Joint 3rd place and a run that went pretty much to my best hopes, and Canalathon 50k turned out to be one of my best races in a long time.
- What? Canalathon 50k
- When? 26th March 2017
- How far? 50km
- Where? Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, UK
- Website: cannonballevents.co.uk/canalathon/
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/915434371
|A||Finish in the top 3||Yes|
|11||8:18 (CP 1)|
|21||8:55 (CP 2)|
|27||8:33 (CP 3)|
I felt confident going into this race that I could set a solid target for time and average pace and have a shot (based on previous results) of grabbing a spot on the podium as I’ve been putting in the long runs each week in prep for London Marathon. Combined with my 2:43 Grizzly race two weeks ago and the fact that I’ve got several quality long runs done I felt I might be able to go sub 3:45 for 50k and not completely break myself with only 4 weeks remaining for my main goal race.
Having done a few 20 milers recently at somewhere around 7:00/mile pace I figured I’d be able to slow that down a bit and go through marathon distance and then cling on as the race while not entirely flat – canal locks care horrible little short, sharp climbs!
The event has 3 options (50, 75 & 100km) which all finish at the same location but for us on the 50k we had an hour bus ride to the start over in Manchester before running back. I’m glad I didn’t do the 100k which was an out and back that’s for sure.
The start of an ultra is usually a bit of a mixed bag as it’s virtually impossible to truly judge who’s going out at a crazy pace and who’s sensible but apart from the eventual winner (who was out sight in half a mile) it was reasonably comfortable going out at a bit under 7:00’s in the cool morning.
Start to CP 1 (11 miles)
It was reasonably clear after a couple of miles that nobody was going out at a suicidal pace and I’d worked a 3:45 schedule that was 7:15 pace and much as I tried to run that in the early miles the excitement of the race and running with other people meant I just couldn’t help myself and I did wonder how much I’d pay for it in the last third of the race. I knew from training runs recently I could hold that pace comfortably for 20 miles but beyond that was still an unknown.
Quite often in ultras you end up running alone for long stretches and once the second place guy had edged out of sight around 7 miles I was alone having pushed a little a couple of miles earlier but a quick toilet break for a whizz meant I was passed by a guy (Stephen) who can’t have been as far back as I’d thought.
Even though it was early in the race I knew I was in 3rd (well, now 4th) so I caught him back up quickly because I felt that if nobody else was really in sight after less than 10 miles and I knew I could maintain this speed for at least 20 then I had a shout at that podium and the glory of a prize voucher for sportsshoes.com!
We ran together through to the first checkpoint where I wanted to be in and out without really stopping for anything other than a quick water top up but I needed to put my jacket in my pack so probably took a minute or so but worth doing and straight back out before him and I tried to put in a few quick miles to open a gap as his running style looked smooth so I felt he’d be a solid rival.
CP1 – CP 2 (Miles 11 to 20) – The death of the Suunto
So with a sniff of a prize voucher whirling around in my mind I figured YOLO and lets stick to the lower flat 7:00/mile pace through to 20 miles and then cling on if necessary knowing that even if the last 10 miles were 15s slower than planned pace I’d still got enough banked to meet my time goal.
As someone who is a bit of a slave to the watch, the worst thing happened around halfway .. the dreaded **beep** of the Suunto low battery warning. With 15 miles to go, there was no way it would last and I’m damned if I’m running this hard and far and not recording it but more importantly I needed to keep an eye on my pace plan.
Ultimately if I wanted to record my effort then I had to forget the watch and I stuck my phone on to track the run (but in my bag – I wasn’t staring it!) and run by feel and work out mile speed by the time on my watch.
As it happened, while I’d stopped to sort my phone, Stephen ran past once again and off out of sight and I figured that was then end of my 3rd place aspirations and with nobody in sight behind me I could just ease off the effort a little and run by feel instead of slavishly looking at my wrist every 10 seconds.
It’s easy to treat ultras like shorter races where you assume everyone in front will at the very least finish the race but unlike a 10k where it’s difficult to reel someone back in, ultras have all sorts of other factors come into play including toilet breaks and nutrition/stomach issues and by a stroke of luck at some point I passed Stephen and back into 3rd and our roles switches as he closed the gap on me and we ran together from about 16 miles chatting through to the 20 mile CP.
CP3 to CP4 (Miles 20 to 26)
The 20 mile CP came around quicker than we thought – it turns out Stephen doesn’t run with a watch so we were both working reasonably hard by this point but not yet redlining in the increasingly sunny and warm weather.
I thought we were still a little inside 3:45 pace at this point after the fast first 10 miles and figured if we ran about 73-75 minutes for the final 10 miles and arrived about 12:30 we’d be on target as we were both using this race for a long London marathon training run we appeared to have an unspoken agreement from the point around 16 miles in where we just ran together and would finish together unless something went wrong for either of us if we dropped off the pace.
I certainly wasn’t going to slow down unless I had to and after a few miles of chatting we both went quiet and focused on the job in hand. The flat, hard canal paths and cobbled sections were starting to take a toll and as we reached the 26 mile CP we took a minute to grab a cup of coke but didn’t really hang around.
CP4 – Finish (26 – 31 miles)
You leave the canal path for a few miles from this CP and run along the main road back to Sowerby Bridge (the town where the race finishes) and I have to say it was actually a nice change to have a consistent surface for a bit. We kept on schedule knowing less than half an hour would see us through the finish although having kept a track of the actual time the race started I didn’t know exactly what our overall time might be but it should still be around 3:45.
The worst thing when you’re used to running with a GPS watch is not knowing exactly how much further you have to maintain your effort! I can usually dig in if I can say it’s half a mile or two miles or whatever but when it’s an ultra and it’s going to be roughly , but probably not exactly, half an hour it’s mentally tough.
I didn’t bother asking the question of whether we should finish together, I figured since neither of us had really wavered to this point it would probably be a civilised shared finish for at least joint 3rd (assuming the two ahead hadn’t dropped out in the final few miles) but if it did come to it I felt I still had something left to kick on for a couple of miles and fight for my place. No need though, we were both happy with our times and runs.
A long, hard morning of racing but everything went amazingly to plan and pace and I although I was a couple of minutes off my goal time I know for next time that with shorter CP stops and perhaps putting more on the line in the last 10 miles if I made it my full focus race perhaps I could go closer to 3:40 but I am buzzing with the result. Really pleased.
To be honest, I felt surprisingly OK reasonably quickly after the actual finish – I made sure I didn’t sit down much or stop moving right away which probably helped and I made sure to rehydrate with a good amount of water. Weighing myself when I got home showed I’d lost 5lbs during the run.
We did have a bit of a wait for the prizes but it’s always nice to win something and I’ll be using my voucher replace my trail shoes for my next ultra in the summer after London’s done.
I know it’s unusual to do a run of this size as a marathon training effort but I’ve wanted to test myself on a 50k for a long time and just figured it was worth it as it’s pretty local and the organisers are good. If truth be told, I also wanted to take a little focus away from London Marathon too.
It’s been my sole focus since before Christmas and while my training has gone well it’s a lot of mental effort to invest in a single event so by going the Grizzly 2 weeks ago and now this one and having great runs in both I can approach London feeling confident in the mileage I’ve done and that I’ve raced well so far.
Kit and nutrition
To be honest, as it was a run along a canal with no particularly exposed or difficult bits and checkpoints at 10, 20 and 26 miles I would have literally just shoved a couple of Torq gels in my shorts and had some water/coke at CP’s but there was some mandatory kit to carry (waterproofs, hat/gloves, headtorch) so I took my UD AK race vest which is fine for minimal gear.
The path would also be decent – some tarmac, some hardpacked mud/track and some nasty bits of cobbled but road shoes were fine and I stuck with my Adidas Adios Boost 3’s which I’ve trained in and will use for the marathon and then just a tech tee and some Kalenji compression shorts. Normally I run in regular shorts with a liner but I was curious to see if it was any different wearing tighter gear.
Can’t say as I really noted much difference although I have found it’s easier to carry several gels in your short pockets than when wearing regular shorts.
I think ultimately with the warm weather and the fact I’ve trained a lot with minimal water or gels over the winter I ended up eating 3 of the 5 gels I took and probably only drank about 500-700ml of water the whole time and a few cups of flat coke at CP’s. I felt alright stomach wise and much as I normally love CP food, I just didn’t fancy it this time. Probably as this is the first time I’ve run at this pace rather than a normal much slower ultra shuffle on longer events.
I’ve done other events run by Cannonball and I know John from other races and I have no complaints about the organisation – especially considering the 50k required us to be bussed to the start to meet the other runners who were able to register at the actual start. We were a little late setting off due to a big queue for the portable toilets but only a few minutes so no issues there.
Everything else for me went smoothly – the checkpoint staff and marshals were helpful although to be honest I didn’t need any food and only a bit of water topping up but it’s always nice to see friendly faces when you arrive at a CP.
I don’t think it’s harsh to say the first few miles of canal out of Manchester are a shithole of litter, drug paraphernalia and unattractive housing estates but once you get past that it’s actually quite a nice run for the most part. I’m not blaming Cannonball for the view of course!
I’d happily do this race again and if you’re looking for a fast and easy to follow 50k then it’s well worth checking out next year.