The charity making life better by water

Roderick, tackling five Canalathons

Roderick decided to take on Canalathon, but with a twist. As a keen runner, he set himself some additional challenges which saw him clock up 150 miles across July.

Roderick ran over five Canalathons in July

In Roderick's words

Over the years I've done little to support the maintenance of canals, but, as a regular canal user, the Canalathon email caught my eye.

I enjoy spending time on the towpath because of the slower pace, the cleaner air, and the glimpses and sounds of nature that can even be found in busier, urban environments. For a long time, my main hobby has been running, and I've always appreciated being able to use the towpaths to run within and between towns.

I currently live in Yeading, near the Willowtree Marina on the Grand Union Paddington Arm. During a run or walk, I also enjoy observing the reflections in the still water. I like to take photographs, which I display upside-down to prompt people to pause and reflect on what they see.

Parexel building reflected clearly in the canal water

I also have many fond memories of canal boat holidays. Our first family trip was in 1973, hiring the boat IBIS, from Willow Wren Narrowboats in Rugby. I remember always being the one opening the lock gates.

A girl sits on the roof of a narrowboat leaving a lock as the rest of the family stand on the bank

Canalathon, but with added challenges

As a competent runner, I decided to tailor the Canalathon challenge of ‘26miles in a month' to suit my ability.

The first additional challenge I set myself was to do as many multiples of 26 miles as I could. The second was to only clock unique miles on towpaths, not counting the same stretch twice.

Lots of London

I started my Canalathon challenge by taking to London's towpaths.

Running here proved quite straightforward. I retraced my local runs and then caught the Elizabeth Line into Paddington and ran back to Greenford from there.

A friend had a Regent's Canal walk planned so I also joined in with that. Lengths such as the Slough Arm and the Grand Union up to Tring were made easier by parallel railways, meaning I could do a long run in one direction and then get the train back. The London sections are well populated with convenient canalside cafes and pubs.

There are many miles of canals near London. I did 82, plus two miles up the Brent River and three miles on the Thames Path. I could have done more of the Thames Path, but I had a Saturday morning parkrun near Fleet, which enabled me to fit in a five mile walk on the Basingstoke Canal.

Basingstoke Canal doused in shade from surrounding trees

Two weekends in the Midlands

I then spent some time in the Midlands, coinciding with the Commonwealth Games.

My first weekend was spent in Bedworth watching a friend in the Queen's Baton relay, followed by a walk up the Coventry Canal.

The next day I drove over to Stoke-on-Trent to run Trentham Gardens parkrun and combined with that a total of 16 miles of the Trent & Mersey Canal, plus two miles of the Caldon Canal.

The Trent & Mersey length included going over the top of the Harecastle Tunnel. That was done in pouring rain and I discovered that the route over the top was complex.

My second Midlands weekend involved an ambitious run covering the Wendover and Aylesbury Arms of the Grand Union.

It was wonderful to see that England's Navigable Canal Network will shortly be extended by another two miles of the Wendover Arm. Workmen were hard at work as I ran round - progress was being made.

Canal & River Trust boat moored at the entrance to Harecastle Tunnel

Bustling Birmingham

My time in Birmingham fell during a train strike, and the Commonwealth Games marathon, so I anticipated chaos and confusion. But I know Birmingham and its extensive canal network, which enables passage from one side of the city to the other without crossing a single road.

I parked to the west of Birmingham University and got a local bus to Smethwick. From there I was able to walk on the Birmingham Canal past Edgbaston Reservoir and into the glorious Gas Street Basin.

But I didn't stop there. I then walked down a canal I love - the Birmingham & Fazeley. I went down the Farmers Bridge Locks, which literally descends hidden within 1960's office blocks.

On the canal I made my way round to Digbeth for the Beach Volleyball, which I had tickets for. At the end of the match, I cut back over to Gas Street Basin and made my way down the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to Selly Oak for the Hockey at the University.

My plan was quite complex, but it worked out wonderfully. Although I wasn't quite finished.

Cyclist on Basin Bridge over the canal in Birmingham.

Looping back to London

On the very last day of Canalathon, on my way back to London, I stopped at Lapworth and ran down the Grand Union to Leamington for a few final miles. I enjoyed the section down the Hatton Staircase.

By the end of the month, I had run and walked a total of just over 150 miles – nearly six Canalathons!

Shrewley Tunnel opening with separate entrance for pedestrians

A map of memories

I've logged all the miles I clocked up in a map. It's great to see what I achieved, but what it really reveals to me is how many miles I hadn't covered. It also highlights the vast amount of waterways that the Canal & River Trust has to maintain.

In time I plan to add to the red on the map. A colleague is determined to walk the whole length of the Grand Union next year and I've already agreed to join her.

But for now, I'm running local!

A map of Roderick's canal coverage over July

Take on a fundraising challenge at your local canal

My advice for anyone thinking about signing up for a canal fundraising challenge is to firstly say yes and commit yourself to taking it on. Once you've done that, you then need to consider how to make it work for you.

Think about the logistics, what the weather may be like, and if you want to take time to enjoy the canal along the way. Do you want to stop to take photographs or open a few lock gates? Do you want to visit the canalside cafes and pubs? Do you want to do it solo or with others?

Once you have a plan of action, you can start looking forward to a great experience.

Roderick raised a fantastic £392 to help support our work. Thank you for your superb efforts, Roderick!

Last Edited: 01 December 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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