Written by Melissa Arkinstall - http://www.run247.com/

This has to be by far, the biggest medal that I've ever received in all my years of running and triathlon....I think that it's bigger than an Olympic medal! "You're going to have to earn one of these the hard way"... said Lindley Chambers, Race Director at Challenge Running (www.challenge-running.co.uk). Hey, he's not kidding, but I smiled all the way through the task.

Chiltern Ultra Way medal

This is the first year that the Chiltern Way Ultras have taken place. There are two distances, 100k and 214k, both following the National Trail known as the Chiltern Way. The full route goes from Hemel Hempstead, Chalfont St Giles, the edge of Marlow, Hambleden, Bix Bottom, Ewelme, the Ridgeway, Stokenchurch, Great Hampden, Aldbury, the Dunstable Downs, Sharpenhoe Clappers to Harpenden and back to Hemel Hempstead; with the 100km race starting in Little Hamden winding clockwise back to Hemel Hempstead.

So, what is the route like? Well, you are running through an AONB for the majority of the race, so with the exception of a couple of streets around Dunstable and Luton, this is proper trail running turf. The scenery is stunning, rolling fields, farms, woodland and a stunning loop over the Dunstable Downs, all punctuated by quintessential English villages (willpower required to resist a pub stop)...and only a couple of brief encounters with the M1! It may not have the climbs of the Peaks or Lakeland Fells, but don't be fooled, the course is 'lumpy' (approximately 5000ft of ascent on the 100km race), and I think that this took a few competitors by surprise. The majority of the trail is in good condition, but there are occasional deep plowed fields and 'bramble alleys' to negotiate. Fine for road shoes on a dry day as we had, but if you were running this event after a soggy week, something a bit grippier would be well advised.

Chiltern Ultra Way starters

NOTE (please).... You must, must, must be able to read a map (and remember a compass!), as although the trail is signed, some way-marks aren't obvious or are overgrown. This isn't a fast course where you get your head down, follow the arrows and run; it is constant navigation, but not of the mountain marathon variety! However, don't let this put you off, I am not the world's most confident map reader and I was slightly worried at the start by tales of the 214k runners adding some huge mileage to an already big day...and night..and day! However, with a marked OS route blown up so that you can see every turn, with a bit of care, you'll soon be whizzing across the grid lines. In fact, all the concentration on map reading actually makes you forget how far your legs are running and adds to the sense of achievement at the end. GPX files are also provided and are a really good back up, but, battery life is finite and given the nature if the course, there is a definite (214k) and very good chance (100k) that you'll be night running with a spent GPS.

A great little confidence bonus was that we were all given 'trackers' to attach to our race packs. This meant that

  • a. Lindley can have a giggle watching all his runner's 'signal dots' dashing around doing random detours on his phone
  • b. supporters on the course can see when you are nearing a checkpoint
  • c. If you did get epically lost, you can make a call and be directed back onto the route, phewee!

There are checkpoints approximately every 25km, manned by lovely, happy (despite being sleep deprived), volunteers, who will help sort out water bottles. Medics are on hand to tape feet and feed you an array of goodies, my favourites of which included Freddo Frogs, Hula Hoops and my favourite, pink cake at CP3 (8 for the 214k).

The race HQ is at Feldon Lodge in Hemel Hempstead. An ideal base where the organisers will be ready cooking up hot dogs, bacon butties and for veggies like myself, tomato soup and peanut butter on toast for the ultimate post race comfort food! There are bedrooms so that you can grab a few hours of shut eye before driving home and if you are lucky, you may even get the Rocky theme tune played as you come down the long driveway into the finish!

Chiltern Ultra Way joint first ladies - Melissa Arkinstall and Kate Rennie

The first running of the race had a small field and quite a few DNFs ...only one person made it round the whole 214k!! So, the gauntlet is well and truly thrown down to those who want a real challenge in 2015, when the organisers are planning to make the event bigger and even better! I'm definitely putting this one on the calendar next year...hope to see you there!

To find out more about the Chiltern Way Ultras please visit: www.challenge-running.co.uk/chiltern-way-ultras

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