaks as canal running, flat as it is, tends to make one run for extended stints and then walking becomes a result of tiring too much instead of something that helps one take timely breaks from the running.

I had taken an Immodium just after waking up and was hoping that I would not need another one until late in the day. That said I still had to go once, off into the bushes, about 4 or 5 miles into the race. I settled back into the previous pace soon after.

Since navigation was not to be an issue I used the race provided map to assess where in the race I was, how many miles I had covered and what the resulting pace was. The race had started at 8 a.m. and the first Checkpoint was at 26.5 miles and its cutoff was 2:30 p.m. (6.5-hour time limit). That equated to an average pace of 14:43 minutes/mile.

                                                               (Map 1 - Start to CP1)
             
How time changes one's body and mind. Normal aging tends to make one lose some speed but couple that with an illness (Crohn's Disease for me) and it complicates things even more. My training, what with all the traveling I had done in the past 8 months and Crohn's Disease's effect on my body, was sub-par and all I was hoping for was to be able to make that first cutoff. 

11 years ago I had started the Spartathlon (Athens to Sparta) and had run the first 26.2 semi-hilly and hot miles in 4:23. Here I was, 11 years and Crohn's later, worried about the same distance's generous time limit of 6.5 hours. :-D

I kept up with my fluids, salt tablets and Scratch chews during those early miles. I played tag with Roz Glover and another very tall runner who was planning to walk the entire course. He was amazing as his walking pace was faster than my walk+run pace. :-D

I passed the Half marathon distance in 2:45. That meant that I was moving at an average pace of 12:36 minutes/mile. My mind was busy calculating my arrival time in the CP and at that point in the race I was estimating around 1:30-1:35 p.m. All the plans of mice and men!!

The weather was holding up. My pace was slowly dropping off as those first 5-6 miles run at under 11 minutes a mile pace were starting to take their toll on my grossly undertrained body. I soon stopped at a water spigot to fill up my almost empty bottles. 

It soon started to drizzle on and off. I had to stop, put down my backpack, put on my rain jacket, sling my backpack on my back and start up again. All this would take an extra 2-3 minutes. After having done this a few times (the rain jacket would make me feel hot once the drizzle stopped) I decided I would not put it on unless it rained really hard. 

                                                    (The only photo I took during the race)
                          
The miles were going by one by one (I could tell from the race maps exactly where I was on the course) albeit slower than before. It must have been around 1:45 p.m. (my original estimation of my CP arrival time of 1:30 p.m. had been left behind in the dust by now) that it started to come down a bit hard. I stopped under a bridge and put on the rain jacket. I had passed 8-10 army trainees, hiking 10 miles that day with heavy backpacks, just before the bridge and now they passed me and took a path off to the right to head off into town. 

Going by the map I knew that I was close to the CP but the map was a bit deceiving about its location. I finally spotted Kim about 300 yards off in the distance outside the CP. 

I arrived there at 2:10 p.m. (a 20-minute buffer). I had called Kim about 20 minutes before my arrival to ask her to heat up the small container of a rice dish called poha using hot water in the CP. I sat down, wolfed down about half of the container and left at 2:16 p.m. Those extra 14 minutes would help me, hopefully, get to the next CP, at 49.5 miles with a cutoff of 8:30 p.m. or 12.5 hours for 49.5 miles, in time. 

                                                                (Map 2 - CP1 to CP2)

The body was now slowly starting to protest. I could feel my pace slowing down very noticeably. The early Start to CP1 12-13 min/miles were now morphing into 14+ minutes/mile. I kept calculating the distance left and the time when, if at all, I would make it to CP2. 

By about 35 miles into the race I was getting more and more convinced that I would not be able to make it to the CP in time. My legs were starting to hurt and my pace was down to the proverbial crawl. The outskirts of Birmingham along the canal were depressing and I was no longer having fun. That has been my life's motto for a very long time - "Never do anything that I do not enjoying doing". 

I sat down on a bench to rest my legs and to decide what I wanted to do. It was 5:50 p.m. and I had 2 hours and 40 minutes to cover the remaining 11 or so miles. That translated to a 14.5 minutes/mile pace and here I was plodding along at 16-17 minutes per mile with the distinct possibility of just getting slower.

I decided to call Kim to let her know that it was not right of me to have the CP2 folks wait for me beyond the closing time of 8:30 p.m. (I would have reached past 9:00 p.m. at the rate I was going) and that I would take an Uber to CP2. I also texted Anu to let her know of my decision. I eventually made my way off the canal (I had my jacket on as it had started to get chilly and a light drizzle had begun) onto a very busy street called Alum Rock Road in Saltley. I had covered around 40 miles by now.

The Uber came very quickly and I was on my way to CP2 at Catherine de Barnes Bridge. During that ride I called Keith Godden, the RD, to let him know of my dropping out of the race and to thank him for everything he does for Canal races in the UK.

Kim was waiting for me at the CP and she sweetly made me one more poha container which I wolfed down with gusto. During the Uber ride I had also called Hitesh who showed up 30 minutes later to pick us up and take us down to London.

Horrendous traffic in London made our journey to the hotel very slow in the last 4-5 miles and we reached The Rubens well past 11 p.m. A journey of about 120 miles had taken 4 hours. 

I loved having Kim there with me for the race and I will be ever grateful for all the help she gave me before and during the race. She is a sweetheart!

I had talked incessantly with her the past 4 years about how much I loved the canals and she used to keep telling me that she would love to come to England just to see me start one of those races. Her wish came true in the WRCR. She now wants to run the WRCR herself and she will get her chance in 2024 as the WRCR will alternate with the Kennet-Avon race (KACR) which is being held next year.

In her blog post she wrote words that made me get very emotional. They are quoted below.

"There is a very brief message that I typed into the “Notes” app of my phone on June 25th, the day of the race, shortly after Rajeev had dropped out.  I must have intended to write more, as I often throw thoughts that come into my head that I would like to keep into this very place, to expand upon in a later blog.  But on June 25, this is what I said:

I can’t tell you how much your spirit inspires me every day.  You looked the impossible in the face and said, “fuck you” – not because you knew you could overcome it, but because you knew that, odds were, you could not.

Allow me to expand on this a little now.  We knew the odds were against you.  We knew that, after years of Crohn’s disease interrupting your training at every opportunity, it was unlikely that you would make it to the finish.  But you showed up for the journey.    
     Oh, my friend.  You have taught me so many lessons.  The greatest of these lessons: you have to show up for life.  And most importantly, you have to show up on the days when you don’t know if everything is going to go the way you hope it will.  You have to show up on the days when you know things probably won’t go according to plan.  You have to show up on the days when you don’t even know what the plan is.  When you don’t know if everything will be okay.  When you know there is going to be pain and struggle.  When you know you probably won’t succeed.  You have to show up for the journey.  Show up and be open to whatever may come.  Show up and treat the people around you with love and kindness.  Appreciate their existence and let them know.  You don’t have to be 100% ready.  You don’t have to have it all figured out.  But you have to show up for life."

Until next year when I may decide to try my luck at some other canal race, it is goodbye as far as my canal race blogging goes.





 


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Running during the pandemic

This corona virus pandemic has changed the world in so many ways that the days of hugging one another, dining in crowded restaurants, flying all over the world on crowded planes and through even more crowded airports, going to crowded theaters and concerts, running crowded races seem like a dim memory.

That said training (for what?? :-D) goes on.

A couple of months ago I remembered reading about this young man, in France, who ran a marathon in his apartment's balcony. Inspired by him, I decided to run one in the confines of my home's main floor. The chosen route was from the kitchen to the far room, a distance of about 60 feet, and back as often as it took to run 26.2 miles.

I wound up with 26.5 miles with stops in the middle to cut veggies ( :-D ) and eat or drink something.

The following weekend I decided to up the ante and run a 50K in the same vein. Mission accomplished again. 

One weekend evening, while watching "Bridgerton", I ran 6 miles around the dining table in the living room. 

     (Running around the dining table)

Other than those three runs I have done runs, along with Kim Whelan, in Quicksilver Park (back in the summer and Fall), and along the railroad tracks in Cupertino/Los Altos.

My next goal is to run 40-45 miles, either on the tracks in West Valley College, or at home.

                                      

                                    

                                            (Run in Quicksilver Park)


(Quicksilver Park)

(Run in Mountain View)


 

Monday, March 09, 2020

It's time to start this blog again

It's been almost five and a half years now since I last posted here. Let's hope I can keep the writing going from here on out.

I signed up for the April 4th American River 50-mile race. The last time I ran it was 10 years ago (http://rajeevtherunner.blogspot.com/2010/05/ar-pr.html) and I am excited to be able to start the race once more. The course, in the first few miles, is different so it will be fun to see what it looks like.

Whatever distance I get to in that race will be good training for the May 23rd Grand Union Canal race (http://rajeevtherunner.blogspot.com/2013/05/re-deja-vu-all-over-again.html). That is certainly my favorite race in the world and to say that I am excited to start the race (Covid-19 permitting, of course!) is to make an understatement (something the English excel at 😊).

Crohn's is still around in my life so the journey has been made that much more exciting.

On another unrelated note (Anu and) I have stepped down from coaching Team Vibha's Half & Full marathon training program. I started that program in 2011 with 20 runners as trainees. It has blossomed to 80+ now and is one of the best such programs in the SF Bay area.

A blast from the past below! A photo with Anil Rao, taken on Saturday, February 15, in Sierra Azul Park.


Kim Whelan (with Anil and me in the photo below) is a runner I coached with Vibha in 2018 and 2019 and one who I am running AR50 with. It will be her first attempt at that distance and I am sure she will do well - she is a strong runner.


UPDATE
Owing to the Corona virus pandemic, the AR50 race has been canceled. I also suspect that I may not be able to go to the UK for the GUCR in May.

That said my running does not grind to a halt - just the really long distances for the moment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to the Summer of 2006

Yes, it's been a long time since I posted on this blog. A lot has transpired since.

The 2014 GUCR
Short story? Stopped at 48 miles owing to a flare-up of Crohn's.

Long story? Things were going well until I had to stop at 48 miles. :-))

The 2014 Liverpool-Leeds Canal race
Short story? Stopped at 54 or 55 miles owing to a flare-up pf Crohn's.

Long story? Things were going well until I had to stop.

Random pictures from the two races below.

                                                     (Before the Start of the 145M GUCR)

                                          (Somewhere in the first few miles of the 145M GUCR)

                                               (In Wigan during the Liverpool-Leeds 130M Race)

So it's time to step back and decide what I want to do with my "running" life. Running 100+ miles is what I wish to do most. Races that have not so stringent cutoffs are what I love doing for I am no longer interested in running quickly nor making really tight cutoffs (Spartathlon for one).

Ergo the title of this post. I have to almost go back to Square One i.e. find a way to manage what I eat in order to run 50 miles, 100 miles 145 miles, ...

Crohn's is not the end of my life. It is just the beginning of a different flavor of the same life.

My goal is to run the GUCR again next year. Along the way will be 50Ks, 50Ms, and possibly a 100M. I am excited at the prospect of re-experiencing the joy and thrill of crossing the Finish line of a 50M, 100K, 100M, ... all over again!! How many are given that chance again in life? Crohn's has given me that and I am excited.

Stay tuned (if you visit this blog).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Got to raise my Butting Average

Yes, it's not a spelling mistake. The title of the post is, indeed, "Got to raise my Butting Average". Read on to find on what it means. Please be warned, however, that some parts may have TMI.

The first time I had the "runs" during a run was during a weekday evening regular run back in November, 2012. I was barely a mile from home when the urge came on so strongly that it was all I could do make it to some bushes by the side of an urban road (it helped that it was quite dark by then). I wound up going to the restroom of a nearby grocery store and still needed to make it back home again after starting running from the store. 3 times in the space of 40 minutes and accompanied by diarrhea and flatulence!

I attributed it to something I must have eaten earlier that day. The next two weeks were a minor hell so to speak. Every time I started running I would get the urge to go in the first mile or so. I was forced take a closer look at what I had been eating and I came to believe it was a stomach infection because of some spoiled milk product. 

That incident passed and I was back to my usual running routine.

Fast forward to my July, 2013 trip to the UK for the Thames Ring 250M where I stopped at 109 miles. I must have gone to a toilet or used bushes along the way at least 5-6 times in those 109 miles but none of those were like the November '12 ones.

It must have been a few days after returning, in the second week of July, that I had a repeat of the November episode. This time around it did not go away completely. Here are the salient points of what happens:
  * There has not been a single run since that day when I have   
    not had the intense urge to go - I have "gone" in my shorts 
    a few times since then
  * My 3 longest runs have been a marathon and 2 50Ks
  * For someone who has run 30-40 miles continuously without 
    stopping it is hard these days to even manage 2-3 miles 
    without needing to stop. Part of the reason is the fact that 
    iron is being lost in the bleeding, nutrients are not being 
    absorbed in the body and dehydration is occurring because of 
    diarrhea
  * The intense, almost uncontrollable, urge to go has been 
    accompanied by gas and bleeding

There is that side of me that loves to soak up information. I have taught myself a bit of anatomy owing to all the running coaching I do. Everything else I know about a plethora of topics has been a result of being both a philomath and a polymath.

Ergo my desire to pinpoint my current travails. I had a stool test done back in December. Blood was found as well as a high count of WBCs. My belief that it was the result of rogue gut bacteria seemed to be confirmed.

Fast forward to today (March 11, 2014). I am in Oz (Australia) for work this week and I happened to be channel surfing in the evening and came upon Dr. Oz talking about "Poop and Pee". The first topic was the shape and consistency of poo. My stools were the furthest away from normal on his list. He attributed it to Crohn's disease or even Diverticulitis. I looked the latter up for symptoms and found my way to a Web site talking about Inflammatory Bowel Diseaser (IBD) which mostly comprises of Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis (UC).

Eureka! ALL the symptoms for IBD, especially for UC, matched mine exactly! I spent hours reading up on the topic and realized that I was in for a major battle and a massive lifestyle change.

There is still no clear idea why IBD happens. It is apparently a lifelong problem and can go into remission but come back unbidden (only a fool would bid it to come!).

A new journey begins. New paths to walk over.

A new battle commences. New weapons to learn about and use.

All I have is knowledge and my optimism as pacers and crew members. I will reach the Finish line one of these years and it will be the sweetest finish of them all.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Re-deja vu all over again?

Race: Grand Union Canal Race
Distance:  145.4 miles
Date: May 25, 2013
Location: Birmingham to London, United Kingdom
Time: 44:40

Beneath the Sun, the sweaty face,
The shuffling feet, the slowing pace,
The distant goal, the tired gaze.
Ah! This hot summer! Its thick haze!!
Why did I have to pick this race?

Kneeling down, doing up a lace,
Insects invading my airspace.
Tired feet on fire, ablaze,
Beneath the Sun.

And then my Spirit deigns to grace
My side. It takes its rightful place.
The new Me I start to amaze
As mile upon mile I erase.
And then the old Self I outrace
Beneath the Sun.

The above poem, borrowed from Rajeev The Runner, more or less describes what I went through. Not the thoughts about "Why did I have to pick this race?" but the latter part of the poem. I have run too many races, and stopped in a lot of them when I am no longer enjoying the journey, to now do something just because I have to prove something. 

2012 GUCR race report     http://rajeevtherunner.blogspot.com/2012/06/gucr-part-iii.html
2011 GUCR race report     http://rajeevtherunner.blogspot.com/2011/06/running-far-in-gucr-part-deux.html
2010 GUCR race report     http://rajeevtherunner.blogspot.com/2010/05/running-far-in-gucr.html

Let's go back to the beginning.

The days leading up to the race were pretty much similar to the ones from years past. I landed in London on Wednesday (May 22) afternoon. After eating dinner in Woodlands on Panton Street I wandered into the Whole Foods that's just off Piccadilly Circus. One of the things I picked up were 6 small sesame snaps. They proved to be an awesome snack during the race!


(Image from www.goodnessdirect.co.uk)


Spent the night there before taking the 1:00 p.m. train to Brum. I checked into Jurys Inn and headed to Pushkar for a quick meal at 5:30 p.m. 



I then decided to head to the theater not too far from the hotel where I was delighted to see the new Star Trek movie on offer. I quite enjoyed it, especially the acting of Benedict Cumberbatch whom I recognized from the new BBC Sherlock Holmes series.

Jet lag ensured that sleep was hard to come by Thursday night. I finally went to sleep at 6:30 a.m. only to wake up at 9:30, in time for breakfast downstairs. Right after breakfast I went off to the local large Tesco store to pick up last minute snacks etc.

Lunch was again in Pushkar - dal and rice this time since I wanted the food to clear my system by next morning.

I went back up to the room and watched TV until I realized that Mimi Anderson, who was attempting a double GUCR, was due at the Start by around 4 p.m. I rushed down to the Gas Street bridge to find Tim, Mimi's husband, and James Adams and Gemma waiting for her too. We realized that we had a bit of time so we trooped into a nearby pub/cafe for coffee and tea.

Mimi duly showed up at 4:09 p.m. She had started at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday giving her a northbound time of 31:09! Simply marvelous!!


(Mimi after her 31:09 finish)

My next stop was the Travelodge lobby where I bought a couple of belts to secure my bib number on and picked up my race T-shirt and sweatshirt. I spent an hour after that in O'Neills with some of the other runners. 

Off to my room it was around 7:30 p.m. I laid out my stuff for the morning and got into bed around 9 p.m. I watched TV for a while and turned off the lights to try and sleep. Like the past 2 years, sleep was hard to come by. I tossed and turned all night. I finally got up around 3:15 a.m. to shave, shower and eat my breakfast. 5:20 a.m. saw me headed for Gas Street and the Start where the yearly picture (below) near the Start was taken.


(L to R: Peter Johnson, I, Paul Ali, Keith Godden and Lindley Chambers)

We were off right after Dick's short speech.

START to CP1, Catherine de Barnes Bridge #78, 10.7 miles

(In the first few miles after the Start)

I was one of the last people to start. Very soon I was truly the last person for I had to stop 5 minutes into the race to answer Nature's call. I did however soon settle into a decent pace and caught up with Geir Frykholm who had stopped to make some adjustments to his backpack. We ran together for the next half a mile or so before he took off. I soon stopped to help a runner who had hit his head on a rather low tunnel overhead. He was bleeding a bit.

A few miles into it I knew we would come to a slight right curve in the canal from where I would be able to get a good shot of this nice church (below).



My left Hoka Bondi was poking into the top of my foot. This was starting to bug me a bit and I knew that if I did not take care of it soon it would become a bigger problem later. So I spent 5 minutes taking off my shoes and sticking Band-Aids to the top of my foot. I started running again, The Band-Aids worked for a few miles but the constant poking returned. I knew that I would have to get out of the Hokas in the first CP.

I duly reached it at 8:07 a.m. Given the 7-8 minutes I had spent with helping the runner and my Hokas, my time into the CP was more like 2:00 hrs. I had done this section in 1:56 last year and 2:00 and 2:06 in 2011 and 2010 respectively. I was pretty much running a similar pace this year too. I got into my Brooks Cascadias, grabbed a few more gels and was out of the CP like a flash. Not without joking with Paddy Robbins though!

CP1 to CP2, Hatton Hill Bridge #54 22.4 miles
I had covered this section last year in 2:20 i.e. I had reached the CP at around 10:15 a.m. I was hoping for something similar for this year too.

Very soon I reached Knowle Lock, at about mile 14, where I used my British Waterways key to open up a water tap (locked in a small box) and topped up both my bottles. The weather forecast had called for a sunny weekend, with highs between 65-68 degrees F, so having enough water was imperative.

                          (A fellow runner took this picture of me. Knowle Lock in the background)

I have no idea what happened to me between 14 and 22.4. All I know is that a combination of lack of sleep (I had now been awake since 9:30 a.m. on Friday i.e. 24 hours and counting), lowish blood sugar and, possibly, the warming conditions made for the perfect storm. 


I could not run at any kind of consistent pace and was forced to walk every so often.





(Just before Shrewley Tunnel)

Keith Godden caught up with me just before Shrewley Tunnel, at mile 20.4, and we exited the tunnel on the far side together. He went on through while I went off to the right, on the road, to this little grocery store I espied. Once inside I realized that nothing looked too appetizing so I decided to scarf down a gel and wait until the CP to eat something. 


The CP was finally reached at 10:58 a.m. I was a full 43 minutes slower than last year! I was still not close to the cutoff since the CP closed at 12:15 p.m. i.e. I had reached with 75 minutes to spare. I quickly ate something, grabbed a few more gels and left.

CP2 to CP3, Birdingbury Bridge 35.9 miles
This section was uneventful like every year. There is that section where the canal curves to the left past a block of apartments. I actually took some pictures in this section including some panoramic ones.








Looking at my text description of the route, something I use every year instead of the maps (which I carry in my backpack just in case I might need them), I realized that I was getting close to 34.6 miles (in 8:11). The CP was only 1.3 miles further away. I finally rolled into that CP at 2:28 p.m. i.e. 8h 28m into the race.

In the rainy conditions last year I had reached this CP at 1:38 p.m. This year I was a full 50 minutes slower! I knew I would be paying the price later in the race for I was now 32 minutes from the CP closing time. 

I have been eating gluten-free foods for the past 2 months but I was so hungry here that I grabbed 4-5 cookies and headed out of the CP stuffing them into my mouth.

CP3 to CP4, The Heart of England, Weedon, 53 miles
 Along the way I did take a picture of a marina I always pass.



I was at Napton Junction soon enough. I will never forget this junction. I was now visiting it for the 5th time in the past 4 years. I had first gone through it in the 2009 Thames Ring 250M where it came at 172 miles. In this race it's at 38.5 miles.

I walked a major part of the miles leading to the tunnel which comes up at mile 45. I walked up the initial climb out of the towpath and then, once I was on a smoother section, ran up the hill and then down the other side down to the canal again.

I was soon at the Norton Junction, at 48.3 miles. A few hundred yards before I reached this junction a runner named Spenser Lane caught up with me. We crossed over the lock and got back to the canal using the public underpass. I had just taken a couple of gels before he had caught up and the sugar rushing about in my body made me want to start running. I did precisely that and soon found myself settling into a nice and comfortable 9:30-10 mins/mile pace. I passed a few other runners including Keith Godden and Geir and Dave Baker who were together.

I must have run for the next 3 - 3.5 miles before settling down to a fast walk. I eventually espied the building, on the far side of the canal, I was looking for. The building is a sign that the CP is just another 200 yards further. I reached the CP at 6:58 p.m. i.e. 32 minutes before the close. 

Cathy, Keith's wife, was helping out here and she was sweet enough to give me two bottles of chocolate milk she had specially got for me! She asked about Keith and I told her that he was about 5-7 minutes behind me.

I was very concerned about Christian Hottas and Christine Schroeder. I was hoping they would be able to make the 7:30 cutoff. Spenser, who had caught up with me a half mile before the CP, and I left the CP at the same time.

Onward now to the big Navigation Inn CP at 70.4 miles!

CP4 to CP5, Navigation Bridge, 70.4 mile
The fastest I have ever made it to this CP is in 2011 when I reached there at 10:19 p.m. (~ 16:19 hours into the race). I have never been able to do the first 70.4 miles faster than 16 hours. This year, obviously considering how close I was to the CP cutoffs, was no exception.

The first milestone I had to focus on was Gayton Junction at 60.5 miles, a long 7.5 miles away! This leg has a 3 or 4-mile section I do not like very much. Those miles are probably the most uneven section of the GUC towpath.

I trudged along with my sights firmly fixed on Gayton Junction which duly arrived at 9:24 p.m. (15:24 into the race if you are paying attention). A scant 2 miles later comes the Blisworth Tunnel.

The top of the short 200 feet climb from the canal is where Spenser, who gone past me in the mile leading up to the tunnel, went right instead of left towards the road. I shouted out to point him in the right direction and quickly caught up with him. 

We were thus together on the mile or so up to the top after which is the descent back down to the canal. Spenser talked about an expensive but warm running jacket he had purchased. We were soon on the dirt path that led down to the canal. This is when the urge to go came upon me strongly. I asked him to continue and quickly went off to the right, off the path, a long ways to answer Nature's call.

Down it was to the canal again. From prior years I knew that there was a pub and an Indian restaurant on the lock. It was 10:45 p.m. by now and I was excited to find that the Indian restaurant was still open. I quickly went inside and asked them to pack me dal and rice to go.

I was waiting for the order to be fulfilled when Keith, Christian Hottas and Christine went past. I was very happy to see all three.

12 minutes later I was on my way on the towpath happily ingesting some much needed food. It must have worked wonders for I soon settled into a fast, distance-eating pace that soon saw me go past the others. I soon noticed the lights of the Navigation Inn off to my left. From the last 3 years of running this race I knew that it would take quite a bit more of time on the towpath before the CP arrived.

12:30 a.m. (18:30 race time) is when it did! 30 minutes before closing!! I did not linger long there. I was out in 15 or so minutes. 

CP5 to CP6, Water Eaton, 84.5 miles
Keith Godden soon caught up with me and passed me. This 14-mile section was unbelievably long! It was, as I wrote on my FB status, a slugfest between the course and my sleep deprived brain, I had now been awake for close to 40 hours with no prospect of sleep in the near future. I would walk a bit and then slow down to stop and close my eyes while standing up and, after the attempt proved futile, continue on. The miles went by uneventfully albeit slowly. 

The sky started to show the first signs of light around 4:15 a.m. That lifted my spirits a bit. It was nice and bright and a tad chilly by the time I reached the CP at 6:07 a.m. (24:07 race time).  This was a full hour and 8 minutes before it closed. The section had taken me around 5h 20m. 

There was some awesome soup on offer and I had two cups of it and a half cup of coffee. Spenser and I left almost at the same time. I had learned that Spenser had been battling severe shin pain in his left leg since the 53-mile CP. He was unable to run and walking itself was slow for him. I forget what time it was that we left but it must have been around 6:35-6:40 a.m. The next section was 15.4 miles long.

CP6 to CP7, Grand Junction Arms, 99.8 miles
The first thing that registered on my still partially sleepy brain was the fact that Leighton Buzzard was about 6 miles away. My plan was to see if I could get some coffee and food there. I trudged along ahead of Spenser until I got to the section where the towpath runs through Leighton Buzzard. It was around 9:00 a.m. that I veered off the towpath into the Tesco parking lot. I had to use the facilities!

That Tesco does not open until 9:30 a.m. so I trudged off onto the main road there to a Shell gas station. The lady there allowed me to use the toilet. I must have gotten back onto the towpath around 9:35-9:40 a.m. I quickly got back into a semi-decent pace (18-19 mins/mile). It must have been an hour before I caught up with Spenser. We both knew that we were the last two out on the course.

Head down, I plodded on. I had been enjoying the Sesame snaps I had purchased in Whole Foods and I consumed the 5th one in that section. The Grand Junction Arms arrived at 11:47 a.m. (I had had to push in the last 2-3 miles in order to not miss the cutoff). This was 13 minutes before the close! I enjoyed some soup and fried potatoes  and quickly left in 15 minutes. I was very pleased to see Spenser make it into the CP with a minute to spare!

The next section was the longest in the race, all of 20.5 miles.

CP7 to CP8, Springwell Lock, 120.3 miles
I was feeling sleepy once again so a scant 1.5 miles after the CP I set the alarm on my iPhone for 10 minutes hence and tried to sleep. This is when Spenser passed me. I was unable to sleep so I switched off the alarm and resumed my slow death march.

The miles rolled by slowly. It might have been a combination of two gels taken together that prompted me to decide to run instead of walk. I was not happy that I was scant minutes off the cutoffs for I knew that the final 12 mile section of the race, should I be fortunate enough to reach that far, would take me anywhere from 4 to 4.5 hours owing to my severe sleep deprivation. I simply HAD to build up a larger buffer!

It was like someone had set a pack of dogs on my heels. I started running around the 107-mile mark and did not stop until I had reached 111 miles or so. Those 4 miles, run at 10 minutes/mile pace, instead of the 18-19 mins/mile of the previous many miles, suddenly put me in the black by 30 minutes or so. 

I had felt good while running those miles. That was very encouraging. It was back to slightly fast walking again from 111 to about 118 miles. I came upon Claire Shelley and others at one of the locks. They were looking for Jerry Smallwood. A few locks later there he was in their company. I hugged him and was very disappointed to learn that he had stopped at 112 miles. I was similarly disappointed to find Christian Hottas sitting atop one of the bridges. He had had a pronounced lean when I had passed him a few miles before the 70.4-mile CP and the lean had done him in. He too was forced to drop out. Christine had continued on alone.

The running bug caught me again around 118.5 miles and I truly sped up now! I must have been doing 8-9 mins/miles and I swooped into the CP at 6:30 p.m. Those last 20.5 miles had taken 6.5 hours! I had reached with 30 minutes to spare. I shucked my backpack, strapped on my big waist pack and got into my Tevas. My Cascadias had served me very well for 110 miles! Allan Rumbles walked a bit with me. You are a star, Mr. Rumbles! Thank you!!

CP8 to CP9, Hambrough Tavern, Southall, 133 miles
I was fired up now! I ate the last of the Sesame snaps and walked at a brisk pace until I had reached 127.5 miles (pub here) at 38:55 into the race. Those 7 miles had taken me 2 hours and 10 minutes i.e. about 18 minutes/mile. I decided to run all the way to Bulls Bridge (mile 132.5). I settled into a 14-15 min/mile pace and the miles started to slip by. It was starting to get dark and I turned on my headlamp. I must have reached Bulls Bridge around 40:18 into the race (10:18 p.m.). The last mile into the CP was mostly walked because the towpath was not in great shape, I reached CP#9 at 10:37 p.m. (40:37 race time).

My friend Fiona McNelis was in the CP as well as James Adams. I quickly refilled my bottles and left the CP since there was not much to eat there. 

CP9 to the Finish in Little Venice, 145.4 miles
James was kind enough to accompany me out for a half mile or so. He filled me in on the status of many of the other runners. Hugs to you, James!!

I walked and walked and walked. The first thing I noticed was that the path was pretty much paved after the first 1.5 miles from the CP. Evidently British Waterways had the intention of paving it all. That made it a lot easier to walk, even without a light if needed. I kept plodding on sure that I was closer than 7 miles to the Finish. It was with a slight shock that I noticed the sign "London Paddington 7.75 miles" after what seemed like an eternity. Crap! 7.25 miles to go still!

Sleep was upon me now as I had been expecting. Fortunately though it never got as bad as last year! I kept eating my gels with the intention of not only keeping the blood sugar up to help my my walking but also to let the brain have some much needed sugar to stay awake.

With about 4 miles to go I was passed by Steve Beedle, Glyn Raymen and Jason Firestone. They were setting a great pace and I wished them bon voyage! :-)

Having run this race 3 times before and this section 4 times (I had come to London for work in April 2012) I knew where I was. I was alternately walking and shuffling by now. With about 2 miles to go I experienced sudden twinges in my right upper calf. Not wanting to do more harm and knowing that I WOULD finish in time I backed off and kept walking.

The first headlamp I saw coming my way was Paddy Robbins'. He asked me about Spenser and I informed him that he was not far behind me. The next person was James Adams. He walked with me for over half a mile before heading off to his home just off the canal. I knew that I had just over a mile or a mile and a half to go.

It was a pleasure to see the Finish off in the distance. I finally let Dick put the customary heavy GUCR medal around my neck at 2:40 a.m. (44:40 race time).




What a battle it had been! I ran hard when I needed to and when I could. Was the victory sweet? You bet!

My heartfelt gratitude to Dick and his amazing corps of volunteers that included James Adams, Sharon Weldon, Paddy Robbins, Hank, Paul Stout and Allan Rumbles to name a few.

I found out the next day that Keith Godden had dropped out at 85 miles. I was very bummed to learn that. Spenser Lane finished in 44:54!! Way to go, Spenser!!!

Onward to the Jul 3 Thames Ring 250M now!!