I fancied another challenge, so took the day off work to run 30 miles across Buckinghamshire. I left the house in a rush with no petrol, money or change of clothes for the end. Not the best of preparations. Arrived in good time though and parked up in a muddy field to register in the farm barn.
Usual race briefing proceeded with a lot of people there training for Marathon des Sables or ‘MDS’ as its known and then we were all got in the mini-bus to Ivinghoe Beacon for the race start.
At that point it started pouring with rain with a pretty strong wind and I began to wonder what I was doing there, particularly as everyone seemed to be training for something and I didn’t really have a reason other than I felt like it.
Then we were off— down the Beacon. Nearly fell over pretty much straight away on the slippery chalk so slowed down to a fast walk. The first few hours were then a mix of really exposed hillsides where it felt a bit chilly with rain/wind and then muddy woods running.
As I wasn’t aiming for a massively fast time I felt like I had more opportunity to enjoy my surroundings and experiment with new foods. Met a nice girl called Sam who offered me some chocolate coated coffee beans purchased by her in Mexico! And, a more mundane but no less equally good variety of peanut butter sandwiches.
Normally, like with the Snowdonia Marathon I was very focused as had a clear time goal to hit. With this, I’d come on my own with no particular time goal so it all felt a bit strange at first. But my mood gradually lifted as I continued and I enjoyed the solitude as well as the company of my fellow runners. Taking the time to stop and watch a bird of prey hover at the top of Coombe Hill and seeing this rainbow.
The autumn colours in the woods were fantastic with vibrant red leaves underfoot (as well as many tree roots to trip you up). My new ‘dirty girl’ gaiters were great and it was first time on a long trail run where I didn’t have to stop to shake out loose stones & mud or adjust my laces. I’d definitely recommend them.
The changing light in the woods as the sun gradually set was a pleasure and then it was night and I was on my own. It was my first experience of night running cross-county and I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t scared at first! It really was pitch black in the woods and thank god I had a good headtorch. The worst bit was having to run through a tunnel under the M40. The best bit was hearing the calls of tawny owls above me as I ran through the woods. I then freaked out a bit about whether I was going the right way until I eventually caught up with another runner.
I’d managed to go the whole way without getting lost once, was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I ran into the village where the race ended at Watlington, Oxfordshire. But where was the finish? All I could see was normal people walking the streets going for a night out no sign of any race! As I aimlessly walked the streets of the Watlington some locals gave me directions for the college which I knew was the race end and I pressed on. When I arrived at the entrance it looked deserted and despite the huge banners with the race company name I convinced myself that the finish must be somewhere else, and this was just the base where people were sleeping. Basically, as this is only my second ultra I still have a bit of a road runners mentality and in my tired state I seemed to be expecting hordes of cheering crowds or something!
Anyway, I eventually realised it actually was the finish and had a cup of tea. To be fair everyone else was running for 3 days in a row and I’d just done day 1 so it wasn’t really a big deal.