Due to my poor amount of posting lately, I am going to release not one, but TWO blog posts this weekend in order to catch up! Please bear with me in busy family times to get posts up at the moment. This one is from the start of the month, when I participated in a ‘little run’ in the downs.
When planning out your training schedule for a long distance event, such as a marathon, it can be rather pleasant to incorporate running events into them, just to break up the miles. Not every week, but it’s nice to do a few throughout your training, it keeps you on your toes and stops you from running the same old boring routes all the time. Whether it’s running to an event, creating an event sandwich (running there and back), or just completing the distance on the day, there are plenty of options to keep things interesting.
One thing I did notice when signing up for this event was that when you’re training for a spring marathon, there are so many more training runs tailored for the marathons. Quite possibly because you have a lot of the big ones, and obviously London – the one everyone is trying to get in to! So, I had to look a bit harder to find some runs for my autumn marathon, which is when I discovered this little gem – Dunstable Downs Challenge.
There were three different distances available on the day: half marathon, 20 miles, and a full marathon. This particular event, organised by Dunstable Road Runners, fell perfectly into my plan, because it was the day I was due to run the first 20 mile run of my plan. Fab! I signed up! A few minutes later, I realised it was a self-navigating course… and panicked!
I knew a couple of ladies at the club who had participated in self-navigating events, and spoke to one of them who calmed my nerves about getting lost in the Downs by telling me that I would be able to load the route onto my GPS watch. What a relief! A few weeks later, I decided that I could probably find some other nutters from the running club who were willing to join me on my training run, and struck gold – 3 who would run with me, another who would also do the 20 mile, and another who would actually end up upgrading to the full marathon on the day!
The start of this race is at Creasey Park Football Club, home of Dunstable Town Football Club. The route is mostly off-road, with a couple of lanes in between footpaths and a bit of road at the start. The idea is that you have a map, printed directions, your GPS watch, or a combination of all 3, and you find your own way around the course. Some wonderful souls from Dunstable RR had so very kindly been around the course and sprayed bright orange biodegradable arrows onto the ground at any major turning points, so in theory, you couldn’t get lost. That was a godsend, because it threw any doubt out of our minds that we were lost!
Admittedly, my little group almost missed the actual start happening, because we were all too busy chatting away, but soon got the jist when everyone started jogging away from us! And we were off! The route travelled for maybe half a mile out of the football fields occupied by a youth tournament, before bottle-necking onto a loose gravel footpath. I was thankful for the escape into the countryside fairly soon. After that, there was only one main road to cross and we were climbing a big, grassy hill up to the top of the Downs.
I wasn’t sure what to think of the Dunstable Downs before I ran this – I had never been, and having travelled along the motorway to get there, we hadn’t really caught a glimpse of what was in store for us. I just knew that when we got to Whipsnade, I HAD to look out for the elephants – I had been reliably informed that the elephants got walked right next to the Downs, but my source was unsure of the time. PLEASE let there be elephants! Regardless, the footpath would run along the back of one of the animal enclosures, so I was hopeful there would be some animal sightings.
When we reached the top of the steep hill, we were all struck by the amazing view and the gorgeous countryside – the view went on for miles and it was truly stunning! I can’t really complain about the route too much – there were a few hills, but nothing too scary, but my favourite part was just being out in the countryside. It was so peaceful, and despite the fact that there were other runners out on the course, we didn’t encounter that many of them.
There was some bloodshed. I was first to go down. We had passed 8 miles, and entered a field, where I am unashamed to say that there was an attempted selfie with Emily – one of my group – and a rather pretty horse, which may not have turned out that well, after all… About half a mile later, running through the middle of this field along a path that was quite rocky underfoot and covered in straw, I caught my toe on a rock and went splat. It stung, and it bled, but I got up and we carried on. We exited the field, ran a very small portion of road onto the next footpath, got almost to the top, and strike 2 in our group – Mark caught his foot on a rock and fell. Whoops! We also noticed Emily was bleeding on her leg for some reason, but she hadn’t tripped.
Number 4, and a full house didn’t come until much later in the run, maybe 14 miles in, when the last one to stumble, Jess, caught a rock in the ground. She tripped and fell hard. It wasn’t pretty and I felt for her. She had hit her knees hard, and was in a bit of shock, but she was very brave and got up when she was ready to finish the run.
What else can I say about the route? We passed through a playground, where one of our group wanted to stretch, so we stopped, some took on gels, and I went down the slide..! We passed through school grounds, woodland, large fields, and a footpaths including one next to Whipsnade – I am sad to say no animals were spotted in the making of this blog.
We almost got lost twice; both times with a lady who was running in some flip-flop/sandal concoction. The first was when we exited a field into a housing estate, and we were lucky enough to have a local randomly pop out of his large shed and direct us where he had seen other runners go. The second time was going through some school grounds, when we were convinced that there should be a footpath, and just had to rely on the compass on my GPS watch in the end, which eventually, after an unnerving mile of uncertainty, brought us to an orange arrow on the ground. Hallelujah!
The checkpoints were also handy in that respect, although they never seemed to pop up when you expected them. They were well run, and if you wanted to keep running through, your numbers were being efficiently noted down (because if you missed a checkpoint you were essentially disqualified). But, the checkpoints were also well-stocked with sweets and home-made flapjacks. I’m just saying. So we may have stopped for a cup of water and a quick bite!
Tiredness set in around 16 miles, I think mostly due to the terrain. Around 2.5 miles from the end, the welcome sight of the top of the Downs where we had run at the start saw Jess pull away and stretch her legs for a blast to the finish. I was happy knowing I was going to make it at that point. When we got down onto that footpath about a mile from the end, Emily took off, with her marathon also nearby, she wanted to see what was left in the tank. Mark and I opted to stick together and push for what I would like to say was an epic sprint finish! We had a high-five power boost from a young goalkeeper playing in the tournament I had mentioned at the start – he encouraged us and told us we could do it and that was it – another gear found and a race to the end.
Afterwards, we were very pleased to find out that there was tea, coffee, big baps, and cake all included in our entry fees. Some indulging in that and a catch-up with our fellow runners, one of whom had run a sub-4 hour marathon! Incredible. Everyone did really well, and we were happy to have finished on a technical course in just over 4 hours.
This is an event that I must commend Dunstable Road Runners for. I would recommend it, and will definitely be revisiting this one! The medals were also great, and a nice touch that the different distances were all different colours, and had different ribbons. Thank you to all the marshals and organisers, and of course my running buddies!
Thanks for reading,