The Dunstable Downs Challenge consists of a half marathon, a 20 miler and a full marathon, on mostly off road rural course. It is an annual event run by Dunstable road runners at the beginning of September. If you want a race that is heavily marshalled and well spectated along the route, then this is not for you. However, if you crave a different challenge and you like hills and amazing views, with the possibility of distant views of elephants (I kid you not), then please read on……
From Market Deeping, it took me just under an hour and a half to get to Dunstable. Straight down the A1, across on the A421, down the M1 a bit, then thanks to the newly opened Dunstable north bypass, you arrive at the Creasey Park Community Football Centre with minimal town driving hassle.
Race HQ and parking
Bizarrely, although there is a junior football tournament running at the same time, there is plenty of parking at the centre, with only a short walk to the building for registration. Numbers are collected at the centre, and there are toilets, changing rooms and showers. Although there was a queue at the signposted ladies, a bit of previous knowledge means that there are also toilets with minimal queue time to be found if you know where to look. To be honest, with about 250 participants in total, it wasn’t really an issue.
There was also a secure baggage area that was supervised throughout the race.
The three races all start together from the centre and goes through the streets to the edge of town, then about a mile into the run, the first hill appears and it’s a corker (well you are climbing up onto the Downs – to be expected). Unless you are up at the front (not an issue I have to deal with), there is a bit of a bottle neck here as the path narrows up the hill, and many stop and walk. However at the top, the views are amazing. Running along the top, if the weather is suitable, you get to see gliders take off and land below you at the gliding club. The course directions are sent to you in advance in both map form and description, as it is a self navigating course. This year, there were orange arrows sprayed onto the ground which helped (only one small bit of confusion on the half marathon course, but rectified pretty quick. Last year I ran the 20 miler and was fortunate enough to have my own personal navigator in the form of Mark Turner, and several people like him carried instructions with them, and they were easy enough to follow. This year doing the half, I had the advantage of prior experience, which did help. Anyway, I digress…
Continuing on through the countryside along footpaths and bridleways, you pass around the perimeter of Whipsnade zoo, which is where we saw the elephants last year. No such luck this year. The half marathon course splits off at around 5 miles and wends its way back along lanes, paths, the occasional road, up hill, down dale and a bit of a town back to the top of the downs, where you retrace your footsteps, back down that lovely hill and onto the football field to the finish. The 20 miler and the marathon continue further, with more hills, a run across a farmer’s field, passed a very posh school and back to rejoin the half marathon course at around 4 miles out. This year, the marathon then went out on a loop or too near the finish for extra 6 miles.
There are drink stations and checkpoints on the half marathon course which you need to check into so organisers know you’ve completed the course properly. There’s also feed stations on the longer course with flapjacks and the like if that floats your boat, as well as good old fashioned jelly babies and water for the traditional tastes.
The race is timed, but not chip timed, but to be honest as it’s a small field this is not really an issue. Competitors are given a lovely medal after they cross the line and a banana if they wish, and then its round to the centre to collect bags and pick up your free roll, cake and brew. T-shirts are available at extra cost on entry, but as I was a transferred entry I didn’t get, and I had no cash for the few spares they had, but it was a lovely sky blue technical t-shirt with a glider on it.
The clubhouse handily splits into 2, so the footballers families and the runners each had their own space, and there was a bar there too, but with the drive back I had to forgo that pleasure this time.
Cheap - £16.52 for the half through to £21.83 to enter the full marathon
Friendly – this year as sole Werrington Jogger flying the flag travelling on my own, there were plenty of people about happy to chat to a nervous looking runner.
Scenery – amazing views
Cons (for some)
Terrain can be a little challenging in places, particularly if it has been dry, so at times probably more time spent watching for ruts than enjoying the view.
I love it, so much, I went back for more (or distance wise, less) and I would certainly consider it again, though probably not during marathon training (thou give done it twice now) as there is the potential for tripping and twisting of ankles. If you fancy a different challenge, then this is for you.