You can't enjoy every Ultra you run but each brings their own rewards ensuring you return for the experiences again and again. My legs were already telling me that this was gonna be a tough day and within 10 miles they were hurting. Hurting bad. I was not enjoying this at all.
I was doing the Ridgeway 40 LDWA challenge event. This is the first section of the Ridgeway National trail on the Wessex Downs. On modern footwear we were to travel through ancient landscapes used by prehistoric travellers.
Arriving early in Streatley the morning promised good weather, although the forecast was for worse to come so I packed my waterproofs in my already overloaded bag. Unsure of what exactly each Check Point would supply us with I opted to take enough to feed me entirely for the route. I then made my way to the Youth Hostel where large groups of walkers and runners were mingling, whilst we waited for the coaches to transport us to the start. I had a quick introduction and chat with Paul Ali of Ultra Tales and wished him luck on his training run and upcoming GUCR, a 145mile Ultra taking place in just a couple of weeks. I then got talking to Pete as the coaches arrived and we had a good chat about his fell running in the Peak District and I talked about the lack of decent hills in Hampshire.
During the first few miles everyone was jockeying for position as runners were finding their pace as well as moving through the mass of walkers taking on this fine challenge. It was not long past Barbury Castle and into the heartland of the Marlborough Downs that the pack really thinned out and you felt alone, unable to see anyone in front or behind for long periods. I did pass a lady around here pulling a tyre!! Huge respect. (I have since found out it's TyreGirl who runs to highlight Eco issues. Great stuff).
I knew, at some point, the route took a northwards approach but at the specific junction I was a little confused as to where I was and as luck would have it a couple of approaching runners assured me this was the place to go north. It was at this point I realised my day was going to be a struggle. As they eased their way away from me, my legs had nothing. I had to walk the smallest of slopes and running was painful. My thighs weren't just tired they were in pain. I can only think that this was due to biking 100 miles over the bank holiday and that my under trained cycling muscles were not fully recovered and boy,were they letting me know about it now.
Over the next few miles of undulating terrain I would pass some runners only to be re-passed when I slowed to a walk. This process would repeat itself until suddenly I wasn't get overtaken any more and the people I had been intermittently speaking to had disappeared. This felt strange as I was increasingly taking more walking breaks. I think we all must have been suffering by this point. My legs were screaming at me and my mind was telling me to throw in the towel, play it safe and don't injure yourself. But for reasons unknown we all persevere and at the end of the day I could always walk it in.
The day was interspersed with light rain and threats of sunshine. What was a constant though was the wind. Pretty breezy but at least it was a westerly wind and we were running in an easterly direction.
Around this point I was looking forward to seeing the White Horse of Uffington. It didn't help not knowing where I was, my concentration was fading, and I had lost all awareness of my location. When I arrived at CP5 I was sure I had done 28 miles only to discover in fact it was 23 and that I had missed the White Horse!
My pace was diminishing badly I ended up trying to run five minutes and walk for one. I could only manage a fraction of that and shuffled along for a minute or two and then walked a helluva lot more. Only the sight of walkers up ahead had a motivating affect on me to run for longer than I wanted to.
The miles were slowly ebbing away and what, for an age, looked like faraway chimney pots were now the large eyesores of Didcot power station.
I enjoyed, yes enjoyed, a sit down and a cuppa at CP6 with the wonderful cheery volunteers. The sun was out and we were protected from the wind. Somewhat refreshed I told myself to get in some longer running stretches from here on out. Playing the mental game I considered how I could carry on at a better pace. One thing that worked was to imagine this was a training run for a longer ultra where you would be running on tired sore legs but still have a distance to go. This will happen in the future so why not get use to that feeling, accept it and shuffle on.
Around CP7 I began to pass the walkers from the 20 mile challenge. This helped as it enabled me to have brief chats while taking a walk and hearing the encouragement when running spurred me on to work harder and 'take the pain'. At CP8 I was feeling ecstatic thinking I only had 4 miles left, only to be corrected that we actually had over 5 to go. Bugger. A little deflated but fortunately my mindset was in a far better place than a few hours ago. Talking to a lady on the next hill, who had local knowledge, I heard the welcoming news that it was all downhill from the top and I promised myself to run it in from there.
It was tough, and pretty excruciating, but I managed it and with the sun shining I arrived at the YHA and hobbled up the steep incline to finish. Not quite ALL downhill then!
Overall it was a rewarding day but a different, more drawn out experience compared to what I am used to. Physically I was not up to this Ultra but mental will power pulled me through which can only improve my confidence of running these distances in the future.
Stats : 40miles +/- 850m in 7hrs40mins.
(note to self : Don't take so much food)