Having been tempted to run the High Peak 40 by my new friends in the Goyt Valley Striders I was reliably informed by my lovely wife Rosie that I had a prior commitment to attend the birthday barn dance of our friend Sue 150 miles away at home. So, as a compromise I decided to have a go at running the eastern half of the Ridgeway National Trail which starts a couple of miles from our house. I planned to run from Ivinghoe Beacon to South Stoke near Goring, a distance of around 42 miles.
The furthest I'd run before in one go was 28 miles while training for the Jungfrau (although I have cycled 240 miles in a day a few times but that's another story). Having jogged round the Bath half marathon with my daughter Lucy and not even breaking into a sweat I reckoned that at the right pace and with the right hydration and nutrition it should be possible to run a very long way without too much effort or damage. That was the theory. I was also conscious that I had to be careful to keep my one remaining functioning kidney safe from dehydrating.
My plan is below showing the stopping points where I would refuel (apologies for the format):
Time per leg - Place - Distance - Longitude - Latitude
n/a - Ivinghoe Beacon - 0 - N51.841717 - W0.6047630
1h 40m - Wendover (Hale Rd - Church Ln) - 10 miles - N51.756136 - W0.7350920
1h - Whiteleaf Cross (Car Park) - 16 miles - N51.724976 - W0.8093060
1h - Chinnor Hill - 22 miles - N51.695834 - W0.9012360
50m - Watlington, B480 - 28 miles - N51.633627 - W0.9992090
50m - 'The Crown', Gangsdown Hill (A4130) - 33 miles - N51.584183 - W1.0267440
35m - Mongewell A4074 (old road/layby) - 37 miles - N51.585102 - W1.1109520
45m - Perch and Pike Pub, South Stoke - 40.5 miles - N51.546950 - W1.1371820
My intention to start at 7:00 a.m. didn't go down to well with my support crew (Rosie and daughter Vicky) so I changed that to 7:30. This was still a tad ambitious as, working away from home during the week and not getting back until Friday evening, I had to prepare in the late evening (not helped by going to watch District 9 at the cinema that evening) and first thing in the morning. I eventually started at 9:40. Better late than never.
The weather was overcast but warm to start. I took our dog Pheobe on the first leg (10 miles to Wendover). I tried to keep the pace down but occassionally found myself running at normal pace. Conscious that dogs can overheat I took a couple of small detours to let Phoebe dunk herslef in cattle troughs. She loves to go running and spends the first hour dashing around sniffing at everything but then get a little bored and trots alongside. The run to Wendover was nice and steady. I was worried about a field full of cows that the Ridgeway runs through the middle of but they were all lying down in a corner. Rosie was there to meet me at the agreed place near Wendover church. I topped up my camelback with another litre of water and threw in a couple of Nuun isotonic tablets (cola flavoured), drank a bottle of Lucasade isotonic, ate a muller rice and had a sip of miso boullion (a tip picked up fromthe Jungfrau, to replace the salt lost in sweating). Rosie took Pheobe home and I took off on my own.
It was starting to get warm. The clouds thinned and temperature rose steadily to the mid-20's and there was absolutely no wind. This results in massive amounts of sweating as the body tries to keep cool. I was constantly sipping from the camelback to replace it.
From Wendover it was up over Coombe Hill, down past Chequers (first pit stop (in a bush not in Gordon's loo)), over the shoulder of Pulpit Hill then up to the top of Whiteleaf Cross hill (16 miles) where I met up with Vicky for my second stop. I changed my shirt (wringing out at least a pint of sweat), shorts, socks, shoes (road shoes after trail shoes) and hat. Another Muller Rice and a variety of drinks went down the hatch.
From Whiteleaf it was down and along the back of Princes Risborough then followed the Ridgeway in a big loop to the south. A brisk walk up Lodge Hill then down towards Chinnor. On the way down I was checking out some signs to make sure I didn't miss a turning when I went over on my right ankle. As has happened quite a few times I thought I'd really damaged it only to find that there's no problem (unlike on this year's 3 Peaks). I then started on what must be the longest straight stretch on any national trail. Nearly eight miles without a bend to speak of. I could see a prime example of iPod man jogging up ahead along this stretch so I couldn't resist burning him up (I know it's not funny or clever but I can't resist it. Sorry.). A couple of miles along this stretch I arrived at my third stop near the Chinnor quarries (22.5 miles) to find that Vicky wasn't there. Fortunately she turned up a few mintues later. Another top up of the camelbak. I was drinking about a litre for every 6 miles plus drinks (isotonic, recovery, coffee, boullion) at the stops. Then it was off again. The old legs were beginning to stiffen up after these stops including the knee making its presence felt but soon loosened up again. Half a mile into this strech a couple of policemen were searching the ground. Not sure what for but they looked pretty bored.
This stretch is gently rolling for ages, occassionally in the open and occassionally through trees. I recognised certain points from when we had to navigate the mud (now dried up) while cycling the Ridgeway with friends a few years ago. I passed through the marathon distance just before running under the M40 as it emerged from the cutting (as seen on Vicar of Dibley opening shots) on its way to Oxford. It was here that I noticed my ankle was very sore from having clipped it with my other foot. The skin on the ankle bone was rubbed raw so I rolled my sock over it intending to stick a Compeed plaster on it at the next stop. The weather by now had settled into one of those rare sultry days ideal for sitting out by a riverside pub but not what you want for running in all day. I was getting a bit bored with sipping the isotonic stuff by now but I forced it down anyway. So it was on to the next stop south of Watlington where I arrived at around 4:00.
When I arrived Vicky said that she had a confession to make. She was going out at 6:30! So, not wanting to spoil her evening (and the fact that I was supposed to be at that barn dance at 7:30) I decided to cut my run short. I would do the next leg then we would go home. I had proven to myself that my theory about hydration and nutrition works even on such a hot and sweaty day. I was a bit weary but had cracked the run. The last 7 miles that I would miss were downhill to the River Thames then flat along the river. There was no way I wouldn't have been able to finish the run. Point proven.
So, into the last leg. Finish off the straight bit then left up into an undulating five miles past Swyncombe church and house. This section was a relief after the relative monotony of the straight section. A nice mixture of hills, fields, buildings and woods. The last section to the Crown on the Gangsdown Hill road near Nuffield was across a couple of large freshly ploughed fields then through a wood onto the noisy A4130. Vicky was waiting across the road in the pub car park. A quick change then we were off taking a short detour to visit Turville which is the setting for the vicarage and church in the Vicar of Dibley. Driving back made me realise how far it was that I'd run. I suppose that's the beauty of a point to point run. You can see how far it is. I'd run across the width of two OS Explorer maps (sheets 171 and 172).
Back home I was amazed at how good I felt. I did ache a little and was a bit weary but I could easily get up out chairs, run up the stairs and not the slighest hint of cramp. I had a nice bath, a bowl of Rosie's home made veggie soup and a bowl of pasta then got ready for the barn dance. Unlike my expectations of sitting in a corner feeling sorry for myself I took part in several dances without any signs of having just spent over seven hours running. Marvellous.
The next day I drove back up to the B&B in Whaley Bridge and this morning I had to sprint uphill to catch the train and jumped onto the train just as the door shut. No problem, no aches and pains, no heavy breathing. Not bad for an old git. After all that I still don't know how far I can run but it's a good start. Next time I'll maybe do some pre-planning and preparation.