Sunday, 15 September 2013

Ponton Plod 2013 - In the Company of Legends.

The Ponton Plod is an excellent local event organised by long distance walker and veteran of the 100 mile distance, Stuart Ashley and his wife Kath. They are supported by a cast of cheerful volunteers many of whom operate the four checkpoints at Buckminster, Croxton Kerrial, Harlaxton and Wyville. The start and finish is in the quaint villlage of Great Ponton, just outside Grantham. There are 12, 17 and 27 mile route choices. I chose to run the 27 mile route. I knew the route well after running the event twice before. In 2010 I went round in 4 hours three minutes. My second attempt in 2011 ended in DNF after I turned my ankle just before Croxton Kerrial.
Commeth the runners.
Entrants gathered in the car park for a start at 8:30am. I was later to talk to a runner from Hull who had got out of bed at 5am to get to the start. Organiser Ashley stood on the dry stone wall to make pre event announcements. It was interesting to hear that ultra running legend Eleanor Robinson was in the car park ready to take part in the event. In her day, Eleanor set various records at ultra distances by racing all over the world. In 1985 Eleanor won the Nottingham Marathon in 2:55:18. I doubt that Eleanor would have known it, but the men's winner of the same event, Phil Hall who ran 2:25:15 in 1985 was also in the car park ready to run the 17 mile plod. It was energising to be in such illustrious company.   
Organiser Stuart Ashley
At 8:30am we were released into the beautiful Lincolnshire Countryside. I was determined to stick to a conservative strategy until Croxton Kerrial. I had run 56 miles of the Bullock Smithy the previous weekend and I didn't think my legs would thank me for pushing at the front of the field. I kept in touch towards Stoke Rochford where the 27 and 17 mile route spilt. It was then evident that there were five runners in front of me and I watched on the road towards Skillington as they gradually pushed ahead. By the first checkpoint at Buckminster Water Tower I felt pretty good, my legs weren't complaining after the previous weeks efforts and my conservative strategy seemed to be paying off. The five in front had run ahead but on the way to Saltby two of them, Arthur Short and one other appeared some way in front, climbing a fence back on to the official route. It seemed they had taken a wrong turn and had just relocated. 
Robert McArdle, Catherine Payne & Ben Mason Grantham Running Club.
The section between Buckminster and Croxton Kerrrial is long. Although I was feeling good I was grateful to arrive at the checkpoint. On the way to Croxton Kerrial the promised rain had materialised. In the car park, before the start, I had taken the last minute decision to ditch my waterproof top and when the clouds broke I began to regret the decision. Thankfully as I stumbled up the horribly rutted motor cross path the shower had ended and it turned out that the rest of the event was run in dry, cloudy, windy conditions.   
At Croxton Kerrial everything happened at once. The five runners in front had congregated in the village after missing the checkpoint. As I arrived they were retracing their footsteps and I was able to guide them into the checkpoint. This worked well for my pre run strategy of conservatively running to Croxton and then pushing on from there. I was now at the head of the field albeit with five others but I guessed my reserved energy might pay dividends in the second half. These events aren't super competitive but its nice to be as far up the field as possible and it would be good to get a better time than my previous 4 hours 3 minutes. 
It became apparent about half a mile after leaving Croxton that despite two runners leaving Croxton ahead of me, I was at the front of the field. On the descent into Harston I could see a fair way in front but there were no other runners to be seen, perhaps the two that had scaled the fence after going wrong earlier had done it again? I was able to run fast between Harston and Denton Reservoir although I laboured up the hill before the checkpoint at Harlaxton. 
Glad to finish in 4:01
I ate cake and banana and left the checkpoint quickly. The marshalls had to point me in the direction of a diversion which involved a trek up the appropriately named Swines Hill. I was glad to get to the top. From here there was perhaps six miles left and another checkpoint left to visit. Could I hold off the chasing runners behind and perhaps better that time of 4 hours 3 minutes?
I had begun to catch up walkers who I presume were taking part in the 17 mile event. The walkers provided handy confirmation that I was navigating the right route and we exchanged encouraging words of to each other as we passed. By the checkpoint at Wyville I was beginning to slow down. Time for more cake and banana and a brief chat to a colleague from work who was volunteering at the checkpoint.
Onwards for the final four mile leg to the finish. My memory had mentally shortened my recollection of the valley through towards Stoke Rochford which was a bit tragic but the road came soon enough. More encouraging words from a walker on that nasty hill before the right hand turn down the track towards Great Ponton. A quick glance behind confirmed there was nobody chasing and I could cruise back home. I crossed the A1 and back into the car park at Great Ponton village hall finishing in 4 hours and 1 minutes! phew a pb by two minutes. I'm nothing if consistent.
It was time for the best bit - food. This is a great LDWA style event. Participants have the choice of three types of soup including cauliflower and stilton. I chose parsnip and apple followed by lemon meringue and cream all complimented by lashings of rejuvenating tea.
Post event fun with Grantham Running Club
Arthur Short came back shortly after me and he would have been in front had he not kept getting lost. He confirmed that he and his compatriot had missed a turn after Croxton which had put me to the front of the field by default. Grantham Running Club fielded a strong team including ultra runner Ben Mason also completing the 27 mile event less than a week after 56 miles of the Bullock Smithy. 
The Ponton Plod is an excellent event. The majority of the proceeds from the event go to Besso Childrens Home in Hosur, India and a smaller portion to Glaston Parish Church in Rutland who pass this on to World Vision. In 2012 the total raised was £2150
Thanks to Stuart and the team for another great day.



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