The race is run along The Ridgeway which is described as Britain’s oldest road. The race starts from the northern end at Ivinghoe Beacon, Buckinghamshire and ends at the southern end at Marlborough Sports Centre, Wiltshire (a slight deviation from the actual end of the Ridgeway at Overton Hill – near Avebury) a distance of 87 miles. The race comprises of 10 legs and this usually means 10 different runners (further explanation later).
We were led out at the start of the race by Neil Brown, who gave yours truly a fright by warning me that he was carrying an injury from his efforts at last week’s Endure 24 which would mean that I would have to run the longest Leg of 11 mile should he not recover from this injury prior to the race. Fortunately for me and the team Neil was able to run, however watching him hobble down the first steep hill at the start of the race did not fill me with any confidence that he’d make it to the finish! I made several rendezvous with Neil along the 11 mile route, partly to give him support, but mainly to see that he was not limping. He did however run very well, all things considered, and after a relatively slow start (for him), Neil finished his Leg well, overtaking several runners to lead the team to 26th place out of the 42 teams. Completing the arduous hilly route, with some difficult underfoot conditions, in a very creditable time of 85:15.
Neil handed over to Debbie Tank (along with Nic Plumridge) at the exchange point at Hale, near Wendover for Leg 2, taking on the very hilly challenge to Princes Risborough with two major climbs up Coombe Hill and the very steep climb from The Hampden Arms pub (where Prime Ministers leave their 8yr old daughters) up to the finish. This is an extremely demanding 6 mile Leg. Debbie and Nic finished together in 32nd place in a commendable time of 62:06.
Debbie handed over to Mel Folkard (with back up runner – super coach - Trevor Brawn available). Mel, who has made this Leg 3 his own having ran it in each of the previous 4 years that we have competed in this race. Mel again ran well finishing in a time of 91:33 for the 9.4 mile Leg. This Leg has the very tough downhill start on steps that are too steep to take advantage of, it also has the very long straight finish under the M40 cutting which Mel tells me “goes on forever”! Whilst waiting at Lewknor for Mel, I was somewhat amazed to see coach Trevor arrive – even though he had set off before Mel , as I knew that Trevor was planning to run out and then back to his car which was parked at the start of the Leg – he ended up running some 17 miles – not a bad training run on difficult hilly terrain. Mel brought the team home in 37th place cheered in by our ever growing support team of myself, Sue Ellerby, Neil, Tony and Merrin Molesworth as well Heidi Folkard and Julia Aliaj who waiting to start Leg 4.
Heidi Folkard and Julia Aliaj, who having had a debate at the start, decided on Julia being the scorer for our team. This Leg has its challenge of 4 miles fairly flat undulating trail, with the final 1.4 miles pretty well all uphill culminating in a very steep finishing climb up to Swyncombe Church. Julia ran very well to finish in 51:35 minutes for the 5.4 mile Leg, with Heidi close on here heels, to keep the team in 37th place.
Julia handed over to Andy Hickman who ran a very quick run from high on the ridge at Swyncombe Church down to the river Thames at South Stoke, some this being along Grim’s Ditch, an ancient earth work boundary – very picturesque but with the challenge of undulating underfoot conditions. Andy brought the team to 32nd place having completed his Leg of 10.1 miles in 73:35.
As has become a tradition for our team, those that are able to, adjourned for lunch at the Perch and Pike pub in South Stoke, this year we had 12 who were myself, Sue, Neil, Debbie, Nic, Mel, Heidi,Tony, Merrin, Andy, Jane Peel and James Timothy. A good meal was enjoyed by all, those who had already run enjoyed it more than those who hadn’t namely Tony and I who were restricted on what we could eat for obvious reasons, whilst the rest mostly tucked into an enormous well deserved Sunday roast.
Andy handed over to Steve Field who ran the very difficult and tiring Leg of some 10.4 miles from South Stoke up the hill out of Goring and Streetley, Steve had been the backup runner to Pani Kllikis who unfortunately had to pull out this week due to the double whammy of plantar fasciitis and a calf strain. Steve ran a sterling Leg to finish in 97:13 for a team position of 35. Steve had a somewhat lonely finish to his Leg as there is a mass start for Leg 7 at 14:00 hours for all teams who have not finished Leg 5 by 13:00 hours (we reached this point at 13:34).
This year we had the mad Aussie- Jason Trimmer – (he who is training for the UTMB – Ultra-Trial du Mont-Blanc) who ran Legs 7 and 8 which is about 17 miles – he then turned round and ran the 17 miles back to his car at the start of Leg 7!! I said he was crazy! Jason went through the Leg 7 – 8 exchange in 69:01 minutes for the 9.1 miles and then handed over to Tim Dawson and myself (backup runner) in a further 74:39 for the 7.8 mile Leg 8 to maintain our 35th position in the team standings – quite a feat having run 2 consecutive Legs.
Tim and I ran together for the first 9.5 miles before I unleashed him to run away from me up the final climb to Barbury Castle. This Leg as a difficult climb at the start of about 1.5 miles followed by good running conditions along the ridge prior to dropping down to Ogbourne St George then the sting in the tail; a 4 mile climb to the finish. Tim finished in a time of 97:22 minutes (with me staggering in some 4 minutes later) to keep us in 35th position. Like Steve at the end of Leg 6 we also had a lonely finish as there is a mass start for all teams who have not arrived at the start of Leg 10 by 17:45 – Tim arrived at 18:01.
The final Leg was run by Mark Fry with back up from Tony Molesworth, by now the weather had deteriorated from bright sunshine at the start of the race to heavy drizzle. Mark ran well to finish in 81.40 for the 9.4 mile Leg to bring the team home to a final position of 34th in a total running time of 13:03:59 at an average pace of 8:47 with Tony completing the leg in 99 minutes (a fantastic effort for one so young, having recently celebrated his 75th birthday).
Well done to all that ran in our team, special thanks to those that trained, turned up for the start of their Leg as back up to the nominated runner, without them it would not be possible to put together a team.
This year’s race was won by the same team as last year Oxford City in a time of 9:35:39 at an average pace of 6.27. The Ladies race was won by Alchester in a time of 11:44:44 at an average pace of 7:54. The veterans race was won by a local team, Bearbrook Oldies, in a time of 12:00:58 at an average pace of 8:05.
The ethos of our team is to enjoy the joint effort of a team relay event where we know we will not win but everyone gives of their best effort. I feel we have again lived up to that ethos. I for one enjoyed both organising our team and running Leg 9 with Tim.
As a closing point, I feel our club could put together teams to compete with the winners of this year’s race, especially the Ladies race. It would take a commitment from someone to drive it along but I for one would love to see it happen, we have a great club that often “punch’s above its weight” this would be a fantastic opportunity to put our “little” club on the map.