Ashridge Boundary Run

This Saturday is the running of the Ashridge Boundary Run (www.ashridgeboundaryrun.co.uk) and yet again I won’t be able to attend. Unsurprisingly, the route is run around the boundary of the Ashridge Estate near Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire. It is a 16.5 mile course almost exclusively off-road on a mixture of woodland trails, ridgeway paths and, at the moment, mud.

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I first heard of the race three years ago and every year something has cropped up to stop me entering. This year I am at The Photography Show as part of my day job.

With that in mind I decided yesterday to run the route anyway.

The morning started bright and clear so I thought I’d have pretty good views along the way. By the time I’d got the kids off to school and arrived at Ashridge Estate however, it had clouded over and was pretty chilly at the start.

I started and finished at the Bridgewater Memorial where there is also a really good cafe. If theres one thing the National Trust do well (and there are many) it’s a decent cafe.

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This year the race is being run clockwise so I figured I’d run it that way too. From the memorial I turned right and headed through the woods towards Ivinghoe.

This is a great start to the course as it is flat, smooth and pretty wide. Eventually I turned left and dropped down out of the woods into grassland. This quickly turned right and to the first hill of the day. My Gore Racelight Windshell was soon packed away as I made a  decent (for me) ascent.

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At the top it got quite boggy and I lost the path a bit looking for drier routes. However, it was pretty easy to pick up and I was soon heading for Ivinghoe Beacon. Another short sharp incline takes you to the Beacon and some breathtaking views over the Aylesbury Vale and further north.

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Sadly I didn’t have the best of weather, the wind was  strong and my Ashmei jersey wasn’t quite enough so I pressed on over the ridge.

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Although the race will certainly be well signposted this is the first place where navigation could be tricky. Halfway along the ridge the boundary takes a sharp right down into fields. Yesterday the gates had fallen over and I ran straight past before realising my error. As soon as I was down in the fields the ridge protected me from the wind and I warmed up, especially as it started a gradual uphill climb. A picturesque run through a copse led to a very steep ascent and the first sign of the mud that would feature later.

This part is very narrow as steps have been made up the hill so, if you are going to try overtaking at this point serious trail shoes will be needed to run along the side of the steps.

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From the top it was a straightforward run to the road where, the last time I ran it, I got horrendously lost. Maybe because of this or the fact that the signs may be better this year, I had no trouble following the many switchbacks through the wood and eventually came out on the B4506 and crossed over into the golf club. Good straight surfaces here and I managed to get motoring a bit. This was all new to me as I had gone so wrong before and was a nice stretch down into a valley.

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This section is basically a straight run without deviation until you hit a fence at about 9 miles. Then a right turn up a pretty sharp hill. Immediately at the top of this is a left turn (easily missed) and through a small wood and out the other side.

Bit of a tip for you lucky taller runners. At the end of this stretch, when you pass through a farm and immediately turn right along a narrow downhill path DUCK! There is a piece of wood at about 6′ high (I passed under it easily). I presume it is propping up the fence on the RHS but could scalp the unwary.(Don’t mention it)

This is where the wheels started to come off a bit for me. I’ve no idea why I do it but I never pay as much attention to hydration and nutrition prior to “just” a run compared to a race. Before Sunday’s Spitfire 20 I ate well, drank loads of water the day before and on the morning, had porridge, banana etc. For this run, only 3.5 miles shorter, I had cereal, two cups of coffee and that was it.

By around 12 miles I was feeling it. And you’ll tell by the lack of photos and a much hazier recollection of the course. I’m pretty sure that this part ran alongside another golf course and that once past the fairways was pretty muddy.

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Finally at the end of this stretch I came out at a house in the woods and, unexpectedly, instead of carrying on turned 180 degrees into the driveway, past the house and seemingly back the way I came. My already addled brain was not amused.

I can’t really remember much else of this part. I know I took this shot going along an enclosed footpath which may, or may not, have been here. Sorry!

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Eventually I crossed back over the B4506 and knew I was on the home straight(ish)

After a quick up and down after the road crossing there is a really nice downhill blast along a gravel track before turning right uphill along a path. Along this section there are a couple of trees across the track. One looks like it has been there a while and there is a bit of a path around it but the other looked fresh and may cause a but of a problem if it hasn’t been cleared (more like a decent sized branch).

After this it is pretty level though I was struggling badly now with no energy at all. One more small road to cross and suddenly there is a sign saying Bridgewater Monument 3/4 mile. A massive tonic! I got a bit of energy back and cruised the next 1/2 mile until…

The hill! The final 1/2 or 1/4 mile is all uphill to the finish. I was feeling better now and got up without drama finishing at the glorious cafe.

I would have taken a picture of my food but, even though well deserved, two cakes would make me look a bit greedy so I’ll finish with this…

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If all else fails, this is what you are looking for. They are pretty much everywhere.

Whether you’re racing on Saturday or just fancy a 16 ish mile run through some beautiful varied and “undulating” countryside, enjoy it. It is a great route and providing you remember to fuel properly a really pleasant experience.

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Have I told you I was ill?

This time 2 weeks ago (almost to the hour) I woke up with a cold. Nothing unusual about that, but the timing wasn’t great. I had too much on to be ill. So, much like being injured before a London Marathon, I decided to defer my illness.

No really. I woke up every morning feeling a bit crap but deciding today is not the day I’m going to be ill.

That weekend I was at the Marathon Talk run camp meeting people, running lots and generally having to be well in order to do that.

Immediately afterwards I flew to the Geneva Motor Show for three intensive, very long days. I was being well paid to do a job and couldn’t let anyone down. So again, every morning I deferred.

It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds (and I’m aware it does sound faintly egotistical). As long as there is a jeopardy, something that will be massively affected if you succumb, then I believe the mind is able, in the short term, to postpone the illness. It’s a bit like stopping a toddler from having a tantrum because they want a sweet by distracting them with a colourful picture of an animal.

Unfortunately there is always a pay off. Once I’d finished work and knew I had a couple of days of minimal work on the horizon my body took revenge. Full blown X-rated man-flu has set in and, aside from hauling myself to the Ashmei Ambassador’s selection day last Saturday, I haven’t been able to run for nearly 2 weeks.

This is a critical time in my Manchester Marathon training and I should have been working on speed combined with the longer runs. This Sunday was going to be the final test of where my pace was. The 20 mile Surrey Spitfire is the ideal race to gauge speed over a decent distance but I think I’ll be happy just to complete it.

Its not all doom and gloom though. I am glad I had, prior to the past two weeks, put in some fairly hefty long runs and was way ahead of previous marathon training plans. Hopefully I won’t have lost too much speed in the break and may even be refreshed and have benefitted from the rest.

Hopefully.

Ashmei Ambassadors – strike 2

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Last year I was shortlisted to become an Ambassador for athletic clothing company Ashmei. Unfortunately I didn’t get any further at that point. Unfathomably I have been shortlisted again this year and last weekend was the selection day. A lot of the fellow would-be ambassadors have already shared their recollections of the day and you can find them on twitter under #ashmeiambassador.

For better or worse here is my offering.

 

I’m a minimal kind of guy: minimal height, minimal small talk, minimal intellect and minimal capacity for pain after about 80km.

Ashmei immediately attracted me, not because they aren’t chatty or are a bit stupid (far from it – ahem) but because their design is so simple, so minimalist and yet so gorgeously effective.

This isn’t a kiss-ass ham-fisted attempt to cosy up to the guys from Aldbury, (look it up on Google Earth – they’d love to natter to you in person too) I’ve been wearing their stuff for years.

But for all the good looks what really matters, what makes them stand out from the rest (and yes, the price does put them pretty much at the top end of my budget) is the fact that they do exactly what they say they do. (For older readers, think Cuprinol, for younger ones, ask Grandad.)

Essentially they keep you warm when you’re cold and cool when you’re hot. But the real kicker, the whole reason I buy them – other than attempting to attain some sort of Steve McQueen cool and failing – is that they don’t smell afterwards.

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(Steve McQueen cool – I rest my case)

 

I’m the attractive kind of runner who, for some unknown reason, sweats profusely from miles 3-5 and then my skin gives up bothering. Consequently I’m drenched at the start, clingy in the middle, drying out a bit towards the end. I’ve worn tops that stink like cat vomit after a bit of perspiration and worry that I’m giving fellow racers extra incentive to get ahead of me or at least up wind of me.

I could give you chapter and verse about polyester v merino wool v merino/carbon manufacturing but I’d like you to keep reading so trust me, it works. Read up on it if you must but because of this stuff, I’m no longer “that guy” you avoid in the mid-pack.

Just as well as I’ve just found the one I wore a while ago crumpled up behind the back seat of my car.

A very sociable 10am to the event start meant I could fit in a very unsociable Tring park run beforehand (that hill, seriously, why?). Ever the fatalist I reasoned that even if I failed again at the ambassadorial role, I still had another parkrun in the bank. All not lost.

As soon as I arrived at Ashmei HQ I was relieved of my Polaroids (not as dodgy as it sounds) and had a quick headshot taken (presumably so later they can spread them out, Britain’s Next Top Model style).

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Then there was half an hour or so of mingling with fellow runners. After last weeks training camp in the New Forest I was getting withdrawal symptoms from talking about running so it was great to chat with various people about upcoming races etc. A hot topic was how far people had travelled for the event and again I felt like a fraud being only 20 minutes away. Some had flown or taken overnight trains to be there. Proper dedication.

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Talks by founders, ambassadors and Polaroid takers (I’ll get to these, honest) followed and then we were taken out for a run in the hills of Asheridge Estate. This is probably my favourite area locally with a great 17 mile course around the perimeter of the Estate.

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It was good to be running with so many people and we naturally fell into groups of 2 or 3. The pace was sociable allowing us to get to know each other even on the uphill sections.

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By varying their pace runners could subtly drop back or speed up when they’d had enough of me. I cottoned on to this and using the same tactic managed to chat to a fair few people. I also picked up some decent tips about next years Marathon des Sables from Holly (@ultraholly) who had done it last year. I promised her I shall pester her for more ideas throughout the year.

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And then it was all over. Back to Ashmei HQ, cake and coffee laid on and a final bit of natter before we were on our way.

I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend a morning. The company was interesting and friendly, the countryside stunning, and though I’ll be sad if I get no further (especially as with 3 marathons, 3 half marathons and a 24 hour race in the next 3 months I’m going to need A LOT of kit) it was nice to make new friends, catch up with old ones and continue to build that like-minded community of people passionate about running.

Oh, the Polaroids…

We were asked to bring one shot of ourselves and a personal one relating to our sport.

These are mine:

1. Me, having attempted Striding Edge to Hellvellyn with my son in the ice and decided that today was not the day I would kill us both. There will be other days I can do that…

2. I met this guy on a long run last year ant it seemed the personification of my feelings about running. Its not always about attaining something. Sometimes its about remembering where you are, why you are there, immersing yourself in the surroundings and enjoying the moment. And I loved that the Sainsbury’s bag he had his lunch in matched his robes …