“Druid Challenge” Ridgeway Ultramarathon (a 3-day crash course in running marathons)

adidas trail

Last weekend I participated in the inaugural “Druid Challenge” ultramarathon, along the Ridgeway, a beautiful, tough trail, just to the northwest of London.  I did it because:

(a) I wanted to get motivated to do some long-distance running as I train to tackle my first Ironman this year

(b) I wanted do a small event that was likely to be filled with camaraderie and collegiality more than competitiveness and PBs

(c) It seemed like a really interesting, well organised event that was amazing value for money – £90 (around $150) for 3 days of running, transportation, food,  accommodation and support.

It satisfied on all 3 points. I learned a lot about long-distance running, my strengths, my weaknesses and how to be better prepare for similar challenges in the future.  I also learned some valuable lessons about running kit, such as:

– Get the right shoes for the right conditions. I ran with Adidas Kanadia TR2 trail-running shoes and they were the right combination of lightweight shoes with some grip for the slippery trails.  And then wear them, train in them and get used to them. I probably should have gone more out of my way to run through puddles and clomp around the mud, running up and down hills than I did before the race.

– Get a good bag that fits you well and holds what you need. I ran with the Inov-8 Race Elite 15, which turned out to be just right for this event. I was tempted to go for a larger pack that could hold more, but it would have been too much for this race, which was well-supported with aid stations on average once every 8 miles. As it was, I probably carried way too much, but was also quite glad to have those extra Clif Shot Bloks and Torq gels to keep me going throughout the race.

Compeed blister patches are life-saving little packets of miraculous wonder. I couldn’t have finished the race without them, and without the generosity of Cyril, my motivator on Day 2 who gave me his large-sized ones when he saw the size of my blisters.

The camaraderie, the mutual support, the friendliness and general lack of ego of everyone I met was overwhelming. I mean, literally, overwhelming. I am still reeling from the kindness and inspiration of everyone I met. Examples:

– I had dinner on the second night with a guy in his late 50’s who has done over 200 marathons, more than half of which he does in around 3.5 hours. He’s at the point where he’s been doing an average of one marathon a week for the past 2 years (it took him about 15 years to reach his first 100, and then he just sort of decided to turn it up a notch).  He wasn’t bragging or boasting or saying any of this to impress me, but just because it came up in the conversation at dinner.

– Everyone, no matter how slow or fast, was totally ‘kin’ awesome. If faster people ran past you, they cheered you on for your efforts and got cheers from all of us slower folks. If you ran past slower people, then you did the same for them, cheering them on, joking about the weather or the mud or the hills or the rain or anything else you could think of.

– On the morning of the last day, a guy was hanging out in the breakfast area, asking a couple of us how we were doing and were we ready for the last big push today. He lamented that he wasn’t out there with us today as he had signed up to do this race, but he still wasn’t fully recovered from this year’s Marathon des Sables after he lost all the skin on his feet, but he wanted to be on support crew and cheer us on at the finish line. ‘Kin’ Awesome!

Indeed, it seemed like every other person at this event was either training for the next Marathon des Sables (or MDS as everyone shortened it to), had done one at some point, or was on the waiting list to do one.

It made me feel positively sloth-like. Training for an Ironman just doesn’t seem like such a big deal after this weekend.

Posted by: Robert

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