My entry to this event came about after a summer run with good running friend Wendy who was looking for an event later in the year and suggested we have a go at a multi-day staged race. For me, this would be a new challenge too – I have done long non-stop runs, but not ones with a set stage each day and an overnight stay in between, so I agreed and we got our entries in. This wold also be an opportunity to get some extra miles and hours in my legs in preparation for the MYAU in February.
We set about training with some longer runs and some running on consecutive days. My training consisted of a mix of runs and walks in order to fit in with life and, as usual, I fell a little behind on the plan I had initially drawn up. As the event drew closer I started to plan running kit and overnight gear to take with me (overnights would be on school hall floors) as well as food to carry on the run and things I might like to eat after completing each run.
Two weeks before the event we went out for a run and Wendy went over on her ankle badly spraining it. Initially she was posititve and thought it would be repaired enough for the race weekend, but then just a week before the event, she went on an orienteering event and again went over on her ankle, this time it was confirmed it was broken and she had to withdraw from the Druid Challenge. We were both hugely disappointed, but after giving it some thought I decided to go along on my own and have a go at the run, so I set about booking accommodation for before and after the event and revising my event plans.
I drove to the finish of the race at Swindon on the Thursday afternoon and checked in to the hotel there. A bus was provided the following morning to get to the start and I was ready and waiting nervously in the hotel foyer at 6:45 the next morning. Eventually, everyone was ticked off the list and we got all our overnight bags in the bus and got on ready for the journey to the registration point at Tring cricket club. Having arrived at registration at about 8:30am, there was a long time hanging around waiting there – I met a couple of other ladies who were there on their own and we chatted while we waited, one of these, Stephanie, finished just ahead of me each day and so we met at the overnigh and got set up together. By the time we were called for the briefing and mini-bus to the start it already seemed like it had been a long day… and there was still 29miles of running to do!
Day 1 – 29.3 miles
The start got underway at 11:15am from Ivinghoe Beacon, the weather was grey with a bit of drizzle which seemed to match my mood! The first checkpoint was 11miles in and I arrived in brighter weather having cheered myself up a little. I took some bits of food from the checkpoint and topped up my water and kept moving, walking as I ate. Soon I was jogging up the main road in Wendover and a familiar silhouette came in to view up ahead… Wendy had come to cheer me on! After a big hug and a few tears she handed over some chocolate and waved me off… what a great boost to my mood.
I ran most of the day on my own and often between checkpoints 1 and 3 I couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind, at one point I did take the wrong track and ran off down a hill the wrong direction, however, I soon realised I was wrong as I saw an unexpected road ahead so I checked the map and turned round and retraced my steps. On arriving back at the last junction, I realised I must have been dreaming, because the sign was quite clear… I suspect I just glanced and saw the style and colour of writing without reading the words (it was another named path crossing). I set off again this time on the correct path and started passing one or two people who had overtaken while I was on the wrong path, I arrived at checkpoint 2 at 16.8miles feeling good and quite jolly – I was further cheered up by the cheese and savoury crackers on offer at the checkpoint! Off again… some time later I hit a tough patch, this time struggling to push myself on and stay positive and starting to feel nauseous. I reached checkpoint 3 at 22.9miles feeling quite low and uncomfortable and I sat on the ground by the checkpoint feeling sorry for myself, however, the checkpoint team were soon there checking I was OK and giving me a big cup of warm coffee which was fantastic! In no time, I was back on my feet and off again, heading for the finish.
Soon after leaving checkpoint 3 it got dark and head torches were needed for the remainder of the run. The organisers had put glow-sticks out along the route which was great – I had a little smile at every one as it felt like I was getting closer to the finish. I was really happy to see the school and the finish line and again the team were so helpful and friendly showing where hot drinks and cake were available, then helping with my overnight bag and showing me where the hall for sleeping and the showers were.
I set up my bed, went and got showered and then had a lie down before going for dinner – a delicious chicken casserole with rice followed by berry cheesecake. Drinks and food were available at all times at the overnight stops which was fantastic, there was also speakers to listen to if you wanted to, though I opted to have a relax and read my book instead. At lights out we lay in our sleeping bags listening to the torrential rain clattering on the gym roof and hoping it would pass over in the night.
Day 2 – 26.6 miles
The start for day 2 was from the school and I was in the main start at 8am, I had sorted everything and packed my rucksack the night before so felt comfortable having a relaxed breakfast and being ready to go when the time came. Generally, the run went well – it took a little while for my legs to get going and they let me know that they were not entirely happy about what I was asking them to do! The first checkpoint was 7.5miles in and again I moved through, topping up water and picking up some bits of food. Soon after this the route came down to the river and there was a long flat section which my legs and my head really did not like at all, but with much arguing with myself, I managed to keep trotting and eventually came to the end of the flat section and started to climb through Goring. Once again, to my surprise, Wendy appeared and after another hug, she gave me some grapes and a pre-peeled Satsuma to keep me going… it did that and kept me smiling!
Back up on the exposed Ridgeway path, just before checkpoint 3 at 22.8 miles, the sky grew dark and we were pelted with hailstones head on, this then turned to torrential rain and by the time the checkpoint arrived the rain had poured down my legs and filled my shoes! The checkpoint was protected by an event shelter and we managed to squeeze a good number of soggy runners under there with the checkpoint team… who remained so welcoming and upbeat handing out coffee and snacks and topping up water bottles, despite us all being in their way! I headed off again in to the rain, knowing that the finish was now only a few miles away. The flags of the finish could be seen from some distance away up on top of the Ridgeway Path and with some effort I managed to put one leg go in front of the other until I finally crossed the finish line for the day, feeling soggy and tired but very happy!
This time we were bussed to the overnight stay, but there was shelter and hot drinks available at the finish just in case there was a wait for a bus. Again, everyone was very friendly and helpful on arrival and we were even provided with newspaper to stuff in to our shoes to help them dry out. Again I set up my bed and got showered before relaxing with hot drinks and food before dinner which was a very tasty lasagne and salad and a variety of puddings to choose from.
Day 3 – 28.3 miles
I got up on day three after another night of very little sleep (no complaints, just a fact of sleeping on gym floors with lots of other people, all with aching muscles and joints!) and feeling quite grumpy. I went through the process of getting breakfast, getting ready, putting my overnight bag on the van and getting on to the minibus to the start. There had been more rain overnight and it finally stopped just before we arrived at the start line, I stood for the briefing feeling miserable, legs aching and wondering what I was doing and why… at the end of briefing the last instruction was…’and smile!’, so I’m guessing it wasn’t just me who was grumpy that morning!!
On setting off I was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs eventually co-operated and allowed me to trot along the flat and downhill sections and walk strongly on the up hills… I can’t say it was comfortable, but it was manageable! Checkpoint 1 at 7.7 miles, came sooner than expected and this cheered me up and kept me moving… only 2 more checkpoints before the final finish line! There were a number of people who were moving at a similar pace to me and we kept passing each other throughout the day having short conversations and helping the miles to pass. On the exposed sections all day, the wind was strong and often head on and I grumbled to myself about how this made progress so much harder than it needed to be, often stopping to walk before telling myself to stop moaning and get running!
Checkpoint 2 arrived 15.9 miles in… now over half way, another top up of water, a few more nibbles in my hand and off again. Having checked the profile I knew there was a climb following the checkpoint and then a flatter section before a steep descent to the third and final check point at 22.5 miles, I was able to let my legs go all the way down the descent to the final checkpoint… one last top up with coffee and snacks, then off… or rather a wait some time for a gap in the very fast traffic so I could cross the road (thanks to the marshall making sure we were all safe here)... and off again, climbing steadily, eventually coming to open fields where the path could be seen climbing in to the distance, this was a long stretch but knowing we were so close to the end pushed us on… then off the Ridgeway path and to a really cruel steep downhill on the road, thankfully short, but enough to cause some real pain in already aching legs. A stretch on the road followed and eventually it turned in to the hotel entrance and the final finish line – on the last stretch Tony, who I had seen regularly through the day suggested we stick together for the finish, so we ran in and across the line together, me with a huge smile on my face in complete contrast to my expression at the start of the day!
At the finish we were shown where to leave shoes and go in to the room where chairs, hot drinks and more cake were available (showers were also available, but as I had a room booked at the hotel I didn't need this). I sat here for some time in a bit of daze, with a strange feeling of being really happy to have completed the challenge, but a bit lost knowing there was no running tomorrow!
My overall experience of the event was really positive, I thought the organisation was great and the whole crew were fantastic, always happy, friendly and helpful, so a big thank you goes to the whole team - your enthusiasm and support makes the event what it is! The food, both in terms of quality and quantity was excellent as was the checkpoint food with loads of variety – I was a particular fan of the cheese and cheesy biscuits as well as having a coffee opportunity at the last checkpoint each day. I wouldn’t hesitate to do another multi-day stage race with XNRG and maybe I’ll be back next year – this time with Wendy!
Marianne Heading discovered winter endurance racing in 2007, while working as a volunteer for the Yukon Arctic Ultra. This experience inspired her to take up running and go back to the Yukon as a competitor. Since 2007 she has been back to the YAU multiple times, completing both the 100 and 300mile races, in 2011 she became the first European female to complete the 300mile YAU and in 2019 won the 300mile MYUA. Events are not a very regular feature, but other races include the Semi-Raid Reunion, Roveaneimi150, ITI350, Karwendelmarsch and closer to home the Four Inns, the Druids Challenge, Equinox24, run to the castle, Hardmoors55. Being outdoors and enjoying the countryside and wildlife are a higher priority than being fast... luckily! Training runs and walks are often prolonged by a break to watch wildlife and take in the surroundings!