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…
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
Fabulous. Simply fabulous. Thank you Tim. You and your team rocked.