Sunday, 28 August 2011

Man of Bronze

This post could have a number of titles after a very mixed day (or two) on the Ridgeway Challenge 2011, which was also hosting the UK Trial Running Championship (Long Distance).  Alternative titles include:
  • Less Rush, More Haste
  • Pride Comes Before a Fall
  • Slip Sliding Away
  • A Race of Two Halves
The Ridgeway Challenge is an 85 (some say 87) mile race along the Ridgeway long distance footpath starting on the top of Ivinghoe Beacon, along the Chiltern Hills to the River Thames, across the river and Goring then along the Wessex Downs to Avebury.

Less Rush, More Haste
I had little time to get ready with not getting home from a business trip to Moscow unitl 9:00 p.m. on Friday night.  In the end I forgot to apply sunscreen and to protect my nipples from friction burn.

Pride Comes Before a Fall
Having recently completed the Lakeland 100 I decided to have a go at this race as it is local to me.  I live a couple of miles from the start and I'd used the Eastern half of the route as a training run for the Lakeland so I knew it well. At 85 miles and 9000 feet of ascent (compared to the Lakeland's 105 miles and 24,000 feet) I thought it would be well within my means.  I'd done little training in the month between the two events, having only got in 3 or 4 short runs.  So, not giving it the respect it deserves,

At the due start time Anthony Taylor, the race organiser blew his whistle.  I and a few other Ridgeway virgins thought he was attracting our attention for a pre-race brief but it actually the start whistle.  I set off  (No. 114) at a high pace (although not as high as the eventual winner who sprinted off into the distance).

I ran the hills, which I never normally do on a long run, and arrived at checkpoint 1 after ten miles in 5th or 6th place!  This was enough to damage my calves and quads which ached badly for the rest of the event.  Lesson learned.

Slip Sliding Away
The weather during daylight was very mixed and alternated massively.  One minute it was a torrential downpour, the next it was hot sunshine.  It was difficult to know what to wear.  It had rained during the previous week and, being local, I knew the chalk paths would be greasy.  I chose to wear my Salomon XA Pros which don't have the best grip but I didn't want to risk blisters by wearing my Salomon Speed Cross or Inov-8 Mudclaws on a 40 miles stretch. Our bags were being transported to the halfway checkpoint at Goring so we could have a kit change.  The first few miles to Chinnor were better than I'd expected.  It was easy to avoid any greasy areas on the path.  The next five or more miles along the straight path past Lewknor and Watlington were a completely different matter.  Imagine trying to run on a lumpy and rutted surface covered in axle grease and you have some idea of the soul (and leg) destroying experience we had on that section.  On already achey legs it was utterly tiring and demoralising not being able to get a grip.  That long, straight and flat section is not my favourite at the best of times but this was awful.  It left me miserable and trying to think of reasons to pack but try as I might I couldn't.  Aching legs don't count as an excuse.

The next section was back up the Chilterns escarpment and up and down a couple of roller coaster valleys past Swyncombe Church.   This was followed by a run out of the Chilterns down to the Thames along a lovely path in the Grims Dyke.  I found a second wind at this point and used the gentle downhill gradient to put my head down and cruise along the path.  As the Thames was reached and the route turned south along the eastern bank of the river I passed eleven other runners in the space of five minutes.  My plan was to keep going to Goring where there was hot food and a change of clothes waiting for me.   Unfortunately I ran out of steam at North Stoke and had to walk/jog the rest of the way to the checkpoint to arrive at 8:23 p.m. just as it was getting dark.

A Race of Two Halves
Having had a hard and mixed first half and feeling very weary I was determined to make best use of my time at Goring to put myself back into some sort of shape to do another 42 plus miles. I first got washed (wet wipe) and changed.  I decided that as I would probably be doing a significant amount of night walking that I would wear my new three quarter length Salomon leggings rather than shorts and a Helly Hansen long sleeved top rather than a t-shirt.  We had a cool head wind all day (and night).  I found a small blister on the side of my left middle toe but it wasn't bothering me so I left it alone. 

One legacy of the Lakeland 100 was some foot damage.  The tendon running under my right big toe was still sore and the front of the ball of my foot was sore to the touch but I couldn't feel it when walking or running.  This area,  on both feet, was now very sore at Goring and would prove to be my main area of concern in the second half.  I knew that the paths on the western end of the Ridgeway were almost all wide smooth hard tracks so I opted to wear road shoes with trail socks, a combination I'd not tried before.

Feeling a bit better in my clean dry clothes I then set about refueling.  I had 300ml of SIS Rego recovery drink, a cup of tea, a cup of Miso soup, a bowl of beef and veg stew with two slices of bread, a bowl of rice and fruit and a banana. The checkpoint staff generally were very good but at Goring they were excellent, running round getting the midway bags, drinks and food.  I topped up my drinks bladder, filled my 500ml bottle with tea and set off at 9:17.

Out of the check point it was across the Thames into Streatly then up the gradual ascent back onto the top of the ridge.  I tried running sections of this but kept feeling like I was going bring back all that food so I settled into a fast walk for the first hour.  Along the top I was feeling fairly good so I broke into a jog and passed a few runners (walking).  Coming down a slight incline I came across another competitor. As I was about to pass her she said something (can't remember what) so I stopped and we ended up joining up and doing most of the rest of the route together.  This was Lindsey, a very experienced ultra runner.  I did feel a bit guilty as I dropped into a fast speed walking pace, using my new Mountain King Trail Blaze poles (which replaced the Raidlight poles I'd snapped on the Lakeland 100), while Lindsey adopted her ultra jogging shuffle.  It appeared to be relatively hard work.  I was striding out, breathing nice and steadily while Lindsey was jogging alongside breathing heavily.  However, she seemed happy enough, and I suspect that she'd done this for thousands of miles over the years, so this is how we progressed for the next thirty odd miles.  I had to jog a bit to keep up with her on the downhills and she jogged along side me on the rest.  A good combination.  I think we kept each other's pace up much more than if we'd been alone. Leaving checkpoint 7 Lindsey was sick and told me to keep going, which I did, catching up with a couple of other guys.  At checkpoint 8 Lindsey reappeared seven minutes behind us.  I though she was still in the checkpoint when we left but we caught her up a mile down the road.  It was then back up onto the top where the route turned southward to follow a loop round Ogbourne St George (where I pinched an apple from an overhanging tree (my need was greater than theirs)).  The day dawned as we approached Ogbourne.  The weather had been kind to us during the night.  Apart from a couple of very light and quick showers around 10:00 p.m. the rain held off.  The sun came out around six and started to warm us up.

From Ogbourne the route went up the final big climb, a long drag up onto Barbary Castle

From here there were 5 miles of undulating track along the top of the ridge until a right turn led a couple of miles down into Avebury and the finish.  The road took us between the massive Avebury Stone Circle stones and into the village.  A final 100 metre jog to the waiting crowd outside the checkpoint and we were there.  A long hard slog made so much harder by my foolish start.

Inside the checkpoint building (Avebury Social Centre) I received a pleasant surprise when race organiser Anthony Taylor awarded me with the bronze medal for the M50 category in the UK Trail Running Championship.  I thought I'd blown my chances of getting anything considering I walked half of the route.  A very nice end to the run. Provisional results are here.

Overall, the route (and event) are well worth doing.  A lot of the competitors I spoke to had done the 145 miles Grand Union Canal run.  This would drive me mad with it's unending tow path running, tiny gradients at the locks and running through the backwaters of towns.  The Ridgeway, with it's miles of chalk drovers paths, has just enough variety in its woods and valleys to keep my interest.  Anything less and I would find it drudgery.  I'll be sticking to mountain and hill running.  Time will tell if I have another go at the Ridgeway.


Martin said...

its great for a manto climb amountain

Flip said...

could not agree more about the drudgery. Why would you do these canal races when we have all these hill i don't know. Wel done btw :-)