So, this was going to be written on Bank Holiday Monday, full of running endorphins and the joys of Spring and love for all mankind and relatively swear free. It's Easter Sunday (well it was when I started writing), things didn't go to plan, so bollocks to that :-)
A few weeks ago I realised I'd be at a loose end at Easter, so rather than waste the four days of freedom by sleeping and drinking and being bored in London I thought I'd see if I could go off somewhere and run for a few days. The National Trails website was my first port of call, and The Ridgeway looked good. A quick conversation with Mark Hines, an email from Alastair Humphreys entitled "Commit to Something. Put Your Balls on the Line. Then Figure it Out", which I took as a sign, some logistics (leg planning, booking tickets and B&Bs), getting the relevant Harveys map and I had a plan - me, 87 miles, Friday-Sunday (or Monday depending on events), job's a good un.
It all happened and it's all true, just not necessarily in strict chronological order .....
Day 1 - Avebury to Woolstone 27.5 miles
Friday morning I took a train to Swindon, hung around for a bit in the lovely smells-of-wee bus station, got a bus to Avebury and was so busy taking a photo of my S-lab (yep) that I almost missed my stop. Impressed though that I got everything I needed for 3-4 days into it (spare tee, knickers, socks, sports bra, headtorch, Minimus, waterproof trousers for the forecasted miserable rain on Sunday, sunblock for the forecasted sunshine before said miserable, first aid odds n'ends, and various other things), I hereby rename her The Tardis.
Arrived in Avebury and spent ages there walking around the circle, taking photos and generally faffing :-) Eventually set off on the Herepath, diverted after Manor Farm onto a byway and thus over to the actual start of The Ridgeway at Overton Hill. I started at Avebury because it was easier to get to via public transport, the alternative was to come via Marlborough and then run along a busy road.
Once I got down to the proper start I got a nice walker to take this photo, with the sole intention of having a matching one at Ivinghoe Beacon on Sunday/Monday.
The scenery around here really is beautiful. I was stopping to take so many photos it just got silly. But hey, my weekend, my mini break, my run/training/time on feet, I didn't beat myself up too much! All I had to do today was get to Woolstone, 27 or so miles, how bloody luxurious and freeing is that to say!
I thought the Harveys SDW map was a bit meh, but their Ridgeway one is brilliant. Maybe it's because there are more 'memorable' features, it was so easy to break down the run into smaller sections according to which feature was coming up. I'm also so glad I started at this western end as I love prehistoric things and was totally spoiled on this trip. I need to go back soon, I can feel it as I type. But anyway...
A white horse is carved somewhere into the hillside along Hackpen Hill, it wasn't visible from where I was running however and as I'll do the White Horse trail at another point I decided to save it for then.
Barbury Castle, impressive. More tourists here, carparks nearby. I was aiming for the water tap mentioned on the Harveys map, but when I got to said bungalow it was being demolished/rebuilt? It was a building site anyhow so no go. Noticed this at a couple of points, another being at Ilsley Barn Farm, the stand was there but the tap had been removed. Message - don't rely solely on the mapped water sources. The toilets were very welcome though. There was an icecream van in the carpark so I decided to buy water from there and to stop for lunch. Once I stopped moving it was bloody cold in that wind, the Sonic went on, as did the Salomon mitts. Feckin great things, they really proved their worth this weekend, a good buy. Lunch was a Rice Krispie bar and a strawberry ice lolly. Yep, wtf. Holiday brain.
Then went on to Smeathe's Ridge. Lots of horse gallops around here so good to see a change from sheep and cows.
Running along the lane below was so pretty, the blossoms were blowing off the trees and with the chalk surface it looked like snow. Only place I appreciated the surface though, the stones in other places were total fuckers.
Took a break and sat for a while when I came across this memorial bench. We have these plaques on the Heath but coming across one in the middle of nowhere really hit me. These things floor me every time.
Passed Ogbourne St George, passed Southend, missed the tap on the cottage wall - it wasn't immediately obvious and I didn't feel comfortable gawping at someone's house. I had enough water still from the ice cream van anyhow. Saw these fuckers though, they all turned around and stared at me as I ran past. So I took their photo and thought "ha, you'll be on a plate soon, stare then :p "
Along from here the track split in 3, there was a sign for cycle paths but none for the Ridgeway. I'd read in a guide about an old railway abutment or something but it took a couple of goes to realise that 2 brick walls qualified as such. Luckily I'd already gotten the compass out to decide on my direction. Thanks to MH for the initial lessons, and then Stu for the navigation course (Contours and Cairns), best thing I've paid out for this year for sure! There were a few times on this run where I'd have been fairly fucked without knowing how to use the map and compass. Highly recommend learning how to use them, the freedom it gives you is amazing.
Another pig farm!! Have never seen one in my life and now I've seen two. This one made me laugh aloud. I was running along a narrow path between trees, some guide book had said there'd be a pig farm somewhere but that it tended to migrate so it could be anywhere along a certain stretch. First I knew of it was the sound of barking/snorting. I looked through the trees and saw 2 fields full of pigs and piglets running around. No smell though thank God. I'm sure two of them were shagging, but I think my laughter put them off.
By the time I was approaching Waylands Smithy I was getting a bit tired and hungry. There isn't anywhere up here to get food, unless you want to divert down a way off the path and then climb back up, so I was just eating those Rice Krispie things. Good for a few hours but not really enough for a longer run. But that's ok, this whole thing was an experiment. Glad I did go to look at it though, it's lovely. Also glad it wasn't dark, it would've been properly spooky.
Then it was just a couple of miles till I reached the back end of Uffington/Dragon Hill. Looking at this I realised that the route I'd planned to take involved climbing up over the hill and then down and over to my B&B in Woolstone. Bollocks to that. A quick check of the map and I realised I could hang north and get there with less hilly stuff. All this was done with the next day's task of 36 miles in mind. On the way I saw the White Horse of Uffington and realised that to be seen properly it does need to be seen from the air. Good decision not to bother climbing up and over it then! So, a lovely downhill and in to Woolstone, job done. Arrived at the White Horse Inn shortly thereafter. Highly recommend it. Showered, washed my clothes in the basin, stuck them on a rad, had a few pints and a tasty dinner then off to bed.
Day 2 - Woolstone to Watlington 36 miles*
*the intended itinerary
In the morning the friendly Irish landlord commented on my breakfast choice "I'd say you're fairly unique then, a vegetarian Irishwoman that likes running more than drinking". If he could see me now! Filled my face with a full English cooked vegetarian (breakfast) and set off again.
It was around 9.30am but there wasn't a soul around. Saying hello to a runner and then a baby rabbit was it, and that was just grand. Went along the road for a bit then onto a footpath to make my way up onto the Ridgeway. Took a bearing at a fence as the path wasn't marked and I couldn't see the way clearly and just felt like getting the compass out ;-) And so then I was on Dragon Hill. This stands as one of my favourite parts of the whole thing. The atmosphere was amazing. And the scenery breathtaking. The photos just can't do it justice.
As I was climbing up that hill in the photo above I realised there was a bird of prey above me. I squealed, first bird of prey I've ever seen in the wild, how bloody awesome is that!!! Then I realised he was hovering above me, and following me, and I thought oh f*cking hell is my cap bothering him? so I RAN. That was funny.
Tried to get some shots of the birds but it wasn't easy, I really wanted to get one massive guy who kept flying on from fencepost to fencepost as I got nearer, but in the end I gave up and just watched him instead.
Did some FB posts, and then back onto the Ridgeway. In the next half hour I saw one runner, one dog walker and one horse rider. The horse rider asked where I was going and said "Wow, good luck". At the time I smiled, safe in my confidence that I'd get there.
Miles 1-6ish lovely scenery, happy, a bit more mud and grass today rather than hard stony stuff, which was a relief, my feet were burning like bastards from the day before and a big sole blister from 2 weeks previous had resurfaced.
Thanks to the Harvey map there were some things to watch out for along here. CPs break down distances in a race and features do the same in real life. And I got in great practice reading contours and doing all of that other nav stuff I was taught. Nothing like getting out there and doing it.
Nice to see things like this along the way, I like to think of people thinking of strangers on their journey. No idea who Peter Wren was but I flattened down the nettles and thanked him for the water.
A bit later on I'm running along this track when suddenly my left foot felt like it was being crushed in a vice. WTF. First reaction was to GASP, curse, gasp, curse, and then loosen my shoelaces. You never know, sometimes it's the simplest things. Even though my shoes were already 1.5 sizes bigger - ultra 'swollen feet' size. Made a difference for about 10 seconds then the pain was the same again. Shit, that didn't work. Didn't much help that the track now turned into one of those poxy farm concrete things so I was thinking "hmm, maybe I'm just in a bad mood and blowing this out of proportion". Eventually found a spot in the ditch that wasn't full of nettles and went for a wee. The thought of some poor farmer seeing my bare arse shining out at him cheered me up for a bit.
So it went on. Wasn't mad about this bit, but I think that was largely down to the foot pain. When it was closed in and woody I wanted open spaces. When I got open spaces I wanted trees. I was in a fucker of a mood. Tried to distract myself with stuff, by mile 11 I thought fuck I need to do something about this, maybe I'm in a 'mile 12 slump' early and I can snap out again. So I sat on a rock, took off my shoe and sock, took out the Boots Freeze spray from the Tardis and sprayed the foot. Then went on FB for a bit. Carried on for a bit more but really couldn't count this as running now. More of a Quasimodo type shuffle with the pain getting worse.
It didn't help that Didcot power station (as I've since learned) was sitting to my left hand side and just would not fuck off. For miles and miles and miles.
This monument was funny. A couple of teenaged mountain bikers were sitting on the steps. I walked around reading the script on the monument and then as I was walking down the steps saying "Ow" one of them had arisen and was also walking down the steps saying "Ow".
No photos for this next part, it really was a trudge of misery and I couldn't be arsed to look around. By mile 15-16 I'd texted two of my mates to say look I've 20 miles to go to get to the end of this stage and I can barely walk, I'm thinking of dropping now. I wasn't looking for reassurance or a boost, just some kind of human contact. They both recommended getting to civilisation, having a sit down and some food and having a look at the foot. I'd already looked at it though, there was no outward sign of anything wrong, just this feeling of being crushed. All I can think is that by avoiding landing on the heel since the day before I'd put too much impact on the forefoot.
Goring was the nearest town, 6 miles away. I thought "ok, I can manage that, an hour, I can cope". Didn't think about the fact I was moving like a frickin snail though did I. After AGES I saw marshalls for a race alongside a sign saying it was 4 miles to Goring. What the fucking fuck??? I'd just walked at least 4 miles surely :p Looked at the Garmin. 20 min/mile. Jesus. I was never going to get there.
I was climbing up a chalk trail at this point. With runners coming down towards me. This was a lovely lift, everyone smiled and said hey, just the exact time that I needed to see friendly faces. Went on and on a bit more, eventually got to a sign saying Overton Hill was 44 miles or whatever that way, I thought yeah I know, I came from there, and a sign saying Ivinghoe Beacon that way blah blah miles and I thought fuck off don't rub it in that I can't finish what I set out to do :p I tried running a few times but after a couple of feet it was hopeless.
Got to a tarmac road, God forgive me but it was bloody lovely to walk on something soft and smooth. More runners here. One guy stopped to chat, I asked what race they were doing and found out it was the Compton 40 and he was on mile 32. We spoke a bit about Centurion, he's doing the Winter 100, I expressed admiration for that, he said well done for the half Ridgeway and bad luck for the foot, and told me how to get to the train station, and we parted ways.
That last 2 miles into Goring was fucking slow and painful and endless. Eventually got there, waited for a train for 15 minutes or so, changed at Reading, changed at Paddington, got 3 Tubes, bought some beer and got home.
Very disappointed to have had to stop halfway, I had every confidence I'd do it but the foot fucked it up. If my right leg was a man I'd marry it. Works hard, does what I ask of it, never lets me down, will go on forever etc etc, whereas the left is a complete and utter attention seeking twonk. Hmmm, I'm seeing parallels. Nevermind. When I can walk on it properly I guess I need to get down the gym and do some proper fucking rehab. Hopefully I can run within the next week or I will be demonic.
But, as an ending point, go and run on the Ridgeway, it is AWESOME!!! I'll be back to finish the other half, do the Race to the Stones but probably on my own time as the entry fee is ridiculous imo, do the whole thing again, and maybe in a couple/three years do the Challenge.
Great weekend, hope the injury fucks off sharpish, next ultra is in 3 weeks so I had to be sensible and think of that rather than be a martyr for the cause and impress nobody by limping another 20 miles lol. Get out there and explore, it's the way forward :-)