The Druid Challenge Ridgeway Multistage Ultra – 12-14 November 2010 – 82 miles

For photos of the event, please go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/xnrg I’m on pages 6, 11, 17, 20, 24, 27 and 31 if you don’t wish to scroll all the way through.

Day 1 – 12 Nov 2010

I didn’t sleep much last night as I was preparing for my first multistage ultra – the Druid Challenge – a three-day 82 mile event running from Tring, Bucks to Swinton, Wilts.

I got up at 6am and caught the train from Euston to Tring at 7.30am. I had the carriage to myself so did a bit of stretching on board and upon arrival  at Tring caught the minibus to the start line – on top of an exposed hill. The weather wasn’t kind: windy on the hill and drizzle/rain most of the way around. There were no loos at the start so at about 12 miles in I succumbed to the call of nature once I’d found a suitably large tree.

The course was hilly (good training for Marathon des Sables) and very muddy, and it was therefore difficult to get a good footing. The mud was either very slippery or else very clay-like, and a few times I expected to lose my trainers. One thing I’m beginning to practise is how to tune out the sound of everyone else around me; whether the “squelch, squelch” of the feet, or the escaped jelly beans rattling around in the rucksack of the guy running alongside.

This was the longest stage – 29 miles (and for those of us that got lost, 31 miles!). I struggled a bit in the middle (probably all the other training I’d done in the week).

With an 11am start, and as the night was drawing in, once I’d learned that I only had a little way to go, I found a second wind (or maybe it was the energy sweets) and ran the last three miles at an 8-minute mile pace. It was exhilarating running in the dark cross country and a little on the open road in the dark. Got splashed by a couple of cars, but as soon as I saw the finish flags, I sprinted as hard as I could with a 5 hours 52 mins finish time.

Once I’d literally scrubbed up in the shower, I tucked into a pasta meal and realised that one of the guys I was talking to had run the Black Mountain course with me (as soon as he mentioned the husky dog).

We all bedded down in the Watlington College sports hall for the evening. Lights out at 10.30pm.

Day 2 – 13 Nov 2010

I shouldn’t have worried about oversleeping. The walkers amongst us arose at 5.45am and shortly after that the lights were switched on.

I had spent part of the previous evening deliberating whether to pop the blister on my left little toe. I went for it and hoped that the tape to protect it would hold. Unfortunately my new trainers weren’t delivered before the race, so I pulled on my slightly sodden pair from the day before, as well as my damp leggings and jumper (Note: quick dry does not necessarily mean quick dry).

Breakfast was porridge and whilst tucking in I came across Richard, Ian and Benno – my fellow Facing Africa MdS competitors, so we talked about our training and fundraising …and then we were off.

Although the course was flatter and shorter today, my legs were aching from yesterday’s exertions and I found it relatively hard going most of the way around. The downhills – and there were a few – were a welcome relief. I didn’t overly enjoy the single track part of the course – single file only and no talking – and I stubbed my toes on more tree roots than I care to remember. The Thames was a bit too flat to be of interest. However, what I do enjoy on these events is the bonhomie between fellow runners and walkers. There is always someone to provide words of encouragement or to check you’re OK if you stop.

Trying to get the necessary gel bars down the throat proved a problem. I’ve already switched brands as I was sick of drinking watery jam. Now, although I’ve switched brands, it’s the whole sickly taste that makes me gag.

At the third checkpoint the two chirpy marshals announced that there were only 4 miles to go to the finish line, so I reckoned worse case scenario it would take me an hour to walk. Those final 4 miles were just as hard. No second wind today, but I kept chipping away at the mileage.

For the last part I could see the finish flags. They kept on looking tantalisingly close, before disappearing again from view. Eventually the finish flags came into view proper. I still couldn’t get my legs to go any faster, but carried on to the finish – a time of 5 hours and 19 mins.

Caught the minibus back to Wantage – we were sleeping on the indoor court of a sports centre. Nice warm shower, this time in the swimming pool changing room.s Surveyed the damage. Fortunately the left little toe had held up, but the toe next door had developed a blood blister – more taping tomorrow. It was still early so walked into town for some chips (before dinner!) In the evening, Rory gave a presentation about ultra training and Marathon des Sables. Another early lights out.

Day 3 – 14 Nov 2010

Final day…woke up cold as somebody had opened the emergency exit next to me to load our kit onto the mini van. Had breakfast then sought out Rory to show me how to tape up my feet properly as they weren’t looking to hot. It did the trick as I didn’t notice any discomfort for the rest of the day.

Despite a sports massage the night before, it was still difficult to get the trotters going on the final day. It drizzled on and off most of the day, sometimes hard and the course was undulating.

I can’t remember much about the final day as I was simply focused on getting around. However, when I did remember to look behind me and survey the landscape, it was quite beautiful in places.

I do remember the last segment of the course. It was gently up and downhill and by now drizzling quite heavily. I was determined to run (or at worst, shuffle) all the way to the finish and I made it my aim to gradually overtake the person in front of me. Then it was a sharp left turn through a gate for the last few hundreds of metres aiming for those finishing flags again.

I crossed the line at Barbury Castle with a time of 4 hours 59 mins. Not bad considering that this was Day 3 and I was only 11 minutes slow than my London Marathon time (which was on the flat!). Quite cold by now, so made my was to the gazebo for a hot tea, pulled on my clean clothes over my dirty ones (too cold to change) and after a bit of defrosting caught the minibus to Swindon station for a replacement coach towards Reading then on to London.

Finished 36th overall (8th female) with a total time of 16 hours 10 mins.

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