When Centurion first announced a new race to its calendar all we had to go on was the abbreviated name (WW50) and a date (November).
We knew it would be 50 miles.. but WW? Winter Warmer? Winchester? Windermere? Worthing? Where? What?
It turned out to be Wendover Woods. A small Forestry Commission owned woodland near Tring in Hertfordshire. Looking at a map,it seemed impossible to get 50 miles out of the area. With only one checkpoint and the start/finish acting as another WW50 was to be a lapped race. Great! I love lapped races. It’s also extraordinarily hilly. Less great. For the likes of me generally, I’m terrible at elevation. Prior to the race, having heard lots of pre-race rumours I thought it might be a good idea to go for a recce of the route to find out how hilly it really was. The course starts off in a very flat field and weaves back and forth across the woods, up and down, and up and up, but all-in all, really very runnable. 7 miles into the recce, I thought it was not too bad at all. However, the last 2 miles are up some very, very sharp climbs. It had taken me 2 hours to do the 10 mile loop on my fresh legs. 5 loops on race day will be hilarious. I really do enjoy running loops, it helps break down the distances, and you get to see more of your fellow runners. However there was something about 5 of them, rather than 4 of 12.5 miles, that made it mentally a bit harder. You do get to run past your car 5 times. To avoid any extra temptation of getting in for a nice sit down, I didn’t carry the keys.
I told myself the first loop would be the warm up, followed by 4 actual race loops.
An email from the Race Director a few days before warned “The course is tough. No doubt. The fact that we have added three hours to the overall cut off should tell you something about how difficult we rate the course vs the other three 50 mile events we stage. Plan for that.”
My plan was to finish with my quads vaguely usable enough to get to the fridge the next day.
LOOP 1 – “Isn’t this fun?!”
I was with Shaun who was completing the 50 mile Grandslam on this race. After arriving perilously close to the start time, we had zero time to think about the day ahead as we registered. After a few words of encouragement and a gentle warning from James the RD, we were off! Shaun disappeared quickly from my view. I fell into step with Kirsty Reade after a few miles and along with another chum Pip, we got round this loop quite easily. The weather was mild and despite the rain in the days prior to the race the course was dry underfoot. We chatted and joked as we went round. Sections of the course had been named things like “The Snake” “Power Lines” and "Gnarking Around” .. at such an early stage of the race, oh how we all joked about the hills. The 10 miles passed easily enough and my legs felt good!
LOOP 2 – “It’s not that bad at all!”
More chatting with Kirsty and Pip. Cat Simpson and her lovely dad Keith, had come out to cheer too, they always cheer me up. The course itself was still enjoyable. It was really very impressive to see how such a small space of woodland could look so very different from one mile to the next. The CP staff were the usual cheery fun bunch. Towards the end of this loop I started to slow a little bit and lost Kirsty and Pip, but plenty of familiar faces kept me chipper.
LOOP 3 – “The wheels have fallen off!”
At around 22 miles in I felt absolutely dreadful. Really awful. Dizzy and sick. What on earth? Having checked my water I realised I had drunk less than 500ml and was sweating a lot. This is not fun at all. People starting to fly past me as I slowed dramatically. Despite all of my running experience, today I made the most basic of errors. I was dehydrated and had bonked. I drank lots, crammed two jam tarts in my face, and had a cup of sugary tea. People kept asking me if I was okay and after pretending all was fine for an hour or so it couldn’t be hidden any longer; I told anyone who would listen that I felt like puking. I contemplated stopping, then my friend Gary popped up - he encouraged me to keep going. I saw another work friend Dave, who had come out to see me and to give me slices of pizza, which for some reason made me over emotional. My chum Warwick lapped me and as he passed told me to tough it out. So I did. This loop took me nearly an hour longer than the previous two. Grim.
LOOP 4 “The jam tarts are kicking in!”
About 2 miles into loop 4 things mercifully started to feel a bit better. The evening was drawing in and the plan was to get as much of this lap out of the way before it became pitch black. It was 7 miles into the loop before I dug out my head torch. It didn’t work. After fumbling around with spare batteries and numb fingers I managed to rustle up a dim light. Stupid head torch. However the drinking and nibbling was working and I was feeling stronger than lap 2. When I came into the start/finish for the last lap the nice Centurion team put my head torch batteries in the correct way round so it worked properly. Happy days.
LOOP 5 “Best race ever!”
YES! Delirious with too much sugary tea this was the best 10 miles of the race for me. It felt like I was flying. Strava tells me that wasn’t true, but my legs sure felt great. In a bid to try and claw back a few places lost in previous laps, I began to race against a lady who had passed me twice before. “You’re back from the dead!” she hollered at me. Once ahead of her I decided to waste as little time as possible, and in my tired state thought it would be a good idea to save time by attempting a standing up wee, leaning on a tree trunk. Not my finest idea. It was virtually pitch black in the woods and I decided to plug in some music. It would either frighten me or help. Oh it really helped! With music booming in my ears I felt completely alive in the dark and ran as fast as my legs would carry me towards the finish line. Even clambering up the last hill became fun.
I crossed the line absolutely delighted.
Delighted because I had not stopped after all. Delighted because I came over the line to find Shaun beaming with an absolutely huge grandslam medal around his neck. Delighted because my quads were not as trashed as I thought they would be and could make numerous trips to the fridge the next day after all.
Wendover Woods 50. Another brilliant race on the Centurion calendar, yes it’s challenging, but also hugely runnable, and really, truly enjoyable.
It’s only one race old and already it feels like a classic.
RACE REULTS, with lap breakdowns HERE
Thanks to Beta Running, Kirsty Reade, Pip Haylett, Gary Dalton, Dave Bellamy, Grandslam winning Warwick Gooch, all the utterly brilliant Centurion Team, and of course Shaun. Getting over the line first meant you had to drive home...
PHOTO CREDITS - Pip Haylett, Stuart March Photography.