Sunday, 4 April 2010

The 14th Compton Challenge

The Compton Challenge is a 40 mile figure of eight route which also includes a 20 mile option for completing only the first loop. It was a race to the start for this run as both my daughters where projectile vomiting with a stomach bug, and I was covered on a number of occasions as a result. Luckily I made it to the event without contracting the plague. I headed down the night before to use the free ‘camping facilities’ at the school hall, with the intention of getting some decent sleep and not having to get up at 5am. It was raining heavy that night and with a forecast for rain the next day, I was ready for a wet one. The morning of the race ended up being cold and dry. I was torn between wanting to take only a handheld water bottle and a bit of food, or taking my backpack with 2L of water, spare waterproof jacket and lots of supplies. I ended up taking the heavier option.

We all made out way to the start line at the schools playing field and stood shivering. I was wearing a long sleeved thermal top and a fleece but most people were only in vests. Just before the start, the sun came out and I could tell it was going to get hot. We had a countdown and were off, which first involved a lap around the field before heading into single track through woods, involving lots of people franticly jumping through trees to avoid the bottle necks. I soon got into a rhythm and fell in with other runners, slowly playing leap-frog with them until I found a group that suited my pace best. I started getting really hot and wanted to take my fleece off but decided to wait until the first checkpoint. There were eight checkpoints in total, and the first was at 4.5 miles. The journey there involved running through a mixture of fields, tracks, roads and footpaths which on the whole where fairly muddy from the recent rain but it was only shallow mud that allowed easy passage through. After a close encounter with postman pat (who did not want to slow down), I arrived at Hampstead Norreys and at checkpoint 1. It was only a water station and with 2L only my back I ran straight through.

The start of the next section involved climbing a hill and I used the time to take off my fleece and tie it around my waist. The top of the hill levelled out and a long section of running of flat could be seen ahead. The constant changing between tracks, fields and footpaths enclosed in woodland gave a really good sense of progression through this run, with very few long views of the route ahead to allow for negative dwelling about the remaining distance. Through Ashampstead, through more woodland and up a few hills, the next checkpoint arrived at mile 10. As this was a proper running race I thought the checkpoints would be just water and a bit of sugary fuel, although the checkpoints were similar to the LDWA with a variety of food and drinks.

Next there was a steep hill to climb, although very short in length, and as the top levelled off my energy returned immediately. I had been running at an average of 9 minute miles, which involved running 7 to 8 minute miles of the flats and down hills to compensate for the slower uphill accents. I was worried about burning out in the later miles of the run but wanted to get an idea of pace for the Highland Fling Race which I need a 9 min/mile pace for the first 12 miles. I continued on through more woodland and onto Lardon Chase, giving views out over Streatley and the surrounding hills. A steep downhill section brought a bit of pain to my knee but a level section of running made it go away. Running through Aldworth brought imminent arrival of the next checkpoint at 15.5 miles.

The next section was mostly all on track and included a section of the Ridgway bridleway. Although good for running fast, it brought less stimulation for the brain. Up until this point I had been feeling good and had ample energy but I could start to feel it fading slightly. I had always wanted to pass the 19.5 mark feeling good as this was where the route split for the 20 mile route and I did not want to battle with my mind if I was in a low and wanted to quickly divert back the finish and call it a day. Luckily I arrived at the next checkpoint where the route splits and was still feeling good.

The sun was becoming stronger at this point and I had salt build-up round my eyes from sweat. My heavy backpack was causing my back to sweat excessively also and I made sure I was drinking enough to prevent dehydration. The route to the next checkpoint involved long straight sections that allowed you to see how little progress you are making and how far you have left. I started having my low point here. A number of runners passed me as I started plodding with my head down. I pushed on, but halfway to the checkpoint I started feeling a pain in my abs, the same pain as in my run the weekend previously. As the pain increased I slowed further until I was reduced to a walk. I was furious at the pain. It would subside when walking only to increase again when running. I continued with a run/walk approach to the checkpoint on the outskirts of Chilton.

After the checkpoint I decided to tighten the waist belt on my backpack so that it would hold my abs as tight as possible to try and reduce the pain. I found that this, along with straining my stomach out, started to ease the pain, but it was another 4 miles before reaching the next checkpoint at East Hendred that the pain would go completely. On the approach to this checkpoint another runner passed me but as the pain subsided, I managed to catch up with him and we both reached the checkpoint together.

We both refuelled and set off together but I found myself ahead of the other runner, slowly gaining more and more ground between up. At this point I started felling great after my low point, and I mean really good. My pace increased and my legs started feeling fresher. There was a half marathon distance of 13 miles left to go and I started ticking off the miles. I passed two more runners at East Ginge, which was the 30 mile mark, and headed along tracks towards checkpoint 7. There was a hill on the approach and I could see a runner catching up from behind. I was still feeling great and pushed on to arrive at the checkpoint.

On leaving the checkpoint the runner who was catching up arrived but was getting a cup of tea and I did not see him again. It was just less than 5 miles to the next checkpoint and I still felt good. It started to rain at this point. I continued on down a bridleway which included random horse jumps, some looked like little castle walls and other made into great wooden structures. I arrived in West Ilsley at the 33 mile mark and headed on a long detoured route along bridleways towards East Ilsley where the last checkpoint was located. My energy was started to subside a bit now but I was having such a mental high. All my recent runs have finished in me feeling like death and were a battle to finish. Here I was having run 36 miles and I was feeling almost as fresh as mile 6. I arrived at the final checkpoint just as the rain started to get heavier and turned into a downpour.

I left the checkpoint on my final 4 miles, climbing the hill through East Ilsley and following the Ilsley Down Riding Route bridleway. There was a steep uphill where I could see another runner at the top and I walked the hill using the time to put my fleece back on to warm up a bit in the rain. I pushed now and soon caught the runner ahead and passed by. I was soon running back on a leg of the outward route and knew exactly where to go. I started to run most of the uphills now and was pushing hard. I could see another runner ahead but had no incentive to pass him, only to finish strong and on a high. I started feeling a bit sick on the last mile but only because I was pushing myself and as I approached the finish, the sickness soon went. I returned through the single track and ran onto the school playing fields where it all began, before being greeted at the finish line.

I got my winners t-shire and a Cadbury’s Cream Egg for an Easter treat before making my way back to the canteen and wolfing down some amazing sausage, chips and beans. It was a long drive back so I got ready quickly and headed off home in the rain. I passed through East Ilsley where the last checkpoint was and could see a number of runners in the pouring rain looking miserable and wet, but I was still on a massive high. I never mention my running times because I only care about making the distances but my time for this was 6 hours and 49 minutes, which is amazing for me. My best 50 miler was just over 10 hours but I feel that I could have done an 8.5 – 9 hour 50 miler that day. On reviewing my Garmin watch I could see that there was a reduction in pace when I hit my low and I was in pain, but my final 13 miles were almost as fast as my first 20 miles. I am now in high spirits for the 53 miles of the Highland Fling Race in three weeks time and have to make sure to rest properly as it will not be an easy one, with lots of accent and difficult terrain in the second half. I can only hope for that amazing feeling at mile 40 again which I why we all keep coming back for more.

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