Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race Report – Victory up North!

Having arrived in Liverpool on Thursday, we had plenty of time before the race and avoided the bank holiday madness of last year. We even went for a better hotel, runner’s privilege! The day before the race I went for a nice easy run along the Mersey and the Albert Dock whilst it was nice quiet in town. 

Afterwards we picked up our last minute supplies then checked in for the race. That evening we went out for a lovely dinner at San Carlo. Thankfully, I slept soundly and was at the start line with Matthew at 05:45am just prior to sunrise along with all the other runners and the seagulls!

I had Matthew’s warm fleece jacket on at the start line as I always do at the beginning of an ultra to keep as warm as possible until the last 60 seconds before the start. Dick did his short but humorous pre race briefing and at exactly 6am to “On your marks, get set…” I hit the start line and 130 miles lay ahead! 

As I started my ultra canal journey, Matthew, my crew chief, went back to the hotel to continue his sleep until 11am. He would meet me around 5 1/2 to 6 hours later in the race so he would be fully rested and able to support me when I need him most at the last sections and throughout the entire race. 

This is a tried and tested routine for us at long ultras. Running ultras is so much better with support from someone you know and trust to get things right and be there when needed! I can also unload my displeasure from tiredness on him. That’s also tried and tested!

On the start line of the Leeds and Liverpool 130 Mile Canal Race I had one mission… to get to the finish line no matter what. I had to pull out of the LLCR130 last year at 58 miles due to foot pain caused by the metal plate which held my fused big toe in place. 

woman running along a canal path in a race

The plate has thankfully gone now and even though my big toe doesn’t bend, it works! I have had a great 2022 of running so far having completed both the ultra hot and humid Keys 100 followed by the savage heat of Badwater 135 ultra marathon so I was feeling confident the canal weather was not going to be a factor and I felt I could raise my game here. 

I had some secret goals in the back of my mind of getting a sub 32 hour finish and my absolute dream result was a sub 30 hour race. I knew what pace I had to stick to, to achieve it. I even had hopes and aspirations of getting a top 3 female finish but this was between Matthew and I and a glass of sauvignon blanc at dinner the night before!

Back to the race! I started well, also a bit too fast. My early goal was just to get to the next check point without thinking about the whole 130 miles ahead of me. I went straight through the first Check Point at Mile 14.5 and just topping up on some aid station h2o. 

The behind the scenes logistics at the canal races is so slick. They have your bag waiting for you at each check point in advance – as Matthew was going to be supporting me later on, I only had a small plastic carrier bag unlike most people who had massive heavy sports bags. The race staff and volunteers seemed quite amused by my lightweight plastic bag and several said they wished more people had small bags like me! 

Wigan were playing Burnley that afternoon so I was glad to pass by Wigan before the match had started! Last year I also made a navigational error in Wigan so I was careful not to make that mistake again. After Wigan there was the first climb of the race, a series of ascending locks, so I took the opportunity to have my first power walking break of the race.

So far so good.

Matthew joined me at Mile 40 and it was great to have him supporting me on the course. Such a great boost to know he was there for me. 

woman posing next to a canal in running gear

So, at Mile 40, my shoes were starting to rub and cause discomfort so it was time for a shoe change to my bigger pair of Hoka Bondis. Early detection of any niggles can really pay off on occasions. I had some melon and took a flapjack with me to appease an insistent Matthew (as I was feeling sick) but I threw it in the canal for the ducks to enjoy!  

Matthew instructed me to slow down as he worked out I was going way too fast – which I took onboard. I had wanted to make a really good start to the race which I felt I had done. It was getting warmer but the heat wasn’t affecting me at all. Heat training really does work!

Mile 47 was just a quick hello from a random bridge – I have been guilty in the past of stopping too much, enjoying a lean and wanting to have a chat with Matthew but this race, I was focused and on a mission to get this race done as efficiently as possible. 

Matthew was managing to get to bridges and support points every 5 miles and appearing out of nowhere which was great. We were both incredibly organised during this race as Matthew had two replacement bottles of water and electrolytes ready to switch over as soon as I got there which cut down stopping time even more. This was part of our pre race strategy, to cut down the stopping as much as we could. 

In 2021 mile 58 was where I stopped and my race ended last year so it was a moral victory to pass that point. Funnily enough it was at an outside bar which was playing the loudest music in the day time, it was like a concert! 

Matthew found an ice cream shop on the side of the canal and got me a tub of mango sorbet – heaven, I had two wonderful mouth fulls until I dropped it on the tow path as my hands were so clammy! So that went into the canal as well.

I passed through Blackburn and was in the midst of a lot of Blackburn Rovers Football supporters who all seemed quite subdued… I later found out they lost 1-0 to Stoke. I met Matthew there and had a Hawaiian roll with cheese (these worked brilliantly for me at Badwater) but I wasn’t loving them today, it was taking me ages to chew the food and forever to swallow it. I took some pringles with me and my small Petzl bindi head torch. Although it was still two hours until darkness, I didn’t want to get caught short in case Matthew didn’t manage to get to me in time. We did once and I had to use my iPhone.

It was now 8pm and the sun was just setting, last light at 8:30pm and Matthew was there again at Mile 68.5 on the outskirts of Burnley. It was now time to change into my night gear as it was cooling down rapidly. I hadn’t actually estimated it getting so cold so I wore all the layers I had although I hadn’t bought my leggings or gloves. The forecast was not even close to it being 10ºC! I put on my unbelievably bright Kogalla waist light and a super bright Petzl IKO core head torch and was ready for the night shift. Armed with a wispa and a Diet Coke I was off into the night. Matthew had seen Finn, the ladies race leader, go past about 11 minutes ahead of me so I had her in my sights. I was the hunter.

The Canal Races are non tracking events so you don’t know where your fellow runners are. At the next check point, mile 70.6 in Burnley, Matthew hid behind a dumpster and watched the first lady Finn come in and sit down (and reported to me that she stayed for about 20 minutes) before I whizzed in and out. 

We didn’t want her to see Matthew as she may have suspected I was close to the aid station and therefore would have lessened her time there! Race tactics! I had a rocky road bar which I took with me and off I went again reducing that margin between 1st and 2nd place again. 

Runners are allowed have buddy runners with them from 70 miles onwards but I didn’t have anyone, I prefer it this way and ran the majority of the race alone with just my music and occasional fellow runners.

I was still running really well and on target for the sub 30 hours. I was loving this race. Next up was a bit of a tricky navigational section where the canal goes through the Gannow Tunnel and the towpath is diverted through some subways beneath the M65, it felt like a bit of a maze and I didn’t see the signs to follow for the towpath. There were no runners around and it was dark so I checked google maps and hoped for the best and miraculously managed to get myself back onto the towpath and back on the canal. Getting lost sucks and is utterly demoralising. Avoid at all costs! 

One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ is the Burnley Embankment which was at mile 73 of the race. I had hoped to see it in the daylight as it is a mile-long stretch of embankment which carries the Canal through the centre of the town, up to 60 feet above the buildings below with beautiful countryside beyond it. I’m not sure if the Burnley Skyline is iconic!

Just before the second tricky navigational section of the course I caught up with another runner, Iain, he asked to stay with me as we negotiated the footpaths in the pitch black above the Foulridge Tunnel. I was more than happy with having company and it was nice to chat to a fellow runner as I had more or less run the whole race so far on my own. 

We then caught up with the first lady, Finn and Graeme, so the four of us followed the diversion off the towpath, through the village of Foulridge and back onto the canal. It was great having safety in numbers here but once back on the canal I pulled away from the rest of the group and didn’t look back. I was sure I was in the lead. This race was going way better than expected! 

At Check point 6, Salterforth Bridge, I was confirmed as having the female lead and found out I was 5th overall. 84 miles down, 46 miles to go. I took some more chocolate and a Diet Coke with me and off I went into the darkness. It really was pitch black on the canal tow path and covered with crunchy snails and slippery slugs which I was trying to avoid stepping on as well as not falling in the canal! 

I predictably started to feel really tired around 3am and ate two caffeine bullet chews in succession. I had been feeling sick since about 25 miles into the race and after these two chews I then started to be sick. I would just run, be sick then carry on. I also paranoically kept looking behind me for a head torch in the darkness for anyone catching me up. Now I knew I was in the female lead I really wanted to win this race but I had no idea how far anyone was behind me or how strong any of the other girls in the race were during the latter parts of the race as I hadn’t run with any. It definitely made me move quicker though.

I was in dreamland as I went through 100 miles in 21 hours 37 mins which was a 100 mile PB for me. I saw Matthew at Check Point 7 at the Bradley Swing Bridge in Skipton and was now freezing cold. It was 10ºC. I had a ginger ale to try and settle my upset tummy and had a nice but brief chat with the lovely volunteers. 

I wanted to stay and chat for longer but had a race to finish. As I ran off into the darkness along the towpath Matthew called out to me and came running after me. He took his shoes off and then gave me his warm socks so I could put them on my hands to warm them up. He is so kind and thoughtful. Now it was just over one marathon to go.

I was so looking forward to sunrise. It is such a morale boost to see where you are going, warm up and your body clock does some readjusting as the sunlight pours into your eyes. When first light came there was a fog/mist over the water of the canal. The surrounding countryside was very beautiful. 

Slowly I was starting to see people again, not runners in the race but people out walking their dogs, riding bikes and out on Sunday morning runs. People were asking me where I had run from and how far I was running. They were totally shocked when I said I was running the whole length of the 130 mile long canal from Liverpool to Leeds.

One of the other ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ is the incredible Bingley Five Rise Staircase which are the steepest staircase locks in the UK on the longest canal with amazing views of the Aire valley. I was so glad It was a down staircase and not up! It really was steep, and I enjoyed the free gravity assistance!

When I got to Check Point 8 in Shipley at 114 miles I was still 1st lady and instructed Matthew to stay back at the check point for at least 45 minutes to see how much lead I had on the 2nd placed female! I wanted this win but I was so worried I would be overtaken as I was now really feeling the faster than usual 114 miles I had put on my legs but was still run walking and only sat down twice for a couple of minutes during the whole race. 

Matthew reported back there was no sign of another female or any other runner so I was quietly confident that I wouldn’t be overtaken! Thank you to Finn for pushing me in the early stages of the race where I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself. Matthew said I was really upbeat at this point and I had some watermelon and some soluble painkillers as my feet were getting sore and off I went again. 

There was one more crew point at mile 123 where I saw Matthew. I had a quick photo and didn’t stop. I just couldn’t stop looking behind me, even though I knew there wasn’t another runner for at least 45 minutes. I started being sick again on this last section but it was literally vomit and run, repeat! It was more embarrassing now as there were loads of people around but I was now on a mission to finish this race. The last few miles seemed to be downhill which was wonderful.

So after 28 hours and 35 minutes after setting off from Liverpool I crossed the finish line! I was absolutely ecstatic with my result!  

First Lady 
5th overall. 
100 mile PB 

Spartathlon qualifying time and Badwater 2023 qualifying race! 

I was also the 4th fastest woman in the LLCR history. 

Compared to the two American races I had ran this year, the finish line was very low key. I was welcomed in by Race Director Dick and had a few photos with him and was presented with the magnificent LLCR130 Female Winners trophy which will be engraved with my name and time for all to see. 

The Finishers medal is also really impressive and heavy. I had some more photos with Dick, Matthew and the trophy and then I sat down in a chair trying to process and reflect on what just happened! I absolutely loved this race. I ran really well and my race strategy worked so well too. I achieved all my pre race goals and more and was one hour ten minutes ahead of the second lady. 

Special thanks as always to my rock Matthew for supporting me and spending his weekend driving around in the middle of the night looking after me and to the volunteers out on the course who were all so lovely and kind and of course the race directors for putting on such a well organised and brilliant event.

woman receiving her trophy under the finish line banner of an ultra race

"I was so looking forward to sunrise. It is such a morale boost to see where you are going, warm up and your body clock does some readjusting as the sunlight pours into your eyes."

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