Ridgeway Challenge, 29-30 August 2015: Part 2, The Actual Event   19 comments

Ridgeway Challenge near registration

The Ridgeway Challenge, the preparatory details for which I posted earlier, is covered in more lucid detail elsewhere by serious runners.  During my own effort, I logged occasional Voice Memos along the way for the first half and most of this more scatterbrained post is reconstituted and possibly made readable from those recordings.  Here goes:

Ridgeway Challenge trek to the start

I awoke early from the evening’s pub crawl in Tring and Wigginton (where I was bunking) ravenous despite the two full meals I ate for supper (a fish and chips followed by a fucking big burger platter).  It was too early to hit the continental breakfast spread but I had packed two whole pizzas for just such an eventuality and ate 1½ of them with some overly sweetened coffee while watching the couple from the next room stretching ahead of a morning jog.

Stretching seemed a reasonable thing to do and I spent an hour contorting myself while going over the race strategy in my head then, loose and more relaxed, packing the backpack and midway/drop bag with the things I felt I should have with me like spare socks, a dry shirt to change into at about 20-25 miles, fig bars, the last half pizza, a Ridgeway map, an mp3 player and a camera.

The rules require you to carry a cell phone but the only other things are a working torch and some reflective clothing to use after Check Point 8 which is 69.4 miles into the race and well after dark when you would need the torch, anyway.  Despite the concurrent-with-the-race pub crawl I was embarking upon, I still felt I could make the midpoint before twilight (around 8:30) and pick up my headlamp, hand torch and high-vis kit there.

Ridgeway Challenge ascent to the start

So, packed and fed I headed off to the train station with about 15 kg (included my travel clothing and first carb-water liter) at a modest trot.  The morning was bright and sunny and marvelous and the shuttle was awaiting me and only me as it was the last shuttle for the 10 am starters (those who were not in the competitive section but just wanted to finish and all of whom had already made their ways to registration).

Regular readers of this blog tend not to be so much fitness freaks as functioning alcoholics.  As such, they may not be familiar with the absurdities the Running-Industrial Complex has inflicted upon what used to be a noble endeavour.  Running requires nothing — you can do it barefoot and buck-ass-naked if you want (and can outrun the authorities in a lot of localities…fascists).  But, at an event like the Ridgeway Challenge you have to be prepared to see all manner of specialised kit from compression garments (I have old t-shirts so I can toss them when I change to fresh ones) to hydration packs (or, in my case, un-rinsed tonic bottles) to what I can only describe as some sort of spats covering the ankles, anklet socks, and open part of the trainers (I don’t know what the fuck those are for, but I had some adult tube socks on that cost 12 pair for a fiver).


Ridgeway Challenge milling about at Ivinghoe Beacon

I don’t know.  Maybe all that shit is supposed to make up for poor preparation but it’s the last I plan to mention it as almost everyone involved in this — participants and volunteers, alike — were especially wonderful and friendly folks so if one or two were a bit goofy or far too many wanted photos of themselves posing in front of the banner at the start HQ then good for them and I hope they fared well.  Not all of them (there’s a bastard or two in every crowd), but on the whole…yep.

As mentioned, I was there early and watched the 10am start with one fellow sprinting down the first steep chalk hill then over and down the second.  Poor fucker, they probably found his carcass 10 miles down the trail.

With a couple of hours to kill, I found a shady spot and watched the clouds build whilst listening first to “Abbey Road,” then to “What’s The Story (Morning Glory),” and then to about half of “Blonde on Blonde.”  I had a library of about 200 albums loaded but that was the last of the music for the next day.  Just as “Visions of Johanna,” was ending the whistle to head to the start blew.  The race director shouted, “head to the start,” but all I heard was, “dead men walking.”

Ridgeway ChallengeSouth Africa Monument before CP2 approach

And, then we ran.  And, walked at hills except for the neophytes that really don’t know what they’re up against (and, to be fair, there are a few, rare absolute animals who actually can — and did — sprint this evil motherfucker the entire distance one of whom came in at just over 12 hours).  It was especially satisfying to see how badly the “competitors” amongst our happy few were doing a few checkpoints after watching their frankly rude and unnecessary behaviour early on.

One guy was breezing through gates in the first 5 miles but couldn’t be asked to either hold them for people two or three steps back or lightly lean them against the latch so the next runner could just push through rather than have to reach over to unlatch; oh, no, this sack of shite slammed the gates behind him like a couple of seconds advantage means anything at this ridiculous distance.

Ridgeway Challenge South Africa Monument before CP2

Cooperation was much more the order of the day and I was forced to smile a bit when I saw a guy handing another some of his stash of toilet paper and then waiting to see if that would be enough.  At each of the next three pubs I saw them both, now permanently remembered as the Diarrhoea Duo, dashing to the loos as I was finishing my pint.  It’s nice to have a pacer, but to have two is just taking the piss (or it’s the shit, in this case).

It was somewhere after the Wendover checkpoint (and stops for pints and juvenile potty references at the George and Dragon and the Red Lion, but not too long before the Plough) that I realised I was just looking at the ground again and missing some great scenery, a major impetus for my participation in this run.  Not that it is so beautiful a sight, the South Africa occupation and Boer War monument was kind of photo worthy for no more reason than it seems so out of place there.  Besides, my pictures of the real scenery are frankly not that good.

Ridgeway Challenge Goring Community Hall midway 43 miles

The race is spectacular for its volunteers and you can run this beast completely without support (or, indeed, without hauling supplementary nutrition around with you).  However, I was lucky enough to have two current (and one former) colleagues show up at first one (the Perch and Pike), then the next pub stop (the Bull) bracketing the midpoint feast at the Goring checkpoint.

Ahh, the Goring checkpoint was something else in my fun run experience.  I got in and was directed back to the kitchen for food just as a guy I had been chatting with 15 miles back came in (he made up some time whilst I lingered at the Perch and Pike).  I was just about to ask about the drop bags so I could switch out wet shorts, socks and shirt for sweats, dry bits, and fresh shoes when another bloke shows up with both our bags.  I think I could have gotten a pedicure had I been so inclined.  Wonderful.


Bunny Fish and Chips

Equally wonderful — or even more so — were my friends from work.  Okay, the pints at the bars were nice but I brought cash and was going to stop for them anyway.  The extra mile came when they showed up at checkpoint #6, two full marathons into the race, with fish and chips and a bottle of Loose Cannon ale.  They even researched the fish on an earlier blog entry (although my recollection of its quality on that post could easily have been due to being very, very drunk) and strong armed the cook into making it fresh.

Runway to Fish and Chips

I really didn’t expect this after they bothered to come out earlier so as I trundled up the rave runway to the stop, handed my tonic bottle to one of the checkpoint porters for a water refill, and started reaching for a piece of fruit I was a bit overwhelmed to hear Justin booming out that they had my feast ready for me.

Ridgeway Challenge 2015 Mile 52 small

If I look knackered in that shot I hate to think of my condition at the next stop.  The path to fish was largely paved or at least well packed, but the next segment was rutted and slick and would have been damned near impossible in good visibility and with fresh legs.  I took up with 5 other sad bastards for the worst of it then off with another willing to keep a steady pace once we were clear of the rough going.  I thought he was going to be the death of me but I felt good at the checkpoint and he seemed, quite suddenly, done for.

From that point on, I was on my own outside of the checks.  I could usually spot someone’s headlamp either fore or aft but never seemed to be within 100 meters of anyone unless I was blowing past them albeit a gentle breeze, mind…wafting may be a better term although that is too elegant for the crippled gait any of us really seemed capable of.

By Checkpoint 8, my wild dream of finishing by sunrise had evaporated but I still held out hope for a 7am finish; my left IT band was flaring and the plantar fascitis that has been my bane was plaguing my right foot.  I sat in mud for a few minutes to massage and stretch and spent the next several hours nervously focusing on the camber of the trail when there was enough structure to the road to merit the description.  Dawn broke and then the Barbury Castle checkpoint appeared, a few minutes ahead of sunrise; I lingered there over a hot dog and a banana and thought, “why is this hallucination so phallic?”  Another runner appeared and I regained my senses, spoke with him for a few moments while I finished the life restoring tea, and headed off for the most familiar section of the entire trail.

Ridgeway Challenge 2015 Finished

The final segment wasn’t my best 10K effort ever but I am pleased it wasn’t my worst, either.  If you look on the pavement behind me to the mid-right of the photo you’ll see a guy that I saw sprinting up the first hill after the Barbury Castle and he remained — until the last ½ mile — about a ¼ mile ahead of me…one of those times where I took inspiration from his finishing kick and heart from the fact that however often he disappeared over a hill or around a hedge that there he still was when the line of sight was restored.  I topped the hill at the Red Lion (back horizon) about 3 minutes after I saw him do the same, looking healthy and hale; when the line of sight returned he was staggering like a bomb blast victim in the middle of the street more-or-less where you see him in this shot.  I stopped and asked how he was doing and he congratulated me on my effort; “you sure you don’t want a hand to the finish?” “No, you’re alright.  I have to do this,” he replied with a grimace that was probably meant to be a smile.

The racy bits:

Checkpoint Dist Hours min/mile  Notes
Wendover 10.5 01:46 10:06 fig bars, banana, Marmite and cheese sandwich
Whiteleaf 16.8 03:18 14:36 includes George & Dragon and Red Lion (Wendover) and Plough (Cadsden)
Lewknor 26.2 05:03 11:10 One full marathon down, called Jackie to tell of progress
Swyncombe 31.7 06:05 11:16 Chats with a couple of runners saved me going overly fast
Goring 43.7 08:41 13:00 Includes leisurely beer and chat with work chums at Perch and Pike
Bury_Down 52.4 11:00 15:59 Includes 20 minutes at Goring, same at the Bull (Streatley), and a lot more walking than planned.
Sparsholt_Firs 61.5 13:17 15:03 Includes fish, chips, and beer pause at Bury Down (colleagues, again…thanks, guys)
Foxhill 69.4 15:15 14:56 Beginning the solitary segments. Dry shirt and socks, tea, fruit, and sandwiches
Barbury_Castle 79.9 18:01 15:49 Sunrise in the fog; hot dog, banana, tea, cola, cakes
Avebury 86 19:26 (final) 13:56 Rutted tracks, slick chalky mud, loose rocks, pain…last segment push

Overall pace: 13:33.5 min/mile

Pubs: 5 plus another beer at Checkpoint 6.

Came in at 30th overall (of 94 finishers, 123 starters) and 3rd in age group (of 12 finishers, 15 starters).  Success, I guess, and I got something other than a “finisher’s medal” out of the effort although I don’t begrudge pride in these items for an effort like this (see my previous thoughts on the finisher’s medal, here).  It is now 5:20 the next day, I’ve slept three times totalling 15 of the 32 hours I’ve been home.  I had to crawl the stairs from about noon yesterday until early this morning because my legs would not support me if they were bent.  My feet do not yet fit in my shoes and there is an odd additional swelling at the front top of them where the ankle starts.  I’d do this run again, and I never do a race twice.

Ridgeway Challenge 2015 M50 3rd


The first comments seem to be coming from the FaceBook thread on the Trail Runners’ Association pages:


Early FB comments (through 2pm Tuesday)




19 responses to “Ridgeway Challenge, 29-30 August 2015: Part 2, The Actual Event

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