I'm just back from running 13.5 miles (so slightly over a HM distance) along the Chalk Hills of The Ridgeway. The Ridgeway Revenge is a fantastic half marathon, mainly off-road, along trails and through farmland that really lives up to its name.
The Ridgeway, a prehistoric trackway that cross Britain from West to East, runs along a Chalk spine in the south west, which means that you're either running up, running along or running down hills in this Half Marathon. It was, to coin M's favourite phrase, lumpy.
I had a last-minute panic of Oh My God! What Am I Doing Here?! five minutes before the off, which my husband sorted by saying I was being ridiculous and was perfectly capable of running 13 miles across country in these conditions, and then there was no more time for over-thinking it because the 200 or-so runners were called to the start and we were off.
I got my pacing right (steady because of the end of the bug) and soon fell into step with a guy who was about to turn 70 (I swear he didn't look a day over 60), who runs ultras. We jogged along nattering for the next five miles and as a result the first half of the race flew by. I was grateful to him because I often find the first half of endurance distances hard work. By the time I've bagged 7 miles I've settled in to the run and am generally OK.
M was waiting at the 4 mile point water station, waving and yelling encouragement. We swung left out of the field at that point and ran down a lane, which we followed until it turned into a track at the bottom and became fields. At that point the ground was tough work because the path wasn't wide enough to fit both feet, so you had to continually hop from one side to the other, watching the ground all the time for ruts and roots and holes.
At mile 7 the land started a long sweep up and my ultra man ran on ahead while I slowed down a bit. I saw M running through a field to my left and then found him waiting for me a little further up the hill. I managed to run past him (for the photo's sake!) and then walked because the hill was biting. The jelly babies came out, I chewed two of them, gave another to a fellow runner who was looking knackered and glugged some water down from the hydration vest. Feeling restored, I trotted on again. It went on like that for the next few miles.
|Up yet another hill.|
|Beautiful countryside on my beloved Chalk kept me going|
|With Sally at mile 10|
As we came up (yet another) hill, there was M at the next water stop, shouting you've only got three miles left! That's a Parkun! You can do it! You're nearly there! He lifted my energy no end and I suddenly found myself zooming away from Sally, catching up with and overtaking the next five runners ahead. It must have been a second wind. I knocked a minute off the next km and was flying along feeling really strong thinking: at this rate I'll be back in a little over 2:10 which was a good deal faster than I'd thought.
And then the next hill bit.
It was a monster. Everyone around me slowed down to walk up it. At the top was a stile. I looked meditatively at it, thinking how used to hopping over stiles I am, then discovered that climbing over it seemed to require more energy than I had left. Heaving myself over (grunting like an old lady), my heart sank as I realised this wasn't even the top of the hill! This is where the Revenge part of the name comes in: of the final 3 miles of the race, 2.5 were uphill.
I walked, and ran a bit and walked again. I ate another jelly baby; I drank more water and then I fell in with a lovely couple, the husband was running it with his wife and was urging her on. She and I ran together for the next mile, up the never ending field and after that the never ending chalk track, noting that the race was going to be longer than 21k because we were at 20.5 and there was no end in sight!
I kept plugging on, and then mercifully the land turned and we began to run downhill. I could see the finish a few hundred metres ahead. The flints were rolling under my feet and the chalk track was white and bone-hard and rutted where runnels of water had run, but I was feeling so elated to be finishing that I opened my arms and flew down the remaining hill, loving every single second.
I sprinted to the finish where M and a crowd of people were cheering, and crossed the line in just under 2:20 hours, which, given the terrain I was really pleased with.
So that's it, a top race which I really enjoyed and a noble one to be my first ever Half Marathon. I can't quite believe I've done it!
Thank you everyone for all your support and encouragement over the past couple of weeks: you're all brilliant.