It’s a Wimborne 1-2 and new PB for our Ladies
Steadily the number of WACers who have chanced their arm (and indeed the rest of their bodies) on the Ridgeway over the years has increased. 2007’s race had been our best yet and gave us a great platform to build from. The girl’s recorded a WAC Ladies PB of 12:11:09 and our men had come 4th for the third year in succession and for the first time we managed to field a third team who posted a 10th place too. There were still some WACers though who had managed to resist the challenge – for many of you that was to change this time around.
This race is not just about outright speed and I have felt for the past four years that we had the resources to win this event. It requires preparation, planning, commitment and desire – if the team has that, a big result is achievable – and if it doesn’t come you still have the satisfaction of knowing it you have given it your all.
The first time I started to believe this race was winnable for us was back in 2005 when WACers Jon Braund, Andrew and Jane Douglas, Neil Hopkinson, Nick Solomon and Graham Whiffen came fifth. Some fairly modest improvements in our times would have got us into the top three.
Each year the men’s teams we have put together have been progressively stronger – but each year our competitors have done much the same. Could 2008 be breakthrough year? First of all we needed to find out exactly who was up for it. An e-mail was sent out back in January and we had a fantastic response. There were 36 names to work with, a few were carrying injury niggles that they hoped would be cleared up by May, and from past experience I knew that with so many people we would inevitably need reserve runners, so decided to enter five six-man teams instead of the six. We also knew that legs had to be recce-ed in advance. In previous years we have seen teams tumble down the placings when getting lost, or even record a ‘DNF’. With no markers or marshals, and armed only with route notes which have comments along the lines of, ‘go through the gate that used to be there’, ‘fork right at the ash tree’ and ‘go over the hidden style’ navigational mistakes will occur. But I am not complaining, it is all part of the unique charm of this glorious event.
By early February the teams were drawn up, and then I discovered that at best, the team I deserved to be in should, by rights, be called ‘Wimborne D’, so I decided we would use team names instead! The first two men’s teams were selected in a bid to find a race winner and were called the Wimborne Worldbeaters (no pressure there then) and the Wimborne Whirlwinds, the ladies became the Wimborne Wildcats. We had two mixed teams the WACky Racers and the Wimborne Wolves which hopefully would be evenly matched on the day.
Inevitably we suffered a few withdrawals and this altered the balance of the teams a little. When we had exhausted all our supply of reserve runners, it was a matter of talking to WACers who hadn’t stepped forward in January. The teams finally seemed settled and we had our last meeting 10 days before race day. That weekend, we lost three more runners and at the 11th hour into the breach stepped Denise Craddock, Jools Maskell and Julie Mead. To sign up at that late stage is commitment to the Club in the extreme. Denise had not really run for around three months since going out to Africa, Jools had only just come back from injury, they were both faced with two recces in a week and then a race. In last year’s Ridgeway Jools had an off-piste excursion and had said at the time that she would not ‘Ridgeway’ again unless she was fit and really knew her route – but the team needed her, so she was there. Julie Mead was going into the race in good form but would only have the opportunity to recce one leg, so Cathy volunteered to run three legs as she had recce-ed Mark’s legs as well as her own. With five days to go the teams were finally nailed down – I couldn’t wait to lace up my shoes and just run.
Meanwhile for one WACer a ‘normal’ Ridgeway wasn’t a big enough challenge. Andy Horsley had decided that a real challenge would be to run the entire 100km route over some of Dorset’s most demanding terrain as a one-man team. Andy had recce-ed the entire route since his return from the Marathon des Sables despite the fact that his feet had still not fully recovered from the battering they took out in the desert. Naturally, Andy would need to take the route at a steady pace and so, while the rest of us were still tucked up in our beds, at 4am Andy set off from the Duck Pond at Tollard Royal. But he wasn’t the first runner that morning as the formidable Ines Braun of Gillingham Trotters was also doing the whole 100km trip and had departed an hour before him!
Everyone else arrived at Tollard Royal at 7am for a 7.30 race start. As race numbers and other paperwork were distributed you could feel the tension mounting. Our five Wimborne teams lined up alongside 15 others. After all those months of hard work from our teams the runners were finally off.
A convoy of cars headed for the change-over point, via the picturesque village of Ashmore where we cheered each of the WACers through. Having got to the start of leg 2 we waited with anticipation for the runners. The first through were the Dorset Doddlers. The first WAC team were the Whirlwinds in fifth place after a good run from Graham Whiffen, but with the Worldbeaters further back down the field – perhaps it wasn’t going to be our year after all. The Worldbeaters were always a bit sheepish about the name that had been bestowed on them, and with the Whirlwinds ahead of them, perhaps they now had some reason to feel so. The Whirlwinds were always going to present a formidable challenge to any team, especially as they had our two top WAC Wessex League cross-country runners, in Graham and Daryl Davies, and probably the club’s two most improved runners of recent months – Craig Dixon and Pete Lemon – in their ranks.
Becky Wood put in one of the finest performances of the day with a superb Leg 1 for the Wildcats. With a number of teams through there were anxious looks down the road as there was still no sign of Derek Sainsbury in Phil Burgess’ car. He had Denise with him who would, theoretically, take on the baton for the Wolves. Thankfully they turned up in the nick of time. With all five WAC teams through, it was upwards (especially for the runners who faced Hambledon Hill and Okeford Beacon in the next 4-plus miles) and onwards to the next change-over.
At leg 3 both of the men’s teams made up time thanks to great runs from Pete Lemon and Tim Harris. Claire Newby and Denise arrived together for the Wildcats and the Wolves and WACky Racer Rona Kelly put in a battling performance on what is probably the toughest leg of the race.
Having watched the hand-overs we then drove to leg 4 for the next change-over. I had to do a double take, Daryl was there already and had handed the baton on to Ian Buckingham. The combined efforts of Daryl and Pete Lemon over the previous legs had catapulted the Whirlwinds into second place overall. Clearly it would take a decent team to live with the Whirlwinds today and the Worldbeaters had their work cut out if they were to become Wimborne’s top dogs.
The leg 4 start is where the last of the WACers joined up with the teams, with Trudi Carter and Stewart Little entering the fold. Trudi is a WAC athletics coach, a fine pole-vaulter, 400m runner and a former rugby player who trains with us on Tuesdays. From those Tuesday sessions it was clear to me that Trudi had great stamina as well as speed. She had been repeating, mantra-like, ‘I am not a distance runner’, but by the end of her leg 4, another of the day’s outstanding performances, she couldn’t find anyone who would believe her, and seemed less convinced herself! Stewart is an old hand at the Ridgeway. He has run as a WACer on the Ridgeway before but was also a member of a Blandford Striders team that won the race a few years ago setting a new course record in the process. He was set to run the anchor leg for the Worldbeaters later in the day.
Trudi’s superb effort on leg 4 denied Cathy some much needed recover time. Remember, Cathy had volunteered to run three legs, but she had been under the weather with a cold and sore throat for much of the previous week, and she had run leg 3 and now had to set off on leg 5.
Our teams started to split up with the Whirlwinds and Worldbeaters disappearing over the horizon and the Wildcats in pursuit. At this point the Wolves and WACky Racers entered into a duel which was to continue for most of the day. The Wolves had pulled ahead, but when we started to see other teams come through ahead of us, I spoke to members of two Axe Valley Runners teams who had been some distance behind us as they approached the change-over for Leg 4. ‘Have you seen any red shirts’, I asked. ‘Yes, two, running in opposite directions along the ridge’. Oh well! It’s all part of the Ridgeway experience I suppose! Eventually our two red shirts appeared with Derek in first and around 200m back, having made up quite a margin, Jeff Hinsley. So we had what amounted to a match race between Jools and Tim Box over leg 4.
Meanwhile at the sharp end of the field, the Doddlers had a healthy lead over the two Wimborne teams that had by now clawed their way into 2nd and 3rd positions. The WAC men’s teams were a minute apart at the halfway stage and so it was gladiatorial stuff for Whirlwind Graham and Worldbeater Steve Guy on Leg 7. Photographs show just how hard they pushed.
The Wolves got away on Leg 5 with Richard Davies going off at a decent lick, but once the WACky Racers’ baton had been brought in by Jools a determined Dave Pearson began to hunt down his prey, passing Richard between Up Cerne and Batcombe. Annmarie Pearson had about a 100 metre start on me for Leg 6, so I set off to catch her and try and put some distance into the WACky Racers before the summit at Breakheart Hill where Phil Burgess would take the baton on for us against WACky Racer Robin Hughes.
Ahead of us, if anything the battle for WAC supremacy was intensifying on Leg 8 with Tim Harris and Pete Lemon mano a mano pushing each other to the point of destruction. The pair of them collapsed on the side of the road, having completed their work for the day at the end of this leg. At last the Worldbeaters were coming to terms with the stiff challenge the Whirlwinds were putting up.
The leg 8/9 change-over was also the point where the men’s teams caught Andy Horsley, who was going along quite nicely on his long haul to Uplyme. Pat Robbins was there too. He had been operating as Andy’s support crew since 4am at Tollard Royal.
There was still little between the Wolves and the Racers. Derek took up the baton for the ‘King of the Mountains’ leg which drops into Beaminster and then climbs out again. Bearing in mind his navigational difficulties earlier in the day it was with some nervousness that we saw him disappear down the footpath from Mintern’s Hill. Our concerns were unfounded as Derek ran a great leg. He arrived at Sheepwash Lane and got a mighty ironic cheer, undeservedly, as it was a job well done.
While the Wolves were at last putting some distance into the Racers, the Worldbeaters were slowly building a gap over the Whirlwinds. By this team our two men’s teams were so far ahead of us we were relying on mobile phones for updates.
Then the news came through that the Dorset Doddlers’ leg 12 runner was in trouble with a severe hamstring injury. Stewart, running for the Worldbeaters had passed him. The Doddlers had sent out another runner to retrieve the baton and carry it on to the finish line – it was appalling bad luck for them, and for us not the way we would choose to take a victory. Hopefully their man is making a decent recovery from injury. Whirlwind Jon Braund had also passed the stricken Doddler and was now being chased down by the Doddlers’ replacement runner.
Stewart crossed the finish line at Uplyme to a rapturous reception and Jon managed to hold off the pursuing Doddler to claim second place. Shortly afterwards my phone came to life with a text message from Jerry, ‘WAC 1st and 2nd’ it read. It’s a message I won’t be deleting from my mailbox any time soon. I feel sure it was the fierce competition between the Worldbeaters and the Whirlwinds that put is in a position to catch the unfortunate Doddlers. Most of the time difference the Doddlers pulled out on the Worldbeaters was gained on Leg 1, and after that the first three teams were very evenly matched until that fateful leg 12.
Meanwhile the Wildcats had continued to make good progress. Claire was one of only two WACers to revisit the same legs as in last year’s race. She seems to have discovered the happy knack of finding something extra on the big occasion. Today was no exception – on Leg 8 she improved on her 2007 time by a staggering 16 minutes! At the final change-over (11/12) the Wildcats finally caught up with Andy. Having just tackled the climbs to Lambert’s Castle and Coney’s Castle he was dead on his feet and had decided that he was going to walk the final 6 miles into Uplyme with Pat. The girls arranged to drive Pat’s van to the finish.
When the Wolves support car arrived at the final change-over there was still plenty of activity as the girls where still there along with five other teams, and we were soon joined by three more teams including the WACky Racers. Nicki Roe took off for the final leg into Uplyme for the Wildcats and on finishing the girls set a new PB for a Wimborne Ladies team, improving by almost an hour!
I took the baton on for the Wolves and after a mile or two caught one of the teams – the ‘Barneys’. Although there were another four teams tantalisingly close, I couldn’t make any ground on them. With around a mile to go I caught Andy and Pat, paused long enough to shake their hands and headed off to the finish line where my team mates were waiting. Andy, was the next WACer in, he was given a rousing reception, but looked totally shattered – his time, 15hrs 18mins 15 secs.
We were now waiting for Annmarie to bring the baton home for the WACky Racers. Dave received a phonecall from her saying that she was struggling as she was cramping up, but she also made it clear she intended to push on regardless. At around 7.45pm Annmarie arrived at Uplyme to a standing ovation. Quite a girl, and also a cheap date, as today was Annmarie’s and Dave’s wedding anniversary and he had managed to give her a day she will never forget – and for just £9 (including bangers and mash)!
In truth, it was a day none of us will forget. A quick dive into the showers and then into the pub for our meal and pint and then it was time to head home for some very weary WACers. All that blood, sweat and tears seemed worth it at the end of a very long day. Well done Wimborne! At most there are around 70 active (some more so than others) roadrunners in the club. To get almost half that number out there on Ridgeway day is extraordinary. See you same time, same place, next year.
Huge thanks must go to Gillingham Trotters, and Chris Cussen and his family in particular, for the commitment and hard work they put in each year to make this one of our running highlights of the year.
Somehow Andy Horsley recovered sufficiently to return the favour to Pat the following weekend. He was Pat’s support team on the ‘Grand Union Canal Run’ (145 miles – yes really!!). Andy ran with his mate through the night for 50-odd miles. Pat won the race and beat the course record by half an hour! How do these guys do it!
It took me a few days until I felt up to lacing up my shoes again, but on the following Thursday there was a good number of us for the QE run. Afterwards at Morag’s Lymphoma – Great British Tea Break we had a terrific turnout. We were able to hand over £875 to Morag for the Lymphoma Association.
As part of the fund raising we auctioned a Wimborne Athletic Club shirt bearing signatures from the six members of the winning Worldbeaters team. Thank you to Robin – he successfully bid £40 for the shirt and has presented it to his 9 year-old son as a reward for the progress his lad is showing as a young runner.
1 – Wimborne Worldbeaters – Steve Guy (1/7), Tim Harris (2/8), Peter Wood (3/9), Jerry Shield (4/10), Mark Hitchcott (5/11), Stewart Little (6/12) – 8:36:52
2 – Wimborne Whirlwinds – Graham Whiffen (1/&7), Pete Lemon (2/8), Daryl Davies (3/9), Ian Buckingham (4/10), Craig Dixon (5/11), Jon Braund (6/12) – 8:48:33
3 – Dorset Doddlers A – 8:50:05
4 – Marlborough – 9:19:22
5 – Axe Valley ‘A’ – 9:24:42
6 – Axe Valley ‘B’ – 9:27:15
7 – Wells City – 10:20:38
8 – Wells City Ladies – 10:20:59 (1st Ladies)
9 – Gillingham Trotters A – 10:34:00
10 – Gillingham Trotters B – 10:34:00
11 – Wimborne Wildcats – Becky Wood (1/7), Claire Newby (2/8) Cathy Hartle (3/5/11), Trudi Carter (4/10), Nicki Roe (6, 12), Julie Mead (9) – 11:14:16 (2nd Ladies)
12 – Dorset Doddlers B – 11:14:17
13 – Axe Valley ‘C’ – 11:34:59
14 – Damsels – 11:36:58
15 – Knights – 11:37:00
16 – Long Suffering Friends – 11:37:11
17 – Wimborne Wolves – Phil Burgess (1/7), Denise Craddock (2/8), Derek Sainsbury (3/9), Tim Box (4/10), Richard Davies (5/11), Ian Kennedy (6/12) – 11:40:02
18 – Team Barney – 11:55:05
19 – Axe Valley ‘D’ – 12:05:05
20 – WACky Racers – Robin Hughes (1/7), Rona Kelly (2/8), Jeff Hinsley (3/9), Jools Maskell (4/10), Dave Pearson (5/11), Annmarie Pearson (6/12) – 12:13:37
Ines Braun – 15:09:11
Andy Horsley – 15:18:15