Monday, 30 August 2010

Ridgeway 85 - Race Report

What is The Ridgeway?
I thought I would provide readers with a description of what the Ridgeway path was to get a flavour of the course.

The Ridgeway is Britain's oldest road, running for 85 miles through Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. It extends from Ivinghoe Beacon in the north to Overton Hill in the south.

Much of the Ridgeway follows the ancient chalk ridge route used by prehistoric man, passing through two distinct landscapes - the open downland of the west and the gentle, wooded countryside of the Chiltern Hills in the east.

The route crosses the River Thames at Goring and the landscape changes once again, becoming more intimate and less open before heading eastwards into the Chiltern Hills.

For centuries The Ridgeway has provided a route for travellers, cattle drovers, traders and armies moving through this corridor of fertile chalk downland.

Race Report

I arrived at Tring train station at 10.00 am on Saturday morning a quiet, unassuming station which soon found about 15 people with various bags and equipment waiting for a lift to the car park near Ivingoe Beacon. A van arrived and some of us dumped our kit in the back and were driven a few miles to the RV point.

On arrival I met Rob, David and their partners; the next hour was spent laughing and joking about old times but mainly to burn off some of the nervous energy we all had stored. It soon quietened as we went about our preparations. I was out of sorts as I normally have my own car and/or checkpoint equipment but was now working from the back of a car shared by three of us. Susan and Astrid the support crew were brilliant I couldn't have asked for more.

I was really pleased to meet Stuart Marsh and his wife Lara allowing us to catch up and have a joke about our various runs and was really chuffed when I was given a beautiful choccy and peanut cookie baked by Lara...this proved invaluable later on in the race!

At 11.45 am we were mustered up to the top of Ivinghoe Beacon

The Start

At the top of the Beacon we clustered around shivering in the strong breeze where all chatted, got last minute photographs and checked our laces for the twentieth time in as many minutes. Then there was a claxon and we all looked at each other realising the race had started., we shook hands and went on our merry way.

The sad thing is some would make it, others would not!

The Course

This race report could go on for quite some considerable length due to the distance so I have broken it down into chunks by checkpoint (CP)

Start to CP1(10.8 miles)

From the outset I had proposed that up to CP5 (Goring 43.7 miles) I would run at an average 5 miles per hour and it was only into about 5 miles into the race that Rob had other plans and wanted to do it between 17-18 hours, this was not a goal I was not willing to take on.

This section of the challenge went really well, pace a little quick in parts and my original plan to have justa bumbag was not working so planned to change over to my rucksack so that I could have two bottles, more food and my personal equipment as I feared that David and Rob would go ahead...the old trail footage of "The person with the map governs the speed" soon proved to be true.

I arrived at CP1 and immediately went to work on the table of food and drink then went to the car for my kit. The change over was pretty quick for such a long race but by this time Rob and David had left without me! The last I saw them for this race was mile 12 when they rounded a corner and were gone.

CP1 - CP2 (16.8 miles)

A relatively short section but one full of steep ascents and woody trail with many hazards such as fallen trees and rutted path. Doubts started to creep in, with the loss of Rob and David I now had to get my head around the idea of running another 75 miles on my own and with is the possible loss of my checkpoint team.

In this section, although a little miserable, I felt strong, my 5mph strategy paying dividends. No longer was I worrying about pace at any given time but my needs.

On my arrival I was informed that David and Rob were 20 minutes ahead, time I would be unable to catch up on...or would I?

Feeling strong I went on my way

CP2 - CP3 ( 23.5 miles)

This was great section for speed and I found my so called 5 mph average creep up as we were mainly on road and flat trail, I knew my choice of running in road shoes would pay off and this section proved me right.

It was during this section I started to hit my customary wall which I know how to deal with now by trying to change negative thoughts into positive ones and to eat and drink as much as possible. One thought was to ask Susan to drop off my bag at Goring and cut me loose for the rest of the race, one that made me feel less reliant and to take my mind off Rob and David.

Check point 3 was away from easy reach for the support crew and running low on water I grabbed half a bottle to tide me over and a handful of biscuits and a slice of orange. It appeared that the planned meet up was a bit further than I expected but was nigh on the 26 mile mark, I imparted my idea of cutting loose to Astrid and Susan at Goring, drank a bottle of my favourite banana milkshake, stocked up and ran my little heart out.

CP3 to CP4 (31.8 miles)

This section was a toughy but I had the opportunity to chat to a few people and battle through my secondary wall (I always get it at 28 miles) I found myself feeling much better as the months of consistent training paid off. As I approached CP4 up what would normally be a shallow hill I saw Astrid and Susan at the top who shouted "Do you want a cup of tea?" I couldn't believe my ears. I stopped at the checkpoint had a cup of glorious, warm, sweet tea and stocked up, donned my windproof and put my headtorch and a couple of torches into my pocket. My heart raised, all my doubts out of my head I traipsed off, I heard that Rob and David were about 10 minutes ahead of me, I cared not a jot.

CP4 to CP5 (43.7 miles)

After CP3 I was soon seen to chase down about 5 runners and I was feeling really positive until about mile 40 when I took a fall, almost innocuous as I tripped in a hidden rut. This proved to be the place that damaged my toe but the next 50 miles would make it worse!

Slowly but surely the night drew in, it is at this point I wanted to mention a surreal moment as I ran along towards Goring. In the distance I saw an orange ball fly into the night and at one point thought it to be an after burner of a military jet but then another and another! I soon realised they were Chinese lanterns and where there were taking off was Goring...the halfway mark and food, hot food.

At Goring I met Rob and David who were all kitted up and ready to run off but in all the excitement of arriving and them all being revved up ready to go and my survival instinct to eat and drink we didn't get a chance to talk.

At the check point I changed into my night running clothes comprising to waterproof tops a fresh shirt, a pair of leggings and a little foot care. I had two bowls of soup, 4 jam sandwiches, 2 cups of tea and 2 cups of juice.

Here I met up with Tom who would soon be my company for the night, I had already chatted with Tom earlier on and he proved to be a great companion. I loved his joke when I asked to pair up when he said "Great, I can show you my knife collection!"...well I hoped it was a joke.

Night Section - CP5 to CP8 ( 69.4 miles)

Tom and I discussed the night section and I agreed with his approach of walking it as it was just too tricky in the dark. We left Goring under the light of a fantastic firework display, something inside me wanted it to be for Tom and I but I have a feeling it was the people who were letting off the Chinese lanterns.

The next 45 miles came and went, Tom and I talking about all types of subjects to keep us going, check points came and went both of bolstering the other as and when dark points came and went. To my amazement the pace kept on and on and we saw ourselves keeping a consistemn 3.8 mph average over hills. The checkpoints were brilliant with cups of steaming hot tea, hot dogs, crisps, sweets, fruit and always a smile from the volunteers (all from local running clubs).

My toe was now screaming and I was in real pain, against all my previous posts I took some ibuprofen which eased the pain but not sufficient for me to want to run.

Come checkpoint 8 and Tom and I were beginning to look and feel tired both fighting our individual demons but the food and hot drinks (I was now on black, sweet coffee) raised our spirits and often glimpses over our shoulders to the east allowed us to see a bright and beautiful dawn.

CP 8 to CP 10 (the finish)

As the daylight brightened Tom and I decided that we should try a bit of running to try and get other muscles in our legs working, afterall we had been using the same ones for nearly 8 hours and we needed to work new areas. We ran approximately 400 metres and then walked, it was amazing as newly oxygenated blood entered our legs and the walking pace quickened. It was apparent that all was not well with my foot as now blisters had formed and my toe was screaming.

We tried a walk/run strategy running the downs and walking the flats and ups, it worked well but I was lagging by now my only thoughts were to finish.

At Checkpoint 9 I was told by Susan and Astrid (who had slept at a hotel for some of the night) that David and Rob wanted to go, I told them I would go home by train and to dump my kit at the end.

The last part of the run (walk) was horrific for me, Tom was brilliant and was obviously the stronger of the pair, kept up the pace and we tried to run in places but the trail was heavily rutted and almost impassable on our delicate and battered legs. We saw some beautiful cows and Tom came up with an idea which at first sounded quite sensible through my glucose depleted brain "Why don't we catch a cow and ride into Avebury?" I wittered on about something to do with the race rules!

Finally, in the distance I could see Avebury, I could almost grab out and touch it. The last 2 miles were open trail and we marched on, 1 mile from the end we saw 2 other runners (Stu March and his companion Barry) catching us up which gave us new wind as we marched up the hill into Avebury and its beautiful stone circle. The Tom had another great(!) idea to run the last hell with it and we crossed the line at a trot with the organisers cheering and clapping us through...

Post race

Post race, I collapsed in a heap on a nearby bench and had a drink of orange and then felt really nauseus as the post-race shock hit and went to be sick but managed to hold it down. As my body settled down I was able to get some food in the form of a bacon roll and some peaches and rice pudding.

I then dressed into warm clothing and got medical treatment for my foot. My toe was severely swollen and blood blisters had popped. I didn't care, I had just completed one tough course of 87 miles in just over 23 hours and I felt great.

I just want to make a point of passing my thanks to Susan and Astrid who were an excellent and attentive check point crew and send them my apologies for my vagueness at checkpoints. I am normally a very independent character and was just not used to your brilliant thoughtful and caring natures so was always taken aback with all your assistance.


  1. Susan and Astrid were happy that you finished so strongly and I am too. A fantastic race and well done to you

  2. Dave and you did a great race. You did well to keep such a solid pace going throughout but was happy with my night pace

  3. Well done. Congratulations on a great race and thanks for a wonderful report. It looks like a great place to run.

  4. That is such a great race write up Jerry, brilliant, brilliant. I've read it many times now re-living the experience.

    Happy recovery.

  5. fantastic review of the event brilliant effort too, I cant wait to see if I have what it takes to complete it.

    1. Thanks Kinger, I want to do it again in 2013