The Compton Challenge is a 20 or 40 mile run around the around the Compton countryside. The event is organised by Dick Kearn and the Compton Harriers Running club and is put on in April each year.
The route goes along footpaths, tracks and bridleways and is predominantly off road. It’s an undulating route nearly 4,000 feet of ascent for the 40 mile route with a couple of challenging hills at the 10-11 mile mark.
This was my fourth time taking part in the event as it was fairly local to me and the weather and conditions have been varied in previous years from heavy rain and mud 3 years ago, to blazing sunshine 2 years ago to indifferent weather last year (I missed the snow year).
I woke up about 6.30am in the morning feeling pretty shattered after having only got home from a night out at 2am, not the best start to the day. I struggled out of bed with my head and senses operating at less than optimum efficiency and got changed to leave about 7.30am. It was a sunny and bright but cold day as I had to de-ice the car before leaving but the cold did wake me up a little as I drove the half hour trip to Compton where I arrived and collected my race number.
I said hello to a few familiar faces before the start and got my gear together. The route had been modified this year due to some flooding on the course and they had elected to run the first 20 mile part of the route twice. The first 20 miles were probably tougher than the second half so a slightly harder course was anticipated.
I had planned to travel light and just took a few gels, a couple of snacks and a waist pack. I did wear a few layers and gloves as it was still pretty cold as we lined up on the sports field of Downs School and trundled off to complete two laps of the field designed to try and spread the field out as there are a couple of bottlenecks on the path just after the start.
The run was a planned long training run, no particular goals as I had recently completed the Thames Path 100 two weekends ago. Therefore I started towards the middle to back of the pack as we trotted off.
Start of the Compton run. Photo courtesy of Ian Berry / tzruns
I ran and chatted to Guy Mawson and Sarah Thorne near the start for a while and we had the usual ultra type discussion about events we had done or were doing as we made our way up hill through a narrow wooded area before crossing a road and turning back along a field. Ahead you could see the lead runners starting to spread out in a colourfull line.
The weather was cool but sunny and for some reason the “It’s a beautiful day” lyric from that Michael Buble song kept popping into my head. The first few miles felt good at a steady pace and I arrived at the first checkpoint grabbed a drink and ate a few jaffa cakes and carried on.
Just after the first checkpoint was a steep stepped climb onto the next field and Ian Berry had positioned himself there with camera to take pictures of everyone walking. So I decided to run up this steep bit purely to look good for the camera. In fact, on the first loop I had decided to try and plod up most (not all as there a couple of steep ones) of the hills as a bit of a hill training effort.
Only running to look good for the camera. Photo by Ian Berry / tzruns
After running a few miles, I was starting to feel a little warm with 3 layers and gloves but didn’t have too many options to remove layers and carry anything with a waist pack and just carried on. The run was rather enjoyable, good footing, good weather, primarily off road and taking a steady pace meant I felt ok at this stage and no after affects from the Thames Path 100.
At the 11 mile point, we arrived at the biggest hill (The Compton Mountain) which I had no intention of running but “euro-hiked” (pushing your hands down on your legs) to get up there. At the top I snapped this picture which captured the whole feel of the race for me with the lovely view of the undulating hills and a stream of runners spreadout in the distance.
The Compton Mountain.
I decided to take a gel after the hill and as I was faffing around with this Claire Shelley and Drew Sheffield caught me up. Claire said she thought she recognized my rear from further out and they were aiming to catch me up which was quite strange as I don’t think I’ve ever been ahead of Claire in a race.
We started to run along together through a downhill section which had lots of exposed roots and then I heard a thud, looked around and Claire was lying in a side plank position on the ground having taken a tumble. Drew was on hand to check she was ok and after a brief stop to confirm everything was ok I plodded on ahead. There was a further steep climb up a stepped path ahead which I walked but then I picked up the steady run as we headed over a hilly field down to the other side and onto the Ridgeway path for a while before turning off and doing a loop before heading back onto the path as I drifted on ahead by myself.
Claire and Drew before the side plank effort. Photo by Ian Berry / tzruns
It was feeling pretty warm now and I had decided to remove some clothes and drop this back into my car at the half way point. Normally, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do this but the re-routed course passed the start/finish point and as we headed toward the half way point (finish for the 20 milers) I diverted to the car park and spent a couple of minutes getting changed.
At this point, I looked at my Garmin for the first time to see I had covered the 20 miles in 3.15 – 3.20 with this stop. I had deliberately been keeping the Garmin display on the route map screen and not paying any attention to the time so I could just enjoy the run and bank the miles.
After the brief stop, I headed out for lap 2. There were a handful of runners around me but I ran pretty much by myself for a few miles and so I put my iPod on during the off-road sections as my motivational treat for getting to the half way point.
Second time around and my overall pace was probably slowing as I hiked up more of the hills which I had run the first time. I didn’t mind the second lap as you could start to pick out certain milestones as you mentally moved yourself around the course.
I plodded around the course, struggled up the Compton Mountain second time around at about the 30 mile point. It was here that I started to feel a little jaded, I had been eating and drinking well and had been running at a steady and comfortable pace but felt like the Thames Path 100 was catching up with me a little. Obviously, as soon as you start thinking of the excuse then mentally your will power starts to crumble. This wasn’t a disaster by any means I had just arrived at the point where I had to plod onwards without any real effort.
I settled into an ad-hoc run/walk and tried to motivate myself playing my “power hits” on the iPod which was marginally successful. I was gradually ticking off the markers and checkpoints but it was taking a little longer this time around.
Around the 35 mile mark I had pretty much settled into marching it home. A few people who still had some running in them had drifted past me and there were a few quick hello’s but I was pretty much by myself. I was regretting the late night at this point as I was feeling quite tired at this point.
However as luck would have it a couple of miles later Guy Mawson caught me up and we plodded together for a while and chatted. I felt myself starting to slow again and said to Guy to go on as he could duck under a 7 hour time limit and he took off ahead.
Pretty in pink – Guy Mawson. Photo by Ian J Berry / tzruns
I walked for a bit and then thought we weren’t too far out from the end and I could probably run the last mile or so as I recognised the landmarks toward the finish and I set off again at a steady plod headed towards the finish at the school and eventually crossed the finish line a few minutes later in a time of 6.57 a couple of minutes behind Guy in 31st position out of 101 finishers.
Overall, despite fading over the last 5-10 miles I had managed to finish at the same time as the previous year (actually it was 1 minute quicker so technically a new PB but didn’t really mean that much today) which I considered not too bad a couple of weeks after the Thames Path 100.
This a great value event. I think I paid around £20 which covered the support on the run, a T-Shirt (with much better choice of colour this year) adorned with the words “Kimbia Kama Upepo” which apparently means “Run Like the Wind” in Swahili although at first glance I thought it was a quote from the Die Hard films.. You also had use of the Downs School for changing/showers and a school meal after the event. Fantastic value overall and probably the best weather we have experienced in recent years which is very strange coming from me and this event.
One of the aspects of this event I enjoy is that people do stay for a bite to eat and it’s a good chance to socialise with other runners which I think is a missed opportunity on some of the shorter (i.e. not overnight runs when you just need a sleep afterwards) Ultra events. I caught up with Stuart Gregory, Drew and Claire amongst a few other runners, watched a few other runners finish and then headed off back home.
A quick thanks to Ian Berry for once again taking loads of great photos and putting them up for the runners to download for free. Much appreciated Ian and some of those photos will work their way into the next Issue of Ultra Tales (out mid-May).