If I had the kind of family who had any interest in joining me on my distance running exploits, The Ranscombe Challenges are the one event I have done that I would feel really happy bringing them along to. Unlike ‘Proper’ marathons they are not set length events, instead they have a time limit, during the summer this is 12 hours to run as many laps as you want, and this is what makes it ideal for inviting anyone and everyone who would have an interest in spending a day, or even just a morning in the countryside. However far you go you always get the bling, and let us be clear the bling is mighty impressive. The aid stations are laid out like a good old fashioned tuck shop with penny sweets, crisps, penguin biscuits and other tuckshop goodies.
During the winter I have known Tea and Soup to be served to cold and tired athletes, and there are always people hanging around to chat to. The people that you meet are warm and encouraging, it has a bit of a parkrun feel, so much so that by my third race I was handed my number simply because I was recognized as a repeat offender.
All distance runners need an event like this now and again, a low key laid back meet up with no pressure and no huge crowds cheering and turning a personal challenge into a spectacle. I can remember at Brighton somebody making what they must have thought was an encouraging remark as I passed in my last mile, and if I had had the energy I would have punched them in the face. The crowds who have no idea of the pain and misery I was in were not always helpful, at Ranscombe I am a lot more understanding because pretty much everybody there is a distance runner, or knows a distance runner and has seen just how hard it can be. Any comments made are either with a tongue firmly in cheek or as a form of support which everyone indulges in. This kind of mutual encouragement and enthusiasm makes it easy to add another marathon notch to the belt. If you want to do your first race that is longer than a Half, you can do it here, just complete 4 or 5 laps. If you want to try an Ultra then just do 8 or more laps, which brings us back to why it is so good to bring your family to. While you are nocking up another marathon your companions can have a very pleasant stroll around with a lap or two earning their own bling and soaking up the atmosphere that normally only distance competitors partake of.
With all that out the way I guess I can tell you a little more about my actual day at the Ranscombe Summer challenge, I and my friend who I gave a lift to arrived late. Just in time in fact to see the main field off. Still we were not the only latecomers and one of the joys of these challenge events is that the start time is always flexible, time is not that important it’s all about the miles. It wasn’t long till I had the old Heart Rate monitor strapped on and set out with two people I had never met before, and as we plodded off we chatted and introduced ourselves.
The course at Ranscombe starts with a very gentle incline up before reaching a sweeping curved downhill stretch through an open field. At this point my Heart Rate started dropping and I had to pick up my pace in order to increase it back into zone 2 again. I hastily explained to my new friends that I really wasn’t properly in control of my pace and started pulling away. From then on I spent most of the time running alone again, much like the South Downs, however as this was a lap marathon there was a constant stream of people either passing me, or being passed by me and of course sometimes their pace co-incided with my own so I never quite had the same sense of complete isolation.
Both Ranscombe and the South Downs are very firmly in trail marathon territory and both have similar elevation. I would have to say that Ranscombe is the harder of the two. Although the hills were steeper over the South Downs there were long stretches of even ground and gradual downhill stretches which meant you had time to recover nicely, at Ranscombe there is only one decent long downward incline which is just about a mile long. Aside from that the course is pretty much solidly up and down. All in all I was pleased with my performance pretty much exactly the same time that I ran in June along the Downs.