Dunstable Downs Challenge 1/2 Marathon

By Matthew Brooks

There I was chilling out on the beach when this email appears in my inbox from James B, ‘I am jogging the Dunstable Downs Challenge…just for training. Gonna be at an easy pace’. Well, they say there’s one born every minute and the sun must have got to my head as I found myself signing up less than 3 weeks before race day not having done any 1/2 marathon training, only to be told afterwards, ‘Did I mention that I can’t map read?’ (It’s a self-navigating route) Doubt and regret were creeping in.

The 2018 1/2M was won by our very own Sam Dear (01:30:52) improving by over 8 minutes on his 7th position from 2017 so LBAC have form!

Race day came and the conditions couldn’t have been better – stunning blue sky and hardly a breeze. Thanks to James’ influence we arrived a whole hour before race start – a new experience for me as anyone who knows me will attest to. What was I going to do for a whole hour? Apparently you chill and chat which I must confess was rather more civilised a lead up to what I’m used to!

Forty very keen souls had set off earlier on the inaugural ultra 50k race, the Hilly Billy Challenge (named after Billy who started the DDC ‘because he thought it would be a good idea’ and who was the official photographer for the day). On schedule we lined up at the start in Creasey Park with the 20 milers (81 of these) and the marathon runners (76). The first mile wound gently upwards through a residential area until we crossed Tring Road. From here you run up a grassy hill leading up to the Ridgeway – I have fond memories of this hill tobogganing down it as a 7 year old but it wasn’t so much fun to run up!

We crested the hill and then the view hit us – wow! You could see for miles across to Ivinghoe Beacon and beyond in the west and up to Milton Keynes in the north – stunning! The next couple of miles were easier as we wound our way past the London Gliding Club below and along the Ridgeway, running parallel to the Dunstable Downs Parkrun course for those who have done it. Chatting away with James it felt more like a Wednesday social run than a race although the competitive spirit had yet to kick in at this stage.

Then we turned south and downhill (phew) for a couple of miles along the edge of the zoo, past Whipsnade and then feeling strong we strode out across farmland. Most of the route was actually marked out with helpful orange arrows and dots of paint such that our suspect navigational skills were rarely called upon.

A sharp turn back on ourselves had us skirting the edge of Studham and past the first of two water stations. We made one small navigational error in Holywell but were kindly corrected by a fellow runner, Andy, who joined us for the rest of the route. Andy was after a race PB so we repaid his good deed by coaching him along for the rest of the race. My lack of long distance training showed for a couple of miles as we ran slowly upwards back towards the ridge on tired legs.

The route back along the crest of the Downs seemed much longer on the return but it was great to run down the big hill at the end. As we neared the finish entering Creasey Park, James asked did we want to run in together or go for it? I stupidly opted for the latter and he sped off at a 100m pace – I am revisiting the deluded notion that I have a good sprint finish.

As I crossed the line (01:36:20), one of the officials approached James and presented him with a rucksack of goodies in recognition of achieving 3rd place – a surprise consolation prize having been severely handicapped running with me! He promptly passed said rucksack onto Andy who had just smashed his time and achieved his PB. What a nice community us runners belong to?

The half marathon was won by Ellie Davies (01:32:38) of Stopsley Striders, the 20 mile by Ross Langley (02:24:28) of Tring RC, the full marathon by Paul Radford (03:07:15) who is unattached (someone snap him up quick), and the Hilly Billy by Craig Clements (04:24:58) of Wellingborough & District AC.

Congratulations to Nigel Chesterton (02:09:00) who completed the LBAC trio.

The event is well organised, the route interesting and very scenic. The car parking policy was a bit odd but otherwise the whole event was just what running should be – thoroughly enjoyable. When can I sign up for next year’s race?