This one had been bugging me – I had previously successfully completed it in 2012 (well, I arrived alive at the end within the cutoff anyway), but it was also the first time I ever had a DNF, in 2014 dropping out half way in, completely wasted. It is definitely a race of two halves – 25 trail miles through a spectacular Chiltern panorama, followed by 20 flat towpath miles alongside the Grand Union Canal , a mind numbing, featureless slog through an industrial and increasingly urban landscape, to finish at Little Venice near Paddington Railway station.
The 3 years since my DNF have seen a lot of water under the bridge, but this was an itch I really needed to scratch. In my mind I had only my recollection of a course that beat me into a mental and physical pulp, and left me standing shivering miserably at some bus stop in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a lift to the finish, in order to collect my dry bag, and then to catch a train back to the start to retrieve my car. Over those 3 years I came to an acceptance that although not the toughest thing I have done, this was not an event to be underestimated.
I rocked up at the ‘Shoulder of Mutton’ Pub in Wendover for an 0830 start with 330 lycra clad whippets, most of whom had their eyes too close together. Tradition dictates a full on sprint 600 metres down the road, in order to beat the queue that forms at the first stile. Despite promising myself I would start at the back and wander down the hill, the racehorse syndrome caught me and I managed a sub 7 minute mile. After regaining control of my senses I settled into steady 10 minute miles, allowing most of the field to pass. I resolved that patience was key, and for me the first 25 miles was a warm up. I would hit the start of the canal in good mental and physical shape and then fun would start.
The going was really good underfoot – semi frozen ground, with not too much mud, and I was able to make comparisons of how I was feeling compared to the previous attempt. After about 20 miles my patience paid off and I started slowly but surely overtaking others who were starting to blow up. The powerful positive psychology of this is something I have learned to harness to good effect.
As we hit the canal, I took a proper 5 minute ‘sit-down’ break, changed into a dry running top, put on road shoes and had a good feed up, all designed to put me into the most positive frame of mind possible for the ensuing 20 miles. On standing up I immediately regretted having sat down, as I was starting to seize. I eased into a brisk walk, which after a few minutes morphed into a gentle 10 minute/mile jog. My plan was to run 2 miles, then treat myself to a half mile walk, whether I needed it or not. This proved an excellent strategy on the flat terrain, and I used the walking time to re-hydrate and eat. Other runners were also using a similar strategy, so there was a bit of banter as we repeatedly overtook each other.
At the 40 mile point, I knew that I had cracked my nemesis and I dispensed with the walk/run strategy, opting for the fastest stagger-shuffle that I could manage, in order to squeak in under 8 hours.
Needless to say, it was still a relief to see the finish line.
7 hours 53 minutes. Could do better if I did not faff around so much!