Firstly let’s get to know Wendover. It’s a forestry commission woodland in Buckinghamshire. It’s about 2 square miles and there are a lot of trees. Oh and did I say, it’s got some hills!!
How centurion get a 10 mile race route in that beggars belief. But if anyone can, they are the people to do it.
The route is a mix of leafy woodland, gravelly, chalky footpaths, a bit of field, a few yards of tarmac, some steps and some steep climbs which are muddy or chalky in general. It’s trail running in its finest form. If it’s been wet there will be mud all over and in dry conditions it can be a dust bowl in places. November is often a good time to run but it can be wet. On this occasion we had great conditions. Possibly perfect. It was dry, soft but not squelchy underfoot and just about the perfect temperature for a gentle run in the woods.
The start is in ‘trig field’. Car parking next to the start line. The route is 5 x 10 mile loops. You start in ‘trig field’ run around, through 1 aid station at Hale lane and then back to trig field to start the next loop.
Registration – nice and simple. Get a number (for the second time at Wendover I was 237!). Get a tracker fitted to your pack and hand over any drop bag. I tend to not have a drop bag and utilise my car. You are allowed to go to your car after each loop Naomi get the boot nicely set out and organised as my own crew station and find that much more efficient.
9:30 and race start. Lap 1 is a little different to the rest but quickly joins the main loop, promptly passing the Gruffalo (will see him 4 more times and in the dark by head torch he’s a little more scary 😱). And heading down a rocky footpath.
The route then takes you through the trees and around a loop with some long down hills before eventually heading out over an open field. This is a beautiful section. Lots of runnable terrain and great views. A gradual long climb before yet another fast downhill brings you back to the footpath and a good runnable section before hitting the ‘fake’ aid station. The looped course means you are often close to mother runners at other points of the loop (though you rarely see them because of the trees and elevation). But here you go within inches of the aid station, but have about another mile/mile and a half before you can use it 😖.
Another long, gentle climb (runnable but walkable as the loop count increases) eventually brings you to hideous hill number one. A long scramble with a tree to duck under. It’s a quad killer and on loop 1 you already wonder how you will get through 5!! After this there’s a downhill and ooh that’s nice. But before you know it the ‘Go Ape’ climb appears. Another long climb rocky and uneven and the already complaining quads are really starting g to hate you by now! As soon as you reach the top it’s back down hill again, and onto a decent footpath. Then the ankle mangle that is ‘Root Canal’. This is a shortish stretch with more routes than the AA Planner. It’s a real ankle worker but with care it’s pretty easy. It’s also very easy to turn your ankle and do some damage. Survive that and the aid station eventually arrives. I tend not to stop as the route being 10 miles works well with my 2 soft flasks. Enough fluid to get through.
So on i plod.
Another up hill – not steep, but long allows a fuel break. Perfect time to top up the calories and carbs. Then it’s a long undulating runnable section. Mostly gravelly and rocky with chalk underneath. A great spot to pick up speed.
Just when you think it’s been a while since a decent climb the rope appears in view on your right and it’s a long upward slog on a slippery chalk hill, heading up to the Hill fort loop. This is hard work, especially later on the race. In the wet grip is hard. We were lucky this time as the conditions were good and pretty dry – thankfully!
This next bit is pretty runnable for some time before the last few climbs. Firstly it’s a short(ish) scramble where hands are as useful to prepress as feet! It’s steep and by lap 5 you can’t help but curse the course designer!!
A brief downhill and a short climb again send you down for on of the final times. A bit of decent running brings you to the start of the final climb action ‘railing in the years’. Some helpful climbing rails brings you eventually to within touching distance of the marquee. A bit of tarmac, a stile, a bit of grass and the loop is done! Repeat 4 more times 😂😂.
Loop one was OK. Two already started to feel like hard work – but mind over matter is key. After lap two I stopped, changed shirt to cool down and cracked on. After lap 3 I thought time for food – I wasn’t hungry but wanted to try eating proper food in an event. So I headed to the car and ate a one pasta I had bought with me. That went well. Could have been a bit wetter, but it gave me no GI issues – a success!!
Lap 3 is just a grind. The legs ache but that’s all it is – an ache. No need to give up!
Before lap 4 I grabbed the poles from the car. They were a revelation.
Pole to pole
I quickly for the poles into action climbs I would have walked I got into a fabulous march with the poles. I got up some slopes much quicker as a result. Some of the treacherous downhills were stabilised by using the poles carefully. I also use them on the runnable sections to keep a rhythm. When tired form and style can get ragged. The poles really helped me keep consistent good form. I’m still
New to poles but they were so helpful. Some of the climbs are too steep for poles if I’m honest but generally I give them a massive thumbs up! 👍
For reference I use Leki poles, the Cross Trail FX.one Superlite. They are light, easy to put up and take down, and come with the excellent Shark grip glove. love these poles.
Precision hydration fluid all round. Each loop was a fresh 2 x 500ml. I had 4 cups of coke too.
Eating wise – the pasta I bought, veloforte gel, spring apple cinnamon gel, veloforte bars and a satsumas. That al worked well. I. Ever felt dehydrated or under fuelled.
I really wanted to complete the course, feel good in relation to fuel and hydration, get more pole experience and not feel like I had been hit by a bus. The main objective was to reach the end feeling I could carry on. And I’m glad to say I managed to achieve all of that.
I intentionally held myself a little back, I could have pushed more, I could have left it all out there! But I am training for the Arc of Attrition 100 miler. It another hilly technical route. It’s no easier than doing 10 loops in Wendover. So getting through 5 and feeling I could carry on was superb. Wendover 50 miler is the toughest race I’ve done (twice now!). The Arc will take that mantle come January 2023, so feeling I had more left to give was exactly what I wanted.
That said I still beat last years time by 10 minutes – the last 12 months training has definitely helped me become a stronger runner. All year I have hit new PBs across many distances. Let’s hope this is the perfect base to reach the Arc in a state good enough to get through 100 gruelling miles and reach Porthtowan within the 36 hour cut off.
I’m not setting any goals except finishing. I’m not crazy enough to think anything else. The Arc promises to be a beautiful adventure whilst being a brutal challenge of true endurance. If the weather decide to kick our arse it could be immensely challenging. I’m up for the challenge, I’ve put in thousands of miles to feel confident of having earned my right to start. I’m also realistic enough to be absolutely scared stiff. Nothing comes close to this challenge I have set myself in so many ways. I’m in it to finish not just take part.
If you are in Cornwall on Saturday the 28th January then I’ll be at Porthtowan sometime in the afternoon /evening. I will get there and I will love every step of the adventure.
If a challenge doesn’t scare you is it truly worth taking it on?