Monday, 5 December 2016

Inaugural Centurion Running Wendover Woods 50 ultra-marthon race report

I'm not really sure whether I was looking forward to this run. I don't recall any excitement or even apprehension before it. It was simply a date in the diary that I'd be running 50 miles with near 10,000 feet of climbing.

The day started with a large field with lots of cars. Not the usual Centurion start I thought. I registered, dropped a kit bag off and cuddled myself to keep warm. I didn't see a single soul that I recognised, except for Susie Chan, because everyone recognises Susie Chan.

We walked a short way down to the start and heard the familiar race briefing. I was puzzled at a chap running around with a camera pointing at shoes and trying to coax people into an impromptu interview. I let him be. I was in a world of my own, waiting to get started and be away with the trails.

The first lap

The first lap was done at a good pace. 1:55 or there about. I stopped only briefly at the midway aid station, thanks to a doggie-bag tied to my pack, and for a touch longer at the start of the 2nd lap. I found I didn't need to top up my water bottles for at least the first 15 miles owing to the cool temperatures and short distance between aid-stations. If I was doing the run again, I'd only bring one bottle with me.

Unlike point-to-point marathons, and perhaps because of the extreme elevation change, the runners were bunched up more than I'd have expected. And again, the extreme elevation probably kept chatter to a minimum. Except for Susie Chan. She and her friends were having a right old natter! Though I confess that I enjoyed the background noise to an otherwise eerily silent wood.

The route itself is tough. It demands attention and effort all of the time, but rewards with some absolute corkers of trail that twist and dance through the woods, with such steep gradients that you nearly fall forward. Nothing too technical, but there was little opportunity to switch off and glide.

The second lap

If lap one was a flyer, then lap two was a stinker. My knee started to 'ping' early on and whilst I tried to ignore it, the whole second lap was spent limping and struggling. It was the familiar ITBS and I felt like my ticket was up. I'd pushed myself too far into a corner and my body was no longer willing to accept my brazen orders. The thought of stopping was delicious to my mind. I could stop, warm-up and forget about all of this running crap. Oddly I found going up hill was a relief, but downhill was agony. It was at this low that I thought of Becky Shuttleworth popping pills like they were candy on the A100. So, in her honour, I had a cheeky single ibuprofen and painkiller and hoped they'd kick in quickly.

I think it was on the second loop that I saw Kojiro who's a good buddy that I've ran with a few times. Being taller than him and being further up the hill, it probably wasn't the most sensible way to begin a friendly hug. I think he must have caught a face-full of doggie bag, but it was a delight to see him. He was going strongly and I let him fly by within a few minutes. Like a demented game of cat and mouse, he finished only 15 minutes ahead of me, but for the 12+ hours we were out there, we only saw each other for 2 minutes. Madness.

The third lap

By lap 3 I was feeling better, but staying sensible. For some reason this was the longest of the laps. Not in time, I don't even know how long it took, but for some reason in my head I thought that this was the second to last lap. Because the third lap brings me to the fourth lap, and when I finish the fourth lap, I'll be at the number five and this insidious run ends at the number five, right? RIGHT?

My terrible maths was distracting me from my running and drew my focus to how I was feeling and how much further there was to go, which is rarely ever a good thing.

The fourth lap

But, by the fourth lap I was feeling pretty good. I contemplated whether I was enjoying the race, and whilst I concluded that I was happy to be out there, it's not a route or a race format that I'd quickly sign-up to again. I found that I felt happiest telling myself that on the next lap it would be the very last time I had to run this hill, or dodge those roots or feel mocked by seeing the midway aid-station a solid few miles before I was able to banquet there. Yes, I was absolutely happy that this race was almost over.

The fifth and final lap

So with that, I can't really describe what came over me on the fifth lap, because my inner voice had changed so that I was now upset that this was perhaps the last time I was going to run this trail. I savoured the trails and jumped into the downhills. I marched the ups and thanked the marshalls with big smiles and waves. I won't say that the thought of the race ending wasn't a big part of my happiness, and certainly knowing the route well enough by then that I knew how far I was away from the end was handy, but overall I was genuinely happy to be out in the dark running around a small wood in the Chilterns.

Thank you to the Marshalls

More so than in any other Centurion race did I want to thank the volunteers. I was out running around and staying warm, but these lovely souls were standing around, no doubt going through as much struggle as were, to provide us with the support we needed to complete our run. Can't thank them enough.

A final thank you to Bessie

We found each other on 'The Snake', a rather steep and long hill that seemed to go on forever. It wasn't something we planned, but I seized the moment and took Bessy in my hand and we would go to help each other up the rest of the hills on lap 5 and we crossed the line together as well. I couldn't have done those last few miles without Bessy, you're the most beautiful stick I ever did see.

Bessie and me, with men carrying straight jackets just out of shot

Next up: North Downs Way 50 in May 2017 (and a kid being born between now and then).

Garmin trace of the Centurion Running Wendover Woods 50
Photos from Stuart March photography