KENNET AND AVON CANAL ULTRA 14/09/13

After my dubious attempt at map reading at Long Eaton I wanted to run an ultramarathon with minimum navigation. This fitted the bill perfectly as it was all along the Kennet and Avon Canal from Bath to Newbury, about 55 miles.

I was on my own for this one. I travelled down on the train the day before and checked into my hotel. Next morning I take a short taxi ride to the start and I am so early there is nobody there. However shortly after the organisers and runners start arriving in dribs and drabs. There are two distances, most people are running a shorter distance with just 26 of us going all the way to Newbury. There is a bag transfer car I take advantage of as I am booked the next night into a pub with accommodation near the finish. The start toilet is the council block in the adjacent park, there is a short introduction and description of the route from the organisers and we shuffle down on to the towpath for the off. I like these small races, instead of running in a huge queue of people you are a member of a small tribe.

I love running alongside canals. Some people find them boring but there is always something going on, ducks or swans, bridges to pass or cross, changing scenery and conditions underfoot, passing walkers giving encouragement and people messing about in boats.

I run with a couple of different small groups of people for the early miles. There is a risk that they are slightly faster than me and we reach the 14 mile checkpoint at exactly 9 minute miling. I make the wise decision to pull the pace back a bit. The only significant incline on the whole route arrives, it's a set of eleven lock gates. I walk up most of this and then settle back into a steady run pace.

It's easy to follow the route alongside the canal of course and even the occasional bridge crossing is marked with spray arrows. This is a welcome contrast to Long Eaton.

I'm using Hammer Perpetuem for most of my nutrition together with a few bits and pieces from the checkpoints. These are just trestle tables at the side of the path. There is one section where the canal goes into a tunnel and the route goes up and over the hill.
As most people have done the shorter distance option there aren't many runners around now. I do catch up with Alessandro Perrone who is in a tough place and is walking. We are about 35 miles in and I am still feeling good but I stick with him. Eventually his bad patch ends and we are back to a decent pace. It's nice to have someone to chat to and the miles go slowly by. We arrive at a checkpoint and they tell us we are in 9th and 10th place. Inevitably the going gets tough but we are motivating each other to keep going. A lot of this consists of 'run to the next bridge then we'll walk a bit'. Looking back later over our stats we speeded up considerably over the last ten miles compared to the previous ten so it must have worked.

Finally there are a few miles left and we are knackered. A runner comes up behind at a good pace and Alessandro is worried we are going to lose our top ten placing. However as the runner speeds by at a very non-ultra pace we can see he hasn't got a race number and is just out training. This is just as well as we don't fancy racing him. We have a brief sit down and I eat my one emergency gel then it is the final push to the finish. There is an outdoor music festival on the other side of the river close to the finish and in our befuddled state we cross the bridge towards the noise. I remember looking at the finish map and I know this is a mistake so we turn back and a couple of minutes later cross the finishing 'line' hand in hand for 9th equal. Alessandro and I congratulate each other, it's taken us 10.31.29 which is hardly world beating but it's decent enough. Alessandro is picked up by his family, I chat to the organisers then head off to the nearby pub where I'm staying the night. There aren't many better feelings than sitting down to a meal and a beer after a long race.

Shortly after finishing