March 26th 2017
Over the past few years I have spent a lot of my time training on the local Rochdale Canal. So what better than to get a medal for something I already do? Canalathon seemed like the perfect race. I’d seen a lot of running friends complete it over the past few years and wanted to give it a go. I wanted it to be my first ultra.
I signed up early and got in with the early discount. I added on extras of the t-shirt, medal and the meal afterwards. I didn’t add in the optional transport as I knew I was local and would just be heading straight to the start in Manchester.
There were plenty of organisational emails about the race regarding the contents of what you must pack and absolutely no headphones. This panicked me as the longest I had ever run without headphones was only half a marathon. Gulp. What would I do with myself? Sing to myself. Pack a Ghetto blaster? Play the A-Z game for hours?
Race day came and it was daylight savings. Not only up bright and early but losing an hour too. Yawntastic. Food on the go grabbed and heading straight to Manchester Canal starting point (located just near Toysrus on the retail park). Parked up and picked up my pack, the number was enclosed with the t-shirt and medal too. I joked that I didn't need to run to the finish as I had my medal. Then a mandatory kit check at the next desk. No toilets as promised so back to the car and crossing my legs. About 15 minutes later some portaloos arrived and a large queue ensued. I waited for it to go down but it never really did. In fact, the start was postponed by around 15 minutes due to the toilet queue. I hear this happened last year too. Maybe something the organisers should think about. More loos? Be there earlier maybe? Or just tell people you start on time?
There was no explanation of the route as it said there was going to be at the briefing. It was just a case of good luck, run around this car park, follow the cones, onto the canal and go! So we did. We had been led to believe that the course would be coming off the canal at several spots but I assumed this had now been amended as there was no mention of it?! So off I ran.
This was one of the only bits of the canal I hadn’t run on. I was enjoying it a lot and the view from the centre of Manchester on the crisp cold morning was lovely. There were a lot of people playing the overtaking game and I was keen to just sit back and take my time. I did not want to go out too fast. I had a couple of conversations with people in the first few miles all of whom who had done Canalathon before. All saying how they enjoyed it so much they were back for more which I found encouraging.
The morning did not take long to warm up and I was already taking my jacket off within a couple of miles. Luckily, my race plan involved having my food passed to me at stages of the race which meant I could pass my jacket. It wasn’t long before I was in familiar territory, plodding along in Chadderton and Middleton. Knowing the route really helped and I think it really helped me stay calm and focussed a lot of the way. It was here that the first 100km runners started coming through in the opposite direction. There were lots of shouts of well-done from everybody.
From Middleton through into Castleton, regular running ground now. My friend Emma was here waving at me. I gave her a high five. I began chatting to another runner about anything and everything and it kept my mind occupied for a mile or two. Then as I approached the Castleton station bridge (mile 12) Adam was there to take my jacket and pass me my food. A quick swap and I was on my way. I carried on chatting to my fellow runner briefly who dropped behind shortly after. As I approached Sandbrook Park, the first checkpoint, there was much confusion from runners. I heard one marshal directing someone and she looked blankly at him. Follow me I said. ‘Thanks, I didn’t have clue what he was saying’ she said. ‘Don’t worry’ I told her. ‘I run around here all the time. The first time I ran this bit I ran up here and took the wrong turning and ended up in the industrial park and ended up running home in the opposite direction. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to try again.’ As we ran up to the roundabout and crossed over the road, avoiding the traffic. I navigated back along to the canal. ‘I never would have found this’ she said ‘thanks’. ‘No problem, I’m just popping in there for the loo’ I told her. Seems to be the way when I find someone to run and chat to I have stop or have a wee. C’est La vie.
There’s a few different crossings of roads on this section and you need to have your wits about you. Rochdale isn’t the prettiest place to run through. Industrial with its mills, plenty of rubbish dumped in its canals but as you run through to Smithybridge you see the hills and the scenery of the Pennines.
Here I met Adam who swapped water bottles for me.
Onto Littleborough and up (yes you do run up) through some beautiful scenery, past the last industrial mill you get up to summit. So picturesque. This is my favourite place to run and I really did enjoy running along here as part of Canalathon. The field had really dispersed so it was almost like running my own canal run. Apart from the 100km runners coming the other way, most saying nice words and the other walkers and runners and supporters on the canal. It really was my own race here.
I ran past every checkpoint as I had enough food and water (Adam was being my checkpoint) but noticed a lot of people chatting and having a breather. I’m not sure I am mentally prepared to stop in a race even if it’s to just get some food. I’d rather just keep going. There was checkpoint close to Walsden and then I hit Todmorden where I expected Adam. I had to direct runners again to the correct way of getting back onto the canal. You come off the canal at the bridge but go directly over the bridge and back onto the opposite site and under the bridge. This was confusing for a lot of people and a few had already run across the road and notices they couldn’t get very far. I couldn’t see Adam and started to panic, I didn’t have enough food, where was he? Just as I was texting him I saw him. He’d taken off his coat and was now in just a t-shirt. I was starting to go a bit crazy I think. He told me he’d meet me at Hebden Bridge. I panicked thinking the course came off at where he was going to meet me next but my mind had got jumbled with all the miles and checkpoints.
I just did what I knew best, carried on running. Following the canal path. Seeing a few familiar faces of runner pass me and playing the catch me if you can game. I ran all the way to Hebden at a steady pace and it hadn’t felt like a marathon at all. Here it was beautiful and there were loads of people cheering. I found Adam who passed me much needed water and my friend Jane and her daughter cheering. What a lovely surprise. Apparently Jane had been chasing me along the route trying to catch me.
The scenery was fabulous the more into Yorkshire I got the more wonderful it got too. The streams/Rivers and wildlife were stunning. My legs felt very heavy though and towards the end I was having to add a tiny bit of walking in just to alleviate my aches and the monotony. This was the first time I had ever goen so long without listening to music. It was tough. The counting of 30 seconds walking really helped on the last few miles.
When my Garmin clocked in at 31 miles I could see the finish and with disbelief I asked a fellow runner. Is that the finish? I was super happy to get there. Ecstatic in fact. I ran very happily over the finish line and was so proud to have achieved my first ultra in a respectable 5 hours and 45 minutes 22 seconds.