“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 written a few blog posts during Project Trail that have ended up being published to the Men’s Running site. I thought I’d re-create them here to them as a record. Time has flown and the race is a mere 9 days away…..
16th November 2016 – The Tale of the Taper
The taper. The final few weeks of preparation and contemplating the challenge lying ahead. Some runners seem to love it as a chance to fill their faces with carbs; others are bouncing off the walls, desperate to get to the race. Here’s a few of my tapering observations…
Where has all the time gone: You’ve had this race booked for months. Training plans were meticulously created with mileage building up until race day. Suddenly, you’re mere weeks away and the taper is here. You begin asking yourself, “Have I done enough?”; “I don’t think I got enough long runs in!”, “Why on earth did I skip so many sessions from my training plan?” It’s not the time to play catch-up, though; the work is done and suddenly doing back-to-back runs to “catch-up” is only going to end in disaster.
All sorts of things start hurting: You’ve worked far too hard for anything to scupper your race now. But every run is a potential disaster, and the phantom injuries start to appear. Twinges appear in the knee/ankle/hamstring without warning, but are you imagining it? Is it the paranoia of a potential injury? Why does everyone on the bus/in the lift start stepping dangerously close to your toes? Why have they organised a BMX night at work? (This actually happened).
Embracing the carb load: Everything contains carbs, right? At least that’s what you tell yourself. The fourth biscuit from the office cupboard is just taking advantage of a carb-loading opportunity, and no-one can tell you to stop eating because you quite simply need the energy. Best to try not to end up stuffed full of white pasta and a dodgy stomach the day before though, eh?
Giving up the beer: Months and months ago when you booked on that race, you promised yourself to go tea-total for at least the final two months, well maybe one month. As time creeps along, you suddenly realise there is your cousins wedding, the works outing, and at least four Fridays during your dry period, so you decide two weeks will be enough, maybe one week. Roll on the night before and you’re convincing yourself that surely one glass of red wine will be OK? It’s mainly fruit, right?
You’re about to stop boring everyone to death: Everyone will be glad this is over. The missus has heard so much about your current kilometre pace and which socks you’re going to wear that she only has to look at you and starts glazing over. People dive for cover in the office in case you start to talk about your upcoming race. Don’t worry, it’ll all be over soon and you can bask in the glory of all the hard work you’ve done. At least for five minutes until you start scouring the internet for the next one!
25th August 2016 – Peaks and Barges
We’re now into the full swing of Project Trail training and any thoughts of easing into the latter half of the year with a couple of brisk country walks, rosy cheeks and warming cups of tea have rapidly vanished. It’s all about getting the hilly miles in, bleeping TomTom watches, and bleeping out my expletives when the going gets tough. I’m loving it, but three years ago if you have told me I’d be doing this I’d have blown the froth off my pint with laughter.
Last month I completed the Peak District Challenge (PDC) as part of a duo with Michelle Edye. We met at our local running club and soon found a combined passion for getting out there on the trails. When I found out that you could enter the PDC as a team, I instantly started crafting a cunning plan to persuade her to enter. As it turns out all I had to do was ask, and then spend some time convincing her that the 100K might be too far! It was a great run and ended up being 55K – the last 10K being in torrential rain, which definitely added to the drama. I think my brain stopped functioning properly towards the end – I tried to high-five Michelle to get the spirits up. We missed. Twice. Then we considered wading through a river to get back to the end quicker. Truly not thinking straight!
My furthest ever run and a great learning experience for long trail running. I’m also really loving the Columbia Montrail trail shoes as I got through the whole thing without a blister in sight!
In other news, completely un-planned, I won a race! I randomly entered Man v Barge, a quick jaunt over a hill (Marsden to Diggle) while a canal barge chugs through Standedge tunnel, the longest canal tunnel in the UK. Not only did I beat the barge but I beat everyone else in the five-mile race – even the barge looked surprised! This, followed by a beer on the canal path before noon and a chip butty, made for a brilliant day.
25th July 2016 – Reality Sinking In
The reality has now sunk in that I’m part of Project Trail and fully committed to running 50 miles. No matter which way I Iook at that number, it’s far. Converting to kilometres made it look worse, so instead I looked for some other measurements. I’m now considering it as a mere 16.67 leagues, or 16 leagues and a bit. No problem.
I ran my first marathon this year, two weeks after completing the 50K Canalathon, kind of in the “wrong” order, but I’ve tried to see each race as a stepping stone to the next. I already had a couple of long races planned in 2016: the Peak District Challenge (50K) and Man versus Mountain (Snowdon), but my brain is one step ahead of my physical ability so I already knew I wanted to go for a 50-miler in spring 2017. Then I saw the Project Trail competition and knew I wanted in – especially after seeing a picture of an ultramarathon aid station!
I can’t deny that I’m somewhat apprehensive about the distance of this run, as I know it’s an entirely different strategy to me turning up to a parkrun with a minor hangover and stumbling round the course. I’ll be on my feet for a long time so need to have both the physical and mental preparation in hand, this is why it’s so great to get a training plan devised by Robbie.
Previously I’ve prepared my own training routines based on things I’ve read in magazines or the internet, but to have a tailored plan to take into account my running experience and the races I have planned will be a huge benefit and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into it. The Wendover race looks a real challenge so I have no particular aims of finishing times – solid consistent laps without injury would be fantastic.
I’ve been asked the question, “Why do you run?” a lot and for me, while I did quite a bit of martial arts in my teens, most of my 20s and early 30s has been spent working, playing in bands and not being particularly active, other than various country walks or swimming now and again.
Since running, I’ve really noticed my fitness increased and I really enjoy the physical feeling of running (most of the time!). Especially when everything is working well, I feel strong and like I could keep going, although this feeling has been known to rapidly disappear!
Of course, the going will get tough but I’ll just repeat the mantra which has kept me going through quite a few tough moments – “the finish line doesn’t move, you do.”