I love the LDWA Challenge off-road running (and walking) events: beats a road marathon any day. At every checkpoint, acres of Jaffa Cakes, biscuits, slices of Battenburg cake, peanut butter sandwiches, cheese and tomato sandwiches, flapjacks the size of wall-tiles, all available as you trot around glorious countryside! What more could you ask for?!
For my non-UK readers (hello today to the reader from Guam: how did you get here?!?!), LDWA stands for the UK’s Long Distance Walkers Association which has dozens of walking groups operating around the UK’s green and pleasant land, organising walks of all sorts of distances from a few to a hundred miles.
Every now and then these groups put on a real treat: organised “Challenge” events which are then open to runners as well as walkers. The object of a LDWA Challenge event is to get round the fields/stiles/hills/mountains/mud bath terrain as quickly as possible consuming as much Battenburg cake (a British favourite), Jaffa Cakes, peanut butter sandwiches and Salt ‘n’ Vinegar Twisters without being sick.
A few days after my recent Troller’s Trot event I’d forgotten those very sore legs (which lasted days) so decided to sign up for this one: the quicker I get used to regularly running marathons again the better. The Daffodil Dawdle 27 miler has been going for an impressive 25 years, dawdling around the Newmarket racing stables and stud farms. I was a bit concerned though at the winner’s time of recent years: 4 hours or slightly less for an advertised 27 miles? Surely not; with road marathon winners coming in anywhere between 2 hours 10 and 2 hours 30, up to 45 minutes or so might be added to a road time for the winner of an off-road event . . . but well over an hour?!
I was right to be concerned . . .
It was raining from the off and I didn’t make a great start trying to follow the route instruction: “From back of hall TL then BR thru young trees.” It’s been a while since I’ve followed LDWA-instructions such as this and what I thought was the left side of the hall was actually the back of it so I was wandering aimlessly across the car park field jibbering to myself trying to find the elusive “young trees”. So that was 5 minutes added to my overall time to start with!
Yep, you can’t beat a long-distance LDWA event to challenge the mind as well as the body. Take this instruction, for example: “TR on Rd, in 100 yds at FPS TL on grassy Tk with Hg on R. At end of Fld thru gap and Ahd with ditch on R. In 450yds over earth bridge and TR with ditch on R. In corner TL (WMP), in next corner TR (WMP) on enclosed FP. In 225yds TL X FB. X Fd (280). X FB. SLOT (310) to SP. At Rd TL. In 50yds TR on Tk (yellow topped post and FPSP West Wratting 2).”
Having cracked that code using the abbreviations key and a compass . . . congratulations! You’ve covered 1.13 miles since the last route instruction! So you do need your wits about you on these courses: not a time for plugging in and zoning out with the iPod.
By late March the mild winter’s grip has gone and with it any chance of frozen ground. The route was therefore extremely muddy throughout and was a challenge for my Brooks Cascadia’s grip. While the rain had eased off after a couple of hours the ground remained saturated with the ploughed fields yielding up all types of devilish mud: the type that just sticks and adds a couple of kilos to your total weight for several hours; the type that oozes with the cow excrement to engulf your shoes and feet; or just plain old wet and splashy mud. This was tough on the legs.
Which were grateful for a couple of minutes rest at checkpoint 2: what to choose of the available food glut? My brain plumped for the sugary Jaffa Cakes and peanut butter sandwich; I hadn’t eaten much at CP1 and my body was telling me my glucose stores were running low.
It was just the trick to get me along to CP3 at 21.8 miles. Here I have a confession to make: it was just 200ml, but it was teasing me as soon as I went into the Burrough Green Reading Rooms . . . an unopened bottle of Coke! While I really didn’t like the taste (a good sign after more than 5 months of abstinence) 200ml was just enough to give me a quick hit of sugar. A couple more bites from the Feasting Table of Treats and I just had 5 miles to go, passing the local library out of Burrough village.
By now I was combining walking with running to eat up the remaining distance. I was now passing the 9am early start walkers of the shorter 18 mile course through some narrow tracks so it was a bit busier than the previous lonely miles and it was good to exchange words of encouragement with others. The husband of a couple was suffering badly with the leg cramps so I gave him a capful of my Elete electrolyte to hopefully ease the final push (either that or he was sick from the strong salty dose I’d given him).
The course from here took us through dozens of racing stables and stud farms: I knew Newmarket is known to be the HQ for this but I had no idea just how much of the countryside was devoted to it. I spotted what was clearly the winner of the 2017 Derby but didn’t stop to find out more as I had a race to finish . . .
And that’s the great thing about these events: getting the opportunity to explore and learn more about the countryside you’d never otherwise see.
Finally, I “emerge from wood onto enc FP. Thru Kg into fld, TR Hg on R, thru Kg to Rd. TL and R to finish . . .” and a vegetable soup and one of those wall-tile sized flapjacks to replace some of the 4,083 calories my heart rate monitor was telling me I’d burnt off.
My GPS tells me this was a 26.56 mile course which I covered a few minutes faster than the shorter 26.2 miles I covered at the Troller’s Trot 3 weeks ago: so a small improvement in the long, slow, endurance fitness required to be rebuilt at this stage.
My finishing times aren’t great but the goal for now remains rebuilding the ability to keep going with a manageable average heart rate for extended periods of time and recover quickly enough to do it again in ever-decreasing time gaps. And the time gap to the next marathon is 2 weeks.