Ashridge Trail Half- all the superlatives

The prettiest, most hilly, slowest and probably hottest race I have ever done.

The day started with mouldy toast. Only half a slice before I noticed! In my defense the bread was in the freezer, and I didn’t put the light on in the kitchen, and it was seedy bread. But still yuck!

The car park was about a mile walk from the race start, so we got there with enough time for me to collect my number. I met up with a couple of Sweatshop peeps (I had inadvertently persuaded them to sign up when I mentioned it, as they are fans of off-road smaller races too). I do like the smaller low key races- no big bag drop buses or staggered starts, no silly warm up, just someone with a megaphone telling you to watch out for roots, and an inflatable arch to run through.

It was beautiful. So pretty. The prettiest race. The woods were filled with foxgloves, and the shade was lovely on such a warm day, although you had to look so closely as there were so many exposed roots- several people tripped over.

After 2 miles we had to stop and join a queue to climb over a stile- it was that sort of race.

After a few miles in the woods (maybe 4 or 5) we were out into open fields with high grass- again underfoot was tough as you had to lift your feet up so high, plus the sun was beating down. I was glad of my suncream but wishing I had my visor.

As I had decided to just enjoy it and not go for time, I went for a bit of an ultra style plan- walk the steepest hills, and there were plenty. The route was well marked with plenty of marshals, but at one point a group of us were unsure where to go, and luckily one of them whipped out her map (our printer ran out of ink so I couldn’t print one even though we were all instructed to)- I ended up chatting to her for a bit as we walked up a hill- she had signed up to an ultra and had already run 10 miles that morning!

The steep hills were so steep, and as you can see many were un-shaded. This gave beautiful panoramic views of the countryside, so I tried to focus on that and not the miles left to run.

This hill was at about mile 6- but it was deceptive as it curved so you thought you had got to the top, only to curve around the hill and realise you had a little down dip, before carrying on up.

Then you had a really steep downhill that was hard to run, and another really steep up bit to finish mile 8. My toughest half ever for sure.

From the top of one of the hills.

After running downhill through more fields, the route went back into woods for some glorious shade. But then, the worst part. I often struggle around mile 9-10 as I am far enough in to be tired, but not quite close enough to the finish for a final push. Well, then there were stairs. Steps in the woods. Going up. Massive wooden planks with sunken earth steps. A trip hazard if you were running. I was making use of the hand rail and almost hauling my shaky legs upwards. Looking at my Garmin the steps went up for just shy of 200ft. That is a lot of steps.

I had made sure I stopped at the water stations to have a proper drink and not just throw water down my front and perhaps manage accidentally to choke down a few sips (that is what usually happens when I try and drink from cups when I run)- at one of them I had 2 cups of water as I was so thirsty. On a side note the marshals were all fantastic- there were plenty of them, and they were all cheering on every runner. There were also some funny signs, for example half way up some of the tough hills/ stairs there were signs saying “Keep going, you’re nearly at the top”!

Thankfully the last few miles were mainly through woods (at one point I did have to jump over a fallen tree trunk that was blocking the path!), although the 400m to go sign was right at the bottom of a hill. Urgh, hills up to the finish line are just so tough.

Anyway, I got to the end. And wasn’t the last!

Two of the Sweatshop group were there waiting for me, as well as Andy (who had spent the morning sitting in the sun listening to podcasts, although he did say he started to worry about me and had even been to the ambulance station to check I had not been brought in!). I had a banana (hooray, I love a post -race banana but hardly any races seem to do them any more) and some water.

Official time is 2:42.17 (although my gun time is the palindrome ofย 2:42.42!). My slowest by 10 minutes! To think I ran Bath earlier in the year in 2:06 something! But they were worlds apart, and of course it is my first trail half, so really it’s in a different category. (To give you an idea of how other people fared, the first person finished in 1:29, whereas at Bath they finished in 1:03, and the final person finished in 3:32).

We slowly walked back to the car park, where I had some nuun in my second bottle of water, and changed into my t-shirt. I did bring a whole change of clothes as originally we were going to go out for lunch, but I was exhausted and just wanted to get home for a shower.

That wiped me out!

I had work to do this afternoon but ended up falling asleep on the sofa in front of the athletics- whoops. I may get up the energy to do it later on…

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34 thoughts on “Ashridge Trail Half- all the superlatives”

  1. Well done! Sounds like a lovely race. It was so bloody hot today, I’ve decided I’m not running another summer half! I went out hard for the first two miles at Hackney half, and then had to ease off as the heat was too intense!

    1. Yes running a half at this time of year is so tough- but I think any racing is hard in the heat.

  2. Wow! Sounds so epic! Well done! This sounds similar to the trail marathon I did last year (and will be doing in August – Cheddar Gorge). No way you could run for a time but it’s such good fun. Like an adventure and you feel such a sense of achievement at the end. It’s brilliant. Glad you enjoyed it! For my trail half I ran 20 minutes slower, and Ben took 3 hours! (But he wasn’t very fit back then bless him).
    I love races like this because there seems to be a bit more camaraderie – a “we’re in this together” feeling as it’s so epic and not a bog standard road race. Lots more people willing to chat!

    1. Yes I did chat to a lot of people- far more than other races. It was very friendly like that.
      I remember seeing your race report from Cheddar last year- it sounded so tough, and in August too! Gosh! So tough!

  3. This sounds like my sort of race! Well done, it must have been incredibly tough in the heat we had on Sunday. And those hills look HUGE! I much prefer running up steep hills to down them though. I always struggle to trust myself to just ‘go’ on the downhills and constantly find myself holding back and everyone else zooming past me!

    1. It was ultra-style with lots of people run/walking. I was worried on some of the downs as they were so steep- I didn’t want to fall or twist an ankle or anything.

    1. Yeah it is not good! I kept thinking about the mould while I was running too- although thankfully I was OK. Can”t have eaten too much!

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