Sunday, 19 September 2010

Birmingham Canal Canter 2010

I had been wondering why so few of our volunteers were up for entering this event, but now realise what a serious undertaking walking 26 miles is.

The idea for The Canal Canter came up last year as a way for Birmingham FoE to raise money and give the Heart of England LDWA some extra volunteers to make it run smoothly on the day and help in promoting the event.

Organiser Dave Powell said that he wanted people to see parts of Birmingham that they never normally do and see a whole different side of the city and he certainly achieved that on this walk. The first half of it was an absolute pleasure with a real variety of different places to walk through and a heart full of optimism, but the second half was much harder to appreciate as the legs began to give way and the novelty of canal towpaths began to fade.

We started at the Alexander stadium (home of the Birchfield Harriers) in the North of the city, where the first challenge was to get up onto the canal towpath through the nettles and very steep slope. For the first few miles, underfoot was grassy and rough with not enough room to walk side by side a lot of the time. We passed under some big roads, including spaghetti junction which the council once had a mad scheme to light up so it was visible from space) where the noise was incongruous with the pretty green surrounding down by the canal.

Then we made our way down through town (spotting herons and some amazing black and white ducks on the way - sorry no pics) to the Ackers where breakfast was being served by BFoE volunteers (porridge or toast with tea, coffee or cold drinks).

(Aldo, Mary and Ben in the kitchen with Roxanne and Beth serving drinks outside)

At this stage everyone was still fairly bunched up and the runners (who started an hour after us walkers) were just going past. I did the walk with my dad and we decided not to stop for too long there to keep the momentum going - we started pretty briskly and were feeling fine, so we left before quite a few people at this stage.

The next part of the walk was the one I enjoyed most, as I was still feeling fine and we went through some absolutely lovely green spaces. Firstly, the grounds of the Ackers were a joy to go through and I would recommend that a place for a walk for anyone in the area. Then we headed down through the Shire Country park (Tolkien land) past Sarehole Mill and down to Billesley's wonderful green spaces (the seven wonders of Billesley) where BFoE successfully helped local residents defeat a planning application for an access road through one of the parks last year.

All along this section of the walk there were loads of sloes and other berries that would be of interest to those who like mapping where food grows in the city, such as Abundance Brum. We are doing an event on 2nd October called Edible Birmingham to look at sustainable local food, too.

Lunch was at the Horseshoe pub on the Alcester Rd where we had sandwiches and pieces of pineapple with squash (I don't think I've drunk as much squash as I did on this day for years).

(welcome food in the pub's garden)

At this stage we were still going fine (12.8 miles) and after an 8.30am start left the pub at 12.40 full of hope and thinking "this long distance walking's a good thing - perhaps we'll do more". The next section was almost all along the canal and we got some interesting views of different boats moored along there - they have very odd names, including one called "John Thomas"! I'll let you make your own jokes about that.

Despite it only being 5.6 miles to the next stop for cakes at Maple Bank, this part went a lot slower than the previous section as our legs tired and the variation in things to look at along the route was not so great. We went alongside the railway line through Bournville, Selly Oak, over a section where they were digging under the canal to build a relief road by the Hospital and there were lots of cyclists zooming along with no manners to say excuse me or thank you when you needed to get out of the way. As a cyclist myself, I always thanks people for getting out of the way on a shared space with pedestrians and heard a lot of walkers moaning about these rude people. It doesn't take much, so come on cyclists, please.

We made it but were very sore at the cake stop (18.4 miles) and I took my boots off to see if there were actually any blisters as my feet were hurting every step by then. Also, we knew the last bit was 8 miles - the longest of any of the 4 sections! If it hadn't been for the sponsorship I'd been given, it would have been easy to give up then and save myself the agony of the last bit. I wanted the sense of achievement, but I really didn't want to let people down even more.

Foot-sore we set off towards the city centre. This was not the nicest bit because there were so many people that we had to dodge around and wait for as we went past the Mailbox, the ghastly Cube, Brindley Place and the NIA. If you've never been to Birmingham before this might have been interesting to see, but for those of us who live here, these crowded places are normally avoided if you're doing a walk.

From there we headed back up towards Spaghetti Junction again trying to talk about something else other than how much our feet hurt, but this was pretty hard now, especially when there were lots of ups and downs (the most painful things for tired legs). It also started raining to compound our joy and make the cobbled down-slopes of the little bridges even harder to manage.

We grabbed a quick drink and a sandwich at Spaghetti with 3 miles to go and then headed off along the uneven muddy part we'd already done (going the other way when we set off in the morning). Gritted teeth and determination (along with knowing there was no other way out by then) go us to the finish, somehow. I'm not sure I remember ever having so much pain in my legs or feet before (apart from when injured during football - but that's a different pain).

[My dad and me with our certificates for finishing]
I'm glad that I did it and that I've helped raise money for Birmingham FoE. If you'd like to add a bit more to my total for this, there's still time if you go to this link.

Next year they are planning to do it again and I think that as we got very nearly 200 people doing it this year, that's a great idea. However, for the less experienced walkers (most of our volunteers) I'd like to suggest that there's a shorter walk as well as the marathon-length one. If we start at Ackers (as I believe is planned), it'll be a lot nicer and provide more options, including a possible short children's nature walk - any volunteers to help organise that?

Most of all, though, I'd encourage people to get out and explore different parts of Birmingham now. It's a great city with lots to see and some great places to visit on foot, bike or by public transport.

Joe Peacock

1 comment:

Peter Lawton said...

Hi Joe

From a runners view the whole event was I suppose could be best described as quirky for a number of reasons:-

1. Unless we are totally done in the idea is to run the distance all the way so it was a new discipline to have deal with stopping for 5 minutes at the check points for drinks and food (!) The cakes were very tempting but "running" compared to "walking" and eating as you go is something we don't generally do.

2. Following directions on a piece of paper or looking for laminated cards with arrows is harder when you have no alterantive but to stop. By doing so you break up your rythem/pace.

3. Stopping at any stage after 18/19 miles can be dangerous as cramp can easily take hold.

4. Running on grass or off road would constitute a multi terrain or XC race if you are running.

5. We get mile markers not check points and drink stations at 4/5 mile intervals so for most of us it was necessary to carry our own water or drink.

6. No chance of a PB

All in all however a very enjoyable 4 hours and 2 minutes.If you check out the Runners World website on the this link (copy & paste it) you will see 4 runners have posted comments all very favourable