Well I have to say Sunday's long slow run was a slightly different and enjoyable affair. I rose at 4:30am as per usual woken by Jasper wanting his early morning feed. I had the usual hungarian coffee and bowl of porridge which always sets me up for a long ride or run. And off I set out my door and after a mile onto the Grand Union Canal towards Tring.
Two miles in I spot 3 runners in front of me on the canal path. It is most unusual for this time of day to see 1 runner let alone 3! They weren't so much running though as walking/hobbling/swaying along. I caught up with them and immediately noticed their race numbers. I had unknowingly been caught up in the middle of one of the longest Ultra races in the UK - the Grand Union Canal (Ultra) Run which is a 145 miles from Birmingham to London. I knew of the race and had even been on the website before but had no idea it was this weekend.
I felt quite privileged to suddenly be a part of it in this very small way. The funniest thing that many runners I stopped to talk to said to me is that I was moving very well at this stage in the race! Whilst it was tempting to go along with the suggestion that I was comfortably keeping a 10 mpm pace after 100 miles of running I couldnt do it to them... I explained that I was actually just on my normal Sunday morning run. I wished the 3 of them the best of luck and went about chasing down the next runner ahead of me.
And this became my motivation for the rest of my run which instead of being a long slow run was now in comparison to these guys a very short slow run! Its funny how context changes everything. I was planning to run 25 miles which I did do and normally I would think of this as a long run (and indeed it is being that it is only just shy of a marathon), however today it really felt short and because of the distraction of the GUCR, far easier than if I had been plodding down the canal alone.
The GUCR itself is in my opinion pretty brutal mentally! Not brutal in a Lakeland100 sense of continuous climbing and descending mashing the quads mountain after mountain, but simply because it is SO flat and SO long and quite frankly the terrain underfoot and scenery around you doesn't really change a great deal. Both races have the same 45 hour cut off, but I would have to say that I'm far more drawn to the L100 than the GUCR. Half of the 98 starters of the GUCR dropped out which is very high for a race whose only real challenge is the distance. I thought whilst I was running along if I would like to enter this race and perhaps I will, but I've said before that the reason I got into ultras in the first place was to run beautiful trails and witness amazing scenery. The GUC just doesn't offer this element! But it does offer a real challenge. My friend Dino was running the GUCR - a very good ultra runner (came 3rd in the Lightning12hr) and training for the L100 but he dropped at 108 miles. He'd had enough and simply couldnt face the prospect of putting even one more foot in front of the other. The distance and mundane route broke him, not the physical terrain, and mentally he had had enough. And said himself he didnt want it hard enough to keep going.
I'm a little surprised that the drop out rate is so high on the event. You surely know what you are getting yourself into when you sign up. Without passing too much judgement on the preparation and training of those that enter this race surely they are simply bitting off more than they can chew, and are under prepared. The very small field of 100 starters surely brings into question the entry requirements for such an event. Its over subscribed year after year so perhaps it makes sense to provide the opportunity to those that are truly prepared and stand a good chance of finishing... or perhaps I'm simply under-estimating the magnitude of this event and the challenge. Either way, if and when I enter the GUCR I will only do so knowing that I am fully prepared to take it on and will finish.
I met some other nice people out on this run - John was on the GUCR reserve list and only found out he was racing 6 weeks prior! His longest training run was 45 miles, but he seemed extremely determined to finish when I spoke to him at the 95 mile mark, and was raising money for cancer research having lost 2 friends to the illness last year.
I ran with a guy called Iveagh for a mile or so just before I turned around to head back. Iveagh was from Ireland and running a very good race. This would be his longest ultra and he finished in 38hrs having checked on the website. That's a long time on your feet down one canal and takes a lot of guts and determination to carry on.
And if Ultras teach you one thing its too never judge a book by its cover! I passed a v. senior lady called Debbie on my way back home who was moving slowly but still moving and looked quietly determined. Debbie finished in 43 hours! Amazing. It simply serves to show that running ultras and pushing ones limits is not about speed, or strength, or age, or ego but just about a complete single-mindedness to continue and push on to the very end. My favourite quote which I take with me to every event for when I may need it is 'pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever'.
For what it's worth I completed my measy 25 mile training run scraping just under a 10 mpm pace. An extremely enjoyable run. My left foot is grumbling ever so slightly due to the lack of running but hopfully as I fit it a knew more runs (not just the long ones) it will strengthen and see me good for the NDW100 in August.