Recovered or Not? The LDWA New Forest Challenge Marathon
Every year LDWA Wessex host the New Forest Challenge, a navigational event open to walkers and runners, with a choice of two distances – the marathon or 19 miles. This was to be my fourth time attending the event as I find the New Forest a lovely place to run and walk. I’d opted to run the marathon route and was slightly apprehensive as it was taking place a mere 2 weeks after the Punchbowl 30 miles Marathon. How well I’d recovered from that 30 mile run was certainly going to be uncovered!
The event starts from Burley Village Hall, a 30 minute drive from the Lymington car ferry, making it reasonably accessible for us foreigners from the Isle of Wight. At around 7:30 on Sunday 28th February 2016 us Islanders arrived with plenty of time to register and grab a complimentary cup of tea. The walkers were due to set off at 8:00 which gave the friends and family I’d coerced into taking part ample time to sort their maps and do their final kit-checks. A few minutes after 8am I wished them luck and Christine Armstrong, Graham Maddison, Sue and Glyn Williams (mum & dad), all of West Wight Road Runners set off to navigate the checkpoints on the 19 mile route.
As I was registered as a runner I was due to start an hour later, at 9am. So I sat around, chatted to a few fellow competitors and drank more free tea.
Just before H-hour us runners were given a short briefing and all I remember is being told the going underfoot is soft-to-good?! “A bit of a porky-pie”, I thought to myself, and as I later found out – I was correct!
At 9am, maps in hand, the runners made a mad dash across the road and over Turf Hill towards the first checkpoint, a mile away, at Greenberry Bridge. The pace was hot and I was adamant I wasn’t going to get drawn in. Within half a mile I could see a lone soul far ahead of the rest of us who must have been going at around 6.5mins/mile. That was out of my league, and everyone else’s league for that matter, so I just ignored it and settled into what I thought was a sensible pace (9.5mins/mile) for the distance, terrain and how my legs were feeling.
After navigating Vales Moor and passing the Picket Post checkpoint (around 5miles) I knew this was going to be a tough run. I was starting to doubt myself: questioning why I’d ran the Isle of Wight Cross Country Championships the Sunday prior, why I’d pushed so hard at the Army Harris Orienteering Championships just 4 days before. I was now realising I hadn’t recovered 100% from the 30 miler 2 weeks ago and that those race-paced runs in unforgiving terrain had probably put more cumulative fatigue into my legs. The New Forest Challenge, regardless of what pace I was going to push on at, was now going to become mental! A steep learning curve in running with mind.
During the short decline towards Roe Inclosure I spotted Christine and Graham. Wanting to look good, and to catch a few runners ahead, I put a spurt on and starting running with a guy whom I was to have pleasure of chatting with for most of the remainder of the run.
Shortly before reaching the 3rd checkpoint, which was the first manned checkpoint (which offered a chance to refill my water bottle), I passed my parents who seemed to be walking at a strong pace.
A couple of miles later, after ascending Ragged Boys Hill, it was into the mud-fest that was Island Thorns Inclosure. With wide grassy rides, so sodden that I was sinking in half way up my shins, even a brisk walk was a real effort. All I could do was weave in and out of the edge of the tree line trying to find firmer ground. Running, with around 13.5 miles left to go, wasn’t an option, it would have been just too energy sapping. So on exiting the Inclosure, on to the plain towards the 2nd manned checkpoint at Bramshaw Telegraph car park, should have been a relief. But I was met by a strong North Easterly breeze and I was heading North East!
As I entered the checkpoint I could see a group of 3 runners leaving which included the guy I’d ran with 5 miles previously, who’d subsequently dropped me. I thanked the volunteers at the checkpoint and made like the wind in an effort to turn their group of 3 into 4. It took me a mile or so but once in the extremely muddy Eyeworth Wood I overtook another group of 3 to catch the 3 I’d set my sights on.
For the next 8 miles or so we stayed as a group, exchanging stories and keeping each other motivated. This really helped me, as I’d realised over an hour before I wasn’t as recovered from the Punchbowl 30 miles as I thought. Another 2 from the group had also ran the Punchbowl 2 weeks prior so we had plenty to chat about. And even more impressive, one of them, a guy who must have been 10 years my senior, had run 28 miles on Saturday – the day before this marathon!
We passed the Bentley Inclosures, across Ocknell plain and under the A31 without any drama, past the Canadian Memorial and onto the 3rd and final manned checkpoint at Bolderwood. The usual bottle filling and Jelly Baby scoffing pursued in record time and we were on our way. Just before leaving Bolderwood Drive to drop down in the direction of Anderwood Inclosure I passed Christine and Graham again (walking the 19 mile route), said hello and carried on. Then I heard a voice from behind “Alright, how’s it going? Ha, ha, ha…”, I looked over my shoulder only to see it was Chris Pritchett (good friend and fellow runner) on his bike. He’d been to the Southampton Orienteering Club event at Bolderwood and was just starting out on his 20 mile ride back to the ferry. “How far are you in Dan?” asked Chris, “21 miles I think” I huffed, “Looking good, well done, speak later” Chris replied and wended his way. He’d caught me on a short road stretch and I was in a group chatting and trotting along at about 9mins/mile, in honesty if he saw me a mile or so later he might have had a different opinion!
Anderwood was a mixture of tracks and boggy woodland routes without any paths. I was shot by 23 miles and was so glad to be mixing with the group I was in. We discussed who we thought was ahead and realised we were at the thick end of the run with only 2 runners ahead now. The finishing times may lead a lot of people to think otherwise but this is like mega-orienteering, navigating an unmarked route in terrain tougher than many experience in cross country races, and stopping at checkpoints etc… Digression aside, and I wish I can remember their names, but I was glad for the company. The guy who ran 28 miles the day before, who I’m nicknaming ‘The Guru’, said to me “It’s about teaching the mind to rule the legs and not letting the legs ruling the mind“. Great advice I thought. Hat tip to that man, even more-so because he’s aiming to 100 marathon distance (or greater) runs this year!.
We shortly broke into 2 groups of 2 then I got dropped. With ‘The Guru’s’ advice I found a comfortable pace and metronomically closed back up to guy in front (who I was running with at 8 miles).
Staying together for the last few miles we passed my parents again (19 mile walk) with less than half a mile to go. They were surprised to see me as only 4 runners had passed them in the last hour and when they saw me near the 1st manned checkpoint (8 miles in) there were at least 15 ahead of me.
The runner I was with and myself both arrived back in the village hall in a time of 4hours 37 minutes (officially 4 hours 40 minutes as timing was by a helpers watch and we didn’t get off bang on time). We grabbed a cup of tea and sat with the other runners discussing the adventure and found out that we’d come equal 5th overall (results to follow when published). Minutes later mum and dad turned up and proceeded to tuck into the complimentary meal of sausage casserole. Around an hour later Christine and Graham returned looking fresh – I think I can say they seemed to have enjoyed the experience the LDWA offer.
In 2 weeks time I have another marathon: The Larmer Tree Marathon with White Star Running. And yes, I am looking forward it! 😉
Lessons were learned today: I’m not fit enough to fully recover by racing in that time frame. Valuable advice was gladly received: teach your mind to rule your legs. And memorable acquaintances were made.
Food Drink Consumed
LDWA New Forest Challenge 26 Mile route map and elevation
Taken from my watches gpx data, Suunto Ambit 3 Peak.
Total climbing: 2323 ft
Total descent: -2326 ft
Total Time: 04:37:00