Petzl Wendover Woods Night 50km

Four males gather in a car in an unlit field in Buckingham. Normally the gate is locked but tonight it has been left open and a group has formed. The occupants are nervously drinking beer to give them some courage for what they’re about to do. They’ve put varying levels of planning into this but know anything could happen and ending the night in the hospital is not to be ruled out. Despite all appearances they are not going dogging, nor are they planning to cattle rustle. The only crimes they’re likely to commit are against steady pacing or fashion. All four share a love (or at least mild enjoyment, low annoyance) of the occasional podcast Bad Boy Running.

It’s Friday night, it’s Wendover Woods, it’s time for the Petzl 50k Night Run by Centurion Running. Oh and thanks to Dan Barrett for the beer and possibly illegal imported off-brand Soviet energy drink.

If you’ve not been to Wendover Woods before (I haven’t) it’s a big wood on a hill. It’s used by Centurion Running for a 50 mile race in November where idiots run five laps of ten miles covering the sort of elevation gain you’d not think possible in the centre of the UK. For 2019 James Elson decided to hold a 100 mile event in July for even bigger idiots and they’ve been lapping since 8am Friday, questioning their poor life choices for a whole 15 hours before the slightly less stupid runners set off at 11pm for a mere three and a bit laps to cover 50k (31 miles). I’ve run ultras before where shorter distance races set off behind you but that was by a couple of hours and with only 10 or so miles difference. These guys have covered 50 or more miles and are the walking dead compared to the youthful (drunken) abandon of the 50k runners. They must hate the sight of us.

I entered the 50k as a final long run before Lakeland 100, figuring 1800m of climb in 31 miles would be a fair approximation of the 6000m in 105 miles of the LL100. Up to the day before I couldn’t decide whether to run it hard or take it slow and carry the full LL100 gear as a test run. In the end I went somewhere in between with a little extra gear and no real race plan. Standing on the start line at 11pm it begins to feel a silly idea when I could be home in bed.

Fortunately stupid things are always more fun with mates and seemingly everyone I know through ultra running is there either volunteering or running. If I die tonight it would be very expedient to hold the funeral immediately and cut down on travelling. After registration by Lou and Spencer I bump into Stuart who gave me a lift to my first Centurion event at the CW50 a few years back, then some Redway Runners from MK. Next pops up Jon who dragged me around the final stages of TP100 and ran most of Country to Capital with me. He’s also figured this would be ideal prep for LL100. Running celebrity Dan Lawson is there to make the mere mortals look a bit pants in comparison. He’s lucky I’m tapering for LL100 or I’d have shown him who’s boss. Him obviously.

Starting events at night is mentally hard. I struggled at Transgrancanaria with a brain that wanted to sleep not start an 85 mile race. It seems a little easier today as ‘only’ 31 miles. In the starting gaggle is a lady named Jane who’s never run more than a half marathon before. She’s tackling this as her first ultra and looks raring to go so I resolve to man up and stop pitying myself.

We set off on a short 1 mile loop before starting the first of the three main loops. Even in that first section you have some surprising climbs. Running with Jon for most of the lap we chat about other races and life. At the top of the first big climb are a group of whooping hollering supporters who have limited imagination to think of someplace better to be on a Friday night. It’s Lou, Becs, Whiffers, Spencer and Brian doing a poor impersonation of ninjas as they sit in the dark giggling like school kids who’ve stayed out past curfew.

The hills are steep and a couple need to be run on tip toes as you can’t get your foot down. I’ve had these in Gran Canaria and remembered how much they broke my legs for any running so resolve to take them easy and keep the legs fresh. We finish the first lap and a bit in a shade over two hours. Gradually Jon and I play tag as one surges or falls back and we’re joined by a friendly bloke called Robbie, training for his first 100 miler at NDW100. Robbie is using a birthday candle for illumination judging by the brightness. Looks about a lux level of 0.5 so he’s keeping with us to make sure he doesn’t run into a tree.

Second lap takes around two hours again, which given it’s a mile shorter shows we’ve slowed but still slowly gaining places. Robbie fixes his headtorch so it’s actually useful to see where you’re going. The course has a mid-way aid station that you very nearly pass at 5 miles before being sent off again for a further mile before getting back to it. The delayed satisfaction is cruel. The station is manned by MeeMee and it’s good to see another friendly face. Somewhere we’ve lost Jon but Robbie and I keep motoring on as a pair. We’ve been running together for hours in the dark and have no idea what each other looks like, just a dark face with a light on top like slightly less ugly angler fish.

Midway through the final lap and the sun comes up. Sadly we’ve passed the Gruffalo already so miss out on a daylight photo with him. It’s been warm and muggy all night and I’m a sweaty mess despite only wearing a tee. The course that has been hiding it’s beauty in the night now shows itself and after two laps we can anticipate the route better and plan the runs and walks so we don’t waste energy running a short section before a hill or miss out on a runnable section expecting it to end sooner than it does.

Being full daylight now it’s far easier to see the myriad of tree roots so only an idiot would fall over now. Good job I’m here. When I pick myself back up my knees are throbbing and I’ve got a graze on my elbow. My right hand is sore from the impact where I’ve seemingly punched a tree on the way down in a valiant attempt to get even with the big bastard. It’s slightly perturbing to flex your fingers and notice one is refusing to move with the final joint at a jaunty position. Not quite bent but definitely out of line like a poor photoshop where the graphic designer hasn’t quite managed to stitch two photos together properly. It’s not race-ending but is going to make the final six miles uncomfortable. We walk for a bit and the throbbing gets no worse. It doesn’t really hurt, more feels uncomfortable like mild cramp. For some reason I decide a career as an engineer qualifies me to re-set dislocations so with a swift tug I pop it back in. All seems good and we run on.

After the first lap I had an optimistic goal of 6hrs. Slowing of pace and tree boxing has slowed us a little more (as you wood expect) so we approach the final stile looking set for 6h30. Up over the stile and we cross together in 6h27 having moved up from 42 to 31 overall almost like we know how to pace a race well. I’ve forgotten about my hand until various people shake it, and some tree-mendous grimaces result.  Ok I’ll leaf the tree jokes away now.

Managing to grab Dan Lawson for some photos I head back to bed and the exciting prospect of a six hour footie tournament with the boy.

Later I learn Jon also picked a fight with a tree and sadly had to DNF via the hospital for some stitches. Hopefully he’ll be back to keep me sane at LL100.

Eco-bit – When not narrowly beating me in races by a mere two hours, Dan Lawson runs ReRun Clothing, aiming to cut down on waste and encourage re-use of sports wear. I ran the event in upcycled shorts made by Gins Running Stitch and some pre-loved trail shoes from ReRun. They all stood up better to the race than my finger did. Go check out their ReRun HERE and visit Ginny HERE.

 

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Love Trails Festival 2019

lovetrailsThis was my first time at the festival and I was looking forward to a great weekend. Clubmates had attended previously and spoke very highly of the relaxed, friendly festival and the amazing running on the Gower Peninsula in Wales.

Location

img_3134If you’ve not been to Gower Peninsula before it’s a series of beautiful Welsh hills nestling the sea with some wide open salt flats and gorgeous beaches in between. Transport wise you reach it from the M4 after passing Cardiff and Swansea, or via train. There’s also organised coaches from London saving you the hassle of lugging tents on the tube. From chatting to other runners it seemed like half of London had vacated to Gower for the weekend.

Camping

Two main camp sites were on offer, either Estuary View or Castle, with the latter being a slightly further walk away (10 minute) from the main festival village and seemed quieter for those that wanted to sleep. Campervans also set up in Castle car park. Both sites were a short walk from respective car parks as you can’t drive up to your pitch so worth bringing a trolley if your tent and other gear is heavy.

Both camp sites have toilets and water points. Showers are located at the Castle site, and just inside the festival village for those in Estuary view. The Estuary spa is set up at Weobley Castle so if you’re planning to go there it would be sensible to pick the Castle camping.

If you’re less nimble of foot or expect to be pushing buggies then the walk from Castle camping is off road and has some off-camber sections that might be an issue.

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Activities

There are so many options it would have been impossible to do everything so it’s worth planning your day to ensure you’re not halfway up a hill, 4 miles from the site when you realise the talk you really wanted to attend starts in five minutes.

Guided Trail Runs (GTR)

Free to attend and on throughout the day, they had everything from social 3km runs to full on 55km ultras, with a good smattering of running to pubs and wine tasting. In particular there were many women specific runs which is a great touch for anyone who’d rather not stare at the hairy back of a sweating bloke for 2 hours. Booking on for these runs could either be done on the website before you attended or by going to the run start tent.

Extra Adventures

These were extra runs you can pay to attend, most of which involve some sort of activity after a warm up run such as coasteering, surfing, or sea kayaking.

Just Show Up Runs

Similar to the GTR, free to attend, just turn up at the start time and go for it. Also a mixture of lengths and included runs to wild swims, orienteering and trails.

 Note – the terrain in Gower does not make for fast times. If you’re used to smashing out a sub 18 minute parkrun then you might well be surprised how long it takes to cover the same distance on the routes due to incline, technical trail, cattle gates and crashing through undergrowth. Taking your time and enjoying the route is key for most of the above and the run leaders will be regrouping as needed to avoid losing people. Of course there’s nothing stopping you grabbing a couple of mates and caning yourselves around your own run route if you’re keen to steal some Strava segments.

Talks / Panels

3e660ee6-1ae1-41ed-a6fb-821591e1711aThroughout the weekend there were talks from the great and the good of trail running, sharing tales, advice and inspiration. There was also a light-hearted comedy sessions led by Huw Jack Brassington where I got to attend, drop subtle plugs for the book and try my best to not look out of place next to Elise Downing (ran the coast of Britain), Huw Jack Brassington (Special Forces Hell Week, Team GB Triathlete), Danny Bent (cycled 9000 miles London to India, set up Project Awesome) and David Hellard (BBR podcast, sells laxatives).  

Yoga, Movement & Fitness

A favourite of the wife, there were many stretching, fitness and yoga classes available, open to all ages and abilities. The music choices were so good even I was tempted to have a go. Yoga to Queen medley is inspired.

Salomon and Vivobarefoot put on a good mixture of workshops, talks and runs including more yoga and advice sessions from their sponsored athletes.

Kids & Crafts

2019 is the first year they’ve invited kids to the festival and it worked well. There were short trail runs, and lots of arts and crafts activities. My two (8 and 10) loved it and came back with windchimes, tees and posters they’d made and are already pestering me to attend next year (hence the 2020 poster design). With a relaxed vibe to the whole weekend and plenty of space around the festival and camp sites there’s ample room to let kids run around and explore nature.

 Dogs

img_3129Trail runners are possibly the most dog-friendly segment of society. I took Bella along for some of the runs and when she wasn’t pelting through the woods dragging me behind she spent most of the weekend laying on her back having her belly rubbed by random runners and being told how beautiful she was. There was a dog station in the main festival field with balls and Frisbees to entertain your canine friends too.

 Sample the gear

img_3091Many of the stands from Adidas, Salomon and Sunto allowed you to not just try on the products but take them away for a run and really put them through their paces. This is ideal as picking new rugged trail shoes by running a few steps up and down the silky smooth floor of a sports shop is a flawed process.

 

Getting around – Adventure Bus

Throughout the day a courtesy bus toured the main beaches and camp sites to help everyone get about if they’d had enough of running.

Drink & Food

A highlight of the weekend for me was the choice of food vans. These were of the gourmet burgers and stone baked pizza standard, not a greasy roadside trailer. We sampled from every vendor and the only criticism was just a few were open for breakfast with long queues if you were trying to eat and get out on a run. Definitely potential for some more breakfast options next year.

Drinks were in the main tent, the pub tent, the gin stand and also a bar by the Estuary Spa. Queues were never too long but some of the beers did run out on Saturday due to how thirsty the runners got.

Water was available either from taps in campsite or from large 1000 litre containers in the festival ground. A great step towards eliminating single use plastic water bottles.

Our Experience

Billy and I arrived by car on Friday with a boot full of stuff and an excited dog. Setting the tent up in the Castle Campsite took a little longer than expected as it was only our second go but luckily some clubmates helped out. This and a desperate need to eat Pizza and drink beer meant I didn’t get out fimg_3147or any runs on the Friday and also needed to find Huw to have a run through for the comedy session on stage.

The plan was for Charlotte and my Wife to get the train down and arrive around 6pm, ready for dinner and a handover prior to going on stage. Sadly a few train delays occurred and then the final train caught fire just two miles out from the station. Wales is famous for a warm welcome but this was possibly excessive.

After further delays getting another train despatched to push the now marooned carriages they finally arrived around 8:30pm, over 7 hours after leaving Milton Keynes. We’d managed to do it in just over 4 hours in the car including two stops.

Trying to direct half your family to a tent whilst keeping an ear out for being called onto stage was tricky “yep ours is the big tent, you know, green, basically looks the same as every other tent in the massive field. It’s by some hedges and on some grass. You can’t miss it, it’s made of tarpaulin and has some guy ropes attached!”

Sadly the delay meant they missed much of my stint on stage so if anyone has the video I’d be grateful. I managed to get energy gels confined to Room 101 which is probably my biggest life achievement.

img_3100After that it was back to tents and bed. We’ve only camped once before, at Endure 24 so we’re still relatively new to it all. Despite airbeds, thick sleeping bags and extra blankets it got cold in the night, especially escorting each child for a night time wee when they awoke at different times. For once I was glad of the dogs fondness for sneaking onto my feet to sleep at night.

Saturday arrived and after some porridge from the van on site I took part in the Tribe 10k guided run. It ended up closer to 8 miles due to diversion for tides but was beautiful and Bella enjoyed her first taste of the Welsh countryside.

Rest of the morning was spent in yoga (the Wife) or craft making (the kids). Then a team run in the Track Mafia “Don’t Back Out” event where mixed teams of three, or all female teams compete to run to the sea and bring back sufficient sea water to half fill a cup. It sounds easier than it was, especially given the steep ascent back up. Our team was third in the mixed category, or second after the first place team was disqualified for using a bottle to transport the water. So close to the £300 cash prize!

In the afternoon we popped to nearby Three Cliffs Beach in the car. It’s a beautiful beach although weather wise we picked the most overcast section of the whole weekend to attend. Billy and I swam and coaxed the dog in. Having never been to the sea before she was a little nervous but soon learnt to swim. The girls decided it was a bit too nippy to brave more than a paddle. For anyone going to this beach, it’s a good 15-20 minute walk from car parks depending on the tide so be prepared.

Back at campsite we drank from the bar at the Estuary Spa (much nearer walk) and went back to the festival for dinner, slightly disappointed to see the axe throwing stand packing up and leaving site, as we’d hoped it would be available all weekend.

Sunday was more yoga, another Tribe run with Bella (a slightly long 5k) where she met some llamas, and more crafting during which I customised my top as a reminder of the weekend.

img_3151Being indecisive at the best of times I struggled to pick from the plethora of options for the afternoon. Downhill running technique looked good, as did navigation skills for runners, both of which would be useful for the forthcoming Lakeland 100.

I finally settled on a trail workshop with Salomon athlete Beth Pascal which covered body positioning, running form and uphill and downhill technique. She was a great coach and I particularly enjoyed her no-nonsense approach. Being too flexible was bad, the best way to improve running is to run. All good in my book. After that it was pack the tent, eat some dinner (couldn’t resist the pizza and halloumi fries again) and head home. Traffic was good and we made it four hours including a stop. It’s taken longer to get back from Bournemouth after the marathon weekend before.

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Improvements

Whilst an amazing weekend, there were some tweaks that could make it even better.

Personally found most of the runs being condensed into the 9am-4pm window limited options due to clashes. Especially for those with families some earlier or later runs would be beneficial and aid child care. A decent length 6 or 7am run would be my suggestion.

As above the food was great but some extra vendors for breakfast would be welcome. Nothing fancy but someone selling breakfast rolls would go down well and help keep the queues down. Looking forward to next year already!