Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Ranscombe Spring Challenge

John's 100th marathon cake, made by Heather. Incredible.
On Saturday morning I found myself suddenly jumping out of bed in a panic, as I realised that although my alarm had gone off an hour before, I'd fallen back to sleep. I was late. Again! It’s how most mornings are for me, but unfortunately today was race day – the Spring edition of the Ranscombe Challenge - and I needed to be out of the house in 30 minutes.

Luckily I remembered to eat breakfast, before pulling some clothes on, throwing some stuff in a bag and rushing through the door. It was only as I pulled the car out of the drive I realised that my trainers were still in the house!

Trainers retrieved, eventually I arrived in Cuxton, the little village in Kent where the Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve is located. Sat-nav working well, I found the designated street for parking, and despite cars seemingly lining the road nose to tail, I managed to find myself a space. I delved into the bag I’d hurriedly packed and was very pleased to see that I’d managed to bring everything I wanted – my garmin, my ipod and headphones, painkillers, I had Vaseline and could tape my feet, I even remember to bring a banana to eat before the race. Things were starting to look up.

I like pretty much everything about this race. It’s put on by Traviss and Rachel, who are awesome, the aid station is perfectly stocked and managed, the course is really varied and interesting with some lovely scenery, so although it’s laps it doesn’t get dull, and the medal is beautiful. One of the best things, though, as with all of the SVN races, is that it’s really friendly and I seem to know half the people who are running.

I arrived at the start line to be greeted by lots of familiar faces, and friends, and it was lovely to see John Close who was bouncing around, excited to get started for this, his 100th Marathon. Amazingly, considering my late start, I had arrived in enough time to even go to the toilet (thankfully no queues at an event like this) and as I put my race number on, we all stood around chatting, mainly about the incredible TransGranCanaria marathon that Rosie and John had run the weekend before, and the 50 mile version that Rachel had completed! I managed to remember to leave my electrolyte tablets on the aid station table too, so I could add them to my water whenever I refilled – my plan was to carry a bottle all the way round and drink to thirst, and then just eat at the aid station, so every 3.8 miles. 

The Ranscombe Challenge is a timed event, and in the Spring version (one of four seasonal races) the limit is 8 hours. Last July, when I ran the inaugural challenge, I completed 10 laps, or 38 miles, in 7:55, and I wanted to beat my time and distance. I was planning on a total of 11 laps in the 8 hours, so 41.8 miles and thought that although I’d need to concentrate to get there, it should be within my capability on a straight forward, no mud, no navigation course, especially in the excellent weather conditions we had for running.

I started out with Rosie, John and Ellan, but after about half a lap I realised that I needed to get a shift on if I was going to have any chance of reaching my goal, so I sped up a bit and headed off. However, I'd totally forgotten how hilly some of the sections of the course are, and there are a couple of sections that are a bit technical underfoot. While the uphills forced me to walk, the steep downhills are brilliantly exhilarating, and I love that the second section of each lap feels easy compared to the first half, as it’s pretty much all gravity enhanced! :D 

I plodded along, plugged into the iPod, greeting friends as we passed each other on out and back sections of the route. Although the countryside looks very different to the idyllic, flower strewn fields that you see during the summer, Ranscombe at this time of year is still special and I loved running around the reserve.

That’s not to say that it’s easy doing laps, especially at an event where if you run just one lap you’re still counted as a finisher and get the medal and a goody bag! It does require mental strength to keep going. At about 10 miles, I was still sure I’d do the full 11 laps I’d planned, but by about 19 miles, I was convinced it was pointless, and the little voice inside my head was telling me I should stop when I got to marathon distance, especially as I knew that most other people would be finishing then, to celebrate with John and watch his 100 Marathon Club presentation. I also knew that if I carried on, I would sadly not only miss John receiving his hallowed blue and yellow shirt but also miss trying some of the amazing 100 cake that I'm sure tasted as good as it looked!

However, once the distance came up, and then for each lap after when Rachel asked me at the checkpoint if I wanted to ring the bell (to signify I had finished) or to take a band to count me onto the next lap, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. I had set out at the beginning of the day to run 41.8 miles, and I needed to prove to myself that I was strong minded enough to do it! Added to this, I was having a lovely time out there, albeit with fewer and fewer other runners to share the trail with, and spending 8 hours on my feet makes another good training run for the TP100 and GUCR.

When I got in at the end of lap 9, at 34.2 miles, I realised that I was going to struggle to beat the cutoff - I had to have finished lap 10 and be out of the aid station again by 7hrs 15mins to be allowed to start another lap, but that would mean running faster than I had been. Speeding up with over 30 miles in your legs isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it needed doing. There was lots of encouragement from the other runners still milling around, and a hug from Emily that was much appreciated – they swiftly sent me on my way.  

I had to work hard to get back in time, but I had resolved that I would make it happen, so I just got on with it through gritted teeth. Right up until I finished that 10th lap, I wasn’t sure if I had made it in time. Luckily though, as I ran down towards the checkpoint, I saw Rachel holding up the bell and a band, I still had the option of either, so of course I took the band. I even had time to fill up water bottles and take on some more peanuts and jelly beans (pretty much the only type of food I’d eaten during the race) before heading out for my final 3.8 miles.

My last lap was much more relaxed – even if you finish your last lap after the 8hour time limit, the distance still counts, so I knew I didn’t have to push. I took it more easily, and enjoyed the views. I ended up being the last person to finish running, crossing the line in 8:00:33 but wonderfully came in second overall as only one other person ran the 41.8 mile distance, although they did it considerably faster than me, in an impressive 7:26.

As I walked back to the car, across the fields of the nature reserve, I reflected on just how lucky I was. To know so many of these incredible people, to be able to share the trail with them at these brilliant events, to be out on a sunny day in the countryside. I was very pleased with how the day had gone, and that I had completed my target mileage, especially as I had to really push towards the end, and bearing in mind it's been only two weeks since the St Peter's Way race.

 Once I got home, I just had to work out how I was going to combat the inevitable post-ultra tiredness and find the enthusiasm to go out that night in London, as we were off for dinner to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. Unfortunately, these days, running an ultra is no longer an excuse for lazing around on the sofa in the name of recovery! :P

*Many thanks to Richard Harrison-Murray & Alex Hamilton for the photos!


  1. Hi Naomi! I absolutely love your blog! I had been looking into the Ranscombe Challenge but didn't quite understand how it worked (and wanted to sign up for a marathon) so its very interesting to read your review! Congrats on coming 2nd overall - that is amazing! I am also a London runner so am following your blog with interest! Perhaps if you have a moment you might like to take a glance at mine:

    1. Thanks so much! :) really appreciate your comments. Of course I'll have a look at your blog.

      Hope to see you at the next running of the Ranscombe Challenge!