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 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 continue doing anything that I am 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.


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