Ashby 20 is a race I had heard lots about; I had seen the coloured hoodies at a number of other races, I knew it was a popular event for those in Spring marathon training mode, and I was also aware it sold out very quickly. Timing wise the race slotted perfectly into my Brighton Marathon training; it would form the final long, long run of my training cycle and would also offer me a change of scenery and some support when I was bound to need an extra training boost. I made it my priority to get a place and thankfully I succeeded.
The day before race day was not perfect prep wise, probably because I was not really treating Ashby 20 as a race but instead as training. I ran parkrun on Saturday and didn’t hold back, which was followed by four hours pulling rubbish out from a local river bank – I got home and was shattered! I found some energy to get my race stuff together and prep for my early alarm and drive to the interestingly named Ashby de-la-Zouch.
I woke feeling much more refreshed, successfully navigated my way to Ashby-de-la- Zouch and after parking, I walked down to the race start at Bath Grounds chatting to another runner about the forthcoming course. Neither of us had taken part in the race before but both had been warned about the hilly profile… surely it couldn’t be that bad? The race village was bathed in sunshine as I arrived, and I sat soaking up the atmosphere watching huddles of runners gather as the clock ticked down toward the 10am start. Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were being guided to the start line on a small road just outside the Bath Grounds.
Stood waiting for the start gun to fire I briefly went over my race strategy in my head – I knew the course was formed of two ten mile loops, so I would try and treat the first loop steadily, see what challenges presented, and then hope to be able to push it a little more on the second. That was the theory anyway! I will admit that during the first mile I got swept up in the atmosphere; supporters lined the streets and runners around me were jovial and happy – I am not even going tell you what my first split was as it was ridiculous! I spotted this though and settled, just in time for the first hill – the first of many.
If someone would have told me I would enjoy a relentlessly hilly course I would have laughed at you – who would be that mad! But I did. It was a beautiful place to be running; countryside with small, quaint rural villages, and almost idyllic running weather; sunny but with a fresh, crisp air which kept me cool. I felt strong on the hills from the start, approaching each one carefully and consistently. Some runners around me appeared breathless, red faced and exerting a lot of effort, but I felt in control. Another factor which added to my enjoyment levels was the marshals – I can honestly say they were the best I have ever experienced at any road race. Every single one of them was enthusiastic, supportive and encouraging and simply made me smile; those around the villages of Swepstone and Heather in particular had energy that was almost infectious.
Nearing the end of the first lap I must admit it was a little disorientating seeing signs on the side of the road for Mile 17 etc. – at times my instinctive reaction was to think I was nearly there, before suddenly having to remind myself there was still another lap to go! I had ran the first lap well, even with the gradient, and glances at my pace had reinforced this, but I was a little nervous that the second lap I would suddenly crash. My quads felt a little sore, the hills demanding them to be working hard, but aside from that I still felt controlled. Any doubt about my ability slipped from my mind as I began the first climb of the second lap; I started to overtake a few other runners already and realised my own strength. ‘One hill down!’ the marshal at the top of the hill cheerily informed me ‘only about another 20 left!’ I joked back.
This pattern seemed to continue for the miles ahead; one set of marshals had written in chalk on the road ‘one lap left!’ and I jested back that I would definitely not be running it three times! I also continued to gain ground on runners ahead of me, especially on the inclines. One marshal in particular boosted my self-belief; I could see he was studying me from a distance, and as I passed by, he informed me that my running form was looking great – a very good sign at around mile 15.
After the 15 mile marker it became a five mile countdown. I now knew what challenges were left ahead and most importantly I knew I could cope with them. Spurred on, my pace remained good and I was now overtaking a lot of runners. What was both lovely and supportive to hear was the number of runners who spurred me on as I passed them, telling me I looked great and to go for it. Although I did indeed feel good, I had to rein myself in a little, this was not my goal race after all, and I did not need to use every last ounce of my body to chase down a time. Instead I changed my mindset and used the fact I felt so strong still as a positive for the fact that in a few weeks time I would need to run further to reach my 26.2 mile goal.
The final mile featured a long uphill, quite cruel really, before the course turned back towards the Bath Grounds and the countdown markers began to appear. Passing the ‘800m To Go’ sign I gave in to temptation and found myself near on sprinting towards the finish arch – I felt amazing and crossed the line with a huge smile on my face. I had absolutely loved all of those 20 miles, and that was before I even looked at my finish time. My watch read 2:43:22, and whilst I knew my pace had been relatively quick, I admit I was not expecting to see an average pace of 8.10 min/mile. I had never ran that far that fast before - it felt very good.
I was already grinning from ear to ear as I walked through the finishing area and that was before I was handed the infamous Ashby 20 finisher hoody, which was a beautiful shade of purple - my favourite colour - and a goody bag which was filled with chocolate bars - another of my favourites – far better than a battered banana! With my head telling me this was training, I slowly made my way to the massage tent; I wanted to both reward and preserve my limbs! The volunteer masseuse gave my quads a much-needed massage, they had borne the brunt of that run and I could feel it, and I also was aware of the fact I still needed to drive myself home without my legs going into complete spasm!
Reflecting later, I was really pleased with how Ashby 20 had gone and how much I had enjoyed the entire experience – it could not have gone much better. Ashby 20 was training, my pre-race prep was not textbook, and effectively my body was in quite a tired state coming off the back of many weeks of training and before having a chance to taper. However, if I can run equally as well in Brighton, my predicted marathon finish time is something I can hardly believe. It scares me to even think it could be a possibility to be honest! Deep down I know I have to take the confidence from Ashby 20, but by no means be complacent and continue to focus on getting these final training weeks right. A marathon is never a given anyway.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...