The short version of this story is that I really enjoyed myself, had excellent chats in the last 20 miles, made it to the finish in one piece and boxed off the 3rd of the four 50 miles races that make up the Centurion 50 Slam.

If you’re willing to stick around, I have a longer version….

The party started early. As I live near race HQ, I was able to provide pre-race board and lodgings for Helen and David so there was pizza, beer (AF mainly) and ultra running bants. Up early doors to get ready and head to the start for registration, there was a brief moment of alarm on realising that the most direct road to Goring was shut for some reason. Detour made, we did get to the start in good time for the usual registration business and for pre-race chats. My main memory of the lead up to the start was the temperature – it was bloody cold! The forecast was perfect, so it was definitely one of those days where you dress for the 2nd mile, but milling about by the river while we waited for the off was properly frigid.

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

After two minutes silence for the Queen, we were off. The first section is along the Thames Path and it’s quite narrow with several gates, causing a bit of congestion. This suited me perfectly, I really needed to run within myself the whole day. After the DNF at Ring o’ Fire just two weeks before this race, I’ve been nursing a tendon injury. It responded well to the rest and rehab regime recommended by my physio so I was pleased to start the race with a reasonable chance of finishing, my prospects much improved. So, injury at best at 85% healed, I needed to take it super easy. I fully expected it to start hurting at some point in the race, and just hoped that would be later rather than sooner.

I have been looking forward to this race all year – it is on my local patch and I know most of it very well. I think I could have run to CP3 at Ibstone without reference to course markings, gpx or map. I jogged along at a go-all-day pace full of good intentions about fuelling and hydration. I had resolved to eat something, anything, every 30 minutes, using the aid stations as bonus buffets to choose something if I fancied it. I started the race with a big bag of giant hula hoops, a bag of jelly babies, a Yorkie and something new for me, a Kendal Mint Cake NRG bar. Along with the usual Tailwind, I rotated through those until they were gone and I did pretty well throughout, with some inevitable slacking towards the end. The other thing I had resolved to do was sort shit out if it needed doing, when it needed doing. On the way to the first aid station, I noticed the back of my heel was rubbing on my shoe, not something that normally troubles me. Strictly speaking, to comply fully with my resolution, I should have sat down there and then, but I figured CP1 was a good compromise. At Toker’s Green (16km, 1h50, cheese & Marmite sarnies, 2m27 dwell time) I duly sat down, fixed my foot, and said hello to my wife and nephew who had strolled the mile or so from our house to cheer us on.

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

Somewhat to my surprise, there was not a peep from the leg injury at this point. The poles came out after CP1, as much for the additional stability they provide as the for the rolling terrain. On we went, still in very familiar trail territory. I had, I think, my first ever taste of Kendal Mint Cake. It’s great! Pure sugar, but minty fresh and melt-in-the-mouth easy to eat. I like it. It was warming up nicely by this point. Anyone who had extra layers on at the start had shed them by this point. Except one chap I was running with for a little while, he was still wearing his and looking extremely hot and sweaty as a result. No amount of helpful, unsolicited advice about sweat rate and risk of hydration issues would convince him to remove it. I later heard he was still wearing it at the end of the race and looking in bad shape. Funny how small things, the work of a minute or two at most, take on Herculean proportions when they need doing in the middle of a race. Been there, done that…

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

I got to Bix (28.5km, 3h23, more cheese & Marmite sarnies, 3m35 dwell time) feeling great and enjoying myself immensely. Still no grief from the leg, still a surprise. I was looking forward to the next section, it contains a lengthy gentle downhill which is excellent trail running. I bimbled along mostly by myself, quite happy in my own company, chatting briefly to folks as we passed at different paces. The cows (bulls!) in the field cramped my style a little on the aforementioned downhill section. I had to pause briefly while they decided if they were going to move off the trail. One definitely looked like it fancied practicing its charging skills, but I was past and through the gate before it really got annoyed. Adrenaline duly spiked, I paid the downhill tax, hiking up the corresponding hill opposite, through the Stonor estate. It’s not very steep, but does go on for a bit. I was in no hurry, I had no expectations of a finish time, just finishing inside the 13hr cutoff would be an excellent result. One foot in front of the other, reaching another nice downhill section from Southend (not that one) to Turville.

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

Immediately after Turville is the steepest hill on the course, a bit of a clamber up to Cobstone Windmill. It’s clearly a popular bit of path as the passing of many feet have cut what amounts to steps in to the hillside, making life easier than it might otherwise be. It was at the top of this hill that I began to feel the beginnings of a twinge in my shin, the site of the tendon injury sustained at RoF. I continued to jog down the other side of the hill, but decided to hike for a while after, to let it settle down. In fact I hiked it all the way to Ibstone (41.5km, 5h09, jam sarnies, tactical poo, 6m58 dwell time). Shortly after Ibstone (I think), I got chatting to Michael, with whom I was to spend much of the rest of the race. I think that’s the first time that’s happened to me in an ultra – someone moving more or less at the same pace for long periods. We weren’t joined at the hip, there were occasions where I needed to walk for a bit, and vice versa, but to a close approximation, we stuck together for the duration. It was great to chat, compare notes on races past and races planned.

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

After an hour of mostly hiking, I decided to try jogging again and lo-and-behold, it wasn’t any more painful than hiking at that point, albeit at a slower pace than I managed in the first half. For most of the remaining miles I combined running with hiking at no fixed interval, just whenever I felt like changing it up. The section from Ibstone to Swyncombe is the one I’m least familiar with, but I did have the vague feeling that I recognised some bits of trail. I missed a (clearly marked) turning on one such section I as tried to decide if I’d run it before, perhaps in the opposite direction. Fortunately the guys behind me got my attention before I’d gone too far and I was back on track. I was still eating pretty well, if in less regimented fashion, the occasional rumble from my stomach reminding me I might have missed a 30 minute “eat” alert. We reached Swyncombe (53.5km, 6h58, assorted fruit, 4m53 dwell time). The water melon, pineapple and banana there were heavenly. So heavenly that I left the checkpoint in a trance without my trekking poles. To lose ones expensive trekking poles once is unfortunate (first pair left in a Welsh car park), to lose them twice could only be described as careless. Fortunately I remembered when only half way up the hill out of the aid station. Poles recovered, still enjoying the fruit, I hiked off again to catch Michael up.

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

I found myself getting a bit annoyed by the next section. Swyncombe is also the turnaround aid station on Leg 3 of the Autumn 100. The longer race takes a more direct route back towards Grim’s Ditch, while CW50 takes a hard left shortly after the aid station, then more or less doubling back on itself. Some of the trail was very good running, cool in the trees, but still irritatingly indirect in comparison. The last part of this section is along Grim’s Ditch, gently downhill in this direction. There are numerous roots to dodge, but I really like running down there. My slower pace on the day meant the occasional stumble was not punished by a painful faceplant on to the hardpacked trail. The team at CP5 (65.8km, 8h48, coke & Sinead’s home made ginger bread, 3m34 dwell time) were super jolly, just the pick-me-up you might need in the latter stages.

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

Michael and I jogged along slowly, walking from time to time, but still catching and overtaking folks that had shot their bolt earlier in the race. The last 15km or so seemed to take a long time, but we got closer and closer to Goring, one foot in front of the other. My leg was getting more and more painful and with with just a few miles to go I decided I’d hike it in to the finish, blowing my chances of coming in under 11 hours. Michael thought he could just about do it, so he jogged off into the distance while I power-hiked in the twilight gloom, singing away to myself now that I had my earphones in. I was pleased to hear that Michael just sneaked in under the arbitrary round number!

I had two goals for this race. The first was to enjoy it, the second was to finish it without doing any lasting harm to my recent injury site. Job done on both counts. I enjoyed every minute of it. Seeing assorted familiar faces at the start and en route; making a new running friend; not being under artificial pressure to finish within a certain time; nailing the fuel and hydration; perfect weather and trail conditions, all combined to make it a fabulous race for me. It was the perfect antidote to a summer of disappointing race experiences. I finished in 11h11, 118th of 188 finishers, a perfectly respectable mid-pack performance considering I wasn’t sure I’d even start, never mind finish, just a few days before.

CW50 Chiltern Wonderland Centurion Race Report

I think Chiltern Wonderland is my favourite of the Centurion 50s, so far at any rate. Let’s see if Wendover Woods can top it!