Yep, nice read Richyla and congrats for making it to the end. I would be tempted to agree with t-rex re pacing if you were aiming for a cut-off finish then goring before dark suggests you may have pushed yourself too much early on. Last time out I arrived at goring after 10pm and was still a wreck by the end - though I guess if you didn't have the issue with your leg then you'd have been a lot more comfortable in the end and we wouldn't be writing this. How is the recovery going?
I passed booktrunk just after Princes Risborough and she was in a bad way, the injuries she had were causing problems so I assume she (rightly) called it a day soon after.
When I arrived at the bottom of Smeath’s ridge I couldn’t get the gate open so had to climb over it, easier said than done after the best part of 80 miles. I wasn’t looking forward to this bit as it’s a long gentle uphill across farmland – difficult to run up and easy to get lost. Thankfully navigation wasn’t an issue and for the most part I managed a semi shuffle-run, not textbook by any means but it was a huge amount quicker than walking and meant sub 17 hours was still on. Towards the top of the hill I saw light ahead, definitely not my torch reflecting of a sign, it wasn’t moving though and as I got closer I realised it was glow-sticks marking where the gate was.
The first thing I noticed when being welcomed into Barbury Castle was the chap from the last CP sat in the chair again. Damn it! Like before he quickly got out of there and after a few bits of orange I followed on. I necked my last GU and by the time I reached the descent back onto the main path I could see he’d opened up a fair lead. I’d kind of given up hope of catching him and wanted to make sure I got home under 17 hours instead. However at the top of the next hill I saw light up ahead, walking, so following advice I’d read in another person’s blog (Dill I think) I decided I had to run past as confidently as I could. On nearing the light I realised it was a different person but carried on past strongly and in next to no time saw another light up ahead. This guy was still running so I assumed it was the fella from the CP but again as I got close I realised it wasn’t him, and once again I skipped by to really put the dagger in.
Those who’ve run the route before will know all about the last mile or so where the path is horribly cut up and rutted. The first time I took part I nearly broke down it was such tough going but this time I was able to find a runnable path through it all – perhaps they’ve done work to improve the trail, or maybe the dry summer? It was on this section I finally saw and caught up to the CP dude, I stepped over to the side as I went past and he kindly did the same to give way and offered some encouragement. I maintained my pace until reaching the arrow signalling the turn off to Avebury, had a quick glance back and couldn’t see any lights. Yes! No point in slowing down now and downhill all the way so I dug deep and kept it going to the finish. The last 4.5 miles came in at just over 9:30 pace, the quickest section of that length since before CP1 and no doubt a significant contributing factor to my legs still not working as I type this 36 hours later! It was such a relief to finally switch the head torch off, sit down in the warm and have a cup of tea (or 3). Final time was 16:47 for 8th place, a result I’m really over the moon with and easily my best race performance.
Nutrition-wise everything went great. After the first couple of sections on CP food it was pretty much GU all the way, about 10-12 in total, with orange segments at most CPs and coke where they had it. While I didn’t have any appetite for CP food I never really felt nauseous, whether that is down to the gels or not I don’t know but it’s something I’ve really suffered from in past events so I’ll be sticking with GUs for a while yet.
I find it a shame that only 80 people turned out for what is such a brilliant race. I honestly don’t think you’ll find better CP food or volunteer support anywhere on the ultra scene (head and shoulders above Centurion imo) and at about £45 it’s one of the cheapest long events going. Maybe not being a nice round number puts people off, maybe travel arrangements look tricky, I don’t know but I would strongly encourage everybody to take a look.
Throughout the whole race I’d not seen too many people, I chatted to a few of the 10am starters when passing in the first half and a few who I think were lunchtime starters near Goring, but little else. I felt that I was running better than most would be so expected to see torches in the distance now it was dark. The first of these came a few miles before the A34 crossing, two guys walking, I don’t know which start they were on but either way it was nice for a bit of human contact. As I arrived at the A34 I noticed more torches on a trail adjacent to the Ridgeway which looked a bit lost, they quickly realised their error and followed me, but sadly they were out on bikes rather than runners. I’d actually seen them earlier in the day near Princes Risborough so asked how far they were going and they said not far, just a mile or so to Uffington. They weren’t happy when I told them that was still a good 15 miles away!
Bury Down CP was well lit and a welcome sight. What seemed like 20 volunteers all offered their help and I felt a bit mean saying no to pretty much everything they were offering. From here and for the next 20 miles I knew the trail very well so it was nice not to have any concerns over navigation. Knowing where hills were I think was also an advantage as I’ve heard many other people say that section is one of their least favourite. Progress still ticking along around 12-minute average or slightly under and for the whole leg nobody was visible in front or behind.
Arriving at Sparshalt I knew a sub 17-hour finish was definitely on the cards if I could keep moving. Apart from knee/calf issues everything else was working beautifully and despite being tired my mood was good. Half way to Fox Hill I turned around and saw a light behind me, this was very unexpected and a bit demoralising, but soon after I head a motor and realised it was a farmer. Not long after that more torches were visible but these were clearly not runners either, I’ve got no idea what they were up to but there were about 4 people getting a ride on the back of a truck in the fields either side of the ridgeway. Not long before the CP I realised I was running normally again and the knee pain had gone, in fact it felt like I was running as freely as I had all race stringing 2 sub 10-minute miles together for the first time since mid-afternoon.
The Fox Hill CP is a real test of strength. Not content with a huge array of goodies they put chairs around a camp fire. When I arrived there was a chap sat down so it was reassuring to know I’d finally caught someone up. He quickly left and after treating myself to a 60 second sit down I followed suit. While not totally unfamiliar this section was one I definitely didn’t know well so I had to be a bit careful with navigation, especially since it’s the first time I’d be doing it in the dark. I thought I could see the guy from the CP up ahead but quickly enough that disappeared to nothing. Crossing over the M4 there was still no sign of him but I did spot torchlight way over to my right and wondered if that was him taking a wrong turn. After a long slog up a hill to open fields there was still no sign of him ahead so I was convinced he’d gone wrong and I’d moved ahead.
The next mile or so was the first time since Goring that the trail was back on open farmland, the path was a bit rutted and overgrown but worst of all the grass was wet with dew. I knew I was making excellent progress and the sock change at Goring had all but cured my blistering foot, but with about 14 miles still to go I didn’t want to get my feet wet again so was hopping from one side of the trail to the other, cursing and making special care to keep my right foot dry. Eventually it was back on the chalk and thankfully no damage done.
From CP4 to half way at Goring is longest single stage of the race, 12 miles, and can be broken into 3 very distinct sections. The first few miles are quite hilly, going through wooded sections, over farmland and through a golf course. The second part is a long and gentle downhill run through Grim’s ditch with lots of roots to watch out for, and finally the last few miles are completely flat and follow the Thames into Goring. When running through the golf course at Nuffield I saw a seat-high wall and decided 2 mins changing socks here could be the difference between saving my foot or it turning ugly. Since my left foot was still ok I only changed my right sock leaving me with one knee high sock and one ankle sock… very cool! Somewhere before Goring I very nearly took a wrong turn, I was 100% confident I was following the path but heard a very loud banging on a car window as I went past, I stopped to look and two people were pointing me down the road I’d just ran past! Sure enough there was a Ridgeway sign pointing me that way so I gave them a big thumbs-up and carried on.
By the time I reached Goring my calf was quite sore, I was still running very well but every step I could feel a knot of some sort right in the middle of it which was quite unnerving. Still, I was 20 mins ahead of schedule when I did arrive and overall was very happy with progress. The volunteers here couldn’t have been more helpful, it was bordering on ridiculous with a personal waiter each. There were homemade cupcakes on each table, bowls of sweets and plates of bread & butter. I didn’t feel hungry but the bowl of pasta I had went down very easily. 30 mins may seem like a lot of time but it went really quickly. One of the most important things for me was to get my wet socks off straight away to give my feet a chance to dry out a bit, and also to put my feet up letting my legs recover before setting off again. I’ve found a short sit down like this can make a huge difference.
Changeover complete and it was back out for the long slog back up to the Ridgeway, the road from Goring to the trail head always seems so much longer than it should and when you get there you’ve got another mile or two of climb before it evens out. I’d warmed up again by then though and was still moving at a good rate. 12-minute miles would more than get the job done and I was easily within that on all but the longest hill sections. The biggest concern I had was my calf, which was gradually getting worse, and also the knee which gave me problems earlier in the year. I could feel the exact same pain coming in and knowing how quickly it could go from pain free to being unable to run I had to tread very carefully. I managed this by not bending my leg so much on each stride, and kind of just rolling over the foot each time rather than kicking out behind. This also took a bit of pressure off the calf and I was still able to keep the speed up enough so I settled in to the task at hand.
A failed UTMB entry left a gaping hole in my race calendar and battling injury for the first 3 months of the year left me hesitant to fill it with similarly exotic races. I ran the Ridgeway as my first ultra in 2012 and despite being somewhat happy with 22:45, I knew I was capable of much better. I therefore decided that if I could overcome the injuries in time I’d give it another shot. Fast-forward to early-August and I’m sat on the back of 2 months of solid training ready for a 3 week taper. This is the first time I’ve put any more thought and structure into training other than ‘run lots’ and as a result of track intervals and hill reps I feel I’m in better shape than ever.
My goal for the race was sub 18 hours, with 8 hours for the first 43.5 miles to Goring, 30 minutes to sort myself out and relax, then 9.5 hours to complete the remaining 43 miles or so. I was confident the first part was easily achievable, but how long I could hold onto good running over the 2nd half was a little unknown. When I did the SDW100 last year I ran pretty well to about 80 miles when the effects of a fall earlier in the day gradually took hold and reduced me to a walk. Nutrition-wise I’ve always struggled with nausea on long efforts but with some decent success using GUs on a 1st half recce I was going to try and rely on these for many of my calories.
Not wanting to get caught up in other people’s races I didn’t try to follow anyone or stay in any kind of group early on. I’d written out realistic pacing to finish in 18 hours and that was all that mattered. The first section passed without a hitch, on a few of the climbs I could feel a bit of tightness right at the top of my left calf but didn’t think anything of it. Knowing there was a long hill straight out of Wendover I filled a bag with a few bits from CP1 and was on my way again in 60 seconds. Since I’d scheduled 30 minutes at Goring I wanted to minimise time spent at the other aid stations.
At about 6 miles stage 2 is quite short but one of my favourites; a couple of decent hills, some wooded trails and some more exposed bits with great views. Feeling good from my CP1 picnic I maintained my early pace and arrived at CP2 well within the 10 min pacing I was aiming for. Since I was ahead of schedule I walked for a few minutes while I ate my checkpoint food and then it was back under way. More trouble free miles passed until nearing Chinnor when the gathering grey cloud started to look a little ominous, sure enough it soon started to spit with rain and before long was full on pissing it down. Salt from sweat was getting in my eyes and the ground was quickly getting very wet. A few miles later the rain stopped and the ground was bone dry again so I think it must have been a very localised shower.
From Chinnor to Watlington is one of my least favourite stretches, it’s almost dead straight and flat so I was quite pleased to reach CP3 knowing it was nearly over. Still soaking wet from the rain and having just eaten my first GU I filled my bottle and carried on so as not to get cold. The short 5.5m section to CP4 came and went but by the time I arrived at the CP I could feel a blister developing under my big toe from all the water my socks were holding on to. I was also aware that the tight calf I noticed early on was starting to get a little more sore, but 35 miles into a race it’s inevitable that things like this are going to start making themselves known.