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Marlborough Downs Challenge 2016

The Race

Runfurther went down to Marlborough again this year to take part in the Marlborough Downs Challenge on 15 May.  33 miles across chalk downs on a really well-designed route, varied underfoot with little tarmac.  Marlborough Running Club organises the race, and did an excellent job of it too.  Many thanks to Phil, Angus and the rest of the club.  The weather was spot-on too.  The sun was out most of the day, but the air temperature was fairly low, and there was a breeze on the hills.  When we were out on the downs in the sun, the breeze cooled us down just enough, and down in the valleys we were generally sheltered from the sun by hedges.  The views were great, and it was the first time I’d seen the white horse cut into the hill.  It’s a very runnable route, with most of the hills being gradual ones, and most of the running on short grass and reasonably smooth tracks.  A good first ultra in fact, and I met at least three people running it as their first.

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There were 10 Runfurther members in the 119 finishers, which wasn’t a bad number considering how far it was from most of our homes. It’d be nice to have had more members there, but that’s always true of course.  Our members were 1st, 5th and 14th, and we got 1st MV50 and MV60 too.  Congratulations to Andy Davies and Ned Lammas (and I’ll give myself a pat on the back too).

  • 1:  Andy Davies (Mercia FR)  4:17:18
  • 2:  Matthew Dowse  (Vegan Runners)  4:21:16
  • 3:  Wez Jones (Stubbington Green Runners & AC)  4:34:29
  • 5:  Ned Lammas (Evesham/Mercia FR)  4:43:42  1st MV50
  • 14:  Gary Upstone (Thames Valley LDWA)  5:17:26
  • 21:  Naomi Ross (Grange Farm & Dunmow Runners)  5:26:57  1st woman
  • 25:  Andy Robinson (Helsby RC)  5:32:37  1st MV60
  • 33:  Michelle Blower (Calne RC)  5:39:50  2nd woman
  • 35:  Corry Ravenscroft  5:40:07  3rd woman

The full race results are here, and the updated Runfurther leaderboard is here.  Nick Ham was taking photos on the way round, and they’re up on Flickr here.  I’ve pinched some of them for this post too.

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Runfurther standings

Andy Davies is now leading the Runfurther men’s table, and is a strong contender for this year’s title.  He wasn’t quite as fast as Ian Symington, Ken Sutor and Kevin Hoult at the Hobble though.  Ned Lammas is likely to give Martin Terry a run for his money this year in the MV50 category, and that contest is worth keeping an eye on.  Ned’s also switched over to the Mercia FR team this year, which probably means they will be difficult to beat.  Not much changed on the women’s side at Marlborough, with only Janet Hill and Rachel Bennett running.  They did well for Runfurther points though, as the first woman to finish was more than half an hour slower than last year.

Only 3 runners have completed all 4 races so far, not too surprising considering we’ve already had two races only a week apart, and Marlborough being so far south.  And, they’re all Runfurther committee members: Dick Scroop, Nick Ham and me (Andy Robinson).  Nick says he’s not attempting the Grand Slam this year, so I think that confirms what we thought, that there’s just Dick and myself daft enough to attempt it this year.  That’s par for the course: one or two each year is typical.

Andy’s race report

This was my first time running this race, and I hadn’t had the ideal preparation.  The previous 6 weekends had involved:

  1. Catching this year’s cold
  2. Running the Calderdale Hike with said cold, drugged to the eyeballs
  3. Running the Fellsman, still coughing
  4. Organising a stag party in the Lakes
  5. Being best man at a wedding, then running the 33-mile Sandstone Trail to check the route out for problems (a personal worst, still coughing)
  6. Organising the Sandstone Trail Challenge event (a 5am to 10pm non-stop day)

I hadn’t run properly since before the cold came on, but for the first time in weeks I actually felt like running, and was looking forward to the event.  I drove down on the Saturday afternoon and set up my tent in the campsite in the woods just above Marlborough town.  It was sunny and seriously hot, and I started to get a bit concerned about how hot it would be on the run the next day.  We had a Runfurther committee meeting in town, had a meal, and I drank far too much wine, finally feeling able to relax properly after such a hectic few weeks.  And so to bed, at about 9.

We had to get up early in the morning to put the Runfurther flags up at the finish, and to give the race organisers the prizes and the Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake for registration, so we then had plenty of time to socialise before the start.  I dumped my lightweight waterproof in the car – it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to be a lot of use.  Suntan lotions was getting splashed on all over, but I didn’t bother, and I got away with just minor red bits on the side of my neck.

9am and we were off and up the first hill and into the woods.  Some years all this can be very muddy, or so I was told, but this year everything had dried out, and there were just a few places where we had to take care.  The sun was shining, and it was warm.  A bit of a contrast from the temperatures at the Fellsman!  I passed Nick Ham fairly early on.  Checkpoint 1 came much too soon to be useful, then we headed up through Gopher Wood and along the ridge to Knap Hill and CP2.  Glorious views.  Then the high level trail just keeps on, for miles, joining the medieval Wansdyke ditch and embankment, heading west to CP3 and on to Roughridge Hill, where we dropped down left to join the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath and follow it into Devizes.  This was easier running, and I couldn’t keep up with the other runners I’d been running the hills with: I just don’t have the pace on flat ground.  Where we joined the canal we had to cross a swingbridge, and I had a bit of luck, as someone was just opening the bridge to let boats though as I got there.

That was just as well, as now I was beginning to feel the miles.  I don’t usually like the flat bits much, and although it would have been very pleasant to walk along, the run along the canal seemed to go on for ever.  By the time I got to the next checkpoint, runners were coming up behind me.  Let’s face it, yet again I’d gone off a bit too fast.  I was expecting to find myself in the middle of a town at CP4 – just look at a map and you can see you’re geographically in the middle of Devizes.  I just don’t notice it though – the way in on the canal and the way out up a track back up into the hills screened us off from the town very effectively.

A lot of the next few miles were on wide unmade vehicle tracks, not my favourite ground, but there was a more varied bit between CP5 and CP6, and now I was well into the second half of the run, which always perks me up a bit.  The run up to the Cherhill Monument and the white horse was a good one, and I felt fine heading down the other side and along the Old Bath Road, an old track along the hill crest parallel to the A4.  I even started pulling away from some of the other runners along here.  We crossed the A4 and headed into Avebury, running past the day trippers and the standing stones.  I kept passing runners, then the same runners passed me, then I passed them again.  We were all getting tired, and having good moments and bad moments.  Gary Upstone went past me at CP7, running so much faster than me that I didn’t expect to see him again until the finish, and indeed I didn’t.  We started passing slower runners on the 20-mile event now, so it was had to track how well I was running compared to the other 33-mile runners.

From Avebury I just put my head down a kept going, noticing a lot less.  Eventually we ran along the tracks through the horse training grounds, along a couple of field edges and dropped down to join the track leading into the finish.  I was running slowly but still running, and still felt good.  It seemed like ages since I’d felt good at the end of a long run, and I finished with a smile on my face rather than my usual grimace.  Less than two minutes after I finished Alwyn Nixon came in behind me and asked whether I was a V60 – unknown to me he’d been trying to catch me up for most of the race, and he nearly managed it.  So I won a trophy and a bottle of Prosecco – result!

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Marlborough Downs 2015

I couldn’t make it to the Marlborough Downs Challenge as I was too busy organising my own Ultra the same weekend.  Karen Nash’s race report is below, and Nick’s photos are on Flickr here.  Henry Morris has written an account on his blog and that’s here, but beware the gory photo of his megablister!  The race was won by Nathan Montague in a time of 4:14:03, 7 minutes ahead of James Donald.  First Runfurther member home was Ned Lammas of Evesham Vale RC, who was 5th in 4:36:27.  First woman home was Alexandra Cook, 12th overall in 4:52:25.  Second woman was new Runfurther member Jill Hadland of Cirencester AC, in 5:15:16.  I’ve updated the Runfurther leaderboard, and you can find that here.

12 existing Runfurther members ran, and we picked up 14 new members on the day, which is encouraging.  We are deliberately trying to put races in the Championship down the M5 corridor and as far as Wiltshire, to get more runners from the middle and southern areas of England involved (and Welsh runners too of course).  We’ll make sure there are some next year as well – not necessarily Wiltshire, but accessible to the runners in those areas.

Four Runfurther members have now run all four races: Karen Nash, David Wilson, Janet Hill and Dave Ralphs.  So far I’ve no idea whether any of them are hoping to run all 12 races and win a Grand Slam sweatshirt, but they’re the only ones who can now.  In any event they’ll all be getting a prize once we’ve got them ordered and delivered, as will everyone else who completed 4 counters during the year.

Thanks very much to Phil and the team for having us at the event on Sunday!

The next Runfurther race isn’t far from the MDC – it’s the Ox on Sunday 24 May, in the south of Wiltshire (Karen isn’t even bothering going home).  Runfurther members’ spot prizes will be drawn from the members who complete both the Marlborough Downs Challenge and the Ox Ultra.  See you there!

Karen’s race report

The MDC was returning to the Runfurther series after a long absence and so there was excitement about a new event, new terrain and with new people. Once we had a detailed written description and the promise of some way-marking signs we were keen to recce 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 bluebells. 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 daylight 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 early dusk but we were back at the van before 8pm and settled in 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. 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. 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 bluebell 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. 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. 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.

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 handcrafted 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 fortnight’s 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.