Salisbury 54321 - 14th Aug 2005

This is one of those LDWA events that also attracts a lot of trail runners. Officially it's not a race, and walkers and joggers start at times of their own choosing, but the organisers also staged a "mass start" for runners at 9.30 so we could all go off together - marathon runners heading left to get in some extra miles and 40,30,20 & 10k runners heading straight for a cycle path leading north out of town from the race HQ (Salisbury Fire Station).

My personal race plan - oops it's not a race is it - was to chug along at exactly 8 mins per mile regardless of what happens around me - I entered the 30k as warm up for a marathon 11 days later which in turn was to be followed by an ultra 36 hours after that. There were no mile markers, but my GPS was giving me live pace & distance so I could stick to the task.

After the initial cycle path the course took in quiet suburban lanes and residential streets before moving off road to the ramparts of Old Sarum, the great hill fort just outside Salisbury. Here we got one of many exquisite views just before checkpoint 1, which my dinky camera doesn't do justice to, but to the naked eye this was a great vista taking in the whole city with the famous cathedral reaching skyward at its heart. On a day like this, with big sunlit skies and rural England resembling Heaven it wasn't hard to stick at a steady pace and stay cheerful - enjoying a rare "race" when I wasn't actually going eyeballs-out to beat a certain time.

The checkpoints could be slow - often taking a minute or more to queue for a signature on the check card, but of course this isn't a race so no worries there. Each runner & walker had a map as well as a check-card and a set of directions. I was also carrying a 500ml bottle belt which I topped up at a few water stations - not sure I would have found these frequent enough if doing the marathon (which would explain the use of camelbaks by some other runners who had done the event before).

After Sarum we headed East on rural trails and over numerous styles and gates with the sun beating down - I was grateful for the shade from the woodland sections - we passed through forests of deciduous trees mixed with rhododendron, again mixing trail with road. It had been a dry summer so road-shoes were fine, even on the chalky slopes of Old Sarum. In a wet year things might be different, but the amount of road in this course means you wouldn't dream of wearing studs.

Around half way we went through the grounds of a huge castellated mansion - a really unique building with huge a parkland estate around it - I got the impression from the signage that this is usually closed off but today we had free access. The mansion is on the banks of a river - the Avon maybe? Looking at the remains of the map I was issued with I reckon this was Longford Castle.

I got a bit tired at 16 miles - hills and rough ground were sapping my energy a bit, as were the 30 odd miles I'd run earlier in the week, but I think getting some carbs down me would have done the trick. On this occasion I resisted the temptation and pushed on, eventually heading across a trail from Salisbury race course down into the heart of the city itelf, through the arch leading into the cathedral close. I was being a total tourist, pausing to take the odd photo and rubbernecking at the old buildings.

After passing the magnificent front of the cathedral and showboating it through the city centre streets for a bit I was back at the fire station and handing in my check card in exchange for a medal. The GPS had logged 19.9 miles - a bit more distance than advertised, but some of this came from the handful of wrong turnings I'd taken where the signs on the course weren't obvious. I was third or fourth home for the 30k, ahead of a few of the 20k runners whom I'd passed just before coming into town, but I was happiest when I saw my average pace had been 7:58. Mission accomplished :)

The long distance walkers and trail runners were a friendly crowd - I really enjoyed this event and I'd like to get a few more of them in next summer, especially as training for more conventional races. You get a soft surface, a marked course, a few water stations and some other runners - at Salisbury you even get a choice of distances. Bargain.