Monday, 25 May 2015

The Marlborough Downs Challenge

Marlborough Downs Challenge- the first race in our long trip to the south and south-west.

The MDC was returning to the Runfurther series after an absence of several n the race before and so there was excitement about a new event, new terrain and with new people. A detailed written description and the promise of some way-marking signs we were keen to recee at least some of the route. Once the official cut-off time for the first nine miles was shortened Bob was even keener to see just how much of a challenge this might be. Arriving on Friday afternoon allowed us time to find CP1 and plan our exploration. West Woods were awash with blue bells.

 They were truly spectacular and we found they do have some fame. We set off on the next 7 miles and although it was muddy on some woodland paths after the heavy rain the downlands were dry and wonderfully runnable. 

The Wansdyke especially had lovely sweeping grassy paths From CP3 we did not really have a plan but we now knew that we would be able to rely on the written descriptions and although the cut off might be tight for Bob it was doable. 

We decided on a route back using lanes and paths between the ridge and the river Kennet. Part way back it started raining and this then got heavier. Bob was tired and the day-light was fading. I pushed the pace a bit anxious that we did not arrive back on the maze of woodland paths in the dark. The cloud meant an earl dusk but we were back at the van before 8pm and settled for a late meal. On Saturday we walked and jogged the last 4 miles and the first two miles with a break in Marlborough where we bought a pie each in the market and sat in the sun. A brief stroll in the woods that afternoon showed that the paths were drying out nicely in the wind.

Race day saw us up early as usual and off to meet the ROs.
Nick Ham photo

As we handed over Clif Bars and prizes Nick arrived and we put up all the flags and banners together.

 By 8am we were organised and relaxed enough to mingle and chat. It was pleasing to see so many 'locals' reading the RF notice-boards and also to see some RF regulars like Martin T, Dave and Kayleigh R and David W had made the quite long journey south.
Photo Nick Ham
By 8.45 we had been herded across the road and into the grounds of Marlborough College for the start. Although the terrain was undulating I was fearful that it was flat enough to be very runnable and fast.

I was correct. CP1 arrived in a flash and suddenly we were in the blue bell woods with the day rapidly heating up.

It felt good to be clear about the way especially when a couple of faster runners overtook me at CP2 having been awol. The pace across the grassy Wansdyke was fierce and I tried to get a compromise of not letting the gap get too big and yet not going so fast that i would blow up later. Between CP3 and 4 I caught up with a guy I knew from the OMM and stuck with him all the way to Devizes and along the canal section.  This made it more pleasant and forced me to run faster than I might have done if I had been on my own. Many of the runners were usually road and marathon runners. It was a shock for those of used to FRA rules to see them in shorts and T shirts carrying nothing more than a water bottle. The next section was hilly and somewhere I dropped my OMM friend. There were some dry stony tracks that started to torture my feet but the views were superb and different to what I am used to.
Thanks again Nick

Running up to Chernill Down and the monument I spotted a White Horse and suddenly realised that I had been here as a child. More ridge path and tracks took us towards Avebury. Here I caught other runners and managed to grab a refreshing cup of tea. There was little time to admire the standing stones and the crowds of tourists were something of a shock as we emerged through the church lych-gate onto the main street. 
On race day we had no time to admire the stones
They were though very supportive and the lines of them and runners we were catching up on the shorter 20 mile route motivated me to run up the big track out of Avebury and towards the Ridgeway. 
Taken a few days later- being tourists
I steadily pulled away from those I had been running with, knew I was third later and tried to catch those up ahead. The last 4 miles were almost flat but I was beat. The early pace had taken it's toll.  I could see Henry less than 100mahead but could not close the gap. The 2nd lady runner was only 100m or so ahead of that but it might as well have been a mile. I did try but there was nothing left in the tank until the final sprint. I crossed the line in 5 hours 16 and about 10 seconds behind Henry. We were presented with a beautiful hand crafted mug that was full of a welcome cold drink. It was only a short stagger to the leisure centre where a lovely meal and even more lovely showers were available. A trophy and bottle of Proseco were my reward for a hard run.

 Plus good points in the RF series. Once recovered I spent a couple of hours explaining RF, recruiting new members, announcing spot prizes and drinking tea. By 5.30 all runners had returned and we had collected together all the RF paraphanalia ready to transport to The Ox in a fortnights time. We thanked the ROs, collected the excess of macaroni cheese and went in search of a quiet spot to park the van for the night. It had been a great day out and a well organised event. I am sure we will return.

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