Tuesday, September 25, 2007


0700 on the 25th of August and I’m sat in Rob Treadwells kitchen drinking coffee and wondering whatever possessed me to think that I could run 87 miles. The race we have entered is the Ridgeway Challenge, 87 miles of trail running along the Ridgeway long distance path said to be Britain’s oldest road which runs South west along the downs from close to Tring in Buckinghamshire to Avebury in Wiltshire.

Ah well the rucksack is packed and the sun is shining lets give it a go. 0945 Rob & I arrive at registration in the car park below Ivinghoe Beacon at the Northern end of the Ridgeway trail, we collect our numbers and walk the mile to the start at the top of the Beacon. We have elected to start at 1000 rather than the 1200 start for faster runners given that Rob hasn’t been able to train as much as he would wish and I’ve been carrying a hip injury for two weeks. For runners starting at 1000 and finishing in under 23 hours there is a time penalty of 50% of the difference between their finishing time and 23 hours i.e if we finish in 22 hours our official time will be 22 hours 30 minutes. Ah well were not going to win anyway and probably won’t finish in under 23 hours. The time penalty is to stop quicker runners from benefiting from an extra 2 hours of daylight.

1000 and the race director shouts go and about 30 of us trundle down the hill for a mile or so, as soon as we reach the bottom everyone starts to walk up the hill in front of us, welcome to long distance ultra running! Rob and I trundle along happily to the first checkpoint which is a distance of about 11.2 miles, the views are glorious, the sun is shining and the birds are singing, though at about 25C it’s a bit warm and the level of liquid in my camelbac is going down fast. We arrive at the 1st checkpoint in 1hour 59 mins, refill our camelbacs and trot on in the lead group running the flats and downhills but walking the ups. The second checkpoint at 17 miles comes up in a elapsed time of 3 hours 14 mins, another quick drink, a Jaffa cake or two and it onwards. The third check point at 23.5 miles is reached in 4 hours 46 mins and Rob & I are leading the field as no one from the 1200 start has passed us yet. By the time we reach the 4th checkpoint at 31.8 miles 6 hours 19 minutes have gone by and I’m starting to feel a little weary, oh well only 55 miles to go! As we run into the checkpoint the lead runner from the 1200 start passes us looking far too fresh! From here we run down a path called Grims Ditch a suitable name for a muddy path littered with tree roots cunningly placed to trip the unwary, once clear of the ditch it’s a 5 mile run beside the Thames to Goring, families are out on their boats or picnicking on the river bank in the evening sun and all I can think about is how much my feet hurt!

At 1910 we arrive at the halfway point at Goring 43.1 miles done, after several cups of tea, pasty and beans and a change of clothes and shoes we set off up the hill in the gathering dark after a 34 minute stop. Navigation is easier now the route being more obvious and we run / walk to the next checkpoint at 52.4 miles, we could see the tent lit up from miles away and it seemed to take ages to get there, but once there at 2146 its more tea, jaffa cakes etc and I have to be pulled out of the chair in which I’m sitting as my back starts to seize up. We’ve now been on our feet for nearly 12 hours and have the prospect of another 11 to go! Onwards we stumble along a rutted trail only walking now by the lights of our head torches, somewhere on this leg we came across a huge black dog which scared the living daylights out of both us until a dismembered voice muttered from the undergrowth that the dog was chained to a tree. The 7th Checkpoint was reached at 0033 or 14 hours 33 minutes since we set off, Rob sat down but daren’t as my back was telling me there was no way I would get upright again, however this stop had excellent egg and Tomato sandwiches and I think we ate the whole supply! 61.5 Miles gone now, only a marathon to go, piece of cake.

It was on the next leg where we came across a Rave in full swing, the drunken / stoned youngsters watched in amazement as Rob and I walked up the lane. “where you going mister and Run forest run” echoed after us, one guy ran full tilt at me from the side of trail so I stopped and he passed in front of me before tripping and head butting the car parked on the far side, result! We reached the 8th checkpoint at 69.4 miles at 0302 , these guys were organized with a campfire and a seemingly endless supply of tea and crisps both of which I was craving by now. I risked sitting here and really regretted in when I was pulled from the chair the next mile was a hobble until I managed to get stood upright again. This section was the low point for me, after a seemingly endless section of road to cross over the M4 we found ourselves on a narrow muddy track which sloped down at an angle of 20 degrees into brambles and stinging nettles so every second step we would slide into the nettles accompanied by a full range of Anglo Saxon curses. The blisters on my feet were now becoming a problem and I really wasn’t a happy bunny. Once away from the nettles and brambles things did not improve as it seemed whatever route I chose I ended up sliding down into puddles and wet muddy feet after 70 odd miles are a pain.

Eventually the dawn chorus could be heard and the sky began to lighten in the East, with the dawn came a new burst of energy which was just as well as we could see the 9th checkpoint at 79.9 miles at the top of the hill but it took us another hour to cover the 3 miles to get there. It was now 0630 and we’d been on the road for 20 hours 30 minutes, everything but everything hurt, but no way was I giving up with a mere seven miles to go. The last seven miles were along a severely rutted track cut to shreds by 4 x 4 vehicles and we stumbled our way along in misery until at last the turning to Avebury and the end came into sight. After 22 hours and 28 minutes Rob & I crossed the finishing line together. Despite the 16 minute penalty we incurred in finishing in under 23 hours from the 1000 start this was good enough for us to finish joint 18th overall, with Rob being 1st V35 and me 3rd V45 (which shows you that ultra runners tend to be ancient!) we were also the first finishers from the 1000 start so we won “our” race! There were 55 starters and 40 finishers.

Sat here one month after the event with feet that have finally recovered I take the following from the experience.

1. Given that I had only run road ultras before it came as a shock to realize how the difficulty of the terrain, mud, rocks, tree roots, wheel ruts, wet grass, ploughed fields etc slowed us down.

2. Immense gratitude to the club runners who manned check points through the night providing food and drink to weary souls, also a huge thank you to Robs partner Jan who was at every checkpoint to cheer us on.

3. 87 miles is a long way but very ordinary people can and do race this distance.

4. The feeling that I NEED to do another seriously long race, perhaps the Grand Union Canal 145 miles from Birmingham to London in 2009?? Rob?

5. Maybe just maybe I’ll give it another go in 2008! Any takers???

Monday, September 24, 2007


Founding Member Pete Larkin ran the Ben Nevis Fell race in his milers vest, sadly no photos but his (brief) report is below.

Weather shyte hence no photos but you be glad to hear that a Miler's vest made it to the top (and back) of this year's Ben Nevis Race. Yours truely completing Saturday's race in 2:36 ... outside the target time of 2:30 (could make excuses such as Weather : Rain - of the West Coast horizontal variety viz <15m above 2000 ft. but what's the point?

Hard race but good craic - needless to say, nobody can touch me in the 'Douglas Bader Impersonation' stakes today !!