THE STORY BEHIND THE RACE:
Funny as it may sound, the story of my Grand Union Canal run in 2010 began back in 2005 – or even before. It was back then that the story of this year’s race began to take shape.
I am not known for being a man of few words – and where something is important to me, I can be known to go on for hours so, if you plan on reading any further I suggest you take the phone off the hook, put the kettle on and make some strong coffee – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
This is probably the most self indulgent race report that you are ever likely to read – more a story that I want to share, so apologies for this indulgence. I appreciate it may be long but I wanted to write it all down whilst I could remember.
To those who know the reasons for my race it may be of interest, to those that don’t apologies for writing so many words.
The GUCR is a 145-mile run from Gas Street Basin in Birmingham to Little Venice in London. It dates back to 1993 when the race organiser – Dick Kearn – was one of four who ran the race for the first time, with Dick winning in a time of 32:50. It was next held in 1997 and has been held every year since, with slightly more runners each year – the biggest field being this years 91 starters.
In 1993 I was 30, living in London, where I worked in the IT department at the Corporation of London – based at the Guildhall. At the time I lived in Willesden, a couple of miles from Little Venice. Alison (Mrs EUK) worked for Virgin Records on Harrow Road (about a mile from Little Venice) and was friends with Richard Branson’s PA - Julia. For a while Julia lived on his houseboat in Little Venice so we went to a few parties there – and even though I was completely oblivious to the GUCR I thought at the time what a lovely place Little Venice was. Getting drunk on a houseboat in Little Venice on a lovely summers evening - what better way could there be to enjoy the place?
At the time I was running a couple of times a week but nowhere near as much as now – or as much as I wanted – due to needing a knee operation. It was a couple of years later that I did my first triathlon at Crystal Palace.
Whilst I was living in London at this time, my younger brother Howard was living back home in Warrington. He was an Electrical Engineer for GEC and was a musician in his spare time.
Ever since he was small he had been entertaining people - he had a magic set and wore people down with card tricks, etc, then he had a ventriloquist dummy (called Mr Parlachin) and “entertained” us all for hours with endless backward renditions of the alphabet. It got to the point where my older sister’s boyfriend would pay him to go away so they could have some peace!
Howard was a very good pianist and singer and when we were kids we used to all get together in the garage listening to mum and dads “Top Of The Pops” albums pretending to be 10cc, Slade, The Sweet or anybody else for that matter. We used to record “demos” on to an old binatone taper recorder dreaming of fame and fortune. H would play the drums, sing (and everything else!) whilst I used to enjoy looking at the covers of the albums which were usually some bikini clad model bending over playing crochet or something equally entertaining.
As H got older he got better and better at the music whilst I remained consistently crap. Being able to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ intros after maybe my 12th guitar lesson wasn’t the sort of progress my dad was looking for, so my musical future was doomed before it really had chance to flourish.
So where sport remained my first love, for H it was his music.
Over the years from about 1982 (age 16) until 1993 he was in too many bands to mention and in 1993 his band, Jordan, won the Radio 1 “Best Unsigned Band in Britain” title resulting in a trip to Japan to take part in a world competition where they came second (the Japanese band winning – of course!).
Whilst playing in a pub in Glossop one night, an A&R Man spotted them (one of those legendary stories – his car had broken down and he was stuck there and fate had it that H and band were on).
The next day H got a phone call from the A&R man to arrange a meeting with the band – at which he told them that H had the best white soul voice he’d heard for years, he could be as big as Tom Jones, and that if the rest of the band wanted to help H make it – they should let him go solo and EMI would sign him.
So it was 1994, H packed in working at GEC and became a full time musician, and I was living in London working in the City and running from St.Pauls, up the embankment, over Westminster Bridge and back down the South Bank each dinnertime.
Over the next couple of years H spent a load of time in London, living in hotels (he lived in the Paddington Metropole for months) and working in the studio. He would play a lot at the Orange in Kensington, Ronnie Scotts and the 100 Club on Oxford Street - and writing / working with the likes of Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Paul Carrack (Mike and the Mechanics), Lamont Dozier (numerous Motown hits), Beverley Knight, Gary Barlow, Peter Gordino and basically living the idyllic life of a musician - sleeping all day and working all night. I of course, as his older brother, living in London myself loved the calls to tell me he was in the studio or playing at various venues and off I’d go to meet him, sit in the studio or watch the show and drink lots of free beer with many people of various levels of fame and talk, er, er, er, er, er music!
In 1994 H got to go to America for a few months to write with various people. He rang me one day to tell me that he had been to a gig the day before - the Eagles comeback concert! I am a massive Eagles fan so he enjoyed telling me this. It was their first gig for 14 years and the concert was recorded and released as the “Hell Freezes Over” DVD. At the gig he sat next to Robert Downey Jnr, and bumped into Jack Nicholson!!
In 1995 H got to play with Jools Holland at “Jools in the Park” and Jools said “with my piano and his voice we could be Ray Charles”.
One of my favourite tales is when H was given the chance to get some mentoring off George Harrison. Somebody from EMI gave him George’s number and H rang one day. He said that when a scouse guy answered the phone he asked was George in please “This is I” said George. H couldn’t believe he answered his own phone - he was one of H’s true heroes.
So in 1996 after over 12 months in the studio H finally released his first single – Battlefield, and also got a major boost – support slot on the Tina Turner world tour. His opening gig with her was the gig celebrating the opening of Amsterdam Arena on 14th August 1996. H opened the show, and after years of playing in front of hundreds, maybe the occasional thousand people – he was first on stage at a 50,000 people gig.
Later that year was when he hit Wembley Arena – 5 nights on the run – and of course, living in London I got 5 nights VIP tickets for my mates and me. Bar before, gig, bar after – then a curry with the band, etc. Don’t recollect getting much training done in 1996 to be honest – it was a pretty heavy year and I made sure that any time H let me know he was on, I would be there to give him my full support – and drink any spare beer.
‘Battlefield’ got to about No.38 in the charts and was quickly followed by Demolition Girl and then Straight To You – a cover of a Nick Cave song – and one of my favourite tunes of H’s.
By mid 1997, none of H’s three singles had made top 30 and the musical climate started to swing in the direction of Oasis and Blur and, for him – the decision was made not to release the album that he had spent the previous 18 months writing and recording.
It was about this time also that Al and me made the decision to move from London where we’d lived for 8 years back home to Warrington due to my mum and her dad being ill.
Even though H, as a recording artist, didn’t make it big, he was quite in demand for his song writing and he bought a flat in Maida Vale and his wife Jane moved down to London as we were moving the other way. In 2001 they had a daughter Scarlett.
So over the next few years H wrote and produced a multitude of songs with Westlife, Boyzone, Gareth Gates, music for children’s programmes (Fun Song Factory, Tweenies), Sporting Legends (BBC2), themes for Sky Poker, etc, couple of pieces for Disney films (eg Thief Lord), and my own personal favourite “Forget Me Not” with Lucie Silvas. He loved living in London and to be honest, I was pretty jealous because I still loved London myself and missed it tremendously.
Around 2002 I became aware of the Grand Union Canal race for the first time. A dad of a classmate of my son, Ben, who I occasionally ran with, told me about this race that he was thinking doing. He told me it was a race that went from Birmingham to London and he was going to have a go. He managed to get to 100 miles before dropping out –and it made me determined to have a go, and that was the start.
For the next couple of years I continued with triathlons – doing a number of Ironman races, and running a few marathons. When I ran London H and Jane would come and watch on the Embankment – a weird feeling for me having ran down embankment every dinnertime only a few years before.
By 1995 I had decided to give the Grand Union a go. What a step into the unknown that was. I didn’t really know what to expect and so it was quite an adventure – one in which I lost 13 pounds in the process and crossed the finishing line 43.30 later, a complete zombie. Looking back at that weekend 5 years ago I feel a sense of embarrassment really as my support crew for the race was Mrs euk and my two kids who were 13 and 11. Now, the thought of them standing on deserted bridges in the middle of nowhere quite scares me. Even today Bella talks of the time she stood on a bridge in the pitch black waiting for her dad “for hours!”.
During the night I was kept awake by talking to my dad sat at home in bed in Warrington, and H sat at home in bed in London. On the Sunday, H, Jane and Scarlett, along with my sister Ange were going to see Mary Poppins in Covent Garden. When it had finished they got a taxi to little Venice to wait for me at the finish line of the race. When they got out of the taxi they walked down to the canal side looking for the finish. Jane asked a couple of blokes sat on the side of the canal “Can you tell me where the finish of the Grand Union Canal Race is?” “This is it,” replied Dick Kearn, the race organiser. My family were quite surprised at the low-key welcome for the runners and Jane said she’d expected something a bit grander.
Dick’s reply was “Them that know, know - them that don’t, don’t care”. Quality.
So they waited a couple of hours for me – constantly on the phone to Al to get updates of where I was up to and at 1:30 in the morning when I crossed the finish line and promptly threw up – H was there to catch it all on video!
When I had recovered we drove to H’s flat a mile or two away and they ran me a bath – in which I promptly fell asleep and so H sat with me whilst I soaked away some of the aches and pains. They then put me in bed and H, Jane and my sister went to a hotel to give me, Al and the kids some room to relax.
At about 9:30 the next morning H came around to the flat and sat at the side of the bed chatting to me for a couple of hours whilst I lay comatose mumbling the odd word. It was my first real experience of ultra running and the effects it can have on the body. H thought it was fantastic!
Over the next couple of years H came out running with me occasionally when he came home from London for the weekend and he’d tell everybody about this mad race called the Grand Union – it became quite a topic of conversation for us. In 2007 when I told him I was going to have another go at the race, H was made up and decided this time he wanted to see more of the “suffering”. This time, I again had Al and the kids supporting me all weekend, and a mate to run with me overnight on the Saturday – but Howard, Jane and Angela (my sister) drove from London on the Sunday morning - early - and arrived at the Grand Junction Arms (99 miles) at about 9am armed with bacon butties and enough food to feed everybody in the race. H also had his camera and video to record the pain.
Unfortunately in 2007 it rained pretty much all weekend. On the Sunday it started early and got worse as the day wore on. I was pretty much running in a rain cape all day and underfoot was pretty slippy, etc.
One of Howard’s best friends, Ian, who had just done Lanzarote Ironman came from Reading to meet up with us on the Sunday also, and he met up with us not long after the 99 mile checkpoint. Me and Ian ran along the canal bank in the pouring rain and chatted about Lanza, etc. After about 20 miles running with Ian I managed to step in a water filled pothole and go over on my left ankle. I went down like Jorgen Klinsman and had a real job to get back on my feet. I hadn’t realised that due to it being filled with water, this pot hole was about 8 inches deep. After picking myself up and walking for a while, we set off again but my foot/ankle was extremely painful and we were now moving extremely slowly, with me limping along and screeching expletives as I went. It was bloody sore!
Up ahead of us, Alison and the rest of the family were settling into a nice Sunday evening tea at the Malt Shovel pub in Cowley 22 miles from the finish. This was where we had previously agreed that Ian would leave me to run on to the finish – with Howard and my son Ben maybe doing a few miles each towards the end.
As we arrived at the pub in the pouring rain, Ian rang Jane and told her that I was in a bad way and that I may have to pull out.
“No chance” said Jane – “leave it to us”
So H was told to leave his burger half eaten and get himself ready – he was going to have to run a few miles with me now! Off to the car he was rushed to get ready. 10 minutes later we were off, me auditioning for the part of hop-along Cassidy and H wearing his gardening trackies, a pair of old trainers and a green plastic rain poncho he’d picked up for a pound from an Asda petrol station earlier that day.
It was painful, hard work running that last 22 miles. I think H thought that he’d maybe do 5 miles and then I’d be okay. No chance! H was still running with me when we hit Hamborough Tavern cp with 12 miles to go. Unfortunately, by now it was getting dark and I had forgotten that runners didn’t get access to their bags at this cp – so we had no head torches or lights of any description. What a sight we must have looked – H striding out ahead of me (he was over 6 foot) in his green plastic bat cape, me limping/shuffling along behind – in the pitch black.
With 6 miles to go, at Piggery Bridge, my son Ben who was 15 at the time joined us to help drag us both along! So now we were three!
H and Ben now striding out in front of me (Ben is 6 foot too!) chatting to one another, me painfully shuffling along in the dark behind them just wanting to get to the finish – and the rest of the family driving into London to Little Venice to wait for us at the finish, wondering if were were ever going to make it!
Looking back it was a laugh – we couldn’t see a thing in places – twice I tripped and went flying. H had started to feel it and Ben was telling us both to get a move on. Not long after 23:00 we had the finish in sight – and crossed the line together to the delight and relief of my family. I sat down at the finish for a cup of soup and had H shoving the video in my face asking me what I thought of the race, etc. He loved it – you’d think he’d run the whole 145 miles. It is fair to say that without H – there is no way I would have finished the race that year.
We stayed at H’s flat again and this time I was okay next morning – so much so that a nice Full English at Jacks cafe in Queens Park was the order of the day for me. H meanwhile was knackered and spent the next two days recovering.
When I got back to Warrington on the Monday night, Al took me to casualty where they x-rayed my ankle. I had torn ligaments and ended up on crutches.
The following weekend H and Jane and Scarlett came to our house and we had a massive family Indian take away and a few beers to celebrate. H was so into the race, and the idea of the gladiatorial aspect of ultras. He started suggesting other long runs that would be good to do and was getting completely carried away with the idea.
For me, having done the race again, and improved my time, I decided that I had no need to do the Grand Union again – it was history and there were plenty more races to do instead.
Later in 2007 I signed up for the Double IM UK to be held in August 2008, and also for the Lanzarote IM for the third time, in May 2008. H asked me if I was signing up for the GUCR in 2008, and was quite disappointed when I told him that I wouldn’t be doing it again.
2008 came and I did Lanzarote Ironman (for the 3rd time), and then in the August I did the Double Enduroman – after which I had issues with my knee which were only made worse by a skiing accident in the December – resulting in a double knee op in March 2009 for a meniscus tear in my left knee and a meniscus tear and a repair in my right knee (3rd op on that knee).
About the time of the Double Enduroman, H had also made a big decision in his life. After 15 years of doing what he loved – writing, producing and recording music, he had finally decided that the time was right to get back to a “normal” job. He would continue to write and produce – but in his spare time. He contacted the place he had worked all those years ago and they offered him a job. This allowed him and Jane to move back to Warrington, Scarlett to go to school in Warrington and H to do projects that he chose to, rather than having to do stuff to pay the bills, etc.
The other benefit of this was that I got to see more of him. After I had my knees operated on in the March I wasn’t out training every weekend as usual – H commented on this and we met up more often. Around May of 2009, we went to the pub together one Saturday afternoon and drank far too much dodgy beer. During this drinking session he told me about this thoughts on an idea of hiring a track, recruiting a number of runners to run until nobody could go on (similar idea to last man standing) and all the while they were running have a stage in the middle of the track with bands playing music to lift the runners and entertain the spectators. He was serious about this and the more beer we drank the more outrageous the event got. Why not get people to put up a £1000 – winner takes all? And so on. We both walked home from the pub about 6 hours later. One of Howard’s friends commented that he knew I was an endurance athlete but 6 hours of drinking Stella was legend!
I walked through the front door at home at about 9pm, sat down with Mrs EUK, stood straight back up, went to the loo and chucked and went and got in bed. Bloody bad ale!
By July 2009 I had just about started training again – though I had managed to find about 20 pounds in weight that somebody had misplaced. In the August I marshalled at the DIUK in Lichfield.
On the 6th August Steve advertised the Triple and Double IM UK on TriTalk and so I couldn’t resist signing up. I was feeling motivated after my weekend in Lichfield. There was no way I was fit enough, and I was still having major niggles with my knees – but if I didn’t take a place now it might fill up.
A few weeks later, on the 3rd September, I went to work as normal in Manchester where I work as an Implementation Manager for a Finance company.
That morning driving to work it was horrendous – it poured it down all morning and when I spoke to my mate who normally travelled in on his motorbike, he told me that as the weather was so bad, he had decided to leave the bike at home and drive in.
At lunchtime I was in the queue in the restaurant to pay for my dinner.
My phone rang but I missed it - it was a call from Jane, H’s wife.
Next thing I got a call from Al. She asked me where I was (I told her) and she said that she had something really bad that she needed to tell me. My first thought was the kids. She told me that I needed to leave work and get home. I told her that she had to tell me what it was.
So, I put my dinner down and went and sat at a table on my own in a quiet part of the restaurant.
Then she told me: H had been killed that morning in a car accident on his way to work.
Al was upset on the phone – upset herself, but also really upset for me. I will never forget that conversation and the chest crushing feeling of not being able to breath, the black cloud that creeps over your head and into your eyes and the amplification of what you are thinking and the blocking out of anything that anybody else is saying to you.
You click straight into remote control – a feeling of going through motions but not really thinking what you are doing.
It was the day that all of our lives changed and the day I lost my brother and friend.
My life since then has been a challenge to say the least. Initially it was full of bitterness and questions.
I found that everything went out of the window.
Training wasn’t important.
Life wasn’t important.
Daily training sessions were replaced with daily drinking sessions and to be honest – it was pretty shit.
Anybody who has read my blog over the last 9 months will hopefully understand what it has been like.
So, by November I was pretty much down in a black hole, training was a once a week jog and my nutrition plan consisted of as many pints of Stella I felt like drinking that evening.
Then on November the 2nd I was checking my email when I got in from the gym and there in my inbox was a mail from Dick (GUCR organiser) with an entry form for the GUCR 2010. My initial thought was that there was no chance in a million years that I could get fit enough in time, but then it suddenly struck me that this was too much of a coincidence.
I duly filled the form in, sent it back to Dick and waited (there was to be a draw for places due to the high number of entrants) – by the end of November 5th I had been drawn and received a place.
That’s Part a) Race place - sorted. Now I just had to worry about Part b) the bloody training!
I was sat there, a stone and a half overweight, with niggly knees, and no idea if I could get even half as fit as I needed to be for May 2010.
Once Christmas was out of the way I decided that if I was going to have any chance of doing the GUCR, I had to knuckle down and get on with my training for what was now much more than a simple race – it was a vocation.
I decided that I needed to make this more than just a case of “If I’m fit I’ll do it, if not it doesn’t matter” so I decided to put pressure on myself by creating a website dedicated to H – called “Running with H” (my creativity and imagination knows no bounds).
On the website I added a load of pictures of H, videos and also some of his music.
Sometimes I wondered if I had jumped the gun, taken on more than my body could handle. Again, anybody who has read my blog will know all the detail about the problems I had, the shin splints and the sprained ankle resulting in a trip to hospital, etc.
It was only about 10 weeks before the Grand union that I managed to get any training consistency – and to be honest if I had of had any less time to get some consistent training, I wonder if I would have even lined up on the startline last weekend.
As well as managing to get some training consistency together – another massive boost to me was the support that I got from many people – many of them on Tritalk, also my work colleagues, many of Howard’s friends - some whom I’d never even met, and from Dick (GUCR), Steve (Enduroman IV), Deca Dave C, Cyclestore in Congleton who have provided me with tons of kit. I cannot put into words just how grateful I am for the messages of support and the good wishes I’ve had.
So as the race got nearer, it was obvious that there were other people than me who this race also meant everything to this year. Jane and Scarlett, and my sister Angela told me that they were coming for the whole weekend this year. Also, my mum and dad told me that they were going to comedown to London to be at the finish.
So – not only now did I have the small issue of running the race on such a short period of quality training, I also had the added pressure of people ‘expecting’ something special. At times, even just a finish seemed impossible.
A week before the race, hotels were booked for the Saturday night. On the final Saturday before the race I went out for a 6 miler and after 4 miles pulled up short with an immense stabbing pain in my right hamstring/behind my knee.
Shit – I really felt that this was it. My race had just gone up in smoke.
I iced it and stretched it and then on the Wednesday (3 days before race) I decided to go for a 10 min jog – and guess what, the exact same thing.
I got home from my run heartbroken – I honestly thought that it was over. I didn’t tell anybody except Mrs euk – I needed her to know how I felt. I told her that it may be a mistake not telling my famiilyhow bad it was. They may be able to cancel their hotels and get some money back at this point.
Alison did what she always does best and yet again made me realise what a lucky man I am to have her – she said she had complete faith in me doing this. She knew how much it meant to me and anyway – it was lovely walk! As far as she was concerned I was just being stupid – JUST GET ON WITH IT!
From that Wednesday night onwards I felt myself slip into a kind of trance – never daring to push or test my right knee in case it told me more than I wanted to know – and just feeling like I was waiting, waiting waiting.
I went to work on the Thursday and a few people asked me about the race and so on but it was a strange feeling as I felt like I didn’t want to say too much just in case it went wrong on the day. I kept having this vision of Dick setting us off and me pulling up after 50 yards with a shooting pain in the back of my knee – I could maybe manage a marathon with an injury BUT NOT 145 miles.
I spent Thursday dinner time in Boots and Superdrug – I bought everything that I thought I would possibly need for my knee – stick on ice patches (they stink but seemed to work), extra small compression bandage, ibuleve gel – I even thought how I could carry ice packs with me around the GUCR course just to hide the pain (all completely against recommendation – but I so needed this race to work out).
On the Thursday night Al picked me up from work and we had to call at Salford outlet village, as I needed a new race bag. We went into a luggage shop that had a multitude of fantastic cases/ski bags, etc – any size to suit any occasion.
I spotted on that I liked. The guy in the shop said that this was the regular bag and they also did ‘large’ and ‘monster’. He went and got one of each from the back room and could hardly carry the ‘monster’ bag out. I bought the biggest bag they had in the shop – Bargain.
When we got home, we had tea and then I did something that I was determined to do before leaving for Birmingham.
I went and bought a couple of bunches of red flowers (H’s favourite colour) and took them to the cemetery where H is, which is a lovely quiet place on a hillside overlooking Warrington. We run past the entrance every Wednesday night on our runs in the summer. When I arrived there was nobody else there – it was deserted and so peaceful. It was still light but quite dull and walking down the hill towards H I had so much going through my mind.
I had written a note to H and also stuck a picture of the two of us when we were kids on the flowers. I spent 10 minutes talking to him and asking him to help me – I told him that if he wanted me to complete this race, I needed his help the whole way this time.
I left feeling sad but somehow uplifted. It was then that I knew that even if I had to crawl I would make it to London – even if it meant missing the cut off, I’d just get there late. We were going to do this together – no matter how long it took us.
Friday – I had arranged that my dad would pick me up and take me to the train station at about 10:30am. However, we got up and had some breakfast but I just didn’t feel good. My right knee was stiff and sore – was it my mind making things worse? I thought that if I left for Birmingham now I’d just end up sitting in my hotel room – worrying! Instead I may as well stay at home – worrying!
I got a message through from Dave, a friend of mine and a great friend of Howard’s. When Howard was trying to make it in the music industry Dave was a DJ and he played Howard over and over again. He is now a Program Director for a local radio station and he had arranged a radio interview for me to help publicise my run – so about 11am I got a call from the news desk and did a 10 min telephone interview about the run and why I was doing it. This was going to be broadcast on one of the weekend breakfast shows.
You can’t imagine how I felt thinking that I would look a right fool if it was broadcast Sat or Sun morning – and I’d already had to pull out of the race with an injury. I did the interview and then finished getting my stuff together – about 12:30 I got a call from Dave Baker who was on the ferry over form the Isle of Wight with another runner and their crew. We had a chat and then arranged to meet up as we were both staying at the same hotel right near the start.
Eventually my mum came to pick me up at about 1:30 (my dad had gone golfing by now) and dropped me off at the station. She got out of the car and gave me a massive hug – we both had tears in our eyes and she told me that she and my dad knew what this race meant to me, why I was doing it, and that she knew that H would be with me. She told me how proud she was of me for doing this in his memory and keeping his name alive – and she told me that she and my dad were really looking forward to meeting me at the finish line in London on Sunday night. H was my mums youngest and she was always extra protective of him. Growing up I was a bit of a black sheep and bummed out of college at my A’ levels. H meanwhile was a straight-A student and a major success at everything he did. My mum and dad thought the world of him and he could do no wrong. In many ways we were like chalk and cheese – me 5’6”, him over 6’. Him with his image conscious outlook trying to look like Paul Weller, me with my hair half way down my back trying to look like Jim Morrison. He loved creating his music and watched sport avidly from the armchair, I loved pushing myself to new sporting challenges and was music mad going to 2 or 3 gigs a week in my teens and twenties.
Being 4 years older than H, we had our moments – when we were in our teens and twenties we had different friends and outlooks and in many ways we went our different ways. What I have realised since September is how alike we actually were.
In the same way I put my sport and running above everything else, and try to encourage and motivate others to push themselves to empower them and allow them to see that anything is possible – H was exactly the same with his music. He was like the Pied Piper to all who met him. He would take hours teaching kids at parties to play the piano or guitar, etc. He was just as happy and at home playing the piano in a bar at a wedding at 2am in the morning, as he was playing live to 50,000 people in a stadium supporting Tina Turner. It wasn’t for the money, or for the kudos – it was more than anything for the love of the craft.
We both did different things but for the same reason – we both loved our “hobbies” with a passion that made it a lifestyle and when we met up we both wanted the other to tell us all about what they were upto and we listened intently and loved the stories – he loved the idea of running all night, I loved the idea of playing guitar with George Harrison, etc.
As I sit writing this I have immense pride for what H achieved and it is only now I realise that we had the same love of spreading the word – it was just about a different subject. I have tears in my eyes as I type – I wish that I had of known this when he was alive.
He was my brother but as we got older, more and more - he was my friend.
I sat on the train with a cup of tea - I’d been off coffee for two weeks to allow the caffeine I took over the GUCR to take better effect. I had a shed load of good luck messages on my phone and I pretty much spent most of the journey to Birmingham replying to these – people can say the nicest things.
The message that meant the most to me came from somebody I have never met!
Howard did a lot of writing with a guy called Paul Guardiani and on Friday he left me a message saying:
“Go Brian, we have complete faith in you. Whatever happens this time around remember that Howard will be there all the way. Every one should have a brother like you. All our love, Paul, Lucy, Eva & Ivy “ .
I had tears in my eyes reading this message. It meant so much that somebody who I didn’t know, but who knew H could say such a nice thing. It just added to my determination to succeed.
In the taxi on the way to my hotel I gave Dave Baker (fellow runner and friend) a call to find out where he was up to – they were on the motorway “somewhere” but he said he’d give me a call when they arrived.
I checked in and went up to my room – I have stayed in the same hotel, the Novotel in Broad Street, every time I have done this race now even though it is slightly expensive – why change something that works?
Whilst waiting for Dave I sat in my room and looked at my right leg. I took the bandage off, replaced the cold patch, rubbed in a load of ibupreofen and took some paracetamol – I also spent 10 minutes stretching and massaging the sore patch.
Where normally I would be buzzing, feeling focussed and sharp – I instead felt a bit fuzzy, remote and concerned.
About 17:30 I got a txt from Dave to say that they were in reception so I went down to meet them – there was Dave with a mate who had done the race last year (but pulled out at 100 miles) and their support crew. They took their kit up to their room and Dave told me that he had managed to order breakfast for 4:30 the next morning. Both times I have stayed there before they haven’t offered me breakfast and I’ve had to make do with some bread rolls – so I went to reception and asked for breakfast, which was to be a pot of tea, orange juice, cornflakes, two rounds of toast and jam. All delivered to my room at 4:30 – excellent.
When they came back down to reception, Dave’s support crew was feeling knackered so went up to bed, the other runner went out look for pizza, and me and Dave were going to drive over to the pub where race registration was being held – about 5miles out of the city centre.
Once we got out of the underground car park (that was an endurance event in itself) and started driving over there Dave laughed at the fact that we were pretty much retracing the route that they had come on an hour earlier.
When we got to the pub the car park was full of cars and race vehicles Dick’s old post office van was there in all its glory.
We went over to the registration area on the pub garden and got our numbers – I was picking up Deca Dave C’s number as he was travelling down the next morning to arrive just before the race started. There were lots of familiar faces and lots of new ones – and we stopped for chat with Dick who was his usual manic self – and he had definitely had a few pints by the time we got there. Dick gave me a pat on the shoulder and wished me all the best – he said well done for giving it a go.
The race winner for the last couple of years, Pat Robbins, turned up to register while we were talking to Dick – he was drinking a pint of Guinness – a man after my own heart!
We didn’t hang around long once we had our numbers –we jumped in Dave’s car and headed straight back to Broad Street – Dave telling me all about the Norseman on the way back (yet another target race now then!). Just before the hotel Dave dropped me at ‘Bella Pizza’ so that I could get my traditional tuna, pineapple and onion endurance fuel. Normally I like pizza hut but it was the wrong direction and would have meant me being too late – it was already 19:30. I got my pizza and walked back to the hotel and went to my room – that was it, I wouldn’t leave the room again until I left for the race start tomorrow morning.
The pizza was average – not enough tuna (or pineapple....or onion for that matter) but it filled a gap and would give me early race fuel in the morning.
Once in my room I felt that I could now relax and focus – in less than 11 hours I’d be heading off from Gas Street basin to London and I wasn’t yet sure that I’d be able to manage more than 100 yds. I got all my kit out to put on in the morning and made my drinks and filled my camelbak.
I rand Deca Dave C and had a quick chat- he sounded surprisingly nervous and said hed see me at about 5:30. I then rang my dad just to say “hi” and then Alison to say night. After coming off the phone to her it was about 11pm and I was feeling slightly better than I had been feeling all evening. As she said – all I had to do was get up and run – she had to sort out her and the kids, drop the dog off at the minders, make soup, and sort out a hotel for Sunday night after the race - all before going to bed!
I must admit I felt quite guilty after putting the phone down!.
I set the alarm on my TV for 4:20, the one on my phone for 4:15 and turned my light off. Lying in the darkness I found it difficult to get to sleep lying there thinking about H and what lay ahead over the weekend. Had I underestimated the size of the challenge? Having had both my knees operated on just over a year ago, and not really getting back to quality training due to Howards accident until maybe 12 weeks ago, would I be able to do this justice? Would I find that all my previous training and races was a thing of the past after nearly a year off serious training, etc? Would I let myself and my family down by failing to get to London? Would they all be waiting for me and instead of running into little Venice would I arrive by ambulance, etc?
All these thoughts were going through my head as I lay there……………..and the next thing the alarm went off
It was 4:15am Saturday 29th May.
When my alarm went off I didn’t jump up – I knew I had about 15 mins before breakfast would arrive (though knowing hotels it may not arrive at all!). I put the lamp on and then put H on play on my iphone – from this moment on until the finish it was all for him and I was determined to remain 100% focussed as it may be a long couple of days.
After 5 mins I went into the bathroom, had a warm shower to warm up my muscles and knee specifically and then sat on the bed stretching my legs – the knee felt okay up to now.
I popped two extra strong ibuprofen and then there was a knock at the door – breakfast sir! Thank you. Just what I’d ordered so I demolished the lot.
Then spent another 15 mins stretching and so on before getting dressed to race. Always a big decision in a race like this what to go with – long or short, one layer or two, what will weather be like in 4/5 hours, etc.
I decided on long legs and arms with a gilet over to start – with a checkpoint at 22m it would only be four hours before I could change.
I packed all last minute bits into my backpack and had a last 10 mins of stretching.
I was in a bit of a daze I suppose with lots of random thoughts because before I knew it my mobile was going and it was Deca Dave – it was 5:40.
I left the hotel and walked across the road to Gas Street – weather was a bit ropey, even starting to rain. I walked around the corner and saw all the bags being loaded into race vans. I walked over to the back of one and then saw Dave and Jules Taylor coming towards me. I shook hands with both and gave Dave his number. I then went and dropped my bag at the van – I had pinned “Running With H” laminated sticker on both my support bag and my camelbak for the race – I wanted people to know why I was doing the race. There were a few comments from the race crew re: monster bag (kitchen sink, going away afterwards, got somebody in there, etc) but to be honest when they saw the sticker they smiled and wished me luck
I walked over to the hole in the wall that drops down onto the canal side and nervously thought – this is it H we are ready! I had one aim – to finish.
Where maybe a few weeks ago I had thought that maybe a 36-hour finish was possible – now just to cross that line was the aim.
I saw Putt Putt come through down to canal side and pushed my way through to wish him luck – he had his headphones on so shook hands but didn’t say anything. It was a bit tight on the canal side as there were apparently 91 of us. Dick shouted over the megaphone that there were 3 mins until race start.
Of course, as to be expected, as we were standing there, the grey skies turned to wet skies and the rain started to come down practically on cue.
20 seconds…..10 seconds, 5,4,3,2,Have a good race everybody!
We were off.
The first couple of miles of the race is a bit of a dog leg the wrong way up the canal as if you are running away from London – you run past backs of bars and clubs and around the basin. It is quite slippy underfoot and there are lots of little hump back bridges. I knew that it was imperative I didn’t twist my right knee and aggravate my hamstring here so I took it real easy – to be honest, apart form the front 5 or 6 most people chat and shuffle these first few miles – what’s the point of burning off energy so early?
After 10 mins I was quite happy as everything felt okay, after 20 mins I was smiling to myself because it was well past the point where my leg had been painful a week ago. Maybe because of the fact that I thought about how I was running, started slowly and all the stretching – or maybe just because the ibuprofen hadn’t worn off yet?
Until the first ten miles at Catherine de Barnes bridge the canal side is pretty much running through industrial estates, backs of house, and bits of heath land. Due to the drizzly rain the grass was pretty wet and it was about 1.50 into the race when I saw the race van with bags on the floor at 10.7 miles – there were a couple of crew and some spectators but due to the weather people weren’t really standing around. I took a cup of water and a jaffa cake from the table and carried on – pleased that everything felt okay. And to be perfectly honest, from that moment in until Saturday night at half way I didn’t really think about my leg.
The next 10 miles to Hatton Locks is where the race becomes very rural and to be honest the course is fantastic. The scenery is lovely – you pass through loads of little hidden villages and past canal side pubs that you probably wouldn’t know were there if not for the race.
I got to Hatton locks in about 4 hours and the rain was still falling down. I felt good in myself as I approached Hatton Hill Bridge so I slowed to walk in and think about what I needed. I had a quick look at my phone to see what was happening up at the front of the race – Angela (Mrs Putt Putt) and a couple of others were twittering for the EnduranceUK site.
Updates were “Dave came thru 1st male1.55 4 13 miles. Peter in 3rd at 2hrs” and “P did 1st marathon in 4.10 bit slower than anticipated but going well”.
I wasn’t surprised Dave was leading but I was surprised at the speed they were both going. Pat Robbins who has won the GUCR for the last three years now runs pretty consistently just under 11 min miles for the whole race – Dave was moving at under 9 min miles and Peter under 10 min miles. Should be interesting!
Dave Baker's update was “18.1 miles done Andy and me wet but happy”.
At Hatton Locks it was raining pretty heavily and one of the crew filled my camelback with water whilst I went over to my bag – all the bags were under a big tarpaulin due to the rain so it was a job finding it.
Even though I knew I’d just get wet again I changed my top and put on a dry shirt and another gilet, with a red rain cape over the top. I ate a banana and put about 8 Accelerade gels and a couple of isogels in my bag. Took a quick photo and 10 mins later I was off. There were still plenty of bags that hadn’t been loaded back into the van yet so I knew I wasn’t last!
The next bit through Warwick and Leamington spa is a bit non-descript really - more of the same – lovely greenery but mile upon mile of canal, marinas and not much else. I decided to carry on at this pace as it was similar to my previous two finishes.
The next checkpoint at Birdingbury Bridge (36m) was the first feed point for unsupported runners (supported by race crew). Due to the fact that Al and kids turn up late Saturday I pay the extra £10-15 and go unsupported so that I can reply on Dick and crews food on Saturday. When I arrived there it was a bit like a summer fete when it starts raining – everybody trying to squeeze under the one gazebo. You try putting 10 runners under one gazebo with bags and trying to change shoes/socks, etc. Wish I had a video of this.
When I got to the checkpoint they asked me what I wanted to eat – veg soup or veg soup. Thought I’d maybe have some veg soup. And a bread roll. It was lovely – warm.
They brought my bag over to me with a few grunts and groans and I decided I’d better have a look at my soaking feet. I had never had blisters before in a big race but my right foot was feeling a bit tender on the bottom no signs of blisters but to be careful I smeared a load of vas on and changed socks.
I probably spent 20 mins at this checkpoint and it was past 1pm when I set off again. One thing that I did notice was how many people – race crew and other supporters had started to wish me well and a few even said “do it for H”. Felt nice inside.
As I left the cp I got a text from Ben to tell me that they were stuck in traffic on the M6 – they’d be there asap.
I carried on, feeling happy at this pace and my only worry was my right foot was starting to feel painful on the bottom. The benefit of the canal side up to half way in the race is that it is pretty much all grass- the only down side is that when it rains it is soaking and shoes are soaked. The other constant thing that was getting on my nerves was that every now and then little stones would get into my shoes and feel like boulders. Stopping and taking a shoe off to get stones out was a regular requirement. Trying to balance on one leg whilst doing so is a definite requirement of pre race training.
The rain was still falling but had shrunk to a bit of a light drizzle – I decided that at the next big cp I would change into just a t-shirt and see how it went. For the next 10 miles I was lost in thought – feeling happy that things were going well. We passed through Braunston Marina and then hit Braunston Tunnel – this is a tunnel about a mile long that goes underground and you have to walk over a path through fields to get to the other side. This was the only time my knees bothered me as there was a load of steps to get up onto road level and I had to stop for2 minutes to stretch out my right hamstring and knees due to twinges which I put down to running in constantly wet/cold bottoms. When I fot up onto the road I stopped, popped two ibuprofen and decided to just get on with it!
The walk over the top is a bit of a chore as it climbs up and then drops down, I decided that this 15 minute walk would be a goodtime to ring my mum and dad – they were sat at home wondering how things were going. We had a good five minute chat and I felt good after speaking to them and they were pleased that they had heard from me. I felt quite bad actually because my dad said he’d been awake since 6am worrying about me and my hamstring, etc. When doing races like this it is easy to forget the effect on others sometimes.
As I came back down onto the canal path I got a txt from Ben “See you at Buckby top lock mate J”. Great, that was only about a mile ahead. It was getting on for 4pm.
As I came into the back of the New Inn pub at the lock I was made up to see familiar faces – Al, Ben, Bella and my mate Neil who was going to accompany through the night and his son Jack. They were stood ther under their brollies!
At this point Al told me she had had a phone call from Jules to see how I was doing so that he could tell Deca Dave. He had also told her that Dave was struggling with an injury – he had a groin pain that had spread to his knees and he was slowed right down.
I was a bit disappointed for Dave, but after filling my camelbak I was off – next feed cp was only 4.5 miles away.
50 mins later I saw them all again as I came into the Heart of England checkpoint at Weedon. This is a cp right on the side of the canal and this was also where another friend, Brett was waiting – Brett is an Aussie who trains with me. He had a bag of tricks with him for me – spare t-shirts, bananas, biscuits, drinks, etc. At Weedon he had a cup of coffee ready for me and I sat down to check my feet over. I smeared more vas on them and changed socks again – no blisters yet but tender.
As the cp is on the narrow side of the canal it is a bit weird sitting there right on the side with people all standing up the slope to the road bridge. Due to me getting there earlier than expected Al didn’t come down as she couldn’t park the car – the kids came down and it was at this point that H’s wife and daughter, Jane and Scarlett arrived with my sister Angela. It was nice to see them – as Scarlett is my lead cheerleader. She gave me a massive hug, which cheered me up no end. Since H’s accident she has been unbelievable for a 9 year old.
It was 17:30 as I said see’ya to them all and set off again – (53 miles done in 11.5 hours). 5 mins later I got a text from Al to say that Deca Dave had txt to say he’d withdrawn at 60m m due to all sorts of leg problems.
The next time I expected to see any of my supporters was at Gayton Marina – at 60.6 miles. In previous years this is where Al has made me some decent warm food. Only 7 miles away – maybe 90 mins.
It was nice to see Jane, Scarlett and Ange then at Bugbrooke Bridge an hour later –as I approached the bridge Scarlett was shouting and singing as I passed through holding a sign she’d made for me – as I said she is my chief cheer leader and lifts me every time I see her.
As I approached Gayton junction which is the first place on the race where it is easy to go the wrong way as the canal splits off to Northampton I got a phone call from Mrs EUK telling me she was having trouble finding the beginning of the tunnel. What do you mean? The Blisworth tunnel, another underground tunnel another couple of miles on. I told her I was expecting to see her any minute and she said that Ben had said I’d told her to go on to Blisworth. I couldn’t remember, but I wasn’t going to argue – I was too knackered! As she was on the phone she said they d just seen another runner coming past so they stopped and asked him – I said I’d see her in 20-30mins – put the kettle on!
At the bridge though were Jane,etc and Brett – I took a bottle of powerade off Brett and carried on.
Walking up the steps (too bloody many) to the road side at Blisworth tunnel was another knee twinging experience. When I got to the top they were parked in the car park above the entrance to the tunnel – cooker on and coffee made. I daren’t sit down as I wasn’t sure I’d get up again as my quads were starting to let me know they were there. As I approached the car I passed another runner leaning into the back of a car – he didn’t look quite so happy!
We stood round the back of the car having a few words and a couple of laughs. I ate my pasta (it didn’t touch the sides), and drank my coffee. Then I decided I’d change my socks again as it was 10 miles to halfway and it had stopped raining. I could feel my legs starting to cramp slightly so I didn’t want to take my own socks off in case I cramped up – neither of the kids wanted to do it, even when I offered payment J so it was left to Mrs EUk to do the deed and sort my feet out with new ones.
The next 2 miles is all at road level – in fact it is all on roads. I decided to walk all of this so as to not aggravate knees, hamstring, shins, etc. It probably took me a good 30 mins but I caught up with another couple of runners ahead – one of whom told me he had a hole the size of a golf ball in his left foot. He didn’t finish the race!
Once back on the canal I passed through he Navigation pub at Stoke Bruerne where Jane, Scarlett and Ange were waiting – they gave me a big hug and said they’d see me in the morning as they were going to find their B&B. They all looked knackered! And it was 20:30.
Due to the weather being dull and being on the canal side with no street lamps etc it started to get quite dark earlier than normal and running the next 5 miles to half way I felt happy that I’ had made it this far but slightly disappointed that I was here about the same time as the previous two times. A small part of me wondered it I should have maybe pushed a bit harder – what would that have done? I felt no more knackered than previous goes, if anything, fresher- but I was starting to feel it in the legs.
The sight of the bright lights of the Navigation Inn in the distance as I approached the bridge were a welcome sight and I stopped to walk the last few hundred yards thinking what I needed to do here to get ready for night time. I checked my phone – putt putt had obviously gone through here a good hour earlier and Dave Baker was not far behind – he twittered he had enjoyed a burger at 53 miles!
In my mind- when I came up on to the Bridge at half way I felt such a sense of relief for getting this far and all of a sudden I felt a real light headedness come over me. Even though I had felt fresh – it was like a tap opening and all of a sudden a release of energy and immediately I went cold and started shivering.
I started to panic a bit because this was the point last time where my salts were low and I fainted so I knew I had to do some remedial work.
I sat on the fence behind the car on the bridge and Ben went and got my bag, Al went and told the race crew that I wanted a jacket potato, beans and cheese. Neil, Ben and Jack helped me get changed. I stripped off completely and wiped down with a towel – only realising when Bella screamed that we were parked opposite the windows of the pub! Needs must – and it was dark! It seemed to taken an age to get all my kit out, even though I’d bagged up what I needed. My mind was working in slow motion – and after what felt like an age I was changed, and warm again. I put on clean socks and changed into dry trainers. I gave Al a big bag and asked her to dry that all overnight – can’t understand why she looked at me the way she did!
I put all the things I thought I’d need overnight in my bag and took out my headtorch and a brilliant military torch that Brett had lent me that is like a spotlight. Where was Brett, he was here a minute ago? He’s chucking up over there – says Ben. About 10 feet away Brett was keeled over decorating the road side – it’s bloody hard work this supporting! Turns out he hadn’t been too good all afternoon and when he spoke to his wife at home later she’d been chucking up all day too. I told him not to come near me – last thing I needed now was a bug.
Ben carried my bag to the race van and we moved on down to the race feed wagon – where they gave me my potato. As I stood there waiting I realised that the blue sleeping bag at the back of the kitchen was another runner – he had apparently collapsed at half way, they were going to drop him off at a station in the morning.
Stood there under the gazebo at half way with my family and friends – including Neil who was chomping at the bit and raring to go – I felt a real sense of purpose. We had 25 hours to do the other 75 miles – easy hey! What could possibly go wrong?
There were another couple of runners sat under the gazebo – and it was obvious they weren’t carrying on. As a fellow runner who has been through what they are going through, you know when you look in their eyes what is going on inside. Their eyes are vacant – desire to go on had disappeared. There is a sense of disappointment, but they have accepted they are not carrying on – now it is a sense of how long shall I sit here before deciding what to do next. How do I get home? Help! As Dick says, if you look at the conditions you would have to endure if you needed a sleep in the race van – that is enough to make you carry on!
So carry on we did – Brett said he was going to drive on to 85 miles and get his head down, Neil and I put the torches on, it was now very dark, and off we walked up the canal. As I’d just eaten I told Neil that we’d be walking for a while. There were a few race supporters behind us and as I moved aside to let them past they said they’d stay behind us as they had no torches. We felt like the Pied Piper with 3 or 4 others walking behind us as we chatted walking along in the dark.
I felt dry and warm, but felt really sleepy. Al said they’d drive on to the next bridge to see use before they set off for the B&B 40 miles ahead of where we were now. Good job she rang to say they’d be late! It took Neil and me nearly an hour to walk the two miles to the Galleon Bridge at 72.3 miles – nearly an hour for 2 miles. I can walk quicker than that when walking home from the pub drunk! Where did that time disappear? Seriously, what happened? Neil was all ready for a runner and instead he gets a bloke who wouldn’t be out of place in an old peoples home.
We saw Mrs EUK and all and said night – she gave us a massive hug and told me to be careful. She told me that I had done fantastic up to here – don’t do myself long term harm – if I needed too - just walk! No disappointment there then – notice she never said if I needed to drop out then do so! She’s a hard taskmaster.
So, off they drove to the B&B in Berkemstead – leaving us at 72.5 miles – it was 23:20.
The next 12.5 miles was an absolute nightmare. – it took us nearly 4 hours to cover and it was like watching somebody else from afar. I just could not get going – I felt my energy levels drop and it was all I could do to stay awake.
Where I felt that I would be up for the race and able to motivate myself and stay energised by thinking about H, at this point it seemed that it all started going wrong. I was starting to think about things more and more in the quiet of the night. Where during the day I’d just got through by thinking about where I was and where my supporters were, now we were alone in the dark and quiet I seemed to start to think about things that were at the back of my mind.
When out training for the race I have had a few experiences where I have been moving well, thinking positively and then all of a sudden I’ve thought about H, then it has led me to think about the day of his accident and then I have ended up in a bad place and all my energy has gone and I’ve end ed up cold and feeling negative.
This is where I got to between midnight and 4am.
We were moving but it was hard work – it was like treading water and to be honest I thought more about things external to the race than the race itself. Memories of H in hospital, the day of his funeral, my mum and dad, Jane and Scrarlett – all these things went through my mind.
I remember just a few things about the middle of the night:
It was about 3:50am when we came upon the 84.5-mile cp. It is about a mile after Fenny Stratford lock which is quite a surreal place to pass through at 3:30 in the morning.
The cp is a gazebo next to the canal as usual and in the pitch black it is a welcoming sight as you move down the canal bank. By the time we got there I was more than happy to sit down. There were a couple of runners already sat there and when I sat down the race crew brought my bag over and put it next to me.
I started to take my shoes off to look at my feet as by now they were really sore and my right one felt it was past the point of no return. To my left there was a runner who was sat there just groaning – a couple of minutes later his wife came over and started to talk to him saying that their daughter would be there soon with the car – he obviously was going nowhere fast. I asked for a cup of tea and sat there drinking it with both my socks off to allow some air on my feet. Neil meanwhile was foraging in his bag for some food that Ann his wife had made him – apparently when Al went to pick him up he had enough to feed the whole race and as he works nights on an oil rig loss of appetite wasn’t a problem he suffered from.
As I sat there at 3:45ish in the morning in a dimly lit clearing at the side of a canal miles from anywhere with wet clothes, sore feet and feeling extremely drained, Suddenly - IT HIT ME!
Since H’s death I have had had bad days and nights, I have had bad weeks, and I have had times where I really have felt life is so unfair. I have been sad, down, upset and alone. However, never, until this moment had I felt a release of things. Like a wave it suddenly all came over me – I suddenly started sobbing and tears started rolling down my face. I could not stop the feeling of unfairness and sadness. Everything seemed to come to a head and for the next 15minutes I sat on my own just crying to myself – Neil came over to me and when he saw I was upset he walked away and left me to it. I really felt that I could not be bothered to get up and carry on.
I felt so cold – I looked at my watch, it was now 4:15and time had disappeared. I got my towel out of my bag, wiped my eyes and my face and thought about what to do next. In all this time nobody else had come through that I had noticed. Should I sort my feet out and carry on or should I pack in here and get my head down for a few hours?
All of a sudden the guy who was the race crew came over and told me I had 8 minutes to leave (you can stay up to 40mins at one cp),or that was my race over. I looked at my watch, looked at Neil and all of a sudden thought – “Feck that, I’m not doing this race for me, I’m dong it for my brother”. It took me 5 minutes to get vas on my cold feet, put on my socks and get my shoes on. Up I got, necked a mouthful of cold tea, took a handful of biscuits and walked out onto the canal path.
“Come on H” I screamed as we stood there – “give me a f'in hand”! Neil looked at me as if I was mad and off we marched. I was determined to finish now – I already knew how bad a place I had just been to.
Wanting to move and being able to move are two completely separate things. The spirit is willing but the body is weak and all that. Literally five minutes after leaving the checkpoint it was as though all the emotion drained away my energy.
This was - according to Neil - by far the worst part of the race. We moved 2miles in the next 90 mins. Read that again – 2 miles in 90 minutes.
Neil said that I was falling asleep on my feet, walking 2 steps and then stopping for a minute, walking2 steps and then stopping for a minute- all with my eyes shut. He was talking to me and I could hear him – but it made no difference whatsoever. He later said that as my friend this was the hardest part of the whole race for him. He said it was like watching a boxer getting hurt and wanting the corner to throw in the towel – how much suffering can you watch a friend take before you decide they have had enough. I thank Neil for the fact that he stood by and let me get on with it and didn’t throw in the towel. If he had of told me to sit down and stop – I would probably have done so! I recall times where I was stood rocking and opening my eyes to see I was facing the wrong way, etc. Looking back it must have been hard for Neil to move so slowly, and patiently watch me, so for that I am grateful.
About 6am I recall it getting much lighter all of a sudden ( probably because I opened my eyes!) And suddenly I felt a new energy. All of a sudden I felt like I had to move quicker. Neil nearly fell over when I straightened my back, did a “Come on” clenched-fist cry and started to power march into the distance. All of a sudden we were moving again – albeit slowly, but in the right direction.
We came around a bend near to Tesco in Leighton Buzzard and there were a load of fishermen on the banks – people again, after seeing hardly anybody all night. Another day was beginning.
One funny thing I remember was Neil talking to a fisherman who asked us where we were going. After telling him Neil chatted to him for a minute or two while I stood there rocking – he told Neil that he loved fishing but they only did it until 10am because after that “there are too many bloody barges!” – Now what were the canals invented for?
I remember that the canal path was all asphalt at this point and when I decided to jog for 5 mins it hurt my shins. Probably more in my mind than anything but I could not get into a run at all. I said to Neil that if I could get a bit of a jog going it may wake me up and get my metabolism going. I looked up at the sky and shouted “Come on H, give us some f’in grass!” Two minutes later we walked around a bend to be met by grassy canal bank!!!!.
At 7am my phone rang rang and it was Jane. She asked me where we were – I told her – and she was surprised until I told her how bad the night had been. She said that they had set their alarm for 7 but she had been awake since 6:45 and something had told her to get up – they were now getting ready and would see me after breakfast in less than an hour. All of a sudden I felt okay again – the thought of seeing smiling Scarlett and familiar faces was enough to lift me. It must have been about 8am when I got to Slapton lock at 94 miles to be met by Ange, Jane and Scarlett who were ready to go – Day 2 . Big hugs and smiles and we were off again.
I knew that we were 5 miles from the big cp at the Grand Junction Arms and I said to Neil that if we could just get there I could have a change and eat and hopefully it would be okay from here. Al rang me to say that she was up and on her way – what did I need. I asked her for McD’s porridge and coffee which was duly waiting for us when we walked into the cp at 99.8 miles at about 9.30 on Sunday morning to be met by Al, Jane, Scarlett and Ange.
Each other time I have done this race this cp has been the same, a new start to a new day. This was no different – the only difference was this time I knew how low I had been in the night and I knew that when I took my shoes off I’d have blisters. The other problem I now had was that my arse was killing me. Due to being so wet yesterday and chafing, etc I felt like I was walking like John Wayne.
I decided that before I eat my porridge or drank my coffee I needed to change my gear and get warm again. I spotted a big Range Rover in the field next to the gazebo so I got my change out of my bag, my vas and my towel. I walked over behind the Range Rover, stood on my towel and completely stripped off down below. Not thinking, Mrs EUK asked me did I need a hand- yes said I so she came over behind the Range Rover to see me completely naked from the waist down. She started telling me to cover up – I wasn’t bothered. She stood in front of me while I leant on her and wiped my feet. I got her to hold my vas while I bent over and shoved a big dollop where the sun don’t shine and then put a clean pair of cycling shorts on. As she looked up she screamed at me that there were two women staring at me as they were getting out of a car across the field about 60 feet away. Hope they didn’t have their cameras with them!
I finished changing, and walked back out to my seat at the cp- “See we even had time for a quickie” I joked to everybody as I sat down. Al was absolutely mortified.
I drank my coffee and then went to work on my feet. I took my socks off and it was clear now that a blister had developed on each foot. I took a pin out of my number and burst the blister on each foot, dressing each with Bio-Race Reskin Friction plasters (which it turned out were an absolute find). What made me laugh was that they all went “Uurgh - Brian” as they all watched me intently doing this. Scarlett meanwhile stood there covering her eyes with her hands while Ange told her what I was doing step-by-step.
The cp crew came over to me to tell me that I had been there 30 mins and my support were all telling me to get going. Neil had eaten his porridge, I took mine and off we went – I must admit it was not a pleasant feeling walking off with extremely chapped nether regions.
We managed to keep moving now and I started to feel okay again, I eat my porridge as we walked along and then started running 5 mins at a time with a couple of mins walk. I was now compus mentis enough to start thinking about times and miles left, etc.
It was probably the first time in the race that I actually thought about miles left- and how quickly I would have to cover them to get within the cut off of 45 hours. I knew that if I carried on at the pace I was going I had no chance.
I also had to think about Ian, Howard’s friend who had ran with me 3 years ago was coming to run with me for some of today. I had a txt off Ian yesterday evening to tell me to slow down or he would miss me – he wouldn’t be disappointed!
I rang Jane and she told me that Ian had gone to Watford (about 115miles) and then rang her – when she’d told him I was only progressing slowly he jumped in the car and drove back up the canal.
Al rang to see if I needed anything – I told her that I was feeling miles better and a tuna melt and chips would do the business. We arrived at Boxmoor Bridge (108.5 miles) at 13.00 to be met by Al and the gang – but also a nice surprise. Without telling me, my other sister Carol had left her house in Nantwich at 8am and was now with the rest of my support at the bridge. It was lovely to see her – and it gave me a bit of a lift. We were all together now and mum and dad were on the train heading from Warrington to London to meet us at the finish – all for H.
I gave Neil a hug at this point and said a massive thanks. He later told me that it was an honor to run through the night with me. I hope he knows that without realising it – he saved my race by NOT stopping me. A true friend.
I loaded half the tuna melt up with chips and me and Ian set off walking for the first 20 minutes whilst I ate it and also to catch up – Ian and his wife had a premature baby, Harry, 7 weeks ago so again, massive thanks to him for turning out (but then I know how much H meant to him too). After 20mins I told Ian that we could start running but it would be slow and painful – my right foot was still very sore and my John Wayne walk was still there. I started to run slowly and Ian sat in behind me jogging along, chatting to me as we went. I decided to see if I could run for 20 minutes – it was a slow pace but still felt quicker than walking. I looked at my watch and we had been going for 12minutes and I so wanted to stop – I thought of H, thought of my mum and dad and carried on. Up ahead in the distance I could see another runner or two, then as we got nearer I realised that there were 4 of them. When they were about 100 yards ahead of us my watch indicated 20 minutes so I slowed to a walk. Ian said that I’d done well and been moving better than 3 years ago a this point. We walked for 5 mins and the four ahead of us moved further away from us. However, once we started running again we caught them within 5minutes. This gave me a bit of a buzz and I pushed on to complete another 20mins stint. All the while Ian was chatting away – I just listened and added the occasional yes and no.
5 mins of walking, another 15 mins of running and I really started to feel that if I could keep similar up then I would make it – a finishing time had loooong gone out of the window.
Jane was driving Ian’s car and he had arranged to see her at the next cp at Springwell Lock (120 miles) where he was going to leave me. I must admit, the cp seemed to never come – that happened a lot in this race, my judgement of distance which is normally good was crap – maybe just my mind wanting it to be over.
Eventually we saw the cp in the distance and as we came in I felt happy to be here.
Another surprise for me was that in the tent was Dave Baker. I said hi and he said “Bloody hell Brian – I thought you were well ahead of me”. Bad night I said, but think I’m over it. I sat down to change my socks one last time. I knew that this was it – from here we were nearly at the point where I went over on my ankle 3 years ago and the point where H had started running with me. I felt a sense of relief as I knew if I kept moving we were going to do it.
As I sat there my legs were cramping up so my sister, Carol, pulled my socks off, I put vas on and new socks and she put my shoes on for me. I was ready to go but Al told me to stay there a minute – Scarlett wanted to sing me one of her many songs she’d written for me (just like her dad, a true future star!). I sat there whilst Al video’d Scarlett singing:
“ Come on Brian go,go,go – you can do it, you’re a pro – GOOOOOO BRIAN”.
Priceless – the cp crew were laughing there heads off. As I got up to leave one of them gave me a hug and said, “You deserve this – all of you”. I felt a shiver down my spine.
25 miles to go – and it wasn’t raining. It had been decided by Al that Neil would run the next 7 miles with me to Cowley lock, and then she surprised me by telling me that she was going to run 5.5 miles with me (she hasn’t ran for two years) and then to finish Ben was going to run the last 12 miles with me.
So Neil and I set off just before 5pm. I did a quick calc in my head and thought that if we could keep 3mph then I would finish by 1am. Not long after leaving this cp we saw Dave Baker and a few other runners together walking ahead. I said to Neil that we could choose to fall in with them or run and pass them. I started running and didn’t stop for 20 mins. As we passed them (not going much faster but feeling like we were running) I said hi to Dave. When I stopped after 20 mins and looked behind me I couldn’t see them. We managed to continue 15 and 10 min blocks of running with walks in-between.
So it was that we approached the bridge at Cowley lock (127.5m). To be honest this when I realised that all the miles I had covered up to now were really just to get to this point. I realised that the whole reason I was doing this race again was to be in this situation. At this moment this was all that mattered in the world.
3 years ago I had ran over this bridge with Ian after going over on my ankle and H had been sat in the pub having his burger. Now, as me and Neil crossed the bridge I could see all of my support sat in the garden eating. I felt very emotional as I approached them and they all looked at me and smiled. I nicked Ange’s J20 that she had just bought and my daughter, Bella, came and gave me a massive hug. Jane and my sisters all came over and gave me a hug too – they all knew what this meant me.
Alison appeared out of the car park ready to run the next 5.5 miles with me.
Al told me that she had decided to do this bit with me because she knew that I would be thinking about things and she didn’t want me to do it alone. We walked along chatting and I talked to her about my feelings. She told me that she had loads of texts off friends and H’s friends, etc, asking where I was, how things were going, and passing on good wishes for the finish. She was also carrying a photocopy of the map – I told her she wouldn’t need it, this part of the course was easy!
I told Al that the best thing to do was fall in behind me and just chat away. She started telling me what they’d all eaten at the pub – I told her I didn’t want to hear about food. She told me that Jane and Ange had stayed in a lovely hotel last night – I told her I didn’t want to hear about hotels. Eventually she said she’d shut up and so we moved along in silence. Me with my thoughts and memories and Al behind me.
She had arranged that she would ring the others after we turned left at Bulls Bridge Junction which is where the canal splits and one arm goes to Brentford, the other to Southall and Little Venice. As we ran along I was immersed deep in thought and when we came to a bridge she said this was where we turned. I said it wasn’t, we needed to carry on. 2 minutes later, with the map I’d told her we didn’t need she had me running the right way rather than towards Brentford. -Thanks Al!
After about a mile along this arm of the canal you come upon the last cp at Hamborough tavern. This is where the canal finally stops being picturesque and becomes quite an industrial wasteland. Graffiti starts appearing and it is a Daliesque experience not to be missed.
As we came into the cp Bella handed me some warm soup and Neil and Ben appeared –Ben had the headtorches and I went into the boot of the car and got a hat- it was pretty cold.
As we walked from the car up the canal path I spotted another familiar face – my old best mate from when I lived in London, Dave and his partner Sally were stood drinking a pint at the side of the canal. I sat next to Dave for most of the time I worked in London and he was a great mate – he came with me when we went to watch H supporting Tina and got drunk with H and me more than once. I had lost touch with him over the last few years until meeting up with him at Wembley for the Challenge Cup Final last year - two weeks later was H’s accident. It was a real shock to see them there but he said that he wanted to come and wish me all the best. They were flying to Boston in the morning so they were on their way to a hotel at Heathrow. Lovely gesture and lifted me yet again. As we stood there chatting a booming voice shouted, “Get a f’ing move on”. I turned and looked at Henk (of Caesars Camp fame) – he smiled at me and said “You’ve not got all f’in night – come on”. Then he remembered to give us a map for the diversion and off we went into the dark - I thanked Dave and Sally, and said bye to the others. As we were setting off another runner Rajeev Patel came past us. I told Ben that we had to get ahead of him and stay there. Five minutes later we were jogging slowly with Rajeev behind us.
The diversion was indicated on the map as leaving bridge 16 and rejoining on 15 – seemed easy enough but it was a lot more than it looked on paper. It was 2 miles on the gps and it was through real inner city. Ben took the lead and led me along up a track, cycle path, through the estate, across a main road and then back down onto the canal. We joked that it would have been quicker to get a taxi – and it must have been a good 45 minutes we were walking/jogging slowly before being back on the canal. We got some funny looks as we walked past a few gangs of kids stood on the street – I had my number on and still had my camelbak on. At one point Ben kept looking behind him, when I asked what was up he said that he was making sure we didn’t get mugged!
Once back on the canal Ben gave Al a ring to let her know where we were up to. She was waiting at Piggery Bridge with some of the others - Jane and Angela had gone to Paddington to get my mum and dad from the hotel and take them to the finish.
Piggery Bridge is about as North London as you can get. It is about a mile from Wembley Central Station. Five years ago when I did the race the first time Al and the two kids stood on the bridge in the dead of night waiting for me. Three years ago it was where Ben joined Howard and me for the final push.
When we got there this time there five faces too greet us and wish us all the best one last time. Al gave Ben and me a big hug.
This was it – we were now on the last six miles and it was the six miles I know like the back of my hand. When we lived in London – well before I’d heard of this race, I sometimes used to run from Willesden to Little Venice and back on the canal - passing the back of Virgin records where Al worked. This was what was going through my mind as we moved towards the finish. As we passed through Park Royal Ben saw a sign saying “Central Middlesex Hospital” – he had to stop to ring Al and tell her, as that was where both him and Bella were born.
As we ran along me and Ben chatted about 3 years ago – Ben was quite down and said he wished H was with us. I said that he was and he laughed and said I was right.
We passed the back of Willesden Junction station where I used to get the tube into the City every morning and then we passed the Junction Arms pub where I went for a pint after leaving Al in hospital the day Ben was born 18 years ago. All these things reminded me what this race meant to me and I was so glad that I had done this – and more importantly, that Ben was with me.
As we passed Sainsburys at Kensal Rise I told Ben we had about a mile to go, and it started to hit me what we had done. Ben rang Al to tell her where we were and she said that they were all waiting at the finish – she also said that due to the time they had been told to keep the noise down as the people on the houseboats next to the finish were asleep.
Ben told me it was about eight minutes to 1am –should we put a sprint on and finish before one? First I thought yes- then I thought I would enjoy this last mile. I had worked hard for this and I wanted to focus on why. As we approached the finish one of the race crew (I think Sue) came up the path towards us and told us that we were right near the finish, to imagine the cheering, to enjoy the finish – but to keep the noise down.
About 500 yds ahead I could see the lights of the finish line and then I saw Scarlett and Bella coming towards me. That was probably when it finally hit home. I stopped, I gave Ben the biggest hug imaginable, I held hands with Bella and Scarlett and we crossed the finish line together to “quiet” claps and a few mild cheers.
The time was 1:09am – it had taken 43:09!
I stood there glued to the spot – Dick walked over to me, placed my medal round my neck and then put his arms around me – we were both in tears. He shook my shoulders and said some real nice personal things and gave me another hug. I then hugged my dad, mum, Jane, my sisters and Al, in fact anybody who would let me!
It was a very, very emotional 5 minutes.
I couldn’t believe how I felt – all the pain had subsided for now and I felt real warmth inside. I had earlier asked Al to get me some beers ready as I as wanted to have a toast to H. Now was the time – never has a cold lager hit the spot so well. H may not have been there in body – but I am 100% he was there with all of us.
I sat there in a blanket drinking my lager and Dick’s daughter, Harriet, made me a cheese roll. Everybody was so happy and relieved it was over. Ben was telling everybody how he’d ran 15 miles and felt fine – in fact he felt so fine he’d have another lager! My mum was in tears and kept hugging me.
20 mins later Rajeev came bounding over the line and it was time for us to go to our hotel. When I stood up and gave Harriet the blanket it hit me – cold, shivering and feeling faint. They got me to the car, which was parked nearby, and Al drove me, Ben and Bella to the hotel, which was about a mile away from the finish. She had checked in earlier. When we got there, the night porter was on and the door was locked. Ben got me out of the car whilst Al knocked. When the porter opened the door and saw me he must have thought that they had brought their “special” friend out for the night. I was half asleep, shuffling and could hardly mutter “Hello” as I moved into the reception. Al felt she had to tell him what I had done as he was looking at me very strangely.
She took me to our room and stripped me off while Ben ran me a bath – 5 mins later I was soaking in the bath whilst Al went back to pick some of the others up. When she came back she said that she had just seen Dave Baker and three others all finishing together.
I got out of the bath and wrapped a towel round myself; I got a pair of shorts and t-shirt on and sat up in bed, with my medal on. Most of my other medals are lying around the house/garage in various places. This one will have pride of place over all others – forever.
Even though it was now 2am I told Ben I wanted him to go onto the internet on his laptop so I could see all the good luck messages people had sent.
By the time he had opened the lid I was fast asleep – Job Done!
It is a week since I finished the race – the strangest week imaginable.
Why did I feel it necessary to do this run for my brother? I can’t put it into words.
In the same way he wrote songs for people and explaining his emotions I felt that the best way I could show my love for him was to dedicate this race to him.
I achieved what I set out to do and more – I feel a real sense of closure and satisfaction. I also think in doing this it helped us all as a family move one step further up the road of acceptance.
I could not have done this race without Alison and my kids Ben and Bella supporting me through thick and thin. They have accepted my rollercoaster of emotion over the last 8 months and now is the time to give them something back.
My mate Neil watched me struggle and helped get me to the finish in one piece, and Ian and Brett were there to help push me on when I needed it.
My family – mum, dad, Angela, Carol, Jane and Scarlett have all suffered the same loss as me and had to deal with it their own ways. I thank them for supporting me in what many may class as a selfish indulgence or waste of time – especially over the last 3-4-months.
Finally – to the many friends and friends of friends – you may never realised it, but last weekend you were all Running with H too.
We did him proud! Thank you. X