Talented Portsmouth trio enjoy a Grand Union on canal

From left: Mich Hardie, Russ Bestley, Martin Bacon and GB ultra-runner Paul Rowlinson

From left: Mich Hardie, Russ Bestley, Martin Bacon and GB ultra-runner Paul Rowlinson

Series winner Piotr Meller, left, with event organiser Rob Piggott. Picture: Neil Marshall

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A trio of Portsmouth ultra marathon runners made history with their performances in the Grand Union Canal Race.

Martin Bacon, Mich Hardie and Russ Bestley, who are long-standing members of Pompey Joggers, all completed the epic 145.4-mile course.

Bacon finished fifth in 27hrs 17mins, with Hardie eighth in 31.05 and Bestley finishing 16th with a time of 33.19.

It was the first time three runners from the same club have completed the event known as the GUCR.

They started at 6am last Saturday, in Birmingham, and ran along the canal to finish in London.

The experienced trio managed to qualify via a ballot for places in the classic British ultra race.

Bestley, who is a UKA qualified endurance coach, has overcome a serious heart condition to now complete the amazing feat of joining the 100 Marathon Club.

He said: ‘The main race story for me was laying a ghost to rest at 106 miles, where I crashed out in 2014 and hit the ground face first and unconscious with hypothermia.

‘I had hoped to make the top 10 this time around but had a few problems with my hip and was off the pace from mid-race onwards but delighted to finish and get that elusive GUCR medal.

‘Events such as this take a huge amount of logistical planning and preparation, with support crews, drivers and buddy runners all coming together to help the competitors.

‘There were around a dozen other club members out on the course throughout the race, providing food and drink and medical assistance, cheering the competitors on and taking turns to run alongside the runners (GUCR rules allow one buddy runner at a time from 65 miles), making it feel like a real team event.

‘The Grand Union Canal is a beautiful setting for a brutal race.

‘It is an unbelievably tough challenge, but seeing the new dawn light breaking on Sunday morning, with swans nursing their cygnets and herons fishing in the still and silent waters is a remarkable experience.’

Bacon, who leads and coaches an off-road running group in Portsmouth, was delighted with his time.

‘This was a special race for Mich, Russ, and myself because we have been part of the same running club for over 10 years,’ said Bacon.

‘To finish fifth in 27.17 was well above my expectations and over three hours quicker than my first attempt in 2011.

‘For Mich to finish eighth in 31.05 and Russ to finish 16th in 33.19 this year made it a perfect race for us.

‘It was the first time three runners have finished GUCR from the same running club in the same year.’

For Hardie, it was the realisation of his main running target for 2015.

He said: ‘This year I have had one objective – to complete the Grand Union Canal Race.

‘After 31 hours and five minutes I was very happy to cross that line, cheered in by the rest of my crew and the team that make the race happen.

‘Dick Kearn (race organiser) was ready to hang what turned out to be the heaviest of all my medals around my neck and shook my hand, a very proud moment.

‘I cannot thank my crew enough for helping me to execute such a well-run race.’

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