Written by Richard Stillion - https://richyla.wordpress.com
A word on weather – you may live in a desert or a jungle, I don’t! I am acclimatised to England and holiday in cooler climates, namely Scotland, so this race, to me, was very hot and very humid!
Rather than expand, XNRG – the multi-day specialists – have contracted for this race and laid on a one-dayer! Labelled as an “Intro-Ultra” as it is just over the 26.2 mile mark, this race could, of course, be for anyone. I personally chose it as a prep for a couple of long ultras that I have coming up and with XNRG hosting in their own back yard of the Chilterns, this promised to be a well organised, well balanced looping route – hilly, scenic, woodland, fields – challenge, and it didn’t disappoint!
With a few e-newsletters prior to the race, we were given our start times. There are three start times; 8am for walkers, 9am for general runners (me) and 10am for the elite end. The check-in was at Princes Risborough School with plenty of parking and facilities. There was complementary tea, coffee and hot chocolate in the main hall at check-in before our briefing.
The start was just above the school on the Icknield Way. There were many “Ways” on this route, the aforementioned Icknield, Ridge, Chiltern and South Bucks as well as the ubiquitous Bridleways.
I decided I’d go out at the front and see what happened. Not overly fast, but just to avoid the rush! We soon came to a road, crossed that and then came to a set of stairs, not dissimilar to the Box Hill ones on the North Downs, although these were in pretty good condition, unlike Box Hill. I don’t know whether it’s accident or design, but Neil (RD) seems to like a start on a hill – I guess it gets the heart going!
It wasn’t long until people were overtaking me and the (very well marked) route took us into a wood. It had been very hot all week but rained the night before and it was raining a bit when we set off. This increased the humidity, so when I went into the woods I found it pretty stifling. I was sort of hoping for the sun to come out, so the humidity might drop, but then with the sun out, it would become unbearably hot. No pleasing some people, I guess.
I came out of some woods and started a descent and a cracking view appeared, this is what trail running is all about for me. The rain had stopped now and the sky overcast.
I didn’t get many photos sadly and there was only one at the start and one at the finish from XNRG – obviously too quick for them….ahem….so I’ve included a picture of my risible superficial “injuries” that I acquired. I was running through a section that was a tad overgrown with some thick grass and after a while I was thinking that the bottom of my legs were sore. I looked down and shock horror I was bleeding! It must have been the thick grass – it’s why they’re called blades, see?!
I wandered through many a field and at first I put my right hand down with the image of Maximus Meridius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and all that. After a few fields, however, the novelty wore off and I was cussing the grain that was now getting stuck in my socks and scratching away at my heels and ankles.
The course was well marked but I nearly took the wrong turn twice. One was where a bush/tree had blown over and was hiding a kissing gate, a few of us had to literally limbo under the bush to get through. Another point, I committed a cardinal sin of following the person in front. I saw a red and white tape marker, but went past it as I could see runners in front. There then appeared a lot of other runners in front which reminded me of a pack of dogs roaming the countryside! We were all a bit lost. I mentioned the tape I’d seen just before and the “pack” went off – they were the front runners, and they were away, now on the correct route, before I got to the tape.
I remember running on the Chequers’ grounds, there were lots of warning signs for us not to stop. This was the Prime Minister’s country residence, so I was wondering if us ultra-runners had guns trained on us as we ran through the grounds! I also remember running down into Great Missenden. The route just skirted round the town, but I’ve been there a number of times as it’s the place that Roald Dahl lived and is now buried. My family are big fans.
It’s common in these races to yo-yo past runners and I yo-yo’ed with someone called Howard. I first bumped into him as we were on a wooded Ridgeway section. I remember the humidity in particular here as it was almost misty as we ran through. Towards the back end of the race I pretty much stuck with Howard and I thank him for carrying me (psychologically, not physically) round towards the end. The heat had pummelled me to be honest and I would have given anything for a breeze or a mild shower. I was happy with what I’d drunk and taken on food-wise at the aid stations, but I was just feeling the heat, pure and simple. We – me and Howard – came to a field with a sign saying 1K to go. To be honest, I didn’t have the energy to “beast” it to the end. Just near at the finish there was a mountain. Alright hill. Alright, slight incline in a field, and I looked behind me and saw about four runners coming up. And then going past! We came out of the field and the front of these runners pointed out that there was the finish.
I’d aimed at a sub 6 hour and got in at 5.58.17, so that would do just nicely thanks! A medal was whipped round my neck and a bottle of water put in my hand as I crossed the finish line but I really, really needed to sit down. I wasn’t feeling ill, I just wanted to sit down. I suddenly found a few medics around me seeing if I was okay, which was really nice of them to check on me. I hauled myself up eventually, showered and had some amazing home made cake and a cup of tea from Anna.
The race shirt was, how can I put it? LOUD, the loudest pink you can imagine, my photo doesn’t to it justice. I woke up the next day and I could hardly see out of my left eye. My first thought was the t-shirt had burnt my retina out, but deduced it was just the pollen and general crud from the trails gluing up my eye. A quick rinse and all was well again.
A thoroughly enjoyable day out in the country is how I would sum up this race, and I understand the date is already set for next year. Whether you’re thinking about your first ultra, fancy a change of scenery from your usual runs, or training for something bigger and want to use this race as a tester, I can’t recommend it enough.
Thank you to all at XNRG – the information prior to the race was good, the aid stations were well stocked and wo/manned by exceptionally polite, attentive and encouraging helpers, the course was well marked (and you had a course map) and the Thubron’s were really welcoming as usual. A great race and England’s green and pleasant land at its best!