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80 miles along the Grand Union Canal towpath

Town to Tring 40 miles – 2nd February 2008

Another training race for me in the build up to the Marathon des Sables. The race started in Brentford, London and we all met up at a hotel for an 8.15 start. Following registration we gathered in the street outside for the start. Once off we ran for approximately a mile up Brentford High Street before going down onto the Grand Union Canal towpath for the journey to Tring. The weather was calm but icy cold although the sun later one would warm us a bit. I had my pack on and loaded up with food and clothing for the entire weekend so it felt a touch heavier than normal. The whole distance is predominantly flat but generally uphill to Tring. Along the way, as well as the houseboats, swans, locks etc we had to follow the canal path which at times crossed back over the canal via one of the many bridges which caught a few competitors by surprise. Having said that the course is fairly easy to follow and very enjoyable. The paths are flat and although muddy most of the way we had been lucky with the rain and they were not difficult. There were checkpoints with water and snacks every 10 miles or so with friendly faces and encouragement.

I took a long time to get going, the first 10 miles felt like hard work. I’m not sure why but I just felt out of sorts, maybe it was because I hadn’t tapered for this and was just generally tired. Even so after about 10 miles I started to feel better and instead of being overtaken by people I started to overtake them which always helps to make you feel better. At about 25 miles I was starting to get tired again, lots of uphill on a hard packed path was making me feel a bit battered so I plugged into my MP3 player and soldiered on. The music helped me to focus until I got to a crowded part of the path where I was having to weave in and out of walkers etc. I will remember next time to check my MP3 before such a race because following several uplifting tunes I was running in a crowd with the Spongebob Squarepants theme tune blasting my ears! Unfortunately I could not get to the “skip” button so I listened to it all, it was a while before I stopped laughing though.

The last 10-15 miles were not too bad, I was running on and off with another runner called James until I left him with about 5 to go and pushed on to the end. The finish was at a hotel in Tring where I collected my medal and room key and went to shower. My roommate Harley was already in and sorted so I went to have my shower only to find that all the hot water had gone due to the influx of runners, I eventually had one 2 hours later by sneaking into the on-site leisure centre. In between I unpacked my pack to sort all my stuff out and found some heavy packages wrapped in socks in the bottom of my pack. They were bags of coins which Harley had kindly sneaked inside my pack early in the morning which I had just carried 40 miles up the canal! I was too tired to be angry so could only laugh, he’ll have to watch his back in the future though! The evening was spent with all the other runners in a presentation which was informative and everyone welcomed home the last runner in over 12 hours (she had been dragging a tyre to highlight Global Warming).

I finished 54th out of 121 finishers in 7 hours, 0 minutes and 50 seconds.

Tring to Town 40 miles – 3rd February 2008

This was to be a repeat of the previous day but in the reverse direction. Getting out of bed this morning was a major achievement and getting to the start line outside the hotel was mentally very taxing. Not everyone from yesterday was coming back and one or two who were supposed to, didn’t. There were new people arriving just to run the Sunday as well so the field would be slightly different.

After being up for an hour or so the stiffness had gone from my legs but my brain was protesting loudly. I managed to get into my smelly running gear and put my pack on following a detailed inspection to make sure I wasn’t carrying more than expected. The weather was slightly warmer but there was an icy headwind which we would have to run into for the whole journey. My plan was to start, and then see how it goes. I was prepared to walk long parts if need be.

We kicked off at 8.15 again and ran down the road to the canal. Surprisingly I felt reasonably good, those back to back training runs were paying off and I managed to keep a reasonable pace to the first checkpoint at 11 miles. After that I started to slow down a bit and decided to walk all the uphill bits. At the second checkpoint at 20 miles I was starting to feel it again like yesterday so started to incorporate some walk breaks which helped to keep me going. I got to the checkpoint at about 28 miles and stopped for 5 minutes to refuel my bottles as I had run out a few miles back. I was told that the canal path ahead was closed as a dead body had been found on one of the bridges and we would be diverted. I plodded on for a few miles before being directed off the path by the police and round some side roads before rejoining the path further up. Apparently the lead runners had found the body earlier and alerted the police.

By this time I was starting to flag again but still managed to maintain a reasonable pace. I saw my support crew for the first time at about 37 miles and jogged along slowly for the last few miles. In Brentford  High Street I managed to put on a spurt to get through the traffic and crowds as quickly as I could. I finished and collected my second medal of the weekend.  The last 25 miles I had run entirely on my own without even Spongebob. I had not been overtaken by anyone in that time but had passed a few people myself and realised that my legs didn’t feel any worse at the end than they had mid-race which was a boost for future events. Meeting so many drunks, beggars and youths along the canal path in London does help to keep you going in these conditions though. Mentally it had been tough to run 80 miles with a heavy pack, especially so much of it alone as people were so spread out but I was pleased to finish in good order apart from one small blister.

Today I finished 65th out of 113 finishers in 7 hours 27 minutes. Total for the 80 miles was 14 hours 28 minutes. Over the whole weekend there were ‘just under 100’ people who started both days for the entire 80 miles and 50 finishers – of which I was 24th, total time was 14 hours 27 minutes and 50 seconds.

Andy Horsley


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