10
Sep
12

marathon training – week 13 – dunstable 20 mile challenge

I’d had a good week. I’d trained well and ran a fast 8k training run, knocking 4 minutes off the time I had set at the beginning of my marathon training 13 weeks ago. I was set for the Dunstable 20 Mile Challenge that I had entered, along with a friend of mine, in the hope that it would be something a bit different for our final long run before our respective Marathons in 3 weeks time.
There were 2 small flies in the ointment – The first was that we were both out the previous night at the magnificent Africa Express gig in Kings Cross and much of the energy in our legs had been used up by a solid 5 hours of dancing. The second was that temperatures were forecast to be between 25 and 27 degrees on race day. Gulp.
So, with 6 hours sleep in the bank, I arrived in Dunstable and collected my race number and stored my bag at the start. The facilities were exceptional, clean, bright, lovely toilets, helpful organisers. I had printed out the directions that would guide us round the course and the talk on the start line was of getting lost and perhaps accidentally ending up on the Marathon route. There are 3 concurrent races all starting out on the same route – a Half Marathon, the 20 mile Challenge and a Marathon. Competitors quickly chatted and made friends with anyone who was running the same race as them – the thinking being that they could either help each other round or at least recognise someone running the same route to know they were going in the right direction.
So for the first 6-7 miles, everyone runs the same route – out of the park and straight up the downs, the steep, chalky inclines giving way to fantastic views across the countryside as gliders swoop overhead. The 3 routes then split and the fun begins. Instructions are as good as can be expected but much of the time you are following a bridlepath and looking for just a gap in the hedge which signals the next turning. I took the executive decision that it was better to stop and check the instructions frequently and sacrifice some time rather than bowling on and risk going the wrong way, potentially adding miles to the route. There were check in points along the route and also water stops. Every one of the helpers was lovely, asking how we were doing and plying us with water and jelly babies. Parts of the route are really tough – either because of the inclines or because of the ground underfoot – a recently harvested wheatfield on an incline is difficult to traverse in the midday sun, especially if you’re not sure that your are heading in the right direction. From about 7 miles in, we hooked up with a few other runners and decided to work out the route democratically, stopping and deciphering the instructions at each potential intersection. This also helped us grab a moments rest and some respite from the blazing sun.
At about 17 miles, things started to look familiar again and we split off from the others to complete the run. People out for a day on the Downs shouted encouragement and we arrived back at the race HQ after a punishing downhill and a bit of last mile confusion as we headed to the finish.
All the organisers cheered us over the line, we got a celebratory “Buff” emblazoned with the race name and people couldn’t do enough for us. Free tea, coffee, sandwiches and cake had all been laid on for all the participants and there were showers too if we wanted. This has to be one of THE friendliest races: organisers seemed genuinely interested in our thoughts and it was more akin to getting back to a friends house to find that they had made lunch for you rather than arriving at a Race HQ.
It is a tough course (I was more than an hour and 20 mins slower than my previous 32km) and is, at 33.9km / 21 miles, slightly longer than anticipated. From the general air of camaraderie amongst the runners and the attitude of the organisers, it is clear that this is a race for runners organised by runners. Tough… But I wish every race were as well planned and enjoyable – I cannot recommend it highly enough.
So, 21 miles in the blazing heat, across tough terrain is possibly the best bit of last ditch training I could do. If I can do that, another 5 miles with reasonable temperatures in Berlin and a flat course should be do-able.

Soundtrack to this post: Suffer – M.anifest


1 Response to “marathon training – week 13 – dunstable 20 mile challenge”


  1. September 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    That sounds like a splendid ‘longest run’ experience! You did right to enter such a friendly race to get you through your last long run before you taper. I might look this one up…


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