This year I have almost exclusively run during my commute, as a means of keeping weekends free to spend time with my family. As a result of this, and also of not managing to make many races due to illness, I had not run further than 15 miles since April last year. This is a shocking admission for someone hoping to run 50 miles in a couple of weeks, and 86 in August. Something needed to be done!
Thankfully Underground Ultra came to the rescue with an organised run on 16 April, on the Ridgeway. There were options for 13 or 26 miles and I gratefully chose the 26 option as a means of doing a fitness test.
As the day grew closer the weather looked ok and a few days beforehand I convinced a friend from work Tim that he ought to come along too, though he only planned to do the 13 miles.
The morning of the run turned out very wet. It was raining continuously as I drove to the start at Bury Down. I was overexcited and got there first, with friend from running club Paul and then Tim turning up soon after. We stayed in our cars and chatted through the windows as it was so cold. Then it began to hail hard. We buttoned the cars up and others began to arrive. 9 runners eventually. Kirsty's partner Pete and another club friend Lyn were providing additional support at a couple of points on the out and back route. Two of us were running the longer distance. Everyone else would turn back at the halfway snack point. Kirsty, who was recovering from an injury, was going to run with Rob and I to the 13 mile point then get a lift back with Pete.
While we waited for the 9th runner snow started falling, and settling. It was bitterly cold. Tim was giving me pretty dirty looks.
Soon however we got started. It was, as is nearly always the case, wonderful to run. The setting only made it more memorable. A group of crazy people out on an exposed ancient road in Oxfordshire, running through the snow and wind. As we warmed up everything started feeling better. We had a range of abilities in the group and tried to stay together due to the conditions, though there was a definite head and tail. We regrouped a couple of times though when Pete met us with welcome flapjacks and hot drinks, and photo opportunities. I am the mug on the right with rave gloves.
After about the 3 miles the snow stopped for a while, and we only had to contend with wind and rain. The Ridgeway is set in beautiful countryside with views enhanced as it is raised above much of the surrounding land. We started to get sneaky glimpses of this as the visibility improved.
At the half way point most of the group turned back, though a couple stayed with us for another mile. then it was just Kirsty, Rob and myself. I have run this particular stretch of the Ridgeway many times, as it is near to an area I have lived and worked. I felt invigorated and hugely encouraged by how strong I was feeling, maintaining a good pace and chatting to my friends. I was wearing most of the kit I would be using during the North Downs Way 50 miler on 14 May.
As we neared the turn around point at about 12.5 miles it started snowing again, but only for a couple of minutes, to show us the weather hadn't quite finished with us yet.
We had a penultimate meet up with Pete. He and Kirsty would be heading home to get warm before waiting for us at the start, though there were some flapjacks and water stashed on the route. We thanked them and turned around fairly swiftly.
Though it stayed overcast for the first few miles, the weather and visibility steadily improved and we ate up the miles. Rob and I had done a few long runs together before and both had many ultra plans to discuss so the time passed easily. With a couple of miles to go the sun came out. I took off layers to run in my t shirt and Rob put his sun glasses on. What a brilliant British day.
We ran back into Bury Down in great spirits with 25 miles done.
The back of my legs were like a tapestry of the various weather conditions I had been exposed to. This had been a thoroughly enjoyable run, and was a huge confidence boost. I did the 25 miles in what would have been marathon PB pace, minus the stops for refreshments. I felt fresh at the end and could have continued. This was at the back of quite a busy running week and the total mileage was my biggest so far, just, at 56.5 miles.
Just what the doctor ordered.