When you look like you are on the quest for the vest (100 marathon club vest that is) if you find an marathon less than 30 minutes away from you home and only £18 you really have to sacrifice your parkrun and sign up.
The Birmingham Canal Canter is organised by the LDWA (The Long Distance Walkers Association) and offered a choice of two distances along the canals of Birmingham 18 miles and 26 miles. Even though it is a LCWA event they allow runners their start times reflect these so runners are asked to start an hour later – or they would arrive before the feed stations opened! Despite the Massey APP, and the weekly e-mails it can always be a surprise who from Massey is taking part in the event, Anne-Marie and Cathy signed up for the 18miler and Anita, Sophie, Kelli and Kerry along with Mary and I had signed up for the 26 mile option.
Collecting race numbers on the day is normal with smaller events however there were no numbers to pin to vest – or the leg of my shorts as I have taken too – but a small card for punching at each check point and the offer offer of written directions and a map! I was very prepared and had already got copies and the GPX file uploaded to my Garmin… I wouldn’t get too lost! Registration was also accompanied with free croissants and tea and coffee. As the nice lady offered me one I felt it would be rude not to accept so on my way to my car to collect my pack I started the day munching – this it turns out would be the theme for the event!
Just before 9:30 there was a quick briefing – mainly explaining that the route wasn’t marked but the directions were good to follow and we were off – rather unexpectedly.
Initially I just ran following everyone ahead of me – hoping that they knew the way and my Garmin indicated that I was on course. After spending 5 miles twisting along paths, crossing roads and going through an encampment on the common we arrived at the Ackers activity centre, much to Mary’s relief we stopped to get our card punched – I had made my usual mistake and gone off a little too fast. The first control point offered breakfast – if you wanted to wait you could have had toast and porridge. However I was keen to keep going so after swigging down some squash we went on.
It is said that Birmingham has more Canals than Venice and until this event I had just taken this fact to be an interesting fact but never given it much thought and actually never seen many canals. But after the Ackers we soon we made it to the Canals, that gave this event it’s name… I can now say categorically that there are a lot of canals, with a lot of tow paths.
Just before 7miles the 26 mile route split from the 18 – Using my follow the person in front tactic that I had adopted from the start proved to be a slightly erroneous tactic as soon my Garmin was beeping at me – OFF COURSE. I had taken Mary the wrong way – luckily I realised early and we only went 1/4 mile out of our way but a lesson was soon learnt – use the directions.
Back on course we headed to Control point 2 – Spaghetti Junction and Fruit… before heading off once more along canal paths towards the Barclaycard Arena – lunch awaited us at the next Control point at Winston Green Prison.
The canals in Birmingham have become well hidden over the years as urbanisation has happened around them – little did I suspect that they run under the M6 motorway. This means bridges crisscross over the canals for pedestrians and road traffic and at times the canal goes over the roads as an aqueduct. When my son was younger much to his amusement I would make load monster noises under any bridge or tunnel we pass, unfortunately for Mary while my son has grown up I have not stopped this habit. So at each bridge I would bellow MONSTER to hear it echo – although after doing this so often in one day I now realise that not all bridges offer the same amazing audio resonant properties of a arch brick bridge. This daftness may have amused me no end – it dead scare a few unsuspecting runners but it did provided a lot of giggles for a small boy and his parents.
For a route that runs you through the heart of England’s second city apart from a few sections where the canal is surrounded by large buildings and fashionable residences and bars the route is very green and pleasant. I made my first error at CP3 seeing the food on offer I may have slightly overindulged – running after eating a scotch egg an slice of quiche and other items became a challenge too far – so it was that I had to resort to a walk to allow everything to digest. Mary decided to stay with me as although she had been more restrained with her eating and could run she was nervous of her map reading and navigation skills.
At the start of the race I had discussed the Anne-Marie and Cathy the shoes to wear and I had made the decision to go with trail shoes as canal tow paths around Warwick are muddy, and with the rain I expected the paths to need the extra grip on offer from a train shoes. However Birmingham has spent a lot maintaining tow paths and has lots and lots of hard compacted gravel paths or stone paved routes I was really regretting the limited cushioning my foot wear afforded me. Top tip for anyone doing this event in future… ROAD SHOES!
Along the canals each bridge has a number so after passing the Sealife Centre, vocal protesters, and a few 100 marathon club runners in a bar have a pint or two we were soon counting down bridges until CP4 and the cake competition. Here we met up with Antia, Sophie, Andy and Kerry. Much to my amusement Antia had taken the instruction of bringing your own cup well and had been running carrying a large porcelain mug – In Massey colours – Actually a Father Christmas design for the race – at least she could enjoy the squash on offer at each CP.
It was here that I made my fatal error – I was offered a huge slice of the most delicious Carrot and Ginger Cake which I ate – which deserved to win the cake competition. As we continued on our way Mary said that the lady obviously thought I looked more like a walker than a svelte athlete. Despite offering lots of great running fuel the cake rather sat on my stomach making running painful. And much to Mary’s horror, made me rather gassy – so I spent the next few miles groaning and burping rather loudly!
Onward we traveled, closely following the directions. At 23miles we came to a large tunnel unpassable by anything other than craft in the water so we were forced to leave the tow path had to leave to follow the directions. By now we rarely had sight of any other runners and only passed the odd walker so we were in our own. Mary putting her faith of navigation in the hands of someone that struggles with their Left and Right! With only a minor detour – thanks to Garmin’s shouts of OFF ROUTE we realised our mistake (The first being not reading the instructions in advance!) we found our way over the tunnel and back to the canal on the other side and heading towards the final CP of savories.
I decided not to eat anything on offer here, learning as from my previous mistakes so instead gulped down a can of Vimto. I must advise everyone that drinking a carbonated drink and running is not a great mix, but much better than a slab of cake! And we continued on our way, Mary again putting on her running gilet as the weather again decided to rain.
Following the instructions we made it back onto the rugby pitches and into Moseley RFU where finish times were recorded and punched cards collected. To be followed by a jacket potato meal. Unfortunately some issue had fallen the catering team and the jacket potatoes weren’t cooked so microwaves were being used to speed the process up. In the end we got our jacket potato – not totally cooked.
At £18 for a decent circular route, good instructions and the well stock Check Points make this a thoroughly enjoyable event. Despite the fiasco with the Jacket potatoes at the end (which less be honest at events costing twice as much you don’t get), Mary and I will definitely try and do it again next year.