Monday, 3 June 2013

Marlborough Downs Challenge - 12/05/2013

This was a nice 50k race from Marlborough in Wiltshire, mostly taking in the downs, as the name suggests.

I was looking for an event to justify a good long run and a shakedown ahead of the LDWA Camel-Teign Ivor's Dream 100 miler, and Zoe was pleased with her South Shropshire Circular run and wanted to do a first ultramarathon. Two weeks before my hundred, this seemed perfect, with similar gradient profile to the hundred and very little road.

We set off from Marlborough well enough and followed the White Horse Trail and a short section of the Wansdyke up from the town to the first checkpoint and then on through West Woods. The Wansdyke path leaves the Wansdyke itself here and diverts on a southern loop which we followed to Milk Hill. The Wansdyke is a series of early medieval defensive linear earthworks, consisting of a ditch and an embankment built from the ditch spoil, with the ditching facing north. It's very well preserved in this section and is the first of four major pieces of built heritage on the route.

After Milk Hill the path rejoined the Wansdyke itself for a couple of miles, with great views to the south over the Vale of Pewsey. Then we dropped off the Wansdyke path down a farm lane skirting Bourton and on to a swing bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal. This links the Thames at Reading with the Avon at Bath and thus forms the southernmost cross-country link in Britains canal system.

I was starting to feel a bit rough at this point but couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong. We had a short wait for a boat to pass through the swing bridge before we set off on the 3 mile towpath section to Devizes. My stomach was badly "off" and I had to walk several times on this easy section: it was a bit annoying to be losing time despite a good steady start with 10:30 min/mile pace up to the canal.

By the next checkpoint in Devizes it was obvious that my problem was trapped wind, but without any meds there wasn't much I could do about it other than rubbing my stomach and trying to "free things up a bit". This started to work after a miloe or two of climbing and eventually I managed some jogging sections on the farm track leading up to Morgan's Hill.

The next section dropped down to Calstone Wellington and Ranscombe Bottom before climbing Cherhill Down. This is the site of the third historic monument on the route, the White Horse. It was very impressive up close, both in its size and in terms of how white it is.

Cherhill White Horse - Pic by MacFodder, Wikimedia Commons
We ran pretty much along the skyline right to left as far as the trees then
dropped off the back of Cherhill.
Round the back of the trees shown above we picked up the Wessex Ridgeway path. I was able to jog much of this but my stomach was still giving me grief. We dropped down to a marshalled crossing over the A4 and then a section which seemed quite long but wasn't skirting fields to reach the next checkpoint, just west of Avebury.

We didn't se much of the Avebury stone circle other than a pair of huge sarsen stones at the end of the western avenue. The village was very busy with cars and coaches, but there are some lovely houses. I was starting to get back into it now, although we were probably at the 40k mark - I'd lost 25k of the middle of the race just because I didn't have anything to settle my stomach with.

From the end of the road east of Avebury we had a 4km steady climb up to Clatford Down. We jogged and powerhiked this and with Zoe's encouragement we were overtaking people for the first time in miles... We turned for home at the top across an area of boulders which wouldn't have looked out of place in northern England or Cornwall. The home run really dragged down a long gravel lane where I was again reduced to a walk several times, but at the end of this the descent steepened onto some more runnable narrower paths. I'd seen a group catching us on the gravel drive but now we were away, pushing to get some space back between us and them.

The final 2km was a long traverse along the top of a field with a big dip in the middle. We took the first section fairly easy, nearly getting caught, then opened up on the 100' climb out of the dip and ran hard through to the finish - the first decent bit of running on my part for probably 25km. The time wasn't great at all (6:41 when I'd have been happier with sub 6hrs) but my suffering meant we went slowly enough that Zoe easily completed her first ultra, injury free and without really breaking a sweat other than in chivvying me along.

All in all I was happy that I'd ground out a finish despite feeling very uncomfortable for most of the day, and also managed to get a good dry run for the hundred and some miles in my legs.

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