The Testway Ultra is a new event put on by Andover Trail Runners. 2017 was the first running of this event.
I spotted an advert for the event on Facebook in early Jan. It runs from Coombe Gibbet (near Inkpen in West Berkshire) to Southampton following the Testway long distance footpath.
The start of this event is pretty local to me, and I’ve run a couple of other events starting from Coombe Gibbet so know it reasonably well. The countryside around there is beautiful and liked the idea of a day meandering my way south on the beautiful trails.
This was also the second of 2 build-up races that I was doing (for the Thames Path 100 miler).
I arrived at ‘the Gibbet’ about 30 minutes before the start. It was a cold morning, and most runners were sheltering from the wind behind the two vans. Even though this was the first running there was a decent turnout for a low key event – about 45 to 50 runners.
Organisation was good – portaloo, drop bags, race numbers, safety pins, teas and coffees. I also met up a Strava ‘virtual friend’ Simon Adams – good to put a face to a name (little did I know he’d lead me on a merry 5 mile detour dance…)
The folks at Andover Trail Runners have a ‘down to earth’ approach to things – no pomp and ceremony – just the way I like it.
Start time creeped closer, we got the race briefing out the way and all headed off to the start line, keen to get running and generate some heat.
The Gibbet is the highest point around that area, so the first few miles benefit from being downhill (about 450ft descent over 3 miles). As soon as we got off the top things warmed up, and the sun came out a few minutes later. At the start of the next big climb I took the opportunity to remove my wind jacket and gloves.
Good trail in this area, with great views in all directions. I was holding back a little, testing out an Achilles niggle I’d had for the previous few weeks. It seemed to be holding up well which was great news.
The miles just ticked by, through woods, down tracks, over fields – great scenery. Aid stations were about 10(ish) miles apart, and well stocked with sugary snacks, drinks and the like.
The ‘Bonus’ Loop
There was a ‘mini’ aid station (water in the back of a van) at a marshalled road crossing around 15 miles. Just after this the route went along a path next to fields, onto a concrete road past a couple of farm buildings and the signage petered out. I had been chasing down a guy a few meters in front and a couple of guys a few meters in front of him. I rounded a bend to see them all standing around at a path junction discussing the route. There was talk of us being off route, and we decided to head down the most likely track. A couple of minutes later we came to an unmarked road crossing. The 4 of our regrouped, someone got a map out, I had the route on my Garmin, but couldn’t get it to display (duffer), but we eventually thought we knew where we were and headed off down the road to get back on track. 1 minute later after spotting a sign we did a 180 and ran down the road the other way.
After a mile or so we spotted a hi-vis vest so a cheer went up that we were back on track. Our joy was short lived – when we reached the marshal it turned out to be the folks at the 15 mile point (that we had left an hour before)…
I wasn’t too bothered by this – I had this event set in my mind as a training run, so a few extra miles was neither here nor there.
Anyway, we headed off again and found the spot where we’d gone wrong before – a signpost that had fallen over. I had stuck with the other 3 guys during the bonus loop and it had been a little faster that I had planned, so after taking the correct route at the signpost I slowed a bit for a few miles. The second aid station at 20 (25 inc bonus) miles was on a corner in the village of Wherwell.
After this there is a lovely section through Chilbolton Cow Common, over a couple of bridges and then several miles on a picturesque path next to the River Test. This was good running.
A right turn, across some fields and we hit the third aid station.
The next section included a few inclines, some open fields and started into the woods. The difficulty (for me) in this section was the stiles. Having covered 30+ miles already, lifting my leg over stiles was hard going…
Things were starting to get a bit wet underfoot in this section as well. A few short sections of the path were ankle deep puddles with little option for detours to keep your feet dry. After a couple of attempts to remain dry I gave up and just trudged through them. I managed to catch a couple of people on this section and when I got to the final aid station I grabbed a quick bite and pushed on.
Pretty much wet, ankle deep puddles the rest of the way until the wooden walkway over the reeds/fields in the last mile. Still moving okay at this stage – not fast, because it was so wet and muddy. Jumped off the wooden walkway, hit the road, turned the corner and reached the finish.
Official time was 9:20:55 which I was pleased with, as I think I covered around 48-49 miles in total.
From the pub at the finish it’s about 5 – 10 minute walk to the train station, and about 40 minutes by train to Reading. Unfortunately I missed my train by 2 minutes and had to wait an hour for the next one.
Overall, this was a great event. Lovely scenery, easy route-finding (apart from fallen signposts), well organised and definitely enjoyable. Hats go off to the folks at Andover Trail Runners for a great day out. I’ll definitely be back next year, and will be checking out their September Andover Trail Marathon in the meantime.