A Story of Britain’s Longest Non-Stop Running Race

Me and my running man

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a frenzy of activity over the Jubilee weekend.  If you’re wondering what #gucr2012 or what the checkpoints were all about, let me tell you a story.  Are you sitting comfortably?

In November last year, my husband (James) told me that he was entering an ultra marathon.  To many, this is a big thing.  To me, this has become a regular occurrance, so I didn’t really bat an eyelid.  However, when he told me that:

a) He was running 145 miles

b) It was along the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham to London

c) It was NON-STOP

I have to say I was a little more concerned than usual!  Still, he’s not a man to sit on his backside and do nothing and I know how passionate he is about running, so I gave him my full support.

The race organiser only allows 100 people to take part.  There are no bells and whistles, no big welcoming committee and no publicity.  Still, a lot of people enter and the lucky few are die hard runners looking for the ultimate challenge.  So, the weekend went a little like this.

The Prep

He’d done a few races already this year and some long training runs.  A couple of weeks before he did a run from Telford to the other side of Church Stretton to stretch his legs (ahem).

James, my Dad and my father in law went to Birmingham the night before with a welfare van.  This van has a fridge, a toilet and storage for all of the food, as well as 6 seats. It was to house not just food, but first aid equipment (my Dad is a Community First Responder), a truckers map with clearly marked canal bridges, spare running shoes, socks and other clothing and various energy drinks to keep him going.

The Race

The race started at 6am on Saturday 2nd June at Gas Street Basin.  He started well and

10 hours and about 50 miles in, he's looking good

made good time, running with the eventual winner for the first 11 miles until she strode ahead.  2 hours in he was interviewed live on BBC Radio Shropshire whilst running, as he was also raising money for Severn Hospice.

I tweeted progress throughout the day using the #gucr2012 hashtag.  This involved posting photos, meeting point times and progress on the fundraising.  My Dad had devised a spreadsheet with a target time of 36 hours and had worked out estimated times for each checkpoint.  That way we could see how he was doing and they could manage his speed.  The other reason for this was that I was travelling to London to see him finish at Little Venice on the Sunday afternoon!

Spot the Chow Mein, cup of sweet tea and very red eyes!

Through the day he did well.  He was in 25th place and keeping a steady pace that would make up for any inevitable time lost.  However, the rain started in the evening, making conditions very difficult.  He was strong and got through it with the help of a Chinese takeaway and a dose of Pro Plus!  Also, without the encouragement and focus of our Dads, he may have done the same as over 50 other competitors and retired.  But he didn’t.

The Home Straight

After passing through Rugby, Milton Keynes, Leighton Buzzard and alongside the M1 towards London, James was in 10th place and although feeling tired, was starting to see the end in sight.  By 10:30am I was on the train with my Mum and our friends plus their boys.  He had no idea and I was very excited, telling the couple opposite about why we were on our way to the capital (and not to see the Queen!)

I had word that he was on target for a 3/4pm finish, which was spot on.  All the time I was tweeting and Facebooking progress and donations were coming in fast.  The winner had finished at 10am in a time of 28:01. Incredible.

The Finish

We got to the finish for 2:30pm and saw finisher number 7 come in.  It was a modest finishing line, but I was pleased that there were public toilets, chairs and somewhere with coffee nearby!  Shortly after, the Dads arrived looking weary, but very excited, adding another 2 people to the now 8-strong welcoming committee. 4 times the size James was expecting!

At 3:20pm we reached the target of £1000 in online donations.  Watching and waiting

Tired, emotional and proud in equal measure

patiently, at 4pm he came into view.  He was running (still!) with 2 other men and looking tired.  I screamed “come on darling!” and eventually he worked out it was me and sped up to a strong finish.

At 4:01pm and in a time of 34 hours 1 minute, my amazing husband crossed the line.  It’s got to have been the biggest hug either of us have had and we were both really emotional.  He had come 10th in the longest non-stop running race in Britain and I couldn’t have been prouder.

The After Effects

After a drive out of London in the cramped welfare van, we stopped at some services, where I had to support him as he hobbled inside to have a Burger King!  We talked most of the way back and he was in pretty good shape considering what he had just done.

Over the next week, he suffered with the following:

  • Painful knees
  • Large deep blisters across the balls of his feet and more on his toes
  • Swollen ankles
  • Hot and cold feelings

However, after a week off work and a couple of days away, he was back at work on Monday and feeling fine.

The Future

He’s said he won’t do another race as big as this again.  I’m not sure if I believe him!  He

An epic medal for an epic achievement

says he’s proved his point and will carry on doing ultra marathons and keep up his obsession with running.

As things stand, we have raised around £1400 for Severn Hospice.  If you’d like to push the total higher, you can donate on Just Giving.

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4 Responses to A Story of Britain’s Longest Non-Stop Running Race

  1. Ruth Jarvis says:

    I have been in tears sat reading this Claire. James is amazing and inspirational – as are you as his support. Congratulations to you both and lots of love x

    • Claire says:

      Thanks Ruth. Believe me, there were tears all round (including my Dad!) When it pops into my head 3 weeks later, it stills astounds me! Now that his feet have healed, he’s off to do the Welsh Trail Marathon on Saturday. A comparative walk in the park! :)

  2. Carol Webb says:

    Wonderful account of an amazing achievement. I am very proud of you both and it brought a tear to my eye again, just as it did when I heard James had reached the finish line. A great medal extremely well deserved.

    • Claire says:

      Thanks so much. I feel extremely proud of him too and wish I had an amazing talent like that! It was certainly about mind over matter. For your legs to run that far, your brain has got to tell them and you’ve got to really want them to! Lots of love x