Since my 100 training miles had been slight. I had some races in the meantime (Bournemouth Half and The Great South Run) but the mileage and type of training undertaken had been minimal and flat!
I had been recovering from some aches and pains that my 100 brought on and whilst I had hoped to have run them out by now I still had some lingering issues – mainly a sore left foot and a wonky right ankle. At least that combination meant I limped slightly on both legs so nobody noticed 🤣. So I was less confident than I am normally in the run up to this and had ready let my kind play around a lot with the idea of a DNF, in fact DNS had occurred to me as an option.
But I’m a stubborn bugger and whilst that sometimes means I stick with a wrong decision and try and sit it out it also means that I don’t give in easily. Running has really magnified this to me. I’ve never quit a race. I’ve never failed to line up alongside other runners at the start of a race. And WW50 was really a race I so wanted to do – the location and the chance to compete in a Centurion race – so this was not going to be the first time I let the mind overrule the body.
Bags packed with 2x500ml soft flasks with Precision Hydration electrolytes onboard.
Food for 250kcal per hour assuming 10 hours on the go (I had spare in my car which I could access during the race if needed).
Mandatory kit of baselayer, head torch, waterproof etc.
Drop bag with extra hat, socks, top, first aid kit, spare flask etc.
I had the kit ready and 6am I was off for what I hoped to be a smashing 50 miles in the woods.
Race your own race …
Organisation of the event was good. Turn up, enter the tent get your number, then your tracker then drop your drop bag (available after each 10 mile loop) and then wait out for the 9:30 start.
The weather was breezy and cold so I took the choice to put on a thin long sleeved top over my t-shirt and start with gloves. I knew I would remove them later but it was a good shout. I hate starting too cold! 🥶
Truth be told, I had previously run most of the WW50 loop route. 2 loops in just under 4 hours on a very wet February morning made me aware that this was challenging – and yet I still signed up!! Ha Ha!!
Lap 1 was just about finding the route, getting a feel for the course, and getting into the flow. But blimey – I had definitely forgotten how steep some of the climbs were.
Wendover is never flat, your either going up or down (at least it seems). Some of the ups need a climbing qualification and some of the downs feel a bit like rappelling down a rock face. There is the occasional flatter bit, but they soon go up or down, and often steeply!
That said the route is tremendous. Running in woodland is fab, the different terrain surroundings and noises are great, one minute you are leaping over fallen trees, the next kicking the leaves up as you run, then all of a sudden you are splodging though muddy paths. Something for everyone – all of which I love.
On paper the route looks really windy, with 3 near crossroads – which on any other route would have been frustrating. The woods in Wendover though are so dense in places and of such varied terrain that you don’t get that feeling of running 10 mile loops in a space barely capable of making it possible. The space feels so much bigger.
Lap 2 is where I started to doubt that this was the best idea I had ever had. I finished lap 1 in around 1:30-1:40 and really was probably going too fast. I grabbed some fluid top ups from the checkpoint and bashed on.
I soon felt shot, my legs were already complaining, the climbing at 2000 ft a lap is much more than I’m used to and it started showing. The demons in the mind started telling me that 5 laps of this was going to kill me, it was far too much. I nearly believed them. I reached the end of Lap 2 feeling pretty beaten up. I was taking on fuel and liquids well enough, but felt like a dead weight.
I decided Lap 3 was going to be the decision point.
My mind was already packing my shoes into the car and setting the Sat Nav for home before I got through the checkpoint marquee and onto the 3rd loop. I wasn’t checking time I was doing what I could. DNF was an acronym I could see looming large on the results table. But then I got that kick up the but I really needed. 8 weeks ago I learnt what endurance was all about. The Robin Hood 100 made me realise when your body is just asking politely to stop, but not really stamping its feet and demanding it. My body was just saying it was working hard, it wasn’t done yet, it had more to give. Yes my thighs ached now and they weren’t getting any happier, but an ache or two isn’t the end of it. I could have easily packed up at the end of lap 3, honestly was moments away. But I stopped at the marquee. Changed my top/hat/buff etc, sat for 2 minutes whilst changing and had a good word with myself.
The reality is, I’m easily embarrassed and easily worried about not doing my best. There’s often an easy way out, a route away from hard work. I know everyone would have said well done, good effort, you did your best. But I didn’t think I had hit that ‘best’ effort yet. I would have been faking a ‘best effort’ and I would have felt guilty. I wouldn’t have deserved that good feeling form everyone. If I’m going to quit having truly done my best, I had to believe I had given everything. I wasn’t there yet, I hadn’t hit the ‘best’ I could do. 2 laps were left for me to complete this route, or for me to reach the true best I could do. I stood up, pulled up my big boy pants and headed out of that tent hellbent on getting another 20 miles done, or quitting knowing I had given it my all.
This was hard. But one other learning from my 100 came to mind – Thanks to Mike I had his mantra in my head – ‘If a marble rolls done it, I walk up it’. It reminded me to pick my battles and run the right paths. Had I not I would have blown up on lap 4 for sure. But taking the right approach to the terrain really balanced my effort and helped me maintain a good pace on lap 4. OK the up hills were tough, but I had a good hike going. The downhills were also getting slippery, and in the dark rather tricky! So they had slowed too. A couple of near slips could have been interesting, but I kept upright and I finished lap 4 knowing I had done the first 4 laps in not much more than half the event time allowed. I could walk lap 5 and easily finish. My mind wasn’t keen on walking it in from here, but I knew that barring a disaster I had a medal to collect and I was going to make sure I got there with a smile on my face and very little left in my legs.
I met loads of great people on lap 5. The darkness, the sheer effort people had put in and the fact that people still had 1/2 laps left to go built a really strong sense of teamwork. Every so often I met somebody that was doing amazing, taking not heir first 50, or doing their 15th Ultra, but really smashing it in their own way. Often I would walk or run with them for a while, share some conversation and then move on. My legs had running left in them, and there was no way I was going to get to the end of this event feeling I had a skip in my step.
The final few limbs were a killer, my head torch was waning and I couldn’t be bothered to change the battery. I dropped the power (just about enough light to see) and pushed on.
As I climbed the final climbs and reached the fence around Trig Field I was overcome with a feeling of emotion. I’ve had various other emotional experiences in running. Brighton Marathon I cried as I crossed the finish line (yes I really did). During Race To The Stones in 2019 (my first Ultra) I found the finish really emotional – beating 60 odd miles over some of my favourite and familiar terrain was a really big deal. But this was something special. I had conquered Wendover, not only that I had finished in the top 25 of a Centurion event. I had just wanted to finish in the 15 hours – I was stoked.
I have a. Bunch of challenges lined up over the coming year, but I am already looking forward to my next Centurion event – Chilton Wonderland. Not as hilly as Wendover, but another great event to look forward to.
On to the recovery … wish me well!