The XNRG Pony Express in The New Forest is one of my favourite running weekends and this year it was once again superb. With 30 miles on both days (different routes) it’s a lovely way to see the New Forest. The organisation was perfect, as always with XNRG, and the group of runners made for a really special weekend. I’ve run this twice before – the first time getting lost a couple of times both days, then last year I ran it as a training run before the US trip. This year I planned to give it a proper go; hoping my Achilles would hold up and really racing it for once.
The first day couldn’t have been better – I ran really hard from the off, though not quite the 7 min miling some of the front guys started with; but I thought I might see some of them again – and I did. The route takes you through a real mixture of forest, moorland, country lanes and even a sandy stretch. I was wearing my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes which have only been out on the Camel Teign when I did in my Achilles, so I thought I’d give them another go and I really like them – enough of a tread for soggy underfoot and cushioned enough for the (fairly short) road sections. The markings this year were very clear – with tape and arrows on the ground, I hardly had to look at the map.
We had set off in cloudy conditions and it looked like it might rain but later the sun came out – I decided not to run with water as the checkpoints are every 8 miles or so, though towards the end I was pretty dehydrated. The second day I took my bottle as it was sunny from the start (and this a Bank Holiday Weekend!).
[Remember to post a picture of me actually running; though whenever Richard from XNRG took a photo it was at a checkpoint and I'm sure I was eating Haribo everytime!]
Coming into the finish on the first day I knew I’d caught up with nearly all the guys who’d shot off in front of me – except Justin and Austin who were way ahead. I thought there would be some others too and was mightily surprised to find out I was 3rd overall for day 1! 4:16 was 29 minutes quicker than last year and I felt great.
That evening I was the entertainment – after a great dinner the XNRG weekends have a speaker and Neil had asked me to talk about my US Run, which I was more than happy to do (me, talk about myself and running? oh go on then!). It was an engaged audience and brought back some wonderful memories from last summer.
Day 2 dawned and was really bright and sunny, if a bit chilly. I’d brought my wetsuit to swim first thing in the lake nearby but wimped out as it was to cold – plus I wanted to give the run my all. Setting off with a few of the guys from day 1 I felt sluggish and it took me about 15 miles to warm up, I had forgotten how hilly the first stretch was. Thanks to Peter (the GP who I often run near and get talking to at this event) and George for keeping me going through the tough times. Also it was good to see John (who I’d met at the 12 hour track race last weekend – don’t ask, I did 8 hours/50miles and gave up going round in circles!) and his wife Kate. John had said he was ‘pacing the missus’ the second day; looked like she was pushing him round more like! I just about managed to keep it together to drag myself around in what felt like a slow 4:47 (though was actually only a couple of minutes off last year – and with the speedy time the day before not bad at all, but room for improvement!). I managed to hold onto third place overall and first woman with a time of 9:03 for the weekend. Justin Montague flew round in under 4 hours the first day and just over on the second with Austin in between us – there was no way I was catching them two, despite the previous evening’s banter!
All in all a good two days running but also really great to catch up with some familiar faces and meet some super new runners. Amongst the new faces I was impressed by a woman called Rochelle who was running her first ultra on day one, and second on day two. She was so cheery whenever I saw her and kept her pace up well for her first event. Also Polly who is fundraising for the Southampton Young Carers Project and well on her way to completing 13 Challenges – having run her first marathon last week this was her first (and second) ultra, with her school colleague Mark for support.
Thanks again to the XNRG team for a great weekend, unfortunately I’m going to miss the ‘Round the Island’ Isle of Wight race as it’s only a week after GUCR but I’ll hopefully be back in the New Forest next year.