A first for me – going into a 50km race with the intention of getting over 20km and stopping, pain-free. As much as I would’ve loved to continue and complete the race route in its entirety, I knew the sensible thing would be gracefully retire still happy, healthy and able to train and run again after.
I had a physio appointment on Friday giving me the ok to run the following day on race day, but to take it easy and just see what was possible. I don’t like to run without a plan, especially within a race environment, so I’d checked with the organisers that it was ok for me to drop out at a checkpoint and then planned my escape route accordingly, allowing me to jump back on a train to London when I needed to.
So…the Extreme Energy Humanity Direct Tring Ultra was the race in question and after a superbly organised event at the Chiltern Challenge with Stephanie in July I knew this would be another great race.
Rhianon and I arrived at Tring station in Hertfordshire about 7.40am on Saturday morning, after a very easy train journey from West Brompton, and were picked up and chauffeur-driven by a friendly XNRG helper to race HQ at Tring cricket club. As we pulled up I realised the race briefing was going on for the 8am walk start and a nudge from Rhianon spurred me to get ready quickly and join them, as I was had no intention of finishing the race or competing for a podium place so might as well get on with it. Other runners were starting at 9 and 10am, giving the walkers a head start, but I rushed to pick up my number and pin it to my FRC stripes, nipped to the loo and got to the start line just in time for an 8am start.
Joining the ‘walker’ start, I was a little hesitant to set off in even a slow jog, but I found a new friend Julia who joined me in the start running across the cricket field and we were off. Or rather, I was. We were ahead of the lead bike, at the front of the pack of walkers, and after about a kilometer, Julia slowed and told me to go on at my own pace, so I did.
I had the trails to myself. I spent most of my time watching closely for race markings – frequent neon orange arrows drawn on the path below and lots of signs pointing us in the right direction and on course – and in between just pottering along, taking in new surroundings and noticing everything around me.
The first 10km or so, before checkpoint 1 at 11km, wound itself along the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal and my thoughts turned instantly to Cat Simpson – a fellow FRC team mate who now holds the women’s record for the 145 mile race along this canal between Birmingham and London. My brain cannot even process that distance so I chugged along happily, passing a few early morning dog walkers and the occasional duck and heron on the still water.
Checkpoint 1 was well placed, just after a busy road crossing as we entered the shade of Wendover Woods. As I was the first competitor to arrive and a little ahead of schedule the team weren’t quite ready with their set-up, but I stopped for a chat and a cup of water then headed off into the woods, quite literally. I’d heard so many good things about the trails in these woods I was excited to explore them and even happier when I discovered they were deserted, leaving just the wind in the trees and the occasional squeaking squirrel to break the silence.
After looping in and out of trails within the woods, the route finally took us out of the more well-trodden trails into some mud and tougher terrain and onto The Ridgeway – another National Trail of 87 miles between Overton Hill, Wiltshire to Ivanhoe Beacon, Buckinghamshire. We then ran through the beautiful Tring Park, an incredibly diverse space well looked after by the Woodland Trust, and back into the outskirts of Tring to Checkpoint 2.
Here’s where my personal journey ends, but the race route continued closely following the Ashridge Boundary Trail – a 26km circular trail of the National Trust owned Ashridge Estate in the Chiltern Hills – and I hope that sometime soon I will be back to complete it.
Extreme Energy are incredible race organisers – I can’t fault them – and this particular race is organised to raise vital funds for the charity Humanity Direct, with 100% of race fees and other donations going straight to fund children’s hospital operations in Africa. Sign up for next year and I promise you won’t regret it, or have a go at their new Spring 2018 race that’s an additional fundraiser for the charity – the Humanity Direct Amersham Ultra.