Liverpool to Leeds: The Rematch

Sometimes the sequel is better than the original. Report by Rob Wishart.

Last month I couldn’t run from Liverpool to Leeds. Why? Heavy backpack and sore feet?

So I got new shoes and minimalised what went in the pack. No change of big clothes. Enough food and water for “one meal”. Bivvy bag, waterproofs, headtorch. Some money and the phone. That’s about it!

Early train to Leeds, found the canal’s end near the station and jogged off. 127 miles to go. About five marathons. Before, I’d tried to last using a 15/5 run/walk strategy. This time I’d play it by feel. Felt happy running 13 miles in one go and this got me to Victorian industrial Saltaire (World heritage site). 13M = that’s my half-mara training done ;-)

Liverpool - Leeds canal

Liverpool – Leeds canal

My idea of a map was a list of towns with the estimated (inaccurate!) distances between them. As I’d only listed towns, ignoring villages, the Pennine area had looked to be about 20 miles where I couldn’t get supplies (another factor in quitting). Turns out the “Pennine desert” wasn’t as bad as expected – worse would come later!

In Yorkshire there were a few white rose flags and still some yellow bike frames from “le Tour du Yorkshire”. In Lancashire there’d be the odd red rose flag, especially on the narrowboats.

At Foulridge, Lancs, the canal enters a mile-long tunnel with no path. Sketched from a tourist info board the paths and roads I’d need, through streets, nettles, past a reservoir and back to the canal!

Soon afterwards a series of locks turned up – significant because it’s where I gave up last time. Also as the locks are the only “hills” on the route, post-Pennines it was downhill every time. Easy! ;-)

Rodley Lock

Rodley Lock

On and on. In a strange place it’s natural to have a twinge of anxiety when it starts getting dark. But bring on the night, it’s another sign of progress. But – watch for drunks and tripping hazards. And top up supplies before shops shut (thanks to late Asda and… Dominos Pizza!).

Burnley… Accrington… Oswaldtwistle… Blackburn…fields, woods in between. The thing that worried me most was hallucinating and reacting, ending up in the canal *splash* *glug*

An early sign is seeing patterns in trees/bushes/anything that look like faces….when that began it was power nap time!
This night I picked a grove of overhanging hawthorn trees. Some shelter and much warmer than last time’s exposed field!

Had a few hours good snooze to recharge then up at dawn, marching off. Milestone: 75 miles done, 52 left. Soon felt good enough to strip down to shorts and t-shirt and running commenced. Saw a milestone: 75 miles done, 52 left. Or, 3 marathons in and only 2 left! Was flying along for a while! Sometimes all you need is a rest.

Early in the morning, or anywhere isolated, people are generally polite and friendly and I got and gave out “good morning”s. As most daytime canal users are recreational the human vibe is usually pleasant.

Updated Facebook around breakfast time and saw how popular the mission was! :-)

Onto Wigan. Again, a time-consuming search for food. Found a bakery in the town centre and stocked up on steak bakes and pasties! Back to #Wiganpier and pressing on.

The milestones aren’t everywhere but those I saw showed the ever-shortening distance to Liverpool.
Increasingly I ran not to feel but to the watch – “keep going to half past….now to xx:40, etc”.

Much of the Lancashire plain is rural. Farms, woods. No shops here so strict rationing of the water. Then ironically I got soaked to the skin in a downpour!  Still ran “to the hour this time” as ordered!

After the ran came the sun. Blazing. And directly overhead, no shade. After a while if I passed under a tree I *really* wanted to stop under it.

Plodding along got harder and I got pissed off. Walking or running, it all hurt. Saw a milestone – 18 miles to Liverpool. 18 now, just 18 but that just seemed vast and endless :-(

A pub appeared – on my side of the canal for a change. Went in (Ahh, shade!) and got a pint of water, a pint of lemonade and a coffee.  Sat at a table outside as I reckon I’d have quit if I’d stayed indoors.

So= dehydration, moody, lethargic. Sounds like the sun’s got to you! I put the hat on – my head would be warmer but it’s the sun’s rays that are doing it – you don’t sunburn in a hot room, it’s the rays that do it. You don’t get sunstroke by heat alone, it’s the rays…

Full of liquids and head protected I had a chance now. I switched on the phone and saw all the notifications from faceyB. A lot of support there. Fuck it, I’m not quitting. Fuck weakness. And fuck you, 18 miles.

The rest is history. Had a couple of short walk breaks and the very last miles were slow. But I ran through the fields, through the town of Maghull, more farmland, into Liverpool and right to the end.

*Boom* Took about 35 hours.

There’s no finish gantry or big deal at the end, it’s a concrete shelf for unloading boats! Trousers on and it’s pub o’clock methinks. Went in the Vauxhall Vaults. Cheap, rough, but there was a singer on doing Oasis, Verve, Neil Young etc. A couple of drinks in there then into the city centre. None of the posh eateries really wanted me (dressed in waterproofs, needing a shave!) so resorted to drink instead – I didn’t need ’em anyway, I still had two pasties!
Thought I was in the famous Cavern Club but actually it was the Cavern Pub. Yep, a tribute bar with yep, tribute bands. Liverpool’s done well out of the 1960s! Had a few pints and talked to strangers, enjoyed myself!
Didn’t stay out too late as I wanted to see off the runners in the official race in the morning.


So, back to the canal. The area is semi-industrial but there’s a pocket of new houses and a patch of trees and bushes. Nobody saw me in the darkness, quietly getting in the bivvy bag and zzz…

Until nightclubs closed and some guys sat at a bench nearby and talked all night! Ffs, people are trying to sleep, you know what I mean…

Got up at 5ish and quietly packed up and stepped out of the trees and went to the canal’s end. Marshals and runners turned up, including Liz Tunna who had had the Guinness world record of youngest woman to run 100 marathons (when 24!).

Unlike normal races, nobody warms up before an ultra! There’s plenty of time. A briefing and photos and they jogged off. Good luck out there.

So what now? Parkrun of course! Soon found it (thanks to A-Z of Liverpool) and to my surprise they asked during the announcements if I was there? Someone from TBH must have contacted them. I got a round of applause!
Not the fastest parkrun but bliss running without the backpack!

Mission accomplished :thumbsup:


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  1. Well done Rob. Much better conditions bet it made it easier without carrying all that baggage ;) There is no peace though eh? Don’t they realise people have long runs to do ;)

    • Big Ron on 1st September 2015 at 12:37
    • Reply

    Well done, you are a determined bloke to say the least.

    • Simon Pryde on 1st September 2015 at 23:46
    • Reply

    You are a buffoon, Wishart. Well done, admirable resolve.

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