Turning Up the Gear: Datchet Dashers 20-Mile Training Run

I would like to kick off this blog post with some breaking news! I have finally joined a proper running club after having been a runner for over 10 years. Now that I have got my running mojo back following my pregnancy, I joined the Marlow Striders Club in March.

My Hubby has been a member for about a year now and I have also met lots of people through their various social events and get-togethers over the past year. Therefore it was a straightforward decision for me to finally don the club colours.

My first formal outing with the club was a Mothers’ Day treat from Hubby. I joined a few other Striders at the Datchet Dashers Running Club’s annual 20 mile (32 km) training run. This event takes place in the beautiful Old Windsor area, following an ‘out and back’ route from Home Park to Virginia Waters. Even though the event was not classed as a race and there were no trophies to be won at the end, we had all the support you would expect to receive in a race, such as marshalls and water stations on the route. This informal event is open to everyone and is perfect if you are preparing for a spring marathon or an ultra. I for one find LSR’s easier to tackle when I run with a group of people. And have I mentioned that it only costs £1 to sign up for this training run which you can do on the day itself! As an extra bonus, parking is free at the weekends in the Home Park car park beyond the Datchet Dashers’ club house. (Psssst!)

I was surprised to find that for some reason, the event this year did not attract more than about 50 runners. I did not mind it too much, as the small scale of the event meant there was more room for some chinwag amongst those of us who did decide to head out for a long run on that cloudy and cool Sunday morning.

The 9am mass start was just behind the Datchet Dashers’ club house at the back of the Home Park car park, at the feet of the majestic Windsor Castle. During the first 6 kms, which I treated as my ‘warm up’, I was running with Sara from my running club, who turns out to favour ultras and other long distance running events, like myself. This helped us build rapport quite early on and made those first few kilometres whizz by. Our friendly banter also helped calm my initial nerves about running over 30kms.

I have to admit I had my reservations about the scenery. There is a map of the route on the event organisers’ website which is quite helpful. Before studying it, I expected that we would run alongside the Thames Path by the river for most part, however, the route was designed to lead us through the streets of Datchet, Old Windsor and some quiet country lanes in Englefield Green to get into Windsor Great Park and Virginia Waters. We then looped back to the starting point in Home Park broadly following the same route.

Some lovely views in Windsor Great Park and Englefield Green

I found this ‘out and back’ route surprisingly pretty and quiet on that Sunday morning and I grew to enjoy the much needed ‘me-time’ on my feet. Amongst other things, we got quite close to the Beaumont House Hotel estate which brought back many fond memories from last summer when I was helping out at one of my company’s multi day training event there. There was only one significant hill just before reaching the park, but thankfully, it was a long and gradual climb that I could run all the way up to without slowing down too much. Windsor Great Park was a real highlight, bringing back some of the struggles of running the Windsor Park Half Marathon there twice before. We entered the park through the Bishopsgate Road entrance – I spotted that there is ample free parking on the side of this road near the gate. I made sure to make a mental note of that, as I love visiting the area for my solo runs but parking in the main car parks come at premium prices. From the gate, we headed deeper into the park and towards Virginia Waters. There appeared to be another event taking place as there were some red arrows directing people – thankfully, having listened to the briefing at the start, I did not get side tracked by these! We reached the halfway point near the café at the main car park by the lake.

The iconic Obelisk statue at Virginia Waters

As I said before, this ‘out and back’ course was very well marshalled with two well placed water stations (providing us refreshments four times in total), and there were plenty of opportunities to pop to the loo as well in case we needed it – I spotted a fuel station, a couple of pubs, and public toilets at Englefield Green; the café at Virginia Waters also had facilities. All the marshalls and the event hosts back at Home Park were super helpful and encouraging and I couldn’t fault anything in the organising. There was coffee and cake served at the rugby club next door down from the Dashers’ clubhouse which was a real life saver for us tired runners at the end.

How did I get on? My legs started to feel somewhat heavier after reaching half marathon distance but I managed to push through the fatigue. The hardest bit was the final 5-6kms, where I was luckily joined by another lady who had been following me from the distance until that point. We started chatting to distract ourselves from the pain and discomfort during the final few kilometres which seemed to go on forever. I managed to finish in just over 3 hours which is not too bad, considering I had a 6 month running hiatus last year due to my pregnancy and I only started to get back seriously into running 3 months ago. I was complimented on my steady pace by other runners who were following me, which was a definite confidence builder for me. I have no idea where I ranked amongst the finishers but as far as I could tell, there were lots of different abilities on the day and we got quite spread out shortly after the start.

The whole run was done on concrete pavements and roads which was very different from the terrains I had done most of my running on over the past few months. On one hand, running on (mostly) flat and smooth surfaces felt like a breeze for my body in the first half. However, on the other hand, after finishing the run, I felt more shattered than after any of the challenging hilly trail races I had done lately. These include the Wendover Woods Half Marathon, Ashridge Boundary Run (26km) and the Maverick Inov-8 Original Buckinghamshire (22km). It just goes to show that softer surfaces such as mud paths, forest trails or grassy fields are so much nicer to the joints and place less stress on the body in general.

Overall, this training run was a perfect opportunity to practice my hydration and fuelling strategy (I consumed 3 gels and about 700 mls of water mixed with powder), and to strengthen my mental muscles as well for longer events in my race calendar for the summer.

Unfortunately, after the run, I ended up with a sore right ankle, so I am taking a (hopefully short) break from running at the moment to allow my body to heal properly. I have to admit, I am a bit paranoid about my ankle. I developed a horrible overuse injury a few years ago in that area – back then, I was diagnosed with posterior tibial tendonitis and it took me months to rehab the issue and get back into running with help from a physiotherapist. Needless to say, I am worried I might be having the same issue now, so I am using the same rehab approach again. This involves lots of targeted stretching, foamrolling and glute/core strengthening exercises and low impact activities.

This issue with my ankle did overshadow the pride I felt upon finishing this long run and the enjoyment I got out of running this beautiful route as part of the Striders Tribe. Obviously, only time will tell how bad the situation is and whether I can still race this summer! In the meanwhile, I’m trying to keep positive – I have been doing really well in my longer runs so far (only 5 months post-partum at the time of writing this article!) and recovered remarkably quickly after ALL my punishing trail races, which means that my body is strong and is able to adapt.

Do you prefer running on roads or trails?

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