Ridgeway Challenge was planned as my last warm up event before Spartathlon with the intention of running this at a steady pace and experience a good work out, a classic ‘training run’ event. I had run the event back in 2011 and 2012 although this was the first time I had taken part since Tim Mitchell had taken on the event and it was clear to see Tim has put a lot of effort into the race since it has fallen under his stewardship.
Race registration (Photo Credit to Ridgeway Challenge/TRA)
On the TRA website, the event is advertised as part of the TRA Ultra Trail Championships with medals on offer for each age category so a good chance for people to earn an additional medal competing against others of their age.
Beechey and I travelled to the event together and we arrived at Ivinghoe Beacon to register, collect our pre-race T-Shirts (nice design but the orange was a bit too bright for me), race numbers and get ready.
Paul was making a return to racing after some months out with an injury and looking forward to a good day. The weather was sunny with a slight breeze and reasonably warm which meant it was just T-Shirt running so the spare base-layer was consigned to the backpack for later that night.
Interestingly, the event has two start times, 10 am is offered for those who want some additional time (but these people would not be eligible for any age prizes) and a 12 noon start for everyone else.
Reading Joggers Ultra Team representatives
Starting at Ivinghoe Beacon and travelling East to West, the event itself is 86 miles in length covering the full length of the Ridgeway and boasts around 6700 feet of elevation. For a price of between £68-£80 it’s an absolute bargain of an event compared to the ‘other’ Ridgeway based event people may be familiar with.
After the pre-race briefing, we set off from Ivinghoe Beacon to the first Checkpoint at Wendover about 10.5 miles in. The first concern was an immediate twinge on the right knee which I have been suffering on and off with over the summer. I immediately slowed a touch until the twinge disappeared and carried on, to then experience some discomfort under the outside of my foot. This wasn’t a good start. The first section has a few climbs and I took this pretty steadily running at a comfortable pace and hiking the odd climb and generally settling into the race. I had a brief chat with Sarah Morwood during this leg who must have got fed up opening the gates for me as I was trailing her for this part of the race (.. cue before she disappeared ahead at some point) as I passed through the Wendover Checkpoint grabbed some food and drank some orange (the event is cup less so bring your own).
Race Start (Photo Credit Ridgeway Challenge/TRA)
Checkpoint 2 is located at Whiteleaf 16.8 miles in. Despite having run this a few years ago, I couldn’t remember the route in my head before the race and ran with the route loaded onto my Garmin watch as a comfort factor but I did start to recognise odd landmarks and turns at which point the Ridgeway started to become vaguely familiar. Running with the map on my Garmin meant I could run comfortably without worrying and looking at my pace at all. The weather was turning out to be sunnier and warmer than expected (but not really hot at all) and a lovely day for the event which was a rarity (it generally rains on the August Bank Holiday as the Reading Festival is on) and I passed Checkpoint 2 and started to head towards Checkpoint 3 at Lewkenor.
Unfortunately, the knee twinge returned about 20 miles in and I slowed and walked a bit here and there not wanting it to worsen at all before picking up a jog a little while later. A ‘jog’ was a nice way to describe the effort today, having approached this as a ‘training run’ meant mentally everytime I had a decision to ‘push’ (say up a hill) then I took the soft option convincing myself I didn’t want to exert myself too much and just enjoy the day. Excuses, excuses… I know.
Next, I arrived at the point on the Ridgeway (Swyncombe Church) which I recognised as the Autumn 100 route and the remainder of the route was pretty familiar having run the next 25 miles a few times and having also run the reverse of the route at the Ridgeway 40 a few times.
The next Checkpoint (4) at Nuffield Church was just before one of my favourite sections at Grimsditch (a lovely wooded section) before moving on towards North Stoke and South Stoke. The only time I didn’t like this section was in the very first ever Winter 100 (before it was renamed and changed to the Autumn 100) where I was physically sick and Allan Rumbles ran away in my hour of need 🙂
Once nice aspect of the race was I bumped into a few familiar faces I hadn’t seen for a while (Nina, Dave, Katie) and I briefly slowed and chatted to them during the event.. it was a nice little excuse to slack off for a couple of minutes before jogging on.
Running into the Goring Checkpoint (Photo Credit Ridgeway Challenge/TRA)
As I approached the last mile to two before Goring, I felt like I was ‘hanging on’ and even a steady effort felt a bit harder than I expected it to be. There was a brief thought about bailing at Goring as it was an easy place to get home and bank 40 odd miles for the day and still be home for tea but no real reason to do so apart from the fact that I “Couldn’t Be Arsed” (classic ‘CBA’) to see out the race. Not the best reason to DNF so I thought I should better carry on. 1 DNF a year is enough thank you.
I got a text from Beechey who had been in and out of Goring and didn’t seem in the best of moods as I arrived at the mid-point of the race in Goring about 20 minutes after him around 7hrs 15mins and stopped to adjust some taping on my feet and enjoy some hot food and necked a bottle of coke I had in my drop bag.
After the Goring stop, I felt like a changed man and the next 20 miles felt like the best part of the race for me. I ran strongly from the 45-65 mile section and suddenly felt more motivated to just keep jogging on. I passed Karen Hathaway who I hadn’t seen for ages, Karen hasn’t run at all since the Thames Ring last year (literally not at all) and entered the race late having run once before the event and then just decided to run 86 miles for fun on a whim to get back into the running.. excellent.
I then caught up with Rob Treadwell. Rob is a veteran of the ultra running circuit (and previous winner of the event with a 14.48 time in 2010) and despite having been at odd races together I never had the opportunity to run or chat and we just sort of clicked and stuck together for a bit (well he laughed when I complemented him on his matching lime green compression shorts/tops and lime green Salamon backpack and asked whether he had a matching backpack for every race kit..). It felt like I was running stronger earlier on but later on during the race I totally slacked off and it was Rob who was chipping away with the running and leading the two of us towards the end so I guess we worked well together.
The timing of us meeting was good as it was just getting dark as we arrived at the Bury Down Checkpoint at 53 miles and I paused to put on my base layer and grab my head torches and gloves.
Rob was crewed by his wife and we settled into a routine where I grabbed some food and walked on and then Rob would jog to catch me up and we would continue on together.
Having not enjoyed much of the earlier part of the race with a few knee twinges and the thought of a long day ahead, this section was the best part of the race, running along the Ridgeway with no-one (apart from Rob) around, chatting about running and enjoying the change from light to dark was a pretty cool experience. Beechey and I exchanged a few texts along the way, he was hoping for a bit of company but I was too far behind him (around 45 mins) to catch him up.. sorry buddy you’re on your own today!
We arrived and passed through the Sparsholt Firs Checkpoint at 61.5 miles and headed on towards the next Checkpoint at Foxhill. Up until this point my I had been eating well and my legs actually felt pretty good aside from the odd tug of the piriformis (a nuisance injury) even the knee twinges had settled down. I did need to have a ‘comfort break’ somewhere and had two aborted attempts when I was just blowing raspberries which wasted a bit of time.
As we arrived at the Foxhill Checkpoint 69.4 miles in, this was where I totally slacked off. I left the Checkpoint with Rob who walked on ahead as I stopped to have my third attempt at a ‘comfort break.’ I managed to do this discreetly and just before Paul Southwood passed. About 2 minutes later I needed to go again and had to have a further stop.
By this time Rob was probably thinking, where the hell I was? It didn’t help that I had a major dose of ‘Can’t Be Arsed’ (it was about 1pm now) and I could easily have stopped at 70 miles.. that was a long enough training run for me today. I marched for a bit along the road before a bit of a climb. At this point, I spotted a head torch ahead of me which was Rob signalling where he was. I thought I’d better catch him up as promised and started jogging here and there until I finally caught up with him.
At this point I was pretty honest and told Rob to carry on as I was definitely slacking off now but he wouldn’t have any of it and was happy with the company and a steady effort. We jog/walked most of this section and passed the time debating whether any sort of incline was a ‘hill’ (i.e. we walked it) as we slowly made our way to the final Checkpoint at Barbury Castle before the finish. This leg was a bit of a drag to be honest and a bit of a downer as I knew it was all mental, as physically I could run comfortably when prompted.
The only incidents of note was when Rob took a good tumble before the Barbury Castle section, he dusted himself down and carried on with no major issues thankfully. He’s too tall a guy for me to carry along the Ridgeway!
As we arrived at the final Checkpoint, I shoved a variety of food down my throat and washed it down with half a bottle of coke to give me some energy for the last leg. Whatever I ate didn’t quite agree with me as I wretched a bit as I marched out of the Checkpoint. Rob was probably thinking “Is here, Isn’t he going to puke” but it was ok. I probably just mixed up too many different food types in a few minutes which didn’t quite go down that easily.
We left the last section and with a touch over 6 miles to go we worked out a 16.10-16.30 finish time. A lot of this last section is downhill and we ran a fair bit of this although some of it was the most rutted and last pleasant of the route. I nearly had an ankle turn where I thankfully managed to stop myself going over and we watched our footing carefully.
With about 1.5m to go we saw the right hand turn off the Ridgeway to the finish and jogged down the hill. We thought we saw a head torch behind us (we were mistaken) and carried on running. Despite not treating this event that competitively, we both didn’t really want to be overtaken so close to the finish and we made sure we pretty much ran to the end finishing together in 16hrs 18minutes.
Pictured with Rob at the finish (Photo Credit Ridgeway Challenge/TRA)
My immediate reaction was of disappointment that I had totally slacked off for the last 10 – 15 miles. It was a good sign that my legs actually felt like they could carry on running but a poor sign that my mind was saying “Nah, don’t bother.”
Upon reflection after a couple of days, it was an ok result. Considering the fact I ran two back to back ultras two weeks before (Cotswold and Oxford Ultras) and then stuck in a 100 mile training week and then ran the Ridgeway with no real taper (just 2 days rest) I certainly wasn’t fresh at all which may have been a contributory factor. I did pick up a couple of blisters on the index toes (despite the use of gel toe caps) but these weren’t severe enough to prevent me running more of a minor nuisance. However, the rest of my feet (including my precious little toes) actually look pretty good after the event.. which feels nice for a change.
The good news for me is that finishes of my mileage whoring over the summer and I will try and focus on less miles/more effort (after a few days off and some easy running for the next week) and try and get to a point where I start to feel fit, sharp and fresh (well one can hope) as I approach the final few weeks before Spartathlon.
Thanks to Rob Treadwell for the company, it was a pleasure to run together and have a chat along the way and thanks to Tim Mitchell and all the volunteers who help support the event without which we couldn’t organise the race. This is definitely an event I would recommend to people with a very reasonable price, well organised, well supported and a good challenging (but runnable) route.
My final finishing time of 16.18 (joint 8th with Rob) was actually about 2.5 hrs quicker than I ran (* ahem * probably walked) in 2012 which was nice and thanks to Dan Masters finishing 3rd overall, it meant I was first in line for the ‘sort of old man’ category (MV45) and was also pleased to see Rob was first in the MV50 category (thanks to Paul Radford finishing 2nd overall). Beechey finished in 6th in a time of 15.29 for any other Reading Jogger fans out there.
Obligatory medal photos
Finishing in the early hours of the morning meant Beechey and I had a few hours to kill before we were shuttled to Swindon Station for an 8.30 am train so we had a few hours to get changed, relax, try to sleep (failed), drink some tea, eat a bacon sandwich and catch up with other runners (mention to Paul Radford for the good chat and humour). I really enjoyed that social aspect after the race which doesn’t take place to often with people generally (and sensibly) heading home for some sleep.
Overall, a good race which is well recommended and an ok effort as my last event prior to Sparta.