VOGUM, Ridgeway 86 and some stuff inbetween

Posted on: 08 Sep 2019

There’s a lot of catching up to be done, so it may be a lengthy one….

As I last left off I was in the taper for the VOGUM (Vale of Glamorgan 40 mile ultra) on the 1st June (meaning the steps didn’t fall into the WYAS month of May).

Pegasus Running had organised it and they did an excellent job. Clear pre-race instructions, a bus from finish to start that was prompt and had enough spaces and ample volunteers at the start to answer questions, do the check in to give us all plenty of “faff” time before the race.

The race itself started on the beach at Porthcawl and was very relaxed, a few words and then the RD points east and said, “off you go then”. There was about 3 miles on sand (finding the more compact stuff was a handy skill to learn) and then dunes (trying to keep to a rough route whilst wanting to run on the firmer grassed elements was challenging).

It was shaping out to be a hot day, although with a refreshing sea breeze. A loop around a river and the glorious stepping stones across it by the ruins of Ogmore castle was pretty stunning, although I was watching my footing very carefully

The checkpoints were well provisioned and around 7 miles apart so a perfect picnic day was on the cards. The legs were going pretty well and despite the lumpiness I was making good time.

There were a few chats with fellow runners, but I was mostly out on my own, enjoying my thoughts and taking in the sights. The view from the cliff tops down to the beach or over to the north Devon coast was beautiful and definitely fed the soul.

With hindsight I realise now that I’d gone out too fast and by the time I reached the 27 mile checkpoint I knew it was going to be a tough few hours ahead with knackered legs. What came next didn’t help, the route dropped into Barry and there was what felt like endless miles on the road out to Cardiff, on a pavement, in the sun. It broke me and I walked about 5 miles until we turned back onto the coastal trail again. Then it was walk / jog to the end. 39 miles in 9.5 hours (having been at 25 miles in 5 hours)– very broken.

There were showers at the end which were lush and with the help of free coffee and pies, I recovered somewhat from my grump. The goody bag was excellent, T shirt, cap, medal, beer & beef jerky! I’d definitely recommend Pegasus Running.

The weekend after I did a 20 & 15 mile run just to put a marker down, as I had to get the head in the game for the Ridgeway. Before that however came the HU5K and so great to see everyone (even if they couldn’t see me inside R2D2, great hosting by Jim as ever and a bonus run with Libby & Hollywood on the Sunday.  

At the end of June, with A Level & GCSEs exams out of the way, I took the kids to Iceland (the country!). It was an amazing trip, the landscape is just so different from anything I’d seen before, it was beautiful in its desolation. Whale watching, geysers, waterfalls, lava tunnels and silica spa pools were all shoehorned into 4 full days, along with a little run which ensured I have now run on two different tectonic plates.

Back to blighty and another day off for my birthday, starting with a run from my wife’s school, which is near to the Cotswold Way. My plan was to run 47km (one for each year) and end up in my local for a late lunch. Started well, but the heat got to me and I made the call to stop 13k short. Waited for the bus in a pub with a lager and a bowl of chips, so not all bad!

The next week I did 62 miles including 30 on Tuesday in and out of work, so faith restored once more, and I also had the bonus impetus of having booked onto the Cotswold 24hr lap race to spend some time with HD. That turned to nowt due to the event company going bust but managed to get the Baton over to Gaelle in time for her to pass it to HD in Peterborough.

Instead I ran 27 miles, my last big one before the Ridgeway 86. It had its moments as my water bladder sprung a leak 1 mile in, so had to be knotted to retain some water to get me at least as far as the local shops in Wotton. After the loops of Parkrun, I got home, quick gear change and headed back out for 3 laps of Hawkesbury, virtual shoulder to shoulder with our man over in Peterborough.

Full family holiday in the Isle of Wight was very relaxing (once we got there), and I got a couple of really lovely runs in whilst the kids slept in.

The August Bank holiday weekend was suddenly approaching, so a corner of the lounge was full of running gear being sifted and sorted between various bags as the Ridgeway 86 approached. I took the Friday off and trained it over to Tring, near the start. I’d booked into a rather nice hotel nearby and had time for a 45min swim before getting ready for a dinner date with the Dance’s.

It was lovely as ever to catch up, with the bonus excitement of knowing Gerry & I would be running together in the morning. I’m blooming glad he was there as I needed my nerves calming. The training had been very up and down, so I had no idea what to expect. We ate early and they dropped me back at the hotel around 8pm and I had a pretty reasonable night’s sleep.

A big fry up for breakfast (one of the benefits of trail running) and then final attempt to relax before checking out and waiting for the minibus pick up. The day was already warming up fast and I was glad of my investment in a very large desert hat that had a huge brim and neck protection. My nav skills were put to the test earlier than planned as the minibus driver didn’t have the carpark in the satnav, so out came the Harvey map.

Gerry was on the same bus and we got to the registration point in plenty of time. We were both pretty shocked to find Moose waiting for us, far from his usual stomping ground. Another person to chat to and take my mind off things – thanks Warren for coming out to meet us, very much appreciated.

The race brief (or sermon on the mount) took place at Ivinghoe Beacon and bang on 10am we were off. With about 100 folks on a relatively narrow trail it took some time to get to a steady pace. Gerry and I were together, we’d had the chat about not holding each other back, but I’d hoped to run with Gerry for a fair while (I wasn’t sure if it would be me struggling to keep it together).

As ever I needed an early comfort break and told Gerry I’d catch him up. I did, but not until Checkpoint 2 some 13 miles later!

The section to CP 2 was pretty kind, well shaded woodland and a few climbs with some lovely views.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and natureThe checkpoints were very well stocked, for me watermelon and marmite sandwiches were the delicacies of choice. The event is run by the Trail Runners Association, so they know what folks like and the volunteers were excellent. It was no surprise I was filling my new water bladder more regularly, and started to put squash in it as I was struggling to drink so much plain water.

Having caught up with Gerry, we shared a few miles together, checking in on how we were fairing. For me the heat was oppressive and I was walking a lot more early on. The fear of a death march like I’d done at Barry, was on my mind and meant I wasn’t as attentive to the navigation. For 99% of the route the national trail signage is really clear, but at one point I went wrong, doubled back, corrected myself, then wasn’t sure, so ended up doubling back again. Oh it was not a good time in my head.

Gerry was just behind me and with 22 miles (one quarter) in 5 hours, I came round the corner to see Mandy and a very comfy looking camping chair. I sat for a few minutes and chatted. I then became conscious that Gerry hadn’t come past. I back tracked and a couple of runners came by saying they’d seen a man in orange, having a comfort break in the trees. I thought “that’s fine then he’ll be along in a moment” and so I let Mandy know and headed off as my legs were stiffening. Thank you Mandy for the impromptu CP and for the use of the chair and helping to reset my head.

At the time I didn’t realise that Gerry was being pretty sick in those trees, I’d hoped we’d catch up again at CP3 or CP5, but it wasn’t to be. To have been able to run alongside the crazy man who’s blogs describing the (what seemed at the time) mad world of ultra running back in 2014 was a true pleasure and honour – Thank you Gerry for those miles together and all the support you’ve given me over the years.

Onwards, 4 more straight and flattish miles saw me to CP3. Along the way the first of the 12 o’clock start runners passed me, I was surprised by how little water they were carrying.  Marathon done in just over 6 hours. I filled up the bladder and dithered a little, hoping to see Gerry. After I left the CP I saw Kathy & Richard were trying to catch up to me – having met up with Gerry & Mandy.

I was now on territory that I’d run on in Race to The Stones in 2015, my first (and only 100k race). With the heat and 26 miles in the legs it was a very different experience. I was walking any vague slopes, with the average pace around 16min miles it was looking grim. The “field of dreams” wheat field from the RTTS had been harvested and I just chuntered away through it. The text from Kathy to say that they’d missed me but would try once more lifted me, especially as it said that Gerry was feeling better.

I got to CP4, 34 miles at about 6pm and thankfully Kathy & Richard found me there. I was trying to think of something suitably Churchillian to say, so went with “All I can offer you is my sweat”, which was absolutely accurate (Sorry for the hug Kathy!). Again meeting them lifted me hugely and cleared the head once more. Thank you both so much for tracking me down.

The next section was down Grimms Ditch, 3 miles gently descending to the River Thames with lots of shade. With the heat of the day diminishing, it became a lot more pleasant and the lure of the drop bag and hot food at the halfway point CP5, helped me keep my legs going.

I arrived there at 8:45pm, 43 miles done. Into the village hall at Goring and directed to a seat. Drop bag delivered to me, followed by endless cups of hot sweat tea, tomato pasta and rice pudding – oh I was in heaven. I had a strict plan to follow and wanted to stay no more than 30 mins. Change of clothes, charge watch & phone, get the torch ready to roll, stow the sun hat and most importantly, take the Baton out of my backpack. It stayed in my sweaty hand for the remainder of the race.

A quick look at the “tracker” and I could see Gerry had left CP4, but was not going to get to CP5 before I left. A few runners were retiring at CP5, a lot of the volunteers talking about how many had retired even before then. The sun had taken its toll.

As I left CP5 I texted Bev, they were planning to meet me at Bury Down (CP6) so I gave them an ETA. There was a climb out of Goring & Streetly which made sure the food settled and then 2 miles from the CP, I was up onto the trails again.

It was cool, it was wonderfully dark, the trail was solid chalk and glowed in the torchlight. I knew that for the next 25 miles to CP8 I was basically on an undulating ridge. The legs, I suppose well rested due to the amount of walking I’d done earlier, responded brilliantly, I was knocking on sub 12 minute miles, 50+ miles into an ultra, I was loving it. I got to CP6 at 11:20 and Bev & Tony was there. I think I was bouncing like Tigger when I saw them. I was on such a high. Thanks to both of you for coming out so late and seeing me through, it was brief but lovely to see you both.

I did slow up a bit after CP6, getting to CP7 (Sparshalt Firs 60 miles) just before 2am. I’d started to feel nauseous, so just ate a baby new potato and sweat tea. The next section included Uffington & Waylands Smithy, places I visited when I was a kid and it brought back good memories. Anything to keep the mind occupied on something other than how many miles were left.

Then into CP 8 (Fox Hills 69 miles) just after 4am, more tea, but no food. A mile after I met Holly. She was in the 12 o’clock start, so was really 2 hours ahead of me. She was having a hard time keeping the running going, but we managed to distract each other chatting away as we headed to CP9. It was the longest leg at 10.5 miles and had 2 big climbs in it, so the distraction was very handy. The sun rose around 6am, we were at Ogbourne St George, with a big 3 mile drag up to CP9.

I got out the phone and played the Radio 4 UK Theme, Rule Britannia, Men of Harlech (thinking of HD), Greensleeves et al rang out, the chest expanded, and the stride length increased. I explained to Holly that it is a ritual of mine to play it anytime I find myself at dawn on a run.

We strode on, navigating sleepy cows. Holly got a second wind and pulled ahead, she finished strongly and was first female in her category, a fab result.

CP9 is legendary in my eyes. I’d seen it in operation twice before when I’d met Gerry in his previous races. Hot dogs with cheese – blooming lush and thankfully enough appetite had returned to allow me to enjoy it.

Then it was time to get the job done. 6 miles to go. Drop through Barbury Castle, then undulating and the legs were still strong, 12 & 13 minute miles followed. After 84.5 miles following the Ridgeway, the first additional signage turned us off to the right and I headed to Avebury. Another place I visited as a kid, and have taken my kids too. It is a village ringed by a stone circle (the largest diameter one in the world). As I approached, a quick detour into a filed to hug a stone and smack the Baton on it (Yes unlike Stonehenge you can touch these ones). Then 200m, across the road, through a massive crowd of runners cheering me on (a 10k race about to set off) and down to the finishing tape. 22hrs 47min (although as ever I forgot to stop my watch!).

Kim was there to meet me (another sufferer of a sweaty hug) and it was lovely to bump into Mandy before we left and to find out how Gerry was doing.

I was delighted to complete the R86 and in a sub 24hr time. It had been my main focus for this year and I felt it went blooming well. In hindsight, the slow first half really helped the second, so maybe I shouldn’t complain about the Sun quite so much. I’d got to run some miles with Gerry and had the joy of meeting up with Warren, Mandy, Kathy, Richard, Bev & Tony. This Buzzer group is blooming marvellous.

Time to rest?

Well sort of, a 3 mile run the day after proved that the legs were still working. I’d made a promise to myself that if I didn’t break myself then I would treat the R86 as a mega training run. Therefore I am now tapering once more. In two weeks time, I hope to have finished for the second time the Cotswold Way 102. As before I’ll have Jim alongside.

We’re older, I’m heavier, but experience counts for something, right?

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