I had reached the point in my training schedule where I needed to put in a loaded/weighted run, and it was going to be 5 miles carrying 20lbs. I would have to use my trainers because the boots I am planning to use for the Paras’ 10 and the Fan Dance have not been bought yet. I would also have to use my Berghaus 35+8 Freeflow rucksack because the bergen I am planning to use for the Paras’ 10 and the Fan Dance has not been procured yet. So I set off to Dunstable Downs with my rucksack filled with my Rab sleeping bag, a pair of Nike jogging bottoms, a Berghaus fleece and a set of dumbbell weights which in total came to 9 kgs. I did have one more thing with me – Chumley, my children’s dog, who I was looking after while they were at their drama class, and he had no choice but to come on this run with me.
I decided to start from the point just below the Visitor Centre on the top of Dunstable Downs, the point where I have been starting from for my hill repeats on Saturdays, and then follow most of what was the Warrior Adrenaline Race route from when I ran it in April 2013 (which you can read about here). That should at least bring me close to 5 miles and would include Regiment Hill. I was having problems with Strava as I walked to my starting point because it was not picking up an internet connection, and was also having issues with GPS. I do find it hard to understand how it can be so high and open up there and yet have such connection issues. As it turned out, Strava did not pick up my run until some time after I had begun it. Fortunately, I also record my times on my watch, and actually trust that to be more accurate. I did some stretching (though never enough), made sure my bergen was secure and as comfortable as I could get it, and finally set off, only to have to almost stop to untangle Chumley from his lead. I sensed this dog was going to be trouble.
I started out on the track which runs along the top of the Downs, mostly following the direction of the road, while cutting in from time to time. I was taking things steadily and I felt fine. The track is undulating, though none of the uphills are too steep, and there was no real wind today, which makes a change up here. It was very sunny as I was running along the top and before long we came off the track on to a muddy stretch which heads downhill into the grassy opening which will house the zipline for the Warrior Adrenaline Race. It was at this point, as I turned back on myself along the bottom track, that Strava decided to start operating. The bottom track is also a mud track, with the chalk of the Chilterns coming through, and it is just starting to properly dry out after the wet winter. It begins enclosed before opening out on to grassy areas, and is also undulating, with a couple of steep mounds before you come down to the bottom of what I know as Regiment Hill. I had reached this point in around 21 minutes. Now I just had the matter of getting to the top of Regiment Hill, a very steep slope with a couple of points where it almost feels like it is going to flatten out and a bend about half way up. It squeezes in a lot in a short space, and it is a tough climb, even without the bergen. I could definitely feel it in my legs as I climbed steadily – I could not run, but I knew I had to just keep going until I got to the top. It took me about 7 minutes to get to the top, and then I was off to the right, following a chalk path which took me back down to the bottom track, and gave me a great view of the gliders taking off.
I went through a gate and the track became more enclosed, which meant the dog kept getting under my feet at the times when he ran ahead of me. He was on his lead and mostly running behind me, though, and I was noticing how different it was to be running without being able to use both arms as I normally would because I was holding the lead. How different and how more difficult it was. The path was undulating again and it was feeling tough running under this sun, but I kept going and before long went through another gate which took me into the Whipsnade part of the Downs. I was approaching the edge of the Downs and remembered that as I was running along the bottom track I would have to go uphill again, and that is when I remembered the steps from when I ran along here for the Warrior Adrenaline Race. The steps are like railway sleepers and follow the path of the road which goes up to Whipsnade Zoo. I was walking, pushing it along, trying to make sure I kept to one stride per step, and making sure I did not stop. It levelled out at the top, dropped down a little and then rose up again to take me to a car parking area. I ran across the gravel to another set of steps, smaller this time, which took me up on to a grass area, and to the point I had been crossing a few times recently with the Warrior Adrenaline Race training camps.
I knew I was on my way back now, which made the going a little easier. I needed it to feel a little easier because the bergen was starting to become uncomfortable. The dumbbell weights had shifted around inside it and the part which was resting against the small of my back did not feel sufficiently padded. I was running along the muddy, stony track, trying my best to keep the dog from either running through the muddiest bits or stopping to drink the muddy water. The ground was not bad going, and because it was just me there was no queueing to get through the gates which took me back into a field, which I crossed to bring me to the edge of the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral. The route took me around the edge of that, with it on the inside of me to my left, and onto a pathway until I eventually came out on to a lane which I would mostly be following until I came to the Downs again. The lane only had a slight incline but it really felt like I was running uphill now. I went round a corner and on to a track through the trees which branched off to the left and then the right, and once I got to the end of that muddy section I could see the Visitor Centre at the end of another built-up track.
I went past a National Trust pickup and started along the track, watching the kites being flown in the strong winds up top here. I knew I was near the finish and that kept me going, running in this last bit. I had done it a couple of weeks ago with a log so I knew I could do it now with a bergen. I ran across the grass behind the people flying their kites and carried on in front of the Visitor Centre, running down the slope to get to my starting point in 1 hour 20 minutes and 24 seconds. I had run 5 miles, and after I weighed my bergen that evening I discovered I had been running with 27lbs, and not just the 20lbs my training schedule required. I am putting this down as a successful start.