Grand Union Canal Race 2019 – 100 Mile Redemption

This has been the longest time between racing and writing a report for me. Two months or so. And for no other reason than the fact that I’ve been too busy sharing my time with so many other things like holidays, work, family, more training and volunteering. All sorts of stuff. So to get things going and jump straight into it I wanted to report on my weekend running the Grand Union Canal Race. I did not run the full 145 but I did manage to finish 100 miles of the race which really sat well in my mind considering I had no support crew or pacer through the race. And after my Thames Path DNF at mile 72 it really was a boost for me that I had it in me to finish 100 miles. I’d lost all confidence in myself with that race. Weird how just one failed run did that but this was all new to me. I’m learning. Strange how this year has panned out. Such a good training period for six months and then a couple of very odd experiences in races. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing. This is how it happened and there’s only going forward now and moving on. There’s lots of plans coming together already for next year but that is for another post. Grand Union Canal all kicked off on the Friday before the race. I took a train to London from Portsmouth and then popped onto a 1st class train from there to Birmingham. I only got the 1st class ticket because weirdly it came up as the cheapest option for that day!? Having never travelled first class on a Virgin train before, I declined the food service trolley not realizing until afterwards that it was all free! Bloody hell. What a nobby I am. Once I arrived I walked over to my hotel and found my mate Dave who had taken an early bus up. We got to the room, settled and then were off down to the registration which was super quick. We also had a bite to eat in one of the pubs and bumped into a load of other runners from Portsmouth and other places who knew Dave. It was there that I got a call I wasn’t expecting. My pacer had to drop due to injury. I was pretty gutted for us both. Bad for him being injured and he must have felt terrible telling me the news, and I felt after the Thames Path that it was something I really needed. As I mentioned earlier, I had lost confidence that I was able to finish a 100 mile race and so with the added challenges of this event I was now really worried. It was there at dinner after that message came through that I think I decided to try and get to 100 miles. I also had the added pressure of getting back already because we had a holiday to go on first thing on Monday after the race. The quicker I got home the better. It just felt like all the signs were pointing me towards that 100 miles …. and to go from there.

 

I shared my room with my running friend Dave Harvey, sometimes known as ‘metal boy’ for his love of the music but I reckon it’s because he’s hard as nails when it comes to running ultras. Dave is a great runner and very supportive and it was nice to just chill before the race together and chat tactics. We chilled in the room for a bit and then headed off out to get registered. Registration was really easy and very quick. I also ensured I got one of those little keys for access to the canal side taps and toilets on route during the race. We had some food from a pub around the corner and also bumped into a load of other runners and crew members. Then it was off to bed for the night. Easy night! Alarms went off really early. We got ready, had some coffee and breakfast in the room, and took a walk along the road to the start. Lots of runners were around but a fairly small crowd to other events I’m used to. Clearly less people keen on running along a canal for 145 miles. I saw a few familiar people around – some from Instagram or Twitter and others I knew through Strava and running. Before long we had a very relaxed briefing which was focused around runners keeping themselves safe and enjoying the event. I remember the race director briefing stating that many would not be making it to the finish but our health was the most important thing. Then we were off. My memory isn’t what it used to be and because I have left things so long to write this I’m not going to try and recount every small detail but I wanted to remember a few things that stood out –

 

 

 

 

1. The canal is actually quite beautiful and strange all at the same time. I found the canal boat living stuff pretty but also sometimes strange with some lovely and rather odd boats and strange looking setups along the route. Really all interesting. There were lots of friendly people around and at one point someone shouted over at me from a moving boat to stop filling my bottles with the toilet tap. Thank goodness that happened otherwise I’d have got ill by drinking other peoples …. I’ll stop there. The people along the canal are amazing. Some had food out near their boats. Other people buy runners drinks! A man at a bar which was on the canal bought me an Appletiser. What a dude! It was so hot on the day I needed it.

 

2. The stops between check points in this race are very long. They start short, but gradually increase and some of them were nearly 20 miles long. In the later stages of the race this scared me and filled me with dread. It’s a great idea to get a crew and/or a buddy runner to join you for the second half. You can have up to one buddy runner at a time though, and they must run behind you or beside you, not in front of you. The gaps between the stops take ages and as it was hot I ran out of water a few times which is why I found myself in a pub and shop at some points. Fortunately you can factor those into your race but always good to know where they are and make use of them when you pass them. Not 5km after you pass one! Having a crew helps though as I passed by loads of crew members waiting with ice buckets with cold drinks and bottles and food. A friend Heather who was crewing for Dave gave me a lovely ice cream on route but it melted and dropped on the floor half way through. Noooo! Dave told me he remembered seeing it on the floor when he ran past it. So funny.

 

3. Pacing. This is not the race you head off like a bat out of hell at. Oh no. Most will be destined to blow up if that was done. There were lots of things I considered for pacing however I just went with the run run run run run run until I needed to run walk, and go from there. That wasn’t a good idea looking back. Many runners were doing a run walk routine which they kept to quite strictly from the start and it does seem the best way to go. Next time (yep, next time for sure) I’ll likely be adopting some of that wisdom for my own race. It’s a long, long way

4. The volunteers were absolutely amazing. Although there are big gaps between check points, those stations are really well managed and the people looking after them are really trying their best to look after the runners. They were so attentive and always ensured you had access to your drop bag very quickly. That is the drop bag that got transported to each check point which ends up being a kind of life line. I didn’t plan well enough with my own and I’d have had more squash and coke in it had I known.

 

The race went pretty well for me overall. I slowed a lot in the last quarter of the race but managed to keep to some kind of system of running and walking but not on any kind of strict time scale. I just wanted to get the sub 24 hour 100 miles in which I did. One of my good friends Jason was camping near Winchester during the race and had agreed to get a train up on the Sunday morning to run me through to the finish. I had let him know the night before that I was likely not to continue on past the hundred mile mark but he was on standby regardless. What a dude. He was going to leave his camping holiday with the family to come and get me through to the finish and home afterwards. Once I got to the 100 mile mark which was achieved by running a few loops around one of the check points, I handed in my number and called the race director. I was relieved and tired and cold and just sat under a jacket which I had in my drop bag until our lift came. I nodded in and out of a strange sleep state and each time I opened my eyes, different people were in the check point aid station. After a race like this you get really disorientated with everything and time passes in very strange cycles. The bus eventually came along and took us to Paddington station where it was a quick train home and onto the holiday packing.

 

 

A friend Russell telling me not to spend so long in the aid stations 🙂

My original intentions had been to run this race entirely. Circumstances that led up to the night before the race meant my plans changed. That’s life. It was a bit of an odd one but proved to be very beneficial for me due to the fact that I had not finished the Thames Path three weeks earlier. Running the 100 miles at the Grand Union gave me my confidence in my hundred mile ability again and restored me to a much better place in my own mind. So it served its purpose. Will I be back to race one of these events – yes definitely! It was super well organised, very friendly and most of all you were well catered for as a runner, even though the event is kept simple and is extremely tough due to that. I am already thinking ahead to 2021 as there is a whole Grand Slam of these events consisting of three canal races. Certainly an idea! Happy miles everyone!

The Coros Apex Running Watch

I’m not normally a reviewer of running related things but I’ve been meaning to write a post about the Coros Apex running watch. Mainly because a few people have asked me about it and how it’s been working out for me. “Coros whaaaaaat???” – I hear you. Coros are a brand I’d not heard of before I started looking for a new running watch earlier this year. So let me introduce you: Coros – You, You – Coros…

 

There it is in all its glory. A nice sized watch, extremely light and very simple to use. It has a proper quality feel to it. Before I go into the little bit of detail below I have to start by stating that I’ve never been a HEAVY functionality user when it comes to watches. By that I mean that I’ve never really needed music, programmable training modes, live traces etc, although this watch does most of those things anyways. I mainly use my running watch to keep track of pace during a run and to end up with a final gpx trace which is accurate in distance and elevation. I must always have my Strava post afterwards too so that is a compatibility must! Then I’m a happy runner. Previous to this I was a Garmin 225 user. I was mostly happy with that watch and Garmin until the Bluetooth broke on the watch. Garmin support were less than helpful for me and kept telling me – “oh that will be fixed in a later software release”. Nope. That never happened Garmin. It’s still broken years later. A lot of the newer running watches from Garmin have so many new features and things that baffle the hell out of me as to why they’d be on a running watch. I did look at the Suunto 9, mainly for its awesome battery life, but that came with a hefty price tag. So what were my criteria for a new running watch? What did I actually want from a watch? The answers to that question here in order:

1. Battery life – something that would last 100 miles+
2. Easy to use – I don’t want a watch I can program things for or get my email on.
3. Accuracy – it must be able to at least match on those Strava segments!
4. Price – I’ll pay a price up to a point but I don’t want to pay for features I’m never going to use.

I just wanted simple, with big battery and easy going price as I’m willing to go without all the nonsense extras that watches come with these days. Nice. After some hunting around I came across these Coros watches and soon learned that runners like Camille Herron, Harry Jones and Robbie Britton were using them. Hell, if the watches are good enough for them, how could it not work for me? I read a few reviews and everything seemed too good to be true. So I took the decision to buy one. The Coros Apex claimed a battery life, in full GPS accuracy and Heart Rate monitor mode, of 35 hours! Camille was super kind to give me a discount code too for a free strap (which I forgot to use annoyingly!). She also put my mind to rest with a load of useful information about the watch. I was reluctant at first to spend money on something other than a Suunto or Garmin. A few months on now and I’m so glad I bought it. It’s working out a treat. The Coros Apex is quite simply, reliable, easy to use, compatible with everything I need, fast, accurate and works really well. It has everything I need and more but isn’t overly loaded with the unnecessary things. One of Coros’ latest updates introduced a maps mode too so now I don’t have to worry too much about getting lost, although I rarely use that feature. It might come in handy though for some of my future distance races.

 

Negatives about the watch? It was hard to come up with anything, but just this week I found something that annoys me a bit. I carry a lot of bags into and out of work, and often on the weekends too when we’re lugging kids stuff around everywhere. Sometimes the little protruding turn dial on the watch which is used to navigate the menus can get caught on a strap. I wish this turn dial had been a few buttons instead. It’s a small gripe. Overall, if you want a watch that does it all, looks good, is light, lasts for ALL of your races and more, and you don’t want to spend an utter forture, give the Coros Apex a try. There is also a new version out called the Vertix.

Happy miles everyone!

2019 Thames Path 100 – Dealing with my First DNF

Us with Centurion RD – James Elson

Last Saturday I lined up at the start for my third 100 mile race. It was the Centurion Thames Path 100 which was a new course for me. This 100 miler was going to be very different compared to previous races. The TP100 is a very flat and runable route from London to Oxford. Unfortunately, I dropped out at the Streatly check point, shortly after 70 miles. It was my first DNF in a race. I’d contemplated it happening at some point as so many things can happen in 100 mile races. What I hadn’t thought much about was how it would affect me. It hit me really hard just a couple of days after the race once the dust had settled. I ended up asking myself so many questions over the next week. Do I have the strength of character finish these events? Surely I do, I mean – I’d done it before and got through some very rough patches? How was this any different and why did I need to stop at the time? Could I have just carried on – I mean, I feel fine now? The questions went on and on inside my mind.

 

 

 

Thames Path does have some amazing views all through the route

Now that enough time has passed and I’ve processed events to death in my head I can safely look back on it as a lesson and with a sort of smile too This was a huge learning experience. The only missing item in my life is that finish line experience and medal. Everything else I still have – the training, the experience, the friends –  but that is now driving me on to want the next race finish even more. I’ve entered three big events this year and to start with a DNF isn’t ideal but it does mean that I go into Grand Union with more drive and experience. Grand Union was meant to be my race this year with the question marks around it because it’s the longest distance I’ve attempted, but there’s a bit more pressure now to finish, or at least get the hundred miles out of it. Obviously I want the finish badly. Dealing with failure to reach the finish line in a race has been a real struggle but an interesting experience in itself. Those questions I wrote above just kept circling around my head like birds flying over a dying animal. The thought swooped down and kept pecking at me. I’m glad I managed to shake that all off. With time it goes away. So, I’ve changed the acronym DNF to – Do Not Forget, or Did Not Fail. Yep, I can do that if I want to. 1 – I will not forget the event and next time I end up running a flat course and through cold temperatures I will be coming with more experience. And 2 – I didn’t really fail anyone else or myself. I still tried my best and I will be back next year to try again.

 

So how did the weekend and the race go and where did the wheels come off?

 

Lift from Lisa to the station – good luck boys!

 

I have a reputation for booking crap hotels. This time however, the opposite!

Jason and I travelled up together in usual pre-100 miler fashion. We spent a night in the Novatel Hotel just north of the start. My favourite part of the race preparation is staying in hotels. Love it. We had a good night sleep apart from having to call reception for the room next door who seemed to start to have a party after 22:00. What party poopers we are! I had a better night sleep than I have done in the past before these long events. We got ready and did our normal morning routine. A quick taxi to the start line and registration and kit checks all happened easily and we were good to go. It was great bumping into Matt, Louise, Lee, Ian and seeing a lot of recognisable Centurion family faces. James, Nici and even Dan who I’d spoken to but never met in person before. There was a fantastic vibe all morning and was great to stand around outside in the sunshine. There was a chill in the air when the sun was covered by the cloud but a beautiful morning by the river indeed. Stuart and Ross were out snapping photos and it was lovely to see them both again after the SDW50 a few weeks back. Before long, James was going through all the race briefing details…. and it was quite a funny one too! Then Dan hit the horn and we were off.

 

 

 

Great to see Ian at the start of the race

We probably started too quickly (wow, never heard that one before!), but about two miles into the race we took a wrong a turn and ended up missing the very first bridge! A large group of people were running ahead and there were lots of screams and shouting for people to turn back. So funny. Early on in the race it was ok to deal with that but what was funny was that we were running with a friend Russell who had done this course before and even volunteered as sweeper on the this section. He spent the next hour cursing himself and swearing about it. We couldn’t stop laughing. The Thames is actually really interesting while running. So many boat clubs and huge mansions that you could only dream of owning. Rowers doing their training sessions and families enjoying meals and wine in lovely boats. Time does fly by and it wasn’t long before we reached the first check points. Crisps …. coke …. and Tailwind refills done. Back onto the path. At one of the check points it started to absolutely chuck it down. The weather was really changeable during the day. We put our jackets on at that point and beyond that we ended up running through a storm and hail later too!

 

 

 

Stuart and Ross get to be in a photo!

It was during the mid thirties that I began to feel a bit ‘unwell’. I knew things weren’t going to plan in my stomach and energy levels were dipping really fast. I think Jason could tell as I was being a lot more quiet than usual. This is what happens when I start to feel sick. Still, I ran within myself and continued on, drinking when I could and eating bits along the way, although the Tailwind was not going down well. When we got to mile 51 we were so excited! Half way! Warmth and a change of clothes to pick us up. We were used to the course along the SDW100 when at half way you stop at a hall and have space and warmth to move around. When we approached the check point we realised it was a tent with not much room inside at all as everyone was hiding from the wind and rain. This really deflated my spirit. Completely my fault as I just assumed we’d be indoors. It was hard to change with not much room and absolutely freezing. All part of it though and probably my first lesson – know the course better and never expect any comfort because I will only be destined for disappointment. Always take a positive lesson 🙂

 

 

 

Finally get to meet Dan the man Lawson

After mile 51 it was a real slog for me. I was ok for a while but any prolonged periods of running were making me feel horrendous. My energy levels dipped so badly that I was having problems getting energy to talk properly and the nausea on top of it was horrible. Short walks were fine though. In the end I decided not to jeopardise Jasons race any longer and asked him to go ahead without me. It was hard to call to make, but with the goal of trying to get under 20 hours, it was time for him to go for it as he was running well and feeling good. It was also time to run my own race. Jason and I have done two of these before, plus a few other ultra races together. This was the first time we’ve had to separate. He was worried and really didn’t want to leave me however I convinced him it was the right thing to do. Eventually off he went (and ended up finishing well – what an awesome ultra running dude!). We kept in touch for the remainder of my race via text. I called my wife and kids when it got dark and had a little near tearful moment. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Any running was making me feel really ill. I felt heavier than usual and just couldn’t get any pace on. My throat was burning all day with the cold air as I’d had a head cold and cough which was still with me from mid week. I didn’t really factor that in at all but it may have contributed towards the bad day.

 

I reached the aid station before Streatly (can’t remember the name!). Relief – it it was indoors and warm! I was getting COLD now. I knew Jason had been in and out already and I kept hoping he was having a good run. It was getting freezing cold outside and now dark. I sat there for ages and the volunteers were great. Andy(?) I think was his name offered me some ginger biscuits which were great although I didn’t feel like them at first. Amazing how getting food and drink in you helps, even when you don’t think you want it. Lesson 2 – eat and drink and just take the things that you feel like you want. Roll with it (Ian offered me this advice after the race as his fueling plan had to change on route to jam sandwiches and Coke!). What kept me going at this point was the thought that a friend Michelle was waiting for me at Streatly. I just wanted to make it there. When I decided to get up and go I noticed Stephen from Film my Run who looked to be struggling a little bit like myself. I walked over and asked if it would be ok to go out together and try to get a few miles in side by side. This was a good idea for both of us as it was fresh conversation and we helped each other run some good 1 – 2k portions. Stephen eventually went off ahead as my nausea came back and when I got to Streatly ABSOLUTELY FROZEN, he was just leaving and looked like he was doing better.

 

This is where my race came to an end. It was so great to see my friend Michelle but I was in a bad way and not myself at all. Michelle was super charged up with all the goings on at the aid station, and was super supportive telling me that there was no way she was taking my number. Centurion volunteers will try their best to keep you going. I’d do the same. I just knew that with 8 miles to the next stop, I’d be in a whole load of trouble with the kit I was wearing as the cold was unbearable. I had not prepared for that level of cold at all, despite being told about it before hand and reading about in other blogs. I’d have ended up calling in I think and having to curl up in my space blanket. I couldn’t have got any colder. I had a base layer and t-shirt from the day running which was still a bit wet, with a wind proof jacket. It just wasn’t enough – even as three layers. My gloves which I thought were good enough were not either. My beanie wasn’t warm enough too. With the amount of walk breaks I’d had, I was trembling cold and feeling sick during the running bits. Not a great situation. Lesson 3 – get better kit and prepare for the cold! I’d never had to do this before with both previous 100 milers as it had been pretty warm on the SDW in June. My kit had been fine for winter training for a few hours at a time, but to be out there jogging slowly and walking as best I could was no longer possible. Handing in my number was so hard but at the same time I was in a dream like state of fatigue … even after being in the aid station for a while. I felt terrible but it was the best decision at the time. I’d have been a massive liability out there in the cold at 1am and could have ended up in my space blanket somewhere. Michelle kindly lent me a jacket and let me sit near an oven in the kitchen where I drifted in and out of a dream like state, trying to get warm leaning over a stove plate that was heating up beans. I spoke to a number of the kind volunteers there but really couldn’t do too much else. I was there for a good four hours or so until the van picked us up.

 

Jason just crossing the finish line

My good friend Colin drove up from Portsmouth when he saw my name crossed out on the results early that morning. He wanted to to pick Jason and I up so we didn’t have to get a train. What a super star. And such great timing to because he arrived at the finish in time to see Jason come through the end. It was nice to see Jason finish the run. I felt I had let him down earlier and was just so happy he’d powered through and got the sub 24 hour finish. It was such a relief to get a ride back home too, although once the sun was up I did wake up a bit more and felt much better. We were also treated to some food and drink offered by Dave from Portsmouth. Dave is another awesome ultra runner who will be joining me on the start line of Grand Union this year. Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone I spoke to on route, including supporters, runners and volunteers – you are all amazing. Centurion running – thank you as well for putting on this event and allowing us all to come and test ourselves. Thanks to my family for putting up with my early mornings too. I sacrifice my sleep to keep the weekend running mostly away from the family life, but it does mean missing out on time with my kids early morning when they get up. Running can be self serving and selfish in this respect but I do what I can to minimise the impact. Hopefully one day my children will enjoy taking part in an event with me whether it be running or crewing. I want them to see and experience this great sport and community first hand and if they like it I hope we can build some stories in the future together on the trails xxx

As always, thank you to Centurion again for putting on this event and looking after us through the process. The awesome runners, supporters and most importantly the volunteers – you are all amazing and I’m going to help at a 100 miler event in the future having now experienced a Centurion 50 mile day out volunteering. Thanks Jason for putting up with my energy issues and nausea during those mid stages. It seems these are almost a certainty for me in these events so I need to be better and managing them for sure. Here’s to some more of theses events in the future together. Thanks to Stuart and Ross for taking all the photos and going above and beyond that in the love and support they give us through the event. You guys are amazing.

 

And finally, as always, happy miles everyone! xxx

Volunteering at the South Downs Way 50 (The Other Side of the Aid Station!)

Just over a year ago, Jason and I crossed the finish line at the Centurion South Downs Way 100 in Eastbourne. Completely exhausted we all settled inside the sports centre building with a few other runners who were resting or tending to blisters and various things. During that time after the race, a Centurion Running volunteer by the name of Ian took such great care of us. He kept coming over and getting cups of tea and coffee and food. Not once, but many times. He was like an angel. He was super friendly and very attentive. I’ve crossed many finish lines in my time and never been treated as well as this. For those of you out there who have run Centurion races before will be familiar with this level of care. I swore after that weekend and writing my report that I’d do the same one day soon. So, this year I found myself on the volunteering list for the 2019 South Downs Way 50. I had no idea what to expect or what to do, but I had a good idea in my mind about how to treat the runners. All Centurion races I’ve done have been amazing in that respect and all of the volunteers are incredible. You’ll find the most supportive marshals at the aid stations who are full of life and energy and who all want to see you reach the finish.

 

 

Ready and waiting for the runners

I originally requested to help volunteer at Saddlescombe Farm for the SDW50 this year, but was assigned to Botolphs, which is the first aid station on route. Happy with that. For that reason I also requested to be volunteering at the finish area in Eastbourne too. Nici from Centurion was kind enough to let me do both. I wanted to make a whole day of it and give back as much time as I could. What a day it was! I started early. I woke up at 6am and got a bit of food inside me. I’d run 45 miles the day before and was limping with some foot pain. I didn’t eat much the day before after the long run, and had woken up numerous times that night not only panicking about not making the start, and also by my stomach rumbling. I was out the door just after 7am and on the road. An easy drive it was. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and parked up in Botolphs in a small roundabout just down the road from the aid station. I could see a van unloading and headed down. I met a couple of guys wearing red Centurion Crew hoodies. I’m crap at remembering names but we all introduced ourselves and I got stuck in helping out. Soon a few other volunteers arrived including a Hideo who I remember because he had to pronounce his name to so many people that day (like Video – but Hideo). We chatted a bit about races and it turns out he’s run both Hardrock and Western States, which is one of my dream races. Damn I thought – I’m with my tribe today! As always with runners, they were all lovely people and we formed a good team preparing all the tables with food and drink. Our station manager was Jamie who was a good leader that day. Nice and calm and knew what he was doing. I needed that for sure because I’m one of those people that require a bit of direction to get me going. Once I’m going though, there’s no stopping me. Next time I’ll be so much better informed and experienced.

 

I am now a three second sarnie master!

I was on sandwich duty. I had no idea how many to make. I was armed with peanut butter, jam, ham and cheese. There was bread and pita. A couple of us got going with those and we ended up cutting the sarnies into shapes to recognise the filling in case runners asked. The sandwich shape wasn’t my idea, but was brilliant! Bam – the tables were soon full and I had a bad case of immediate wrist pain from cutting cheese and spreading fillings. Before long the first runner came through. It was Ben Parkes. I’d watched many of his videos on YouTube and have followed his progress and training over the year. He recently ran a 2:25(?) Valencia marathon and had managed a 52 minute Great South Run. The dudes a good fast runner. I’d recommend checking out some of his videos for some training tips. Anyhow, back to sandwiches. After the first few runners came through we were expecting the masses to start trickling through and boy did that happen. I definitely would have made a load more if I had known how popular they were going to be. I did think to myself that it was only mile 11.2 and so not many would be eating at this point. I was frantically making food pretty much for an hour or so non stop. I’ve mastered the art of the three second jam sandwich, which evidently were ok for runners. The volunteers assigned to drinks were also really busy – filling and refilling bottle after bottle. It was a military operation for a while. I must admit, there was relief at the end, but also a lot of pleasure that everyone had got through the station bar just one runner who had to pull out there. He was ok.

 

Towards the tail end of the runners the table looked a bit more bare
First runner through with the glowing pink gloves – Ben Parkes

 

Finally made it to the right place. First time I’ve ever driven there. Usually come in on foot!

We packed up quickly and cleared the road side. Before long you could walk by and not even know that hundreds of hungry, thirsty and tired runners had gone through. Botolphs dream team were done and dusted. Quick goodbyes and it was off to Eastbourne. Hideo was heading there too after lunch, however he made it there before me. Must be my terrible slow driving and reliance on satellite navigation. I did end up in a Sainsbury’s car park instead of the finish area first, so took the opportunity to grab a sandwich, monster munch and a drink. Hoofed it down once I got to the finish area because things were already in motion preparing for the finish. It was so awesome being part of the set up and helping get everything ready. What’s weird is the idea when you are there that the race has already started and runners are reaching half way or further and you are still setting up the finish area – hold on a sec though, this is a 50 miler, not a 10k. Runners are out there for about 6 hours plus! We have plenty of time. It was great to meet Ian again and meet his other half Claire who was volunteering that day too. As mentioned above, Ian was the main reason I had come to try my hand at the volunteering thing.

 

 

 

An ocean of medals ready to be put around the necks of the awesome finishers

I was assigned the role of handing out finishers medals to the runners with another lady by the name of Laura. What was incredible was that it turned out Laura is also due to run the Grand Union Canal Race in May ! What were the chances of that? On top of that, we were volunteering with a load of other lively and enthusiastic runners at the finish line, one lady in particular Michelle, who had already run the GUCR too! We were both able to pick her brains with various questions. On top of that as well, I met a guy again who we shared a taxi with to the start line at last years SDW100,  Matt,  who was due to run GUCR this year but had to pull out due to injury. Incredible coincidence right there and very cool. We will all keep in touch and I look forward to see Laura on the start line of the race. So much nicer when you have people you recognise. I also know a few other people who are running GUCR from Portsmouth so I’m hoping to have a social start and potential race or at least a few miles of it.

 

 

 

 

Jas and family after coming through the finish

Back to the volunteering though. The finish line area was really good fun. It was great to see the first finishers come through. I’ve never really seen it all from that close up as usually I’m working my way through the races when this happens. Good to see that the top spot runners do actually get tired too, but still surprising just how fresh they look after a few minutes rest. Medals were being put around peoples necks and it was real good to just congratulate all them at the same time. These runners all put their heart and soul into their race. It truly is inspirational to see. There were happy looking finishers, sad looking finishers and finishers that just wanted to go home and others that balled their eyes out with relief and satisfaction. Some finished their final loop of the sports track with their children, including my friend and ultra wing man Jason. It was fantastic seeing him, although there wasn’t any real time to spend chatting. Finishers were coming through the whole day and so we just kept a good rhythm and pattern going for the whole time. The winner of the men’s race was Ben Parkes who I had been following on YouTube as I do a lot of training video watching. He’s had some great results recently and just keeps improving all the time. The female winner and now course record holder was Julia Davis who ran an amazing time and coming in under the 7 hour mark for the first time ever for a female runner on that 50 mile course. Just remarkable!

 

A speedy Ben Parkes finishing a hard race

 

Lots of new friends made at the run, including Michelle who has been kind to give loads of advice about GUCR as she has finished the race before. Awesomes!

We finished at 21:15, after seeing an amazing last few finishers come through. One lady who finished had attempted to complete a Centurion running event almost thirty times before, unsuccessfully, but this time with the help of a coach who had been training her for a few months, she managed to finish! That was a real special one and the talk of the race at the end. Just amazing determination shown. I spent about twenty minutes after the finisher were done helping take down tents and various things before I packed up and headed home. It was a relief to get into the car and be warm too as I didn’t quite realise how cold I had been standing outside all day. It took me a while to warm up. I got home at about midnight and cooked up a bowl of chips and cheese, and watched the finale of The Umbrella Academy season 1 on Netflix. Great way to finish a hard day on foot. I also counted the day as training, because the day was spent on my feet and the day before I had run around Portsmouth three times in a row to finish a 45 mile training run. Epic weekend! I highly recommend the volunteering thing. It’s such a good idea and a brilliant day out spending time with others who love to run. I’ve met some lovely new friends too and people I plan on running with in the future too. Spot on!

 

 

 

 

 

Definitely worth trying this for a day out and to get to see the other side of the aid station and organisation. It’s also so brilliant to see the effort put in by the runners and Centurion to make this event happen. Not everything went to plan on the day, especially with the finish area surprises this year where it seemed the centre had been double booked to a boxing event! All handled professionally by James, Nici and team. Well done Centurion! It’s eye opening to see the amount of work that goes into organising these events. Oh, and also – who does the washing up ???

 

Happy miles everyone!!! xxx