Back in January 4 of us set off to Birmingham on a crazy adventure to run home using the canal networks, with the support of a few friends at regular intervals. This ended up being a great adventure and an amazing bonding experience for all those involved, of which I am proud to be part of. The number of club members that came together on the Saturday to get us to the finishing line and the support that was given was phenomenal.
As some people may be aware, only two of us actually made it to the end, Stuart Maley-Jones and Philip Spencer-Gray. Bren had to drop out at 40 miles as he hadn't done any preparation and was hoping to 'wing it' and I had to pull out at around 96 miles due to knee problems.
This decision to pull out didn't sit well with me. I've only ever done it once previously at the A100 in 2015, which I went back and completed the following year. But, how do you go back and do a race that isn't a race? You would either have to get all of those people to support you again, or go and do it alone.....
So, after 6 months of having this in the back of my mind and a last minute opportunity popping up in my calendar to squeeze it in, I decided I was going to go it alone and get this think ticked off the list. Only problem was, I was signed up to a 24hr solo run only 5 days before!!
I honestly didn't plan to have any support at all throughout the whole run, but just through mentioning to Phil that I was going to have another try, the weekend before, I quickly found what my friends were willing to do in order to keep me safe and help me reach my goals. Within a couple of Days, Phil and his wife Anna had arranged for Phil to pace me through the night from Market Drayton, and Carl Murray had agreed to get me home from Arley Hall. I just needed to tell Claire (whom I hadn't even told I was doing this yet) what was happening, this was the Wednesday evening before a Friday morning start!!!
I won't say it went well, but she knows me well enough to not be too shocked, and the knowledge that I had a small support crew gave her peace of mind. I was good to go....
From Birmingham New St to Market Drayton is 50 miles and I was aware that I would be running this section alone, with no support, on the hottest day of the year. It didn't really phase me if i'm honest, although when I almost concussed myself going under the first bridge I had to take a moment (I reckon there are over 150 bridges on this course, so I needed to start paying attention). I had food and water and plans to refill at certain points along the way, so I wasn't too bothered about this, I put my earphones in, checked my pace tables and worked my way through the check points.
Things went really well for the first couple of sections, but I made the vital error of leaving CP2 without filling all of my water bottles assuming that there would be somewhere to fill locally, I was wrong.
As I got to 25 miles and the hottest part of the day I reached the Shropshire Union Canal, which I would be spending the next 10 or so hours on and I had run out of water. 34C outdoors, 6 miles from the next CP and with very little tree cover, I was in trouble!!
I decided to jog/walk as much as possible whilst managing my sweat and cramp and luckily after 4 miles reached a pub where I was able to have a quick pint of lager and top up my water supplies. It probably took me another hour of walking,eating and drinking to recover enough to get running again, I was very lucky!
Time was getting on and it had started to get dark as I was approaching Market Drayton when a strange sight hit me. at first it was like an auricle, a white light hanging in the distance, slowly drifting towards me. Then I saw the tiny shorts, bright white legs and two Asda bags attached to the bottom of it and realised it was Phil, coming to meet me with our food and water supplies for the night, cheers mate.
A quick change of socks & t-shirt, and it was onto the night leg.
The night section was tough going under-foot, rutted dried muddy sections as if 3-4 blokes kicked up a load of mud 6-months ago and it dried in the same position. In all honesty, it's that remote out there it is probably the case! There was very little running through the night as we quickly realised that it wasn't worth the potential ankle damage or wear & tare on my legs in general, this was about me getting to the finish line, not how quickly it could be done. By 2am we reached Nantwich, meaning that I had been on the canal for 38 miles and that it was getting close to that time in the evening where we would need to start thinking about sleeping if we were going to try and get an hours rest before the sun came up.
I'm not sure what Phil was expecting, but I don't think it was curling up on a canal embankment after a quick dog-shit check!
Considering how the weather had been the previous day, I thought the conditions would be fine. It turns out there was a biting wind whistling down the canal which woke me up a little before 3am feeling like I would never be warm again, tip for future rough-sleeps, find a bridge or hedge!
Even though I only managed 10-15 mins sleep, it did the job enough that after a quick feed we were able to walk until the sun came up and be ready to get running again.
The one thing that I will take away from this excursion, over all else, is that a good pacer and a strict strategy will get you there much quicker and more efficiently that either running alone or running off feel, particularly when you are tired.
For around 4 hours of the morning we stuck to a 2min Run / 2min Walk strategy which got us from nearly an hour behind schedule to over 10mins ahead by Arley Hall, top tip!!
By the time we had arrived at Arley Hall my feet were extremely sore, I have no doubts that this was due to doing Thunder Run the previous weekend, but Anna was awaiting us with food and hot coffee, what more could you wish for?!
Soon after us, Carl arrived on foot. He had run the 20 miles to meet me in order to run back and complete around 40 miles, the longest run he had ever done!!
There was an emotional goodbye and thanks for the amazing commitment that Anna & Phil had given on their weekend, before Carl and I set off for the last 18 miles of the journey.
It was soon apparent that I wasn't going to be able to run much of the last sections, I tried a few times, but the pains in my feet were bad enough to stop me walking, never mind running. My biggest gratitude to Carl is for his patience, not once did he try to rush me. He knew exactly what I needed, made sure I was fed, hydrated and safe and just stuck with me all the way, keeping me talking to take my mind off the task in hand. The Glazebrook trail section and the walk up the East Lancs were the toughest sections, but as we got to Lowton Fire Station, crossing the road into the Flash I finally felt that I had made it home.
The rain was on and off for this final section, but it just made it more interesting. As the final downpour of the day hit us, we took cover under the catering stand at the Flash and got ourselves some celebratory hotdogs, it was both of our first proper meals that day and my first since the previous day's breakfast (it was 16:30 by this point). We reached the canal and parted ways, Carl presenting me with a T-Shirt that Phil had had made for me (It's not a real event if you don't get a t-shirt, apparently), cheers mate. Carl was awesome and had put up with me for nearly 7hrs!!!
Claire was there to walk me in for the last mile or so, and there is where it gets a little fuzzy.... I was relieved, proud, could finally wear my Peaky Blinder medal, but more than anything else, tired.
I managed to read some of the amazing social media posts from you guys and reply to a couple of texts before passing out on the rug in the lounge, still covered in sweat, dust and whatever else you care to imagine, where I remained until 8am the following morning, a good 15hrs, much needed!
This was a great experience, and proved to me what an amazing support system we have at our club and what we are willing to do for each other. It makes me proud to be a part of it and I see this achievement as one of the clubs' as well as my own. 109.5miles unsupported (half-solo) in a little under 30 hrs. I've got to be happy with that.
So what's next?