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You Ain’t Had Fun til You’ve Run the Ton

Me coming out of Aid Station 1, 9.8 miles

Sunday 1st July was my birthday. I wanted to celebrate it with style: I thought, “If I’m 70 miles into a 100 mile run, in the dark, somewhere up on the South Downs – tired, footsore and possibly worse – as I see in the big day, what could be better?” So it was that sometime last autumn I got my entry in for the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100, which was to be my main project for 2012, before I’d thought of doing the London Marathon in a ‘good’ time for Excellent.

Once I’d got my London entry in, I had to abandon most of my ‘ultra’ training before 22nd April, concentrating instead on ‘normal’ endurance training and speed. I had five long ultras (85+ miles) under my belt, including one of 104 miles (the LDWA 2010 Heart of Scotland 100). I thought that, together with good general endurance fitness, the experience these events gave me would get me through 100 miles, so I wasn’t too worried.

The race follows almost all of the South Downs Way (SDW) west to east. The first 1.5 miles coming out of Winchester is omitted and it diverts from last section to finish in a different part of Eastbourne, as neither end of the national trail would make a good race start or finish venue!

The only occasions I’ve previously spent much time on the SDW have been running: as a team member in the 2007 Oxfam Trailwalker (100km) and on the LDWA 2009 Wessex 100 (which I didn’t finish). I had memories of glorious views across the Weald and ranks of wooded hills.

Two other members of my club, Chippenham Harriers were doing the race too: Ian Trussler, my regular partner in crime on many of my silly endeavours, and Dave Jones, another special needs runner. I’d persuaded them to do it ‘with me’, although actually they were going to do it together and I was hoping to complete it faster than them. ‘Sub 24’ is a good benchmark time for a ‘100’, so that was my aim, whereas Ian and Dave, who had not run 100 before, were looking for a finish without a particular time target.

Thoughts of glorious views weren’t coming to mind when I stood in Chilcomb Sports Ground, near Winchester, waiting for the start of the race at 06:00, 30th June. A stiff breeze blew light rain onto the competitors and grey clouds streamed past, with no gaps for blue sky or sun, although it felt mild.

The first part of the race was on part of the SDW I’d never been on before. We ran through various wooded or tree overhung sections, which were muddy in places, but the trail must drain well because it wasn’t that bad considering the awful summer we’d been having. The light rain turned into a heavy shower for about 15 minutes. When you just want to push on, it requires discipline to stop and put a waterproof on, but it’s usually worth bothering, as it was then.

As I often do in these events, I fell in with a couple of other runners who were going at my pace, we chatted, and the time passed quickly. I have David Pryce and Rich Fuller to thank for making that first section such a blast. We reached the first checkpoint (referred to as ‘aid stations’ in Centurion Running races), 9.85 miles from the start, in 1:35, a surprisingly quick time. We were well inside 20hr, let alone 25hr pace, although of course we anticipated slowing down a lot as the race progressed. I didn’t feel like we’d pushed ourselves that hard, so I didn’t fret over it.

I stayed with David and Rich for most of the first quarter of the race. They both seemed a little stronger than me and were just pushing my pace slightly. I knew that sooner or later they would drop me. Sometimes in these situations I’ll just tell the stronger runner to get on and leave me so I’m not cramping their style, then slow a little. In this case I dove off into the woods to use the facilities and didn’t rush to get back on the trail. I hoped my confidence in their strength was right and they would keep on ahead of me to a good finish.

The weather had picked up and the views were indeed glorious from the long escarpments, typical of the SDW, that I had been running on since Aid Station 2, 22.6 miles, at Queen Elizabeth Country Park. The ‘hot food’ aid station at Washington, 54 miles was ‘only’ about a marathon away. I keep myself going, even in shorter races, by dividing the race up into ‘chunks’ in my mind, and ‘ticking each one off’ as I do it. There are 13 aid stations in total on the SDW100, Washington being number 7, so I had a few smaller chunks to do, then hot food and the satisfaction of being over half-way to look forward to.

I had a hot dog at Washington, which was great, although I’d eaten rather well at all the aid stations (I’ve never eaten so many mini pork pies), so I wasn’t desperately hungry. I was pleased that my appetite had remained strong, as running for a long time can upset the stomach or at least dull the appetite; obviously not good when you need all the calories you can get. I had a good break, chatting to Cath (my wife) on my mobile whilst sat on the side of the Washington village sports field. It took a few minutes to get my legs going properly when I set off again, but it wasn’t too bad: I’d noticed that I wasn’t having too much trouble getting going again after any of the aid stations, even after sitting, which can be deadly.

The rest of Saturday daytime slid by. By now I was running on my own quite a lot. I got rather warm in the sun on the sheltered stretches, then a little cold in the more exposed places. Although it was dry and bright, the air was fresh compared to the early morning, when I’d quickly got too hot despite the light rain and breeze. It was about as good for running as June gets.

Twilight came, and it cooled quite quickly. By the time I arrived at Aid Station 10, 69.8 miles, at Clayton Windmills (known as ‘Jack and Jill’), it was getting pretty dim. I was really pleased to have done over 2/3 of the race before dark. I had 8 1/2 hours to do ‘only’ 30 miles if I wanted to meet my 24hr target, which seemed eminently doable, barring a big mishap.

I became part of an ‘intrepid trio’ again during the night section. This time I have Ian Holdcroft and Luke Carmichael to thank for good company. I am a strong hill runner (compared to ‘club’, rather than ‘fell’ runners), which allowed us to be remarkably evenly matched overall: Ian and Luke tended to pull away from me on the level sections, but I would catch them on the climbs.

We separated when I developed pain across the top of my left foot at about 85 miles. My Merrell Trail Glove ‘barefoot’ shoes have a precise fit, with little ‘give’ in the uppers. This is great for ‘technical’ (uneven, rocky, steep) trails and stops me getting blisters, but they are very unforgiving if fastened too tight. My guess is that I’d fastened them just a little too tight, and they’d taken 18-19 hours to ‘let me know’, but after 85 miles maybe my foot had just had enough! I did my “No, you go on” thing, letting them go and spending 5 minutes carefully re-fitting the shoe, although there was no way the foot wasn’t going to hurt for the rest of the run. A couple of groups of runners passed me as I sorted my foot. At first the looser shoe made it worse, probably because of the blood flowing properly again.

Somewhere before Aid Station 13, 91.6 miles, at Alfriston, I bore right, following some other runners, who were 100m or so ahead of me, down what seemed to be a major track, and lost the SDW! The track seemed a little undefined, but on its eastern stretches the SDW is often a short grass swathe between longer grass, so this didn’t alarm me too much. I was getting suspicious when the group I’d followed started to mill about a hundred yards ahead of me. This group were Ivan Sadler, Hannah Shields and Nicole Brown, all of whom I’d seen and chatted to earlier. They checked the route and used a compass to confirm we were on the wrong bearing: we shouldn’t have borne right. We trotted back to where we’d turned off and so confirmed we were back on track, having added a mile or so to our 100.

I stayed with Ivan, Hannah and Nicole over the rest of the high ground. Being in their group kept my motivation and therefore speed up, so we happily rattled across the dark, lonely downs. There was a steep technical descent to get into Alfriston, which made my left foot hurt anew. However, this is the sort of stuff I really love, even after 90 miles, so I hammered down, losing the other 3 in the process.

When I got into Alfriston Aid Station I was surprised to see Ian and Luke, who made the same mistake as us, but taken longer to correct it. I hooked back up with them and we set off for the last big climb of the race, onto Wilmington Hill. We had no thoughts of running it, but just got our heads down and strode up as briskly as we could manage.

We weren’t in any sort of mood to hang about at Jevington Aid Station, a mere 4.3 miles from the end. The climb out of Jevington came as a shock: we’d been warned about the ‘Alfriston’ climb, but this one was not that much easier. However, I knew it was shorter, and the finish was only 3 miles from the top, so I ran! A slow, plodding run, but a run all the same. I enjoyed getting my teeth into it and I knew it would test Ian and Luke, whom I pulled away from. I was sure they would easily outstrip me on the flat tarmac in Eastbourne in the last mile of the race, so I thought I should make them work to beat me.

At the top of the climb, the race leaves the SDW for good and follows Willingdon Bottom into Eastbourne. It was a really technical, narrow track, right in the crease of a steep-sided ‘V’ cut into the hillside woods. I hammered down this, figuring I could open up even more of a lead.

When I finally got into Eastbourne, suddenly on a residential road, I could see no sign of Ian and Luke. I was just plodding again, knowing that this last stretch would be a real grind. Eventually I saw the other two emerge at a junction I’d come out of a minute earlier: they were, indeed reeling me in. When they caught me, they started getting all polite, suggesting they would hold back for me, but I sent them on their way: it was a race, after all.

After what seemed like a long time, I turned into the grounds of Sussex Downs College. I ran surprisingly fast (in my mind, anyway) around the half of the athletics track we had to cover to get to the finish line at the far side. I’d done it: 100 miles in 22 hours, 47 minutes, 43 seconds. I had a bit of a lump in my throat and I let the feeling of euphoria and relief wash over me.

So that was it; I just had to try to get vaguely comfortable, and possibly have a sleep, until the bus came to take us back to the start at one o’clock. The showers in the sports centre next to the track were cold, so I just rinsed the worst of the dirt off my legs and got into my sleeping bag (it was in my finish ‘drop bag’)

I slept a little, but really wasn’t very comfortable. Boredom got me up and I decided to take a (very) leisurely walk to see if I could meet Ian Trussler and Dave Jones on their way in. I did see them, but I also met another runner who’d taken a wrong turn: it looked like some locals (probably ‘youths’) had moved some of the red and white tape that marked the course. I carried on away from the finish, and sure enough found pieces of tape tied to lamp posts on the street that would lead runners back away from the finish, which I removed. Luckily the tape for the right direction was still in place, and it was a more obvious route, so the other runners I’d met hadn’t even noticed the ‘rogue’ tape.

The final runner I met out in Eastbourne was Gary Butler. He had been having severe pain in his left foot since about 80 miles. He was making tortuous progress and I thought I’d better keep him company to the finish. We were passed be the other tail-enders and he finished, last and proud, in 29:51:06.

Dave Jones finished in 28:36:30 and Ian Trussler in 28:42:42. I was surprised to discover that Rich and David, my race buddies from early on, actually finished not very far behind me: Rich had got very lost; I wasn’t sure what happened to David.

Doing ‘100’ in less than ’24’ was a ‘benchmark’ achievement for me. I came away from the SDW100 pleased with my pacing and very pleased with my eating! I think a high proportion of savoury food (especially those blessed pork pies) helped here. I’ve gained more experience and am already wondering what my next long ultra should be.

http://www.justgiving.com/excellentlondonmarathon
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Vane Glory (or Ben Vane 1, Prometheus 0)

Having posted on something a while after the event the last time, I’m at it again! I’m well behind now, having been away for more weekends and spent the weeks in between keeping up with the normal stuff.

On Friday, 1st June I took a delivery up to Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute. The weather forecast looked pretty good, so I planned to take the opportunity to sneak a peak, as I often do when delivering near near some decent hills, then spend the night in my van afterwards. I’m slowly (very slowly) working my way through all the ‘Munros‘ (3000ft mountains in Scotland): there are 283, and I have climbed just over half  of them. An obvious ‘new’ Munro for me was Ben Vane, which would be number 147.

Wanting to get maximum value out of my time away from home, I also booked a ticket to see Prometheus, in IMAX 3D at the Odeon, Braehead cinema. I’d never seen an IMAX film before, so I was looking forward to a spectacular treat!

The standard ascent of Ben Vane is a straightforward, out-and-back route: the foot of the mountain is accessed by a hydro-electric service road from the side of Loch Lomond, then the peak is climbed up a steep path with a few brief scrambling opportunities.

The ‘hydro’ sub-station and several sets of pylons clutter the views lower down, so it’s just as well the service road is tarmacked and makes for rapid progress. It was a relief to be climbing the mountain path in ‘no time’.

The path winds its way through very steep, craggy slopes. The steepest bits are rather dirty, as you would expect, but many of these take you round the edge of sections of lovely, clean, not-too-steep rock, which were a pleasure to scramble up. I was wearing my Merrell Trail Gloves, and, just as I found on the Start Point tors, they were really suited to this. It was fairly sunny, but with a refreshing breeze; ideal for a fast paced ascent.

I got to the summit in about 90 minutes from the road and spent a while enjoying the views and taking pictures. I made a quick descent, which would have been tricky and slow without the path (crags are hard to spot from above) and got an interesting view of Ben Lomond between two small rock faces on the way down (see the last picture).

Many runners get delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in their thighs after big downhill runs, which is due to eccentric muscle damage, caused by using the thighs as brakes during the descent. Confidence and technique allow good hill runners to let gravity do its thing on steep descents, going faster and more or less avoiding DOMS in the process.  However, the descent was fairly technical and I couldn’t ‘let rip’, so I got my first case of DOMS for years a couple of days later!

I had plenty of time to get to Braehead and see Prometheus, which was rather an anti-climax, hence the alternative title for this post. I posted the review, below, on Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review Facebook page:

Firstly the film – Not so much a triumph of style over content as design over content. The ‘deep’ questions the film asks are a cipher, a reason to fly a beautifully designed ship out to a beautifully designed planet, which has some beautifully designed alien stuff and aliens on it, where the crew, a group of underdeveloped characters who we don’t much care about, get involved in some beautifully designed set pieces.

It was a stunning film, but didn’t leave much of an impression, because the depth promised early on evaporated. If you want a proper thrill ride, which doesn’t promise any depth, but actually delivers (a bit) more, see The Raid.

Then the 3D -This was my first IMAX film: where was the extra detail? My guess is that my brain was too busy trying to focus on things that appeared to be at different distances because of parallax, but were actually all at more or less the same distance (on the screen), to properly process all that lovely IMAX detail. So I say Mark’s right: 3D isn’t just a gimmick, it’s a distraction that gets in the way of a good viewing experience.

Another problem with 3D is that it you have to keep your head vertical: cock it slightly, as you tend to do when staying in the same position for a while, and the polarising no longer lines up and you’ve got a double image.

Oh, and the deluxe 3D glasses we were loaned for the screening gripped my skull like a vice behind my ears and gave me a bit of a sore head by the end of the film.

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Bit o’ This, Bit o’ That

I had another hard tempo run on Saturday: 9-10 miles on the local lanes. There are an abundance of quiet roads and byways north and west of where I live, which are especially useful at this time of year when the days are long. Winter is a different story: it’s very limiting around where I live when it’s dark.

I once more enjoyed the feeling of going fast for a decent period and ran the last mile in about 6:40, which is fast for me.

I ran the Castle Combe Circuit (CCC) on Sunday. It was my first chance to use my new Merrell Trail Gloves (TGs), which Merrell very kindly gave me to aid in my big running summer for Excellent, because I make regular contributions to their Facebook page (general reports on my outdoor activities with mostly praise and a little constructive criticism of their ‘barefoot’ shoes).

I’ll keep using my old pair of TGs, which have far less tread, on firm trail and road runs: when I compared them to the new ones, I was shocked to see how much tread I’d managed to get through. The new ones give a little more confidence in softer going, although much of the CCC was earthy rather than muddy. The luxury of having a ‘good’ pair and a worn down pair is great!

Seeing as Merrell have been so kind to me, I’ll definitely use TGs on the South Downs Way 100 and report back to them on this fairly extreme test.

http://www.justgiving.com/excellentlondonmarathon
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Merrell Bare Access Review

Rating: rated 4 of 5 stars
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: £67.50

Summary

Very lightweight, zero heel-toe differential running shoe with some cushioning. Marketed as an ‘entry to barefoot’ shoe, hence the odd name (makes me think of a naturist right-to-roam law), but also a good racing shoe for minimalist runners.

Pros

  • Very light
  • Some cushioning
  • Zero heel-toe differential

Cons

  • Strictly road use only
  • Not very hard wearing sole

Obviously pros 2 and 3 could be cons and con 1 could be a pro, depending on what you want!

When I tried the Bare Access, I immediately loved their super light weight and simplicity, and had to buy them! I bought them for my attempt at sub 3:15 in this year’s London Marathon. I ran it in 3:17:15, but that’s another story.

Even though I do most of my running in ‘uncushioned’, ‘barefoot’ shoes (inverted commas for both, because just about any shoe will add some cushioning and the only proper way to run barefoot is in bare feet), I value some cushioning when racing so I can hammer along in a more carefree manner than I otherwise would.

The upper has a wide toe box to allow the toes to splay, and it works really well. My feet are quite narrow but with a fairly high volume, and the fit is great for me. The upper doesn’t spread the pressure of the laces that much, so getting a secure fit without over-tightening is a fine art.

The one feature of the Bare Access that is rather mystifying is the sole –

Only the green parts, the Vibram ‘pods’ are hard-wearing rubber; the light grey parts are soft, mid-sole material. Why the harder rubber doesn’t at least extend to the big toe area, I don’t know, as this part of the sole has got pretty chewed up from hard running. The grip on tarmac is excellent, but the lack of tread depth rules out wet trails, and the bumps on dry trails ‘chew’ soft parts of the sole, so they really are just for road.

Despite the downsides, I love running in them. They’re a great fast training and racing shoe, and complement my other shoes well. I’ve got another marathon, the Kent Coastal Marathon, in September, and if I don’t hit sub 3:15 then, I won’t blame my shoes!

Disclosure: Merrell have recently given me a new pair of Trail Gloves because I post very regularly on their Facebook page. I am a fan of the brand, but I say what I think and I do post some constructive criticism. I wrote his review before they gave me the new shoes.

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Merrel Trail Glove Review

Rating: rated 4.5 of 5 stars

Source: bought it used
Price Paid: £50 (‘nearly new’ off eBay)

Summary

A true ‘barefoot’ shoe with a tough sole that is good for trails, provided they’re not too muddy. The very ‘precise’ fit makes them a good shoe for technical trails.

Pros

  • Precise fit
  • Tough sole protects the foot well
  • Wide toe box

Cons

  • Tread is too shallow for muddy trails

The Merrell Trail Glove (TG) is one of the new generation of ‘barefoot’ running shoes. The TG’s cushioning is very minimal, but what makes it a true ‘barefoot’ shoe is that it has no heel-forefoot differential, that is the shoe does not lift the heel relative to the forefoot at all. Standard running shoes have 8-12mm (1/3-1/2 inch) differential, with ‘minimal’ shoes around 4mm.

I bought them in May 2011. I’m a UK-based ultra runner who is used to minimal (but not ‘barefoot’) shoes, ie Brooks Mach Spikeless, Inov8 F-Lite 230, and even I have found the Trail Gloves a huge change! The TGs engage all the leg and core muscles, not just the more limited range normal shoes do, making for a very intense running workout!

The fit, not just the sole is ‘barefoot’. The wide, ergonomic forefoot allows the toes to splay: this is key to getting your feet working fully. The fit is very glove-like, although the upper has no stretch so they can take a bit of putting on, but this is a small price to pay for the very precise feel of the shoe, which makes them good for ‘technical’ trails.

The TG has a shallow tread for a trail shoe, so it makes a pretty good all-rounder, but not suited for muddy conditions.

In August 2011, I did half of the 85-mile Ridgeway Challenge in the TGs, at which point I was happy to change into a more traditional (although still light’n’low) shoe, in big part because it was very wet and slippery, so the shallow tread made it hard to stay stable, and my feet and lower legs had got very tired as a result.

I continue to use them very regularly and in May 2012 ran another ultra trail event on the Ridgeway, the Ridgeway 40 in mostly hard conditions and my feet felt tired at the end, but only in the normal way you would expect for that distance!

The process of getting used to a barefoot shoe like the TG is a pleasure and the reward is simply a more natural running experience. I’m now pretty used to them and enjoy using them as my ‘default’, day-to-day running shoe.

Disclosure: Merrell have recently given me a new pair of Trail Gloves because I post very regularly on their Facebook page. I am a fan of the brand, but I say what I think and I do post some construction criticism. This review was recently updated, but most of it was written before they gave me the new shoes!

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Rockin the Ridgeway Pictures

Some pictures from the Ridgeway 40, mostly the first half. The runners in white tops are my friends Paul (black shorts) and Ian (blue shorts), and there’s 1 shot of me running up a hill (black long-sleeved top and black shorts). Glynn, the guy running in Huarache sandals is in picture 7.

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Rockin’ the Ridgeway

After the London Marathon 3 weeks ago, a fast 20 miler the weekend after, and 28 hilly, muddy miles on Monday, I was happy to drop my plan to run the Ridgeway 40 (RW40) both ways, as outlined in my crazy plan.

This year the RW40 was on 12th May, and was celebrating its 50th anniversary. I arrived at Overton Hill on the A4, the rather underwhelming western end of the Ridgeway National Trail, on Saturday, 25 minutes before the ‘runners start’, with my friends Ian trussler, Paul Byrne and Peter Cusick, together with Ian’s partner Lynne, who was there to see us off. In running terms, you couldn’t find a more disparate bunch:

  • Ian is my main running buddy, a lover of rough, hilly and esoteric races, as well as the more mainstream stuff. I like Ian because he can be talked into just about anything, and so has joined me in some pretty extreme hill races (the llanbedr to Blaenafon fell race most recently) and a couple of ultras (the 2011 Ridgeway 40 and Ridgeway Challenge).
  • Paul has been running for a few years now and has really developed as a runner. He has done many marathons, half marathons and shorter races, and several muddy, hilly trail races. He has been intrigued by ultras for a while now and had always wanted to go beyond 26 miles.
  • Peter makes me look like a slacker. He can run a sub-3 hour marathon, is an excellent triathlete, is super fast on trails and runs ultras, the longest being the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR).

Lynne and Ian tried and failed to light the camping stove that had lit first time the night before. They had hot water in a flask and some rice pudding they’d heated up at home, and planned to get both properly hot in situ. As it was, we had cups of tea and sufficiently warm rice pudding; a good way to start the day.

It was sunny, but cool, verging on cold, with a bit of a breeze; a huge contrast to last year, when I stumbled into the start in stormy weather after running it the ‘wrong’ way overnight from Streatley, to be sheltered by Ian and Lynne in their car and given a good breakfast, ready to go back with Ian.

The Ridgeway 40 is a walking event that takes runners, not a race, although it’s probably pretty competitive at the ‘top end’. Peter was mildly surprised to learn we weren’t to be issued with numbers to pin to our fronts. Most of the entrants start at 8:00, but can set off any time until 8:30. Runners are supposed to set off at 8:30 so that they don’t get to the checkpoints before they open. All entrants have a tally card, which is signed by a marshall, who also records the time on it and their record sheet.

The runners bolted off bang on 8:30. Except for Ian, Paul and I: we were finishing off the rice pudding. That was the last we saw of Peter. He’s doing the GUCR again in three weeks time, and I’d tried to persuade him that a leisurely RW40 would give him more benefit for that than a quick one, but he had his sights on ‘sub 6’ and stuck to it.

My only plan was to stick with Paul and give him any support he needed to get to the finish. He’d ran the Manchester Marathon 2 weeks ago, had a tough time of it in terrible weather, and was feeling less than optimum as a result. Once we set off, a couple of minutes late, Paul, Ian and I soon started catching the slowest walkers and one slower runner, Glynn, who was running in Huarache sandals, earning him instant kudos with me.

I ran with Paul and Ian, at a pretty reasonable pace , except if we hit a steeper slope, where I would pull away from them a bit so I could take photos and then wait for them. We got to the first check point (CP), Barbury Castle at 7 miles, pretty easily: there are 9 CPs on the RW40, so the average gap is only 4 miles. The RW40 cuts a corner off the national trail just after CP1, which makes the route more direct, but cuts out the beautiful Smeathe’s Ridge as well as the rather scrappy trails on the north-east of Ogbourne St George.

The short-cut crosses the wide valley that carries the A346 south to Marlborough, and the national trail is rejoined on the ridge at the other side. It’s easy to carry on straight over instead of turning left back onto the RW, which a woman entrant would have done if I’d not been sat on the junction taking photos and put her right: I’d been told that one year several entrants had turned right and ended up back at Barbury Castle, adding something like 8 miles onto their route!

Back on the RW proper, Paul was starting to show the strain: the distance we’d covered thus far was within his experience, but not over that kind of terrain. I started a relentless stream of encouragement, sometimes bordering on lies (“Fairies will  meet you at the next checkpoint to lift and carry you onward.”) to keep his spirits up and, as much as anything, distract him from his discomfort and fatigue. CP3 at Foxhill (14.5 miles) was the first point at which he started to talk about dropping out, but a bit of rest and food, and the thought that the next CP wasn’t that far, was enough to keep him going.

At the next 2 CPs, we fell into a pattern of Paul pretty much deciding to drop out, then him getting a bit of food and rest, and me persuading him to keep going. The best parts were when we lost ourselves in conversation and the country just rolled by. Ian had headed off by this stage: he’d struggled to keep his pace down to match ours, which can be surprisingly difficult, and I encouraged him to cut loose. Sometime around 25 miles Paul told me that he intended to drop out at CP6 (28 miles) and that I should push on, and I knew from his tone that he wouldn’t be dissuaded. I headed off, happy in the knowledge that his was pleased with the thought of having run further than he ever had, and on a hilly trail.

I was really looking forward to CP6, as it was the legendary ‘tea & cakes’ CP. When I got there, sure enough there was a good selection of cakes, including professionally made ’50th anniversary’ cup cakes and banana loaf made with cardamon. I stayed there long enough for Paul to roll in, pretty wrecked, but also happy to have joined the ‘ultra club’.

Once I’d had several cakes and flapjacks, plus 2 cups of tea, I made ready to head off, determined to hit the remainder steadily, if not hard, without taking any more ‘long’ breaks at the CPs. I said a slightly sad goodbye to the CP6 crew, who had decided to retire from this annual duty, having done it for quite a few years. I also met Alan Smith, the RW40 director there, and thanked him, as he too is ‘retiring’ after many years. I wonder what will happen to this lovely event in the future?

It was good to pass walkers for the last time, having ‘yoyoed’ with them for several hours, running past them, then seeing them again as I rested with Paul.

The weather had been ideal through the day; sunny with some cloud and a cool breeze. By this time, the breeze seemed to have died down a little, and I took my long-sleeved top off and was running in my new, rather excellent Patagonia Capilene ‘tank top’ (as they call it), a light stretchy singlet which has one crucial quality: it’s long enough to tuck into my shorts and not bunch under my rucksack waist-belt. It’s also worth mentioning my Merrell Trail Gloves, which were a joy to use, even over such a long distance.

Inevitably, I was feeling the strain by this point, and just wanted to be finished. I hammered along pretty relentlessly, but still took the time to chat to a few walkers and have a few biscuits at the last CP.

I saw Ian, who had finished about 2 hours earlier, just before I got to the finish at Streatley Youth Hostel. We were all taking advantage of the frequent, relatively cheap train service back to Chippenham to get home, and Peter and Paul (who had been driven to the finish) had both gone.

To add insult to injury, the finish of the RW40 is in an annexe of the YH, up its steep drive and a few steps, which seen very taxing by this stage. I handed my tally card in and enjoyed the laid-on nibbles and camaraderie of the finishers.

Peter was actually the first to finish, in 5:50, which would have been 5:48 if he’d been able to find the annexe a bit quicker! Ian finished in about 8:40, which he was very pleased with. I finished in about 10:40, and obviously hadn’t done the event to get a ‘time’, and so was pretty happy too.

I’ll ‘watch this space’ with interest (and a little worry) to see how the Ridgeway 40 evolves (survives?) as Alan hands the reins over. It’s a great event; long may it continue.

http://www.justgiving.com/excellentlondonmarathon
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/excellentlondonmarathon

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