By James Bell
The Ridge Off Roader (http://www.ridgeoffroader.co.uk/index.html) is held in the village of Bledlow, west of Princes Risborough. I took a 45 minute cross country route that passed an old hilly 10k route that I had done in the village of Prestwood last year. Driving through reminded me how hard I had to work to get below 40mins in the Prestwood 10k and how course knowledge was vital on such a challenging 10k. Rather disturbingly, as I headed west towards Bledlow the hills seemed to grow in stature and incline. At one point in my little car, I changed down to second gear and put the brakes on because the hill was so steep. As I drove along thinking that I could have easily been in the Cotswolds, I knew that I was not going to get below 40 mins on 'The Ridge' but might manage 42 minutes if I pushed really hard.
I parked up at The Boot pub, the race's official parking slot and walked the 10 mins to the start at Bledlow Primary School. What's really nice about both the Prestwood and Ridge 10ks, is that these are community races and in the case of Bledlow, it was the villagers who were motivated to raise money for the school that brought the 10k into being. Help was everywhere and the race was really well staffed. If so motivated you could have had organic, free range sausages, free range bacon baps or a cuppa to sooth the nerves. After a quick race briefing, we were all encouraged to move to the start line. As I looked around I saw that this was not a clubby race but instead dominated by trail runners and folk out for some hilly fun.
The horn blew and we were off. I knew from looking at the course profile that I had to make every effort to gain on the downhill over the first mile that dropped 90m so I put in a 5.40 min mile and hoped that by the second that was on hilly trails, I would average out at around 40 min pace. The hill in the second saw many realise that they had started too fast and I took an opportunity to use the hills to overtake. On the third mile we headed west along a footpath. The rain from the night before made the mud really claggy so, rather than picking up the pace on the flat, it was more a case of grinding it out. However, by mile 3 a 42 min 10k was still on as I put in a 7.07 min mile to bring me up to a split of 20.44 mins. Things got nasty though because at the end of this mile another climb hurt my quads so much that I power-walked a bit and then ran as much as I could, trying to ignore protesting muscles.
In one sense, it is advisable to look at the course and it’s profile and in another, it's better not to know. Bledlow boasts a 194m total ascent/descent and these metres come in three big hills: one at the beginning; one in the middle and the mother of all hills that has a slope of 18% at the end. To get to that, I had to run the 4th and 5th mile through claggy mud in a wheat field and claggy mud in a woodland. Having done so, my legs were in a state of joyful pain ready for the final push. Looming ahead I saw the hill that started at 140m and rose sharply to 210m. I remembered that the final 1km or so was on a flattish road back to the school, so I just thought of holding my position and enjoying the final road bit. As sprinted down a short hill and passed a couple of runners, I was shortly passed by the very same on the way up the mother hill. Mile 6 pace tells you all you need to know – I managed an 8:30 min mile and I knew I had lost the 42 min claim. Slightly annoyed with myself (why I now wonder??) I ramped the road bit back up to 6.15 pace and finished 17th in a time of 44.05. The race was won by Eddie O'Gorman in 38.57 and only he and another subbed it. Last year O'Gorman was a minute and a half quicker, so I might stand a chance in fine weather of getting my 42 minute time if I grit my teeth.
Why should you do this race?: It's set in the beautiful Chilterns, it has a great atmosphere, is well organised and it's a good cause.
Why shouldn't you do this race? You won't get a PB, but what you will get is a great training effect ready for one of those boring flat ones found in cities.