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UK Trail Running Challenge (Ridgeway) – 27/28 August 2011

Andy Horsley is UK over-45 Long Distance Trail Champion, here’s how he did it.

This would be my fourth time at this event and it had become one of my favourites. My previous best time was two years previously when I ran with Rob (more like Rob dragged me along) and we came 9th/10th overall. However, since then I had had a bad run in 2010. The route covers the Ridgeway path from the top of Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire down to Avebury in Wiltshire (approximately 86 miles) and includes about 9000 feet of ascent. It is predominantly off-road but crosses many major roads at various points.

I travelled up with Ade Holloway from Littledown Harriers who had done it last year (and finished well ahead of me) and I downed my pre-race breakfast (at a certain well-known golden-arch style fast food restaurant). Getting to the start involves a long climb up to the top of the beacon. There were approximately 115 entrants of which 40 or so had set off two hours before, those not expecting to finish within 24 hours.

The weather was warm but with a strong headwind and some large showers which we could see quite clearly from the top of the hill in the distance. Despite Ade’s optimism I felt we were going to get drenched at some point (maybe several).

The race started at noon with us all dashing downhill. One or two runners literally sprinted ahead but most of us settled into a slow jog trying to conserve energy. I was probably about in the middle over the first few hills. The wind was strong but was actually quite refreshing as it would have been very hot without it. The route was not too taxing despite a few hills for the first few miles. We passed through Tring and out towards Wendover.

I was running at a steady pace and felt comfortable but probably relaxed too much. After about 8 miles I found myself running along a track and thought it looked unfamiliar. When I looked back I could see runners taking a completely different route several hundred yards behind, I had taken a wrong turning! After mentally kicking myself and running back to the correct route I was even

more annoyed when I realised that no-one had shouted after me, something I have always done to others. As I got back on track I saw Ade again who made a comment along the lines that he would not be using me for navigation!

Armed with my grumpy annoyance at having gone wrong which had cost me time and distance I sped up slightly and over the next 5 miles or so caught and overtook all those that had passed me. The first checkpoint was at 10/11 miles where I filled my bottles and stuffed down some fruitcake. I was about 5 minutes ahead of my predicted best time which made me ease up slightly, there is still a long way to go. I had made mental plans regarding times and distances beforehand but didn’t want to get carried away so early.

From here we passed through Wendover and into some larger hills such as Coombe Hill before getting to the second checkpoint at about 17 miles at the top of a hill near Princes Risborough. At about 15 miles I had had the first rain of the day which drenched us but made me glad I had taken a jacket. One guy running in front of me fell straight into a muddy puddle, he got straight up and after I checked he was OK he told me that that was the third time that had happened today. I did suggest he took it a tad more carefully. Another swift fill up at the aid station and off I went again. I had planned not to spend any longer than necessary at any checkpoints. From here the trail undulated again but with some flat running apart from one large hill through to the 24 mile checkpoint at Chinnor. It was during this section that the next shower hit us and the going was getting very muddy and slippery. At times the running seemed very slow but in truth it probably kept me at a sensible pace. I had passed my first runner from the 10 o’clock start at about 18 miles and continued to do so until the end.

Next was a long straight and gently undulating section over a couple of major routes and under the M40, passing hills instead of going up and over them for a change. Then the trail turns sharp left and over a couple of steep hills to the checkpoint at about 32 miles. In previous years I had stopped there and had a cup of tea for a few minutes but as I was a minute or two behind my predictions I moved off quickly having topped up my bottles. Apart from one large hill the next part involved some good running - a roughly 4 mile downhill followed by another 5 mile flat section along the Thames to Goring where the halfway point is at 43 miles. During this section there were two more heavy showers to keep me moving.

The reception at halfway is particularly good as a lot of support crews and marshals gather there. It was here that I had access to my bag so I managed to change into dry clothes and grab a headtorch for the night. I didn’t want to wait for hot food which was tempting but time-wasting so I had pre-prepared some bottles and grabbed a pasty and a coke as I left.

I walked the first half mile or so whilst I downed the pasty and tried to drink as much coke as I could. I dumped the rubbish in a bin in Streatley after crossing the Thames and then started the long run up onto the Downs. I saw quite a few runners in this section and ran with a few guys who had started on the earlier start for a bit. I managed to not use my headtorch for about an hour as it was still lightish. At 50 miles the track turns sharp right and heads towards the A34 crossing. It was quite windy on the hilltops but still quite warm and luckily the showers seemed to be missing me by now.

At this point my headtorch started to dim, despite me putting in new batteries and by the time I had crossed the A34 and climbed up the 52 miles checkpoint at Bury Down I was virtually blind in the dark and tripped a few times. I got to the checkpoint to a familiar voice saying ‘Where have you been?’ Luckily Pat had a spare headtorch which he lent me and it probably saved my race. I was told I was about 15th at that time. I loitered here for a few minutes to take advantage of a tea and a hot dog and then moved on.

The next section up to 61 miles was hilly over several Downs but more undulating than steep and apart from a couple of navigational issues is fairly good going. I was integrating walk breaks more often but still managing to keep a steady pace. The rain continued to hold off and luckily the ground wasn’t too muddy apart from several large puddles. I stopped briefly at the checkpoint to fill my bottles and find out I was now up to 10th place! The marshals were surprised I left so quickly as others had apparently loitered longer.

Up to the next checkpoint at 69 miles was fairly uneventful apart from a lot more mud but not enough to make a huge difference. I managed to keep up a steady pace but didn’t see anyone for the whole section which again was hilly but more undulating. I passed over several hills and had views of a few towns in the distance. I also passed the white horse at Uffington. When I got to the drinks station it seemed like a party was going on. A large fire, music, tents and loads of people made a great welcome. Again I only paused briefly before moving off. It was about 2.15am and I was about 15 minutes ahead of even my best prediction. The trail then leaves the Downs and descends to a small village before some more climbing. A short section on a quiet road takes us over the M4 and up to Liddington Hill where I had got horribly lost on my first visit here. No such problem this time and I took the correct path up and over although my legs were starting to tire and I was struggling to eat by now.

After this was several short sections joined together which took me around a town down in the valley. This was quite hard going by now and I was struggling to run downhill as my lower back was really hurting with the impact. I actually felt better running uphill. Eventually the trail circles round and then starts an approximate 4 mile climb, firstly up through fields full of sheep and cows which all looked a bit spooky at 4am in the dark and then up a grassy hill to the last checkpoint at about 80 miles. As I completed this section I could see a long way back and several headtorches at varying distances behind me. I knew I had slowed slightly but didn’t want anyone to pass me so near the end.

I eventually reached the checkpoint where again I only stopped briefly before moving on across the hilltop to Barbary Castle. After going through the castle and down there is a climb up back onto the ridge. As I was climbing I could see headtorches coming through the castle and getting closer. I continued on undisturbed for a couple of miles before realising that at least one of them was catching me. About 3 miles from the end one guy seemed to fly past me, he must have saved a lot. Then a few minutes later another guy passed me but not as fast. I was annoyed that I had let that happen but they were both obviously younger and also fitter than me on the day. I did manage to keep a steady pace going and managed to run down the last couple of miles to the finish as it was getting light. There I was greeted with tea, hot soup and hot food – and a chair to sit on after 18 hours 36 minutes! Pat greeted me with a  ‘So you got here eventually then?’

I finished 45 minutes ahead of my previous best time and even managed to win my age group. In addition, despite being overtaken twice in the last few miles I must have overtaken two others at the last checkpoint without noticing so finished 8th. If anyone else fancies this, although it is a tough event it is well organised, friendly with an awesome route and a great challenge.

115 entrants, 94 starters, 69 finishers, I ended up 8th overall, 1st over 45.

Andy

 

 
 
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