“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
You could be accused of being over dramatic if you replaced the word “space” above with “Wendover Woods 50” but for those who did it, at times it felt like it. But anyway, I’m jumping ahead of myself…..
The wait was over, the training was done, the miles were in the bank and there was no more time for worrying. The Wendover woods 50 mile race was here and I started brilliantly by stepping out of my car, in a cold field in Tring at 7am, into a giant poo. Undeterred, I squelched my way to the start line and looked around for the other Project Trail guys. Soon meeting up with Nic and Jon, we were a mixture of excitement, compression gear and fear. Glancing around the field I could tell this was for the big boys, with the Centurion Running Grand Slam title at stake some people were going to be flying round this.
Project Trail 2016: Daniel Stinton, Nic Porter, Jon Gurney
The Wendover Woods 50 is, as the name suggests, “a 50 mile foot race consisting of 5 x 10 mile loops on forest trails, entirely within Wendover Woods”. Just for fun though, nestled within those beautiful sounding woodland trail laps was 2,900m of climbing. Which, I can now tell you from experience, is a lot. The race organisers, Centurion Running, had tactfully named some of the sections; “Hell’s Road”, “The Snake” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” presumably to somehow keep the spirits up!
Since winning a place in this race from Men’s Running and their Project Trail feature, the pressure was on. We’d been featured in the last five issues of the magazine to report on our progress and had training plans devised by Robbie Britton (Team GB Ultrarunner) to get us all ready for the day ahead. I’d trained hard, and had some great races and running experiences along the way, but nevertheless earlier in the week did have quite a flap about my ability to actually run 50 miles. By the time race day arrived, I’d decided to put those worries behind me and thought the best tactic was to just get on with it. I had a proper “plan” for this one; eat as much as I possibly can, drink as much as I possibly can, take it easy at the start and finish strong.
I knew that the first couple of laps just needed ticking off, and the Project Trail guys and I had suggested we start together. This was great to take it reasonable easy, have a chat, keep the spirits up and get used to the course. During the start of the third lap I slowly peeled away and realised it was time to go this alone. The laps consisted of magnificent forest trails, some mud and numerous short(ish) sharp climbs.
All very happy because we’re going downhill
I took the opportunity to have 30 seconds rest by pretending I needed to take some photos
Somewhere around the third lap I saw Gary Dalton, an ultrarunner I’d met the previous year at the Adidas Thunder Run. He was doing a couple of laps in reverse as moral support for the runners and our exchange went something along the lines of……
“Hi Dan, how you feeling?” said the self-confessed moany trail runner. I gave an honest reply saying that I was feeling pretty good.
“Well why are you walking then!?” came the response. I processed this for a few moments and came to the conclusion it was a very good question, so run I did.
… and so the day went on, taking each section as it came. At one point during the “Power Line” segment I emerged into a large open field. This is a brief pleasant change to the woodland trails and due to the time of day, the sun was coming down bathing the woodland surroundings in a beautiful light. I actually outstretched my arms and leant my head back, either praying to the Great Running God, or to take in as much vitamin D as I possibly could. As I crossed the field I bumped into my number-neighbour (284), a young lady who I can see from the results was Rachel Dench. We had a quick chat and I started wittering on about what a fantastic moment this was and hopefully sharing some of my current positivity. A short while later, re-entering the woods, we shared some jelly beans and and I was on my way.
In a bizzare mind-game I was actually looking forward to lap four. Well past the halfway point I’d already decided this was going to be a self-indulgent lap so I put my headphones on some to blast out some of my favourite songs and really started gritting my teeth to get round. I had a couple of moments of euphoria during this lap as I knew I was well on my way to complete it, and nothing was going to stop me. I was doing my two favourite things, running in the woods and listening to some crushing metal and hip hop, I had a few moments of dancing and punching the air – sorry to anyone who saw that and thought I’d gone barking mad but in some ways I think I probably had.
Ten miles to go. Feeling the burn.
Finally I was at the business end of the race and strapping on a headtorch for the final lap. This one needed a bit of focus as tiredness was setting in and you really had to concentrate to stay on track through the winding woodland paths, but it has to be said the course markings by Centurion Running were excellent. I started the lap with a nice chap called Mick and we had a good chat but I soon pushed along and ended up running most of this lap alone. The field had really spread out by now so other humans were few and far between. After a final push during the viciously steep last 2km, suddenly (well, more accurately, 11 hours, 2 minutes and 15 seconds later) I was over the finish line. My friend, and top-running buddy Michelle, had come along to the end for moral support and was probably twice as cold as I was, so massive thanks for making an appearance! Immediately people were thrusting medals, t-shirts and minestrone soup at me, which was a great way to finish. The whole Project Trail experience has been fantastic, its magnificent to have completed it, but of course I’m slightly sad its over. Not one to mope, I can now enjoy a little relax and look forward to the ultras I already have booked for next year. Game on!
Cold and needing a beer…… I was a bit chilly as well.
A few of the details and stats below for the true running geeks:
I finished in 43rd place with the laps times below:
I think the main thing I’m pleased with (other than finishing!) is that my laps were reasonably consistent. OK, I slowed down a bit for the fourth lap but then somehow negative split the last one in the dark with a head torch. Despite the inevitable tiredness I just wanted to get this lap done.
Not that I’m an expert at these things but I definitely learnt a few things during this race and got great advice from Robbie Britton. Here’s some summary thoughts, a mixture of my own experience and advice given:
- De-hydration will shut you down. Drink, drink and drink some more. I added electrolytes to my pack at every lap when I filled up.
- Lack of nutrition will shut you down. Eat, eat and eat some more. Right from the start. I really followed points one and two even when I didn’t feel like it, and have to say I felt as energised as could be expected.
- Stay positive. People had talked to me about “dark times” on these long ultra runs but I decided I was having none of that. I tried to stay happy, be positive, talk to people, have a laugh at the aid stations (which were great)and just keeping moving and enjoy each lap. Its what we’ve been working towards and looking forward to for so long, so why not enjoy it!?
- Get everything right during training. I had a definite plan on the type of foods that agree with me and had a load of it with me on this run. However, I caved in to a ham sandwich on white bread at one of the aid stations that sat uncomfortably somewhere in my digestive system for at least an hour. Know what you can eat. And eat it.
- A more personal one, but I discovered one of the best things about my running is my walking. I realised I can get a really good march on, even on the steep sections which probably helped me climb from 84th place on lap 1 to 43rd at the end.
- I’m going to go all Matrix on you, but you have to believe Neo!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Finally, a quick shout-out to all the people and gear that have helped me along this; Men’s Running Magazine, Rick Pearson, Isaac Williams, Robbie Britton, TrainAsONE, Centurion Running (the organisation, marshals, aid stations and route markings were brilliant), Michelle Edye for the solid running training and chat, Johnny Fuller (Sporting Therapy), Columbia Montrail, TomTom, Adidas Eyewear, Petzl head torches and High5 nutrition.
And to the other project trail guys, Nic Porter and Jon Gurney (and support and photographs from Chris) – fantastic effort all round and achievement for us all! And of course Vicky Stinton for putting up with my continuous training and talking about running!
I’ve been posting lots about running recently, and whilst this will descend into my tale of taking a steep run from Mlini into Bosnia, I’m going to start off with some very “Bucket of Tentacles” style pictures of the Kupari resort in Croatia. Not your typical holiday photos, Kupari is a derelict hotel complex located to the south of Dubrovnik.
Back in the early 90’s, when I was mainly trying to step into teenagedom, there was a war going on to which I paid very little attention. It was the break up of Yugoslavia and during the early part, the luxury Kupari resort was captured by the Serbs and ended up being mostly ruined. Now, standing awkwardly against a beautiful mountain/sea backdrop it is an urban-explorers dream. Its completely open to the public and unlike the UK, not a warning sign or barricade in sight leaving you free to roam. So roam I did, camera in hand and visions of a post apocalyptic world in mind. Here are a few of the pictures.
Derelict building? Lets go through on our mopeds!
Another holiday-snap taken from the Dubrovnik City Walls
Not your typical holiday picture, but I liked the collection of people, particularly the gent on the left clearly worried about calf-sunburn.
Post-apocalyptic world out of the way, earlier that day I’d had another rather larger dose of adrenaline after planning to run up Malastica, a local summit rising steeply from the hotel we were staying in.
I made my way out of the quiet tourist areas and into “real” Croatia. Receiving occasional odd glances as an Adidas-clad runner pranced through the usually quiet roads, I carried on up the steep ascent as a thunderstorm blew it’s way in from the Adriatic. It wasn’t long before I was sodden, t-shirt clinging to me and looking up at what seemed like an endless stream of zig-zag paths leading to the summit.
This soon changed though as the cloud curtain opened up revealing the magnificent views ahead.
A further trudge along the path and I arrived at the following sign:
It didn’t look like too much of a warning sign (and I later translated this as “State Border”), so I stepped past it into another country.
Only a few metres in and everything felt more Bosnian. Embarrassingly not knowing much about the country other than there had been a war I wondered what life was like for people on the outskirts of this remote landscape. I reached some kind of peak and took in the view. The glistening Adriatic Sea on one side, the coast populated with hotels and bars but circling round to a rolling mountain range. I sensed a wilderness I’ve never felt before. An unknown landscape staring at me menacingly/beautifully and me staring back:
The path abruptly ended. Looking ahead I saw a distant road and some buildings nestled in amongst the hills. I wanted to get there, but could see it would be a tough jaunt, no signs of any paths or trails, just natural grass, clumps of trees/brambles and sharp rock formations. Without my own full consent I clambered off the path anyway and headed towards the distant road. This was tough terrain and very slow-going, and the reality dawned that I had only just dried out, I hadn’t seen any humans since the start of my ascent sometime ago and I was clambering over sharp rocks somewhere in Bosnia. Common sense was restored and I decided to turn back. The kilometre I travelled off-track took me about 25 minutes and that was moving as fast as I could, such was the terrain.
I carried on along another ridge which must have been the border between Croatia and Bosnia, regular abandoned outposts and walls reduced to rubble lined the edges of the paths high up in the hills.
It was around about then that I introduced myself to a snake. Midnight black and about a metre long dryly slithering across the trail. Realising we were both completely terrified of each other we parted company as quickly as we could going our respective ways with a nod of encouragement. Now running low on water and energy I reluctantly knew I needed to head back so weaved my way back down the rocky paths. What a fantastic descent it was.
Finally reaching a road I stumbled into a bakery selling chocolate milk and very large slices of pizza which truly was a dream come true!!
Later, I found out about the land mines….. warnings on wiki travel to not venture off any roads or investigate any derelict buildings. Ignorance is bliss as clearly this would have added a new element of fear to the whole journey. As if I needed to worry about a little snake! Its hard to know how “real” the danger was and if there were any land mines in the vicinity – wouldn’t a country’s border be the “perfect” spot? In any case, I made it back alive, with a wonderful life experience tucked under my belt!
All hail the trail!
After the fantastic news that I’d been selected for Project Trail I headed to our nation’s Capital for the photoshoot last week. To avoid ridiculously priced peak time trains, instead of my usual Tuesday Sweatshop run from the Manchester Arndale, I ended up going down the night before. I phoned Murray, arranged a quick warm down game and headed off for Wimbledon. I arrived at Euston, had a disciplined pint to relax (£4.90 and served by an Aussie – clearly I had arrived in London) and then got the tube out to Wimbledon.
Quite an uneventful night followed in the smallest hotel room ever, but I survived and headed on to Wimbledon Common to meet the Men’s Running team…… I soon met up with Rick (the editor) and the rest of the team, along with a friendly familiar face, Anne-Marie who i’d completed the Thunder Run with the previous year! It was about now that I started eyeing up the piles of boxes on the car park which was our gear hoard – full kit from Columbia Montrail, a TomTom Runner Cardio watch, some Adidas sunglasses and enough High5 nutrition to make me seriously concerned about making it back to Manchester carrying this lot on public transport!
After meeting the other entrants (Jon and Nic) and also the competition winners from Women’s Running, we all eagerly changed into our new fancy trail running gear and headed further into the Common to find some suitable spots for photographs which will be used for the forthcoming Project Trail articles. I’m much more used to being on the other side of a camera, but managed to pull out a few tough-runner poses even though I’m not a fan of being in “the limelight”. We were asked a few interview questions to be used for the mag and did a quick video interview (links below), I definitely get very self-conscious in front of a video camera! A quick run round the common later to try out our new gear and it was time to head off home!
A really great part of this whole experience is getting a training plan devised by Robbie Britton. We have a call scheduled this week to discuss the plan so proper training will be starting very soon and apparently, I’m going to have to get very very used to hill reps!
Here’s the three of us just before heading off home, and some links to the YouTube videos below.
Jon, Dan (me) and Nic
Project Trail: The Photoshoot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUFSQPic-GU
All it took was a quick email to “Men’s Running” magazine saying how I needed a night off the beer, and somehow I was in their team for the Adidas Thunder Run and had won a load of free running gear from Adidas! Needless to say I am now a walking advert for them – you’d see less stripes on a tiger! For the uninitiated, the Thunder Run is a 24 hour trail running event where you compete either solo(!), pairs, or other combinations to run continuous 10km laps around Catton Park in Derbyshire. Our team consisted four men and four women, three of each competition winners and two experienced ultra runners (Gary and Anne-Marie) to make it seem like it was a run round the park. Which in effect, it was.
I rolled up early on Saturday morning to a bustling campsite and managed to find our team with a well established campsite, a kettle on the go and a selection of muffins and flapjacks baked by some of the ladies. Gender stereotype alert, but as you would probably expect, the men’s baking contribution was ….. er…. nothing. Although I did bring some teabags.
Here’s the team:
Laura, Dan (me), Paul, Anne-Marie, Gary, Jade, Steve, Alexy.
Noon soon rolls along and Paul had jumped forward to do the first lap which he completed in a mud-busting 38:50 which was a fantastic time for the course. The lap was followed by some frantic shouting for Jade who had a remarkable skill of not being found during changeover 🙂 I was next up and set off in the warm sunshine. Gently jogging along the first field, it was all looking very comfortable but a sudden sharp right straight up a steep woodland path left any thoughts of this being an easy run right there at the bottom. I’m a relatively new runner so this was actually one of the tougher routes I’ve done with lots of twists and turns, mud, narrow woodland paths and short sharp hills. Defying the laws of physics I am convinced there was far more “up” than there was “down”. I came in under 50 mins which I was pleased with considering the terrain. I passed on to Laura, followed by Gary, Anne-Marrie, Steve then Alexy. And so it went on.
Purely for reasons of me having a camera, I soon became the official team photographer. We soon got into a routine with Paul being chief ‘spotter’ which meant standing a bit further up from the finish line then frantically waving when one of our team came in. This was a cue for me to stop thinking about bacon sandwiches and sleeping and to quickly get my camera ready to get a picture of the incoming runner.
My second lap kicked off around 9:30pm, so it was time for the head torches as by the time I finished the woods were pretty black. This was my favourite lap and best time too (49:03), it just all came together and I got a nice comfortable rhythm going. Shower, food and time for a quick sleep as I was up again at 4am in preparation for my final lap which started around 5:30am, but I still somehow managed a smile:
The weather was kind to us apart from the final couple of laps for Alexy and Paul when it was completely tipping it down. We finished up doing 25 laps (3 each and 4 for Paul), and it seemed everyone had a great time, each of us with our own level of experience and personal goals for running, from the ultra runners to …..er …… me.
Here’s us with our medals!
Thanks to Men’s Running mag and Adidas for the opportunity to do this along with the free gear, it’s all great stuff. Thanks of course to all my team mates (and Stephen, our support crew) who were all a pleasure to do this with and made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience all round!
Check out my running page HERE on this blog for my running history.
The girls were busy posing for a photo, but it was front camera on all the time, sorry ladies:
I’ve been dedicating some time to a new pursuit. Running. Very alien to me initially but I’ve become more and more attached to it. I put up a running page HERE a while ago but thought I’d put up a blog post related to any ‘significant’ runs I’ve done.
Two recent ones are the Stafford half marathon and the Radcliffe 10km multi-terrain.
I dedicated a lot of training time to the half and had an aim to complete in 1:50. On the day I completely ignored all the good advice to stick to my plan and ended up with 1:41:28, a massive achievement for me. So either I didn’t initially aim high enough or somehow just managed to pull it out the bag. Here’s the extract from my Nike Running page:
Second up is the Radcliffe 10km multi-terrain. This was tough. Living in the city centre its pretty flat so to suddenly have to face some short and sharp hills really zaps the energy. I ended up with a new 10km PB of 47:05.
Here’s a picture from Radcliffe, I don’t run, I levitate!
Photo copyright – Steve Bateman http://www.runningpix.co.uk/