What could be more simple than riding down a canal to then run back up it? Not a lot that I can think of! And so it was with utter confidence I locked my car in the car park of the Blue Bell Cider House in Hockley Heath (Checkpoint 2) to head off on my mountain bike along the canal to The Navigation Inn in Wooton Wawen.
I was running the middle leg of the JW Ultra Marathon on Saturday. A lovely 10 mile canal run. Mandy was runnning the first leg and I would hand over to Kate for the final leg. I left Checkpoint 2 at 10am with loads of time to travel the 10 miles to Checkpoint 1 to be there well in time to take on the baton from Mandy (estimated to be in about 11:20). I set off whizzing by the locks and shouting a 'good morning' to the other canal users. The weather was lovely, dry and warm, and I was looking forward to getting a decent run in race conditions under my belt. It would be my furthest run since Outlaw. This was all I had to do to get to the hand over.
15 mins in and I came to a junction which suprised me because for some reason (and despite living next to Fazeley Canal JUNCTION!) I didnt expect any junctions on a canal. My phone was in the car so I couldnt check sat nav. No problem I thought I will ask the nice man on his bike over the other side of the canal. I asked for directions to the canalside pub The Navigation Inn. This was my first mistake! Had I added Wooton Wawen or 'on the way to Stratford' I am sure he would have directed me right. Instead he said straight on. At this stage I was not aware of Mistake One so off I went.
I soon reached a 'T' junction with a right or left choice? I asked a couple which way the the canalside Navigation Inn (Mistake Two - same as One!). They said left and off I went. About a mile or so along the canal I was beginning to 'feel' that this wasnt right. I stopped another couple and asked if I was going the right way to get to the Navigation Inn but this time added 'ON THE WAY TO STRATFORD'. Of course they said no I wasnt and suggested I go back and go right at the 'T' junction. At the moment I was going away from Stratford. A fellow MTB rider (MTB Man) also confirmed this to be correct and I followed him down to the 'T' Junction. I left him by wishing him a good day and set off at some pace to make up for lost time. I should still be well in time.
As I rode along the canal I was sensing a deja vu moment. It all looked a bit familier. It looked and felt like the 22 mile canal leg I ran with Mr Happy 18 months ago during his epic JOG - LE run. That couldnt be right though as I wouldnt be going the right way!? I consoled myself with the knowledge that most canal paths look the same unless there is something out of the ordinary along the route..............like the big effin concrete tunnel/steps combo at Shrewsly. Shit on a stick I was on the route I had run 18 months before and the shit part of that stick was that it was not the route I should have been on for the JW Ultra!
I got up to the main road. Confident I shouldnt follow the canal any further I reckoned hitting the road with some local knowledge could still possibly save the day??? I asked a gentleman if he knew the way to the Navigation Inn. He said yes it was left to the crossroads, left again and straight on for 'a few miles' and it was then on the right. I also asked him the way to Wooten Wawen. That was right for quite some distance he confirmed. Decision had to be made. I asked if the pub was canalside, he said it was so I went for Left (Mistake Three).
He was right in that I got to the The Navigation Inn, he was right that it was canalside, he was right it was a few miles (he didnt warn me about the hills!), so when I got there I was gutted, absolutely gutted that there were no runners on the canal, no marshals, no effin anything!! I'd travelled 15 miles - remember this as its relevent - oh so fucking relevent - to the conclusion of this fiasco with the help of hindsight! I thought I have no choice than to head back to Shrewsly and go right to Wooten Wawen. I was completely lost.
I retackled the hills (knowing they were there to be dealt with didnt help), went through Shrewsly, headed right, spoke to another nice gentleman to stay on track and finally, finally saw a car by the side of the road at an opening to the canal. Better news still there was a runner on it and spectators who confirmed this was the JW Ultra route. I could go right against the runners down to Checkpoint One or left with the runners to Checkpoint Two. I chose right (Mistake Four) thinking they might be waiting for me, or ringing me, or ringing the emergency contact number meaning Mrs B will be worrying that I've been run over, or fallen in the canal or some other such ridiculous situation I can get myself into.
I got stung, scratched and very nearly ended up in the cut as I bounced along the somewhat overgrown canal path. I stopped to let each runner through concscious not to impede their running and finally made it to Checkpoint 1. Mark looked at me like I was a schoolboy renowned for forgetting his kit for PE about to tell the teacher I had forgotten my kit again! He said Mandy was running my leg as she was first woman through and upon realising I wasnt there she had remarked "well we're not gonna not finish!" (I think this may have been littered with expletives!). So I set off with the naive hope of catching her so she could have the bike and I could at least run some of it. I was truly unimpressed with myself. I had travelled 22 miles or so for a 10 mile journey, missed the run and most importantly made Mandy run 20 miles at 10 mile race pace! I knew she would not be pleased and rightly so.
I went as hard as i could but realistically I couldnt catch her. I passed @Meldy67 and a few other runners and wished them well. Gutted that I wasnt with them on foot! About 5 miles from the end I popped out on the canal junction where I made Mistake One. More gutted that it was all so easy had I done it right. I finally got back to Checkpoint 2 that I had left 3 hours and 14 mins earlier. I had ridden 33 miles or so. I apologised with absolute sincerity to Mandy who had blitzed the run whilst Mark and Matt ripped the piss. Something I may have to get used to!
That was my Epic Fail for the JW Ultra. I am lucky that Mandy is so forgiving and such a good runner. My disappointment was highlighted this morning when I uploaded my Garmin to realise that at about mile 15 at The Navigation Inn Lapworth (the wrong one) I was back on the canal where I had sought help from MTB Man and so only a few miles from getting back on route and perhaps getting to meet Mandy only half way into the second leg. If only I'd......................