So onto Canalathon itself. With the camper van loaded with enough food to feed a small army, we set off on a sunny Saturday afternoon from the Wirral. Ellie had driven up from Cardiff the night before and, after a stint at Birkenhead parkrun, we set off.
Our weekend base for the race
Ellie was our super star organiser and found us a fantastic cottage near Littleborough, about 25 minutes drive from the start of the race. I’ll have to try hard not to talk too much about this place as it really was beautiful. The views were spectacular and the house was luxurious. We had underfloor heating throughout the house with digital controls for the heating. Jon will no doubt do a better job than me of describing the ensuite bathrooms with built in TVs! My only complaint was that I wasn’t able to turn down the heating at night. I ended up waking in the night a few times because it was so hot.
We joked among us that we wouldn’t bother doing the race and we would just chill in the house and eat the mountain of food that we brought. As I had developed a cold that week, albeit a fairly minor one, I was seriously tempted!
The morning of the race
It was an early start and even earlier as the clocks went forward that day. The weather was promising. Cold but sunny and dry. Off we went to Sowerby Bridge where the Race HQ was stationed. We had opted to register here and catch the coach to Manchester from where we would run back to Sowerby Bridge.
I had a slight snag on registering to find that they didn’t have my pre-ordered T shirt. I was advised that one would be brought to the finish later and I could pick it up then. There was a bobble hat in my pack which I hadn’t ordered but I was told just to keep it. I was surprised later to find that my results hadn’t been recorded (later rectified with no issues). I was told that I had been recorded as a DNS and I think the marshals forgot to mark me as present because of the T shirt issues.
I have seen comments in other blogs that it seems a bit odd to be given your race pack with the medal in it before the race. I agree: I would much prefer that it was handed out at the end. It would be a nice touch if a marshal could put it round your neck at the end of the race.
The race starts in a car park in Manchester before heading onto the canal. We didn’t have a long wait in the pre-race toilets and, quite quickly after that, we were off. What surprised me was that as soon as I started running, my cold seemed to dry up (I had spent most of the coach journey trying to stifle my cough) and I felt quite good.
What also surprised me was that the first half was a gradual uphill. Not so much that you noticed it but once we reached “the Summit” it was noticeably easier. But I am getting ahead of myself as we have yet to reach the first checkpoint at 10.9 miles. A welcome sight, it had real food. I found myself rather partial to the ham wraps and the Jaffa Cakes, of course.
On paper the spacing of the aid stations looks ok with 4 stations in total but on the day, I found the gap between the aid station at Rochdale at 10.9 miles and Walsden at 20 miles too great. It was warming up by now and it would have been good to at least have a water station halfway between both.
This made the “sweet shop” set up by Helen Bly and Adam Jones, just past the Summit, all the more welcome. Helen saved us a can of proper Coca Cola. I don’t normally take caffeine as I have had palpitations and headaches in the past but I really wanted a drink so I took some. It may have been psychological and it was certainly a boost to see Helen and Adam. I felt ready to take on the rest of the race.
Walsden was a lovely aid station and the marshals there couldn’t have been nicer. They filled up our water bottles for us, encouraged us to eat and generally were very encouraging. I took on some more Coca Cola. I was in danger of developing an addiction, but it tasted really good. Some more ham wraps and Jaffa cakes and I felt ready for the last 11 miles.
A race full of surprises, I remember being surprised at 20 miles that nothing really hurt as it had when doing the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon. It took until 26 miles before I felt that familiar ache in my hips and quads.
Gemma and I were still running together. As Gemma has done this race in 2016, we started chatting about her previous time. She had completed it in 6 hours 59 minutes. Looking at our times so far, I calculated we could beat that so after the last aid station (rocket fuelled by 3 cups of coca cola), we dug in. I
am sure know for a fact that Gemma was tired of hearing me saying: let’s get it done! And we got it done in 6 hours 43 minutes, a huge 16 minute PB for Gemma and a PB over a new distance for me.
After the race
It was welcome sight to see Brian and Jon at the finish, both having made it over the line around the 6 hour mark. I made it back to Race HQ to pick up my promised T shirt only to find that I had been given a 75k T shirt. By this time I was too tired to try to sort it out so I just took it rather than try to get the correct T shirt. Gemma had the same issue.
A reunion with Ellie soon followed, back in the camper van and off to our lovely cottage for the much anticipated roast dinner Ellie promised us. How she had the energy to cook, I do not know. It was a perfect end to a fantastic weekend.
When the weather is kind, everything is so much nicer and so it was with Canalathon. There were a few glitches with the t shirt and hat and my results weren’t initially recorded. I think there could have been another water station in between miles 10 and 20. There doesn’t need to be a full blown aid station or timing mat but a water station would have been a great help. I’d prefer to be given my medal at the end of the race.
Ultimately though this is a well organised race, the marshals were great, the coach transfer went smoothly and the route is picturesque. For me, what made this race most enjoyable was sharing it with friends. The oft quoted African proverb rings true here: “If you want to run fast, go alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Given my illness, injury and doubts about my ability to complete this, this is what got me through.
The strange thing about doing ultras is that your mindset starts to change. I was adamant that I would never run anymore than 50km and now I wonder if I could do the 75k next year…I do need to earn that T shirt…