Race report : IGUN Summer Canal Canter

A year of planning. A year of training and here I was stood with Sean ready to support him as he undertook his first Ultra and perhaps his biggest challenge to date. A year ago Sean and I were discussing what challenge he could undertake in 2019 and I planted the seed of an ultra. There were requirements for the race though. A run that was flat [ish] so no major hills to climb and the surface had to be solid, and by that I mean not mud or grass or fell. Sean also wanted a distance of around 50km. After extensive searching we found an It's Grim up North event the canal canter. That was it the race was booked, the date set and the training began.

Now I will admit I am not a fan of canals. I mean they are pretty enough to walk down for a short walk but when you've raced many ultras along them they become repetitive and rather monotonous. In fact running an ultra along them becomes a real mental strength test. At the same time they are also really peaceful and you kind of know what to expect so I guess there are plus points. 

Sean had opted for the earlier start and so we set off our race as soon as registration had opened and a good hour before the other runners. It was a little strange starting before everyone else, yet at the same time was really relaxed and peaceful. It felt like a training run than a race and Sean and I headed the 5km down the canal towards Leeds.

This first stretch was really nice and relaxed. Not much in terms of undulation just the odd lock to contend with. We passed the museum and watched someone scale the wall to promptly here the crash and twigs snapped as they fell over the other side. Rather amusing as about 10m down the path was an actual turn off and so we wondered why said effort was put into scaling the wall.

We completed the first 5km at target pace and made our way back up to the start line. The main race was about to start as we approached the start line and the cheering and encouragement from those waiting gave us a boost. We now had an 11 mile out and back to complete. 

This section of the route was harder than the first. The scenery changed from City canal to more rural. We passed trains, cows and fields. Lots of fantastic tea rooms dotted along the canal banks and slowly made our way into a town.

This canal run felt different to the others some how. Perhaps it was because my focus here was on Sean and the pace and not my own race. Perhaps it was the differing scenery, who knows but whatever it was I was enjoying running along a canal.

The turnaround came and we started the run/walk back to the start line. I could tell Sean was really starting to feel it at this point. I was trying to take his mind of it by counting the other runners and working out who was running which race. We began joking that we could trip up the other ultra runners into the canal and then it would only be the two of us in the race. Well, I was joking anyways!

It was quite nice though seeing other runners and having a chat with them, it broke up the race and took focus else where. The weather was beginning to turn and it started to get colder and the rain began to fall. 

We passed the start line after already covering over a marathon distance and with the rain starting the final 10km [5km out and 5km back as we had done earlier] really wasn't appealing. We were asked to stop as we had exceeded the cut off time but I couldn't let that happen and so made a promise to stay in touch as we completed the final 10km. We were off back on that same 5km section again.

It was much harder this time round. The pouring rain really didn't help. I think we all just wanted it to end. We continued though, second guessing when the turn around would come until eventually it was time to turn back. A final 5km to go and we would be at the finish. Those last 5km were really tough but Sean dug deep and got it finished, despite wanting to call an Uber. The goal was to finish within 10hours and 30 minutes and we finished in 10 hours and 21 minutes. Perfect pacing and I could not be prouder. 

After a short walk back to the car there was only one way to celebrate our achievements! 

I think one day I would like to go back and run the race again, despite it running along a canal I actually really enjoyed it. I am unbelievably proud of Sean and his achievement of running an ultra and cannot wait to see what his challenge is next year. I also want to say a massive thank you to the IGUN team for all their support!

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