Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Compton Challenge ends

Official Race Report

The journey to the start

The 5.00 am alarm awoke me from a shallow sleep and my first thoughts were those of the challenges ahead. My kit lay at the base of the stairs and I quietly got dressed and put the final pieces of food and drink into my sports bag to await the arrival of George who was the official driver for the day. George's car clock was, as usual, on Irish time as he arrived exactly on time, although my watch said it was 5.48am :-) Once in the car we drove off to collect Michael who looked on good form as he awaited outside his house. I noted that George's car clock pulled up at exactly 6.00am, although my watch said it was 6.03 am!

We were soon off on the long journey and at one point we decided to quiten down as we were laughing and joking so much that we thought we would use up all our glycogen stores.

On arrival at the meeting point at Compton, Newbury we parked up and entered the school hall. As expected by the smaller events, check in was perfect. We were handed a plastic wallet which contained a meal ti
cket, a numbered bin liner and our race number and pointed towards a section where we were to place our kit. The next 45 minutes involved the three of us preparing ourselves quietly both mentally and physically for the toils ahead, even I went quiet for a little while.

The S

At 8.50 am we were invited out onto the playing fields, 97 ultra and 200 20
mile runners all huddled together, laughing nervously, wondering if they should have had that extra piece of toast. This was soon forgotten as the Race Director shouted go and we all cheered as we did a lap of the fields and exited to the pulchritudinous downland countryside.

As expected the 20 mile runners went off at pace and it took some will power to hang back off their shoulders. The first mile took us through some young silver birch woods and muddy paths until we were out onto the first of many downland farmland fields, thankfully the recent rains had drained off leaving the ground soft b
ut not wet.

Checkpoints were every 4 - 5 miles and stocked with orange squash, water, biscuits, chocolate and sweets.

The first 5 mile section was pretty non-descript but as we moved out into the countryside the landscape changed to rolling and undulating fields with sporadic and dense woodlands. A fine mist lay around as we trod onwards and upwards towards the second checkpoint. During my preparations I was warned about "The hill at about the 10 mile mark", even though I was warned nothing could have prepared me for the steepness of the hill, a leg sapping, calf aching SOB which you had to place your hands on your knees to help you up.

A short rest at the top
saw us continue on our run through a few woods and fields. The geology of the area soon changed and we found ourselves running on chalk paths and concrete farm paths, which for us trail show runners was horrendous as the pounding started to tenderise our muscles and feet. George was soon a distant memory as we lost sight of him and he went on to make the Challenge his own, Michael and I chose to stick together and keep it real, conversations continued if a little sporadic as we settled into the run.

We pulled off the pace and as we passed the 20 mile checkpoint we were pleased to see we had completed it in 3:20. I was really pleased with the time as in my heart I was aiming for about 3:30 - 3:45. I stopped off at this checkpoint where I had dropped off a stuff sack which contained some mashed potato with cheese, some nuun and Lucozade. I quickly gobbled this down and quickly caught up Michael who was waiting at the next junction.

This is where the race started - the next 20 miles

For me, this is where the race started; my stomach now full with something to grip onto and the fact I had managed to get past the 18 mile mark without a hint of the wall, I felt great considering the series of hills and chalk pathways. Now the landscape really changed from steep ascents to long, shallow rutted farm paths. This type of land is very desceptive as it really saps the energy. The first hints of wear and tear were now occurring, slightly sore heels and a dull ache in the thighs but we continued to encourage each other and we soon alone with not another runner in sight.

The farm paths soon became vicious as the sun baked, rutted mud gaps felt like 100 foot gorges, ankle twisting stuff and you had to have your wits about you as we traversed them. We soon grouped up with a lady runner who had put the route on her Garmin who told us we were only about 1/3 mile from the next checkpoint. Here the marshalls were brilliant as I quickly sat down to put a plaster on by heel which was rubbing, grease up with vaseline and have a cup of cool cola drink. The caffeine and sugar hit soon had us running off at a good pace.

Going Nuclear at ultra distance

One of the strangest "Going Ultra" moments I have had was finding myself running past a Nuclear Decommissioning Facility with signs warning that Trespassers will be prosecuted by anti-terrorist laws but the gates were open! I chose to run on wondering if I would be glowing in the morning.

The next 14 miles

The journey to the check point at 32 miles was uneventful if not a horrific gradual climb from Ginge up hardened mud farm paths through light woodland. After the final ascent we were met by the most bizarre, if not welcome checkpoint I have seen for a while, a horse box! I soon relaxed when I found the occupants of the checkpoint had made a makeshift kitchen with a camping stove and table laden with biscuits and sweets. Fully replenished we ran off to soon find ourselves on a horse race course, rutted by hoofs, rock hard and by now my feet were beginning to hurt and dehydration rearing its ugly head.

I was quite alarmed when I realised my hands had become stiff and swollen showing I had the first signs of hyponatraemia or electrolyte imbalance. This got me quite worried but I knew all I needed to do was get my sodium levels up and drink more fluids.

By mile 36 I was feeling quite miserable, every step I made on farmland trails felt as though someone was hitting my feet with a hammer but we kept the conversation going and we dug deep. The final checkpoint at East Ilsley was in sight and we were pleased to hear that we were only 3 miles from the finish line.

The last hill was in front of us and we traipsed up it to see the final undulating landscape that would take us through fields, trails and woodland.

The Finish Line

The final 2 miles were the hardest ones I have ever run, the idea of a shower and a hot meal were a great incentive, I was running on empty and every step became harder and harder. The Finish was soon in sight and we soon saw the school fields through the trees and the Race Director sitting at his race table as Michael and I crossed the line together, shook hands and limped off to the school hall to see George quietly getting dressed a big grin on his face.

A meal fit for a King and Queen

Never before has baked beans, chips, sausages and a mountain of buttered bread tasted so good.

Never before has a running race felt so good.


  1. From our tiny, bone dry hill here in Griffith, I am envious of the beautiful green rolling english countryside you have to run in. I drooled over the photos.

    I still need to look up pulchritudinous!

    Neil / Griffith Joggers

  2. pulchritudinous - good word!