I saw that there was a trail half marathon in the forest near where my best friend and her husband live. They were home that weekend and invited Matt and I to stay, so I entered.
The night before the race we ate delicious pearl barley risotto, followed by sticky toffee pudding and icecream. Perfect race prep! Lots of great chats later, we headed to bed about midnight, after booking a cab for the morning. I laid out my running clothes and went to brush my teeth, only to return and find that drunken Matt had decided to hide all my clothes in the bed. Thanks, dear.
I felt mean making everyone get up so early on a weekend, but being the lovely people that they are, they claimed not to mind. We piled into the taxi a few minutes late, to a telling off from the driver, then drove in silence to the Ashridge Forest. It’s not far but the route by car isn’t very direct, so it feels further away than it really is. We pulled up at an inflatable arch on the grass outside Ashridge College – I love a low key race! It was quite chilly but was clearly going to be a nice day. The race was due to start a few minutes late as there were lots of people still registering so we stood about admiring dogs and I put on sunblock (although I was the only one of us to do so!).
We headed into the woods, running on rutted paths. The glare from the sun through the leaves made it a little difficult to see, and I was running quite close to other people, which I didn’t love. A man in front tripped but caught himself.
I was feeling comfortable but decided to walk up the first hill as everyone around me did, a wise decision as it conserved some energy. I saw a lady taking photos at the top of the hill so ran again for the camera, but really shouldn’t have!
At about 5km there was a sign saying drinks ahead, but they’d run out of water! I was unimpressed but didn’t say anything, after all, it’s not the volunteers fault. But I felt grotty as I trudged across a field in the sunshine, the long grass making me pick my feet up high.
We went back into the woods and I perked up a little, power walking up the hills and jogging the rest of the way. Some runners ahead of me headed into the woods and I couldn’t work out if the leader just needed the loo and the others were following. I stayed on the main path and chatted to some horse riders, who asked what was going on.
As we came to Bridgewater Monument there was a killer steep hill. Everyone around me walked up this and I managed to jog the last bit, up over the crest and into the clearing, where I saw Matt, Lou and Ant up ahead. I ran over to them and asked for some water – they told me I was covered in flies and we had a brief chat. I was jealous of them sitting at the cafe, but I was really enjoying myself so headed on.
From here we followed a path I’ve walked before. The views out to the east were brilliant although I’m sure the path was steeper than before… My garmin ticked over to 11k and I still felt pretty good.
I’m not very confident running downhill but decided to relax a bit more going down a limestone path, not too rocky and not too many other people around. Sure enough I tripped over a small tree stump and went straight down, landing on my knees and my hand. I jumped up quickly and looked down at myself. My knees were skinned but there didn’t seem to be anything stuck in them, so I carried on, tentatively. It didn’t hurt too much at first but it wasn’t very comfortable.
We headed over a field and took a right, up an enormous hill called Steps Hill. It stretched up and curved round to the left into the clouds. I ran to the first little shrubbery and then walked the rest of the way up, looking at the incredible views and still, bizarrely, feeling okay (though with quite sore knees). At the top, the path went through some ferns (I love the smell of ferns) and to another water stop. Hooray for water!
There were a couple of rollers, the steepest rollers I’ve ever run, and a man being towed by his dog breezed past. Finally at the top of Ivinghoe Beacon, I stopped to admire the view. It really was lovely. There were lots of walkers and I asked someone which direction was north, so that I could get my bearings. I set off along the top of the ridge, looking at the view and becoming aware that I did quite need the loo. As we came down the ridge there were some woods on the edge of a field, so I took a detour for a loo stop – though ended up going further into the woods than expected as the man being towed by his dog inexplicably came past in the opposite direction.
A little lighter, I emerged from the woods and rejoined the path. There were a group of four runners in yellow club vests coming down the hill and I wanted to stay ahead of them for the sole reason that we’d clocked one of them before the race, a man with an incredibly hairy back, and Matt had said that I would finish just behind him, breathing in a mouth full of back hair. I did not want to do this.
Soon I was back in the woods. The route didn’t seem very well marked and I wondered if I was going the right way, but I was running with another girl, taking it in turns to struggle with gates. I finally knew we were on the right track as we came to a set of stairs. Stairs in the woods. Just over 10 miles in. Think about it.
I hauled myself up the stairs, very very slowly. There were nettles growing next to the handrail so I didn’t want to use that, and these bloody stairs just went on and on. At the top, my tired little legs battled through a farm, where someone asked if anyone knew how to ride a cow, and three enormous geese eyed us up.
I’d been running near a man and woman dressed in purple. Earlier the woman had seemed to be encouraging the man along, but now he was cajoling her. “Think of the finish!” he said. “Think of nice cold water, think of pizza, think the medal!”
“Oh do shut up, Gary” she replied.
Matt, Lou and Ant had said they might try to come to the golf course to cheer me on there, but after crossing one road (where there was a water stop, hooray!) and then another (where a man had a bowl of jelly babies) I found myself running alongside the edge of the golf course. By now I was pretty tired and even though I had less than 2km to go, I couldn’t convince myself go any faster. It didn’t help that I was on my own, having lost my friends in purple, and that there were no signs showing where to go. I stopped at a crossroads until a dog walker pointed out the way to go. I really didn’t want to get lost, I couldn’t face running a step further than I had to.
I could hear the yellow-vested running club behind me and that gave me the impetus to get going. I came out of the woods and onto a road, and a marshal told me to turn right. “Onto the path?” I asked, pointing at the path running to the left of the road. She pointed enigmatically. “Should I run on the road?” I asked. She carried on pointing. I headed for the path. “Run on the road!” she shouted. Argh. I trudged up the road, thinking that it must nearly be the end but why couldn’t I see Ashridge House?
The road headed uphill and all the cars coming down looked really pissed off about runners in the road. The road surface was terrible and I concentrated hard to make sure I didn’t trip. At the top of the hill – which probably wasn’t really that big – marshals beckoned me onto the grass, and up another hill, over which I could just about make out the top of the inflatable arch marking the finish. Matt was sitting on the grass to the left and I gave him a tired wave, before the final kick uphill sucked the life out of my legs.
With a few hundred metres to go I picked up my feet and headed for the finish, not wanting to check how close the yellow vests were. Lou and Ant were near the finish line and I got loads of claps and cheers as I ran across the grass and finally over the line (beating the yellow vests, phew).
It was nice to have people to hang out with after the race, and we sat in the sunshine for a while cheering other runners. One lady finished with her dog, and then came and stood near us. I caught the dog’s eye and she came running over for a cuddle, plonking herself down next to me and leaning in for a snuggle. Best race finish ever!
Although I was slow, this race had the biggest amount of elevation I’ve covered in one run, so I don’t mind. I had a lot of fun and it was really enjoyable. And I by no means came last, 7 out of 14 in my age group.
My knee isn’t looking very pretty though…