How I found my Ridgeway life…

Last week I shared on Instagram that I had started a blog. Following this I received some wonderful positive messages along with many requests of topics to write about. One request was actually one that I very rarely get asked about. It was one that has had me thinking ever since the comment appeared on my phone. Typically it brought back a flood of memories and in that moment, this blog began. The Ridgeway is in my username and I have the whole route tattooed on my leg with coordinates to my favourite spot. I’ll spare you the mystery, it’s to a car park. Yep. A car park. The Ridgeway to me is a place I call ‘home’ and always get a sense of peace whenever I’m there. Well, it is now. I was asked What was it like discovering The Ridgeway for the first time? Honestly? It was fucking horrible and I never wanted to go back.

 On the 13th December 2015 I decided to sign up to Race to the Stones. My intention was to have a challenge that I could focus on while in the UK, a reason to keep training.  So of course a 100km trail ultra seemed fitting. What an absolute cocky dickhead. There I said it for you. At this point in my life I did a lot of road, in fact only one session per week was off road. The very last race I did prior to Australia was a trail event, my second that I had ever done. I didn't understand how people could enjoy the hills (I still don't), the risk of falling over tree branches and rocks, plus being in the middle of now where. What happens if you get stuck? Correct me if I'm wrong but you're kind of fucked out there! Need to wee or poop? There isn't any toilets. Run around of water? Hope you've watched Bear Grylls on Youtube!

On the 13th December 2015 I decided to sign up to Race to the Stones. My intention was to have a challenge that I could focus on while in the UK, a reason to keep training. So of course a 100km trail ultra seemed fitting. What an idiot. At this point I didn’t know anything about trails. Race to the Stones was simply about doing something insane. Over the years and races I did come to learn about the incredible history of The Ridgeway. You may not know either so here are some fun facts for you (mainly due to me learning about to make a list on WordPress. You’re welcome *Insert laughing emoji… I am yet to learn how to do).

  • The full length of The Ridgeway is 86 miles/ 139km’s
  • It has been used by travellers for at least 5000 years, making it the oldest pathway in Britain
  • There are two events (that I’m aware of) that cover the full length – Ridgeway Challenge and The Druid’s Challenge (Multi day)
  • It crosses through Chequers – The British Prime Minister’s country retreat. Do not stray from the path during this section. There are armed guards who don’t like jokes.
  • Total elevation gain is 2203m/7227ft
  • The terrain is very rocky and chalky. A lot more difficult on your feet than usual trails especially over a long distance
Race to the Stones starts between Watlington Hill Road and Princes Risborough

So with that in mind, I put on my Camelbak hydration pack which I got from a Runners World subscription and off I went (I can see now why they were giving them away! Worst pack ever!!!). This was the first photo of me ever on The Ridgeway, which was about 5km into the race. Check me out with my trail runners etiquette – sticking to the side while speedies fly past. It was here that I realised how rocking this path actually was. The rocks here are quite tame compared to later on in the race. However as you can see, the path is already tough on your feet. I found myself kicking my rocks due to not lifting my feet high enough and not really having much trail experience. This began to absolutely fuck me right off. I’m trying to run but these rocks simply didn’t care. Nor did my free Camelbak, which you can see is bouncing side to side. Yeah that wasn’t annoying. Another lesson learnt. Train with the kit you expect to use. This will confirm that it will be suitable on race day and if you actually need to bin the bastard. I would recommend a well cushioned shoe. If it is dry, go for comfort when tackling any part of the Ridgeway. As the race continued it was my feet that suffered the most. I wore Mizuno Wave Rider 17 during this race which were well worn in, though nothing could prepare me for this type of terrain.

That’s one of the most challenging parts of The Ridgeway, no matter which race you do there, your feet will be what suffers the most. Plus frustratingly, it will be the first part to tell you, ‘fuck this I’m done!’. While it sounds silly, the little rocks are so tough on your feet and difficult to avoid. Along with this you have the glare from the chalk path beaming into your eyes. There obviously are a few hills along the way. They aren’t super steep however they are very annoying, long gradual inclines that don’t end. I would much rather a super steep hill that you can just get it done. The Ridgeway hills just go on and on. As you can see below, early on you are just climbing and climbing and climbing. Don’t worry, I too and confused right now as to why I love The Ridgeway!

Race to the Stones elevation (in metres)

Spoiler alert, I finished Race to the Stones 2016. For the 100km I went through a lot both physically and mentally. It broke me in many ways and I fucking hated it. I never knew running could do this. About five hours after the race, I sat in my lounge room and out of no where I cried like a baby. I didn’t know why, but this happened many times over the week ahead. I was broken but I did it. This Ridgeway helped me realise that actually I can do anything I set my mind to. Yeah I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. Soon after the event I realised that at the time I lived a 15 minute drive from checkpoint 4 (near the middle of the graph), so I began to train here. My confidence was sky high here which helped on the tough runs. I found myself going there more often and sometimes would even take my dinner there. I literally would sit on top on my car bonnet and just look out over Didcot. It’s not the most appealing view, but it gave me a sense of peace. When you battle with anxiety, having a place that makes you feel this way is priceless. This place that once broke me, was becoming the place where I would mend my body and mind.

During my time in the UK I have faced many challenges; physically, mentally and personally. Basically anything that ends in ‘lly’. Mental health, divorce, losing everything, many times of wanting to simply just give up and questioning when all of this pain would end. No matter the situation, I would return to The Ridgeway to help put a pause on life. It’s a place that originally changed my life through that 100km race. In my head it makes sense that even though I’ve gone back each year to this race and each time it breaks me, I need to always go back to where it all began. On the flip side, I’ve got many amazing memories here.

On the 3rd of July, I proposed to my partner Mel in a section of The Ridgeway called ‘The Field of Dreams’. I couldn’t have imagined proposing anywhere else to my best friend.

The Ridgeway is simply a super old trail within the UK that many runners, walkers, sheep and cows venture along. However to some, it is a lot more than just that. To me it is the place where I can go to when I need to pause life and find peace. It’s also a place where I have so many happy and special memories. Memories of running with amazing friends, completing my favourite race, the place I did a marathon with a group of friends in -2 degrees and of course the above, proposing to Mel. It’s my special place, the trail that will always be home to me. And that is why it’s about the Ridgeway Life. It’s a 139km route, so hopefully you get to experience a few kilometres of it, may you also find the peace that I have found there. Either way I hope you find your happy place. If you find me on The Ridgeway, do say hello. My name is Andy and I wish you a good race.

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