Monday, 16 May 2011

Marlborough Downs Challenge 33mi. 14/05/2011.

Race 5 of 12 in the 2011 Runfurther series.

“Cross bridge over stream.”
“Leave track to BEAR RIGHT up path.”
“At T-junction with concrete track, TURN RIGHT.”
“Leave track and continue STRAIGHT ON along left-hand side of field to barn. Checkpoint 6, 21.1mi.

I didn’t continue straight on; I turned right again towards Cherhill Monument, taking me away from the checkpoint I was so nearly upon.

I had not looked at the route description or map I was carrying since setting off. I had taken the calculated risk of relying on memory from my previous two completions, backed up by the green MDC arrows (when available) and sight of other runners, as confirmation of my route choice. It had gone very well up to this point, but on the descent to Checkpoint 6 I was suddenly worried. I was not recognising the route and I was losing sight of the white-shirted runner in front as the terrain closed in and became more intricate. I had to start following my nose. It worked for longer than I deserved but it couldn’t last. I had forgotten about CP6 before the climb up to the monument. I knew I had to climb to the monument eventually. It had been in sight for long enough and still we had not turned directly towards it. Finally, now must be the time, so I turned right on the track instead of continuing ahead to CP6.

And so my race became a Marlborough Downs 35 with considerably more ascent than intended, and a Personal Best performance rewarded me with a Personal Worst finishing time. My ankles are black and blue from self-kicking.

As we set off from Marlborough College at 9am the weather was perfect – dry, warm and sunny with a cooling wind on the tops. (We were so lucky compared to the Fellsman Hikers and the many runners on their personal Bob Graham Rounds that weekend, who had to endure cold squally showers.) My running was flowing effortlessly and smoothly like it hadn’t done in months, certainly not so far this year. Despite my respectable pace (by my standards) my heart rate of 165bpm was right where it should be for long-term sustainability. 10bpm higher has been more familiar this year, and that’s not sustainable for much over 2 hours.

The miles were ticking by and I felt happy, contented and in the zone as I luxuriated in the sights of the beautiful rolling chalky Wiltshire countryside. I got chatting to Javed Bhatti along the way, who confirmed what I already suspected, that I could be on for a PB. I was running so within myself, if I kept up optimal fuelling and hydration and didn’t slow down dramatically, the PB could be emphatic. Emphatic or not, it would be a first for 2011 and lay to rest my feelings that I’m finally over the hill, with last September’s Bullock Smithy Hike being my PB swansong.

Checkpoint 3 - split point for long and short routes.

Not long after here I would go horribly wrong.

Now back to reality. On the unfamiliar track I finally looked at my printed Tracklogs route and confirmed that I needed to approach the monument in an easterly direction. I climbed via track then over stiles (I never climbed over a fence), keeping as far left as fences allowed while keeping the monument over to my right. After a hard climb in the hot sunshine I glimpsed some runners along the ridge line up ahead. I climbed towards them, realising I had overshot the checkpoint but I didn’t know by how much. I veered left onto the track I should have already ascended by now and ran back down for far too long in search of the checkpoint. Other runners I had previously left in my wake gave me quizzical looks or asked if I was OK. My nonchalant response: “Oh, just trying to find the checkpoint. Is it far?”

I still felt strong as I ran back up to Cherhill Monument but realised that any hopes of a PB were probably out of the window. Nevertheless I pushed as hard as I could towards that finish line, but finally began to fade and slow on the final leg from the last checkpoint. My Coke had run out and I knew my slowing was due to lack of fuel. The extra distance and climb had just pushed me over the edge into fuel deficit just that bit too soon before the finish. I chewed a bit more Soreen loaf but it was too late to remedy the situation now. I lost 4 minutes on that final leg compared to my post-Fellsman PB finish of 2009.

Bright chalk track throws the clouds into stark contrast.

I crossed the finishing line in 5:56:34, which was 8 minutes slower than my previous PW of 2008. Without the navigational error, which cost me at least 15 minutes, and the subsequent slowing that probably cost me another 5 minutes or more, my time would have been 5:35 at worst. 78th place would have been 52nd. 671 Runfurther points would have been 713. A PB by 11 minutes would have been the first for 2011. SO WHAT? It’s all “would haves”. What’s done is done. I have no-one to blame but myself. Get over it. What does matter is that it was a PB performance and I finished feeling fit and well without any after-effects and without injury. The Grand Slam is still alive.

I chatted with loads of other runners before, during and after the race, including several from the Runner’s World forum. It was a perfectly organised and friendly event on yet another perfect day. I could not wish for anything more.

Andrew James, winner of the Highland Fling two weeks previously, won the race in 3:59:05. That man is a machine, just like Jez Bragg (who incidentally won the Fellsman in record time on the same day).

In the sports hall afterwards, as part of my post-race fuelling and rehydration I cracked open the bottle of commemorative beer we received at last November’s Wensleydale Wedge. It did hit the spot. I also ate two dinners (very nice pasta and salad), but by 8pm I was hungry again and fancied a quality Italian. I ventured forth from The Lamb Inn where I was staying and asked a couple of ladies out for a stroll if they could recommend a good Italian restaurant. They pointed out Pino’s just behind me, which was so understated I had wandered past it without noticing. They said it was THE BEST Italian in Marlborough. I was immediately sold and they were right. The tomato, mozzarella, basil and mango salad was larger than usual and to die for, but the calzone was a bloated monster fit for two. I scoffed the lot and washed it down with a large glass of beautiful wine. I declined a dessert for fear of an explosion and retired to the B&B to sleep it off. It had gone down by morning.

Because I was pushing the pace I took fewer pictures than I would have liked, but what I did take can be found here.

5 down, 7 to go.......


  1. Cool sorry to hear you got lost, I turned the three shires from 29 into 31 but still it was a great day. See you soon.

  2. Roger, your time was simply awesome. To finish in 5th place only 32 minutes behind the winner puts you near to the top in my view. You obviously have the innate ability for speed. Can I have some? ;-)

  3. it happens nick but as you say what is done is done. well done on your running though (and post race eating..a PB?)

  4. Ha thanks yeah I really winged it, it was a bit scary. That's the first time I ever decided to run that fast over that distance. I could see the top 4 up to the 17 mile mark and I was 4th for a while. My legs were a bit wobbly after though so like you said before I think steady works best if you want to keep going. I don't think I'll be moving like that for the Housman.

  5. look at it this way - you got to spend even more time in the great outdoors!

  6. t.o.r., dead right. Beautiful weather and beautiful scenery makes one happy to linger.

    Roger, pace yourself just right and (seriously) you will be winning the Housman 100, bearing in mind IT'S NOT A RACE. Just as long as you know, like. ;-) It must be a 2pm start for you?

    UC, post-race eating PB? I have no idea because I do it so often. I remember a year or two ago a three-way pizza-eating competition in Squaw Valley (location of Western States 100). I think it was a 14-incher each. I won. One of the 'competitors' was his Jezness the Braggster. I'm afraid I made him suffer and he may have been a little ill (he did complain before absenting himself for a wee while). Not a nice way to treat a honed elite athlete, was it? We impressed the owners so much we earned free desserts. The cold icecream helped to lubricate and soothe our bulging bellies (yes, even mine if you can believe it).

  7. Thanks, hmm we'll see I'm putting no pressure on myself I just want to enjoy and get around. Yep 2pm start.

  8. Great report as usual. Hope you enjoy the beacons on saturday, see you at the start.

  9. Hey Andrew, great to hear from you. How ya doin? See you on Sat. I'm motoring down tomorrow. Please search me out cos I won't recognise you for sure.

  10. Hey Nick Reading this brings back all the memories of the 2009 race where we met on the trail. That was my first ultra and I haven't looked back. Would loved to have joined you again this year but family life demands that my long runs start at 5am in the morning!! (just like today - a 22miler done and dusted before 9am!).

    The very best of luck with the Houseman next weekend!! I SO wish I was doing this one! I have a friend from Leighton buzzard doing it - it's his first 100 miler!

  11. Thanks Stu. I've got Blogger working again so I can comment. I was thinking of you as I ran Marlborough, but I know for a fact you would be a lot faster if you did it again. You were just testing the Ultra waters back then in 2009, and even then you were quicker than I was (just :-))

    I had a stormer on the Housman 100 as you already know (in fact you were the first to know - thanks for the text).