Last year, the Ridgeway 85 was the longest race I'd ever done and was rightly a bit nervous. A year more experience makes a big difference and this time I was just really looking forward to it. My main thoughts were "oh yeah, this one has a fantastic atmosphere, Grim's Ditch which is a great bit of trail, plus it's pretty well signposted so no real navigation required. I like this event - I wonder if I can knock over an hour off last year's time to go sub 20."
I wasn't feeling 100% on Saturday, but not ill enough to consider dropping out. It was another beautiful sunny day and we were treated to the sight of three large deer running across the hill near the noon start at Ivinghoe Beacon, just North of Tring. There were about 120 starters this year: a much bigger field than before. We set off and I enjoyed the trail, remembering lots of forgotten bits as we went. I'd forgotten how hilly the route is - but they do mention that there's over 9 000 feet of ascent on the entry form. I knew lots of people there and ran with a friend (Helen) who hadn't done anything longer than London to Brighton before. It felt nice to be kind of pacing someone in such a long ultra.
I really enjoyed it, especially since I'd learnt about wearing more cushioned shoes to avoid the battered and blistered feet that could result from running on the Ridgeway's rocky and rootsy surfaces. We arrived at Goring for a hot meal in daylight, then set off as it began to get dark for the second half. I ran a lot more of the night section than last year and was pleased to find fellow Vegan Runner Maria at the 61.5 mile checkpoint. This meant I was supplied with coffee with soya milk and some tasty vegan sandwiches (hummus and golden syrup - not both at the same time as I thought when she first told me what she'd brought!).Then onwards into the dark until past Barbury Castle, where it finally got light during the final few miles of the run (it was a shame that the sunrise was behind us). We arrived at the finish just before 7am, making my time 18:49 - over two hours faster than my previous best. The race is the UK Trail Running Championships and though I only got 5th place lady (or 16th overall), Helen won the 'Vet 40 lady' category so I was really pleased. Breakfast in Avebury was most welcome, before we were taken to Swindon to catch a train home.
This a superbly well organised event and one that will continue to grow. I'll certainly be back again to enjoy this national trail.