The Ridgeway Challenge.


Just over a week ago I took part in the Ridgeway Challenge, a 86 mile off road race on the ancient footpath named, funnily enough, the Ridgeway. It begins in Buckinghamshire near a place called Tring and ends in Wiltshire at Avebury of massive stone circle fame.
I hadn’t really targeted this race, but thought that it seemed to fit in just about around other events, and I guessed that I’d carry enough fitness to complete it. Also, if I could complete this race it would qualify me for the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc next year which is a race that I’ve wanted to do for some time.
There were two starts for this race. One at 10am on the Saturday for people who thought they’d take longer than 24hrs, and one at midday for those that would beat 24hrs. I had no real clue how long this one would take so I took a bit of a gamble and chose the later start.
I hadn’t done anything during the week leading up to this one as my knees were still feeling a little tender and I figured the weeks rest certainly wouldn’t have a negative impact on my performance.
One of the lessons I’ve slowly picked up is just how valuable rest is, even if I think I feel fine, the extra day or two here and there really does help. The difficult bit is that I obviously love running, so taking these breaks can be very frustrating. I have to keep reminding myself of the bigger picture.
I had to get up at 5 to have breakfast and make my way to the train station. Fortunately Andrea woke up and kindly offered to drive me to the station. Thank god she did as I only got there with five minutes to spare! I felt remarkably relaxed during the journey. I could even manage to read for an hour or so! I met another competitor on the train at London which was nice. Had a good chat about the usual topics : training, injuries, previous races, future races etc. Finally we arrived at Tring station, where we met a few other guys who were doing the race. Whilst we were waiting for the organiser to pick us up and take us to the start we noticed that the 10 am starts began trickling past.
Finally we got picked up and driven to the start. It was a perfect day for running, Sunny but not too hot. I signed in and picked up my race number and slowly began getting ready for the off.
I still felt very calm which was nice. I can only think that this was due to this race not being a real target and maybe the experience was starting to show!
At quarter to twelve everyone started milling towards the start which is at the top of Ivinghoe Beacon, which has beautiful views of the surrounding scenery. Now I was just excited and keen to make a start. I was a tiny bit chilly which to me means it ideal for running in as soon I’d heat up plenty!
Finally we were off! I started running with Colin who I’d met during the JOGLE training a few weeks previous and a chap called Alex who had never done an ultra before. I explained that I intended to break the running up with plenty of brief spells of fast walking. They both seemed happy with my strategy so we stuck together for the time being. Straight away we found our way fairly close to the back as everyone shot off. It’s always difficult at this stage to hold a steady pace, your own pace, and let everyone do their own thing. I felt pretty good with my strategy, as did Colin. I’m not sure Alex thought it was best for him but we stuck together for a while.
Eventually someone caught up and Alex started chatting with them. I realised that the pace was a tiny bit above what I had planned, so I slowed a little. Colin stayed with me and Alex disappeared into the distance. I felt very confident with my pacing today.
We got to the first cp where I stuffed my face with whatever delights they had there, filled up my bladder then set off asap. It amazes me how many people you can get past if you’re fast at the cp’s, this was no exception. We didn’t really see many other people till we got to the 3rd cp. This surprised me as I was holding a 20hr pace which would get me roughly in the top twenty somewhere if I could sustain it. I asked the guys at the 3rd cp how many had gone through. He informed us that we were about seventieth out of 92! Hopefully the tailenders would start coming into our sights.
Soon we were rewarded for our patience. we must have took about 20 people over the next 5 miles. And this continued all the way past the 4th cp till we caught Alex and his running buddy. We passed him a carried on our way. We both felt pretty good by this stage. It’s always good to be catching people, but again you have to try to keep control of yourself. It’s all about running your own race. Just as it was getting dark, we arrived at the 5th cp, which also was the half way point. Here we had access to our drop bags plus they had some baked potatoes with baked beans which I wolfed down as fast as possible as there were loads of competitors here we had caught up and I fancied getting back on the road before them.
Colin and I left together with headtorches on as it was now pitch black out. I like to run at night, but It’s always good to be able to turn the light of when day breaks.
We started on the long uphill drag out from the cp, soon overtaking a group of three. The hill went on for quite a while. I felt good enough to feel like running. Soon we overtook a woman by herself, then we were out by our selves, away from the light pollution enough to notice the stunning canopy of stars above us. I was so enjoying this race that I kept finding a dirty great grin across my face. This is what it’s all about.
We kept up the pace until coming up a hill we could finally see the lights of the next cp. This meant there was only one left after this one. We stopped and fortunately my stomach still felt fine, so I ate as much as I could without making myself ill. This strategy seemed to be working well so far, so with only 17 miles remaining, I wasn’t about to change it now. Colin on the other hand, was starting to get a bit of an uncomfortable stomach. I noticed that he didn’t eat as much as he should have. As we left the cp, I told him to try and eat something else he’ll just run out of gas. He ate a bite size chocolate bar. We pushed on, but I was a little concerned about Colin.
By the time we had got to the final cp, I felt great, but Colin was in need of a bush. I ate and had a coffee whilst he dealt with it. Eventually he reappeared not looking great. He said he’d been ill and told me to go on, So I got ready quickly and ran off into the darkness.
I now decided to push the pace a little seeing as I felt so good. The Ridgeway followed a road for a mile or so till it came to a T-junction. I span around looking for a sign post. As I hunted for the sign, a car pulled up and asked me Where I was looking for. I told him that I was looking for the Ridgeway west bound. He helpfully pointed me down a hill telling me to keep going till I found the hospital. Here I’d be able to pick up the path again. I thanked him and started off fast down the hill. The further I’d gone The more doubt started creeping into my mind. Finally I came to a sign that said “footpath to Ridgeway 2.5 miles”. Brilliant I thought, Let’s get back on the Ridgeway. After about 5 minutes running on this track I again Got a little concerned as the track looked almost completely disused. I kept on running.
I then lost the track and realised that I was on some farm land. I jumped a fence and was on a road. I hunted for another sign but couldn’t see one. Which way? I went right and ended up on a larger road. After sitting down for a minute with my map trying work out my location, I still wasn’t too sure. I rushed down the road a bit further and came to a village which thankfully gave me my location. Sadly I had been directed by the stranger the wrong way! Probably for a laugh no doubt. I was angry with him, but more so with myself. What a fool for not checking! I put all of my concentration into channeling my frustration into my running. I ran with speed back up the hill I’d been directed down. 10 minutes later I started to see the headlights of other runners. I was back on track. This made me smile. Now I had some serious overtaking to do. I guessed that I’d been bumbling around for around an hour. I straight away started to take people. no-one attempted to stay with me for a while. Then I heard some footsteps behind me. Someone was running with me which I was quite surprised about as my pace was still fast being fueled by adrenalin. We ran together for about half an hour till he informed me he was going to walk for a bit. I pushed on.
Soon I caught up with Colin. I was very glad to see that he was still pushing on. He was going well now, but told me that he had stayed at the cp for half an hour! I pushed on and took about four more guys before reaching the last cp. I ate fast. They informed me that it was 6 miles till the end. My stopwatch said 18hrs 57mins. To beat 20hrs I needed to run 10k in less than 1hr 3mins.
This seemed fast but I felt good and still highly motivated after my error. I left as fast as I could.
The final 10k was smooth and I took another 3 guys. As I entered Avebury my stopwatch reset itself so I lost track of my time. I squeezed out every last drop of energy all the way to the finish.
My time was 20hrs 2mins!
I was of course frustrated with my error and time, but overall, seeing as I hadn’t trained specifically for this race, I was really chuffed with my pacing, my speed and I really enjoyed the event. I recovered really fast which is always nice and a sure sign of fitness.
Between the Ridgeway and the next race which is the 24hrs, I have a gap of 6 weeks. I decided to take 2 whole weeks off of running after. This will be followed by an easy low mileage week, two medium mileage weeks, a long hard week and finishing with a week of rest before the race.
Once the 24 is done, that is the end of my season. My biggest yet! Then I’ll be slowly building towards the JOGLE.
I currently have another 5 days off of running which is very difficult, but I can feel myself getting stronger and all my niggles are disappearing, so I’ll stick to the plan.
I’ll Blog soon.
Happy running.

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