Ridgeway 85: knee stops play

My first ultra DNF....  After ~30 miles my slightly sore post Outlaw knee became very painful. I might have been able to make it to the finish, but it would’ve been slow, painful and not much fun. So I decided to DNF at checkpoint 4 while it was still early enough to find a bed for the night (thanks to the other half....), and hopefully save my knee for another day (High Peak 40 and Round Rotherham).

Ridgeway was a last minute addition to my plans. After the Heart of Scotland 100 (where my feet blistered badly and it took me nearly 15 hours to hobble the last 30 miles...) I wanted to get in another long ultra this year.

I’d recovered fine from the Outlaw tri, and done a couple of ~10 mile runs in the Peak District. My knees, in particular the right one, still weren’t quite right though. So I knew that DNFing was a possibility.

The Ridgeway has two starts, 10am and midday for people expecting to take more or less than 24 hours. I was guessing it’d take me roughly 24 hours, so I went for the late start so I could travel down on the day.

The journey to the start at Ivinghoe Beacon went pretty smoothly. I got a cheap advance train ticket via London and the organisers arranged pick ups from Tring station. Not trusting British trains, I was there with plenty of time to spare. This was fine in the sunny weather but waiting in the car park wouldn’t have been much fun if the weather was bad.

The start was low key even by ultra standards  (‘off you go then’ ). As usual everyone charged off into the distance at high speed. I’d planned on running at 4.5 mph up until dark, which would get me through the first few check points with ~15 minutes to spare. Despite actually averaging 5mph for the first hour I was right at the back of the field. I thought I was actually last, but there were in fact a few people behind me (I guess from having got lost). The Ridgeway is marked. Having (almost...)  got to grips with navigating over the past couple of years I was actually missing having to do it.  Having a map to hand, and following it, did help though.

There were some nice small hills in the first few miles, and again after the first checkpoint. The golf courses and bridleways made me pine for peat bog and big hills, but my legs were feeling OKish and I was enjoying myself. Especially once I started over-taking people.

Then out of the blue, a couple of miles before checkpoint 4, my sore knee became downright painful. Time to make a decision. I was tempted to push on to checkpoint 5 at Goring and see if it got better. But by then it would be ~10pm (or even 11 if it got worse) leaving me stranded with nowhere to stay. So common sense prevailed and I stopped at checkpoint 4.

The problem now was working out how to get home, or failing that somewhere to sleep. A quick phonecall to the other half revealed that getting home was impossible so we rang-off so he could find me somewhere to stay.  (Note to self: in future carry your iPhone rather than your crappy old phone so you can do this yourself). However we hadn’t realised it was the Reading festival weekend...... Eventually he found me a room in a Travelodge in Reading, for £115! The next challenge: getting to Reading. Fortunately it turned out that the couple running the checkpoint lived in Reading and they kindly dropped me off at the Travelodge once they’d closed the checkpoint.

I was surprised at how un-disappointed (is that a word?) I was at dropping out, even as I sat in the camper van at the checkpoint, watching other runners come through. The next morning I woke up feeling fine and started second guessing the decision. But the pain in my knee flared up again walking to the station, confirming I’d done the right thing.

The journey home was a pain. Reading station was full of festival go-ers buying tickets for the next day and/or killing time. Which made me feel very old (when did denim shorts and wellies become a festival uniform?).  Various trains weren’t running (engineering works on a bank holiday weekend, great idea!) so I ended up having to change twice and standing for a chunk of the journey. But eventually I got home. And was cheered up by an unexpected cheque arrived in the post which’ll cover the travelodge.

Would I do it again? Probably not, given all the great events closer to home. The logistics of a point to point route ‘dahn sath’ are a bit of a hassle. And while the Ridgeway’s got a reputation for being hilly, there’s a lot of pretty boring, more or less straight trails, through woods (in the first 30 miles which I saw at least....).  Having said that it’s a well organised event and if you like trails rather than fells I’d definitely recommend it.