Ashridge Trail Half Marathon
Ashridge Trail Half Marathon
by Sam Dear
Last week I was looking through the list of races in the Off-Road Series and realised that I’d actually only raced the Rushmere parkrun and the Round MK Relay. I didn’t think I’d ever do enough to come close to winning the thing, but decided that I needed to get involved in a few more and finish in a respectable position so entered the Ashridge Trail Half.
I’d recently run about 10 miles and felt fine so figured I’d make it round a half. What I didn’t realise though was that I hadn’t actually run more than 10 miles since November 6th when I ran 10.8miles… before that, my longest run was the Berlin marathon in September… so let’s just say I was a little out of practice.
The number of LBAC entrants had shot up in the week before the race with 3 Meads (Billy, Charlie and Henry making his half marathon debut), myself and Gareth entering the field along with Mark H, David and Alex Killick, Warren, Andy and Adam.
The race itself starts outside Ashridge House (although the walk from the car park is definitely more than 10 minutes!) The route then takes you back towards the monument before ducking down and through the trees along the footpaths before popping out somewhere on the way to Aldbury before a the first proper hill kicks in and takes you back up to the Ashridge Monument. I was feeling fine by this point and was sticking to a rough pace of 7 minutes per mile and ended up running with a guy called Tom from Tring Running club. We had a few brief conversations and then suddenly saw Andy who had stopped to recover as he wasn’t feeling right at all.
At the front of the race Billy was leading the way with Adam the next Buzzard and Charlie not too far behind them. Behind me and Andy were Warren, David and Gareth with Henry and Alex also doing well to battle the hills.
The thing that I knew was that this was the easy hill and nothing like what was to come…
As we sped past the monument we again went through some trees so it was hard to tell exactly where we were in the grand scheme of things, particularly with winding paths and hills both up and down. The route we were taking at this point seemed to be more of a gravel road so it was actually quite a good surface to get some speed up. Andy had gone ahead again and I was content to push it slightly and see if Tom from Tring would stick with me. Round and round and up and down we went until we popped out on the side of a hill with some scrambling down a bit of a dodgy path with gates to break any rhythm. It then suddenly became clear to me that it was Ivinghoe Beacon up next.
We first ran up the side of the Steps Hill on the way to the Beacon which by itself is a pretty tough hill, but then crossing over the road you just see the path going up and up and up! Each little rest bite only brought on a steeper bit of the hill with the final climb to the top of the Beacon itself the worst of them all. It felt like a relative crawl but I was at least still running. Round the Beacon and glad to run along the ridge, this was over half way and I was feeling good still! I could just about make out Charlie in the distance and unfortunately Andy had had to stop again so it more just about getting round for him at this stage.
The next part of the course was downhill and so it gave us all a chance to stretch out a little or rest our weary lungs. I think it was on this part of the course that Gareth, who had gradually been catching David, managed to get him and pass him. I knew though that to get back to Ashridge House there was only one way to go… up!
Along a bit further and into densely wooded area which was a stark contrast to the bright sunshine outside and I was quite enjoying the cooler air and darted between the trees. Suddenly a marshal appeared directing me to go straight on at the top of the steps… Steps? What is this?? I looked up and there were definitely steps. I’d like to say there were about 100 but my mind may have exaggerated that, they were that tough. At ten miles too, I was reaching my limit. I started trying to run very slowly up the first 10 steps but decided that this was not the best option so moved to the slope to the side… again, running was just taking too much out of me so I decided that walking may in fact be the fastest method of getting up there and to the finish line! Hands on my knees and bent over, I marched (crawled?) up the slope just wishing them to finish. Gareth said after that two thirds of the way up he couldn’t even see a way that he would be able to finish, it was that tough! I wanted to stop and kept peering behind me in case Tom from Tring was running up them and catching me. I started to believe that I would beat Andy and even though he was having a tough time, I was going to take the rare opportunity! Finally I got to the top, but it took me a good 20 metres of walking to be ready to run again and thankfully neither Tom from Tring or Andy was in sight behind me.
After breaking out of woods again and into the bright sunshine, I suddenly realised that Charlie wasn’t that far ahead after all! I was that tired that I decided that I didn’t even care if I caught him, I would just be glad to finish the race, however as the last few miles ticked down I realised I was catching him. We crossed another road straight ahead and into the last bits of woods around Ashridge, a quick turn left and alongside the golf course. I was definitely gaining on him and this but was downhill! I had nothing much left to give but if I just kept up this pace I thought I could possibly set up a sprint finish at least. Less than 2 miles to go! On we went twisting and turning and I was concentrating on the Purple and Gold vest in front of me.
Another road and onto the path that turned right behind it and we continued on with me gradually reeling him in. There was nobody ahead of us for a good few minutes so we were all alone. I looked at my watch and saw 13.3 miles… I knew the race was slightly longer than 13.1miles but thought something was wrong… But as Charlie was still running onwards I continued. A lady who was walking turned to talk to Charlie and I heard something about the road. As I reached Charlie, he was mumbling something but looked absolutely spent. Between us we went through a gate and I caught him ready to push on before deciding that perhaps we should be going a different way… after a brief discussion we turned right ish and doubled back to the corner of the field we were in, slogged through some churned up mud, hopped a fence and…
From this point, I’ll continue the story from the point of view of Chris D, Adam and Jo who were all waiting near the finish to cheer in the runners. Jo picks it up:
I arrived at the finish line in plenty of time, slightly smug from running there from Leighton Buzzard with no navigational issues. I had to wait for about 10minutes to see the winner and Billy storming up the finishing straight, so then got in position to cheer the rest home. There was quite a wait for the next runners in. The next Buzzard home was Adam whom had had a great run, but I knew something wasn’t right as I had been expecting Andy. I had been joined by Chris D at this stage and we waited and we waited, and waited and I cheered various runners home. Adam had even walked down to join us. Warren finished next strongly, and then I then saw Jim from LFR approaching and knew something had gone wrong for a few of our runners. Poor Andy was shortly after him who had had a tough day out there. But by now, I had started to feel concerned as to where Charlie and Sam were, they both should have finished a while ago- were they injured? Were they lost? Where were they?
Gareth was our next runner home, and just after cheering there was a burst out of the hedgerow, we all spun around to look, expecting to see the local wildlife. Well it wasn’t the sort of Deer I had expected to jump out of the bushes. We watched as a cross looking Sam ran down the home straight closely followed by a shattered looking Charlie. They had appeared from no where near the marked course, and I was hit with a mixture of relief and humour. Myself, Adam and Chris soon broke out in hysterics as Sam shouted “blame Charlie”. Apart from adding a mile more to the course, no harm was done, but no one really knows what happened out there or who’s to blame… we only have their version of events. Charlie opted not to comment.
… we burst out from the undergrowth and onto the grass. There was the road we should have been on. There was the big house. There was the finish arch. There was Gareth ahead of me and about to finish… WHAT!!! Disaster. After shouting some blame towards Charlie over the howls of raucous laughter from Chris and Adam (did anybody tell you about how Adam ran an extra 2 miles back and forth at the Greensands Relay? No? Oh it’s well worth asking one of us if not! 🙂 ) I made for the finish from a slightly different angle to everybody else, managed to overtake one guy who seemed surprised at me suddenly being there, but couldn’t catch Gareth. It turns out that Tom from Tring also followed us despite it being his club that organised the race, but he realised sooner than us and tried to shout, but we were obviously just too fast!
Overall, the course is great, the race is tough but interesting and I really enjoyed the challenge. However, that one sign with the arrow pointing right did both me and Charlie in and although it was pointing in the right direction it could have gone so much better for us! In the end Andy did beat me, and I’ll have to wait a long time to get that chance again. I finished 31st when I would probably have finished 9th and added on an extra mile of running and about 8 minutes of time. The long, long, long walk back to the car took forever and I was absolutely spent… But at least we gave you all a good laugh ey?
Everybody else ran well, particularly Billy who smashed it at the front but unfortunately just missed out on first place and Henry, who chose one of the toughest courses to make his half marathon debut. Full times and positions are below: