Grand Union Canal Half Marathon – 8th Nov 2015

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

Saucony

Columbia Sportswear

&

Helly Hansen

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The Grand Union Canal Half Marathon took place on Sunday 8th November 2015 and starting at Cowley Recreation Ground in Uxbridge, running along the Grand Union Canal to its finish in Cassiobury Park in Watford. It is billed as a lovely flat, scenic, unusual, multi-terrain course which is traffic-free and was placed 5th in Runner’s World Races of the year in 2012 for the ‘Scenery’ category – but did it live up to those claims?

The week before the race there were several emails from the race organisers, these included final instructions, race waves and confirmation if you had been booked onto the coach. No race numbers were sent out before the day.

As this is a point-to-point race there’s always the question of how do you get back to your car if you’ve travelled to the event alone or with other runners, but thankfully Purple Patch had this covered and for £7 you can book a space on coaches which ran from 8am – 8:45 and carried participants from a road beside Cassiobury Park to the start area, so your car is there waiting for you at the end when you’ve finished.

On the day of the race we drove to the finish area to park up and as we pulled in towards the car park at the finish area we could see half a dozen coaches. We’d been warned the car park would be busy but this wasn’t helped as half of it was fenced off due to a firework display the night before! Still there were plenty of streets around where parking wasn’t an issue and there were no queues for the coaches, and after a short coach journey we were at the start area.

As it was a busy event with 656 runners there was understandably a short queue where we collected our race packs, but we had our numbers (along with their built-in timing chips) quickly. The start area contained a coffee stall and a number of festival loos, however for a race of this size there really weren’t enough and as a result there were soon quite long queues.

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Once we were kitted up we headed to the bag drop which was again well organised and friendly making use of a local moving firm to contain and transport luggage (these would be transported to the finish area once the race was underway) and a tannoy system informed people when the waves were about to start. At 10am, two minutes silence was observed for Remembrance Sunday, then the first wave went off for a short lap of the park (to spread the field) before heading out onto the canal tow-path, and by 10:10 all runners were out on the course.

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We’ll leave the questions below to describe how our team found the course as race participants, but it’s worth noting this really is a great course for spectators. The start and finish areas are open which gives supporters a great view of you, and there are also various points on the course where they can park up and cheer the runners on (including several tempting canal-side pubs and cafes). As we entered the finish area an MC was cheering all the runners by their names into the finish, and after crossing the line you were offered water, bananas and of course the medal.

Nearby there was a café which served hot drinks and provided toilet facilities (offering somewhere private to change back into normal clothing after the race), and I am sure they made a packet with the number of participants who flooded their building after they’d finished! Being a park there was also plenty for spectators to do whilst waiting and a play-park located beside the café for anyone with small children.

Here’s how our Trek and Run team found the event…

What your favourite part of the event?

Stuart – All of the fellow runners, marshals and spectators. Everyone one at the race was friendly, encouraging and supportive of each other. In my eyes this is what running is all about.

Ken – The finish line! The organisers, Marshalls and other runners make these events, everyone was friendly and encouraging, spotting the same family at 4 different points shows it’s a good course for spectators too. Oh and there was plenty of water for those of us bringing up the rear which was good.

Dave – The general atmosphere at the event was absolutely brilliant. The race start was chilled, fellow racers were polite considering how tight some parts of the course were, and the Marshalls were friendly and encouraging throughout.

Steve – Unlike most other half marathons, the trail of the Grand Union Canal Half Marathon features no loops, no repeats, and is not set out as a big circle where you complete the race where you started. Apart from the very start of the race, the entire run follows the gorgeous trail of the Grand Union Canal, with house and tug boats bobbing reassuringly alongside you, which I found very relaxing and loved to the extent that I found it very hard to believe I was still in London.

And anything you didn’t like so much?

Stuart – I wasn’t enjoying the finish area so much as there was a lack of signs to the car park. I was grateful my phone battery hadn’t died and I figured out where the car park was.

Ken – Nothing really, was all pretty good and well organised. Toilets had long queues near to race time, but that seems a universal problem and having got there early not a problem for me.

Dave – Maybe it’s because I was judging against Purple Patch’s recent ‘Water of Life’ finish line goodies including a great bespoke medal and event T-shirt, but I was gutted that we didn’t receive better mementos at the end of this event! The medal was very generic with tiny writing and a plain purple ribbon which was disappointing, and even the event date was in small writing on the back of the medal.

Steve – The mud. While I was pretty tired from training at the start of the race anyway, the thick mud that lined the trail really took it out of me. Also, since the trail was quite narrow, it was pretty unavoidable and felt as if I was running through custard at times.

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What did you think of the course?

Stuart – The course was stunning. Muddy which was expected but running along the canal tow path with beautiful countryside, big houses and houseboats along the way. This helped the miles go by.

Ken – Loved it. Mostly flat, some bunching up for the first mile or so on the towpath as people found their pace and a bit of space. Muddy but firm under foot so not too slippery, perfect for those of us that like to get a little messy. Plenty to look at too, a wide variety of boats, barges, houses and lots of wildlife (including a few fishing Herons).

Dave – It was absolutely beautiful and incredibly peaceful – running alongside a canal really is surreal compared to road or trail running and something everyone should experience! It was still quite tough as the ground was muddy and quite slippery in parts, but apart the odd lock or bridge it was perfectly flat throughout – just 43m of gain according to my GPS watch!

Steve – Whilst I really enjoyed this race, and would happily do it again, there is absolutely no chance of getting a PB. The course is flat (and beautiful as I mentioned before) however it is quite muddy and features multiple terrains, all of which will slow you down and make trail shoes a necessity.

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What advice would you offer someone thinking of running this race in 2016?

Stuart – Do it! Be prepared that this isn’t a PB course but enjoy the scenery instead and take a moment to take it in.

Ken – Go for it, if you have got as far as looking at a Sunday morning half marathon in November you are the sort of person that will get a buzz out of this race.

Dave – To make life easier and save any pre-race panic, book the coach from Cassiobury Park to the race start. Watford and Uxbridge stations are both on the Metropolitan line, but it takes 48 minutes (15 stops and 1 change) to get from one to the other!!

Steve – Wear trail shoes would be the first piece of advice that springs to mind. I would also use the answer to my previous question as a reason to not take the race too seriously. This is a brilliantly picturesque route, which should be enjoyed and appreciated, so make the most of it. Take your time getting yourself round and don’t finish up aching to make sure that you make a certain finishing time. Take your time and take it all in.

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How would you describe this event in just 5 words?

Stuart – Friendly, supportive, organised, positively stunning.

Ken – Scenic, fun, off-road, organised, peaceful.

Dave – Tough terrain but beautiful scenery.

Steve – Friendly, leafy, muddy, scenic, enjoyable.

To find out more about the Grand Union Half Marathon or to learn more about Purple Patch’s other running events, visit www.purplepatchrunning.com/index.php/grand-union-canal-half-marathon

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