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.