After a rush check-out of the Travelodge with mum and sister Sam and eventually getting the sat nav to locate a GPS signal, we make it to the meeting point that is just at the side of the road near a caravan park in Wheatley, Oxfordshire.

Steve the Ultra Running director called me before to check I was on my way as the other runners were ready to start! Officially start time is 8am but as it now gets dark early we can start once ready. I start to feel late and that I am holding everyone up. I only see a small group and knew as today is Monday less would be running. But as it turns out it's just myself, Kenneth and Kirsty attempting the 53 miles today.

After a quick brief from Steve and trying to fasten my number on with gloves, we have a few photos of the group and Steve checks we have our maps, GPS, water, phones and directions. I'm feeling rather nervous and rushed all of a sudden.  

It didn't help that my sister needed to know a time I would be at the last check point and finish to meet me. I couldn't think straight or guess as I am not sure of the conditions of the route or my navigation skills....So I just said that I would text once at CP3 in case they wanted to meet me at CP4.
Looking a bit nervous at the start...
7:40: It's just getting light and there is still a thick mist of morning dew, the winds are light but it’s a brisk 3C. Steve squeezes his horn and we walk off then ask which way to go... Not the best start, I think we are all still sleepyheads! We jog up the road past the caravans and then over the bridge above the M40. The fields ahead are covered with a thick mist and the sunrise is trying to peep through.

We look around and then stop to take a look at the directions.  We can't find the path to the left and think we have passed it or not seen it. This is not good! All three of us start to read back the first few steps. We agree it must be the left through the field and not up the track to the farm ahead. One glance over tells us we will get wet feet, a huge deep puddle is right below the style we need to climb over. No point hesitating now, I go in first with a splash and the cold water fills my shoes.  I grit my teeth with the sudden shock of ice cold water soaking into my socks!  

We head across fields as per the directions then climb over a gate as the style cannot be seen in the mist. The starting, stopping, reading and climbing gates are seriously adding time to how long we will be out on the route to Swindon.  Kenneth stops for a toilet break and I chat to Kirsty about other races she has done this year and how she hopes to do. 

I'm glad to hear we are in agreement to stick together at least until we reach the Oxfordshire / Ridgeway tracks as the directions seem rather tricky up to CP1.  I decide there and then that this will be an enjoyable scenic day out on the trails and will be good training practice at navigating! So far I'm not too good…

After more navigating our way around fields the sun has risen and the mist is lifting from the horizon and it is starting to become a fresh, sunny but cold day.  At least there’s no strong wind.

8:40: After about 4 miles and an hour on our wet numb feet, we pass through wooded areas and hedgerows before the route takes us through a dense green wooded trail and eventually onto gravel past large houses and outbuildings. We cross the next road and continue on the Oxfordshire Way up muddy stone tracks winding up and through the countryside, past more farms and plenty of pheasants on the route. 

The three of us seem relaxed running together at a steady pace of approx 8:40min/mile, aware the start has slowed us considerably.  After about 7.5 miles on a tarmac road, the Ridgeway route bears to the right, where it is rather uneven stone underfoot. Taking it easy as we pass morning dog walkers, a smile and ‘good morning’ goes down a treat here!

9:30: After 9 miles or so on the track the directions say to stay right, signposted Swans Way. The track only goes straight ahead and to the right is a road but no sign.  We follow the road and once at the end check the directions again. We stop as the track should go ahead through woods and eventually reach the first CP at 10 miles. We have already gone over this so at a guess we are pretty close already. We can't see any sign of a tent / table marquee in sight.

I suggest we head back and just follow the previous track, hoping for the best. We head back and turn right, this time back onto the track that takes us through under growth of dense forest with large hedgerow to our right. A few minutes later Kenneth shouts from behind 'I see them'. Then there is the Land Rover I saw from the start which must be Steve's and further into the trees a marquee with boxes and fuel available. 'Click', 'click', 'snap', 'snap', from the photographers as we approach and they follow us up to the CP.

09:52: It has taken us 2 hours 11 minutes to cover 10.89 miles at an average 12:07 min/mile.  My starting pace aim was 9-9:30min/mile.  Heading out from under the trees, Kenneth, Kirsty and I read over the next set of directions before running off down the road, staying on the right hand side facing any oncoming cars. After a few miles we reach a large roundabout, head towards Wallingford, then past The Bell Pub and some local village shops. 

As it is approaching mid morning the sun is shining and gives some warmth on my face from the cold temperature. We carry on over a bridge and past The Boat House Pub.  We continue onto a cobbled road and then meet the water edge that is the Thames Path. This track continues parallel through green fields, houses, apartments and kissing gates.

10:55: After about 3 miles and an enjoyable route of sightseeing I am at a comfortable pace keeping steady at 8:30min/miles.  I suddenly have to go to the toilet.  A very unfortunate thing about running is the well known sudden need to go quickly! I tell the others to run on, I will see them soon.  They know the deal. I see a covered area of trees and bushes and dash in to go. I am so glad I packed my trusty travel toilet roll and hand wipes! After I've managed to fix my bum bag and gloves back on, I head back to the track.  

I see a cute chocolate Labrador approaching.  He seems very excited, happy and harmless.  I say hello and ask what he is up to.  He runs alongside me, which I find very comforting and actually like the company. He is such a happy fella. 

He picks up a big bottle of water that is just in the grass and carries it along. I laugh to myself that he thinks I maybe thirsty.  Such a clever dog! 

I stop to take a picture to remember the moment.  

A few minutes up the track I see his owner on the wooden decking by the water and he goes to greet her. 

At 20 miles or so, I have already caught up with Kirsty and we walk together to have some energy gels. She tells me her hip has been playing up and thinks at CP2 she may have to pull out. She lives close by so it is tempting for her to just head on home to rest. I wish her the best and say it was nice meeting her today. I pass a school field and the kids are out on their break in the playground. I run around the field but then realise the path leads to a private track so have to turn back on myself.

The directions carry on up the main road and then right into Willow Court Lane which takes me onto a stony trail up into the countryside hills of Oxfordshire.  The track begins a steady incline up to the Ridgeway trail and I remember on the elevation map it ascends for some miles at this stage.  My quad muscles are starting to feel fatigued and tight along with my energy levels. The slight hill seems daunting now so I just slow a little to a 9:30-10:00 min/mile pace.  Afterall I'm only approaching halfway and I need to save my leg power for the end if I want to finish strong!

I open the Chocolate Gu gel which has some added caffeine for a lift followed by Cliff shot blocks and water.  I'm feeling rather hungry so finish all six blocks rather sharpish.  As I plod uphill the track begins to get muddier and wetter.  I slip and slide in places, tip toe and jump big pools of water.  I even try to walk on the edge of the pools, grabbing tree branches so not to slip. At one point I skid and almost go flying head first, but manage to get my footing just in time.

Once the hill finally levels out, I take a few photos as I absorb the views for miles around me: nothing but rolling hills of yellow and green.  I carry onwards and enjoy some downhill cruising speeds, but it doesn't last long. The trail soon leads uphill again on long grass with large track marks filled with mud and water puddles.  I stick to the grassy edges.

I can now see Kenneth running in front. He seems to be doing a walk run:ratio from what I can tell.  As he goes from a speck in the distance to a clear view, I eventually reach him and see how he is doing. I mention it may only be us left soon as Kirsty is having trouble with an injury.  I make some light conversation and run alongside him for a few minutes at a similar pace. It's a therapeutic moment and rather pleasant, like having a pacer with me. The silence is not uncomfortable, just the patter of our feet and smooth flowing movements seems to be our communication.

I very slowly gain pace and eventually he is out of ear shot, he shouts that he will see me at the next one so I pick up a little and run alone at my own pace.  After a few miles, I can see two people ahead crouching in the grass and once closer I notice it is the ‘snap happy’ photographers. The familiar flags of 'Ultra Running' and Steve's Land Rover is behind them.  I'm rather relieved at this stage as I'm feeling the lack of fuel and hunger setting in.  

12:05:  Steve asks how I'm feeling and says I'm looking really good! I add water to my shaker bottle that has a blend of vegan protein, Maltodextrin and super green powder. I top up my Camelbak again and take some more Gu gels as back up. I still have nine bars of my own so feel I have enough fuel in my backpack to see me through.  

I see Kenneth running into the CP as I'm throwing on my bag ready to go.  I've covered 24.86 miles in 4 hours 29 minutes.  I text my mum and sister to let them know I am just leaving the CP.

I head off to the road and up towards the track.  Next stop in 8.2 miles time. After a few minutes I glance back and see Kenneth behind, not that far from me. I can see large chimneys in the horizon to the right in the fields. The cloud formation they are forming is rather amazing so I stop to take a photo.

After 1.6 miles the uphill track heads down under a road and then back up to open space fields. From where I am the track ahead just looks never ending with a steady ascent all the way.

I start to feel the cold up here as it is so open.  The wind has picked up and is hitting my face hard. I cover my nose and ears with my buff, put my head down and take one step at a time. My legs are really starting to ache now. 

Eventually as I approach what seems to be a small car park in the fields I can spot the photographers again on either side of the track in their big red jackets hiding behind their camera lenses. I pull my buff down to my neck once closer and give them a thumbs up and a winning smile. They ask how I'm feeling and say keep it up.

Further up as the hill flattens slightly with a steady ascent, I pass a female runner with striking hi-viz yellow gloves.  She only has a vest top on, so she must be so cold or just very used to it up here in the open!  We smile and say 'hey' as we pass. I have to go the toilet now so stop to go, rolling up the directions I put them between my race number and jacket where it sits safely.

13:00:  I have some Gu gel as I stop for a breather, this is a sweet peanut butter flavour, which is delightful right now. I have a 9 bar for afters and a slurp from my Camelbak to rinse my mouth and quench my thirst. I head on forward up the track and notice the time is just after 1pm.  I seem to have made good progress now managing to stay on the right track and with no further difficulty in directions.  My pace is picking up too.  

After another mile I pass a large monument on the Ridgeway, which is in commemoration of the Battles of Inkerman and Arms. I stop to take a picture.  The scattered clouds from behind cover the sun as it shines down making it look shadowed.

A few more miles pass and the only sign of life up here is a small white farm house to the right and a few passing walkers with their dogs. Another 0.4 of a mile up, I can see another car park approaching and by the directions this should be CP3. I look for my directions and suddenly realise they are no longer tucked behind my race number and I hadn't even noticed I wasn't carrying them in my hand.   They must have fallen out some 3 miles or so back when I stopped to pee!  I figure I should ask if the team have a spare copy.

13:22: Closer in view I can see the stand out flags and team: Time for some fuel.  I text my mum and sister to let them know I am here. I’ve covered 32.39 miles in 5:46:44.  Heading out from the car park to the road I take the next left sign posted Ridgeway. The track remains gravel stone, but lots of mud in places as it progresses uphill. 

After a few miles of track that seems to never end, past rows upon rows of trees and hedges, the mud gets very deep in parts, and I find my shoes have clumped so much that I lose grip and slip and slide. The puddles are mini ponds of muddy water and as my feet never dried out from the first plunge I really don't fancy getting my socks wet anymore!  I jump and tip toe around as best I can, using the grass verge to get some more tread but still slipping and at one point I slide backwards and have to grab a branch to steady myself.

Now in usual circumstances I can laugh these moments off, as I have experienced many a wet, muddy race, but as it’s just me out here all on my own without a soul to be seen for miles around, I start feeling rather low and frustrated by it slowing me down.  My feet are still soggy and cold, my quad muscles and glutes burn from 35 miles of being on the go and I can feel a dark hole swallowing me up out here in the mud!  

I slow to a trot, then a walk, then feel like just giving up altogether!  All these questions fill my head like "will I ever be able to finish?"," Will I get lost again?"," Will I have to run in complete darkness out here?"," Can I do this?".  I just want to rest....
Time for reflection...
I come to a standstill and have some water, as I suddenly feel my thirst. I have some Gu gel (the chocolate delight flavour).  I suck out the sweet gooey gel, then have another quickly after. I start to walk further up the slippery track.  After a few minutes I start a slow plod, then a trot, then a jog, then a slow run. The mud starts to ease off eventually and as I can feel the fuel start to fire up my depleted body. 

My outlook starts to look less dull and brighter.  I tell myself: “Yes you can do this! Run Lukey! People are waiting for you at the finish and they will be waiting a lot longer if you don't start to get a move on!" I love running but I didn't like that moment back there! Well if that was a wall I hit, I think I have broken through it....

14:10:  After about 4 miles up the track the path leads downhill under some trees and then slowly creeps back up again.  After passing a few cross road tracks and carrying on up the Ridgeway, I have to cross the next road and left following the sign posts again.  A minute or so up the path I can see a farm and spot a drinking tap sign.  I stop to refill my Camelbak and then have half of my Maltodextrin water I made at the CP. I head back onto the track and already feel the benefits starting to set in.  

My pace is a comfortable 8:00 min/mile average reducing the overall average mile so far to 10:45 min/mile.  The pain and muscle ache in my legs and calves seems to be dull but persistent and my endorphins have cleared my head.  My focus is back and I'm just completely in the zone, feeling very strong on my feet. This must be a second or third wind I'm feeling, it just feels fantastic and like I could run forever!

The Ridgeway track seems less muddy and just dried dirt tracks and stones now.  The ascent seems to be levelling out some and eventually after 10 miles from the CP I think that is the last of the steepest gradient today.  I notice the sun is shaded from clouds now and also the trees are more dense in cover up here so the chill in the air is more noticeable. 

15:38: The sun is lower in the sky and it will start to get dark soon as the winter nights are drawing in.  I see the track coming to an end and a lane coming into view.  The directions say that the next CP is just left and then right by The Burj restaurant.  I reach a wooded car park and then the lane.  Carefully I check the road is clear and run on the right side.  Seeing The Burj in view at the bottom, I spot the Land Rover and Steve walks out to the road to greet me clapping.  I’ve covered 44.81 miles in 8:02:27.

At CP4 I grab a chocolate and peanut butter Gu gel and refill my shaker bottle with water as it is only 8.2 miles until the finish and my Camelbak is missing the bite valve so I figure this will be enough.  Steve jokes that the distance left is nothing for me and says he will see me very soon at the finish.  

I notice my sister has text that they were out of signal and got my last message late so will have to drive direct to the finish.  I also see that I have been tagged on Facebook by my sister at The Burbury Inn, which is the finish. 

Best get a move on then!....

I head onto the main road staying to the right side and use the grass edges whenever a car approaches me.  As it is now getting darker and the sun is just sitting on the horizon I turn on my light that is around my waist so I can be seen.  I shortly head over the M4 bridge and reach a T-Junction, turning right then crossing the road for signs to Chiseldon. Again this is road so I have to use the grass verges quite often as there is more traffic coming from this direction.

I look over to the right and the valley below is made up of tiny villages and huge fields.  The sky is turning orange to pink and it glows over the Wiltshire countryside. It looks stunning and I am so happy to appreciate the views after a glorious sunny day of running.  At the next road I cross straight over, passing a farm shop and then carry on forward up the track which is now cycle route 45. The road goes off to the left and the cycle route becomes track then soon after 4 miles it starts to become rough gravel track and then reaches the Ridgway track again.  

Grateful to be off road again I enjoy the views of the hills around me and head up the trail, but slowing slightly as it starts to ascend again. I pass a few footpaths on both sides but I’m looking for a sign (Millennium Trail) on the right.   I have yet to see any but by the directions it should be any time now... I gulp down some water careful not to spill it all down myself and then a peanut butter Gu gel.  

I’m feeling sharp and focused enough so can give the caffeine gel a miss now. My legs remind me how far they have travelled today and I have some muscle soreness and discomfort growing above my knees, come to think of it my left knee is starting to ache too.

Up ahead I can see some trail signposts and it looks like a road.  There is nothing about a road on the directions. Once I reach I stop to check the paperwork.  l start to worry it must have been the footpath I just passed on the right some miles back.  I curse myself for not taking the gamble back then, but without a GPS watch running I cannot gauge the distance I have gone unless I keep my phone in my hand.  I am already down to 30% power left!

I make a decision to head on the road down the hill, which is parallel to the footpath I should have taken except it is a road not trail. I figure if I stay on this road I will eventually meet the A4361 that The Burbury Inn is on. The road bends round corners like a snake and begins a steep descent, I can’t help but speed up as gravity pulls me down but have to jump up or stop onto the grass verge to the right whenever cars approach.  

It has suddenly become very dark and the sun has already set.  The cars in front dazzle me with their bright headlights so I just jump up on the verge when they approach.  I can see cars driving across on the road up ahead but it still looks a good mile away from me. I carry on down the hill and start to think that it must be the A road approaching.  I’ve just over shot the footpath a mile or so tops so I will be coming into the finish from behind everyone I think...

As the road approaches closer I can make out the signs and see the A4361 so turn right onto the road I need and again stay as close to the grass verge as I can. This is one busy road and the cars whizz past me. Eventually a few minutes up the road and I can see a white building with a big pub sign next to it, ‘please be it, please be it’ I say to myself... I can just make out the sign as I adjust my eyes to read it and it is The Burbury Inn! Yes! I made it!!!

17:18: I shout hello and my sister sees me first, “There he is!” she laughs.  Quickly Mum, Steve and the photographers turn around cheering and clapping, looking very surprised and ask what happened.  I explain how I was looking for the Millennium Trail, but realised too late it was the footpath I already passed. Steve says it doesn’t matter I still finished, but just added a few miles on the way! The photographers ask me to go back up the trail path and run through the finishline so they can get the winning picture.
Winning smile after running 54.52 miles in 9:38:26
I the refuel with coconut water, banana and a Cliff bar for now.  I am just feeling thirsty but I am sure the hunger will come soon enough. I can’t wait to get out of these soggy socks and stretch!

Another first place finish with my second Ultra distance.  I am so chuffed and excited that not only did I get to finish today but I also managed to come in first. Not that we had lots of competitors.  If I could take off the slow start getting lost and lack of navigation skills this would have been an even quicker finish, but I had such an amazing day and have learnt so many things along the way.  

My biggest obstacle was breaking through the negative, low moments and focusing on the mindset that I WILL finish today and it doesn’t matter in what time, just getting the fuelling and training correct was my goal and it worked.  I receive my winning trophy, medal and t-shirt.  

Lots of pictures are taken and then I receive a big goody box Steve has made up for me full of energy bars and gels. We bid farewell to the Team as they wait for Kenneth to come in. I pass on the offer of pie in the Inn as its now peak traffic and we have a long journey back home.

Me and my proud sis!
I would like to thank my Mum and Sister for patiently waiting and coming along for the journey over the last two days, my loving partner for all the positive messages, Ultra Running for a great experience and fantastic supplies and support throughout the day, and lastly my amazing running group Bosh for all the updates and comments on Facebook.

Without the support and encouragement from my running buddies, family and friends I would never be able to enter races, experience them and get to win these fantastic events.  Life would be rather boring without running in my life.  I LOVE RUNNING!

‘Run Free’

The Stats:
54.52 Miles
Average pace 10:37min/mile
6667 Cal

Race costs (Maybe of interest to those considering entering an Ultra):
Race Fee: £45
Travelodge: £25.50
Petrol: £60
Food: £55
Supplies: £20
Kit: £226
Total cost: £431.50

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