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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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