I felt I blagged my first 100km. It all seemed too straightforward – well not so my second! The Canalathon from Sowerby Bridge, Yorks, to Manchester, Lancs, and back along the route of the Rochester Canal was a tad more challenging for several reasons:
1. The week before had seen my clunking right hip manipulated by Jill at Grantham Physiotherapy Centre. Thanks to the power of email, she’d been in contact with my regular physio at Aspetar in Qatar and was able to give me a full work up before blasting those pesky hip flexors. My right glutes had also decided to go awol and were forcing my hammies to do all the work, hence the total right leg seizure. After also receiving a lecture about the importance of maintaining your core physio exercises every day (those’ll be the ones I’d skipped while trail running in Spain), I was given another to add to the collection, and advised that I would have to see how I felt come 100km day. Reading that as not a total ‘no you cannot run’ from Jill, perhaps I would be fit to run?
2. I travelled up to Halifax near Sowerby Bridge on the Friday. I’d already paid for my hotel and thought I could at least reccy some of the route on the Saturday and see how I felt about running the distance. Unfortunately, I was struck down by a chronic nauseous migraine and I literally could not do anything or keep any food or fluid down for 12 hours. I have never been so sick with a migraine. At 8pm on the Saturday I really did not think I’d be able to lift my head the next day let alone run anywhere.
The chances of completing a 100km were not looking great…
Come 5am Sunday morning, I felt surprisingly okay, pleased to have survived and hungry for my cuppa porridge. The day dawned sunny – the first for a while – and I decided I may as well have a tootle out. Grabbing my kit, totally unprepared, I dumped my car in Sowerby Bridge and hot-footed it to the number collection, with a waterproof coat trailing behind me, clutching a banana and chocolate bar, and with an apple stuffed in my mouth. Arriving with minutes to spare, I wolfed down my food, tied my number to my belt and checked I had actually picked up all the compulsory kit on the list, as the other runners looked on slightly aghast. I can pretty much guess what they were thinking.
Making the race briefing with two minutes to spare after a last minute toilet stop, we were told that we’d be starting from the Leisure Centre (where our bags were) and would be escorted down to the canal and then we’d be on our own.
We dipped our number tags, there was no time for a rethink, and we were off. The pace was brisk as the young guns disappeared. With so little fuel inside I knew I had to pace meticulously and never before would my previous race experience be so important. I suspect this was actually no bad thing, since it forced me to run sensibly and maybe protect the hammy that bit longer.
Once on the tow path, all we theoretically had to do was stay alongside the canal to Ancoates in Manchester before heading back. Simple!
At 10km I caught who I suspected was the lead lady. She admitted she’d gone out far too quick. A first time 100km-er it’s an easy mistake to make. Running 20X 5km loops at Aspire had taught me something!
I had attempted to just stalk her for a few kms but she knew I was there and dropped back. I reassured her, explaining that it was not too late to ease her pace but she must run her own race.
Passing her, I started chowing down on some tea cake (yes, even I was surprised what I fished out of my pack) before the first checkpoint around 10 miles (16-ish km). I wanted to keep the next group in my sights as despite the route being straight and flat, there were some ups and downs over hump back bridges, and crossings left to right and back over roads, and the markings were easy to miss. Following just makes it easier.
The first checkpoint passed we went through the prettiest part of the route, as the towpath was flanked with hills, mills, dales, and locks. As it was still early on Sunday morning the path was clear of pedestrian traffic and we were making good progress (I still had my group about 600m ahead).
At 25km I started meeting the 50km and 75km runners who’d started an hour later in Manchester, heading the other way. Of course this picked up the pace for all concerned as we cheerily exchanged greetings. Knowing two of the 50km runners, I was pleased to note fellow AAUT veteran Graeme Harvey was well up and looking fresh. With confirmation that I was first woman, I continued on my way to meet Kirsty (Graeme’s wife) around 20 minutes after him, also going well and to finish the 50km as second lady.
Next checkpoint down, I met the last of the 50km runners winding their way through, before the hammy made an appearance at 40km. Nothing major, just a warning sign. I decided to get to 43km and have a walk as I snack-breaked again. Passing my lead group, who then repassed me when I walked, I soon caught and passed them again. Their pace had started to drop and I suspect would have benefitted from introducing a run/ walk strategy a little earlier.
At 48km I met the lead 100km runner returning, looking fresh and going well. A couple more runners, before one munching sausage rolls and I knew the turnpoint wasn’t far away. Right in the city now, I refuelled at the 50km turn before heading back. Passing more runners headed towards the 50km turn, I wanted to know where the second woman was – the racing instinct was still in place despite the ‘I’ll run my own race’ pledge! She was only about 2km behind me. Nothing on a 100km. I needed to press on.
Determined to keep up the 10km between each walk I ate up the miles to 70km. And then it got stickier… so I started taking some photos. The hammy would only allow me to run in a very upright position with little forward thrust. I was forced to drop to every 5km between walks and had to limp every cobbled area around the locks of which I’d be passing 160 odd on the route.
I was also struggling on hard or uneven tow path and tried to run on the
grass at the edge as much as possible. This inevitably brought me into close contact with dog and goose poop! And I was getting mightly annoyed by people wandering along on their mobile phones walking into me, allowing their kids on bikes to ride straight at me, and thinking it was fine to let their dog jump in front.
The last 30km weren’t comfy. They were slow but it was prettier scenery away from the motorways and railways of Lancashire.
The light was fading fast as I finally made it back to Sowerby Bridge, the
last bridge I ran under was pretty dark and I thought that perhaps I should have fished my headtorch out of my pack, before toddling under there. The water seemed mightly close at one point as I tottered on the uneven surface.
With the finish line in sight, I dipped my tag and I was done 10:31 and first woman (one of only two home). It turns out the course was just too much for many of the runners. Only 13 finished the 100km.
My reward (aside from a very angry right leg :-)) the brightest orange t-shirt ever and a handy sportsshoes.com voucher which was immediately spent on a new pair of Skins compression tights in an effort to pacify those hamstrings.
If you fancy entering for next year – there’s a 50km, 75km and 100km option – places are already up for grabs at
Where you’ll also spot a photo of me, dressed up for the Arctic, while everyone else is in their shorts.
A big shout out thank you to all the marshals. The aid stations were nicely supplied with plenty of fodder and fluid, plus there’s a free meal at the pub when you finish.