The Ridgeway Challenge

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That face is to smiling what this blog will be to coherent, chronological report.

I was driven to the start by the ever-lovely Vanessa, chatted to a fair few familiar faces at the start, made my way from Ivinghoe Beacon to Avebury and then caught the train home.  It was a great weekend, and I remember pretty much nothing about it.  Except this…

Leah

I ran with Leah for quite a lot of the way from Ivinghoe to Wendover, played leapfrog with her from Wendover to Whiteleaf, tried not to let her catch me from Whiteleaf to Lewknor and then saw her for the last time at Goring.  Unfortunately, I found out later that she dropped at Bury Down.

Mark

I caught up with Mark just before Lewknor, overtook him at the checkpoint, was caught by him just before Nuffield, overtook him at the checkpoint, was dropped by him just outside Nuffield, overtook him at Goring checkpoint, was beasted by him just outside Goring, overtook him at Bury Downs checkpoint and then spent the rest of the race looking over my shoulder as I waited for him to sail past again.

Spirit Andy

As I came into Nuffield, the spirit of Andy was there (complete with flat cap) to buoy me up and send me on my way. I saw him again at North Stoke, after a dreadful section down through the trees (how many tree roots can I trip on FGS?), where he gave me a pep talk, told me I looked strong (the liar) and packed me off to Goring. At Goring, he reminded me what I needed to do, told me to get a wriggle on because I was getting so cold I was shaking, made me put on my jacket and said he’d check on me at the end of the road before the hill. Sure enough, he was there letting me know that the other runners were only a little way ahead, and that I could catch them before Bury Downs. In fact, I only caught them at Bury Downs (how long do people spend in Aid Stations?), where I waved goodbye to Spirit Andy and plodded on.

Top Tip

If you’re going to take advantage of the darkness for a sneaky pee in a field, be prepared to spend the next 10 miles picking straw out of your skort. It took me a ridiculous length of time to realise that the odd prickling was not chafing but a short and spiky piece of vegetation, and even once I’d dealt with that, my brain fog was such that each new piece came as a surprise.

Somewhere on the Ridgeway

“Do you know where we are?”
“About 4 miles from Foxhill”
“But where, exactly, on the map?”
“I don’t know, but we’re definitely still on the Ridgeway because my arrow is still on my black line”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes”
“Where are we on the map?”
“Sort of there-ish. Look, that’s probably this farm here”
“Probably. So you aren’t completely sure we’re on the Ridgeway.”
“Yes. I am sure we’re still on the Ridgeway. I just don’t know (or frankly care) exactly where.”
“But…”
“Look. A Ridgeway sign. We. Are. On. The. Ridgeway.”

Fortunately for my sanity, we parted ways at the next checkpoint. I hope he didn’t get lost.

Run, you idiots! Run!

I passed them just after Sparsholt Firs. The Ridgeway was flat, wide and smooth. I had been doing bad maths for the last gazillion hours, and was convinced that a sub-24 finish had slipped away. The only hope was to run every runnable bit from here to the end, and from memory, there wasn’t a lot of runnable after Foxhill. Flat, wide and smooth was about as good as it was going to get. Didn’t they know? Didn’t they care? Why weren’t they running? Run, you idiots! Run!

The running duo

They lolloped past me just before Sparsholt Firs and again just after. As I arrived at Foxhill they were just leaving, and they quickly vanished into the distance. At Barbury Castle they were picking their way down what I knew was probably the very last section soft enough for my feet to run, so I sprinted (ahem) past them, maintained my lead for about three minutes, and was then overhauled by them up the long flinty drag. As they passed, they dropped into conversation that they were Swindon based, and would finish a mere taxi ride from home. As I watched them vanish into the distance, never to be seen again, I contemplated my race-shuttle, train, tube, bus, walk home and stuck mental pins into virtual voodoo dolls.

The sleepwalker

Half asleep coming into Barbury Castle, and a welcome voice of sanity three miles later on when the flinty section refused to end, the sleepwalker gave me a target to hold onto, and when she woke up enough to run down the last rutted descent, the question “would you care if she went sub-23 and you didn’t?” was answered by, if not a run then at least some sort of run/walk hybrid shuffle.

The recce runner and his mate

As I sat, dazed and confused in the hall at the end, I realised the runner sitting next to me looked familiar. It turned out that we’d crossed paths very briefly on an earlier recce run on a hill a few miles on from Foxhill. He was being supported by a mate (turn around next year when his mate will be running), who very patiently picked things up for me when my race-addled brain told my hands to let go of things before they were anywhere near the table.

The route

I am officially done with the Ridgeway. After Race to the Stones, Winter 100, Autumn 100, Tring parkrun, recce runs and the Ridgeway Challenge, I am done. It has some truly beautiful sections and some gloriously sweeping views, but until I find a narrow-fitting running shoe which is made by sandwiching an industrial rock plate between giant fairy cushions, I am not setting foot on it again. Ever.

The organisation

Fabulous.  Simply fabulous.  Thank you Tim.  You and your team rocked.

 

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Richmond Olympic parkrun


If you’re not sure where River Road and Cambie Road meet, head for the shiny sculpture. It’s where the out and back route should start and finish, but there is currently a diversion in place at the far end of the route, and the alternative course starts a hop, skip and a jump South of there. 

The alternative course consists of a North-South out and back past the shiny sculpture, a South-North out and back as far as the path currently allows and then finishes with a second North-South out and back, so you pass the start / finish at 1km and 4km.  It makes for a social course, as you see runners two or three times on your way to finish line glory.

It’s a plane spotter’s dream. The run brief is punctuated by fly bys and there’s a sea plane terminus on the river, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see at least one sea plane take off or land. 

After the run, more than a few people (both local and visiting) headed along to the nearby Tim Hortons for coffee and a chat, but if you’re after a few more miles and a few rather nice views, you could do worse than follow the parkrun course back out towards the sea.  After the diversion (which is short but features a few road crossings) you pick up a well groomed and essentially flat trail path which runs all the way down to Garry Point Park.

Near the start

Diversion bunnies

The end of the trail

View of Vancouver from Garry Park

A splash of colour

Fisherman’s Memorial Needle

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Not the Kamloops half marathon 

This morning, I did not run the Kamloops half marathon.


I suspect that making the call to cancel was difficult and only done after much thought, but also that it was one of those decisions which, once made, feels completely and utterly right.  We were given three options: rolling our entry over to next year; claiming a full refund; or donating our entry fee to United for BC Wildfire Recovery, and the pancake breakfast which would have been served to the runners was instead hosted for evacuees and those supporting them.

As it turned out, not going to Kamloops, though disappointing, did come with a silver lining or four.  It meant we were able to visit a quilt show in Summerland, saved me from a disgusting o’clock alarm call, allowed me to get away with a 10k pootle instead of a 21k hard effort*, and gave me the chance to make friends with one of the local moggies.


Awwww.

* I haven’t yet broken this news to my coach.

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Okanagan parkrun

Okanagan parkrun started just under a year ago (today was their 49th run), kicked off parkrun in Canada and resulted in my favourite guest blog courtesy of Abradysis. The original course ran alongside Mission Creek, but picturesque though that route was it didn’t withstand its first Canadian winter so the ED, Bill Justus, put his thinking cap on and found an alternative venue.

The new course is not-quite-flat, not-quite-out-and-back and tarmac*.  It starts with a clockwise loop inside the Parkinson Recreation Center** which runs around the pickleball courts*** …

What do you mean you’ve never heard of pickleball?

… and over a small stream.  You then turn left onto the rails with trails**** path for a slightly undulating out and back, run the clockwise loop for a second time and finish with a mercifully flat sprint through the car park*****.

Flatter than Nose Hill’s sprint finish

The course itself may be as different from Nose Hill’s as chalk is from cheese but the welcomes at both were fantastic…

Bill Justus

… and if my strava feed is to be believed, today’s RD, Jacqui Allison, stole the prompt start segment with a perfect 9:00.


* I registered tarmac. The course description says hard packed trail. Did I leave the gas on?

** sic

*** you what now?

**** this will eventually run all the way from Kelowna up to Vernon and will no doubt make an awesome point to point ultra

**** which is coned off during the parkrun

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Giant’s Head

Yay!  The smoke had cleared, so this morning, Abradysis and I hiked up this…

The local hill.


…until we reached this…

Abradysis waiting patiently for me at the top.


… to admire the rather super view.

I was here.

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The big smoke

Tomorrow, my training plan suggests* that I climb the local hill.  There’s just one fly in the ointment: there are wildfires galore in BC at the moment and though they’re miles away, the smoke has travelled.  This morning I played it safe and swapped 80 minutes of rolling trail for 80 minutes of eye-rollingly-tedious treadmill, and looking at the air quality index that might be the wise choice for tomorrow.

So many fires

So much smoke

Hmmmm

 
* I’m on holiday. I’ve promised to stick to the spirit of the plan but given no assurances about following it to the letter.

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Dirty Feet: Vernon 10k

I don’t often want to slap strangers in the face with a wet fish but from time to time I’m tempted, and as the first thing to greet us as we arrived at the race venue was a trail runner saying “of course I’m running the 21k! Who would think it worthwhile to run anything shorter?”, I was sorely tempted yesterday.  Fortunately, customs regulations prevent me from bringing my own supply of wet fish into Canada, and I haven’t had the chance to stock up since.

It wasn’t an auspicious start.  I had entered the 10k on the basis that however hot the day, gnarly the trails or debilitating the jet lag, it was a short enough distance to remain fun.  My sister had entered the 5k to kill time while I deserted her.  The 21.1k, though admirable, was not for us.

We wandered down the hill from the car park to the beach to pick up our race packs, and then pootled back up the hill again to the car.  Smugrunner was still there, still boring on about the pointlessness of the lesser distances, so after we’d pinned on our numbers, we headed back down the hill again to wait.

Before


As 9.30am approached, I left Abradysis (whose 5k was setting off at 9.45am) and went to listen to the race briefing.  Think standard UK trail race briefing with the addition of the wild fire and snake warnings. Eek!

Lumpy. I stopped to take a photo halfway up the last big climb.


The route was beautiful, if a trifle lumpy, and as well marked as they come.  The field was large enough to always have someone in sight, but small enough that passing and being passed didn’t break up the flow.  I paused to admire the view on the last long climb…


… and then set about trying to catch up with the young lad just in front of me.  I managed that about a quarter of a mile from the end, though his sprint finish meant a photo finish to decide who came in first.

Photo courtesy of Abradysis, who finished about 10 minutes before me.


After I’d caught my breath, we hauled our aching bones back up the hill to the car, picked up our picnic lunch, and returned to enjoy the finish line atmosphere, which came complete with a prize draw (I snaffled a gloriously green North Face dress despite being one of the last numbers drawn).  One last trek up the hill to our car (had I mentioned that there was a hill between the beach and the car park?) and it was goodbye trail race, hello craft gin distillery.

Smugrunner aside, this was a fabulous race.  Friendly, varied and organised in such a way that you could run different distances to others in your party but still share the same experience.  I’m only sorry that the venues are so far away from London.

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