First place for Venables shows her Pilgrims Way progress

Spa Striders' Mel Venables takes on the Pilgrims Way Challenge. Picture submitted
Spa Striders' Mel Venables takes on the Pilgrims Way Challenge. Picture submitted

Spa Striders’ Mel Venables bettered last year’s runners-up spot by winning the Pilgrims Way Challenge on the North Downs Way last weekend.

The two-day trail race follows one of the oldest of routes used by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

The race starts in Farnham, Surrey and follows the pathway for 33 miles to Marsham. Athletes rest overnight and on day two take the return route back to Farnham.

The course takes in trackway, lanes and open countryside, with many miles of up and downs, described as “33 miles of mud, hills and trails and more mud,” by Venables after the opening day.

Day one saw Venables put in a strong performance to complete the 33 miles in 4hr 53min 27sec to place her eighth overall and second in the ladies’ race just 1:45 behind Saran Hill of Farnham Runners.

Starting steadily on the second day, Venables knew that if she judged her pace correctly she had a chance of achieving her objective of a race victory.

Two falls on muddy slopes hampered her rhythm, which was the further slowed when she hit her head when negotiating a metal gate.

However, she pushed on and her determination saw her close the first-day deficit and finally open up a five minute gap on Hill to run the return 33 miles in 5:03:33.

Her total time of 9:57.06 saw her become only the second woman in the nine-year history of the event to break the ten-hour barrier.

The celebrations were only slightly tempered when Venables found out she was just 19 seconds away from setting a course record.

Venables, who had moved up to sixth place overall, said: “I am so proud to finally have gained that race victory.

“So close to that record, if it hadn’t been for those two falls...”

Striders travelled far and wide at the weekend in search of competitive racing.

Rich Sykes continued his recent strong form to place sixth overall and fifth man at the Grizedale Forest half-marathon, a testing trail route.

Sykes clocked 1:34:40.

Also off-road, Lucy Tugwell’s focused training rewarded her with a time of 32:08 and the first V35 prize at the women’s only 7k which ran alongside the Stourbridge Stagger.

Nick Solomon (1:23:24) took on the multi-terrain Two Bays Tough 10 (miles) in Weston-super-Mare and Chris Jones (3:07:41) enjoyed the Shropshire hills around Church Stretton at the Icing on the Cake half-marathon.

Andy Roach (43:43) had a strong race at the Chichester 10k which took place at the Goodwood motor circuit.