Posted on 16/04/2019
Build a canal, and eventually somebody will want to run alongside it. Even if that canal is a staggering 145-miles long, as in the case of the Grand Union Canal, which has been the location of an ultra-marathon for many years. You can understand why joggers love running alongside canals – they’re one of the few places where you can pretty much guarantee the absence of motor traffic, the towpath surfaces are generally in good condition, the course is largely flat and the scenery is more than acceptable. Plus, there’s definitely something about running near water that’s good for the spirit.
That said, you might not feel that chipper immediately after finishing the Grand Union Canal Race. This epic race is one of the country’s oldest, longest and toughest non-stop running race. It starts in Birmingham and heads through the south-east of England to its conclusion in London. The race is one of three ‘Canalslam’ ultra-running events that also include the Kennet & Avon Canal 145-mile race from Bristol to London, and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 130-mile Liverpool to Leeds race. Competitors can enter as many – or as few – as they choose, but if you complete all three you get a special award, which is the least you deserve.
The Grand Union Canal Race is the oldest, and is widely considered to be Britain’s premier ultra running event. There are no entry qualifications, but runners have to feel as if they can complete the 145-mile course within the time limit of 45 hours. The route is straightforward – follow the Grand Union until you get to Little Venice – and there are snacks and drinks at regular intervals plus transport for retirees. If you are fit enough, it’s a superb way to see one of the UK’s oldest and most important canals. The course record, incidentally, is 22 hours 16 minutes by Dan Lawson in 2015.
If all this running sounds exhausting do just go along any of the routes suggested on a sunny or rainy day and soak up the sights and sounds.