The Birmingham Canal Canter is organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) and is open to both walkers and runners alike.
With the option of either 18 or 26.2 miles, they offer a circular route exploring Birmingham’s extensive canal network – with it’s mix of rural countryside, industrial heritage and state of the art development.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of canals but being an official ‘Brummie’ – born and bred in Birmingham, I took the opportunity to take part in a well organised, affordable marathon on my doorstep.
I was joined on the day by Maria – my running partner in crime – and 182 other hardy souls who took on the canals in 35 degree heat!
Registration, held at Mosely Rugby Club was straight forward. With no race numbers to attach, you’re handed a card which you get hole-punched at each of the five check-points en route. Walkers start at 8.30am with runners leaving at 9:30am – although due to the mini heatwave – any runners that had arrived early were sent on their way with the walkers to avoid as much of the midday sun as possible – a welcome touch from the organisers.
For the first six miles you follow the River Cole as it winds it way to the first checkpoint at Ackers Adventure Centre. The terrain up to this point was mostly hard packed trails with lots of shade from the tree canopy – and with a slight breeze in the air it made for a comfortable start to the race. We were running in a small group at this stage and the pace was steady – something we were thankful for given how the day would unfold.
After leaving checkpoint 1 we joined the Grand Union Canal and headed in the direction of Birmingham City Centre and the second checkpoint at the infamous Spaghetti Junction – a vast road junction where the M6 meets the Aston Expressway into Birmingham.
This was an enjoyable section along the Grand Union Canal and we made good progress. Despite no shelter from the sun, there was a welcome breeze and we weren’t working too hard to maintain a steady, conversational pace.
We soon reached check-point 2 where we took some food on board before heading onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal towards the city centre.
This was probably the toughest part of the route with a fair amount of incline – with several locks and short, steep bridges to navigate – as we made our way passed the distinctive BT tower and though the Jewellery Quarter – and my head office for work!
The sun was now in full force and the breeze we’d enjoyed for much of the morning had now disappeared – it was hard going.
At mile 13 we reached Brindley Place and the start of a 5 mile out-and-back Soho loop towards check-point 3. We met Ruth and the boys here – they’d been tracking us via google maps which was a lovely surprise. After a brief catch-up, we left them to the lure of the ‘Lego shop‘ whilst we continued along the canal – knowing that we’d be retracing our steps in an hour or so – with the promise of ice-cream on our return!
The 2.5 mile stretch to check-point 3 was again hard work – with the sun pounding down on us and limited shade – progress was slow but we eventually reached the check-point. We took some time out here – refilled our soft flasks and took advantage of the excellent food on offer whilst chatting to fellow runners and marshals – all suffering with the heat.
We crossed the canal for the return 2.5 mile stretch back to Brindley Place. We’d noted on the way out that there more shade available on the other side and with plenty of bridges on route to cross back over, it was a great shout! We maintained a steady but consistent pace and having that additional shade from the sun made it much easier. Upon returning to Brindley Place, Ruth had stuck to her promise and greeted us with a Calippo each – utter bliss – then after a quick catch-up and chat, we made our way out of Gas Street Basin before hitting the Worcester and Birmingham Canal towards the finish.
We knew this section of the canal quite well – having run it numerous times in the past. We’d adopted a run/walk strategy – using landmarks in the distance as milestones – more due to the heat than anything else – the legs still felt fine.
We soon reached the University of Birmingham and check-point 4 at the Vale – and the infamous cake competition – although I opted for fluids and fruit rather than the vast offering of cake – which all looked delicious!
18 miles done and feeling good – if a little baked!
The next 6 miles takes you past Selly Oak – where I grew up – Bourneville – the land of chocolate – and Kings Norton – before leaving the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and joining the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal for the remining 3 miles and check-point 5. We didn’t hang around here – being so close to the finish, we grabbed an electrolytes drink and some fresh fruit before pushing on for the last section.
We came off the canal for the final time at Chinn Brook Nature Reserve and after a short section running under the shade of the trees, the route opened up onto the Billesley Common, then onto the finish line back at Moseley Rugby Club.
27.2 miles in just over 6 hours.
Rewarded at the finish line with a certificate, cold drink and a choice of hot meals – jacket potato, bean chili or bean and chorizo chili – it was the perfect end to a perfect day.