Druids Challenge

The Druids Challenge organised by the XNRG team is a three day Ultra marathon that follows the ancient ‘Ridgeway National Trail’. The trail runs from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, through the Chiltern Hills and Thames Valley and 84 miles later finishing in Swindon North Wiltshire.

All you need is some running shoes on your feet, bags of enthusiasm, a sleeping bag, a roll up mat, a head torch (compulsory on day 1) and a smile and you are in an almost perfect world.

The weekend would take on the following format:

  • Day 1: 29.3 miles
  • Day 2: 26.8 miles
  • Day 3: 28.3 miles

Day 1: 29.3 miles

Registration took place in a barn at ‘Town Farm’ some 3 miles out of Tring ‘Town’ on the edge of Buckinghamshire. The XNRG crew were as precious as ever ensuring the immaculate experience of the 3 days began right from the start of disembarking from the train offering free lifts from Tring station to the registration area. I opted for a direct taxi from the ‘luxurious less than £30 a night Premier Inn’ straight to the start rather than faff about at the station.

If I can’t go faster I’ll go longer. – Doug Barber

The farm was full of apprehensive looking runners when I arrived. I was early, an hour and a half early. Walkers started 2 hours before the runners who started an hour before the ‘Elites’ Now when we talk of Elites we mean anyone who can complete day 1 – 29.3 miles in under 5 hours of which I hoped I would fulfill the requirement given I had run 30 miles in around 4 hours 40 minutes at Round Rotherham 50 a few weeks previous.

I was warmly welcomed, given my number and route card and offered a piece of chocolate and cup of tea as I kept shelter from the wind and drizzle in the barn. Meanwhile the 11 o’clock runners were preparing for off whilst I faffed around with my rucksack and gear and went to the toilet more times than you can count on my missing toe nails.

The event was also marketed as ideal training for those that were to do the Marathon De Sables, so some runners had all the MDS packs with water bottles a plenty and big shiny yellow ‘MDS’ rucksacks. Others had very little, race vests tightly packed with minimal ‘stuff’. I have learned this year to go minimal but of course without compromising safety. My pack contained a little bit of my own food, a few gels, my raincoat, a spare tee and some plasters, and a bit of money and of course a fully charged mobile phone. Today a head torch was compulsory as well as many of us would be finishing in darkness.

The elite briefing took place around 11.30 – with some useful stats’: The oldest person was 78, the average age 44, 35% women, 65% men, 2 guys pulling tyres all the way around and then there were the rest of us ‘plebs’. We were told what to do in emergency, and to most of all enjoy and have fun. We all then piled into the minibus I started faffing nervously, coat or top? buff or not? trainers or stilettos?

We were mini-bused up to the Ridgeway, all piled out and were guided on a short walk led by  ‘Neil’ where we would begin the event at the summit of Ivinghoe Beacon. It was cold, windy and drizzling, we were all shivering but I knew we would all soon warm up as we dropped off the hillside.

My last thought before I start a race ‘Why am i doing this’

And before we could say Jack Frost, Neil was wishing us well and we were on our way. The mass of around 35 or so ‘Elite’ runners raced down the banking trying not to face plant down the clammy muddy clay covered in slippery white chalk. This was going to create some challenging footage moves.

A group of top runners formed a front group and the rest followed. I was mid pack just running in my own happy little way. The first part took us high on the Ridgeway then dropped down into wet grassy fields. We were still all quite bunched up at this point so no excuses to go wrong.

I had the GPX file on my watch but navigation was easy as the Ridgeway was marked with large wooden signs and acorns. Following the mass of runners in front of me was the best option at this point.

The first mile is a lier and so is the next 83 miles

 

Within just a few miles we were back in the village of Tring, passing Tring station and then soon back onto the muddy trail through ‘Tring Woods’. My watch was showing a slight discrepancy with the route that everyone else including the wooden ‘Ridgeway’ signs were pointing so on this occasion I decided to follow the wooden signs and everyone else.

The first checkpoint was some 12 miles in and was surprised how quickly it came up. I had already eaten a fig biscuit or two but saving myself for the potential goodies at mile 12. It may seem odd to eat fig biscuits when running only 12 miles but the key for me is to eat small bits regularly in order not to bonk later on. I would rather be seen eating a fig biscuit 20 minutes in than be scraped off the floor some 20 miles in.

Just before the first checkpoint a nice bright yellow sign beamed out reminding us all of the challenge and giving us that extra motivation:

If you can’t you must – XNRG sign on the Ridgeway

Through the checkpoint I got my water bottles filled up by the friendly volunteers and picked up some tasty buttered malt loaf. The array of goodies included pretzels crisps, malt load, peanut butter sandwiches and marmite sandwiches and haribo’s. I would save some of these delights for later in the day.

I had a stash of my prime possession; Kendal mint cake and some dried banana which I find really useful when going ‘long’.

I left the checkpoint not hanging around too long and went on my merry way. After about a mile in, the route ascended upwards onto a slippy chalk way. I caught up with a guy dressed in red at one of the many gates. We exchanged conversation about walking up the hill, ultras in general then introduced ourselves. This was Giles, a local guy from Goring who had done the race before and was going back home each evening. Bed envy already.

How to run an ultramarathon

Puff out yoru chest put one foot in front of the other and don’t stop till you cross the finish line – Dean Kamazes

We chatted along and the miles ticked by. Giles, I found out had come out of the Winter 100 and was full of ultra and local knowledge. A pleasure to run with such a nice friendly guy. He was also genuinely kind; making a habit of giving away his free S Caps, apparently, he had never used them before but on more than one occasion there were runners with cramp and Giles would be there handing out his ‘free’ S Caps. This is what I love about ultrarunning, its un-selfish, thoughtful and fun.

At around 18 miles I remember passing number 18 and wishing him well. The camaraderie of these events amongst runners is second to none. The elite runners were now passing the walkers and the 11am starters. Passing banter from all sides, ‘well done’ ‘hi’ ‘keep it up’ ‘looking good’ ‘how you doing’. Such comments really do give you that extra boost to keep going.

Start where you are, use what you have do what you can

Before I had time to eat any more fig biscuits, the second checkpoint had approached, a piece of delicious home-made flapjack was awaiting my taste-buds alongside a piece of malt loaf for the road, I mean ridgeway.

 

I wasn’t looking at the pace I don’t believe in pace in ultras if you are feeling good in an ultra make the most of it – you will get over it! Just run and absorb yourself in the challenge. My watch was only there for navigation and occasionally I would hear a faint ‘beep’ telling me another mile had ticked on by.

It was an undulating course with ample Hillage, but nothing too strenuous. One or two hills were ‘walkable’ but most of the course was runnable. The most exhausting challenge was the mud hugging my trainers unwilling to let go.

The last checkpoint of the day arrived around mile 24 or 25. I gave way to more delicious flapjack. Myself and Giles were still running almost together chatting away and saying hi to other runners as we fled past them. We were both running strong despite that the Ridgeway had become a tractor trail of tricky mud. This was not easy running and became more taxing as the swampy conditions worsened and the late afternoon sunlight was dazzling down blindly on the muddy terrain, as dusk fell through the treetops.

26 miles 385 yards is where racing ends and ludicrous extremes begin.
– from Runner’s World

Negotiating the muddy tracks for each remaining mile required more and more concentration. The ground was very much like cross country land. Splashing through the puddles, trying to stay upright through the muddy ridges, focusing on every step as we were so close to the finish of the first day.

Finally, a big yellow arrow emerged – pointing downwards. Giles informed me that we had around a mile of tarmac to go to the overnight stop at Icknield College, Watlington. He picked up the pace and I followed, overtaking a handful of other guys with kind words of encouragement.

We crossed the main road and ran further into the village. Another arrow led us down towards the school. Giles sped up, even more, I followed in the ‘race finishing’ style. Though I didn’t want to push things too much this was fun and speeding up just had to be done. Crossing the finishing line almost together we shook hands and thanked each other for the company on day 1.

Right away I was offered a cup of tea and a piece of cake as I sat down on the carefully placed chairs in the entrance and picked off my muddy shoes. Lots of other muddy running shoes were all lined up on newspaper, breathing calmly having taken on the 29.3 mile challenge, And that was only day 1.

The kind XNRG crew helped me with my bag and showed me ‘home’ for the night – a school hall already scattered with roll mats and sleeping bags.  Accommodation is basic which is what makes it such great fun. You bring your sleeping bag, a mat, some running gear and plenty of enthusiasm and you are set for a really fun weekend with like-minded people. Just don’t expect much sleep.

I booked in for a 15-minute massage then hit the showers, looking forward to nice hot water dripping through me. I was to be disappointed, however, as the tepid water meant I wasn’t to stay in the shower that long. However, it was pleasant enough just to have running water on my somewhat tired body.

ARRRGH — what in God’s name ever possessed me to think this would be a good thing to do? – Charles N. Steele

Runners were coming in plenty as I was having my glute attacked by Mr massage guy. A good bashing of the hamstring which had been causing me some pain over the past few weeks was loosened off and I went away feeling much less like a frigid ice cube.

Dinner was swiftly served, all-inclusive of the price of the event. The collection of calorie-controlled ultra runner carbs included garlic bread, pasta and salad and lots of colourful potatoes packed with nutrients for another ultra run the following day. They were also serving apple pie and custard, and still lots of cake strategically positioned next to the teapot. XNRG you are my best friend; tea and cake, what more can a Yorkshire girl want? I was well and truly stuffed to the gills, well I deserved it after over 29 miles of almost solid running.

The results for day 1 were already up on the wall. Myself and Giles had come in at 8th place, and myself as a Female 3rd. The two females in-front, Annabelle and last years’ winner Charlie had been battling it out with only 1 minute separating them. I was elated over a 3rd position for day one.

Although the night was still young runners were tired after a day’s hard work, so retiring to bed early was a much-chosen option for most. The great thing about these events is that even though most runners come on their own by the end of night everyone is chatting to everyone about anything and everything. After sorting out my dirty kit into ‘dirty bag’ and laying out my ‘clean kit’ for the following day, I packed down my eyelids for the opposite of a good nights sleep.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. – Thoreau

Endorphins were having an all-night party in my body running riot through my bloodstream, my head was pounding and the copious grunts and groans, snoring and shuffling meant I had a cat’s chance in hell of a peaceful nights’ sleep. I took myself out of the room around 4 am to see if I was able to dose off for at least an hour or so but the draft from the doorway managed to suppress that idea.

When the lights came on around 5.30 to 6am and people began to stir, the prospect of running further than a marathon on day 2 became more real and more challenging. Lack of sleep was just part of the challenge of these multi-day ultras.

  • Distance: 29.3 miles
  • Total Time: 04:30:44
  • Position: 8

Day 2: 26.8 miles

Breakfast was freely available from 6am right through to around 8.30am. The walkers had already set off by the time I reached breakfast and the ‘runners’ group were putting their damp running shoes back on ready for an 8am start. Those of us lucky enough to have completed day 1 in 5hrs 20 minutes were in the ‘Elite’ group. An ample amount of cereal was offered, including Weetabix to fuel the day, shreddies, croissants, jam, peanut butter, and deliciously warm croissants, perfect for a days’ running on the Ridgeway. The XNRG crew defiantly know how to look after their runners.

Over breakfast I was deliberating whether to wear my Hokas or yesterdays’ shoes; my inov8 ultras. My ‘new’ Hoka’s felt tight and I was not confident they would give me the grip I needed nor the avoidance of blisters. So I decided to resort to yesterday’s smelly, muddy and damp stricken footwear. The Hoka’s were to go back in the bag.

The elites were all ready for off early so we began our day 2 journey 10 minutes to 9am. Today was forecast showers throughout the morning and torrential rain in the early afternoon. I had opted for long sleeved tee with short sleeved tee over the top so I could take off easily if need be and raincoat screwed up in my backpack.

Never judge a day by the weather.- Dave Nelson

And we were off – just over a marathon to conquer today. Easy – right? Of course…. Before I could blink the speed demons were already racing ahead. I was struggling at first to catch my breath. A mile or so in and the pack of runners turned onto the trail, relief to be off the hard tarmac and onto squishy ground splashing through the muddy pot-holed tracks.

My heart rate was up already, some 2 or so miles in. I could feel my breathing was out of sync. I was not settled, the chest was tight, it felt the struggle to get the air in, but at the same time, I wanted to keep the pace with some of the mid-pack elites.

I concentrated on my footage, negotiating the slippery tracks and breathing deeply to release the oxygen into my body. I knew it would take me a while to settle in but it would happen with miles of patience.

Run with Endurance

Around 4 miles in we hit the first big climb through woodlands. I decided I was too hot at this stage and stripped off my yellow tee. I was running in just a long-sleeved tee now. I took the opportunity to eat something, probably a fig biscuit or a piece of dried banana. This must have given me the impetus I needed as I joined the other runners ahead of me and began to chase them up another hill, passing one, two, three. The extra strength of the fig food and dried banana gave me the strength to fly down the following hill, three, two, one I was back on form feeling what I wanted to feel, the love and passion for running country pathways, free from life’s worries, happy as a lark.

The Ridgeway wound its way through some woodland and joined up onto a busy main road. I caught up with a guy who was just running the one day, which was also allowed. We were chatting away about how good XNRG events were and against all advice of Neil on the first-day’ watch where you are going, especially when you get chatting to other runners’ we took the wrong turning and ended up in the middle of the golf course, running around the shortened springlike grass. I knew we were off track as my watch was way off the mark. Having lost a few minutes playing crazy golf we eventually found the pathway again having spotted a couple of other runners who had taken the correct route, edging just in front of us. Lesson learned. Don’t get too engrossed in conversation.

To run or not to run what a stupid question

The first checkpoint emerged soon after. I was annoyed that I had gone wrong but it was soon rectified as the home-made flapjack made up for all that and I went on my merry way meandering down the woodlands alone this time having dropped the others faffing at the checkpoint. Another girl who had edged in-front round the golf course caught me up as she elegantly danced her way down the pretty woodland. I let her pass as she looked a much more delicate runner than myself but followed her footsteps hot on her heels all the way down the valley. We exchanged polite chat and fed off each others’ running abilities.

It was around this time that we began to overtake the walkers and slower runners, exchanging words of encouragement, ‘well-done ladies’ ‘keep going girls’ we both must have had big grins on our faces at that point.

Back onto flat, dark grey clouds began to accumulate, hanging precariously ready for the downpour. I dropped the other girl and caught up with someone else along the gummy Thames track. We passed the two guys pulling tyres and wished them the best of luck. 84 miles of dragging tyres across the Ridgeway, all for a good cause. Amazingly inspiring. The muddy path made for challenging running conditions. The rain was coming in thick and fast blowing through sideways. I didn’t want to stop to put my waterproof on here as the pathway was deep in syrupy mud and just in the far distance, I could see some yellow motivational signs knowing the next checkpoint would soon be upon me.

I ran gratefully into the checkpoint and whilst kind people were filling up my bottles I put on my raincoat and was about to be off again. I then got a shout out from Michelle a girl I met at the Isle of Wight Ultra a couple of years ago and who had done Ring O’ Fire in August. She recognised me and my Ring O’ Fire buff. It was motivational to see a familiar face and gave me that extra boost to bounce onwards and upwards.

It was now lashing down with rain. The heavy raindrops pelting down on my waterproof, my feet painfully splashing in the dirt track puddles, the trail coated in a layer of sticky mud. This was getting tougher mile after mile.

Embrace the dirt, the mud, the grit

Eventually, the rain eased off, and I began to sweat. It was time to take off the waterproof. I fiddled about with it whilst walking up a little hill in the pretty village of Goring. Little did I know that whilst faffing about I dropped one of my ‘soft flasks’ the one I had only just bought with a kind runner race voucher. It was only when I wanted some water some 15 minutes later that I reached for the flask that wasn’t there. Only 2 miles into the next leg and I had almost run out of the water, a drizzle just left at the bottom of my other bottle. I knew I had to be careful now not to get dehydrated.

The miles were ticked off as my body began to slow down. I was still however picking off other runners. Even on the downhill sections, I was passing people, everyone wishing me luck telling me I looked strong. I didn’t really feel it as my throat was dry and I was beginning to desperately need water. How much further to the next checkpoint I whimpered to someone knowing I had just then run out of the water and my body was running out of steam as well.

I could see Charlie, last years’ winner up ahead, walking steadily up an incline. I was still running up the slight incline as I was desperate to reach the next checkpoint as quickly as possible. A possible mistake I made by running up this section and although I caught up with Charlie just before the checkpoint I paid for it during the final 4 miles.

I downed two cups of squash and got a refill of my soft flask, the outstanding service from everyone at the checkpoint gave me that extra piece of energy to push through the last 4 miles. My energy levels had depleted however my head would not be defeated.

Well in ultra running, eating and drinking a lot are the basics. – Kilian Jornet

Charlie made a swift escape powering on to leave me for chalk dusk. Such strength I admired as I sank back into my own footsteps gently nibbling on some flapjack and sipping away at the much-needed water. The damage had been done, as my body slowed.

The rain began to beat down again so out came the waterproof to soak up the pelting raindrops. I felt saturated inside and out, only around 4 miles to go but those 4 miles felt forever. Back up on the exposed Ridgeway, I ran, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, the misty shadows of runners making good progress in-front of me. Despite my waterlogged head, sideways wind and torrential rain I was still passing other runners too as well asking if they were ok and whispering words of encouragement, not far to go now, not far to go. I felt contradicted in my head, defeated inside but still going strong on the outside.

Because we’re loving every wonderful horrible minute of this

The pathway edged up a long gradual incline. In the faraway distance, I could just make out some lights. The tank had run dry but the rain was still coming down in bucket loads. I was still running through what felt like sticky tar, the head down, one step in front of the other. The wide views across the English countryside had diminished into a sheet of cold sideways rain running against the strong winds.

The last section up to the hill I could see the XNRG flags, I ran on, I was on my own now, as other runners I had picked off or they had sped up. I ran through the flags, soaking wet, shivering in the cold rain yet greeted by a handshake and kind words of congratulations off organiser Neil. A subtle approach to make every runner feel that they had achieved something very special.

You might just find that the rain was actually a blessing in disguise. Don’t assume that obstacles are a bad thing.

I had just missed a minibus to shuttle us to our overnight accommodation, the mini-buses were on a continuous loop so I didn’t have to wait long before the next one arrived. The kind XNRG crew made sure I was well looked after by sheltering behind their van. It wasn’t long before other runners joined me and we were able to get dry in the next mini-bus. Giles the man in red who I had run with on day 1 came in just minutes behind me we were all shivering, raindrops seeping into our bare skins but still enough energy to keep the chit chat and enthusiasm of the day going strong.

Once full the minibus took us to Wantage Leisure Centre a 15-minute drive down to the village. Even something so basic as a drive down to the accommodation allowed us all to share the highs and lows of the days’ event, relating to each others’ personal experiences. Chatting about other events which people had participated in. The multi-day aspect really allows runners to gel with each other and I am not talking the High5, Gu, SIS or Zipvit type. Once strangers best of friends for the weekend.

Keep calm and run an ultra

It was before 2pm when we reached the leisure centre, a room had already been set up to collect our muddy gear – and cups of tea and cake were already on tap. Faultless service once again.

Some of the earlier runners had already made the shower so I decided to join them looking forward to some warm water to warm up my frozen insides. However, I was disappointed to find the showers were rather cold. I did the splish splash thing of water on me as I didn’t have the guts to stand under a cold shower. I was happy just to get the mud off my goosepimpled skin, washing the hair was not even an option. A nice set of clean clothes would do the job. I needed to remind myself that I ran 66 miles at Ring O’ Fire with no shower afterwards, so to run just under 27 with at least some kind of clean fresh water was fine with me and I came out of the shower feeling rather refreshed and most importantly with clean untarnished feet.

After waiting for the kiddies gymnastic class to finish their session we were allowed in the sports hall to set up a bed for the night. The trick is to find a wall, not the wall as in hitting the wall in a marathon, but a gym wall as in hitting a gym wall in a multi-day ultra-marathon. This means you are less disturbed, hint; corners are even better. I managed to find a nice little spot near a corner and introduced myself to my neighbour, another Helen. We all grabbed a gym mat to make our sleeping a little more comfortable.

Even though it was before 3pm by the time I had made my camp and sorted out my wet dirty clothes from my clean kit for day 3, I didn’t need to wonder what I would do with myself for another few hours. The time soon passed. Whether it was chatting to fellow runners about their experiences, trying to get 40 (or 4) winks sleep, eating the freely available sandwiches that the kind children were handing around, drinking too much free tea and eating more cake; time flew and next minute it was the dinner time call.

Serving on tonight’s’ menu was healthy carbo generated jacket potato and mince or beans or another filling that I can’t even remember (maybe tuna mayo?) with ample side salad and potato salad galore. A great choice of food as the hungry runners gobbled down the delights.

The massage was fully booked up for the night so I asked if I was able to get a poke in the bum first thing in the morning instead. My glute and hamstring was tight so I took a handful of cherry pie and custard back down to the hall and did some stretching whilst munching on the delightful pudding.

For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well-lived makes
Every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation of the dawn.
– from The Sanskrit

An MDS talk had been arranged for 7pm. At first, I was interested in going but then suddenly a wave of tiredness hit me and I decided my time was best spent trying to rest and soak in the atmosphere back in the hall.

I was hoping to dose off before everyone returned. I drifted off for around an hour into a light sleep but soon woke again as people returned from the talk. It soon approached 10pm – time for lights out and time to try and get some sleep. I am sure I am allergic to snoring.

Sleep oh that thing when I blink?

The snuffling and heavy breathing once again provide a restless night of light rest rather than deep sleep.

  • Distance: 26.8 miles
  • Total time: 04:05:00
  • Position: 7

Day 3: 28.3 miles

Morning Runners! 5.30am the lights came on and everyone stirred. The XNRG team were already up in full force notifying that walkers needed to be ready for 6.30 in order for the mini-bus to take them back up to the Ridgeway, where we left the torrential rain the day before. 7.30 for the runners and 8.30 for the Elites.

Breakfast was once again faultless, ample amounts of cereal, peanut butter, jams and tasty warm croissants. I had my glute poked with just a normal Sunday morning then 6.30am and random bloke starts elbowing parts of your body that you wouldn’t normally show in public. Only runners would allow this right? With a later 8.30am start, I had a bit more time to re-pack and get my head around the last day.

I decided to put my fresh Feet on. My fresh feet were called Hoka’s. The ones I had tried the previous day but declined. My inov8 ultras were sodden wet, piled high with newspaper. The Hoka’s felt fine this morning but I Vaselined my feet nevertheless and ensured that I had put on blister plasters before they appeared – prevention is better than cure, right?

Yesterdays’ dank weather had turned into glistering crisp blue skies. The XNRG crew could not have ordered more perfect weather for the final day.

We were shuttled back up to the Ridgeway. Whilst on the bus friendly chit chat began again. One guy was in third place, someone who had attempted the UTMB this year and got as far as 85 miles. Incredible. I was deliberating over t-shirt or long sleeved top or raincoat, or both? I opted for arm warmers and t shirt so I could swipe down the arms with ease. This was later a wise decision.

Don’t over think it just begin – Rich Roll

The Ridgeway looked totally different to the previous day. Blue skies as far as the eye could see, a gentle layer of early morning dew lay on the ground. As it was remembrance Sunday just before we began a minute’s silence was respected. What better way to remember than on the Ridgeway.

There was a race on for the front runners. Only minutes separated the two girls, Annabelle who was leading by 3 minutes and Charlie not far behind. I think I was in third place but still very unsure. An overall top 10 finish would be fantastic having placed 8th/9th and 7th over the past two days. However I had doubts as the speedy guys and girls shot off, a good 15 or 20 left their muddy footprints for me to follow. I was mid pack of the elites and happily jogging away talking to another girl for a while before dropping her and getting into my own comfort zone whilst the two front girls chased each other across the trail in the far distance. Giles who I met on the first day was running well into the far distance as well.

The Ridgeway felt beautiful this November morning. An abundance of dog walkers and local runners were taking advantage of this gorgeous autumnal Sunday morning. This is exactly why I run.

The muddy banking was less challenging than the day before although the rain had done its damage and I noticed instantly that my Hoka’s were not as grippy as my inov8’s. However, they felt more springy and I was happy with my shoey decision.

I was very much running on my own for the first 8 miles, arriving at the checkpoint, I took some flapjack and malt loaf and ensured I had enough water to keep me going. I was flowing well.

An ultra is not just a run. The strongest one does not always win, as there is a very important mental aspect. – Kilian Jornet

Just after this first checkpoint I caught up with Giles and another guy and ran with them for a while. The pace felt comfortably fast. 9, 10, 11 miles in we chatted, they sped up. I kept up for a while but found out that as Giles was 1st VET 40 and he had never won anything in his life he was down for a ‘race’. The other VET 40 was apparently 3 minutes down on him but at this stage in the ‘game’, the other guy was in-front. I was relieved to know I could thoroughly enjoy the event, even if I was in third Female place as long as I maintained my position I would be able to keep that spot, and I think at this point I had shaken off all other females in the Elite group. But I wasn’t going to put any pressure on myself as I know too well anything can happen in an ultra. Neither was I to even contemplate chasing down the other two girls, it was their race and they were well ahead of me on accumulative time so I was to enjoy where I was and enjoy the last day, taking in the challenge of finishing.

The pathway flattened out. My energy levels flattened out. I was struggling to keep up with Giles and the man in black. I was depleting further as the flat path became even flatter a Ridgeway section of doom. Flat and laborious. Pancake land. My head was yearning for a hill. It was not happy. My energy had been zapped. Even Giles turned round to me and asked if I had eaten enough. He could see I was losing the battle. I knew it was time to get some quick release energy into me as I reached for an apple pie Torq gel washed down with a fig biscuit and some Kendal mint cake.

I was starting to hurt, but then I burped and took a crap and am feeling
much better – Unknown

This little blip meant my newly acquainted friends escaped into the distance and there was just me fighting with my head and flatland. This was mentally tough. The little voice inside of me wanted to walk, but the big stubborn devil in me told me to keep running, one foot in front of the other gently, kindly and the dark moment will be overcome with a new light.

I was fighting against the lack of energy. Although the legs were fine the mind had blown. The flat monotony pathway was still eating away at me but I kept ongoing. In the distance, I spotted some of the 8am starters. I focused on catching them up, it gave me something to aim for. Slowly the apple pie gel began to filter through my bloodstream and giving me that injection of energy I so dearly needed to keep going.

Finally, my body felt human again and I was over that dark moment and back on track. I strengthened up my running and was grateful to see a hill, oh hill I have never been so pleased than to see a hill as I stepped it up and the grin on my face re-appeared. I was defiantly back in happy Helen land. Giles and the other bloke in black were just ahead up the hill and I caught them up with one giant leap for Helkind. We all ran into the next checkpoint together. Lesson learned – eat regularly don’t leave it until you actually ‘need’ something, by then it is too late.

The road to success is uphill – Willie Davis

A quick refuel on water and flapjack and I made my move back onto the road. A busy section with runners and cars alike. Over the bridge, I ran now feeling stronger. Giles had made a swift move well in-front and the man in black had dropped back a few places.

Some 17 or so miles in the main hill of the day allowed a rest bite as everyone walked it up. This took us all onto high ploughed fields, technically tricky in a farmers fields kind of way. The run was busy at this stage as I caught up with more and more of the 8am starters, and wished the tyre pulling guys the best of luck.

The next few miles ticked on by, I ensured I was consuming enough water and food to keep me going, opening up a packet of jelly beans for I was malt loafed, flap jacked and fig biscuited out. Over the tops of the fields, I ran savouring every step of the ancient journey.

A blissful downhill section made the miles tick away even further. I was on a runners’ high, some 23 miles in. However, the jilts of the downhill really made it necessary to answer the call of nature, just in time before the final checkpoint.

I cruised down to the very final checkpoint, feeling much more comfortable after my wee stop, got a brief top up of water and went on my merry way.

I hooked up with two guys, one I recognised again, as we chatted along. We were working well together as a team encouraging each other to just keep going. One of the guys picked it up slightly I tried to keep up with him as a momentum to keep going. We were running almost together with the silent footsteps in unison up the final climb, the grassy incline that seemed to stretch on forever as it glowed in the early afternoon sunshine.

Hills aren’t in the way, hills are the way! – XNRG

Arrows had been marked on the road for the final stretch as we left the Ridgeway and headed on the home straight, a good mile and a half to two miles of tarmac. Not only was this tarmac but this was gruesome steep downhill tarmac. I felt my quads burning as the guy I had been running with picked up speed down the hill I was unable to keep up with him. The road seemed to stretch on forever. Some of the 8am runners were battling away in their own heads as I passed exchanging words of ‘not far to go now’ and genuine ‘nearly there’.

The very final stretch was in sight as the guy in-front took a left hand turn down, I followed as he sped up I followed and put in as much of a sprint as I could after over 84 miles through the hotel gates through the first lot of XNRG flags, running through the cones to an audience of clapping and into the finish. I was greeted by words of congratulations, a handshake from Neil, a medal around my neck and a bottle of water.

Perhaps the genius of ultra running is its supreme lack of utility. It makes
no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are – David Blaikie

Giles had come in only minutes before me and had bagged his well deserved first Male 40 place. The other two girls had done exceptionally well with Annabelle taking first female, Charlie second and myself third. I had bagged 8th place overall out of around 130 finishes. Not bad for a few days running over the Ridgeway. A Druids challenge and a half.

I don’t even like sausage rolls but was welcomed with a table of them alongside tea and cake. Hot showers were available but even after three days of running I actually couldn’t be bothered to shower properly. So I dived into the warm water just for a couple of minutes to brush off the traces of mud and put on clean clothes and was ready for more tea and cake and to finish off the winners were presented with their trophies and I received a lovely XNRG beenie. Rather chuffed I must say.

My first thought after I finish an ultra ‘when can I do another one?’

To top off the perfection of looking after each and every runner, we were offered free minibus shuttles back to Swindon station.

The ‘all inclusive’ event was just that, all-inclusive of any runner of any ability, all-inclusive of just about everything, transport, overnight accommodation, food, checkpoints, running, words of encouragement, camaraderie. Everyone is treated like a winner whether they are in the Elite group, 78 years old, pulling tyres for 84 miles walking for 84 miles or their first or fourth or 40th ultra. A truly fantastic 3 day experience in a beautiful area of the country which I wouldn’t have normally thought of exploring. Running, especially ultra-running – it takes you anywhere and everywhere. It really is that simple.

  • Distance: 28.3 miles
  • Time: 04:14:35
  • Position: 8th

Results

  • Total time: 12 hours 50 minutes and 19 seconds
  • Overall Position: 8th out of 127 finishes
  • Gender Position: 3rd Female

Photos of the event

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