Biggleswade Athletic Club’s endurance expert Ed Jones went more than the extra mile at the gruelling Kennet & Avon Canal Race – a 145 mile slog that’s the equivalent of five and a half marathons.
Having warmed up with June’s Norfolk 100k Ultra Marathon Ed arrived for a 6am start in Bristol.
Ed said: “There are checkpoints with food and water every 15-20 miles so you only need to carry enough to get you between these. You are not allowed to be stationary for more than 40 minutes, so you can sit down for a rest, and possibly a very quick nap.”
Arriving in grey and blustery conditions alongside 75 other starters, Ed said: “I settled into a steady comfortable pace, picking off a few slower runners and chatting to a few others.”
Having left the city centre for the more picturesque Avon Valley, after the initial marathon distance of 26.2 miles Ed was well-placed. “It came up in about four hours, and I was surprised to find myself in ninth place.
“I went through Checkpoint 2 and then on to the spectacular Caen Hill Locks. Checkpoint 3 brought us into the Vale of Pewsey, with the downs of Wiltshire rising impressively either side of the canal.
“My pace was beginning to slow now and my knees getting a little sore at the base of the kneecap, but I was through 50 miles in just over 9 hours, and got a bit of a second wind as I went through halfway in under 15 hours.”
The unique nature of the event made for a great sense of camaraderie. “Although it is a ‘race’, for everyone except a few the goal is to finish, and positions are really not that important. People therefore tended to hold gates open for each other, call someone back if they’re seen heading the wrong way, and pause for a chat and to check everything is OK.”
“Beyond halfway Saturday evening was starting to draw in and the drizzle was turning into more persistent rain. We were approaching the outskirts of Reading.
“The field was really strung out – I would only see one other runner in the next 10 hours – and my mood was starting to dip. Suddenly in the dusk I caught an electric blue flash, and a kingfisher darted from some trees, and flew along the canal. It was a magical moment, gave me a real boost and made me resolve not to give up.”
Having successfully negotiated Reading’s late-night revellers, Ed picked up the Thames Path: “A combination of the darkness and fatigue leads to hallucinations. I always see bridges across the canal which turn out just to be overhanging trees.”
At Henley, dawn was breaking and with it came a significant milestone – the 100 mile point. “It was nice to get the scenery back, and this was some of the nicest of the whole race as we followed the river with the wooded slopes of the Chilterns rising steeply on either side. The pain in my knees was making running difficult now, and I was having to work hard to make myself even do short bursts.
“I arrived at Bray, 110 miles, at about 11am on Saturday – just as the crew there were cooking some bacon. They offered scrambled eggs as well. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything better.
“I took the opportunity of the food stop to change into some dry shoes and socks, although by now I had pretty much given up on the running. I resigned myself to ‘death marching’ the final marathon and a bit.
“As night fell for the second time in the race we reached Little Venice, and then the right turn into Paddington Basin, and the very low-key finishing line. I summoned a shuffling jog for the last 50 metres, and finally crossed the line at 21:24.”
His finishing time was a superb 39 hours and 24 minutes, and on crossing the line he learned he had come a brilliant 21st, with only 36 completing the gruelling route.