Event: Canalathon

Location: Start – Manchester, Finish – Sowerby Bridge

Date: 27 March 2016

Distance: 50km (31 miles)

I decided to run the Canalathon – my first Ultra-Marathon – when I received the standard London Marathon rejection. I considered other Spring Marathons but wanted to do something different. I was also inspired by the several other Pumas running marathons and didn’t want to miss out on the fun!

The Canalathon is an Ultra-Marathon with three distances on offer – 50K, 75K and 100K. I decided on the “easy” option of 50K – the longer distances can wait for another year. The 50K race starts in Manchester, and as the title suggests runs along the canal to Sowerby Bridge.

Training went reasonably well. It was great to train with other Pumas, offering support, advice and encouragement to each other was a great help. A niggling Achilles injury in February set me back a little but luckily the injury improved and I was back to where I wanted to be by early March.

Race day

The big day came and it was an early start. Made even earlier by the fact the clocks went forwards the night before the race. So getting out of bed at 5AM really did feel like 4AM! A bit of breakfast and off to Sowerby Bridge to register. As I parked my car I realised I was at the point where the gripping finale of “Happy Valley” was filmed. I wondered if the valley would be a happy one for me today.

Registration was bustling, and before we knew it the 50K participants were on board a double decker bus heading to Manchester.

The start of the race was in a very inauspicious retail car park in Manchester. I met my running partner for the day, Iain, and after a final toilet stop we were on the start line ready for the off. The first couple of hundred metres was run in the car park, which felt a little odd, but before we knew it we were on the canal heading for Sowerby Bridge. Only 50KM to go.

Pacing the race

Iain and I had agreed on a 10K an hour schedule. We also agreed to run 5 miles and walk ¼ of a mile to give the opportunity to talk on fluids and food. That seemed to go out of the window somewhat – we were making such good, steady progress we didn’t feel the need to stop and walk.

We reached 20K well under the 2 hour mark and were making good progress. We passed the first check point at around 11 miles and felt good. A quick stop and we were on our way again.

The next 20K also went very well. It was good to have a running partner as this kept the pace even and the chatting took your mind off the running.

Hitting the wall

It was after the second check point at around 20 miles where it really started to get more difficult. We stopped for a little longer this time (perhaps a mistake in hindsight) and walked a little before getting going again. The next section took you off the canal as it was closed due to the Boxing Day floods. This thought put the temporary pain we were going through into perspective – the floods devastated homes, businesses and lives in this area and it will take many years to recover.

This stretch was perhaps the hardest of the race. It was all on the road from Todmorden through to Eastwood. It was not made any easier by us knowing that we had to find a small entrance back onto the canal at some point to stay on the course. This seemed to take forever and I had convinced myself several times that we had missed it!

Anyway, we did find it. The small steps we had to go over to get back on the canal were a killer, but we were back on the canal and psychologically we knew this was the final stretch. It was great for me at this point as the surroundings were more familiar. I knew we only had Hebden, Mytholmroyd, Luddenden Foot to get through and the next stop would be the finish.

Whilst those last few miles were tough and our pace had dropped quite dramatically, it was great to be on the home straight. Sowerby Bridge was now firmly in our sights and it wasn’t long before we approached the finish.

I think we actually managed to speed up and crossed the finish line in 4 hours 59 minutes. Not bad given we had set a target of 5 hours! It was fantastic to see a few Pumas at the finish line to support us, it really was appreciated. My parents had also made the journey up from Sheffield as well, so it was great to see everyone.

Whilst on the course, both Iain and I mused that this would be our last long distance race and half marathons would be our maximum in future. However, two weeks on and I’m now thinking…maybe 75KM next year….

Results and pictures

Andy and Iain smashed the course and came 8th and 9th respectively (out of 166).

 

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