Grand union canal race. Birmingham to London. 145 miles in 45 hours or less 


Glyn Marston became the first runner in the event's history to complete the distance from start to finish for 5 years in a row.

Finishing in 4th place twice, in 3rd place twice and a 2nd place finish.



2002 Race Story             By Dick Kearn


"Tales of the Canal Bank"


The story of the 2002 GUCR



The Prologue


Well here at last is the story of the 2002 Grand Union Canal Race. If the above title conjures images of rodents, in balsa wood boats and cardboard aeroplanes, twitching their noses to Johnny Morris’s voice-over you are probably old enough for this Ultra nonsense. If you are under forty you may like to ask your parents about "Tales of the Riverbank" and look forward to growing into Ultras. Whatever your age you should be aware that not everything you see on TV is fact and that not every story is true. Most of what you are about to read is, but I cannot guarantee all.

Perhaps I am being presumptuous in assuming that you would want to read further. If you’ve any sense you’ll go straight to the results and timings like proper runners do. Then again, if you’d any sense at all, you would not have become involved with this funny ‘little’ race in the first place. 


In the first place I should have started this account with an apology for taking so long to send it to you. Having read this far though, you perhaps already have an idea why it takes so long. Second to the first apology there should be another to those who finished (Glyn, Stan, Anthony, Simon and Nevil) while I was away from Little Venice. Having finished with the apologies I now realise that I should apologise to the first finishers (Rob and Sue) for not mentioning their achievements in the first place.

As the previous paragraphs sound a bit ‘Harry Worthish’ and as this is the second reference to TV shows of the fifties and sixties, I will endeavour to recount the ‘official’ race report in a more straightforward manner. Then again...


The Race

A record number of 44 runners came together (Should it be pooled?) in Gas Street, Birmingham for the start of The Eighth Grand Union Canal 145 Mile Race. Of these exactly half were making their first attempt at Britain’s Longest Annual Event. This fifty-fifty ratio was maintained throughout the race, but from the start Steve Broadbent was the only newcomer matching 2001 winner Chris Fanning’s pace. At 10 miles they were leading Rob Goodwin by 2 minutes and were already 6 minutes up on last year........

....... The weather and race had both warmed considerably by 11:30 am when the three leaders were approaching quarter distance at Birdingbury Bridge. Only 3 minutes covered Steve, Rob and Chris. It was not so hot in the ladies event as Penny (20th overall) was a full hour ahead of Sue (37th), now half an hour in front of Sharon and Louise. 


The heat was beginning to tell on some competitors though, as three were not to make it as far as the Buckby check at 48 miles. Here Chris came in with a 10 minute lead but his longer stop meant that he left only 3 ahead of Steve then Rob. Rod still held fourth with Jeremy Sharpe, Mark Cockbain, Anthony Watts, Glyn Marston, John Hogg and Walter Eberhard making up the top ten. Positions and relative times had changed little for the ladies.

The section from Buckby to the cut-off point at Navigation Bridge is often the turning point of this race. The prospect of the night section ahead and the realisation that they are not yet half way prompts many to reconsider their undertaking. An unlucky dozen were unable to make the seventy mile mark and another seven did not continue beyond. Steve had fallen by the wayside at 55 miles so Rob and Chris were well out on their own when they arrived only 3 minutes apart just before 7pm. In a strategic move Rob stopped for barely a minute and thus extended his lead to 10 minutes by the time Chris was on his way. When Chris threw in the towel 3 miles down the line, Rob’s 3 minute lead at the check had effectively stretched to 2 hours over Mark when he set off at 9pm. Third away Anthony was closely followed by Glyn Marston and then Bob Brown.....


At the Fenny Stratford check Rob still held first place, but other positions had changed considerably. Bob was up to second and Glyn third. Mark and Anthony slipped to fourth and fifth and Simon was now ahead of Nevil. Stan, Neil and John held their places, and Chris Sanders was up in eleventh. Penny, still well ahead, came in twelfth overall, while Sue arrived sixteenth only 6 minutes ahead of Louise and Sharon up from twenty-ninth to seventeenth. Only 22 runners continued beyond the check and these were reduced to 18 before The Grand Junction Arms at Bulbourne.

Rob ran through the Hanbrough Tavern check at 9.37am, exactly 66 minutes quicker than Chris Fanning’s 2001 time. Although he could not now match Rod’s record he only had to keep things together to set a new second fastest. Bob and Glyn were next to pass then Stan followed by Simon and Anthony, still running together as they had been since before The Grand Junction Arms.


Rob Goodwin did indeed keep it together over those last 12.5 miles. After running through two of the hottest days of the year so far, his time of 30:11:41 is a remarkable achievement. In Second with 32:37:00 Bob Brown finished very strongly. The chart shows a time of 2:21 for the last section, the fastest of the day. Despite slowing on the last leg, Glyn Marston held on to finish Third in 37:26:43, an improvement in time and position over his 2001 finish. Stan Dolan came home Fourth

in 37:30:50, again with a strong finish. Convinced that he had

seen another competitor gaining on him he was spurred on to be

one of only three taking under 3 hours from The Hambrough Tavern. 








With support runner Mac Mills.




Grand union canal race 2003



The GUCR 2003 - a Year for Records

The weather forecast was ‘mainly dry with sunny intervals and some intermittent local showers’ - nothing unusual about that. The pre-race bush telegraph had reported the possibility of a new record being set - same as ever there then. The race HQ van being late for registration is not exactly a novelty either, but fifty-four starters is definitely something new.

Actually there were only 51 on the line for the typically shambolic, but precisely timed, start at 6am. Come to think of it one of those was there in body only (I’m sure Mark Dabbs’s mind was somewhere else), but at least we achieved the magic fifty - our first record of the weekend. Three more runners began their race slightly later. Allan Pollock was ten minutes behind and Ray Willett with Gary Barnes a further thirteen (about as late as he was in1999, making Gary the only person to start late twice - another record!)

To run the Paris Marathon, run back to London, run The Flora London Marathon, fall off your motorbike and spend three weeks in plaster is perhaps not the best training for ‘Britain’s Longest’, but Glyn Marston is not the sort to let such minor matters prevent him being in the leading group at the first check. I suspect that team mate Lee Adshead was probably trying to rein Glyn in, but if you know how enthusiastic Glyn is you will appreciate what an impossible task this would be. Also in the lead pack of four were Claude Hardel, looking very comfortable, and Meredydd Evans who, as Colin Evans in 1999, holds the record for the earliest arrival (07:18) at Catherine de Barnes.

In fifth here was Alicja Barahona some four minutes ahead of course record holder Rod Palmer and already with a lead of 13 minutes over Penny Elliott, Joan Clarke and Anke Molkenthin and 50 minutes over Sue Clements in the ladies event. The late starters were making up for lost time as Allan was through 32nd and Gary and Ray had caught up with their Riverside team-mates to pass 48th and 49th. Making good progress on their sponsored walk, and acting as unofficial sweepers, Jack Denness and Steven Kerr were last through equal 52nd as Mark Dabbs had already lost the plot - which I think gives him the record for the earliest retirement. 


Claude Hardel was first under the bannerhaving improved Rod’s 1998 record by a very respectable 1 hour 23 minutes to 27:35. Alicja Barahona took second overall (the highest ever female place) and obviously first lady in 33:06 - taking an astonishing 6 hours 32 minutes off the record set in 2000 by Jill Green. Overcoming his ankle injury, Glyn Marston became the first to complete ‘three in a row’ coming third in a new P.B. of 36:05. 






The GUCR 2003 - unofficial race report


If you found the above race report as boring to read as I did to write I hope you will find this account a bit more interesting. If you were content with the factual race account; are easily offended; or unable to accept a jibe, I suggest you read no further. What follows is a report of all the retirements and the reasons for them randomly interspersed with odd information about the background goings on. All this is collectively known as twaddle and not really worthy of your time, but, if you really have nothing better to do - its hard to believe you haven’t, read on. It is my intention that everyone gets a mention but I apologise in advance for having more to say about some people than others, its just that I know more about some



  After an uneventful trip out of Brum and a skilful bit of reversing, the two vans and Jill’s Freelander were on station at C de B. We had plenty of time to spare - unless Colin/Meredydd was going to make a prat of himself again by arriving a quarter of an hour ahead of everyone else. He didn’t. He, and the others in the lead group (including a supposedly injured Glyn), arrived just 2 minutes up on Rod’s record schedule.


Most of the runners passed needing no assistance from us. The cycling crew supporting Phil Soanes and Bob Brown did however require some help. Phil Gadd was happy to remove a broken rack from one of their bikes - a job which seemed to bring him in close proximity to the shapely legs of its rider - and adopt some bags to add to those of the unsupporteds. As the rest of the field passed it was very pleasant to see old friends again or match faces to names of possible new ones. It was also fun to spot people with new names - we’ve already mentioned one, the other is Spencer, now known as Cliff, Summers. Cliff arrived asking after his friend Mark, which is my cue to begin listing (hopefully in the right sequence) this year’s entry in order of their race end.


Mark Dabbs of walsall topped DNFs in ’99 & 2000 with a BBS (Barely Bloody Started) this time as he failed to reach the ten mile checkpoint. His call, logged at 10:22, gave ‘got lost in Birmingham - had to go home to sort a problem’ as the reason. There is no reason given for the delay in calling.


Because of this delay Cliff wasted 40 minutes waiting for his friend before continuing; Ian and Jill wasted an hour and a half waiting after Jack and Steve, the expected tail-enders, had passed (In fact Ian was heading back to Gas Street on foot when Jan’s call came); and I had two hours of anguish wondering whether to call out the Emergency Services to recover a stiff from the canal! I try to emphasise this as much as possible in the pre-race info, but it really is important that runners phone as soon as they retire or drop behind a schedule in line with the cut-off times. We aim to keep this event friendly and light hearted but if I may be serious for a bit:- If someone died during the event it would be a tragedy. Most of us, though, would say that there is an element of risk in any activity and accept it. If someone died and the organiser did nothing, despite knowing that the runner was overdue, then, as well as it being a tragedy, the consequences for the organiser, other race organisers and trail running in general would be extremely serious. There was no harm done this time, just a few more grey hairs for me, but please remember that it is alright you knowing you are OK, and that your crew know you are OK, but that if the organisers don’t know you are OK we are obliged to raise the alarm.


On with the tale. When half of the unsupporteds had passed C de B Ray and Lisa loaded the bags into the van and went on to Hatton to meet up with Ian Hope. This year Ian had the added luxury of the Treston trailer from which dispense his duties. He had also to put safety notices out at the Shrewley road crossing on his way to Hatton. The Treston trailer is known to have the aerodynamic properties of a parachute. Because of this and the extra job I was a little concerned that I might not be on station in time for the leader. Of course this was unfounded as the ever reliable Hopey was ready when Claude arrived, ever so slightly down on Rod’s best time.



Glyn Marston has a remarkable record of three finishes in a row. He also has a remarkable band of supporters. When they pull in to Delamere Terrace we know their man is not far away. This year was no different and soon after their arrival the ever cheerful Glyn came in to take a very worthy Third Place Most runners would have used an accident such as his to justify withdrawal or early retirement, but then most do not have his determination. All credit to him for having the self-belief and strength to see it through .














By Glyn Marston




This year had seen myself entering the race as one of two runners whom have completed "three in a row"- that's three 145 mile canal races in three successive years, so this year I could be the only runner to complete four in a row, and a record that will be hard to match, let alone beat.

My support team have been headed by Steve Hill and Nigel Churchill in the past years, but this year Steve was away on holiday with his family and Nigel was moving house- so two good mates from Sneyd striders running club (Ian Hill and Bob Drew) stepped into the difficult task of navigating and organizing the whole of the support team and the logistics of following this modern day "FORREST GUMP".

The fact that I had finished in third place for the previous two years, was to put a little pressure on the two, for they would share my elation on the race or disappointment ( whatever the case maybe).

The weather report had told us that a bad weekend was on the cards, with wet spells on and off all the way, but after a while one never really gets bothered by a spot of rain as you focus on the task ahead- running to London's Little Venice.

I had two great additions to my team this year, they were two cameramen who would film my attempts on this years race- added pressure on myself I asked myself- no, this would act as an added incentive to run even harder and better last years performance.

On the startline in Birmingham's Gas street, the usual buzz could be sensed as runners met and greeted each other, the usual camaraderie was present too, as we all predict each others finishing positions and times-a way of motivating our fellow ultra runners, along the side of the canal we all gather waiting for our signal to start.

As we gather along the canal a silence seems to slowly take over as we "focus" on the tedious task of running for a whole weekend.

For many, the challenge will prove too much and they will withdraw from the race, some through injury, some through fatigue- but not before they have bravely battled on to give their best shot.

For me, running with the words "Asics supporting Glyn Marston on the Grand union canal race" on my back made me a target on the race, and they were a few who raced on past me in the early stages of the course, of whom some dropped out later on in the race. 

The rain was on and off, and my feet were soaking wet but I delayed changing my kit until the early evening, my support team had been great ( as usual) with Mac Mills, Phil Gelder and Simon Kimberly running with me along the towpath (not to forget Ian Hill and Bob Drew who were driving the support van).

I was a few hours ahead of last years time, so a personnal best time was in my sight- the next support team to meet me were Trevor Simms, Stan Harrison and Kevin Postin.

Trevor ran with me on the ten miles from Braunston, then Stan took over, with Kevin on the leg that would take us to Black Horse Bridge, in fact it was on Kevin's ten mile stint that we passed the 70 mile cut off point at Navigation Bridge near Milton Keynes ( you need to be here no later than 19 hours,or you are out of the race).

It is here that you feel great, with the race H.Q.van and other runners support team waiting for their runner to come along- you get a huge cheer as you pass, there is also the feeling of pride as you realise that you have gone through the cut off point with many hours before the cut off time.






As Kev ran with me to Black horse Bridge, I indicated to my support team that a cup of tea would be most welcome at the moment- but as I stopped at the support van, a chill hit my body, I felt myself shiver as my body froze- I was shaking, my eyes were rolling, and I felt as if I was going to be sick .

Quick as a flash, my support team leapt into action- Trevor grabbed a few coats and threw them around me, the  lads started to huddle around me to get me warm again.

I had no colour in my face- just a very pale white face peeking from the covers that was wrapped around me.

Ian and Bob were contemplating pulling me out of the race- for it was their responsibilty to look after my welfare on the race, and no way would they let me suffer.

Trevor was hand feeding me sandwiches , and saying words of "come on, you'll soon be on your feet again" , in fact Trevor change me from my wet gear into some dry kit- he was determined that I would reach the finish line.

While this drama was happening, three or four runners ran past us- I felt deflated, I was a few places down in the race- would I get back into the leading pack ?

Ian decided to run the next ten miles with me, I think he was so concerned of my health, that he would run with me to make sure I had recovered.

Within ten minutes of being back on my feet, I was running (remember the BBC film crew were following us, so failure was not an option)-Ian had been amazed at my recovery, as we finished his stint on the towpath, he could'nt beleive that I was back in the race- but his advise was "Just reach the finish line,regardless of time and finishing position", don't put myself under any more pressure than I need to.

At Soulbury locks I was met by Dave Ireson, Steve Birch and Steve Titley , again I was realising just how fortunate I am to have such great mates to turn out in the middle of the night to support me, Steve Birch ran with me on the next leg of the race, but feeling fatigued (due to being sick earlier), I walked a great deal- not suprising that when I next met my support team , I had a rest ( half an hour's sleep in fact- which is within the rules of the race).

Dave Ireson set off with me next, and the thought of running through the 100 mile checkpoint, as we approached the checkpoint, we saw a runner whom had decided to call it a day- he withdrew from the race.

At this point I was in 8th place ( but still three hours ahead of last year's time), Now Simon who had cycled the whole distance ( as he does each year) had gone ahead to see the "state of play" , it was here that he predicted that I would finish in third again- as some of the other runners were just managing a walk, let alone run.

As Steve Titley took over as my support runner, a runner was in sight just ahead of me, with Simon's encouragement I mustered up the strength to run past him- as I ran ahead of him, I thought that I could slow down again once he was out of sight, but another runner was just infront of me again- and again I was encouraged to run past him (which I did).

It was apparent that the runners who had set off at a sprint in the early part of the race,were now feeling the effects of running too fast too early.

As Steve's stint had ended, Ken Highfield took over- Ken is a great support to have at this stage of such a race, his sense of humour is unique, and it is here that my ribs ache more than my legs ( due to laughing at some of his jokes).

As Ken run with me was ending, we noticed another runner on the other side of the canal , so Ken got me to pick up the pace and pass him (I was now in 5th place), but as I passed him ,he came after me to claim his place back.

Ken ran ahead to prepare some drinks for me, to minimise my stopping time- but Colin Highfield ( Ken's Brother), had other idea's - Colin told me to carry on, don't stop otherwise this runner will pass me.

So I missed this drinkstop, and carried on- putting some distance between myself and the runner behind, as I was contemplating easing back on the pace, another runner was a little ahead of us- so we pushed the pace to run past him.

As myself and Colin ran onto the Paddington arm of the race (the final 13 miles), Simon ran back to us to inform me that I was due to take third place, as another runner was a little ahead of us.

I eased into third place, and a sigh of relief as I was equal to my finishing place of last year, but almost three hours faster.

At the Woodrow Taylor bridge, my support team were waiting, with Ian Hill yet again preparing to run with me for the final ten miles, but instead of having the cup of tea that I was craving, I was informed that I was close to the 2nd place runner !!

I carried on with Ian Hill encouraging me, and before long the 2nd place runner was in view, someone on the opposite side of the canal picked up phone and called the team with this runner, they stopped dead in their tracks as they realised that I was closing in on them.

This guy had got nothing left, I ran past him and took 2nd place, he had no reply-too tired to challenge me for the position, he let me run ahead of him.

I ran over the finish line with the film crew from the BBC to greet me, and a few cheers from passers by, I sat down wrapped up in a blanket and fell asleep, only to wake up to be sick- and have a cuppa.

Second place, with a time of 33 hours 15 minutes- not bad, not bad at all, a huge thanks to my support team- without their help I would have quit midway through the race, as I would never had recovered from being sick.

So next year - a win ?    Hope so.     

Glyn Marston



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