The Wendover Woods 50 is a new event on the Centurion calendar this year and the fourth race of the 50 mile slam.
I had entered this a few months ago and had planned this as an ‘end of year’ blast (jog) but after having entered a 24 Hour track race in December I downgraded this to ‘training run’ status.
I didn’t worry about tapering for the event but built it into my last full long training week. Having a ‘no pressure’ race helps with the mindset so I was pretty relaxed at the start of the race and had no intention of charging off at the start or worry about times/positions.
The event itself is run in a 5 x 10 mile format around the undulating course in the woods with each lap involving a couple of thousand feet of elevation. For a person who runs fairly flat races then it was going to be interesting to see how the legs held up. The plan was just to run on feel and take it steady all the way round running what felt comfortable and hiking some of the slopes and keep a consistent level of effort each lap.
For those people who have run Caesars Camp Endurance runs in the past, it’s quite similar in terms of the format and terrain (although Caesars was much muddier!).
It was an early morning start with an hours drive from Reading to get to the event. I travelled to the race with fellow club runner Alex Whearity and we had both planned to have a steady run around each lap and see it out together. I had recce’d the route a couple of weeks earlier (thanks Drew, Claire, Nick) and knew what to expect on the course. Our 1 lap on the recce had taken about 1hr 45mins so I was genuinely expecting a 11 hour ‘ish run today.
Around 175 or so runners took part in the event and the weather was quite cold early on so it was a hat and gloves effort at the start but we soon warmed up after a few miles (and a few hikes) and I removed my jacket and stuck it in my bag on one of the climbs.
Alex and I trotted around the first lap in 1hr 45mins ish and then spent a few miles with Ash Gilbert on the second lap. By now, I had pretty much worked out the sections I would run, walk and hike and fell into this pattern of running, walking, hiking which I pretty much maintained for the rest of the race.
The route itself winds around the Wendover Woods and from the GPS route looks a little complicated but was well marked with Centurion Arrow Signs, temporary orange ground markings and reflective tape. As long as you kept your wits about you there shouldn’t be too many navigational issues and by the time it gets dark most people will have completed a few laps and should be reasonably familiar with the course by then. The terrain itself is up and down and around 2000 feet of elevation and ground conditions were pretty good for running although there are lots of exposed tree roots so it’s an eyes down and take care effort when you’re running.
We finished our second lap in about 1.50 ahead of where we thought we would be and quickly set off on lap 3. By this time the race had spread out and it was a lot quieter than I had expected. It was probably a little too early into the race to think about the finish but we had passed a MacDonalds at a Service station a mile or two from the start and had planned to stop there on the way back and I had already started to fantasise about a thick Strawberry Flavoured Milkshake after the race… too soon… too soon.
Unfortunately Alex started to struggle a bit with this quads and a healthy dose of ‘Can’t Be Arsed’ (I taught him well!) and he asked me to go on. I was sorry to see Alex DNF but having also entered the same track race in December it was good to see him be sensible and ease off when he needed to.
I trotted around lap 3 with the odd conversation with another runner here and there and completed this lap in just under 2 hours but then spent a few minutes at the half-way aid station taping my feet as I could feel a couple of hotspots on my feet and thought a few minutes here would prevent a blister forming. It actually felt quite warm at this point so I had rolled up my sleeves and loosened the zips on my top to cool down.
After necking half a bottle of coke from my drop bag, I set out on lap 4 and was really enjoying the race. I felt full of energy and knew I could maintain the same sort of lap strategy for the next couple of laps.
A big thank you to the marshals who stood out on the course directing the runners for quite a number of hours during the event, the support was much appreciated. The nature of the course and route meant I saw quite a few of the event crew out and about the course a number of times.
I trotted around lap 4 in about 2 hours and was now starting to lap a few runners. I saw Alex at the Start/Finish area hanging around and cheering on the runners. I didn’t stay long, just grabbed a few snacks and headed out for the final lap. Timing wise, I was way ahead of where I thought I would be.
A few miles into my final lap and I bumped into Nick Greene. We spoke briefly and I commented that I thought I could get to the half way aid station without needing my headtorch. The light was coming in and it was fine when you were running on clear paths but within the wooded/forested areas a lot darker.
Well I did make it to the halfway aid station without my headtorch but I had managed to trip on an exposed tree root and fall flat on my face a few minutes before. Thankfully, I had managed to get a little ahead of Nick so he didn’t witness my comedy fall.
I liked the fact that the Aid Station was positioned just over 5 miles so the second half mentally felt a little shorter. There’s also a nice long (but not too steep) section just after the Aid Station which is a great section to eat, drink, power walk and have a bit of a rest before settling into the run where it turns left.
With less than 5 miles it had got dark quite quickly, so armed with headtorch I continued with my trot. The next couple of miles were all pretty runnable with only a couple of steeper sections and for the final time I head up ‘The Snake’ continued to ‘Railing in the Years’ (still never worked out what that meant) and then circled around the ‘Hill Fort’ area before heading into the finish.
I finished in 9hrs 27mins in 18th out of around 175 starters which I was pretty pleased with. I felt pretty good all the way around the course and had paced it quite well with fairly event efforts each lap and so it all went rather well. (I know Matt Dunn, that’s two race reports in a row now!)
Thanks to James, Drew, Nici and the Centurion Team for a well organised event one again and well done to all the 50 Slammers, the medal/momento for finishing all four events was huge!
Photos by Stuart March Photography.