If I didn’t have the GPS tracking to prove it I’m not sure I’d believe that I ran 40 miles on Saturday but I did and I finished the Ridgeway 40 in 6 hours and 45 minutes. I was very calm and relaxed before this race but even so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. When you spend most weeks listening to ultra running and marathon running podcasts plus following some elite ultra runners on Twitter you can get quite casual in talking about ultra running. Yet no matter if Killian Journet is knocking out these distances on a regular basis or David Johnston is running 350 miles in Alaska virtually without sleeping 40 miles is still a bloody long way. It’s also 14 miles longer than I’ve ever run before.
So right now as I sit here and write this I’m going to remain a little bit proud of myself and enjoy the look on people’s faces as I tell them how far I ran. I also feel surprisingly ok today, sure I’m stiff but no more than after a marathon and the worst ache is actually the front of my left ankle which I’m told is linked to a tight planta fascia. I’m also in that post race period where the true pain of running it is forgotten and I’m looking back with the rose tinted glasses of success.
But it was definitely a tough day at the office; I loved the casual start with no big countdown or even fixed start time, just collect your card from the officials and get going when you’re ready. As the event is organised as a long distance walk those people running it are advised to start a bit later so that the checkpoints are all open. The first 3 miles or so is a long gradual hill, nothing too difficult but with fresh legs I focused on not getting too carried away with pace. Besides there was 100 or so walkers to weave past first before emerging into the open trail beyond them.
I passed a few other runners in the first 5 miles and then latched onto 2 guys who were running around the same pace as me and had a good chat as we ran along what are my home trails. Barbury castle was about mile 6 and you can see my house a mile or so down the valley, quite odd passing so close and knowing I was heading 30 miles away to the finish. I decided to push on from there on some of the downhills and try to keep my pace close to 8min 30 sec miles in the early stages and passed a few more runners. Got to make the home turf advantage pay haven’t you?
At checkpoint 1 I was the 4th person in and on the hike up the steep hill out of the checkpoint could see the first 3 guys ahead of me. By checkpoint 2 at mile 15 I was in 1st place which is unknown territory for me but actually quite nice as I like running without the pressure of other runners around. I was also pretty darn hot at this point with the weather a lot warmer than expected and none of the forecasted rain anywhere to be seen.
The four faces of an ultra
I ran probably the next 10 miles on my own at the front until 2 guys passed me around mile 27 at which point I was having a low point. Struggling a little with the heat and feeling my legs going meant walking hills rather than running them. But I was determined not to wimp out and walk lots so made an effort to restrict the walking periods to just steep hills. As it turned out it actually felt more comfortable running at 10 minute miles than trying to walk strangely. There were a couple of long flattish sections which were particularly tough when you can see exactly how far you have to run and it seems to take an eternity to get there. They also coincided with a change in the weather with the clear blue skies replacing by cold driving rain and a big drop in temperature.
I took a quick stop to put a long sleeve layer on and also my buff around my ears as driving rain and 30 mph gusts of wind was quickly cooling me down. I also made sure to up the food intake a little as I headed into the final quarter of the race. Nutrition actually went really well for the whole race, I topped up with water a couple of times at checkpoints but otherwise ignored the food and drinks on offer preferring to stick to the chia gels and flapjacks I’d brought with me. I’ll do a full review at a later point but I’m now a huge fan of the Chia Charge flapjacks, so tasty and easy to digest on the move. Perfect for this sort of race and I prefer having some real food rather than energy bars or gels.
Mentally I felt a lot better once the miles started with a 3 and knowing that I was now counting down in single figures to the finish. Although it’s amazing how long the final 2 miles feel isn’t it? Desperately hoping for a sign that you’re almost there and constantly watching the numbers tick over on your watch. There was a long descent down to Goring for the finish which I don’t think my quads appreciated before a final 2 miles on tarmac where surprisingly I was able to knock out some low 8 min miles.
Then it was over, 6 hours 45 minutes of running culminating in being given a certificate in a village hall followed by a free cup of tea. Sure it may not have the glitz of many ultra races these days with a tannoy at the finish line calling out your name before you’re handed a big shiny medal but it is a great event and awesome value for money.
The checkpoints were great with a fine selection of cakes, fruit, tea and coffee if you wanted them and some lovely middle aged folk telling you how well you were doing. I also like the non competitive nature of it, covering the distance simply because you want to rather than focusing on times or places. Plus at £10 I’m not sure you can get a better value race can you?