Any event that has ‘Challenge’ in the title has to be tough to live up to the billing and this one certainly does.
It comes in 3 forms, half marathon, full marathon and Ultra (50km). I took on the Ultra, which is the marathon course with an added loop, an added loop which is the hilliest section of the event.
It’s pretty easy to see the extra section that makes up the ultra route. It’s the big bump in the middle.
You’d have to be pretty picky to find anything to moan about when it comes to this event. A lovely start/finish area in a small village hall with all the facilities you need. A great route, very varied, mainly off road and as challenging as I have ever seen. Excellent aid stations with everything you need (although it did look like they were going to run out of water) and finally very well sign posted (although I got lost).
You even get your own personalised number.
About 85% of the course is off road. Some of it really quite tricky.
After an amusing race brief about the perils of getting lost and the lack of sympathy that would be received by anyone getting lost (offers of navigation courses), we set off to the start line.
The start is on the road near race HQ and you head off downhill for around a mile before turning off onto tracks and fields.
As you can see, the terrain is very varied and it does undulate from the very beginning. Due to the dry weather, many of the fields that we crossed we pretty rutted as we followed the paths made by the tractors. This not only slowed you down, but it made it tough on the ankles and concentration was definitely needed not to take a tumble.
In the distance of the photo above, you can just about make out a herd of cows. Well they were waiting for us. Staring. They really didn’t do much apart from stand very close to the stile that we had to climb over.
And here they are. I love cows and they don’t really bother me, but this would have been a problem for some people.
While I think about it, the stiles. Yes, the stiles. I heard different people say different things, from 45 to 90, but there are certainly lots of them. Some small, some high (even with my long legs), some stable, some not so. They certainly are a pain when you’ve got 20 plus miles in your legs.
Anyway, back to the route. More changing scenery until you reach the 1st check point.
I said it was lovely, didn’t I? You head up the Weald Way past the bluebell woods and along the lovely paths through pretty little villages.
Checkpoint 1 was typical of them all. Very well stocked and very friendly people manning each station. Sweet, savoury, water, coke and lovely fruit.
The lovely countryside continues to come and the miles continue to pass until you get to the extra loop that turns the marathon into the ultra.
Some of these sections were pretty technical as well. Thin pathways with gorse either side.
So this is where it really starts to get tough. The climb up to Ashdown Forest and the turn around point is demoralising. The climb has an elevation gain of 140m over a pretty short distance.
When you get on top of the hill, It is open and exposed and it was really heating up.
This was a real low point for me, so I have now idea how Jon managed to get this photo of my forcing a smile. At this stage you’re not even half way and overheating.
At least you’ve got the lovely views to keep you company, but even the downhill sections are pretty tricky.
This section really hurt the knees and you needed to concentrate on the bumps and the stones in the paths.
And then another big hill. Thanks a lot Weald country. Another very long walk.
This is the view back down from near the top. As you can see, it is long and exposed to the sun.
On the way back we followed the Vanguard Way.
The countryside was no less lovely, but I took less photos. A natural result of being totally knackered and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
So you head back to the HQ where the finish is located. A warm welcome is waiting along with tea, coffee and cakes.
Oh yeah, and a lovely medal.
So, what about my race. I wanted to go round in 6 hours 30 minutes. I didn’t. I would have done so with a few minutes to spare, but getting lost less than a mile from the end put an end to that. I lost 25 minutes and got home in 6 hours 49 minutes. I am pretty happy with that, all things considered.
I made 3 huge mistakes in this race. Mistakes that I should not be making at this stage and having done so many races now.
Firstly, I got my footwear wrong. Not having the cash to have many pairs of shoes, I tend to have 1 pair on the go at once. Sadly said pair split just over a week ago. I panic bought a pair that I shouldn’t have bought, as I couldn’t find a direct identical replacement pair. This resulted in blisters and sore feet. I don’t remember when I last had blisters.
Secondly, I ran with an injury. It’s stupid, I know. I’ve never had so many DNF thoughts go through my mind so early in a race. Compensating for a sore achilles meant that I got aches elsewhere. I’m too stubborn to stop once I’ve started, but it wasn’t my best decision to start in the first place.
Finally, getting lost is a bad idea. 3 separate groups got lost at the same place within about 10 minutes of each other. We all ended up on a path together after realising that we had come to a dead end. We retraced our tracks to find the last arrow/hazard tape. There was a turn left sign on a stile we had gone over. None of us thought it was there went we went over the stile. We would have had to almost touch it while going over the stile. Had one of the locals been mischievous? Who knows?
Anyway, a few lessons for the future, but I’m really pleased with how this went and how my mental toughness got me through some really early low periods.
I would seriously recommend this event, whether it be the half, full or ultra. I will probably not do the ultra again, as I want to pick and choose the ‘big’ events that I do and try not to repeat them. However, I will certainly look at the High Weald Challenge, the sister event of the Weald Challenge. If it’s anything like this race, it’s well worth doing.
A huge thank you to the organisers and the volunteers. You should be very proud of this event.
Take care and happy running.
I am now definitely going to give my body a rest for a while.
Photos are mine and courtesy of the amazing Jon Lavis