401 Challenge : Day 391 : QECP run


Ben Smith is an endurance athlete, a charity champion and a “pied piper” of runners but most of all he’s an inspiration. After arriving at Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) in his 401 Challenge battle bus his pre run talk was full of “us, we and the goup” references, humour and honesty. After 390 marathons Ben suggested he’d be taking today easier and with the hilly route you could hardly blame him. About 80 or so fellow runners were ready to run.


Ben started his journey on September 1st 2015 raising money and awareness for Stonewall and Kidscape to combat bullying in school and society. He has raised over £124K, run over 10,000 miles and been joined by over 9,000 people. The support for Bens project was typified by the post on his twitter account this morning that thanked the owners of the Flying Bull at Rake for their complementary overnight stay and meals.

I’ve been following his progress on twitter for months now so it was exciting when the specific days arrangements came out on facebook. Victory AC were organising the route and David Lown had kindly displayed a map of the intended miles. I wouldn’t have time to run all the course but had worked out a half marathon strategy within David’s map.

The car park was full of various running clubs and as well as fellow Fareham Crusaders I saw Chris Hall and Mike Bell from Stubbington Green. I shook David’s hand and thanked him for organising before we set off. Our first task was to run up Butser Hill and without really planning it I was at the front next to our Pied Piper but this did give me the chance of a good photo !! Talking of photos Ben had tirelessly posed for selfies in the car park which he said would appear on the facebook page as well as encouraging people to ask questions, even if he’d heard them 600 times before 🙂


There was lots of good humoured chat and looping back so that everyone reached the trig point and summit together. We took a wider loop around the back of Butser, past the round house café and headed back down to the park. This loop provided a great opportunity for the runners who wouldn’t be venturing out further as they got to experience running the highest point on the South Downs with a very chatty Ben.

As we left QECP the sun was shinning and the more forested areas opened out onto the Staunton Way. My fellow Fareham Crusaders were aiming at ten miles today so I said my goodbyes and we pressed on across the fields.

dscf4877 dscf4878

As we dropped down towards Chalton on the springy grass I found myself at the back of the pack with Ben which meant I could ask a couple of questions. Q1 : Has one marathon stood out on the journey ? A : Impossible to pick one, everyday is a combination of different people, different locations and so a different experience, so it’s hard to match one against another. Q2 : Do you prefer road or trail marathons A : I just love running, I don’t mind where, I like running in the sun, I don’t like running in the rain. Q3 : Will you miss it ? A : Of course I will but I hope this is just the start for my foundations work.

We regrouped in Chalton village opposite the historic Red Lion pub, to many peoples interest, and then took a full 360 degree change in direction and outlook as we pass through the graveyard of the church opposite, so as to carry on along the Staunton Way.

dscf4879 The group had trimmed down by now as we headed out onto Chalton Downs with more great views of the countryside (the first photo) and Saint Huberts Church which dates back to the 12th Century. I chatted with various runners from different clubs and was invited to join Victory AC one Sunday morning to run with them. This kind of running community spirit is what days like today are all about. As we headed towards Finchdean I had to make a decision when to turn back as the second half of the route towards Rowlands Castle and beyond would add to the two and a half hours window I had.

I called it a day at the bottom of a ploughed hill knowing that this would be some good training on the way back up. All that remained was to shake Ben by the hand and thank everyone for a great run. As I retraced my steps back to the car park I contemplated what I could donate. My final miles total for the day were 13.6 so I’m rounding that to £14.00 and donating to Stonewall once I’ve published my blog.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to run with everyone that came along today and to meet Mr 401 himself. Ben I take my hat off to you. Thanks to Victory AC for organising and apologies if I have forgotten some of the names of the runners I chatted to, I hope to see you on the trails soon.

Finally, of the photos I took today this is my favourite, Ben just taking a moment to watch everyone that came today, happily running up a steep hill, just to be part of his 401 journey. Well done everyone involved 🙂



Woodland Challenge, 14.3 miles


Todays Woodland Challenge could have been tailor made for me at this stage of the year. The guys at On The Whistle (OTW) (Kiernan, Del & Claire) have a simple format. Their races revolve around a lap of about 3.5 miles and you pick up a coloured wristband each time you complete one. Your race finishes when you ring the bell to signal that it was your last lap.

The beauty of this system is that you frequently see other runners and this means lots of mutual motivation. Having your name written on your race number was a nice touch and this added to the friendly nature of the event. From my point of view it also meant my return to fitness wasn’t with a race of a specific distance. I had 4 laps and a half marathon in mind so the 14.3 miles were perfect. About 90 or so of us congregated for Kiernan’s pre race instructions and then we were off.


The lap started with about a half mile gradual uphill section of compacted but rough in places stone and gravel. A right hand turn then lead to a second gradual climb with mud underfoot. The courses then undulated with a certain amount of mud after Saturdays rain and once reaching 1.75 miles an up and downhill loop was used so that you rejoined the course and retraced your steps back to the start / feed station.

The relatively small amount of runners meant I largely ran on my own but as I said earlier you constantly had runners approaching you from the other direction. Today I had no pace expectations just simply to run. The tracks had small bright flags at regular intervals so this made the route easy to follow. The temperature rose steadily as the morning progressed but thankfully there was a lot of tree cover from the sun. The humidity also rose as there wasn’t much of a breeze between the trees and bushes.

I saw Richard from Fareham and a few familiar faces from other races but this mornings run was largely a pleasant stress free distance builder for future weeks. It was very peaceful running along the quiet sun lit trails and quite relaxing in only the way we runners can understand. A long steady run can be very therapeutic to clear your mind and simply enjoy the sights and sounds of the countryside.

By the third lap I’d started overtaking a few runners but then again they may have been pacing themselves for more miles than me. I finished my fourth lap, rang the bell and thanked Kiernan, Del & Claire who were at the feed station. OK ten and a half minute miles for 14.3 wasn’t quick but it was a great psychological lift to have clocked up some descent mileage. The day was made complete with one of the best medals I’ve had in some time. If you enjoyed reading my blog please vote for it here in the Running Awards, thank you 🙂



Running Awards 2017 : Best Blog

Thanks very much to the people who voted irunoffroad into the 2016 shortlist. Voting is easy, even if you do have to register !! I post blogs on a weekly basis and attend related talks/events whenever possible.

2017voteThis year the Blog vote is within the Community category. If you’ve liked reading my Blog I would very much appreciate your vote. To all my fellow Bloggers ….. Good Luck.

Vote here …….


Thanks very much, Rog.

Butser Hill Challenge



The Butser Hill challenge (BHC) is a 5 mile race up and down the highest point on the South Downs Way. My friend Andrew has been contemplating entering so, seeing as it’s in two weeks time, I ran the course with him on Saturday. The format is simple, run up and down the hill from three different directions. The run is classed as a grade B fell race as the hill is 889 feet above sea level. The BHC was my first race when I moved to Hampshire and the area is quite simply my favourite place to run. I’m not entering this year but it was great to run the course.

The early morning dew meant the grass was quite wet but the temperature was already rising with the morning sunshine. We chatted on the initial slope to hill No. 1 but the gradient soon stopped us talking !! We ran passed a number of curious sheep on the way to a gate two thirds up the hill, and reached it without walking. The next 200m or so were quite overgrown and to be honest this helped as we were running at a slower  pace. As this first ascent levelled out it was clear today would be a testing one. The run downhill was taken with care due to the wet grass and the curious sheep’s poo 🙂

Hill No. 2, the main drag up to the trig point was taken with lots of respect for the hill and a certain amount of walking. This slope was where I chatted to twitter Jeff and the Film my Run lads when they were on their SDW 100 mile race. The going underfoot was quite firm due to it being the most popular with walkers. We headed for the satellite dish tower and passed the trig point at a reasonable pace. So that was two hills down and one to go. The burning sensations in my legs and thighs were all forgotten with the amazing views.

Hill No. 3, this was where the “wheels came off” to a certain extent. We didn’t get lost we just attempted to run a track that was overgrown !! The elevation was just as steep but springy moss, heather and other plants meant we had to watch our footing and some walking was needed until we re joined the tall grass section (see below) and then the proper track. My compression socks managed to collect a number of seeds on route too.

DSCF4829 Once on top of the hill we stopped for an OS  trig point selfie and then it was a pleasant run downhill back to the car park, even if the wind had picked up and the cloud cover increased.


Although we’d tackled three steep sides of the hill ultimately we’d only run about 5.5 miles so I ran out of QECP and added an extra two miles. I bumped into Nikki Yoe and Martin Dewied who’d not long since finished the parkrun and as I ran out of the park the sun came out again. The lush green countryside was quite a contrast to the wide open views of Butser. I’ll be running this area next week in the Woodland Challenge.


All in all 4 hills and 7.5 miles. Thanks to Andrew for the run and I’m now looking forward to my “On The Whistle” event next Sunday. If you’ve never been to Butser/QECP take a trip out there, you’ll be hooked, just like me !!