Tag Archives: Ashdown Forest

Pooh Country – High Weald Challenge 50k

This is a new race, organised by Stuart Mills, that starts and finishes in Groombridge. As this is only 5 miles from Tunbridge Wells, it was an obvious choice to enter it. I know many of the trails the race route follows, but also get to discover a few more local trails. With the event only three weeks before the Autumn 100, I was not planning on racing hard, but aimed to use it as a good long training run to assess my fitness.

I arrived at Groombridge Place with Richard shortly after 7am, and we quickly registered, picked up our race numbers and a copy of the route map. It had been a clear night, and although the sun was shining and promising to warm up later, it was still very cold so we quickly retreated to the warmth of the car. I had decided to wear shorts, my club vest and arm warmers, and carry minimal kit (phone, map and water) in a UD waist belt. As a result I stayed in the car until the last possible minute, keeping warm, before joining the race briefing. After some instructions from Stuart we made our way across the field and then crossed Station Road to the start line.

The route starts on Corseley Lane and follows the road until just after the Forest Way trail. Here the route turns right onto the Sussex Border path. As there is a stile where you pick up the trail, I wanted to be near the front to avoid the bottleneck, so I started right at the front, and quickly settled into 7th or 8th place, letting the leaders pull away a little. I know this section of the route reasonably well, and had the GPX file for the route loaded to my garmin Fenix, so the map was tucked away in my pocket. A couple of miles later I saw most of the lead group scrambling under the fence and back into the field I was in. They had clearly taken the open gate as an invitation to the adjacent field, rather than climb the rather hidden stile onto the correct path. Ten minutes later and the lead group had once again pulled clear of me, and I saw them climbing a stile at the top of the field. I was fairly certain this was wrong, and when I got to the stile I checked the way markings. Sure enough they had gone the wrong way, so I called them back before setting off on the correct trail. As they caught and passed me for a second time in Buckhurst Park, I joked they might just be quicker if they slowed down and ran with me.

Arriving at the first checkpoint (Withyham Church) I saw Andy, a friend from the Tunbridge Wells Harriers, who told me the race leader had come through about five minutes before. A quick drink and I started up the Weald Way path. I’ve done some training on this section, and it’s a long uphill drag from the church all the way up to the top of Ashdown Forest and King’s Standing Clump. We had been warned that the route would only be marked in a few places and we would need to follow way markings and navigate from the roadbook and map. However Stuart and team had done a great job marking the route over the forest, and all the little junctions were well signed. As I reached the summit and turned right onto the Vanguard Way, I was caught and passed by another runner. I followed him for a bit, over the road and into Gills Lap car park and then along passed ‘The Enchanted Place’ from Pooh’s stories, but had to stop for a call of nature, and when I stepped back on the path he was out of sight. This was after about 12 miles, and I didn’t see another runner until I caught up with him again at mile 30. Trail ultras can be a lonely sport, but I really enjoy being out on good trails and with the beautiful weather I was really having fun.

Just started

Just started

After crossing Pooh Bridge, and then climbing up to CP2, I was directed down a path I had not run before. It eventually took me to the Royal Ashdown Forect golf course. I don’t like running on golf course much. Too many hungover hackers firing wayward golf balls all over the place. So I kept up a good pace here, trying to put it behind me and was soon into Forest Row and CP3. The volunteers were excellent and topped up my water bottle, and once again Andy was here encouraging me on.

After Forest Row there was a gentle climb, and then through a camp site, where a friendly group directed me in the right direction “This way! The other runners went down there then all came back again…” Kind of them to let me know, but their car was rather blocking everyone’s view of the path.

With 20 miles run I was still feeling good, which was good, as at this point the route crossed the Forest Way again. If i’d been feeling bad, i’d have been tempted to take a short cut and follow the flat easy route back to Groombridge. Before long I was in Hartfield, and heading back to Withyham Church. Although I knew it was still  over 8 miles from Withyham to the finish, I was now back on familiar paths, so psychologically this felt like the home straight.

As I ran across the field from Withyham towards Forest Way and the river, two Roe deer ran across the field in front of me. I’d not seen much wildlife around, but seeing these convinced me the runners in front must be some way ahead by now. There is only really one big climb in this section, and that starts as you cross under the railway line and then run up to Stone Cross. I had to slow and walk the steep section here, but knew that from then on the route was easy, except from the short section in the woods on the Tunbridge Wells Circular path.

I had thought Withyham Church was the final checkpoint, so it was a pleasant surprise to find another one just after Fordcombe. I paused for a coke and some fruit, then set off for the final few miles.

The section round the back of Langton Green is always a little frustrating. There is a sequence of double gates and stiles that break up your rhythm, and interrupt your flow. However eventually I reached the Ashurst road, and knew there was only a mile and a half to go. At this point I saw another runner ahead, and knowing the trail is single track down through the woods, I picked up the pace to pass him quickly before the steep drop down into Groombridge.

Once on the road, it was a short run down to the church and then across the final field, before a finish in front of Groombridge Place. 5th place in 4hrs 23 mins. The time is a new best for a 50k, and more importantly it didn’t feel like I had destroyed myself in the process. Hopefully I’ll be in good shape for the Autumn 100.

In addition to a medal, every finisher gets a great pottery mug. So after the race I filled my mug with the free coffee and sat down for a while to chat to the other finishers. I think everyone agreed it had been a really well organised race on a beautiful route.

Groombridge Place

Finished in 5th

Weald Challenge 50k race report

The cows were scary and I took a wrong turn so ended up running 52k. Apart from that it was fantastic race, great route with stunning scenery, and the coffee and cake at the finish made my day.

A mug for every finisher, plus coffee or tea to fill it.

A mug for every finisher, plus coffee or tea to fill it.

I arrived for registration at 7:15 and collected my number. Stuart Mills (RD) has a relaxed attitude and his ethos for this race is all about having fun and introducing runners to his local trails. As a result the atmosphere is friendly and calm, with no pre-race stress.

After chatting to a few friends who were running as well, we were all soon walking down to the start line and at 8:00 Stuart set us off. The first mile is on road and mostly downhill, but even so the pace was crazy. When we turned onto the trail I was running with the lead group and the pace was at least 6:40 min/mile, so I decided to back off as we crossed the first couple of fields.

Soon we were strung out and the lead group were out of sight, and I was relaxing into a steady pace when I heard shouting from just ahead. The guy in front had crossed a stile and been met by at least 80 cows advancing in formation towards him. I joined him, but I think we both decided that waiting for more support would be wise. Besides, I didn’t want to be the slowest runner in the field with a herd of ferocious fresians. Soon another half dozen people arrived and between us we managed to force a way through and ran round the edge of the field to the next gate. I hope the other runners behind survived… Those cows looked as grumpy as hungover parents on a Sunday morning. Our enthusiastic arrival had woken them and the next intruders into their space were going to get their full fury.

The next few miles were uneventful and CP1 and 2 passed easily. I was enjoying the scenery and glorious sunshine, and maintaining a steady 8 min/ mile pace. The 6 miles from CP2 to CP3 are the hardest as the route climbs up to Ashdown Forest. At the halfway point it turns back to the south on the Vanguard Way, running through King’s Standing Clump.

I’d been aiming for a 4:15 finish time, and was on track at 20 miles, but my legs were getting heavy and sluggish. After 24 miles I had to walk, and this time it had nothing to do with the gradient. I walked for a few minutes before running again but at a slower pace. Two or three runner came passed me, but whereas I normally fight to hold on to a place in the last third of a race, today I was too tired. At CP4 I was feeling a little better, and the soaking administered by the volunteer who emptied a bucket of water over me helped too. I knew there was only 5 miles to go. Shortly after I was passed by a couple of guys doing the marathon, and their words of encouragement were a real boost.

Straight through the final checkpoint and only 3 miles to go. I was following a few runners from the half marathon now, when suddenly they stopped and said we were going the wrong way. Getting lost at any point is frustrating but taking a wrong turn with only 2 miles to go really hurt, but we turned round and headed back to the last track we had crossed.

When we finally got back on track we pushed on down the final trails until we hit the road. I knew if I pushed hard from here I might break 4:30:00 and so raced up the road and into the school to the finish line ( 9th place 4:29:39 ).

Every finisher gets a hand made mug as well as there medal, and I was soon in the school hall filling mine with coffee and helping myself to a couple of pieces of the excellent cake.

Although the race hadn’t gone to plan, I was still 5 minutes faster than last year, and had managed to get over the line in under 4:30:00. I had a feeling that I was pushing my luck racing only three weeks after a 100 mile race, so I guess I’m lucky I survived with out picking up an injury. I now have two months to get stronger for the hills of the Lakeland 50, then TDS.


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Photos courtesy of Jon Lavis and Stuart Mills.