Day One: 30 miles in the New Forest
After a week with a horrid cold (not a great surprise after last weekend’s experiences!) I was looking forward to running around the New Forest in the Pony Express, another event run by XNRG who have rapidly become my favourite event people! It’s called the Pony Express after the wild horses that roam the New Forest, there’s also deer, rare breed cows and various other wildlife which make it a gorgeous spot to run around in Southern Britain.
On the train to Brockenhurst to this event that I’d enjoyed last year I realised two things; 1) Having spent ages Friday evening uploading the two routes of the weekend’s run to my Garmin 310xt watch… I had left it charging in the kitchen. Brilliant. Then 2) having decided to give sleeping over in the hall another go after sleeping quite well in the hall at the Pilgrim’s Challenge I realised I had: inflatable bed (check), pump (check), sleeping bag (ah… that would be a negative). So 10 mins out of Waterloo on the latest train I could get and still make the 11am ‘elite’ start (ha me elite, brilliant!) and I’ve pretty much given up having a good run and any pacing plan, and am furiously trying to remember the name of the inn I’d stayed at last year. One quick call to book the final room they had and things are looking up. I’m really not made for hall sleeping anyway.
Last year (Jame’s report here) there’d been a big group of friends running this event but this year it clashed with a few other things – the big one being James Edgar and Alan Hall’s Bob Graham Round in The Lakes (Which they were successful at!! So pleased for them! Link here when James writes up the amazing feat). Lots of fellow Serpies were supporting and so at the later start I didn’t recognise many faces – only a few speedy people from previous XNRG events. There were four women (out of about 40 people) in the start I was in – though Neil assured us there was actually nearly 45% women in the event, very impressive for an ultra.
So we set off and I found I could actually run without my Garmin, and in fact as a group pulled away at the start I hung back just intending to go steady and not push it too much, so I didn’t go off too quick for once. Neil had warned us it was muddy on the course – and a detour around a swollen river was already added into the route. Not long in and one face I recognised from last year – John Wakefield – was running alongside me, we commented on the speed of the front group – he reckoned around 7 min miling and I was really glad to have hung back. At the front was number 32 (Mark Ford) who I remembered as one of the joint winners last year – having put in two 4 hour and a bit performances, that’s for 30 miles on trail. He had a few people with him I expected to see again later as they would regret the early speed.
Without the Garmin map I had decided to get some practice in map reading and through following my thumb along the route I didn’t go wrong once. Well I don’t think so – though if I did get the detour round the river correct then I’d hate to have seen what we were avoiding! Wading thigh deep through a swollen river I was pretty sure I’d got the detour wrong! At this point I should say I’d also decided to try out some new gear – 1) new Saucony trail trainers, not that different to previous trail shoes I’ve worn but very new, and in the wet I was worried about blisters for day 2 and 2) ‘Shock Absorber Running’ sports bra, usually I’m a Thuasne or Sports Jock wearer but I’d been asked to try the Shock Absorber for a review, and it will be a really good review as it held everything in very well and didn’t rub or chaf me, quite a result as it has a lot of work to do at the moment. It’s rapidly become a favourite. As have the Saucony Trail shoes – the Jazz version are really comfy and have a decent sole to grip in mud. They rubbed a little on the heel (well if you will wear new shoes for 30 miles…) but generally a good trail shoe, but then I’ve yet to find a pair of Saucony’s I don’t get on with.
So after a lovely run through the lovely New Forest, a lot of concentration on the route and steady pacing paid off, lots of others had gotten lost and 10 miles in number 32 ran passed me again after doing an extra 5k, most people I spoke to after seemed to have done the same. Arriving at checkpoint 3, 23 miles in, I decided to ask for the time for the first time – I was at 3:45 and felt good, I’d missed the 5 hour finish by getting lost last year near the finish and now could be near again. So I plodded on, met up with a few others from earlier starts and came into Moyles school grounds for the finish to be told by Neil I’d run 4:47, I was absolutely delighted! I ended up 1st lady for day 1 and 5th overall – though much of this was because I seemed to be one of the few who managed not to add several miles extra, my map reading has improved! Plus this year the route had been marked with orange arrows painted on the floor so even in spots where locals had removed the signage (yes a big problem for race organisers!) so I found it easy to follow, others blamed losing concentration mainly for going off track.
After one of Anna’s lovely cups of tea and slice of cake (or two) and I was off to the White Hart Inn in Ringwood – where I had a quiet evening and a restful night’s sleep. Thanks to Liz and Al of 9bar (who have also provided me with a truckload of 9bars to fuel me across the US!) for a lift into Ringwood – good to finally meet you!
Day Two: 30 miles in the New Forest
I’d saved wearing my Hokas for Day 2, though with hindsight they’d have been better at sailing over the mud of Day 1, but they do help with second day leg tiredness. After a good briefing from Neil and a talk through of the route (on a projector screen no less, well we were in a school!) we were set off across the road from Moyles Court School up a hill and off across gorse and moorland – and I enjoyed the second day even more. The wide cycle tracks were less muddy than the previous day’s bogs and whereas last year it’d been very warm and sunny we had perfect overcast day with just a little wind. The route required less thought (except for the one section I got wrong last year as well – this time thanks to a group of kids pointing me in the wrong direction – round the beautiful Rhinefield House Hotel, I have seen quite a lot of that Hotel’s grounds now!). There were more ponies and cows as well as some pretty forest sections where the hammer of wood peckers and birdsong was all around. Coming into the finish I felt strong and from the last checkpoint at mile 23 I knew the route was mainly downhill (there’s not actually much elevation at all in the New Forest) so ran hard to the finish – not with a time or position in mind but just to see how I felt – pretty good. I ran in for another 4:47 and wasn’t sure if that was good enough for first lady having been 8 mins up on second lady from Day 1 but Kate Mercer had an awesome second day – even after running some extra miles the day before – and was 15 mins or so (haven’t seen final results yet) -ahead of me on day 2. A very well deserved win for Kate and a good running weekend for me. I was really pleased to see Mark Ford at the finish having completed Day 2 in 3:49 (!) and well out in front to win the men’s race. Some other really good Day 2 times (and less getting lost) saw Justin Montague come second and Andrew Lockett third – and first v40. Also a big well done to Kelly Lucas who’s training for the Goretex TransAlpine Race with her boyfriend Kris Duffy.
Last year I finished in 10:15:10 for the 2 days and my legs were destroyed. This year 9:34 and feeling pretty ok – training for the US is paying off. 3 weeks until I fly out and I’ve just got 2 marathons booked in on the next 2 weekends, time to up the weight and get to the US well rested (I realise this is relative – I’m going to drop to 50-70 mile weeks now instead of recent 120+ weeks).