Friend of XNRG Damian Carr took on the Ridgeway out and back - possibly the first person to do it in one go - as part of our #RuntoUganda with Humanity Direct. Two weeks on, he's written about his experiences...
So here it goes... my Ridgeway back2back story
Firstly, I reckon the question that everyone wants to know is why "The double"?
The answer was simple... I needed to get back to my car.
So, as soon as I made this comment to my good friend Sam Holloway, he was hooked on the idea. And so was I, not really considering the massive challenge that awaits. To tell you the truth I didn’t even know how far it was. We simply thought it would be a great adventure for all involved. There is something about the combination of the unknown and adventure element that draws me into these challenges, and once I get an idea in my head I am 100% focused on achieving that goal. So I googled and googled some more getting as much information about the course as possible. It would be the longest I have ever ran, plus the course was far from flat.
The Ridgeway is stunning, however with a total of about 14,000ft of elevation gain and decent on different terrain, would this be out of my depth? Have I bitten off more than i could chew? These kinds of questions were racing through my head as is the norm with this kind of madness.
We also linked this challenge to an event that Extreme Energy and Humanity Direct had put together [#RuntoUganda]. These two companies are close to my heart and I feel part of their family so it was great to involve them.
I have to give credit to my crew for this. Comprised of Sam Holloway and Jason Mitchell. They organised everything from checkpoints, pacers to nutrition. They were concerned that I would get lost... YES, even on a well marked signposted route like the Ridgeway. I am known to go off course - I went through a streak of 5 races one year taking detours along the way - I’m a nightmare. But as the saying goes ‘you're never lost, only geographically disorientated’.
Every year there is a race on the Ridgeway called R86. To simplify logistics we used the same checkpoints as the race. We also checked if anyone had attempted this challenge before and couldn't find anything. Why??? …. oh wait, yes it's 175 miles in one push with a painstaking elevation gain - aha, what am I thinking?
So we had to register the route on the FKT (fastest known time) website so it was official. A couple of nights before the event we had a Zoom call with all the crew, pacers and my coach, John ORegan.
This was a great way to finalise any details and go through things that we might encounter during the challenge. As we were finishing off the call I remember someone asking the location of the start point... this made us all laugh as we forgot to even check where the start was. We knew it was somewhere in Ivinghoe Beacon on a hill.
On the Ridgeway
So it’s 3am and the alarm goes. I shot up... it's game time. I sorted my kit out the night before so all I had to do was throw my clothes on, get my breakfast and have it in the van as we travel to the start. My breakfast was easy: black coffee (Sports Barista) and Mountain Fuel morning fuel. We were meeting my pacer Duncan so we were conscious about getting there on time. I remember I was all excited and raring to go, turned round and my mate Sam was munching on a huge bowl of cereal. I said, "how are you going to drive with coco pops in your hand?" He just reminded me to calm down and save my energy. I was like a kid on Christmas day!
Anyway we got to the start. Kit on, watches sorted and the countdown began: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
My heart was racing. I wanted to get going and off this hill as the wind was so strong, and off we went. The crew shouted to relax and slow down. Duncan and I vanished on the trail. The plan was to be patient and just remember it's not the 50k race I’m used to. I am useless at being patient but this challenge had no room for error.
This first 10 miles ticked over comfortably. We headed through Wendover Woods. Duncan is an experienced ultrarunner so to have him as the lead pacer was assuring; he was awesome. His wife was amazing, too. She would pop out in different areas with encouragement.
Checkpoint 1. Here I didn’t really want to stop for too long as that was my usual 50k tactic. The crew made sure I emptied my trash out of my belt and restocked on energy gels, bars, etc, and also filled up my soft flask.
Before we knew it, it was checkpoint 2 and I was welcomed by friends from my area: Pete (aka the pumpkin eater) and his brother. They jumped on the train and we started to cruise the Ridgeway. Around mile 18, we were then joined by another ultra runner, Dan. He had seen the challenge on Instagram and offered to help and keep us company. This shows you the spirit of the ultrarunning community: that unbreakable bond between ultrarunners - I love it!!! The banter was in full swing, everything was all singing and dancing. However, that would soon come to a halt.
We passed Chinnor then said our goodbyes to our lead pacer Duncan (at mile 25ish).
My next lead pacer was a friend of Sam's called Andrea. At check point 3 (Lewknor) we greeted one another, restocked supplies and off we went. This section was very run-able so I focused and got my head down. The next checkpoint, Pete and Ben said goodbye and good luck to us. Andrea informed me that we would soon be at Grimms Ditch and I would love it - she wasn’t wrong. The next section was a gradual downhill through the woods trying not to trip on the tree roots, but this was weirdly fun. Andrea, Dan and I ran this section in silence. Pure trail running at its best. Soon after this Dan stopped and headed to the nearby train station. I was trying to convince him to carry on, but he was sensible and I don’t blame him as he was running 100km in 2 days' time.
So now it was me and Andrea. Once again we refuelled at the next checkpoint. At this check point I got my crew to rub some arnica oil on my legs as I felt a little sore on my right quad. At this point Sam and Jason had the check points down to a fine art, instrumental to the success. During the whole adventure these guys would be forcing food and drinks in me from all angles. Sometimes in races I get lost in race mode and forget to eat and drink - these guys know it, I have had some bad experiences due to this. The plan was to get some protein in me every 4 hours. At one checkpoint I couldn't be bothered and hid the drink in the front seat of the van. Jason found it, slammed it on the table and simply said "neck it”. This is hard love and I needed it. I got to a place called Goring and this is where I had my first low spell. I just felt low and that my stride length dropped. Maybe down to my right quad, not sure. Andrea sensed this and ran onto an extra check point. I was so grateful of the company. The wind was strong and at this point on the course there was no hiding from it. I tried to tuck in behind her to save energy, etc, however that didn’t work, she is a slim woman.
Checkpoint 7 at Sparsholt (61.5miles). This is where my good friend Serg took over. I met Serg at my first ultramarathon and we'd kept in touch ever since. I would always see Serg doing these crazy races in Europe. Serg is as cool as ice. You never see him panicking or stressing in a race. The crew sorted me out. I changed socks and shoes at this stage.
I said thank you to Andrea and off the lads went. Serg and I had a right laugh, even though I was finding it tough. Serg felt I needed a little boost. So gave me a ginger shot. I necked it like I was in a bar on a Friday night. Jesus!!! The ginger took my breath away and I felt my eye balls popping out. We powered up the next hill, not being able to get the ginger shot out of my head.
I came into checkpoint 9 and couldn't believe my eyes: my good mate and old training partner Nigel Marley was there waiting for me. This was a massive buzz. We ran to the end of the Ridgeway. Talking about how we need to get back to road marathons as we have unfinished business. (Maybe that's my next goal). Got to the signpost... although this was only the halfway mark. I mentally prepared myself for this and told myself it wasn't. This was to help me remain focused on the task and not let my guard drop. We gave each other a high five, took pictures and ate some fruit, then swiftly headed back on the course. 87 miles to go... I thought to myself... what am I doing?
I was joined by Mark Higgins, later to be known as 'Marble Mark’ due to the constant consumption of marble cake. During the event as a morale boost everyone soon had a nickname. He was training for his first 100k race. His task was to get me through the night. Nigel, Mark, Serg and I quickly settled in to a good pace and before you knew it, we were at another check point. I said goodbye to Nigel and Serg. And off me and mark went into the night. It didn’t start well when we had to divert off track a bit due to unhappy bulls; once again it made us laugh! At this point I was tired, things had begun to catch up on me and the realisation set in. At the last CP I told my crew I didn’t want a jacket and I was ok. They didn’t taken no for an answer and put a jacket on me anyway. Thank God they did as it started raining and I was cold. 100 miles completed, and it was time for a brew. Mark phoned the crew and informed them to get a hot brew on and some food at the next CP. This checkpoint I sat down, and had some army rations and a cup of coffee. My body was a mess, especially my quad. I looked over to Mark and he was wolfing down some marble cake like the chocolate cake scene from Matilda. The rain was coming down, so my crew put me in the back of the van for a rest. I was in two minds whether to have a kip or not. The decision was taken away from me when I was so cold and shaking. So I thought let's just keep moving, the night was tough. I took my contact lenses out so that didn’t help. I was battered and in a bad place! But we carried on fighting through the night. I started to hallucinate and informed Mark I was in trouble. He reassured me that things will pick back up but I felt so light-headed. Then came something I will never forget. I was at a crossroad and all of a sudden I saw the face of Che Guevara on the floor. I leaped over it like it was a snake. Turned back to discover it was a puddle. What the hell is happening to me?, I said.
We made it through the night. I got fresh clothes on at one of the check points. The next 6 miles heading to Goring was where the challenge began. This is what I have been waiting for... the so-called pain cave, that all the famous ultrarunners talk about. Hayden Hawks, Camille Herron, Courtney Daulwalter, Corree Woltering, etc. I wanted to see if I was capable of entering this world and coming out the other side. I didn’t just come out the other side, I smashed it and got a taste for more. It might sound weird and strange to most people but I loved it; when you know you know. And I can't wait to do another challenge like it.
Anyway, back to the Ridgeway. Mark's job was completed. He wished me good luck and waited for his transport home. At this stage I was in big trouble, with the hallucinations, being cold and wet, not to mention my muscles screaming at me. I just needed to get to the check point and regroup. As this was unfolding I later found out that my crew were worried and sent Jason out to give support. However, he was sent out in the wrong direction and they blamed it on the lack of sleep.
I finally made my way through the streets of Goring and to the check point. Where I collapsed in the chair. I told Sam it's game over and I'm stopping, expecting him to say, "That's ok, Damo, you have run 140 miles on the ridgeway. No shame in not finishing." BUT he didn't. He said, "You are finishing it. If anyone can, you can." He made us some porridge and a coffee. I got some fresh clothes on and made my way back out. Barely walking. Now, from this point on everything was blurry and I can’t recall much other than the support I got. I had people joining me who I have never met. The ultrarunning community came together for me. I was thinking why? - it’s only me. It’s only little old Damo. This I would never forget for the rest of my life - I’m so grateful to everyone. Andrea from day 1 came back out. She heard I was in trouble and brought some hiking poles, which helped me on the climbs and took the damage from my legs on the descents. I was just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. The sun came out which created a new issue: dehydration. The local running club called Moving for Miles helped me for a next block. The support was amazing. So many people came out to either support me or to cheer me on. Tom, Natalie, Becca, Charlie - to name a few.
I finally got back into Chinnor. A familiar section of the course and so many people encouraging me to keep moving forward. A marathon to go - let's do this! I was still in a bad way. Duncan was given the task to get me to the finish. Sam joined me as he felt I needed to be monitored closely. I started to hike up the next climb. Negative thoughts were in my head. Sam quickly reminded me about the charity I’m helping [Humanity Direct] and what an achievement it would be being the first person to complete the Ridgeway back2back. He read out some messages that people have posted on social media, and I listened to a voice note from my wife and boy. We got through the bad patch and got some fats down me in the form of a burger and a couple of chips. Neil from XNRG met me and guided me through the next part.
I had a second wind and was starting to move well again, hitting some miles in 9 mins. I even had members of XNRG events on course helping me. I got to Tring Station where my friend Leanne surprised me and joined me on the road to the finish. It was spontaneous and so last minute she even had to wear my shorts as forgot her kit. Last climb and I could see the head torches of my crew in the distance. This gave me a massive boost and before I knew it, I touched the beacon sign - BOOM - 42 hours after leaving. What a great feeling especially being surrounded by my ultrarunning family. We did it, we gave high fives and quickly got off the hill as the wind was strong.
It was a journey I will never forget!
What’s next ? Stay tuned!
- Watch = Coros Apex
- Shoes = Nike Pegasus Trail 2 & Hoka Speedgoat
- Socks = Drymax & Stance
- Rain jacket = Inov 8
- Nutrition = Mountain Fuel drinks, flapjacks and jellies, Unived gels, protein bars, pretzels, fruit, army rations, and Sports Barista coffee.
Crew / Pacers
- Jason Mitchell
- Sam Holloway
- Becca Holloway
- Serg Dus
- Duncan/Tracey Fendom
- Andrea Hamlin
- Marble Mark Higgins
- Pete (pumkin eater) Currington
- Ben Currington
- Dan Lancaster
- Neil Thubron
- Leanne Bruce
Total miles: 175.24
Elevation gain: 14,885ft
A huge congratulations and thank you to Damian for smashing the Ridgeway back-to-back - the Double! Give him a follow @damocarr83 to find out what he gets up to next...