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17 October 2016

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When Flt Lt Jo Murray deployed on Ex HIGH RIDER 16 with 41 (R) Test and Evaluation Squadron to China Lake, California at the start of September, she knew it would be a great opportunity to get some longer distance running under her belt. A quick search of the Internet and she was soon Facebook friends with a whole host of the friendliest locos from the Ridgecrest and Indian Wells Valley running club, Over The Hill Track Club (OTHTC). Day 3 in the USA and she was running thousands of feet up the Pacific Coast Trail amongst the Joshua trees and feeling on top of the world. With Ridgecrest being approximately 2,300 ft above sea level, and many of the local runs being well above this, it became a perfect training ground for hills, distance and altitude.

Adopted by the club and pretty much going native, Jo ran most days and also became a regular Wednesday club night runner. These Wednesday night runs have been hosted by ultra runners Eric and his wife, Jo, for over twenty years. Come rain or shine, and even on Christmas Day, club members meet here for a run around 'Mikey's', an undulating course over the Radamacher Hills. The views, as the blazing sun is setting over Ridgecrest in the fall and lighting up the desert in a spectrum of purples, pinks, blues, greens, reds and oranges, are simply breathtaking. What's most special, however, is the people. Like hosts Eric and Jo, this gathering of humble ultra runners have been there, run it and got the t-shirt...many times over! These guys and gals have more 100 miler races under their belts than hot dinners. They know Badwater and the Western States...the stuff of dreams and legend! How could Jo say no when they challenged her to run the 50k Man vs Horse Race on Oct 9 with them?

Encouraged by OTHTC, Jo ran the Beavertail Half Marathon first, a rocky, hilly trail race, and came in third overall and first female. After a second lap for fun, and to make it up to a marathon, followed by a 21 mile hike/run the next day with some of her favorite locos, the 50 MILE Man vs Horse was starting to seem within grasp...

So, at 0630 on Sunday 9 Oct, Jo jogged off with a handful of ultra runners from the bottom of the Indian Wells Valley. Decked in a borrowed Nathan pack, union flag bandana and garmin from Karin Usko, her SoCal best friend and the race do-director, the long journey began. Having never run more than 32 miles before, and having never run in the midday desert sun, the plan was to stick to a steady 5 miles per hour and take on as much fluid, salt and food as possible. Luckily, incredibly well stocked aid stations, complete with everything from friendly, helpful volunteers to potatoes, peanut butter sandwiches, crisps, carbopro capsules, candies, cookies, bananas, grapes, oranges (you name it, they had it and Jo ate it) lined the course every 5-6 miles, with water stations every few miles also. There was a nine mile climb at one point, and over 6000ft of elevation gain throughout with temperatures up to 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn't easy but there was plenty of support...

Flt Lt Tim Nettleton, the 41 (R) Sqn Engineering Officer, had successfully completed the ten mile Man vs Horse race that morning too. Beating six horses and coming a very respectable fifth in his age group, Tim was 21st overall out of a strong field of 96. After a burger and a nap (what??!) he selflessly joined Jo for her last ten miles and jogged in with her. Fifty miles of desert hills (with only two snakes) was suddenly over. The finishing time was 10hr 20, third overall and first female. Swag included 24 bottles of the famous Indian Wells beer, the prestigious Man vs Horse belt buckle and bottle opener medal, plus more free beer (because you can never have enough, right?!) Oh, and the t-shirt of course, that's a keeper to wear to the next Wednesday night Mikey's run.

The running adventures will continue for Jo, with plenty more trail races and hikes around this magical desert bubble with the locos lined up until her return to RAF Coningsby at the end of November. And when not running, there are mules and dirt bikes to ride!

Man vs Horse

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