Race report by Keith Elshaw
Marlborugh Downs challenge. 11/05/14
For my second Ultra I chose the Marlborough Downs Challenge. Quite a few people at my club have done it and they all say it is tough but beautiful. (like the wife!)
I have recently been struggling with a hip problem. It’s not an injury as such it just flares up after a couple of hours running and makes running painful, but I can switch to a run/walk method and keep going. As soon as I stop running it is fine so I just have try to manage it. I have been doing that by regular sports massages,, reduced mileage, yoga, stretching and muscle building around the area and this has all worked to improve the problem but it is not perfect yet.
I have my year planned out which I intend to try to stick to so I am just trying to get round these things with as little pain as possible.
So, I turned up on Saturday morning fresh and rested and in as good a condition as I have been for a while but I knew that I had probably under trained for an ultra so I was expecting a tough day out. Ange and I had decided to get to Marlborough the day before and stop in a B&B and that proved a good choice. We got up at a reasonable time, breakfasted and got ready and had a 5 minute drive to the car park.. much better than the early start and 1 hour drive we would have had.
I got my kit on and my rations sorted and met up with some other runners Sharon, Andy and Mike and the some supporters Mick, Gary and Den. We all wished each other well and were off. It is a very low key race with less than 200 entrants. And the first mile went very easy and slowly. We ventured off road and came to the first of numerous styles to be negotiated. We were running single file mostly and there was no jostling for position, we all knew that this would be a long day and there would be plenty of time to overtake.
We soon came to the first water station and from there we went through a lovely forest with a carpet of bluebells. But what I have noticed is, where there are bluebells, there is mud. And there was lots of mud! It became apparent that running was out of the question and for the next 2 miles or so we just concentrated on trying to stay on our feet.
After we emerged from the wood we had a very steep climb to contend with and when we were on top of the rise we had a very strong wind against us for a couple of miles.
Once we started to descend of the hill the wind dropped and we came to the second water station and met with my support crew. We exchanged pleasantries and I looked at my watch and saw that it had taken about 90 minutes to do 6.5 miles. I knew this would be a long day.
The next stretch of the route was tricky too. We were continually sent on very small ridges which you really had to concentrate on to make sure you didn’t stumble. Have I mentioned this run is self navigating too? They give you 7 sheets of directions which you are constantly looking at to make sure you are going the right way. At the start of the race this is fine because you generally have someone in your sights but as the race goes on and the field spreads out it can get a bit trickier as I will point out later.
Anyway CP3 arrives and this is the one I was worried about. There is a 20 mile race running along side the 33 mile ultra and if you are too slow at this checkpoint you will be forced to take the shorter route. Luckily I made it with 20 minutes to spare.
So, 10 miles in and all is going well. 12 miles in and we go along a towpath by a canal. This is where I first start to feel my hip pain. I stop to walk, let the pain subside and run again. This pattern is to be repeated for the next 20 miles or so.
It is quite lovely running along the towpath, looking at the lovely houses with their mooring gardens and we run along here for 3 miles or so. After leaving the canal we enter more off road sections of trail, fields, hills and the like and we start to encounter some changeable weather.
At roughly the halfway point we encounter a hill. I don’t like this hill. I am tired, wet, cold and in pain. I struggle to the top where I find the my supporters. I explain my predicament and say to them that I don’t think I can go on. They do the right thing and completely ignore me leaving me to continue on my way.
We start to head back now which means that at least when we are on the hills the wind is behind us. We still have to get up the hills though and they keep getting bigger and steeper! But we run through Avebury and see all the stone circles I know I am only a couple of miles short of a marathon now. The next station is lovely. You get a lovely cup of tea. The best cup of tea I have ever tasted in fact. I stay there for a few minutes and then move off .and we climb to the top of a ridgeway by a horse racing circuit. After a little while I bump in to the crew again and they say I’m looking good, the liars. But, I figure I have come this far I may as well complete it now. The pain is not getting any worse, I am managing it Ok.
I have lost sight of everyone around me now so I am reading my cue cards carefully. It says exit a car park and turn right. So, I do that. At the bottom of the road it says follow the grass path. There is no grass path!! On no, I’ve gone wrong! I am stood in the road looking lost and a lady pops her head out of the window and asks if I’m ok. I explain the situation and she tells me if I cross the road and turn left I will get to Marlborough. I am only 2 miles from the finish so I decide to try and go in roughly the right direction and try to find the race route. I call Ange to explain the situation so she does not worry too much.
After a mile or 2 I recognise Marlborough college where the race started. I run through the college grounds and spot another runner who has finished. I ask him where the finish line is and he says it is in the leisure centre. So I cross the road and get to the leisure centre to find that I am approaching the finish from the wrong direction!!
I was a bit worried that I would be disqualified but there is a degree of acceptance in a self navigating race that you can get a bit lost and veer off the course, this is a circular route with 9 checkpoints and they take your number at every one of them so they knew that I had completed the race. Also because the finish is a straight line from the last checkpoint there is no way I could have cut it short, in fact I went about a mile further than I should have!
As I said, this is a very low key event and there was no fanfare at the end. I just collected my finisher’s mug and went into the leisure centre where they provide you with a cooked meal.
I tried to phone Ange to say that I had made it but I couldn’t get a signal so I just waited for them to arrive at the finish. Andy was already there, showered and changed!
The crew duly arrived and we tried to see on the map where I had gone wrong I then got changed into some warm clothes and went to join the others waiting for Sharon and Mike to finish.
They had had a tough time and had arrived at some check points after they had closed so it was good that our supporters had been there to sustain them.
After a while they arrived and it was hugs all round and we exchanged stories about the race. All in all in was a good day. It is a lovely but very challenging race. We got to run on all surfaces through all conditions. And we were on our feet for a very long time. But if you keep moving forward eventually you get to the finish.