It's been a while so let me catch you up:
I finished the Chiltern Wonderland 50 in 2017 comfortably. I jogged round without paying much attention to my watch - and finished with 20 minutes to spare, but still jogging along happily. There isn't a race report for this race.
I did not finish Wendover Woods 50 - I managed 45 of the 50 miles (4.5 out of 5 laps) and couldn't go any further. I learned the hard way - even if you've finished the race before, you gotta give it respect and go in trained. New job and travel was not kind to training, so I couldn't quite make it. Second ever DNF, and no grand slam for me. Not doing any 50s in 2018, but I'll give the 50 slam another go in 2019. There's a race report that's been in draft for months, I've included it below so you can live through the disappointment with me (aren't I kind :).
parkrun has been ever-present, and I've only missed a couple of Saturdays - despite a really heavy cold that lasted for three weeks in November and December. I'm pleased that I've maintained my parkrun obsession (even if it is bordering on addiction) - it's good for my head, and if I'm parkrunning then I feel like I am in some control of my rollercoaster schedule. This has continued into 2018. I still #loveparkrun
A navigational slip-up a couple of weeks ago led to repeating a parkrun course for the first time in years - Reading parkrun, it was lovely to see you again.
Mrs made it to John O'Groats, with a short break 2/3 of the way through to recover from a foot injury. I'm immensely proud of her, and you can read all about it on her blog.
Wendover Woods 50, 2017
The last 50 of the grand slam, and far and away the hardest. Wendover Woods last year was my second 50-miler. I know the course inside out thanks to many training laps last year, and a couple when I could squeeze them in this year, so knew exactly what was in store. Hills mainly. Many many hills. Well over 3km of climbing over 5x 10 mile laps. There’s a well stocked aid station (now fully enclosed) at the start/finish, and a half-way aid station for a mid-lap top-up. Like every Centurion race the route marking is excepotional, the aid stations are well stocked even if you’re right at the back (and I’d know), and the support from the volunteers is relentless.
I stayed over the night before at Tring Premiere Inn, picking up Mrs on the way straight from an overseas business trip. All kit laid out ready for the morning, a quick beer and pub-grub from the Beefeater next door, drop-bag packed - ready for the morning. The hotel is only a mile or so from the race start, so no crack of dawn required. We were up and out by about 6:30am, and by 7am I was checked in, kit checked and race number collected, and back in the car with the heating on waiting for the race briefing - and damn was it cold. Nice addition over last year was a little coffee stall where we topped up the caffeine levels with a couple of large cappuccinos. Mrs left at just gone 7 to head off to the mid-point aid station where she was volunteering from race start through to 4pm.
We filed out over the stile to the race start area - race briefing is outside on this race and it was barely above freezing, so James kept it short and sweet. In no time we were off, and all that stood between me and my grand slam medal/dinner plate (it’s enormous) was a cold day in the forest running in circles up and down hills.
The first lap was good - the sun was coming up and the crunchy frost on the bright fallen leaves and grass was beautiful. I covered the lap in 2:14. No need to stop for long at aid stations, let’s just keep on trucking.
Lap two was mentally tough. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it - it was still cold, and I didn’t feel too confident, but I pushed on confidently - my brain wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t letting it slow me down. No stopping on the hills! Short aid-station stops only - in and out! Keep the cadence up throughout. 5 hours down for laps one and two, I’m happy with that.
Lap three was a lap of two halves. I started the way I’d finished lap two, feeling like there was still a very long way to go (which, of course, there was). But as I got nearer the midpoint, and the regular sunshine boost I get from seeing Mrs running the tea urn, I cleared the mental fog. My second wind was kicking in and I pushed on.
The unusual thing about this race is you’re continually being lapped (at my pace anyway) which, earlier on, is kind of fun - the front runners are so damn fast, they come flying past, and once again I was getting lapped by the mid-point of my second lap (where I had covered 15 miles, and they were already 10 miles ahead of me!). Arriving at the start/finish aid station at the end of lap three, the front runners were finishing their race.
In the later laps it gets depressing. Everyone says “hi” and swaps a few words, which I love, but the constant reminders that “everyone” is going faster than you can get draining - all part of the race. There seemed to be a never-ending train of people lapping (or catching and overtaking) me on lap four. Knowing they were all on lap five or were faster was getting to me. The sun was starting to set, the temperature dropped quickly. A few km into the lap I stopped to put my head torch on. I was still pushing on, and although I wasn’t happy I was a long way from any dark thoughts of “why am I doing this?”, or even worse “I can’t do this” - I knew I could do it, I did it last year.
Lap four took a long time. I was slower than last year, and spent some time doing a little mid-race maths. I thought if I had set off on lap five by 11:00 elapsed time then I would have all the time in the world to get round - that’s even half and hour more than last year’s final lap which I walked. I saw Mrs in the start/finish aid station, she’d made her way up from the mid-point now, and after a quick hug (no unnecessary stopping at aid stations!) I was off again.
Lap five got hard almost immediately. Last year I was suffering but was still able to march on forward - this year I felt like I had less energy with every step. At around 6km in is a long drag from virtually the lowest point on the course, near the mid-point aid station, to the highest, the Go Ape centre by the car park on the top of the hill and at the centre of the woods. I was struggling hard by this point, making very slow progress, getting slower and slower - finding even my marching was dropping into scuffing along if I wasn’t 100% focussed on it. I found it damn near impossible to get up the hill. I stopped again and again, unable to make any real progress. A trickle of people also on their last lap were rushing past me - how were they still going so fast? I stopped for a moment around two thirds of the way up, I was out of breath, my pulse was through the roof - I could feel my heart happening in my chest - but I was getting colder, and barely moving.
I got to the top after what seemed like a lifetime, and collapsed onto a bollard. I stopped my watch. My race was over. My year-long quest to complete the grand slam of 50 mile races was done, having fallen short just six or so miles from the end. No one gets a big medal and a special green t-shirt for running 194 out of 200 miles though. I called Mrs and asked her to tell James I was done.
I scuffed my way, full of emotion, back to the start/finish. Mrs met me at the stile with a cup of tea and helped me to the tent. Having been hardly moving for the last 90 minutes I was now really cold - I should have put on my emergency dry layer (mandatory kit) but I’d forgotten it was there. I sat on a chair in the tent - she immediately wrapped me in a foil sheet, and before I knew what was going on she’d got the medics and I found myself in an ambulance being poked and prodded.
The medical opinion was that I’d stopped at the right time. I sat in there for what seemed like hours but was probably no more than half an hour. They burried me in blankets, and clipped an oxygen saturation sensor to my finger (which didn’t work at all as my finger was too cold). After some further monitoring they released me into the care of Mrs, and she looked after me from there.
We got back to the hotel and I got into bed with all my clothes still on to warm up slowly (medical instructions - don’t jump into the bath or a hot shower - warm up gradually). I was bitterly disappointed I’d got so close, but ended up with only my second ever DNF. And what a race to DNF. Not how I wanted to finish the season.
I’ll have another go at the grand slam, but not next year. Maybe 2019, where I will give this race the respect it deserves, and make sure I get to the starting line fitter and faster.
Thanks to Centurion for putting on the best races on the circuit; to Mrs for the mid-lap boosts and for looking after me while I got myself together at the end; and particularly to the medical team for checking me out and making sure I was OK.
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