Greensands Ridge Relay GSRR – Mini ultra on knackered legs

This is an event I’ve wanted to run for many years. It’s a small deal, held locally, running from Leighton Buzzard to a village outside of Bedford. No medal, no goody bag, no expo to collect your number, no cotton t-shirt that doesn’t fit anyone.

I much prefer small friendly events put on by runners, for runners, as oppose to corporate greed machines (if a race has the word “great” in it, it’s typically referring to the price and the profit margin). GSRR is geared up to be a relay with six legs of varying lengths and has a great club atmosphere. Lakeside Runners normally enter some teams and any from the Late Group are legendary for getting so hideously lost we miss cut-offs and get disqualified. It appears to be a combination of lack of recce runs and sheer inability to follow a simple map. Rumour has it some of the team members are still living in the woods of Millbrook, having gone feral and surviving mostly off road kill. They’re now too far gone to capture and attempt to rehabilitate in society. The Early Group actually mange to finish most years as they’re not idiots.

Speaking of idiots there is an option to run the whole 34 miles solo as long as you have a team from your club entered into the relay as support. It’s not an accepted marathon for the 100 Marathon Club since the rule excludes anyone not part of a club and 100MC are all about inclusivity. This is one of the reasons I’ve never run it before as spending a full day running a race that didn’t get me closer to the 100 wasn’t a good use of a permission slip from the wife. Also until recently I never wanted to run over 26.2 miles as it’s stupid.  I’ve now been led astray on ultras and run events where 34 miles is the home straight, and I’ve passed the magic 100 so neither was an obstacle anymore.

Preparation – The route follows the Greensands Ridge. In theory it’s well signposted and easy to follow. The organisers do a great job of providing a single page map of each stage with helpful comments on. Given the already mentioned issues I was keen to get some recce runs in though and in a very condensed post-GUCR 145 couple of weeks I managed to run legs 1-2 and 4-6, having already run leg 3 a couple of times just as a decent trail run in training previously. Even the recce runs take some planning as you’re either stuck with an out and back which can end up 18 miles, or needing to faff about with cars at either end. Fortunately the usual MK suspects were also entered to run so we had as many as 8 idiots meeting at 6am each Sunday to practice the route. The runs were great although I was finding even keeping a 10 minute mile pace a lot harder work than I expected but put it down to still recovering from the GUCR so hoped to bounce back on the day in race mode.

Route – I’m not great with navigation so after each recce run produced some notes to accompany the maps. These are all available HERE for anyone that wishes to use them. Feel free to comment if you find errors or think they could be improved “Hey Mark, I got lost on that stupid fork in the path just after the farm, you never even mentioned that and I ended up lost for 4 days, missed the opening stages of the World Cup and never got to see England come home early. Oh and I also missed the birth of my child which apparently is also an issue. According to the wife.”.

Plan – Jen had a reasonable plan of 9min miles based on her previous course record. I’ve run 38 trail miles at around that pace before so it seemed possible. I’d had a few relatively low mileage weeks since GUCR so was hoping my state of recovery would match her state of brokenness from running 60 miles the weekend before at the Redway Festival of Running. Hah! An interesting quirk of the solo race is there isn’t likely to be a finish line set up before 4pm, and a target to finish of 5pm so you need to estimate a suitable start time to hit this window. We’d gone for 12 noon.

Leg Cut Off Distance Pace (min/miles) Leg Time Time of Day Ahead of cut off
1 12:00 5.6 00:09 00:50 12:50 00:39
2 13:30 3.9 00:09 00:35 13:25 00:34
3 14:00 9.1 00:09 01:21 14:47 00:27
4 15:15 5.7 00:09 00:51 15:38 00:21
5 16:00 5.4 00:09 00:48 16:27 00:17
6 16:45 4.7 00:09 00:42 17:09

Actual – Given the 9min pace was a little close to the course cut off I was glad we got to the start ahead of our 12 noon intended time and got underway at 11:36, giving an extra 24 minutes which I might well be needing. First two miles were too quick at 8min pace, we stormed through the first two stages and after an uncomfortable few miles my legs seemed to wake up and I felt good. I was in my groove and flowing nicely. I had this. Then I didn’t. In one of those ‘oh yeah I remember that….’ moments I recalled that previously post ultras I can normally blag up to around 13 miles without issue before my legs realise what’s going on and start to question what I’m playing at. Some parents let their kids act up a bit to teach them responsibility, but go beyond a certain boundary and you head straight to the naughty step for a time out which is exactly what my legs were telling me. Walking up the ploughed field on leg 3 I pulled my emergency Lucozade out my vest and downed the whole thing whilst Jen jogged on ahead. Still thirsty and with no sudden release of energy, I felt decidedly flat and watched Jen jog into the distance, a familiar sight from the SDW50. And the SDW100. And the London Marathon. And the Milton Keynes marathon. And the Tour of MK. And most Wednesday club runs. There’s a pattern here. I sort of expected to get dropped somewhere on leg 3 but not quite this soon. It was hot. I was thirsty. I was knackered and had a long way left to go and couldn’t really be arsed but my car was at the end so I sort of had to keep going.

What’s nice about the GSRR is the relay element means there’s scores of people at the checkpoint, far more than you’d expect for a small event so coming into the dodgy (and better known for dogging) car park at Milbrook I was greeted by club mates and lovely Julian thrust a cold water at me. I had food on me but struggled to eat it and was reminiscing of the aid stations at Centurion events and the bountiful supply of food and snacks. I could have murdered some pineapple or watermelon, instead made do with a squishy Mars bar from my pocket and a death march up the hill to the church.

It was about then I wished I’d packed an iPod or something as being alone with thoughts was not helping. The route was easy to navigate due to the recce runs so I didn’t even have that to take my mind off quite how rubbish this was all going. Miles ticked by at an increasingly slow rate and I started to worry about the cut offs. They were going to be close at 9min pace, how much buffer did the earlier start allow for death marching? I was bothered but also too apathetic to pull my phone out and check the times. Would being timed out be worse than dropping at the next checkpoint? I’d run 350 miles last month, stayed on my feet for 38 hours, I had nothing to prove by completing this ‘short’ ultra. I could probably blag a lift off someone at the next checkpoint. Fortunately the route started to run through the forest and I always feel better surrounded by trees. Woodn’t you? I ran on to the checkpoint to get another water off Julian (did I mention how lovely he is?), top up bottles with High 5 tablets and run on. In need of sugar I unleashed some Skittles. I couldn’t taste the rainbow, just a fly that I’d inhaled earlier and still seemed to leave a lingering aftertaste in my mouth. Onto the short section running down the dual carriageway headlong into cars (hit me I dare you, I’ll be through your windscreen like a wild moose in Canada) before crossing into woods and around the fields.

Coming into Clophill I was looking out for the pub. Still not sure how close to the cut off I was but taking the number of relay runners at the checkpoint as a sign I wasn’t yet at the back of the pack so could spare time for a drink. Even if I got timed out at least I could enjoy a pint in the sun. Luck was on my side and some amazing supporters offered me their beer which didn’t even touch the sides as it slid down. So cold, so refreshing. So best get going.

Coming towards the end of Leg 5 a combination of beer, caffeine tablets and wanting to get the bloody thing finished seemed to work and I began to pass some other solo runners. Up ahead I recognised the usual MK suspects coaxing a humourless Mark along who despite looking in good form was not having the race he wanted and uttered obscenities to all around. I’m a huge fan of excessive swearing and although taking comfort from the misery of others is pretty poor form, a certain amount of schadenfreude helped lift my spirits and we jogged in to checkpoint 5 as a happy group. All apart from Mark anyway. The others stopped at the checkpoint to perform last rights on Mark. He wasn’t looking that bad but I think SJ was minded to end him anyway, partly out of pity, partly frustration. I resolved to push on. Towards the later miles of the race the solo and relay teams had bunched and for the first time in hours I had a long stream of runners ahead to follow which looked appealing. It was a couple of days later someone mentioned our motley crew of runners were only a few minutes inside the cut-off to start the final leg so I’m thankful of starting those 24 minutes earlier than planned as I clearly needed it.

Frustratingly although I only had just over a parkrun to go I couldn’t seem to access that final reserve of (relative) speed that I’d used at the GUCR145 so made do with shuffling along, saying hello to the horses and cows for good luck and to keep my mind occupied. Not since I ran the Bournemouth marathon straight after the half marathon have I felt so empty and dead legged. For someone that runs a lot I’m bloody awful at it sometimes. Through a gate and across a horse farm ready for the final ‘sprint’ around the church which turned out not to be needed as the race finished alongside the church and not in the pub car park as I expected. Upside – less far to run. Downside – further to walk to bar.

All finished in 5h50m, 40 minutes behind target but crucially wasn’t timed out or dropped, and got a free beer. Tried to force down a burger and easily swallowed a shandy. Jen had ‘struggled’ as well and ‘only’ smashed me by 25 minutes to bag 1st place with me in 2nd.  SJ and Ellie scored joint 1st female having buried Mark somewhere in the woods. Most importantly I’d beaten club mate Lennie as he’d never of let me forget it if he’d won, especially as he’d forgotten one of his calf guards so probably ran in circles a lot. To be fair I never would have stopped ribbing him had I caught him on route despite his earlier start time.

Next year I’m going to train for shorter distances, not run 350 miles the month before, and try to sort some food on route better. Also convince Jen to run some other event instead.

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Greensands Ridge Relay – Course Notes

A post as much for my own benefit so I don’t lose this in the future. Below are some written instructions to the Greensands Ridge Relay, the annual race held every June running from Leighton Buzzard to Northill.  The total route is 34.4 miles.

The race is normally held as a relay, with one runner on each leg, varying from 3.9 to 9.1 miles, or you can run the whole thing solo as a very cheap ultra (£10) if you’re member of a club that has a team entered. For this reason it’s excluded from the 100 Marathon Club as a qualifying event as precludes unattached runners.

Official website – https://www.smoc.info/GSRR/gsrr.htm

The official website has the maps available. In the main these are good but partly due to the scale and the lack of detail on the OS map there is still scope to go wrong. For that reason I put together the below to accompany the maps.

LEG 1 – Waterside Park (Leighton Buzzard) to Stockgrove (5.6 miles)

  • Follow footpath from start towards Canal bear left along canal (canal on right).
  • Pass concrete launch jetty.
  • Cross canal on bridge (old railway bridge) and continue with canal on left.
  • Mix of industrial and housing either side.
  • Pass Wyvern barge hire on left.
  • Go past lock.
  • Pass Globe Inn on right, beware speed bumps!
  • As access road turns over bridge take right turn onto footpath through gate, path bears left.
  • Follow wooden walkway, bears right at end into marshy field.
  • Take path straight ahead, follows river to wooden footbridge, gates either end.
  • After bridge cross small stream/puddle on walkway.
  • Take diagonal left path through fields following line of overhead power lines.
  • Path joins road, then over cattle grid, take immediate left access road that runs behind houses (house on your RHS).
  • Path follows woods, fenced either side.  After fence dies out look for steep right turn up hill, signposted but easily missed. There is one false right turn before with no signposts, ignore this.
  • Continue to follow path through woods, eventually road appears on your LHS.
  • Path follows steps down at cross roads.
  • Turn right on road and immediate left at cross road, then footpath on right through gate into woods past buildings on your RHS.
  • Now in Rushmere park.
  • Follow path. As path climbs hill take left path, ignore sign to the right for new route. Path mostly skirting edge of forest, fields on left through trees.
  • In dense woods path splits left and right, take left fork up slope with wooden edges.
  • Keep following path.
  • Path hits access road, pass houses on left and fields on right.
  • Private road hits main road, continue straight on in road, beware cars!
  • Where road bears right, layby on left, and Checkpoint.

LEG 2 – Stockgrove to Woburn (3.9 miles)

  • In layby enter path, fields on left, woods on right.
  • Bears to left in ‘gulley’ formation, light woods and then gate into farmers field, often horses.
  • Take right path at far end of field before farm gates, up a slope, watch for rabbit holes.
  • Through gate into horse field, skirt fence on your LHS
  • Through gate, skirt fence on your LHS, watch feet as ground very uneven and rutted.
  • Skirt field into trees, over wobbly stile, light trees ahead, another stile.
  • Through light trees towards A5 over stile, down (slippery) steps, cross A5 carefully and turn right, then up (slippery) steps on left.
  • Diagonal path across two fields, slippery wooden bridge over stream in middle.
  • Path hits hedge, bear left along hedge to wide gate.
  • At gate go under and turn left on road.
  • Take left footpath after short road section onto path.
  • Fields on right, woods on left.
  • Eventually denser wood.
  • Watch out for right turn in woods, signposted but can be missed, just after woods on right start to lessen again.
  • Follow path through trees, gradually becomes open track, joins access road by houses on your LHS, follow downhill, pass around metal gate.
  • As access road joins main road official footpath on left skirting field to T-junction or can just run in the road.
  • Follow road uphill past houses.
  • Pass massive college/house on left, and take track opposite into field, just before the “Welcome to Woburn” signs.
  • Wide track bears left, at trees pass through gate onto long field running down to Woburn Abbey. Footpath often very obscured here.
  • EITHER Approx 1/3 way down, left into woods, then right and follow path through woods. OR 2/3 way down, left into woods, then right and follow path.
  • Path leads out to fire station for Checkpoint.

LEG 3 – Woburn to Millbrook (9.1 miles)

  • Leave fire station, right at main road past motorcycle dealership. Cross road when able, admire Woburn Abbey through fence on your left.
  • Just before gatehouse at end of fence take left footpath through narrow deer gate and along narrow path, fenced both sides.
  • At end of path bear slightly left towards lake on grass path, pass big lake on your right, smaller lake and pond on your left.
  • Cross access road. Carry on up hill on grass path.
  • Path joins access road at Abbey. Follow as bears slightly right.
  • Keep Abbey gardens and buildings on right and car park on left.
  • WATER – one of the trees on your left just after car park has tap fitted for use.
  • At end of fenced garden do NOT follow road as bears right around back of buildings.
  • Take footpath ahead across grass, slightly left.
  • Straight over fields to woods.
  • Enter deer gates into woods.
  • Out of woods through gate, along field.
  • Pass lake/pound on your left, path bears left across two fields, gate and wooden bridge in middle.
  • Into trees and deer gate to road.
  • Left at road. Follow road. Where road forks turn left, pass church on left and Green Man pub on right.
  • Stay in road towards cricket green. Where road bears left after cricket green take right up small road past houses.
  • Where road ends take gate on left, cross stream and follow stream on your RHS.
  • Follow path, through gate, around edge of next field, slight right into trees.
  • Path becomes a wider grassy rack.
  • Follow until road, carefully cross over onto track, keep houses on your right.
  • After fields into woods, follow fenced footpath around farm through gates and into field.
  • Woods on your right. Follow down to road.
  • Cross road and take path slightly to left.
  • Up and across ploughed/farm field.
  • Through gap in hedge/bushes and straight on towards woods.
  • Keep woods on LHS.
  • End of woods turn left, then continue past paddock on your RHS, take diagonal path through another wood.
  • Exit woods into field, diagonal to corner by Church.
  • Pass to the left of the church to road.
  • Cross road take tarmac path opposite down side of field.
  • Path joins cul-de-sac of houses, straight on.
  • At high street turn right, then left fork down to narrow road, runs downhill.
  • Look for right footpath as woods run out.
  • Follow path around woods, fields on your LHS.
  • As you near M1 take left footpath straight across farm field towards tree cluster beside M1.
  • Over rubbish bridge over M1, then decent bridge over A507, path bears to left after bridge.
  • As reach fields take right turn along edge of field.
  • Straight along down edge of many fields (hedge on your RHS, fields on your LHS) until road and farms.
  • At road turn right, then left turn after falling down brick buildings on left and house on right.
  • Through farmyard/hardstanding.
  • Pass the big barn on your LHS, up sloped track towards woods.
  • Pass woods on your LHS. End of woods take hard right path across fields.
  • Then follow hedge line to road.
  • At road turn left then take right turn for stables.
  • Paddocks on your LHS, buildings on your RHS.
  • Follow path between fields to small road leading to house (feels like running up someone’s drive).
  • Ahead on small road, pass house on your LHS, and stables on your RHS, enter path straight ahead (gate).
  • Follow path through woods, ignore path on your right.
  • At T junction on path take right turn, path then bears left.
  • Golf course on your RHS, Millbrook test track on your LHS.
  • Several turns and steep descent.
  • Follow path to come out at car park, Checkpoint.

LEG 4 – Millbrook to Deadman’s Hill (5.7 miles)

  • Leave car park, right up hill in road. Take right turn, pass houses on your LHS.
  • Follow road, pass pub on your LHS.
  • After houses take left path up hill through church grounds, follow path.
  • At road, go straight on.
  • Follow path, past various farm buildings, path starts to bear to left around edge of woods.
  • Path enters woods, across field (slight right bearing) to hedge into country park.
  • Cross over major left-right footpath up slope. Pass memorial on your RHS, steep drop to lake on LHS.
  • Skirt woods on your LHS.
  • Look for LH turn into wood, just after a very low path joins from left.
  • Through woods to road, turn left on road, up hill.
  • As road bears right take concrete access road running parallel to road on right.
  • Follow concrete road, small car park on your LHS. Keep bearing left.
  • After houses (on your RHS) turn right before big building and bear left behind it.
  • Follow access road. Ignore left fork.
  • At end of road by house (on your LHS) take gate ahead into field, straight on.
  • At end of field turn and take gate on right into farm fields, ahead, keep hedge on RHS.
  • Through gate cut corner of field on trampled path (DO NOT take kissing gate in corner of field)
  • Follow footpath through wide farm gates (couple of sets) now on wide access track. Follow this.
  • Before farm buildings bear right through kissing gate or wide farm gate (likely cows) and bear left.
  • Pass farm buildings on your LHS.
  • Through fields and kissing gate to road.
  • Cross road, path directly opposite to the LHS of house.
  • Straight on path, pass houses on your RHS.
  • Through field, straight on as path joins.
  • Pass between houses and turn left at road.
  • Road bears right.
  • Look for path on LHS between house up slope.
  • Follow path, bears right through graveyard.
  • Pass Church, down steps to car park road, left to top of car park through gate straight on footpath.
  • Long skinny field, looking for RH turn at end BEFORE the trees,
  • Take right turn along trees to woods.
  • Run with woods on your LHS.
  • At junction/crossroads turn left, then at T turn right (effectively stay on major access track)
  • Track leaves woods and just before layby is Checkpoint.

LEG 5 – Deadman’s Hill to Deadman’s Cross (5.4 miles)

  • Enter layby and turn right, leave layby to A6, run headlong into oncoming traffic. Road and central reservation on your LHS.
  • Cross when gap in wide central reservation and signposted by path coming from woods on your RHS.
  • Cross A6 and turn right on path, road now on your RHS.
  • Eventually a wall appears on your LHS.
  • Immediately after wall ends take steep left path climbing up into woods.
  • Path enters fields, follow path to right, skirt woods, left at end of field then almost immediately right turn onto another field.
  • In field turn right to follow tree line.
  • Path bears left at corner of field.
  • 2/3 of the way along this side of field look for path to right into woods, bears left.
  • Follow path down gulley.
  • Follow down to road, turn left.
  • Pass pub on your LHS.
  • At fork turn left up small road.
  • Eventually houses stop, building site at end.
  • After building site on your RHS take right turn into woods.
  • Bear straight on through stable area and kissing gate.
  • Into fields, head straight on with farm buildings on your RHS.
  • Through gate down path onto minor road/track and turn right.
  • Follow road onwards. Another road joins from right, bear straight on (slight right, left dogleg).
  • At T junction turn right then look for path on left.
  • Path is steep down and up between fences beside field (not in the field itself, also ignore the footpath that takes you diagonally across the field).
  • Pass Eco Lodges on your RHS at top of hill to join minor road/track.
  • Turn left at road, pass derelict church on your RHS, follow track/road as meanders right/left/right/left.
  • Ignore right turn to Pedley Wood Farm, straight on footpath.
  • Take right turn towards woods.
  • Follow woods on your RHS, skirt treeline (ignore right turn gate into woods that looks tempting).  More trees on your RHS until road.
  • At road turn left. After 500m turn right on path.
  • Through fields towards farm, through farm buildings to road with houses.
  • At road turn left.
  • Look for path on right after 4/5 houses.
  • Take path between houses, bear right.
  • Through fields to Checkpoint at road (A600).

LEG 6 – Deadman’s Cross to Northill (4.7 miles)

  • Across A600 into fields take left bearing towards woods on wide gravel access road.
  • Follow through two woods (fields in-between)
  • Path becomes Borden Lane with house on your RHS, footpath is on left of the road pass gate.
  • At junction with Bedford Road cross straight over onto path.
  • Pass through two fields.  As track turns right take footpath straight ahead but keep hedge line on your LHS.
  • Straight on for two fields, still with hedgeline on your LHS.
  • At end of field avoid path straight on into field, turn right around edge of field and look for a left turn into trees to follow path between trees for two fields.
  • Continue on tree-lined path, fields on your RHS.
  • At end of second field there is iron gate on your LHS, and a path on your RHS.
  • Take RH path across two fields.
  • Slight left/right dogleg before through trees, diagonally across field.
  • Keep farm buildings on your LHS, pass through gates.
  • Bear left after stables, through gate halfway along fence, through to corner of field, into trees (path is bearing right).
  • Bear right around edge of next field.
  • After left turn of path around corner of field look for RH gap in trees and enter woods.
  • On wood path take left bearing (fairly obvious), then right turn (easily missed, marker post is buried in undergrowth).
  • Leave trees, pass pond on your RHS, also horse exercise yard on RHS.
  • Along fenced grass track, cross access road, another fenced grass track to houses/outbuildings through fence.
  • Road widens, houses on both side.
  • Road joins Bedford Road, turn right.
  • Run towards Church, final checkpoint is on verge beside church.
  • THIS IS THE END!!! Have a beer in the pub the other side of the church.

Grand Union Canal 145 – Helpful Hints

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After my overly long blog on the actual fun of running 145 (and 8.5) miles along the GUCR, thought I’d do some advice for first timers in future to aid them in their quest.  There are a lot of blog posts about experiences but not many with simple advice so here goes.

Basics – 145 (and a bit) mile race from Birmingham to Little Venice in London, held the second May bank holiday, starts 6am Saturday with a 45 hour cut off (so 3am Monday morning). Simple point to point race so need to plan travel to start and from finish.

Entry – You need to register your interest to join the following years ballot, this is typically 1st July.  The NEW AND IMPROVED official website is here which is now a great user friendly experience. A good source of information is the FB group. The race is oversubscribed so assuming stays the same you register your interest on SI Entries website and put your name in a ballot. If you win you stump up the cash also on SI Entries to confirm entry.  Options for entry are supported (as in you will have own crew) and unsupported (you will not have a crew and require organisers to feed you).

Preparation / Training – I complete a half dozen short ultras and three 100 milers in advance of this. I felt it was enough to prepare me and I finished. After 50 or so miles the length is just a matter of slower pace, more walk breaks and making progress. The race is flat so something like Thames Path 100 is good preparation but at only 3 weeks before is a little too close. The Country to Capital Ultra features the final 10-12 miles of this race as a taster and is early Jan so good to start the training off with.

Travel & Accommodation – Once in, book your hotel in Birmingham. The race registration is normally at the Travelodge Birmingham Central, 230 Broad St, Birmingham B15 1AY. If you book ahead you can get a room for around £40. It’s a pretty noisy hotel but then anything within walking distance to the start will be on a Friday night.

At registration you need to sign your waiver, show your race numbers with filled in emergency details on the rear, and if you want to pay a £10 deposit for a British Waterways Key to access the taps and toilets on route (worth it). You can register on the morning of the race but most opt to register the night before. If you keep an eye on train offers you can get some good deals. I paid £6 for a Milton Keynes to Birmingham train and it’s about a 10 minute walk to start.

Night Before – Typically after registration most people head across the road to O’Neil’s pub opposite, meet up with other runners and if sensible drink enough beers to help them sleep through the noise of a Friday night in Birmingham. Worth noting nothing will be open the following morning for breakfast or last minute purchases so worth popping into the Salisbury opposite and buying breakfast and provision. Don’t forget water for your bottles as there is no facility at the start for topping up water bottles and it’s nearly 11 miles to first checkpoint.  Go back to hotel, set a dozen alarms and stick everything on charge (phone, battery packs, GPS watch, iPod etc).

Morning Of The Race – Assuming pre-registered there is little to do at the start other than drop your bag off (it was two bags for unsupported, recently changed to one) and eat some snacks on the start line so arriving 5:30 for the 6am start is probably sufficient.  Listen to the briefing, and then set off on a little jog. Start is at Gas Street Basin (B1 2DS) and about a 5-10 minute slow walk from the Travelodge.

Drop Bags – As mentioned above it was two bags for unsupported but in interests of keeping it sensible for the volunteers who need to lug out your bags at the aid stations it’s dropped to one. Depending on the weather your bag may well get wet so pick appropriate bag and worth having contents in bin liners and zip lock bags inside to guarantee they stay dry. Maybe a spare bin liner for sweaty, wet stinky gear. Try and pack the bag sensibly enough that you don’t need to dig through when knackered.

  • For the end of the race (put at bottom of bag)- a full change of warm clothes, comfy shoes and maybe a mains charger for phone etc. If a contact lens wearer you may want your glasses for the journey home.
  • For the race kit (keep accessible in bag)- spare shoes, socks, lots of tops/shorts and jackets, gloves and hats (it can get very cold at night on the canal), Vaseline, k-tape, headtorch(es), spare batteries, battery packs for phone and GPS watch with appropriate leads, any food items (pot noodles, sweets etc), spare paracetamol, salt tablets, gels/caffeine tablets, blister kit, plasters, sun cream, that bin bag for wet gear, iPod etc. I tended to have lots of clear bags for each group of stuff, so tops in one, cold weather gear in another etc to make it easier.
  • To carry for the race – water/fluids, food (the aid stations are far more spread than a typical ‘easy’ ultra), emergency poo kit, small Vaseline, rain coat, maps or directions, GPS watch, phone, tracker (if you have one), emergency blanket (MANDATORY), buff/hat for sun, emergency cash or card (there are cafes, pubs and ice cream vans on route), sunglasses. Cup for drinks. Some go with the rubber speedcups, personally I’d recommend a sturdy plastic camping/travel mug. If time is getting tight you can get it filled with soup/pasta and eat on the move. Would also recommend a long sleeved base layer in a zip lock bag as well as an emergency item.

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Medals/Tops – Unlike most 100+ mile events the memento is not a belt buckle but a massive medal. No free finishers tee (come on the race is cheap as chips!) so you’re invited to order a tee, hoody or buff a few months before the start. Often you get the chance to order after the race as well if you feel ordering in advance would curse the race for you. If you have a crew then getting them a warm hoody to spend the night stood in the rain in is a nice touch.

Route Maps – These are pretty good and posted to you on proper waterproof paper. I’d also recommend the excellent pacing spreadsheet on the Facebook Group produced by Paul Ali “2013 GUCR Race Plan.xls” to help plan your pacing. It also has a simple route list that is easy to follow but I’ve made a few additions to below based on my experiences in 2018. Personally this laminated or in a small pouch should be all you need, with maps stuck in a your backpack as a backup. If you add a column with estimated timings as well it will help keep you on target / arrange meet ups:

Dist Location Instruction
500 yds Farmers Bridge Junction Go Right (East)
Pass 13 locks and continue for 1100 yds, LHS
1.53m Aston Junction Turn right over bridge and head South East
Pass 6 locks
2.5m Unamed Junction
/ By railway
Turn left on towpath, do not go over bridge, LHS
2.9m Bordsley Junction Keep straight ahead over footbridge towards locks, LHS
Pass 6 locks, LHS
10.7m Catherine de Barnes CP1 (7:10am-8:40am), LHS
14m Pass 5 locks – Knowle, LHS
15.6m Cross to R.H.S. at Bridge 67
17.5m Kingswood Junction Go straight ahead over bridge
20.4m Shrewley Tunnel Pedestrian path through tunnel, across village road and follow path opposite for 350 yds to rejoin towpath (may appear to be two paths, take the right hand side).
22m Hatton Locks CP2 (8:55-11:30am), Cross to L.H.S at Bridge 54, 5 locks down.
Various small groups of locks, LHS
33m Bascote Locks
35m Stockton – 10 locks
35.9m Birdingbury Bridge CP3 HOT FOOD (11-3pm)
38.5m Napton Junction Turn left on towpath, do not go over bridge
43.6m Braunston Turn Best to cross to RHS on double iron Bridges 93/94 for cool photo of sign! Should have now turned right and be heading East with Canal on left.
Pass 6 locks
45.25m Take steps on right of Tunnel mouth and continue along farm track over tunnel (1.2m) carefully crossing one road onto concrete road then later bear right path where splits from concrete. Rejoin canal on RHS
48m Norton Junction Do NOT cross bridge, keep right, cross lock 7 gates by New Inn pub to LHS, under road bridge
53.1m Heart of England CP4 (2:10pm-7:30pm)
60.5m Gayton Marina Cross BR47 to RHS, cross BR48 to LHS, turn right, canal now on right.
62.5m Blisworth Tunnel Up ramp, turn left at top through car park to road, turn right, along road for 1.25miles. Then footpath to left as road bears right, rejoin canal on LHS
65m Museum, Stoke Bruene Pass museum, then cross top lock or BR53 to RHS.Pass locks.BUDDY RUNNERS FROM HERE
65.5m After locks Cross BR55 to LHS
70.5m Navigation Bridge CP5 (5:30pm-1am) HOT FOOD on Navigation Bridge (No 64) Cross to R.H.S.
71.2m Cross Bridge 65 to L.H.S.
74.2m New Bradwell
84.5m Bridge 99 CP6 (7:30pm-7am) HOT FOOD Bridge 99
86.2m Cross Bridge 106 to R.H.S.
87m Soulbury 3 Locks Cross to L.H.S. Bridge 107
92.5m Cross Bridge 116 to R.H.S. (beware 115A and 115B are easily mistaken)
98.5m Marsworth Junction Updated directions – Cross BR131 to LHS, then BR132 to RHS, pass Bluebells Cafe to right
99.8m Grand Jct Arms CP7 HOT FOOD (10pm-12n)
100.5m Bridge 134 (Tring Cutting) Cross to L.H.S.
103.1m Cross Bridge 138 to R.H.S.
105.2m Cross Bridge 141 to L.H.S.
105.7m Cross Bridge 143 to R.H.S.
109.8m Cross Bridge 153 to L.H.S.
110.4m Cross Bridge 154 to R.H.S.
112m Cross Bridge 158 to R.H.S.
114.7m Cross Bridge 163 to L.H.S.
115.2m Cross Bridge 166 to R.H.S.
120.3m Springwell Lock CP8 HOT FOOD – LAST BAGGAGE (3am-7pm)
124.4m Cross Bridge 183 to L.H.S. (NOT 182)
125.6m Cross Bridge 184 to R.H.S.
127.5m Cross Bridge 188 to L.H.S.
128.5m Pass Cowley Peachy Junction keeping to L.H.S.
132.2m Bulls Bridge Junction Straight across Bridge 24, turn left/north on the Paddington Arm – towpath on R.H.S. to end
133.2m Hamborough Tavern CP9, No Bags, (6am-midnight)
145.4m Little Venice Finish (Closes 3am Monday)

Navigation – Main point to note is most of this is done off bridge numbers, some are missing or obscured so double check. Also newer bridges are often added since the original numbering and then have a suffix letter, therefore if you’ve just passed bridge 78 don’t assume the next is 79, if it looks fairly new and shiny it may well be 78A so not the one you’re after.

Pacing (Buddies) – You’re not allowed pacers but can have buddies who stay behind or beside. You’re allowed a buddy runner from Stoke Bruene and I would recommend them if you can sort some. The race gets very spread out at night and especially for women I would say either grouping up with another runner or having a buddy is a good safety tip. Also stops you walking in the canal when tired! If nothing else it can be someone to moan at so the volunteers at the aid stations don’t have to listen to you whine.

Weather – It’s the UK and you’re likely to be out there for 40ish hours so don’t assume consistent weather. In particular don’t underestimate how cold it can get at night. Most will be running very slow over night and generating little heat. I ran in 2018 during a heatwave, think about 28degC in the day but at night still needed three layers to keep warm and had a spare longsleeve base layer in a ziplock bag in my race vest as a backup. Better to carry gloves and a warm hat for the night section and not need them than freeze to death.

Technology – As much as I like to keep running simple I get very OCD about having my Garmin on. Very few models even in Ultratrac mode will last the full race so remember to pack a battery pack and lead in drop bag. Most Garmin will track whilst charging, a few won’t. Have a google of your model to check. I used a Garmin Fenix 5 in normal mode and needed to charge twice for the 38hrs it took me. This model has a stupid charger so you need to do it up around a waist band/rucksack strap and charge that way rather than on your wrist. Likewise your phone is unlikely to last the full race so think about a battery pack charger for that as well. The race is long and pretty spread out so a cheap MP3 player that takes batteries would be good to keep you going.

Distance – The race is described as 145 miles. Apparently this is taken down the middle of the canal so unless you’re in a canoe you will get a longer reading. I got 153.5 miles with only one very minor detour. It’s an ultra so not a big deal but keep the extra distance in mind as the aid station marked as 53.1 miles could well be closer to 55 on your Garmin.

The Finish – There is something oddly magical about the low key finish, by some public toilets on the canal. Unfortunately the low key nature makes it hard to see from a distance so expect the last few miles to be spent thinking “Is that the railings up ahead? No. What about now? No. Where is it, have I missed it?” until you eventually hit it. The final stretch from Checkpoint 9 is easy. You’re on the right hand side of the canal and just stay there for a half marathon until you cross the line. This sounds obvious but after 30/40hrs on your feet you may well start to wonder if you’ve missed it and it’s on the other side. It’s also far more populated than the rest of the route so there may be dog walkers, kids on bikes wandering about, unaware they’re crossing the path of someone who hasn’t slept for two days so can barely remember their own name.

Final Word – If you’re thinking about entering do it!

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