Feelings of failure



Warning contains several descriptions of bodily fluids. right from the start. and smells. it's not nice. You probably don't want to keep reading if you're put off with that sort of detail, or if you're eating. oh there's also a little swearing. and some crying.

Disclaimer 2: see note at end re blog title.


I'm supposed to be fit. Running is supposed to be good for you. Healthy, active, out-doorsy.

I'm lying in bed on Sunday evening feeling waves of nausea wash over me. Earlier I burst into tears staring into a bowl of pasta.
Really not feeling great to be honest. I've taken a load of expectorant, and some cold-flu tablets, and I'm sucking a "medicated throat lozenge" that tastes like, well, like something very 'hospitaly'.
I'm sucking the lozenge to try to stop the dry cough that's ripping apart the back of my throat, and making me cough up phlegm. I'm taking the flu tablets to try to clear my sinuses and I'm taking the expectorant to try to help the fact that I seem to also have a deep chesty cough.

I'm too hot now, a moment ago I was too cold.

Oh and I've just broken wind, the smell is like nothing I've experienced before. I actually have difficulty breathing it really is that bad, even with the blocked nose, throat & cold, the stench is spectacular. I decide it's wise to relocate to the spare room.

Normally this wouldn't be difficult, however, tonight I have to lift my legs out of the bed with my hands, slowly and gently rolling my weight forwards onto my feet and steadily pulling myself upright trying not to make any unexpected shrieking noises and hoping that neither leg folds up under me once I'm committed to the manoeuvrer. Then the steady shuffle out of the door, rotate to reverse up the two steps, bracing myself with the walls in the corridor and shuffle off into the other room.

Now I'm too cold. (its 24 degrees). and after a few hours trying to find a suitable position - lying on either side causes acid reflux, on my back I feel sick, on my front I get a crick in my neck or suffocate. I'm thinking suffocating and drifting off into oblivion wouldn't be all that bad really - but then I remember that I've still got to post my canal water key back to Keith. Oh and my legs are burning, and my feet throb.

Finally the nausea suddenly builds to Defcon1 and I briskly relocate to the toilet, with the sore throat the experience is thoroughly unpleasant. I consider just curling up on the tiles for the night, but after hoisting myself upright and returning to bed I can lie and contemplate what sequence of events has resulted in this situation.

James Adams. It's all James Adams' fault.

I read his blog, then I read his book. He seemed like a nice chap.

He talked about a race called the GUCR - The Grand Union Canal Race - 145 miles from Birmingham to London down the canal. Simple. Flat(ish). I read every other blog I could on the race, watched the YouTube videos and was bewitched. Such a beautifully simple concept, the sheer audacity and brutality of the idea.
I'd already got the Centurion Grandslam planned for the year, but I still put my name down for the GUCR ballot. I assumed that I'd not get a place this year and I'd have to apply for a few years to get in. I got a place. Ah.
Better tell the wife what we're going to be doing for the 2nd May bank holiday - the the 1st already being booked already for the TP100. :)

I watched Mark Thornberry's inspirational progress the year before (he was unable to take part in the May race and organised his multi-day 'fun run' in Autumn. Helping out at the NDW50 I met Pete who has done the race 15 times.
The race terrified me, I was pretty sure I could get fit enough, I thought I now had the necessary stubbornness to see through something like this. I did a full recce of the route. I had a three week gap from the Centurion TP100 to the GUCR.

I completed the TP100 on the 5th May, struggled a bit with unexpected conditions (hottest weekend of year - got wet feet!) causing painful blisters, but had now got my first sub 24h 100 in the bag and it was a real confidence boost having been able to adapt to the situation when needed to work to around any issues or discomforts and grind out the miles.
Recovering for a few days (I seem to be able to bounce back from events really quickly) and then back into some gentle training.... only to come down with a rather nasty cold (I blame child no. 2).
Brilliant, but never mind, there's a three week gap between TP100 and GUCR that should be enough to clear a cold as long as I'm sensible.
Through the week it clears, (Oliver seemed to get over his in 24 hours 😞 ) but then it returns with a vengeance, I don't know if it was bad luck and hadn't cleared up completely or just a coincidence and I just caught a different strain. This time I blame public transport - since I was recovering I had decided to use the trains rather than running or cycling to work.
The weekend before the GUCR is a complete wipe-out for me, full of head cold which triggers a migraine, it takes several days before this clears, and then I'm spending the week with a hacking chesty cough.

I spend the week dosing myself with cough medicine and decongestants, I'm keeping a close eye on the weather forecast and hoping for a warm dry day similar to the previous few weekends, praying that if it's sunny and hot I'll be able to clear the lungs as I go, the forecasts are looking promising until the few days before when it all starts to get a bit vague.

Gas Street Basin and *the bridge*
Still excited and terrified, I pack and travel up to Birmingham New St on Friday afternoon briefly getting lost trying to get from the station to Gas St Basin, oops. I'm booked into a premier inn just a few hundred metres away from the start line. With a nice early night planned I settle down...
and am wide awake at 11:00, 12:00, the mucus makes me sick, 01:30, 02:00, 04:00.. I decide to set the snooze and doze a little longer until 05:00.

Wet wet wet

Oh well. I open the curtains to see a low wet mist hanging, just the last thing my lungs need. Out and off to the start at Gas St Basin.
There's a dead rat lying on the path just as I walk from the hotel, I'm not sure if that's a good omen or not. I cross the bridge to the start and see a family of geese with their fluffy goslings, OK well that has to be a good sign.... just then I discover the gate on the opposite side of the basin is locked and I have to retrace my steps and walk around the long way instead.

On the road alongside the basin I'm greeted by the familiar early morning sight of ultra runners huddled in a mixture of bright colours and compression socks. A perfectly normal 5:30am scene.
I notice Mark and Rumbles but I'm now too nervous and really don't want to see or speak to anyone. I really should have said hello.
I position myself in the back half of the pack and after very brief introductions and thanks from Dick we're all underway with a suitably understated countdown.

Start. Gas St. Basin. 6am

I settle into a 10-10:30 minute mile pace, but am surprised there are a few runners surging past at this stage and one or two who seem to need to push past, not entirely sure what the urgency is at this point - there's a very long day ahead.
Immediately the cold wet mist is aggravating my breathing and I'm coughing as we go still hoping the weather is going to start to dry out.

I'm running the first half un-crewed (I've arranged with Keith to switch over to unsupported at Navigation Inn) so it's 11 miles to the first stop.
The first 6 miles are all new, this is the only section I didn't bother to recce - after all I'll have a crowd of runners to follow at this point.
As expected there's nothing much to report at this stage, nothing should be going wrong yet. :) I chat to a handful of other runners and sip my water.
I bump into Phil for the first time at about 7 miles for a random chat about nothing.
10 miles... hmm an abandoned bike. That seems like a much more sensible way to travel.

8am. Checkpoint 1. Catherine De Barnes (10.7 miles)

First checkpoint is nice and low-key I'm not hungry and not planning on having much to eat before lunchtime so just top the water and have a few biscuits.
13 miles decide it's just a little too cool and break out the base layer.
Totally alone now, for the first time can't see anyone in front or behind so decide to fire up an audio book... "The Time Travellers Wife"
The first rain storm comes over at about 17 miles, the most annoying matter is that this causes all of the hedges and bushes to droop down to Ivor head height and I'm constantly stooping or swerving to miss them.
Just before checkpoint 2 we have a fallen tree to negotiate, I see the runner in front sort of weaving through the middle, I attempt a full scale. Which is pretty successful if slightly precarious as this is quite a young springy tree and my weight is bending it right down. I imagine something snapping and launching me arcing through the air into the canal.

10am. Checkpoint 2. Hatton Locks (22.5 miles)
Happy! (*)

For some reason I still haven't needed to relieve myself yet, this is unusual. I'm sure I'm taking in a steady amount of fluids but I decide to increase my intake slightly. As a result I run out of water before getting to the Hatton Locks Checkpoint. Still not hungry so just graze a little again and pocket a pack of pepperami.
I meet a runner, Max, who's just fallen in the canal! Although he looks surprisingly upbeat and positive, I'm amazed anyone can be so cheerful after that.

I bump into him again a little later on, although I can't quite recall how this happens since I'm sure I left CP2 before he did and ran steadily, but anyway, I had a quick chat with him about Weill's disease (teenage canoeing experience), and tell him I can leave him a pair of dry socks at the next CP if he wants any, but he says he's fine and I run on.

Then a moment later I remember I actually just put a pair in my backpack at the checkpoint, so I run back and offer him those, but he insists that he has a kit change all lined up and he really is OK so I keep my socks and head on again. As it happens he shouts that my backpack is flapping open and zips it back up for me.

10:30am - 25 miles.

Welcome to Warwick. It has cooled again, and the jacket goes back on to protect from the wind.

11:30am - 30 miles

The legs are feeling a bit heavy, I decide I'll drop in a few short walk breaks after the next checkpoint. I get unreasonably wound up by having to weave through a group of supporters wearing yellow tops who are too busy taking selfies to see me coming, and don't even move out of the way.

A little later there's a large angry swan right in the middle of the path with a full brood of cygnets, I briefly appreciate the cuteness, but then remember I need to pass and the swan has other ideas with its neck at full extension and hissing. I attempt to look harmless and start sneaking past, right along the canal edge. I realise it would have been a smarter option to pass on the other side and that if the swan decides to go for me I'm going in the water.

1pm - Checkpoint 3. Birdingbury Bridge (35.9 miles);

I have no recollection of what I was doing or thinking in this section!

2pm - 39 miles

It's getting *really* hot now, I watch a hawk hunting in the field alongside for a mile or so.
I regret downing three cups of coke at the last CP, with a bit of stitch and lots of burping, although I'm enjoying the finger of fudge I'd picked up and popped in my pocket - haven't had one of these for yeaaars. lovely.

At some point I bump into Keith (legend) and Cat Simpson (course record holder), who are out supporting. It's great to see a familiar face and I comment that I'm having trouble finding water at the moment. Keith offers me the water he's carrying and we top up my bottles.

3pm - 46 miles

I bump into Apryl and we have a lovely chat about kids, running and *stuff* rambling on for miles. We pass a cafe - on my own I would have gone in for an ice cream. Neither of us says anything, then Apryl says, "I almost said why don't we get an ice-cream", I admit I had been thinking exactly the same. But just then we pass a chap who says there's refreshments outside the next pub, so we decide not to turn back but press on....
...to be sorely disappointed there was nothing at the pub. :( we swear a little.

Really not helped by then bumping into Phil and Georgina, who are both slurping away on Calippo's looking very smug... We're determined to find our own. Thankfully a little later we spot an icecream sign outside a small tucked away store and we swoop in.
Amazing, all ultra's should incorporate a Callipo at some point.

We regroup and together we run as a little group up and over the Braunston tunnel, again another stretch I'm really glad I recced since it's a long confusing (well slightly) stretch away from the water.

4pm - 50 miles 

Something is definitely going wrong, I've now got a desperate urge to relieve myself... but when I try about a teaspoon full comes out, it feels like acid and looks like syrup.

what. the. hell.

and. argh. it takes about three miles for the pain to ease off and I feel OK with gentle running again, but as soon as I run again the urge to go is back.
I decide to try carefully taking a few painkillers and to increase the fluids a lot more to try to get things flushing though. A couple of paracetamol seem to ease the pain....
but each time I go again, the quantity is tiny, feels like acid and looks like gravy,
and again I suffer for the next three miles or so. This really isn't ideal.

5pm Checkpoint 4. The Heart of England (54ish miles)
Looking less happy (*)

I'm wondering about the distances on the map and their accuracy since I'd been waiting for this checkpoint for a while, the watch GPS is usually fairly accurate and doesn't drift by a huge amount. I'm pondering if the distance along the canal has been measured down the centre.

6pm - 59 miles

looking up ahead I completely miss seeing a huge hole and down the foot goes completely soaking my shoe and sock. 😞 crapsticks.

7pm - 62 miles

It's the long road excursion over the Blissworth tunnel, no incidents on this one (I nearly got knocked down on my recce).

20:45* Checkpoint 5. Navigation Bridge (70.5 miles) 

(*accurate times now I have crew telling me them!)

Team Hewitt
Drinking huge amounts now, trying to take on extra salty food and I've just eaten a whole packet of Pepperami, I walk into navigation holding my crotch. I'm getting a bit miserable now, but it's great at last to see team Hewitt in the support truck. I try taking a few Ibuprofen, I moan about my problems and get a change of clothes.


Love this. Wish I'd taken a better picture.

22:25 - 75.8 miles

Time for a hot cup of tea from the truck.

23:27 - 80 miles. Somewhere south of Milton Keynes.

Cara reports that it's a really lovely area. or something like that.
Mostly walking now with the odd little jog, not only that but I'm starting to fall asleep, and I'm weaving a little. On the plus side I do seem to be able to pee a bit more now and the burning is easing.
A few more Ibuprofen, lots of salt. I moan that I'm fed up, walking, hope it'll ease off.

00:26 - Checkpoint 6. Bridge 99 (84.5 miles)

Lightning has been going off for a while now, at first I just can't understand what's going on since there's no rain and no sound of thunder, just flashes behind the trees and hedges lighting up the sky. I try to work out if it's fireworks, then wonder if it's a large concert somewhere.
Then there's the sound of thunder, and a few spots of rain. Ah. OK thunderstorm.
and it just goes on. and on. and on.
The lightshow in the sky is just stunning, experiencing this out in the open is just amazing, and hard to believe, but really enjoyable.

Into the checkpoint and meet the team, I say I feel like something hot to eat, so rather than waiting we agree to meet again in a few more miles.

01:30 - 87 miles. Mobile truck checkpoint.

The heavens have properly opened up now. The rain is gushing. We have had a months rain in an hour.
Rats are fleeing. Men are building large wooden boats. I inhale a bowl of pasta and mug of coffee. Just a short stretch now, but it's slow.
and I'm falling asleep.

02:45. A Large Tesco car-park somewhere. 90 miles

It's crew point again, here Hugo is going to join me for the next 10 miles to the Grand Junction Arms. I ask if I can sit down. I ask if I can go to sleep for a moment.

Getting a bit vague.

It's a joy to have company now, albeit somewhat unreliable when it comes to GPS reporting... have we done a mile yet? er. "probably" what? "er, the GPS is being a bit random." OK can you make sure to give me a little snack every mile, OK.... how far is it? "er, about 2.3 miles, I think".
Sigh. Can I have a biscuit?
Acid reflux is causing trouble now, but we filled up one of my water bottles with chocolate milk at the truck and I keep sipping as we go.

I try to chat but I'm not in any suitable state to say anything sensible really. I vaguely recall giving him *lots* of hugs, I'm sure he loved it.
At 5 miles I decide I need to take drastic action and find a sheltered bridge, I ask Hugo to wake me up in 10 minutes, I curl up into a ball and fall fast asleep dreaming peacefully.
I'm nudged awake, and sit up slightly dazed. but feeling better. until i remember where i am and what i need to do now.

I stand up and slam my head into the bridge, oh great what a start. I moan at Hugo about it, but really it's not his fault.
The quick power-nap seems to have done the trick and I'm able to move in a straight(ish) line again. I feel refreshed but now I'm having an argument with my quads, I can feel them wobbling unreliably as I put my weight onto them.

5 more miles to Grand Junction arms and it's starting to get light now,
I start to run through the physical and mental checklist to decide what my options are.
I've now decided that something has gone terribly wrong.
I keep recalling James Adams words though, you do not want to DNF, you do not want to have to do this again....
I conclude that he's an idiot and doesn't know what he's talking about. :)

1 mile to grand junction. I decide. I've had enough. I've failed. I'm not going to get to Little Venice today.
I don't want to try crawling for 45 miles.
I don't know if it's mental or physical but I can feel myself weaving more as I see the pub and I close in to the checkpoint.

06:00 - Checkpoint 7. The Grand Junction Arms (99.8 miles) (rubbish it's at least 101)

The sun is shining, it's the next day.

I can't get up the steps/slope. seriously? A checkpoint up a cliff? Whose fucking idea was that?

I'm helped up to a chair by Cara and a marshal, and flump down.

I drink, I eat. I cry. I want to go home.

Feet poking out. Otherwise, totally gone.

Mark finished. Allan finished. Apryl finished. Georgina finished. Phil finished.
It makes me so happy knowing this and I'm absolutely overjoyed that they all made it (even Phil, who talks way too much).


Hugo was awesome and looked after me in a bad patch. He is an amazing runner, and can't wait to be able to run his first ultra. I just regret I wasn't able to run with him for more sections (as planned).


Time to recover physically and mentally now. I've never felt this bad after a race before. I was completely in pieces over the weekend.
It's Tuesday - and I'm starting to feel OK, and started writing this report.
Wednesday - just managed to watch the videos Cara took without welling up.
Thursday - OK. I think I've got my shit together and I feel properly OK. Perhaps I'll get out on the bike at the weekend.


I had taken a rented Spot3 tracker for this excursion hoping that friends and family would be able to track as I went, and would give Cara a heads up when I was near to her.

As it turned it it was completely useless, with very patchy updates and no trail marking. I ended up turning on my trusted phone tracking app.
Not sure if this was simply that the rental company had configured it really badly, or the limitation of the pretty poor spot website. I saw other runners with either RaceDrone trackers or OpenTracker units, I'll definitely use one of these instead in future (I've just had to clarify for Cara that by "future" I mean a run, and not the GUCR).


I spent ages trying to decide what to call this blog. I was initially going to just say "GUCR report", but I had used the word "failure" on my Strava upload and got several comments that no run of this length could be considered a failure. Hence the title "feelings of failure".

The problem is I have been utterly devastated this week - I've never been in a state like this before, after any other race or event (ok perhaps I was a bit after the birth of my sons!).
I actually sent Cara a message this morning that I "haven't cried today - go me". It is Thursday and I've been having trouble keeping "my shit together" all week. I was doing fine, until I tried to write this final paragraph (I've been writing this blog since Tuesday).

So. The fundamental issue is a deep underlying feeling of failure that is hard to wave away just by saying "but that's 100 miles that's awesome". This event had been so long in the diary and I had been terrified of it for so long, I thought I was ready, at no point until 98 miles did I think or have any intention whatsoever of not finishing.
No doubt over a few more days I'll start to get a handle on things properly.

They'd bloody better. I've got the SDW100 next week.

(*decent pictures of me courtesy of Ross Langton!)

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