The 'Golden Country' was visited again at the weekend with my fourth running of the Marlborough Downs 33 mile challenge. Back in 2010 I entered this race knowing Henry Morris would run it with me, this was to be my first ever ultra marathon. I also made this an opportunity to raise some money for youth development at Bedford Tigers, my local team. So this race has a huge importance in my running roots.
I can recall conversations at certain points on the track while every revisit creates new conversations and memories. I suppose it's like slowly writing a book in different chapters, composing a song with different layers or maybe just throwing maccaroni at glue covered paper.
I'd received a voicemail from Henry mid week to tell me he wouldn't be running as the 110 miles he'd run 2 weeks earlier circumnavigating the North Yorkshire Moors had taken its toll, in previous years I'm sure I would've been more nervous of what lies ahead but there's sufficent comfort in my own pacing and navigation abilities.
The race began at 9am with the usual 20 minutes of bottle necks as runners try and make their way over stiles as quickly as possible. Passing the first checkpoint into West Woods doing my best to dodge the mud and deep standing water we headed up onto the hill tops where you get to see how stunning the Wiltshire countryside really is.
Around mile 12, still feeling strong, the course changes to the Kennet and Avon canal, where you can put your foot down for roughly 3 miles along the towpath. I had a good pacer in front of me and before I knew it, checkpoint 4 and 15 miles had been covered.
Snaffling a few jaffa cakes, jelly beans and fig rolls with a few cups of water, Miriam, who had timed the meeting to perfection, sent me on my way with another helping of sunscreen.
The route begins to turn East heading back to Marlborough but also begins to slow down as you climb the steepest hill in the race. About 500 yards from the fifth checkpoint I saw some people sat in a ditch adjacent to the stone filled path I was on, as I got closer it was apparent I knew these drips. After effects of a heavy night were clear to see but always great to have your mates make the trip out to see you.
Leaving Henry, his brother Ed, Tim and Will behind (I would see them again twice over the next couple of hours), I walked up to the radio masts and onwards to Cherhill monument and another white horse, just after here is where the grind begins, you've covered the most picturesque parts, now it's how you cope over the next 11-12 miles.
I knew I would see Miriam coming into Avebury village and sure enough, there she was, shouting across the World Heritage Site church graveyard and scaring tourists, I declined a Callipo she'd lovingly reserved at the local shop as my 5h 30 target was dwindling. Leaving the Ridgeway you run past the famous Manton House horse racing gallops and it was around here I didn't take a left. I just carried on running, probably adding another 1-2 miles to the route. Finally I hit the houses of Marlborough and followed my nose back to the community sports centre in a time of 5hours 56 to pick up my fourth Marlborough Downs mug fresh from the potters wheel.
I love this race, the history of the location, pace of the race, seasonal time of year. It always seems worth it, worringly there didn't seem to be as many competitors this year. The health of a race event is built on participation and I hope for as long as I stay healthy I'll continue to run this race.