The Druids Ridgeway Ultra

Earlier this year I decided that I’d like to enter the CCC in 2016, a sister race of the much longer and more brutal (170km) Ultra Trail du Month Blanc. In order to even enter such a race, you have to prove that you have completed races of a similar nature, and thus are less likely to drop down dead mid-way through the race if you get in! As such I started running a few trail ultra-marathons in order to increase my level of experience, fitness and indeed gather some qualification points. The more I hit the trail, the more I enjoyed it and off the back of some great races decided to enter my first multi day ultra. I duly signed up to the Druids Ridgeway challenge, a 135km trail race over 3 days along the length for the Druids footbath; the longest footway in the UK.

Going into the race I had no idea what to expect, and experienced all of the questions you might expect. How to prepare, how to pace and fuel, what kit to wear, how to manage salts and how the heck will my legs feel after 3 back to back marathons?! It’s fair to state now that the weather for all 3 days was atrocious, with heavy rain, gale force winds, and fluctuating temperatures. Accompanied by the fact that we were kipping ‘en mass’ on a sports hall floor each night, I’m comfortable stating that I was pretty nervous!

The start of the race was the usual registration, chit chat, checking and re-checking of your kit. We set off on Friday around 11am from Ivinghoe beacon, the start point for the Ridgeway on the Nort-Eastern tip of the Chilterns. Day 1 was 47km with a decent amount of climb (about 800m), meaning I paced the day fairly easily. Speaking with Jon the day before, I was conscious to make sure I ate enough and tried to focus on more gels than solids. Your body needs more energy to break down solid fuel, and running calorie deficit each day in wet cold conditions, I wanted to give my body energy in the easiest form possible. I was also told to try and keep eating right up to the end of the race to ensure I had enough energy for the following day. 

Having finished day 1 in a steady 5hr 12 and 28th position, I was placed in the 9am start with top 40 quickest from day 1, meaning that everyone finishes the day as close together as possible. Saturday’s race was 43km with slightly less climbing, but into a mean headwind. The legs felt a little stiff for the first few k’s, but I soon found a rhythm. I’d not slept that well, but a good post-race nutrition and stretching regime meant I wasn’t feeling too bad. I aimed to eat every 40 minutes or so, alternating between gels and some solids picked up at the aid stations- pretzels, bananas, malt loaf and some pretty kick ass rocky road! I managed my salt intake via electrolyte tabs and salt tabs, as despite the wet and windy conditions I had to remind myself that I was still sweating. I felt myself feeling stronger as the race went on, and I upped the pace slightly to finish in 4hr 29 and 11th for the day. The great news was that I’d moved up from 28th to 18th overall.

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Each day we were surrounded by the friendliest of people from all walks of life. It’s fair to say that the people I ran with had a staggering amount of experience between them, and I never got bored of hearing stories about the MDS, 100 milers’ and about a million other trail ultras up and down the country. Recovery time frustratingly passed by all too quickly, and lights went off around 22:00 after some great evening talks. The whole of the XNRG team were incredible, making life as easy as possible for around 200 hobbling runners both throughout the day and in the evenings. I can’t explain how much energy I took from those guys through the race, awesome.

I awoke on day 3 feeling rather drowsy to say the least. I delayed getting out of bed as late as humanly possible and before you knew it, we were toeing the start line of another 46km with the prospect of around 600m of rather tasty hills! I worked my way through the field gradually feeling stronger and stronger and allowed myself to push harder knowing I could leave anything I had left out on the trail. I passed through the marathon mark at around 3hr 50, and I ticked the last few k’s off at 4-4:30 pace with the prospect of a warm brew and some cake as a reward. I finished the day in 4hr 08 and 6th place for the day. I was super happy to have felt so good, and was even happier when I realised my total time of 13hr 51 nudged me into 9th place for the whole race. It was a fantastic event and one that I would thoroughly recommend for anyone tempted to push themselves into the boundaries of the unknown. Thanks to Jon at E3 Coaching for his support leading up to and during the race, and giving me the opportunity to share my experience through this blog. For anyone looking to embark on such a race, I thought it might be helpful to share my top 5 learnings from the race.

  1. Don’t be afraid to up the anti. Your body is capable of much more than you think, just train smart, recover smart. Work with a coach like Jon to ensure you are not pushing yourself too hard.
  2. “After the first day it’s all up in your head”. True, mental toughness will help you, but if you don’t eat, you WILL stop moving.
  3. What you do post-race is your platform for the next day. Get warm, eat, stretch, sleep.
  4. Pacing is like a haircut. You can always cut more off, but if you go too hard to early, you may struggle to put it back.
  5. Enjoy it. You’re surrounded be amazing like-minded people. Talk to them, learn from them and tick the miles off together…