2011 Ridgeway Challenge
I’d entered the Ridgeway 85 as my challenge event for the second half of 2011. Several things appealed to me such as the reasonable price, relative proximity to home, a night leg and the long distance. I’ve done a few 50 milers, a couple of GUCR’s but nothing in-between so I wanted to tackle a few distance races in-between 50 and 145 and this fitted the bill.
Fellow Fetchie ex-flyboy (Adrian) had kindly agreed to come out and meet me at a few Checkpoints from Checkpoint 4 onwards but ended up following me the whole way to the end (and giving me a lift home) for which I am appreciative.
On the morning of the race my wife dropped me off at Winnersh Station where I met another runner (Dino) and we travelled to Tring Station via Clapham Junction where we met another runner (Kenny). From Tring there were regular pickups courtesy of Dick and Lucy and we spotted a few of the 10am starters running past Tring before we were picked up and transported to the start in the Ashridge Car Park around 11.15am which was sufficient time to collect my number, eat some food, get my kit ready for the start and hand over my drop bag which would be available at Checkpoint 5 (Goring). There were two start times at 10am and 12noon for people who would finish under 24 hours. The entire event had a cut-off time of 26 hours.

As it was a fairly long race, I had devised a race schedule, which I carried with me. I had planned to run the first half to Goring (43.7 mile point) and aimed to get there before it got too dark and have some of the available hot food. From there, the plan was to power-walk the night shift and then trot the last few miles once it got light. I had looked at my previous long distance runs and pacing, factored in the undulating terrain and some time at Checkpoints and had estimated a finish time of between 20hrs 46mins and 22hrs 50mins (it was quite specific!) although I was hoping to be nearer the quicker end of the schedule.
I had run the Druid Ultra the year before and had completed the Ridgeway 40 in May so I knew some of the terrain and route but wasn’t overly familiar with it but was armed with one of the indestructible Harvey maps as along with the route programmed into my Garmin.
 2011 Ridgeway Challenge
The weather at the start was fairly cool but sunny with a bit of dark cloud and quite windy as we were standing on an exposed hill. I usually find that if I’m warm just before the start of the race I am probably wearing too many layers and I decided to go with just a base layer and a running top. I had decided to leave my rain jacket in the drop bag as I hadn’t expected any rain from my last weather check the day before and was trying to cut down on unnecessary weight. I wore my camelbak, which I was planning on filling with plain water and I carried a plastic bottle, which I was going to use for sports drinks/shakes etc as required. I wasn’t too sure on how much food would be available at checkpoints (although I was aware Goring would be a hot food point) and I carried a few gels and some flapjack aswell as a precaution.
I saw a couple of faces I recognised from previous runs including Stuart (GUCR) and Sam (Thames Ring). Sam was just planning on running the first half today due to work commitments the next day.

About 15 mins before the start of the race, we made our way from the car park to Ivinghoe Beacon, which marked the start of the race and spoke briefly to Anthony the Race Organiser. A few minutes later, as the runners were milling about and chatting there was a blow of the whistle and we were off. I don’t think people were clearly aware whether the whistle was a signal to start or just a call for attention before the start as there looked to be a bit of uncertainty as people hovered about but as soon as a few people went everyone followed and the run was underway. One chap ran out like a man possessed and took an immediate lead ahead of everyone else as he got further and further away literally after a couple of miles he was gone. (The winner finished in an amazing 13 hours, so I am assuming it was the same person)

2011 Ridgeway Challenge

The first Checkpoint was at Wellhead Farm and was 10.5 miles away and I had estimated an arrival time of between 13.48 and 14.00. The route was down a winding track at the start, past Tring Station a few miles ahead, over the Grand Union Canal and then following an up and down path over some hills. There was a little right hand turn at one point in the first few miles over a stile which to be honest I could have easily missed if I hadn’t been paying attention. I was running with a small group of people including a guy called Dave and Alan, Serpie Rebecca, Helen and Nicky and our average pace was about 9m/m for this leg which felt comfortable but very slightly quicker than planned and I arrived at Checkpoint 1 at 13.42, 6 minutes ahead of schedule. I was conscious of spending too much time at the stops and had a few snacks and carried on quite quickly. It rained a one point before this Checkpoint but wasn’t too heavy.

The second Checkpoint was a short one at 6.3 miles away and took us over Coombe Hill. Unfortunately it started to rain again and I got wet and at that point regretted leaving the rain jacket behind. There was some cover from the trees at points of the run but I couldn’t spend all day waiting under the trees for the heaviest rain to pass and so gamely carried on. I took a great photo of the path we were following leading to a gate in a wood, the sky all around us was clear apart from a dark cloud above the wood we were running to, it looked like more rain ahead.

2011 Ridgeway Challenge

I arrived at Checkpoint 2 at 14.57 which was ahead of the estimated 15.02 – 15.21 so was making some good time at this point. I wasn’t too concerned about “blowing out” as beyond the halfway point was a planned brisk night walk and a chance to take it easier. I filled my water bottle here and made up an energy drink, grabbed a few items of food and ate them as I carried on. Just as I was leaving I saw Dino and Kenny arriving at the checkpoint and gave them a quick wave before carrying on.
Due to the recent rain, the paths were pretty muddy boggy and slick which made some parts more difficult to run. I think it also took a bit out of the legs, as by the 20-mile point my legs were feeling surprisingly heavy. I took a carb gel at this point and started to ease off (slow down) the pace by walking up the hills and picking up the running on the flats/downhill parts.
Checkpoint 3 was at 24.5 miles and I had allowed a 10-minute stop but only stopped for 5 minutes for supplies. I arrived here at 16.20 and had planned 16.36 – 17.04 so was still about 15 mins ahead of schedule.
From here I jogged the next 3 miles and progressed beyond the first marathon distance but my Garmin indicates I slowed down a bit around miles 29 – 32 to the next checkpoint so must have shuffled a bit of that leg which gave me a bit of time to tweet and check texts. Just before the Checkpoint is a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill bit and at the top of this I could see Adrian waiting for me at the next Checkpoint and gave him a wave as I strode up the hill arriving at 17.55 which was still around 15 mins ahead of schedule (18:13 – 18.49).
I stopped here for a few mins and had a chocolate milk shake, which felt refreshing at first, but the chocolate after-taste wasn’t so good and didn’t sit too well. I ate and apple and a sandwich, refilled my hydration pack and bottle and then carried on to the half-way mark at Goring.
The next leg was the longest at 12 miles and was mainly jogging with a number of walking breaks. I was following a couple of guys from Portsmouth Joggers who were running at a pace I was could keep up with comfortably but I was guilty of stop-starting too much where they kept on going and tagging behind them was a good incentive to carry on and I ran with them for a few miles. It’s probably around here that I was missing my usual running buddy Stouty as when we run together he keeps me going around these moments.
There was one section of the route (Grims Ditch) which was great for running, a gentle downhill section over softer earth and we put in a good few miles effort here. Around this point Dino had caught up with me. Unfortunately Kenny had dropped out earlier after struggling for a bit. Dino and I jogged along together and chatted for a couple of miles before I slowed down and Dino carried on. I was feeling a little queasy at that point and wanted my stomach to settle down before being offered hot food at Goring which was only a mile or two away.
I had an unexpected call from Kevin at this point who was planning on running the event but pulled out through injury and kindly offered to help marshal and he would be at the next Checkpoint and was wondering how I was getting along which was a nice gesture.
As I got closer to Goring it was starting to get gloomy and darker and I was just about going to make it before it got to dark. Adrian met me again about half a mile before the Checkpoint and we walked towards the hall next to a church which was the base of operations for this checkpoint. As I walked in, I got a warm welcome from Kevin who was logging people in and out and I went to the food counter where I was offered some hot food. I went for the soup and bread option and sat down at one of the tables and consumed this quickly. I spotted Dino here who was finishing off his meal before heading out again. As I finished my soup, one of the helpers came to me at the table and offered me some dessert (warm rice pudding and fruit) and brought the food to me, table service at a checkpoint!
The atmosphere here was good as various runners were coming in and out and most of them were arming themselves with head-torches and extra layers for the night. This was a planned long stop but I was conscious of staying there too long. I had pre-prepared what I needed for the night and grabbed this back and quickly ran through it and took out what I wanted (torch, mid-layer, gloves). I made up a “For Goodness Shake” drink to take with me, put a precautionary compeed on a hot-spot and then faffed about with leggings, socks and trainers for a little. My trainers were covered in mud and I decided at the last minute to change pairs to a cleaner pair. If you read my GUCR report, you may recall reading about changing my trainers caused a blister on the heel where the sorbathane inner-sole was not quite covering the entire heel area causing this to rub. Well, at this moment in time I was repeating the exact same mistake. I think my rule is now going to be, if you’re feet feel fine then carry on as you are. If I write this mistake down often enough, I might just remember it next time.
2011 Ridgeway Challenge
Unfortunately, I must have stopped my Garmin by accident as I was putting an extra layer on and didn’t realise this until 45 minutes and 2 miles later, so my distance timings would be a little out meaning I was never quite sure when the next checkpoint would be. I also picked up my portable charger so I could charge phone and Garmin and keep this running for the entire run.
For the record I left Goring at 21.00 and had planned to arrive at 21.11 – 22.00 and had allowed 20 minutes to stop. I was ahead of schedule but think I must have stopped for longer than 20 minutes (perhaps 30 mins), time can really pass you by here.
I left the Checkpoint, saying my good-byes to Adrian, Kevin and Lucy who was directing runners outside and walked over the Thames Bridge and headed right where I would find the Ridgeway Path on the left. I knew this part of Streatley and found the path fairly easily although the darkness does make you to a double check the signs especially when they point at an angle (i.e. does that mean left turn or bear left). It was completely dark by now and it had gone from dim and gloomy to total darkness within the time I was in the checkpoint.

The next stretch I recall as being a slow almost gentle uphill part onto the ridge and then a long fairly direct path up and down over various slopes but nothing too severe. I walked for a mile or two to let me food settle and felt much better after that last stop and then despite planning on walking this leg, started a slow jog in the hope of catching up with someone or a group for some company at night. I really enjoy the excitement of a night run (i.e. “what the hell am I doing here in the middle of the night” type feeling) but I do tend to feel really sleepy in the early hours. Usually, I run these events with my buddy Stouty who keeps me going but I was going solo at the moment so there was a slight risk I might stumble over or fall asleep. I was armed with a few pro-plus tablets but I was also going to try out the High5 zero extreme tablets which were armed with a caffeine stimulant. I chugged down my recovery shake (strawberry flavoured) which was delicious and refreshing but probably over-priced at £1.95 a packet and carried on with my slow trot until I could see the twinkling of a couple of flashlights ahead.

2011 Ridgeway Challenge

It was pitch black here and there were no lights at all meaning you were relying purely on your head-torch. I caught up with a group of three people ahead which included the two Portsmouth Joggers I had tracked earlier and a guy called Eric of Turkish descent. The guys had the plan of power-walking the night and I joined the small group.
Checkpoint 5 was 8.7 miles ahead and now that we had slowed our pace to a brisk walk. It was pitch black and we killed some time with some casual conversation between the group. There was nothing notable to speak off here except for a slight right hand turn we took where we should have carried on straight/left slightly and I voiced my concerns after a hundred yards or so and we checked our directions and then made a quick U-turn and then went the correct way. It’s the type of thing which would probably not occur during the day when it’s light and the path is more obvious but the sort of thing that could easily happen at night. However, the Ridgeway path pretty much had a post marking at each junction where the path splits so a quick flash of the head-torch should identify this quite easily. Apart from this very slight lapse we had no issues with navigation and I didn’t have to check my map at all.
About a mile or so before the Checkpoint, I felt a heel blister coming on and stopped briefly to attend to it as the guys carried on. We had just overtaken a guy walking a bit slower than us and so I thought I would walk in with him to the next Checkpoint after I attended to my foot.
After what seemed like an eternity, we spotted the tell-tale sign of a light ahead on a hill on top of a hill and we recognised this as a Checkpoint. I spotted Dick and Pat here along with Adrian and was offered a hot dog snack which I must say went down really well. After the pre-Goring queasiness my appetite was back to normal. I left this checkpoint at 23.20 with a planned arrival time of 23.25 – 00.23 (I’m know its precise) and had allowed 10 minutes for a stop and was about 15 mins ahead of schedule which now allowed a walking pace for the rest of the night so without any major mishaps should be looking at a comfortable 21 hour finish.
The other chap stayed at the Checkpoint for a bit longer as I headed off and trotted a little before catching up with the other group I had walked with earlier.
The four of us continued on towards Checkpoint 7 which was 9.1 miles away and we continued our casual conversation as we walked along. There had been a bit of banter between the group as one of the Portsmouth Joggers was currently in top spot for the V60 placing and his “nemesis” was not far behind him. Literally minutes after we had this conversation his nemesis caught us up which caused the group to run ahead and I tagged along grinning to myself as I was unwittingly drawn into a race during the middle of the night.
We jogged for a bit but then Eric and I slowed back down to our brisk walk as I didn’t want to deviate too much from my plan (i.e. ok, ok I was probably a bit tired and just making an excuse and wanted to walk) as the Portsmouth guys carried on. We were overtaken by the other runner behind as but didn’t see anyone else around.
We arrived at the next Checkpoint (7), had a couple cups of tea, a couple of jam sandwiches and I ate about 3 club biscuits before leaving at 02.00am. The planned arrival time was 02.05 to 03.23 with a 10 minute stop, so I was now maintaining the planned pace. Adrian again met me at the checkpoint and gave me some words of encouragement before we carried on.
As we set out for the next checkpoint, another runner caught us up whose name I forget and joined the two of us and so the three of us marched along together for the next 8 miles or so. We were probably managing just under 4 miles per hour (about 16 m/m). I did start to feel sleepy at one point but had popped one of the High5 tablets (the one with the caffeine hit) into my water bottle and having consumed that I felt a lot better and to be honest I didn’t feel sleepy at all for the rest of the night so I guess it worked along with several cups of sugary tea on route. Around this time, we were also caught up by Lindsey who joined us to make a group of 4.
We arrived at Checkpoint 8 at 04.25am (planned time 04.25 – 06.00) so lost a little bit of time there but I did have to stop for a “comfort” break on route. Checkpoint 8 was organised by the Swindon Harriers running club and was brilliant. There was a camp fire, music, the usual selection of foods and a camp/festival type atmosphere. The guys did an amazing job of keeping everyone motivated by cheering them in and out, it was fantastic.
We stopped for a few snacks (marmite sandwich and a cup of tea for me) and then carried on. Adrian was again here supporting me along having had a little snooze in his car from time to time.
2011 Ridgeway Challenge
We set out towards Checkpoint 9 near Barbury Castle which was 10.5 miles away and one of the longest legs. However, it would get light some time between now and that Checkpoint and I had planned to try and run a bit when it was light and I was more confident of my footing etc. Having said that a fair section of the night leg had been on what appeared to be fairly smooth path and was certainly a lot more comfortable than the slick, muddy first half of the race, therefore having a bit of a go at running at night is real possibility for me next time.
My blister on my heel was giving me some discomfort and I could feel the hot-spot in my shoe with every step and so I took an ibuprofen to numb the pain and tried to ignore it.
At about 5.30am it started to get light and I confirmed my intention to the rest of group to have a bit of a run now. Eric was backing off the pace a little and now a little behind but he raced to catch me up and hand back my back-up hand torch which I had lent him when his torch was fading.
I took another energy gel and then started to run. There was quite a stretch about 4 miles out from Barbury Castle which was downhill and I jogged this part and then started to spy more and more people ahead all of whom were walking. With the two start times at 10am and 12noon I had no idea where I was position-wise but I’m generally a mid-pack fun runner at best so it doesn’t make much difference to me but it acted a great little incentive for me to keep going and try and catch up with the next person which helped me keep going. About 3 miles before the next Checkpoint you take the left hand turn towards Barbury Castle (not really a castle just a landmark) and then there’s a quite a few up and down hills and I settled into walking the up and running the downs and flats on and off for these few miles. I must have over-taken around 10-12 people at this point and was surprised at how close together we were, at night you felt quite isolated.
Dino texted me at this point to see how I was doing having just finished in around 18 hours which was a brilliant time and 6th place I believe.
I had just walked up a hill and started on a bit of a run when I approached the next Checkpoint. Adrian was there waiting for me and one of the marshals asked if I wanted a cup of tea as I approached but I felt pretty good at that point, I hadn’t consumed a lot of water since the last Checkpoint and didn’t need a refill and with only 5.1 miles (its actually closer to 7miles I think) until the finish there was really no need to stop and waste a few extra minutes. I indicated I was going straight through and just ran through the Checkpoint, I was now on the home leg.
By now it was a bright morning if a little misty and I headed down the hill past the Barbury Castle point. The last few miles of the race are on horrible stony ground, my heel was giving me a bit of discomfort at that point and it felt as if I was running on glass and I could feel every stone under my feet. The next few miles were a series of up and down hills before a right hand turn to Avebury. I had spotted one runner ahead as I atop the hill at Barbury but he was running aswell and I was unlikely to catch him.
The next few miles did drag a bit but I did what I could to keep trotting and then finally I saw the sign to take a right hand turn to the finish which followed a slope downwards for the next mile or so to the end. Ahead of me was another runner who was walking and I jogged down to catch him up and had a quick chat before indicating I was going to run on and asked if he was up for a trot. He politely declined my invitation as I trotted on and ahead of me I saw Adrian walking up the path towards me, I must nearly be there. I slowed to a walk and spoke to Adrian who indicated there was less than half a mile to go. Behind me, I noticed the guy now running so perhaps I had persuaded him to make one last effort. I did feel a little bit guilty to be honest overtaking people at the end, it felt a bit like following someone around on a 10k and then out-sprinting them in the last 50 yards although this would have been a lot longer than a 10k and I use the term “out-sprinting” very very loosely here. I was happy to walk in but perhaps the guy behind me persuaded me to jog a bit more and I jogged into the finish passing one more runner who was walking 50 yards before the end.
There were several people outside applauding the finishers but it was (as expected) a low key finish. I entered the hall, registered my finish time which was 20hrs 22mins (planned schedule was 20.46 – 22.50 so I made up a bit of time with the run at the end) and made my way to the food table where there were bacon butties and cups of tea on offer. I sat down and wolfed down my butty before having a second as I spoke to a few other finishers and saw Eric a little while later who had managed to pick up the pace and run in commenting that he had overtaken quite a few people aswell.
Anthony then approached me and offered me my finishers medal. Surprisingly it was a gold one as I was apparently the first 35-39 year old male to finish….. However, he quickly added that there were two others ahead of me but they won the place awards so I was next in line (i.e. so I earned this by default somehow). I had the obligatory finishers photo taken as I was still munching on the last of my bacon butty (expect puffy cheeked pose) and then got changed.
Adrian kindly dropped me off home. I think I dozed a bit on the way back before having a soak in the bath and a sleep for a couple of hours. My feet were sore and I had a few blisters, one major one on the heel which is causing me to hobble around as I write this but the others are minor. I didn’t do too much the rest of the day and spent this in front of the TV before having another soak in the bath and then crashing out about 9pm and getting nearly 12 hours sleep. My wife and daughter kindly ran around me making drinks etc which was much appreciated. I think I’ve got a bit of a cold coming on but no surprise from getting wet on and off a few times whilst your energy and immune levels are low.
Overall, I enjoyed the event. The distance is a challenge which I like and it was pretty well organised (commendation on the checkpoints which were all really good with helpful, friendly enthusiastic marshals) and it is very good value for money compared to some events which seem to get more and more expensive these days.
I’d be quite happy to tackle the event again. My pre-race plan was pretty much spot on and I’m pretty satisfied with coming a few minutes ahead of schedule. There’s definitely a bit of room for improvement as I felt comfortable (apart from heel blister) and didn’t feel as if I was on my last legs at the end so a sub 20 hour should be the aim next time. In fact, looking at the results I made up approximately 50 minutes on the couple of people I was walking (who carried on walking when I ran/walked) over the last 10 miles in distance which illustrates to me how much time you could save if you can make any sort of running effort during the night.

Thanks to Anthony & co for putting on a good event and that’s another race distance category ticked off the list for me and thanks to Adrian for meeting me at the Checkpoints and supporting me along the way.

2011 Ridgeway Challenge

2011 Ridgeway Challenge