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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