Last week I ran the Compton Downland Challenge, this is an annual 40 mile (and has a 20 mile option) cross country race over the Berkshire Downs. It is organized by Compton Harriers, by Dick Kearn, the guy who also does the Grand Union Canal Race (I learnt this from other runners on the course). It starts at the Downs School in Compton and winds it’s way out to Streatley before heading back to the School (for the 20 mile finish) and then on in a North Westerly direction, crossing the A34, towards Wantage before turning South again back to the School.
Compton is just up the road for me, so even though it was being held on Easter Saturday, which didn’t go down well at home , I decided to give it a bash. So a week of tapering and early start saw me at the Downs School at 8:30 on the Saturday morning.
We started off with a couple of laps of the school playing field, to thin the crowd out and then 1/2 mile through some woods before crossing the road and heading out over the Downs.
The first 10 or so miles headed East(ish) across fields, paths and bridleways, over undulating ground. Then around the 10.5 mile point came a short (300ft) but pretty steep hill, it slowed everyone to a walk. It had now been a few hours since my porridge so I took the opportunity to munch on a chewy energy bar – MISTAKE – I was huffing and puffing up the steep hill already, trying to chew at the same time just wasn’t working, there was snot and food flying out of my mouth and nose at the same time, followed by a gasp for breath that hoovered it all back into my mouth, down my throat and into my lungs. Plenty of people gave strange looks to this snottery, foody, wheezing mess as they passed me…
From there we continued on towards Streatley, there is a great section when you’re high up on the hillside looking down into the town of Streatley, you can see the Thames and for miles across the land – really scenic. At this point I met the first of 3 people that had done the GUCR (147 miles from Birmingham to London), and learned that the guy who organized this race was the same one that organizes the GUCR. We shared an out of control sprint down a grassy slope and then I lost them…
At about the 17 mile point I met up with a guy from Reading and we ran together for a few miles, at the split he headed back to the school to finish the 20m and I headed on for the second half.
Things went well till about the 28 mile point, I think I started to run out of energy (‘bonk’). I had been pretty much sailing through the aid stations up till now, just refilling my water bottle, and I’d had an energy bar at 11 miles and then a gel at 21 miles. It also got mentally tough here – the fact that I still had a half marathon to complete was screwing with me. I think I had another gel, but this section was through a wooded area and a bunch of people past me. I ran/walked until about the 31 mile point then got a bit of consistency back for a couple of miles to the aid station at about 33 miles. It got tough again for the next 3 miles into and through East Ilsely where I had a brief aid station stop to devour some peaches – bliss !! During this section I was resigning myself to an 8 hour finish if I was lucky…
The final section, from about 37 miles on, was much better – I had turned up the volume on my phone and Runkeeper was telling me the time, distance and pace. I struggled to do the mental arithmetic, but eventually realised that if I got my finger out I could get under the 7h:30m that I targeted. Those last 3 miles were a race against the clock. I had renewed vigour and really felt like I was flying (although the splits tell me it was only 10m:46s / mile). I felt unstoppable, and finished feeling really strong.
In summary, this was a great race for me – it’s just up the road, it’s the furthest I’d ever run, beautiful countryside, it was inside my 7h:30m target and I felt strong at the end. It was also only 10 minutes longer than my last ultra, which was 8 miles shorter, so a massive personal improvement.
Official Result : 40 miles in 7:26:12 coming 57th out of 102 finishers