This event had been at least six months in the making. Planning, plotting and getting lost in fields trying to make sure I had a route that was equally challenging as it was scenic. I hadn’t run the whole course but I had done the route in sections. I had a gpx file to download, a map to follow and my first attempt at route instructions. I had no idea who was going to turn up and a panicked last minute blog post before the event prompted a couple runners to reassure me that I wouldn’t be running the course alone. Phew!!
I had been watching the weather for the weekend all week. Rain, no rain, heavy rain, no rain, showers, no showers. Even hours before the start Metoffice weather forecast 80% chance of rain.
I had badges made by my lovely son, printed out copies of the route description in case anyone didn’t have one. My number and my husband’s number on a handy strip of paper in case anyone had an emergency. A sign in sheet so I could contact emergency services if anything happened.
I was so over prepared for my own Leighton Ultra that it felt like I was heading out to run the Lakeland 50 all over again.
I got to the Tesco car park just after 7:15am. I am soooooooo grateful to Lesley for picking me up in the morning so I could drag down my bag of bits and my own running gear for the morning registration as it might as well have been. Goolia (Jewell of Linslade) was also on hand to help out and Disco Stu a fabulous local ultra-runner I look up to for inspiration. The skies looked heavy with rain and I was prepared enough to run the whole route even if it did rain.
As the time was getting close to 8:00am we started seeing people in running gear turn up. A gentleman from Peterborough – WOW!!!! A very lovely lady from Fleet and her husband who would be taking photographs along the route. Then a very lovely gentleman and his three lovely ladies who were local to Leighton Buzzard. I’ll happily add names later but because I didn’t ask I’ll not add them to my blog just now. I know I took names and numbers at the start of the event but I did destroy the emergency contact piece of paper like I said I would. Data protection and all that jazz!
After a few introductions and handing out of badges and emergency details and such we all left Tesco’s at 8:08am. Just as we left it started to rain, I found this utterly hilarious. We had all be standing around under the collection point in Tesco car park with not a drop of rain in sight and just as we leave it starts to rain!!! Hahaha!! Perfect timing! Thankfully the rain didn’t last long and I’m guiding our happy band of ultra-runners through Leighton Buzzard towards the start of the muddy trails opposite the Leighton Buzzard narrow gauge railway stop at Vandyke Plant. It’s no longer raining and the trails are thankfully not boggy or filled with mud puddles. The broad bean field of doom had been harvested and re-seeded which still managed to slow us down with mud platform trail shoes by the time we finally got across the field. Whether its leg snagging plants or shoe clogging mud that field manages to slow me down every time I cross it!!
Through a small avenue of trees and out onto a rough trail road. It was here that Mr Peterborough Ultra Man headed out onto the trails alone looking very comfortable and at a good speed.
A sharp left turn is where the next footpath across a field or two is hidden. Uphill across a field and a quick hello to some graves and we’re on road heading towards Hockliffe. The next road crossing can be a bit dangerous as cars heading to and from the Hockliffe traffic lights can be racing around corners. Thankfully the next turn is onto another quiet country road and we’re heading to a small farm. I’m always surprised to see the ostriches in their little field but I’m starting to enjoy seeing them now. Through a field with a couple very frisky horses – Note to self: Walk through this field or warn farm owner of race to allow the horses to be less stressed out. More uphill and more mud fields and then down into Tilsworth the first checkpoint. I was expecting to reach this checkpoint by 10am and thought the pub might be open. We were 30 minutes ahead of what I expected and I still don’t know if that pub opens at 10am. We didn’t pause for a break and carried on towards Sewell farm. A few more fields to traverse and thankfully nowhere near as muddy as the last few and we reached the A505 footpath crossing. Crossing this with one or two other people was not an issue but crossing here with a few people on a Saturday morning was looking very risky. We did manage to cross safely but I will be changing this crossing to go over the footbridge instead. It’s path that I would like to avoid but for safety it’s a better choice.
We pass Sewell farm and we are now storming along green lane towards Dunstable Downs. There’s very little let up in the climb towards the Dunstable Downs Centre and by the time we get there it’s a welcome relief to have a comfort break and grab a cup of tea. Yes, a cup of tea!! It was a very civilised ultra, even though there was loads of mud still sticking to our trail shoes haha!!
We left the Dunstable Downs Centre still sipping and slurping our hot drinks. I collected the empties in my trash bag and then we were all back to running along the trails. We were now following the Dunstable Downs Challenge route for the marathon distance past Whipsnade, through Studham and on to Little Gaddesden along trail paths that took us through woods, fields, woods, fields, woods, fields. This section has the feeling of Deja vu for me. Down a long steep hill which has a wonderful view of the steep hill we were going to climb after crossing a road! Yikes! That big dip in the middle of the elevation profile was this point in the route. Another field and footpath behind some houses and we reach the next pub Bridgewater Arms. This pub was open but Ashridge coffee shop and the promise of a cookie with a mug of tea just under 2 miles away felt like a better option so we carried on towards the golf course and then towards Sallow Copse. After following a woodland trail for just over a mile we reach the Ashridge Monument car park and coffee shop. We all decide to take advantage of the lovely LOVELY cakes on offer and decide to have a break.
Sweet tea and a giant chocolate chip cookie taste wonderful after 18 miles – YUM!!
It’s starting to drizzle now and we’re all getting a bit chilled. The lovely local gentleman was worried that the trail route from Ivinghoe Aston would break his three lovely ladies and they wouldn’t want to tackle another ultra again after attempting mine! I couldn’t have that and he was thinking of staying on the road from Ivinghoe Aston all the way to the canal. That sounded very tempting!!
Up to now I’ve had the company of the lovely lady from Fleet playing catch up to lovely gentleman and his three lovely ladies. They’ve always been within a minute or two of us and we had been catching up regularly. After the Ashridge coffee shop that changed because lovely gentlemen knew Ashridge very well. By the time we left the forest path from the coffee shop heading downhill towards the climb for Ivinghoe Beacon the lovely gentleman and his three lovely ladies were a long way ahead in the distance.
Ivinghoe Beacon was its usual windy self and the views were spectacular. We got a great view of the Whipsnade lion and the rest of Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire. Leaving Ivinghoe Beacon I followed the gpx route I had on my etrex because each time I’ve tried to find a route down to Ivinghoe I’ve managed to get lost. Not by much but the route never seems to match the maps. Today was no different but thankfully we didn’t go too far astray. The lovely lady from Fleet was very cheerful and we were chatting away. She could have done this route much faster than my plodding place and I’m very VERY grateful for her company over the whole route and especially over the last six miles from Ivinghoe Aston. My legs were tired and I should have stuck to the route that I planned from Ivinghoe Aston but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. We took the road down to the canal instead. I’m still not sure that was any better than the trail route!!
Plus – whose idea was it to put six FLAT miles on the end of an ultra? Come on!! Own up!! Sigh! Yup. ME!!
It was tough going but I packed my gymboss just for this flat section. Five minutes running, three minutes walking. I’ve done that on a number of flat routes and I’m faster doing that then keeping up a plodding half running, half walking pace – the shuffle! The road felt like it was never going to end and the beeps in-between the running/walking felt like they were getting shorter by the time we reached the canal. Oh the canal. It was a huge relief getting there. Lovely lady from Fleet was looking strong and confident and this kept me moving to the finish. Oh the finish.
7 hours and 58 minutes of Leighton Ultra with a slight detour that excluded Slapton from the route.
After only ever managing to get out and run this route in sections, putting it all together was a wonderful experience.
Now I have some homework to do. The route through town might change to go through Rushmere or Redwood. Or I could put Shenley Hill in after the canal. After running past the Tiddenfoot Lake on the way back I realised that would have made a better starting point with parking available and a leisure centre a short walk away for people to use for changing. I have no idea why I didn’t think of that at the time of planning this ultra but next year – yes next year!! – it’s going to be back with a few tweeks and hopefully some aid stations and with a licence to make it all official. Yes, official!!
Leighton Ultra will be back in 2015 and I will get the route notes checked thoroughly before handing them out. Thank you to Mr Peterborough man who completed the whole course in 6 hours 24 minutes (course record holder), Lovely local gentleman and his three lovely ladies and the very lovely lady from Fleet and her husband for being the event photographer for the day. You were all very nice and thank you so much for turning up.
Plus – if you’re still reading this – THANK YOU.