The Dunstable Downs Challenge Events celebrated their 10th anniversary this year. They're organised by Dunstable Road Runners (www.dunstableroadrunners.org) and cover distances of half marathon, 20 miles and full marathon. Being mostly off-road, the distances are fairly nominal, i.e. they're usually over-distance (especially if you get yourself lost!). This was to be my third running of the full distance. Despite getting myself lost last year, I'd really enjoyed the event. Its great value and you even get a sandwich and drink at the end as well as access to the clubhouse showers. The route takes in part of the Icknield and Chiltern Ways, skirting round Whipsnade Zoo and heading down to Ashridge Estate. Needless to say, its an undulating course with some beautiful views along the way.
I arrived at the event on September 14th happy to find dry and mild weather and the news that some additional course markings were in place this year to aid those like myself with less than perfect navigating skills. The dry conditions meant that I could run in my favourite road shoes, Saucony Kinvaras, rather than trail shoes. However, the news of the extra course marking may have led me to a false sense of security, as I managed to get myself slightly lost after only an hour or so! I made the common error of following the guy in front rather than the race instructions and was half way up a hill before some kind fellow runners shouted for me to come back. Faced with the dilemma of following the guys in front (who had now disappeared out of sight) or returning to the correct path, I eventually made the sensible decision to turn back and get on with it, accepting that these little frustrations go with this type of event.
Other than this minor setback I was thoroughly enjoying my day in the countryside. I even managed to get through the golf course (where I'd lost myself the previous year) without straying off-course. Almost inevitably, I managed to get slightly lost again. Ill blame tiredness this time! I managed to fall in with a few other runners who got me back on the right track.
In the last few miles of the event you retrace the outward route and eventually drop back towards the start/finish area at Creasey Park. I was pleased to still be feeling reasonably strong and ran along with a few guys from the 100 Marathon Club. Glyn Raymen was finishing his 200th marathon, so we all cheered him in through the finish. The official distance for the event was 27.4 miles but with my little diversions, I'd managed to do over 28 miles. I suppose that just gives me an excuse to come back and try and get it right next year!