Wychwood Way Report by Al Graham

I first joined Eynsham Road Runners in 2008 and have loved being part of a group that promotes both community and competition.

If things go smoothly over the next few weeks, I will be moving down to the Bristol area this summer as my partner, Helen, has a new job there. With this on the cards, and in need of something to aim for through the recent lockdown, I decided that a fitting farewell to this wonderful area, would be to run the Wychwood Way (https://ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Wychwood+Way). I’ve been wanting to do this local circular path for a while, and Tara’s ultra report at the AGM made me realise that I should just get on and do it before moving away.

So at some point towards the end of January I asked Ant Green and Stephane Paulus whether they would want to give it a go with me.  They immediately said yes, and we decided on a run date of 25th April and the training began. I just want to point out that the longest official run I had ever done was a half marathon (21km) and that the longest personal run I had done was about 28km. Ant had done a marathon, but only Stephane had gone beyond that 42km threshold. And the Wychwood Way was listed as anywhere between 55 and 60km depending on the website you looked at:  whatever the official distance, it was quite a way. Having stated to Graham and others in the club (on multiple occasions) that I couldn’t imagine ever running a marathon distance, I fully accept that this seems an odd challenge to be suggesting. 

The training for the run was great fun. I like planning stuff, and being able to get recce runs into the schedule helped with the distance goals and with understanding where we would be running.  Disaster struck however when an injury that Ant had been dealing with flared up, but he switched to cross training and was adamant he was going to be back and ready for April.  Stephane and I meanwhile maintained our Sunday training runs: some were lovely, some were in horizontal sleet (yay!), some explored new areas for both of us, and some were just putting km into our legs….but all got us closer to our goal. A big day for me was when I broke through 30km on a really nice loop south of Burford: my new longest distance!

Our final long run took place at the start of April. Ant was back and the three of us set off up the Thames via Appleton to Shifford Lock before returning to Eynsham via Standlake and Stanton Harcourt. 43km! My first marathon distance. That was a big deal for me – and it was great to be running in our group of three. I’m not sure if it was at this point that we got dubbed the 3 amigos (I think by Marina) but it seems to have stuck now. 

All we needed to do now was a few more training runs, stay mobile and hope for good weather on the 25th.

Meanwhile, I put a call out to see if any runners in the club might want to join us for different parts of the Wychwood Way as support runners and to enjoy the run (it really is a spectacular off road route). We had a top response, as I should have expected from this great club.

We could not have asked for better conditions on the day: a cloudy start with a stiff NE breeze which gave way to unbroken cloud and temperatures of about 15C. The three of us met at the Combe Gate entrance to Blenheim at 08:30 and were joined by two of Ant’s friends Alex and Nick. Our partners, Helen, Rachel and Angela waved us on our way and Alex and Nick stayed with us for the first 10K or so through to Stonesfield. After saying goodbye to our first support runners we had a couple of KM before we met up with Simon Walker and Nick Hardwick. They stayed with us for a good chunk of the next section running around the NE corner of the route. It’s pretty amazing up there and I’d heartily recommend you have a look at running parts of it. Our first support stop was in Chaddlington where we stocked up on food and fluids: salted peanuts, pickled gherkins and salted boiled new potatoes all went down a treat, alongside the usual sugar-fest. Then we ran on (Simon staying with us) and were surprised to see Larry coming towards us across a field. Having successfully fended off a friendly horse and taken some photos Larry departed for the next photo stop – he was absolutely brilliant at popping up along the route and capturing the day for us (and cheering us on when we needed it)! We had a section along the Evenlode valley, where Tess and Nigel Fisher joined us (with a short food stop). Nigel and Tess kept us going through to Ascott-under-Wychwood after which we had a section through to Ramsden where it was just the three of us. We also had a lunch stop which was much needed at 41km, in the shade of the remnants of the Wychwood and just before Leafield. Once refreshed and stretched and photographed, we were back at it.   Meeting our final support runners, Ian Keeley and Tara, meant that we only had about 10km to go. The sun was out, the bluebells were in full flower as we ran through the woods, the hills were rolling but not too intense, the final support stop was bustling and Larry was out and about taking photos and shouting support.  All was right with the world! And then we turned the final corner, back towards the Combe Gate and a small and unexpected crowd of supporters that cheered us home to the gate. We made it back at about 15:30 I think although I’m sure we were all too tired to be checking watches and times. I just know we all had big smiles on our faces as Stephane cracked open the champagne and more photos were taken.

It was an amazing day and has really made me want to do more long distance running as it really is a great way to see more of the countryside around us over the course of a day.  I want to thank all those who supported us on the day and beforehand – it was appreciated by all three of us. And I’d like to think that maybe there will be more attempts on the route by club members in future.