“you ok mate” foxy (mark fox) asks me as I approach the 60-mile crew point, “no I’m not” comes my reply, “I’m done with this s***, I’ve had enough and I’m going home”!
Rewind a few hours, days, weeks, months, year.
So last year saw me complete the centurion grand slam of completing all 4 100 mile runs in 1 year, that was my greatest accomplishment so far in my running years….. then I heard about the GUCR! As soon as I heard about it I looked it up, as soon as I looked it up I entered the ballot for race entry, believe it or not this is said to be the toughest non-stop foot race in the country and still is over subscribed therefore a ballot is needed to gain entry into the race. So late last year I was fortunate enough to have my name pulled out of the hat, I was in, game on!
Training went well, id trained and raced hard all last year so was mainly building on that, I trained differently this year, less weekly mileage but more speed and strength work with longer single runs. I felt fitter, stronger and faster than ever, I felt in great shape and confident in my own ability although 145 miles was slightly daunting but how much more difficult could it be than 100 miles I thought….
So, on the Friday evening foxy had kindly offered to give me a lift to Birmingham where the race starts and crew for me until nick (nick Jameson Allen) and Steve (Steve Carey) could take over later in the evening on Saturday when the race started and see me through to the finish in little Venice, a few mins walk from Paddington station in London, so yes I was running from Birmingham to London! So foxy being a previous runner on the GUCR was a great person to have by my side to offer advice, tips etc, he also informed me it’s a tradition that runners meet in the pub across the road from the place where you register for the race on Friday evening. Here we were sat there, me stuffing my face carb loading and foxy carb loading with the liquid form lol, gradually the place fills up with more and more runners.
You could feel the tension in the air as people chatted sharing stories of previous events they’d run in, hearing some of these I was starting to feel a little silly being there about to take on 145 miles, fish out of water comes to mind!
Saturday morning 6am, Gas street Birmingham, race day. As we stand around anxiously waiting to start we get the instruction to head down to the canal for the race briefing. This was something different to the norm, no kit check, no banners, no shop selling last min stuff you might need, the briefing was also short and sweet, “don’t take too many tablets, don’t fall in and don’t kill yourself” he says, followed by a “ready, steady, go”! I couldn’t help having a laugh to myself, starting 145 miles with a ready steady go lol.
So, we set off, I’m feeling confident, happy, got a full belly after a good solid breakfast and more importantly had dropped the chocolate anchor in poo bay earlier so all was good. 10ish miles till I see foxy. I kept a rigid slow pace not getting carried away with some of the runners flying off quickly, those that know me will know how difficult I would find that! After a few hours I see foxy, he has my overnight oats in his hand ready for me to scoff as per my detailed meal plan I had handed to him prior to starting, trouble was I was moving well and still really full, “ill have them at the next stop” I said, we laughed hard together as that was the meal plan out the window then.
This was the case for the next few crew stops, with limited parking for crew, they would often have to park a way away from the canal and walk down with an educated guess at what their runner might need, low and behold foxy is still standing there with the oats lol. The only thing that went to the plan was the egg butty I brought from the canal side café as per foxys tip, it was lovely even if it did explode all over me much to foxys amusement, washed down with a pre-prepared green tea, I was in a good place and feeling very content. My plan was to nail 45 miles and then hit familiar territory with the 100 miles. As soon as I hit 45 miles things started to change, mentally a huge battle was starting to commence as fatigue gradually began to set in.
I hit I think around the 50 mile crew point, met foxy but we wasn’t laughing and joking anymore, the size of the challenge had well and truly set in, I snacked on a few bits he’s brought down from the van, listened to his encouragement then set off, only for foxy to call me back and tell me I had just come from that way and needed to go the opposite direction, a big laugh from both of us lifted my spirits and I set off.
That section was tough, grilling myself on miles covered, miles still to go, how long I will be running for, couldn’t get out my head I would be on the move all day (sat) then all night, then all the following day, it seemed mammoth, near on impossible given I’m already feeling tired, now I’m in the shit I’m thinking to myself, my pace had dropped off significantly, the sun was beating down with little to no cover or shade, the temperature was boiling, I was going down hill fast. I called my wife to have a moan about why I had done this to myself and put myself in this position and that I am not putting myself through this ever again. The track and canal went on and on, I knew I was close to the crew point and was ready to throw the towel in. lots of people DNF on races (did not finish) however I had never DNFd a race before but was prepared to call this my first one.
“you ok mate” says foxy as I come into the 60-mile crew stop, “no I’m not” comes my reply, “I’ve had enough of this s*** and I’m going home” I tell him. Foxy orders me to the van, telling me to get in and get me sorted. He asks, “what’s the problem”, well that was it, I had been waiting for someone to ask lol, I proceed to lay it on how f***** I am and that feeling this way now how on earth could I complete this when I’m not even half way! I won’t go into detail about the words that were spoken between us, we now have a rule that what happened at 60 miles stays at 60 miles lol. So, with a clean top, reversed my trainers back to the previous ones I was wearing (I had swapped at 50 miles), paracetamol consumed and about a litre of Fanta drank along with as much junk food I could handle, I was ready to go again, just then nick arrived, little to no sympathy was given to me by him as he kicked my arse out the door and told me Steve was on his way and we would all meet at the next crew point, for me though this was the last roll of the dice, if I didn’t feel better when we meet next then I’m binning it off!
As I set off I instantly felt loads better, I felt I had energy back in me, my knees were hurting less and I began moving well again, I stayed with a couple of other runners for a bit as we chatted, ran, walked but then I was feeling this was too slow so said my farewell’s, wished them luck and off I went…. maybe, just maybe I can do this.
Mileage now was non-existent, I have no idea where and when we were meeting but I knew it was getting dark quickly, something I had longed for as I tend to have a second wind on the night section. He we were, me, nick and Steve in a dark pub car park somewhere getting some strange looks from the pub goers! Headtorches on, nick and I set off, pacers are allowed from 70 miles onwards, so we must have been somewhere around that point, so nick running with me whist Steve continues in the van to the next crew stop. I called my wife to say goodnight to her and the boys, then called foxy to tell him I’m feeling much better and apologise for earlier, of course he dismissed it and told me to get on and get to the finish line.
Moving well with a run/walk strategy going on we were making good progress, chatting as we go Steve calls nick to see how we are, que to then ask him to find the nearest McDonalds and get fillet of fish meal with strawberry milkshake…make it large! We meet again in another car park and I consume these well needed calories, as I do so we notice some lightning in the distance, na we will be fine its still warm and we are still in t shirts. So, we make our plans for the next stop where I pre order cheesy veggie ravioli, were off on the move again.
As we continue on, we see the flashes of lightning getting closer and more frequent, my wife rings me to tell me there is horrendous rain and thunder at home, “well we are lucky” I tell her, “ it looks like its missed us”, should have kept my mouth shut as from there the heavens opened up and it poured down, with blinding flashes of lightning with the loudest thunder directly above us id ever heard, I was feeling slightly exposed and vulnerable out there, however we push on through it overtaking several runners who had stopped to take refuge, anyone who knows me, nick and Steve will tell you if we are running, we will stop at nothing! We hit a bridge and knew we was on a crew point but couldn’t find Steve, after a frantic call by nick, Steve comes running around the corner. We head to the van in the p***ing rain, well this is my fondest memory of the entire event, all 3 of us sat in the back of nicks van, the noise from the rain outside was defining, Steve had my hot food ready and was now making the coffee on the camping stove, I was eating my grub out of the saucepan, nick busy looking at the course notes, I just thought what a brilliant couple of mates I have and at that moment wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. So, rain jackets on, food and drink completed, Steve kicks us out the van to get going again. The next few miles were wet and a bit iffy, we didn’t talk much, just concentrated on heading forward in the rain, lightning and thunder.
We hit the next crew point and found ourselves in a Tesco car park. The rain had pretty much stopped by now and I remember looking up at a big bright clock on the building, it was 4AM. You could see dawn breaking and the events of the night with the decent pace we were going at was taking its toll now, I took some more paracetamol and made a mental note of the clock and time, this to me was crucial now as I would need pain killers as soon as I could every 4 hours, my knees were absolutely killing me. We stripped off our wet tops, binned the waterproof jackets, smashed down come cake and chocolate, drank some more Lucozade and filled up our water bottles. Also, this is where nick and Steve changed places, so Steve was now going to run with me and nick would crew the van, great lets get on with it then and get this done, I knew we had been on the move for 22 hours now so must be near 100miles in, a quick check on my notes told me 4 miles till next crew point, mile 94.
As soon as we set off I was feeling ok, it was good to have Steve with me we have run lots together over the years so understood each other well. After a few miles I could feel myself detreating, I was literally falling asleep whilst walking, I could not go in a straight line, was seeing double and feeling a little dizzy. To top that, where it was now drying out, my feet were starting to rub and could feel a few blisters occurring. I asked Steve to swap sides, so he was canal side as I was genuinely fearing I may fall in! step by step we reached mile 94, the crew stop but nick was nowhere to be seen. Steve gave him a call and found out he was in the wrong place and 2 miles down the road! Well that was enough to tip me over the edge and I said a few swear words, told him I'm not waiting and will crack on to the next point we were originally due to skip. To head on and not wait at that point was a rash decision I regretted almost instantly. My feet were on fire, I had little left in the tank and was wondering if id actually make it the 2 miles down the canal! Then I remembered that earlier I had stuffed some emergency sweets in my running vest, the pack of strawberry laces and fizzy strips went down almost in one go, along with a glucose tab, the sugar hit was almost instant and continued as fast as my poor legs and feet would carry me.
Arriving at the next crew stop around 96 miles, I have never been so relived in all my life to see nick, he was there with the chair out, supplies ready, food and fluids ready, almost like he felt guilty or something lol! I was tired and starting to not bother with the small details such as the feet and footwear. I had to make myself, although it felt like a huge effort, change my shoes and socks, dry and talc the feet, eat, drink blah blah blah. However, once we started moving again my feet felt much better, I was in my reserve trainers, the ones I took along thinking id not need but actually they were my most lightweight shoes so figured this would help me somehow. As we were about to set off nick told us he would have hot breakfast ready at the next stop, this sounded good and was something to look forward to.
So, I think we are 100 miles in, we see nick in the distance, he had a small BBQ on the go with veggie nuggets, sausages and some other bits. We all stopped and sat together to eat for a short while in appreciation for nicks efforts, but it was short-lived when I asked for some ketchup, but he didn’t have any lol, I was either becoming a diva or the sleep deprivation was getting to me. A few runners passed us and stared at us with a degree of jealousy, the odd comment was heard. We needed to get going again but not before I had sorted another issue that had been bothering me for a while now, I had severe ring sting! I rummaged through the medical box and pulled out the Vaseline, I looked across at nick and Steve who neither were offering to apply for me lol, so bent double behind the van all dignity now long gone, it was applied generously! Sorted, let’s go, 45 miles to push!
The next few batches of miles are all a bit of a blur, I can remember feeling so up and down thinking one minute yes 40 to go but the converting that into time on the move was still a considerable number of hours left to do. The sun was back up and by 10am it was already hot, and I had estimated we would be out until about 8pm, that was a mental battle on its own, really, so close but still so friggin far. Nick continued to go above and beyond stopping to keep us topped up with cold fizzy drinks and the odd calipo or ice cream, invaluable! Stopping at the crew points it was clear people we now struggling and not surprisingly. Most of the runners we had caught up with were now death marching it, this was something I was adamant about, I did not want to be in this position, mentally and physically I don’t think I could handle it, it can break you, I know this as I've had to do it before. Those who don’t know, a death march is where you know you are well in the cut offs to finish but cannot run anymore so have to walk it out! We continued with the run a bit walk a bit routine, picking out bridges or something as a reference to aim for, this was working as our overall pace was consistent and we were gaining places. I had heard at this point that around 100 people had started the event and I was in 28th position, not that this mattered, I had 3 plans. Plan A was sub 35 hours, plan B 35-40 hours, plan C finish at all costs. I can remember being at around 115 miles in and started thinking again I just can’t do this, I'm so tired and in pain, I was telling this to nick and Steve who were doing their best to keep me motivated and pushing forward.
My next memory is coming to the finger post on the canal on a bridge, the arrow pointed to Paddington saying 13miles. I didn’t know to laugh or cry, a half marathon left, on a normal day no problem but with over 130 miles in the legs, no sleep for over 30 hours I was drained but determined, come on I'm saying to myself you can do this, suck it up and get there, then I can go home and see my wife and boys, I was missing them so bad right now, that lifted me and we marched on.
The next stop, nick is quick to tell me I have under a half marathon left, I have gained a few places and in 26th position. I said to Steve, “right this is it, let’s get this thing done and go home”. As we set off I could see a few runners in the distance, id made my mind up now there was nothing left to hold back for not that I had much to offer anyway but tried to run as much of the 6 mile stretch as possible, I wanted this to end as soon as possible.
Last crew stop, another 2 places gained and in 24th position and soon to find out that 47% of the starting field had dropped out. Quick sugar hit to see me through and I give nick a tap on the shoulder, “get yourself to the finish mate, “I'm on my way there”, I got slightly emotional with that, 6 miles left, I knew I was going to do it.
That was the longest 6 miles of my life, it went on and on and on, “where the f**k is it Steve” I blame him lol, “it’s got to be close now, I got nothing left”, “come on Chris” I scream to myself, a few miles later Steve announces we have about half a mile to go!
“I can see it Steve” I shout to him, in the distance I see a crowd of people, as we get closer I hear clapping and cheering…. OMFG I'm there, people are prompting me over the line, I’d done it, it was finished, done, over, complete, just all over now!!
38 hours of running, 24th position overall. This race was an experience I will never forget and I'm not sure where I go from here, but I know this wouldn’t have been possible without the support I had on the day with my mates but more importantly my wife and 2 boys who continue to support me and understand me.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, it’s difficult to put into words what happens over that amount of time and I'm sure I have missed loads out but hey, you get the picture right?.... start, struggle, moan, finish, say never again!?
I’ll leave it on this note,” THE BODY ACHIEVES WHAT THE MIND BELIEVES”