Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com
Chiltern Wonderland 50
Centurion Running 16/09/2017
1st Male: Jon Ellis 6:36:58
1st Female: Rachel Fawcett 8:41:42
Wonder: to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at)
Land: something the government wants to put loads and loads of houses on; or put HS2 on
I only finished the Ridgeway three weeks ago and here I am at the start-line of the Chiltern Wonderland 50 mile race. I’m not the only one either – Victoria Louise Thompson is doing the same.
I was told that in my last blog that it was too cheerful and positive, so I will try to have a bit of a moan in this one. Only a small moan though.
The race is a 50 mile loop returning to its finish where it started with a course that takes in some outstanding countryside. Weather was forecast to be pretty good in all and temperatures 14-15c, which certainly for me is ideal. So, good course and good weather is a double bubble. Sadly, what was bursting the bubble was my IT band. It was flaring up at the end of the Ridgeway and so I didn’t run for two weeks. Last weekend I went for a run and it flared up again, so this race looked like it was going to be a damage limitation exercise. I certainly wasn’t expecting to finish. Anyone wondering what the IT band is – it stands for Irritating Band simply because it is very, very irritating when it doesn’t work properly. In a nutshell, if it’s not good, then you can’t go downhill very easily. Uphill is fine. On the flat is so-so. So, there’s my whinge. Woe is me, I have a hurty leg. I’ve scoured the internet for a good anatomical analysis of it and this is the best explanation:
Hurty Leg Explanation
Right, to Goring Village Hall. With a new back room extension. Kit check, number collection, say hello to James (RD) and wait for the briefing. Have the briefing, then wander down to the start which is on the Thames Path (the fourth leg of the A100). Hooter thing goes off promptly, but I’m wedged at the back (deliberately) and don’t move for a minute or two. I realise that I haven’t switched my Garmin on and it croaks around looking for a signal. I get to the actual start where James is stood and I say I can’t start until I have a signal. He gives me a withering look, so I walk off rather sheepishly in the direction of the others. A dog walker is stood watching us pass and he asks me if I should perhaps start running. I explain I have quite a way to go and I’m in no hurry. So about 4 miles along the Thames, winding up into Hartslock Wood then along to Whitchurch, only we turned left up the hill rather than right into Whitchurch – Louise Ayling was doing a grand, authoritative job of seeing us across the road and making sure we were going the right way.
Random Cornfield for Nici Griffin – I know how much she likes them..
Eventually we came to a very pleasant vista looking out across the Thames towards Reading. This was a steep descent and something which set the precedent of the day of me shouting and a-cussing as I couldn’t get downhill, whilst watching plenty of people whip past me. I could have tripped over my lip I was sulking so much. I eventually resorted to going downhill backwards which relieved the pain, but it was so slow and let’s face it – I looked proper stupid doing it.
I got to the first check point and there was chip timing here – not noticed Centurion doing that before, but I haven’t run with them since last November. Delighted to see Nikki Mills there and had a quick chat about war wounds with her. Despite only a couple of minutes chatting, I was surprised how cold I’d got. I always carry a merino wool t-shirt in a dry bag on these runs and sometimes question if it’s worth it – but clearly it is, if I get into trouble I’m going to be cold very quickly.
The second leg was pretty much the same moving okay-ish, going uphill fine and spitting my dummy out going downhill. I was seriously thinking of dropping at Bix, wondering what was the point of slogging 50 miles in pain? However, on arrival at the checkpoint I saw the bus driver and thought no, keep going – let’s get to at least halfway. The route and conditions were just too good to call it a day.
I noticed quite a few ravens calling and one in particular sounded very excited at one point. I watched it for a bit and sure enough – there were sheep and lambs in a field and I think one was on its way out. The raven was flying around and at one point even jumped on the lamb – presumably to test whether it still had any strength left. I love corvids – intelligent, but they’re pretty evil.
Looking back from Cobstone Hill
I became a bit fixated with Christmas Common at this stage. I love Christmas. It’s great. Anyway, above Watlington, this was the highest point of the race and around the halfway mark. We came to a steep climb and I thought, ooh, this is it. It wasn’t. It was Cobstone Hill. A steep climb with a working windmill at the top. I was hoping to get a good photo of said windmill when I got to the top, but it was shut off and there was a sign outside it which said: “No admittance, don’t go in, you’re not allowed”. Or words to that effect.
Windmill. But you’re not allowed near it
I got chatting to a chap about children near here and we were comparing notes on how our kids are running rings round us already. It helped pass the time and took my mind off the ITB. We got to the checkpoint and Louise Ayling was here. Again. I couldn’t be bothered to drop and in fairness, I doubt she’d have let me. I asked how far it was to the next check point and when the cut off was and she said I had three hours and 7 miles so why was I still stood there talking!?
So, halfway done and mooching around country lanes until I saw the sign of Christmas Common. There was a guy here (Ian Robertson?) directing us with the traffic and he had a centurion helmet on a pole. Nice touch! I was told by someone that there was a nice downhill section coming up. Joy. More pain! It was stunning though. The rain predicted for 2pm hadn’t emerged and the sun was shining over another bit of Wonderland.
Descent from Christmas Common
I’d been leapfrogging Victoria quite a bit (not literally – just passing each other) and there was one point where we were in a sort of narrow gulley – I think we were all concentrating so much on not tripping over anything that we’d have missed the turning which, thankfully, James noticed and called us back. Much appreciated.
I was slogging it out and really wanting to get to Swyncombe and some familiar territory. Just before Swyncombe we joined the Ridgeway and I knew where I was going for a bit now. Except I didn’t. I hadn’t checked the route at all and thought I was just doing the Ridgeway bit to Grim’s Ditch. But after high-fiving one of the little fellas at Swyncombe Aid Station, I made my way out and found we weren’t going on the Ridgeway but going through St. Botolph’s graveyard. I like St. Botolph’s church, it’s quite unusual in that it doesn’t have a steeple. It also has a pizza oven at one end. A long climb ensued and the predicted rain from earlier came down. I found it quite refreshing to be honest.
St.Botolph’s. No steeple, but with pizza oven.
Up until this point of the race it had largely been damage limitation and I was constantly calculating when I could just start walking at 3mph, but after Swyncombe, two things happened. 1) My ITB seemed to loosen enough for me to put a hobble on and 2) The downhill gradients seemed to be a much gentler descent and, in fact, runnable. So, finally I could actually start doing a bit of running in places. I was wondering when Grim’s Ditch might turn up, but the course was going all round the houses. I finally came to the Ridgeway and saw it was the down and up field – I first thought it was the Sarah Morwood “flying” field, but thankfully I didn’t have to do that bit. So, down and up, into the wood and over towards the golf course. There seemed to be loads of race supporters here waiting for their own runners, but they all gave me encouragement. A quick bimble across the golf course, past Nuffield Church, onto the view of the White Horse Vale, then, to Grim’s Ditch.
White Horse Vale with changeable skies.
Anyone who reads my blogs – and I have a strong fan base (not) – will know that I love running down Grim’s Ditch. I was worried that I may not be able to run it today, but thankfully it was, indeed, runnable. I didn’t even trip on root (did you see what I did there?).
The aid station was at the bottom of the Ditch and lo and behold – Louise Ayling!! She said something which I didn’t catch so I turned back to hear and she said – why are you coming back, you need to go that way! Marvellous, no frills, get out and finish. I did need my bottles filling though and Ken Fancett was helping out. I thought I might pick his brains for a few top tips and asked him how he managed to keep from being injured.
“I don’t know!”
Fair enough. The guy’s a machine though. Legend.
I think through force of habit I thought I was going to go along Grim’s Bank, but I had to turn left along a road instead. According to the literature, this was going to be one of the fastest sections of the course. Marvellous, a bit of flat running. Needless to say, I turned off the road to go directly upwards. This happened a few times, but there was indeed some extremely runnable sections. The light was fading so the head torch came out – just in time as the track I was now on was full of rabbit holes. It was getting to the point where there were four miles to go, then three miles left, and I was thinking that surely I must be able to see Goring by now, but nope, not a sign. The light faded fast and it was full-on dark when I entered a wood. Usually at this point of a race the Central Governor kicks in and says, no need to run, you’ve finished anyway. Today, however, it was the opposite. I’d spent a lot of the race bumbling about and the CG decided that we should run and get the thing finished. So that’s what happened. We have to get things in perspective when I say I flew to the finish, but it’s how I felt. Just running through the woods and then by some fences which I was praying were the back gardens of Goring houses.
Couldn’t take any photos in the dark, so here’s a photo looking towards Stonor Park.
I think I came out by the train station and was about to head straight downhill when a chap on a seat shouted out that I needed to turn down a street and turn right. Very nice of him. There seemed to be lots of people about clapping and congratulating which was really nice and then I rounded a bend, past the pub and towards the Village Hall where a marshal directed me inside to the finish table.
Chris was there asking why I hadn’t fancied a sub-7 hour run! I had a medal – I say medal, the thing is huge, put over my neck, followed by the race finish photo. I was trying to look like Monty Burns doing an “Excellent” pose, but it just looks like me smiling. Read into that what you will.
Corinne was there with a cup of tea and a bite to eat and there was Eileen Naughton bringing me my bag. Again. She was doing the same three weeks ago on the Ridgeway Race. Same hall, same bag!
So, a nice sit down and a bit of reflection. Nici came over and gave me a hug. Also, James came over and gave me a hug as well. I managed to have more of a chat with Nikki now that I wasn’t in the race and getting cold. It’s nice to sit and reflect on the race and have a chat post-race, but at the same time, I’m also somewhat exhausted and wanting to go home.
I saw Ilsuk when I left the hall, he had a complete change of clothing on so I assumed he’d finished a while back, and, checking his time, he had. A great run from him. The drive home was misty which I guess meant temperatures were getting low. I did the usual post-race routine of getting cleaned up, crashing into bed and spending a sleepless night with adrenaline surges and leg pain keeping me awake. My whimpering thankfully didn’t keep the wife awake.
I’ve mentioned the people I knew the names of, so thank you to them, but thank yous also go to absolutely everyone involved with the running of the race from start to finish. James and Nici, aid stationers and Mr March. For some reason, I never remember to mention Nick Sheffield, so must amend that herein. Everyone who I’ve failed to mention – thank you. Finally – the course marking. Top drawer – I think it was James, MrMillsSir, Nick Greene, Russ Bestley, Drew Sheffield and Paul Murray. I only got stuck a couple of times, but given where the markers were, this was understandable, but it was only a question of a bit of back tracking probably less than a hundred metres or so, so for 50 miles of course marking, it was spot on. And the course was stunning. If I hadn’t mentioned it before.
Race dedications go to my children. My inspirations. Especially what Euan said the night before – he’ll know what I mean.
And a special mention for Victoria – we shared the pain on this one. We both decided that running the Ridgeway, then running a 50 miler three weeks later must never be repeated. Well, not until next time.