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148 miles alongside the Grand Union Canal – 22/23 May 2009

Despite this being a flat 145+3 mile race, this run had more ups and downs than any race I have been part of before!

Andy Horsley entered the Grand Union Canal race which is run annually from Birmingham to London. The race has a 45 hour cut off and started at 6am on Saturday morning. Andy was the main event but as Jerry, Clare, Claire and I were soon to realise the job as support crew was not a walk in the park either.

The race is billed as Britain's longest, toughest, non-stop running race and I don’t think any of the starters would disagree.  With the car packed with gels, water, pasta, spare clothes, shoes, cooker and kitchen sink he set off along the canal with a few nerves and a slight cold but in good spirits.

We planned to meet him every few miles with drinks, food and brief instructions of places to cross over the canal along the route. His strategy was to run 25 minutes and walk five. We first saw him at four miles and by this point the field was already well spread. The camaraderie amongst the runners and support crews was brilliant and everyone helped everyone on route. We had a few nicknames for some of his competitors which included Smiley, Fame and Johnny Ball!

As well as our various meeting points there were checkpoints along the way for the organisers and we made sure we were at most of the points with Andy’s order from the previous checkpoint. He gets a bit like a diva after 50 miles of running.  The weather was hot and although for the support crew this was ideal we knew the heat was going to sap the energy from Andy.


Claire assures Andy, ‘You’re doing really, really, well’,
while Craig and Clare look on.

At the 70 mile checkpoint he is allowed a buddy runner to run with him. This was where I joined in for the night shift. Andy reached 70 miles with a sprint and stopped for a change of kit and a pasta meal. It was 10pm by then and we put on the head torches and headed off down the canal. For someone who had just run 70 miles he looked remarkably fresh even if he didn’t feel it.

Running at night is something I had not done before and it is quite eerie with the odd strange sight.  After his first 70 miles of run/walk this stage was mainly walking as running in the dark half asleep next to a canal was a recipe for disaster. Never the less we kept plodding along knowing the support crew would be there at various points on route to bring us take away Chinese and warm drinks when needed.

We ran into the cold night and saw some interesting sights as we made our way through Milton Keynes and as the sun start to rise at 4am we realised that none of us had slept for 24 hours.  I managed to keep going until 9am and after I had gone for 11 hours I had done enough for one stint and handed over to Clare Horsley at 103 miles.

Clare was not planning on running but when thrust in to it she took over for around 16 miles whilst I had a sleep in the back of the car and Claire and Jerry continued their navigational duties. Clare had just returned to running and until today had only done 6 miles.  To get on and support Andy for 16 miles was a great effort and well appreciated by Andy.

By this point the sun had come back up and was taking its strain on a lot of competitors.  At each checkpoint we were hearing of more and more people that were dropping out because of the distance and heat. Once Clare had finished her stint it was over to Jerry.

Jerry took over at a point when the run/walk was turning into a walk/run. Andy was well inside the 45 hour cut off but we needed to make sure he kept moving so that he was back by 3am Monday morning. Jerry and Andy ran for the next 17 miles or so. My recollection of the race at this point gets hazy as I drifted in and out of sleep but I knew Jerry would not keep going until the end and I would be needed to see Andy in for the last few hours. Before the race started the runners were all informed of a slight diversion at 130 miles which would take them off the canal through Southall which would add an extra 3 miles onto the route. At the time everyone thought ‘what’s 3 miles on top of 145’ but by the time Andy got there I am sure he was cursing the organiser.

One of the meeting points on Sunday afternoon was conveniently outside a pub. Andy got some very vocal support from the locals who had been enjoying the sun and alcohol. No beer for Andy though but he did appreciate an ice cold Coke even if he did see it again a few miles later as it came back up into a flower bed along the canal.

Jerry finished at the final checkpoint 12 miles before the end and we knew that as long as he maintained his walking pace he would finish well before the cut off. It was no longer about speed or finishing times but just about keeping his legs moving through London until the finish at Paddington. By this point Andy had outrun 3 of us and it was back around to my turn again, to see him into the finish.

After a bit of motivation, not helped by the GPS running out of battery 3 miles before the end, Andy made it to the finish in a time of 42 hours and 40 minutes. He was the 28th competitor to finish but with 52 of the original 86 not making the finish it shows how much of an achievement this was!

Once the race finished 5 tired bodies drove back to Dorset and I finally made it to bed at 4.30am, 48 hours without proper sleep. This was hard work for all involved but there is no doubt that the star of the show was Andy for completing 148 gruelling miles!

For anyone who is tempted by this event, I would recommend checking out Andy’s condition in the DVD first….coming to a home near you! For more on the race visit http://www.gucr.co.uk/

Craig Dixon

 

 

 
 
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