Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race, 130 miles 29/30 August 2015 (aka the wrong shoe size race)

Canal Slam (aka Dickslam, not to be confused with Cockbain events cockslam)

I can’t quite remember how I ended up entering both the Grand Union Canal Race and Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race (both organised by Dick Kearn) in 2015, but I think it was something along the lines of:

  • I wanted to have completed a race over 100 miles before I have a crack at the Hill in December 2015, and I wasn’t confident I’d complete GUCR which is 145 miles ish, so thought LLC would be my ‘back up plan’
  • As I found out more and more about GUCR and the history of the event,  as the date approached for GUCR, it made me want to enter another Canal Race and not to have to wait another full year (and to have gone through a ballot process) for the next Canal Race
  • Stu (my better half) was down to do it
  • I was supposed to be doing T184 that weekend but wasn’t actually looking forward to it (as DNF’d there last year.. which was my only DNF to date) and I wanted a genuine excuse to defer T184 until 2016
  • I’m a twonk and don’t know when too much is too much (as this would then mean 3 ultras in August which is tad excessive)

Liverpool to Leeds Canal

I don’t claim to know much background to the race.. I just know that the first ‘running’ of this race was last year – 2014. It’s along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal which is the longest canal in Britain built as a single waterway, which is about 127 ‘canal miles’ which is going to be about 130 foot miles considering you can’t actually walk along water so have to cross from side to side / along various short road sections where no towpath etc.. The rules and set up are very similar to GUCR (The classic British Ultra). It’s a non profit making, no frills, very well thought out rules and generous cut offs which relies on band of dedicated amazing volunteers both to organise it and to look after the runners on the day. You can do it very cheaply – i.e. £45 if you’ve got your own crew or for just £75 if you want the race organisers to support you by taking your bag from check point to checkpoint and to give you food/drink at checkpoints (including basic hot food at a few locations). The distance between checkpoints can vary from 10 miles to 20+ miles. It’s a ‘non-stop’ race i.e. you get 42 hours to complete it (with cut off times at each check point stage), and you cannot stay still for more than 40 minutes (which I suppose does allow for the odd cat nap if that helps). Dick Kearn is the Race Director but I understand that Wayne Simpson is the person responsible with coming up with the idea for this race so they are both equally to thank for it.

Double Slam

I also am doing the Centurion Grandslam  (4 x 100 mile races) in 2015 so was intrigued as to how I’ll fare doing ‘canal slam’ and centurion slam. I know Ian Thomas did the 6 in 2014 too so I wouldn’t be the first and Peter Johnson is also doing all 6 in 2015 too (along with lots of other races too.. but then again I’m no Peter Johnson 😉 ).. to make it a bit more interesting I’d also got Black Rat (32 mile coastal event) in August so that meant North Downs Way 100 on 8 August, Black Rat on 15 August and then LLC 130 on 29 August… to make matters a bit more complicated, my application to Tooting Bec 24 hour track event in September had been accepted so I was conscious that I would have to seriously concentrate on recovery (aka resting and eating lots of cake) in between all the start lines.

Liverpool

The downside with point to point races (if travelling by train) is that it can work out pricey to travel as often a return train ticket is similar price to a single but if you’re travelling from home to Start and then the Finish to home it’s 2 separate tickets. So we decided to book advanced cheaper tickets travelling up to arrive late afternoon in Liverpool and to leave the finish (Leeds) on the last train back home (i.e. 8pm) which would mean really I’d need to aim for maximum of 37 hours to finish rather than the race allowance of 42 hours as I didn’t want to pay for additional accommodation in Leeds.

We arrive at Liverpool and checked into the great hotel (within 15 mins walk from start). It was enormous converted warehouse with a bathroom that was bigger than my bedroom at home.

Hotel corridor

We just had time to check out the start line before we registered and picked up hoodies/t-shirts back in Central Liverpool.

The startline

At registration we met Dick, signed our lives away and picked up hoodies and t-shirts from Joan who I remembered from GUCR. I could see a few other familiar faces too. We’d planned to eat out in Liverpool – maybe catch up with some people over a drink or two and then head back to hotel but the pub we’d suggested had no spare tables, the food looked a bit suspect too so we ended up walking around for a couple of hours before heading back to our hotel for a pint (which ended up two) and a late night (close to midnight) which wasn’t really advisable seeing as I’d set my alarm for 4.15 in morning on basis that I need caffeine in system before doing anything else.

We trundled to start and dropped off our bags. There was only 36 of us who started the race. I’d known it would be small but was expecting a few more. Small is nice though and there were quite a few familiar faces from other races – Peter Foxhall, Liz Tunna, Peter Johnson (who turns up everywhere), Sharon Bollister, Anne Green, Glyn Ryman and Ian Thomas etc.

It was good to put a face to a name in Keith Godden (who’s going to be organising GUCR in future), and who runs Ultra Marathon Running Store.. (I think my credit card company think he’s blackmailing me from amount I seem to spend there ;-))

Dick gave a quick brief at the start of the race and then we were off… at our respective paces along the canal.

The navigation on this one wasn’t as hard as I’d expected. I’m rubbish at navigating as my eyesight is poor but the maps that Dick provided were great and in honestly I was able to just make notes from the maps and follow my notes and didn’t actually need to get the maps out. Other than in about 5 places, it’s pretty obvious where to go and I reckon I only added 2% bonus miles in total on top if that.

Volunteers

The volunteers were amazing (as always). I always forget some of the names so sincerest apologies but a very special thank you from me to all volunteers including  Gill, Keith, Joan, Ian, Fiona, Jon, Jess, Pete, Sue, John (and loads more whose names I’ve forgotten.. so sorry) and Louise Ayling (a fellow Centurion Slammer). Louise saved my race when blistering on sole of feet reduced me to a bare 23-25 min mile crawl for 10 miles between mile 75-85 as she helped reduce one of my blisters so I could at least carry on hobbling at 18-20 min miling and hence finish in time.

At each checkpoint – for those of us supported by the race (rather than our own crew) – they would help refill bottles, offer drinks (hot or cold), have an array of snacks and bring your bag to a chair so you didn’t need to bend down too much. I also noticed they’d take note of how you were too and later in race e.g. when they knew it might be dark before next checkpoint they’d remind you to take your head torch / warmer clothes / coat etc.. Volunteers were also helping those whose race had to end prematurely unfortunately. I think there were about 15 who had to drop out before the end for various reasons which is always sad to see. I was sad to see Sharon Bollister (who had been leading lady at the start) drop a few checkpoints in due to injury but was amazed to see she then joined the ranks of the volunteers and enjoyed the race that way.

The race and managing severe foot pain

After about 40 miles this whole race became a matter of managing foot pain which got worse and worse during the course of the event. Basically I had the wrong size shoes on. I was wearing Hokas but I think I normally get at least a size or size and a half bigger than my usual size when buying Hokas.. I’d one a pair of shoes which I’d swapped for Hokas at the Energia 100K and I’d tried them out the weekend before this race and realised they were on the snug side so then had decided to invest in a new (bigger) pair.. so I’d ordered these but hadn’t actually checked the size that I thought were too small… when the new ones arrived, Stu said ‘these are the same size as your other ones..’ I said they can’t be etc… then checked and saw they were. Fuxleysticks! I did what any sensible person would do and shrugged my shoulders and just decided to see if I could find my shoe stretcher thingamejig.. I couldn’t but managed to get one in Timpson on the Thursday before we were travelling to Liverpool. I put it in one of the shoes (the one where I have a slight bigger foot) and just hoped it would do..

It didn’t ‘do’. 25 miles in my feet were in agony – they felt like they were being squeezed in a vice and bruises seemed to be forming on the sides.. I could feel that my feet were being ‘scrunched up’ which hurt every step and it also felt that blisters were starting on soles of feet.. this went on and got worse…

By about mile 68 (CP5) I think I decided to put my road shoes on (which were in my drop bag) and I wore those to the next checkpoint. I couldn’t bear these either as I’d already got damage on soles of feet and all the stoney rooted paths were agony so I squeezed my Hokas back on at the next cpoint at mile 83. The pain got worse and worse.. On the night section I’d been running along near Peter Foxhall and Andy Hicks but my hobbling got slower and slower and I’d had to fall back and just trundle along on my own. I knew I was lead lady at around cp5 but I was losing time and the lovely Anne Green went past me and had a chat as I grumped and grumbled about how rubbish my feet felt.,..

By mile 94 my speed had dropped so much that I was really worried about finishing in time.. in reality I was doing find but at the time it felt that I was getting so slow I’d never finish. I thought that one of the pain areas of sole of foot was a newly bubble blister so asked at the cpoint if anyone could help me with it. Poor Louise got the short straw and she was able to reduce some of the pressure by popping something and letting some of the puss out. I still wasn’t sure if I could get a good enough walk speed up to finish in time for the train but I wasn’t ready to give up without giving it a go. It was starting to get light too which was good so I turned my head torch off and hobbled on. I’d said the volunteers at the checkpoint that it was likely I’d just hobble a mile or 2 and have to give up and come back. Joan said to just find a bridge number and give them a call if that was the case and they’d come and get me so I hobbled on.. and hobbled on and realised I was walking fast enough to be able to comfortably finish in time for train (with leeway for beer and pizza first too). When I say ‘comfortably’ I was referring to time only as each step was getting more and more agony. I could feel the pressure across the whole surface of each foot getting worse and worse. I knew that if I took my Hokas off again before the end of the race there was no way they’d get back on.. The pain got worse and worse. It was a good 20+ miles to the next cp which was CP8. I’d got a text from Stu saying he’d finished in 4th in 25 something hours. I was so happy for him (though he’d hoped for a slightly faster time / higher position as he sets himself very tough goals). He did amazingly well though as had not properly recovered from recent 24 hour track event.  I was really struggling to keep sane with the every increasing pain in my feet and I came very very very close to just chucking in the towel and calling it quits just so I could stop and take my shoes off and take the weight off my exploding feet. I’d not felt pain like it and every step cause more and more pain. It wasn’t too bad on the smooth concrete bits, but as soon as there was any camber / bumpiness or stones, it was agony as I’d put more pressure on certain areas rather than equally trying to spread the weight/pressure across the foot.

I was really glad I had sunglasses as was really trying (and failing) not to cry at places. At one point I felt I had to quit and text’d Stu to say every step was agony and it was getting worse and worse and I needed to stop – I then promptly turned both phones off….. It was good to get it off my chest. That’s what I felt at the time. Once I accepted that was how I felt, I was able to then deal with the fact that although that’s how I felt, I also knew there was no way I could just give in when there was so much time on my side.. I was hours ahead of cut offs and although was in agony, I could still walk at a semi decent pace. I knew that loads of volunteers had given up hours of their time to support me and other runners get to the end.. How bad would I feel if I just quit because my foot hurt rather than because there was no way I could finish on time.. I’d already gone through 20+ hours of pain, what was another 10+ hours.. just keep going.

At CP8 I went in and out as quick as possible before I changed my mind on the ‘don’t quit’ choice.. Joan was there and said she’d heard from Gill that I wouldn’t quit if I could still continue so she’d said she’d not really expected me to call for a lift at a bridge. I didn’t want to mention that I’d nearly decided to throw in the towel 10 miles or so ago.. Anyway there was just 14 miles to go. I was told I was in 11th position, and still 2nd lady at the time. I knew though that there was no way I could run on my feet with the pain and pressure on them so I’d just had to walk as best I could..

It was a long long 14 miles. The pain didn’t ease off, it got worse but I knew I just needed to keep going. I tried working out what sort of time I’d finish in.. 33 something seemed ‘ok’ in my head so that’s what I’d aim for.. …

The miles or even .1 of miles seemed to pass very slowly. I was also coughing and wheezing quite a bit and my tongue was a bit swollen too (must be a canal thing as it had done the same at GUCR), but eventually I was down to single figures miles left. About 3 miles from the end Andy Ives overtook me and stopped for a quick chat before running on past. Next to pass was Peter Johnson.. I’d been playing trail leap frog with him earlier so wasn’t surprised to see he’d caught me up…. it was only a couple of miles or less to go. Peter could see I was in foot pain too and I think I had to pull my sunglasses on again as was struggling to hold back tears at this point from the sheet agony. I knew I couldn’t exactly decide to quite a couple of miles from the finish either so I was stuck in this lilttle hell of my own making… Eventually I knew I was only a mile or so away so had text Stu to come and meet me to bring me in the last mile. It was ace seeing him again despite me still being in so much pain. We’d originally agreed to have our own race of ‘who can go the fastest just on the last mile’.. but when he reminded him of this I just told him to Eff right off.. I could barely put each foot down without screaming and there was no way I was going to run. Turns out he’d done the last mile faster than my parkrun pace so glad I didn’t even try ;-). I could see the finish tent at last and the finish line that Dick was holding up so I hobbled up to it and collected my medal :-).

 It’s a shame I was in too much pain to really appreciate the finish line experience. Gill had offered to take a picture of Stu and I but I was just grimacing in agony trying to stand and just flopped into a chair, grabbed some scissors and cut the laces off my shoes so I could take my feet out…

I did start to feel a bit better after a while. I’d finished in 33hrs 30 and was 13th overall and 2nd lady despite all the walking, hobbling and the pain. We had over 4 hours until our train so I went off the a gym where I’d booked a free day pass to shower and change… then took an hour to hobble down some steps for pizza and beer before hobbling to train station for journey home. It was nice to see Ian Thomas (Gill’s other half) had done so well too as he’d come second. He’d missed out on GUCR this year so I was glad this had gone so well for him.

If you want to see a short video of me vs. the flight of stairs on way to get beer and pizza, then Stu took it here Roz vs. steps

It’s now a few days later and my feet are still agony. I can’t walk barefoot and standing hurts. It will pass though and I know that I did the right thing in finishing rather than quitting. There are so many times where ultra runner friends of mine have had to DNF at a race for genuine reasons eg such severe injury or illness that they’re reduced to actual crawling and missing cut off times, and they’d have done anything to have been able to finish, I knew it would be wrong for me to just decide to quit over painful feet. Ultra running hurts at times, we all know that.. there are risks and things can and do go wrong. Yes I’m suffering now but I think my feet would still be painful and bad even if I had quit at mile 80, 90, 100 or 110 etc. and at least this way I’ve got another bit of shiny race bling to go add to the collection. :-).

Despite the foot pain, I loved the race. I’d do it again in a shot – though next time I’ll learn the correct Hoka shoe size that I need ;-).

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