Druid’s Challenge Day 1

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.

The start

The start

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Registration

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.

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Ivinghoe Beacon – Not the most flattering of pics!

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.wed37ca_o

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.

Rainbow

Rainbow

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.

FullSizeRender-1The 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.

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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.

30 miles – 6h49 minutes

My first Ultra-Marathon

I’ve never done a blog before or anything really recording my own personal thoughts. In my job I spend lots of time writing reports for others, often ‘ghost’ writing with other people’s views, so I’ll have to try and remember how to think for myself and be honest…

Yesterday, I took part in my first ultra-the Chiltern Challenge 50km. I was apprehensive it was fair to say. I was techy all week in the lead-up and worried about the heat. Dave & I arrived a bit later than expected at the start. The vibe was very different to a road race – smaller group all dressed like proper hard core runners – and everyone seemed to know each other. Luckily I spotted Frances (a friend from work) and Glenn from late group which made me feel better as even I knew people! We then all gathered in the school hall to listen to the official ‘briefing’ from the organiser. Can’t really remember anything he said but he seemed like he knew what he was doing which was reassuring. One woman asked if she could give someone special bags of provisions for each checkpoint, at which point a bit of laughter from everyone else as we were all carrying our kit (or so I thought until 5 mins into the race when I realised I had no food, no shotblocks as left these all in the car!).

It was hot, I was sweating buckets right from the start. What was great though was that there was no complaining from anyone, everyone was so positive, happy to be there. Had to make a mental effort to try and avoid saying anything slightly negative like ‘its really hot isn’t it?’.

Made it to checkpoint 1 and was unlike anything I’d experienced before. The first one was in an idyllic Bucks village with ducks wandering around and food options from sweets to sausage rolls. So civilized.

Running and walking in the blazing hot sun through field after field was amazing and tough. At one point I remember feeling so elated as I ran with soft wheat stalks rubbing against my legs. Later at mile 26 a simliar field left me shattered and I gave in, stopped and sat down. Very stupid I know. After about a minute I realised that there were runners approaching and it would be embarrassing if they saw me as there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me, I was just being pathetic, so I had better continue. I then started retching. Very unpleasant and unexpected but carried on and made it to the last checkpoint.

Thank you to the very nice photographer and checkpoint man who gave me his seat. I really wasn’t thinking straight, and when I told him I’d been sick I then panicked in my head at the thought of being taken off the course for not being well! This immediately made me stand back up again and attempt to look positive (not sure I succeeded entirely).

 

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The last leg was actually fun in a weird way. I did some running as well as walking, and very grateful to my fellow runners for shouting at me when I went the wrong way. The countryside was stunning, the sun relentless (forecast was for thunderstorms but they never arrived), the comradery excellent.

I made the effort to run the last 1 km and finished just under 7h 30 for 32 miles. Finishing was brilliant but so unlike what I was expecting. I’d used up all my emotion on the course when I felt sorry for myself at mile 26 and sat down. I was simply happy, content and so grateful for being able to lie down on a patch of grass with a can of coke. Then my phone rang. It was Dave, my husband, he sounded seriously miserable. He had got lost, ran an extra 6 miles and was back at the last checkpoint with another 6 miles to go.

I put the phone down and weighed up if I should (a) continue to sit on the soft cool grass and relax (b) go back for him in the relentless heat. I decided the latter as it was our wedding anniversary weekend afterall and I felt slightly guilty that I’d gone ahead. I slowly jogged back, having to explain to each runner i passed that no I was not injured or insane for going the wrong way just going to meet someone. We eventually met half way through a field and walked back together.

 

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It was an emotional experience in a way uncompariable to any road marathon. It felt odd to be walking sections and my time was incredibly slow to my road marathon pace, but I finished and very happy I did it.  Will I do another ultra? Definitely!

 

 

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