Prep for Grand Union Canal Race 2018

As I eat another doughnut (custard since you ask, and yes….. I am a piggy) I am contemplating the race that I have coming up on at the end of May. I will be running* 145 miles “non-stop”** with around 100 other runners from Birmingham to London along the Grand Union Canal. It’s a low key kind of race and that’s something that I love. I like small, back to basics races – though of course I am taking along a whole entourage because I am such a whiny baby when it comes to anything…. Including 10k tempo run – let alone 145 miles!

* Mostly jogging and stumbling 😉
** Gonna have some powernap/strops😂


For the last two years I have been part of supporting a couple of friends who have been running along the Grand Union Canal. I enjoyed buddy running and crewing for Paul Pickford who completed it in 2017. I also went along to see Mark Thornbury – aka Thorners – who had intended to do the race in 2017 before getting diagnosed with cancer, and then ran the thing over 3 days instead in September 2017. It’s going to be amazing to see him where he belongs – on the starting line for the 2018 GUCR and the finish line!

Back in 2017 when Thorners finished his fun run, I said to Sarah Booker (who I met up with and headed out to meet Thorners)…..

“There is nooooo way that I am going to run this race – I have seen what it does to people! And those swans…. And those dodgy people around Milton Keynes hiding under bridges like trolls….. and the mooring hooks that everyone trips over, and the low bridges that runners crash into…. And those bloody fishermen with their stupid long carbon fibre poles who make you hurdle them on Sunday morning as you approach Hertfordshire…. NOOOO WAAAAAAAAY!”.

I also heard Dick Kearn speak about the origins and history of the race at Ultra Fest in summer 2017 (organised by the amazing Andy Nuttall and his magazine and while I appreciated the race and loved how low key it is, I still was definitely not thinking it was something I could even attempt.

So obviously, I entered the ballot anyway and was absolutely over the moon to get a place – and I take that as a sign that I am completely committed to the race.

I’m not sure what changed my mind but I am sticking with the “I was respecting the distance and the race by working through the reasons I didn’t want to do it before going in 100% and applying for a ballot place”.

Having binge read all the blogs and heard about all of the strops that friends threw, and been a tiny part of my friends races I am doing it myself. 🏃🏃🏃🏁

Since I can’t seemingly run a race unless it is part of a slam, I am also attempting the Kennet and Avon Canal Race in July (145 miles) and Liverpool Leeds Canal Race in August (130 miles). I have unfinished business with LLCR – I had DNFd with weak mind and a hurty back in 2016. So I am back to prove a point to myself on that particular race.

The year so far

It is no secret that the first quarter of the year didn’t go to plan…..

First, a 10km at Battersea in January where I ran a awful 47 minute race (when I signed up months earlier I was at a peak and was before I wrecked my groin on the last 100 miler of the Grandslam in 2017 and was running sub 45 minutes on the same route in Battersea during longer training runs!). Add to that a runner with heavy footfall who was using me as an unofficial pacer, I just didn’t enjoy the experience of the result.

Second, a frankly horrendous (but nonetheless beautiful!) Moyleman (marathon) in March on the south downs which I had to hobble the last 7 miles of because I pulled one of my calfs when I was tippy-toeing around a little puddle and my leg cramped. I bloody enjoyed running in cold and snow though ❤️

Despite (or maybe because of all of that) I am feeling quite good about the GUCR. While I am a total wimp in heat and make sure everyone knows about it, I have tried to spend more time running later in the day when it is warmer so that I can get used to running in surprisingly hot temperatures.

I have also been doing higher mileage (once I was able to get over my injuries that had plagued me this year) versus last year – managing 5 – 6 weeks of around 70+ miles a week – majority of the miles at gentle jogging pace while not neglecting speedwork, hills, and tempo runs. All under the expert coaching eye of Mimi.

The injuries (shin splints, pulled calf, and groin issues) have affected my training and therefore fitness – with enforced rest weeks, but I feel that I have a good base and also that my training has allowed me to get to a good place nevertheless and I feel like I am peaking at just the right time.

One thing that I have learned is that you can’t live your running based on “if only”. Just accept where you are and make the best of things. In the last week I have felt stronger than for what feels like 6 months and that has given me the confidence that I need in my body. I feel like it has simply all come together for me in the nick of time for me to at least complete the race with anything else being a bonus. I enjoyed a perfect tempo run with my mate Gen with just over a week to go and it’s made me feel that things are ok!

My kit

While 145 miles is further than the 100 mile races that I did last year, it is an entirely different approach because I have crew and a buddy runner (who can accompany me from 65 miles). It means that I don’t have to carry a tonne of mandatory kit with me and because of the frequency of the crew points, I can have spares available if necessary.

I have gone for a new Ultimate Direction V4 Race vest which is only 5 litre capacity and has the majority of the back of the vest in a mesh material. This should mean that firstly I am not encouraged to carry too much, and secondly it will hopefully not heat up my back too much. I am also going to carry a handheld bottle to encourage me to drink more regularly and have practiced doing that in training.

I am also using a mixture of light trail shoes (Pearl Izumi N2 trail) and road shoes (New Balance 880s) which are very cushioned. The main other things I need to carry are a foil blanket, maps for the route, and a head torch. I will also use my Kalenji Saharienne hat (so I will look like a tool with my flappy panel of fabric at the back) plus my Kalenji waterproof jacket. I will also be changing into a long sleeve merino top for overnight, and taking the opportunity to change in the morning as well. It’s nice to have fresh clothes during a race this length.

Food and drink

I really don’t know what I will fancy in what order but it will likely involve ice-cream, lolly ices, chips and gravy, chicken nuggets, sausage & egg mcmuffins and pot noodles (hopefully the water will heat up faster than I am running between crew points at that stage!). Plus I will take with me chia bars, nakd bars, peanuts, mountain fuel and also water and electrolyte tabs (hi5 or wiggle) and S caps (which science or not – do seem to rid me of cramping during races).

I will also be feasting on my specific non specific fruity drinks – think glucose powered Lucozade, Fanta fruit twist, Mountain Dew. Not to forget the copious caffeine that I’ll take on through coffee and Caffeine Bullets which will keep me going when I want to sleep! Of course I will probably throw some kind of diva strop and demand some impossible food of my crew!


I am running it easy effort and while I have a plan (necessary for my crew and for my peace of mind) I am not breaking any records and I am focusing on getting to the end in one piece. I have zero intention of looking at my watch and I’m certainly not speeding up just to hit times. What happens, happens.

My best race to date – TP100 in 2017 – had me not look at my watch until a mile from the end and I ran that really well in 22 hours 26 minutes….. I don’t know (actually I do know – i am not!) whether I am really in any kind of shape for that performance but it did teach me that I can rely on my body to get on with the job and to not to have to feel like I am pushing the pace. I intend to stay well within myself on this race. I will not piss around, I will keep moving forward at all reasonable pace.

My Crew and Buddy Runners

As I said earlier – I am a whiny bitch when it comes to running almost any distance and especially so for anything approaching this distance. I have an amazing set of crew and running buddies to share my journey with. I am so grateful to these amazing friends who I have met through running. They have for the weekend a set of “Handling instructions”.

  • Paul Pickford – who completed GUCR in 2017 and many other ultras including the TP100 when I paced him to sub 24 for the last 16 miles or so).
  • Tracey Watson – who is on her way to completing her third double Grandslam of 50s and 100 mile Centurion races) and her husband Pete who is well used to crewing his wife.
  • Vanessa Armond – who is planning her first 50 mile race this year and paced me for part of my second 100 miler in 2016.
  • Marek Kowalek who has run with me on part of the run around the UK coast (we’ve only done about 400 miles so far) and is great fun and a strong runner.
  • Lou Fraser who I am sure will be running an ultra soon and is well known for JD fudge and pampering of runners at aid stations.
  • And last but not least my amazing wife Susie who as well as being able to turn my mood from desolation to determination (as she did on NDW100 in 2017 when I was having a meltdown) is a brilliant runner in her own right and has completed a few ultras (after her 100 miler last year she was still saying she wasn’t sure whether she liked running yet). 😂😂

So….. while we have a kit shot still to come, this is pretty much the training done and the last bit of planning to do while I enjoy the rest of my taper. 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Onwards to the start line in Birmingham and then onwards to Little Venice where this race finishes! 🏁🏁🏁


  1. Fella, believe me, you are wasted away writing a blog, you need to be writing novels, ….you are a great story teller – it’s the first blog that I have read that is not pretentious, is very real, and absolutely fascinating. Keep up the good work!


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