I’ve never sworn as much during a race as I did in this one. Not even close.
I used to work in a builders’ merchants many years ago, so I can swear with the best of them. I learned from some masters of the genre. Three years working there gave me a serious expert-level education in swearing – both in creativity and sheer volume. I was bringing all my considerable swearing skills to the party here, as I went up steep ascents, jumped over tree roots and tried to stay upright on some pretty skiddy descents.
And don’t get me started on the names for the various segments dotted around the course. Names like ‘Gnarking Around’, ‘The Snake’ and ‘The Boulevard of Broken Dreams’. Every single one of these names became more and more debased in my head as the race wore on and I came across each of these sections again. And again. And again. I even managed to get the Green Day song out of my head for a few minutes at one stage. Not for too long though.
But how had it come to this? This wasn’t meant to happen. I’d had a fantastic year. I’d smashed my 100 mile PB earlier in the year, I’d run the Beachy Head marathon a few weeks beforehand in a time I couldn’t have dreamed of before the start. I’d even taken 18 seconds off my 5K PB the week before WW50. I was in great shape. I’d trained really hard for this but here I was, struggling to run a pace I should have been able to run easily and muttering profanities about tree roots.
It just wasn’t my day. Some days your legs feel great and you cruise along effortlessly and other days they feel like crap and it’s a complete slog. I’d had a few of the former this year and today was obviously one of the latter. I’d had an incredibly stressful (non-running related) build up the race and I thought I could simply shrug that off and go out and run the race that I wanted to. Apparently I couldn’t.
The race itself and the course are fabulous. Five laps, each ten miles in length, of a circuit round Wendover Woods. The course looks very odd on a map and I’ve been struggling ever seen I first saw it to understand what it reminds me of. There’s definitely a face in there somewhere and possibly a hat, but if anyone has any ideas I’d love to know as it’s been bugging me for ages.
As ever with Centurion events, it was impeccably organised, the course was superbly marked and the volunteers were fabulous. The encouragement they gave at every stage of the race made such a massive difference. They make it possible for the runners to go out and do these daft things (don’t try and tell me that running fifty miles round a wood in November is sensible) and without them we wouldn’t have this wonderful sport.
Last year was the first year of this event and I’d heard a few horror stories about the course, but I’d recce’d it in advance of the race and it was far more runnable than I expected. There were a few ridiculously steep climbs and a few rather interesting descents, but on the whole the course felt pretty runnable in large sections.
So my race started out with high hopes, catching up with people and a level of confidence. My drop bag contained enough Mountain Dew and sugary food to put mere mortals into a sugar-related coma for several days (or to get a party of children so high that you would have to scrape them off the ceiling).
Very quickly I began to realise that while the mind was willing, the legs really weren’t. My brain was all set to run 50 hilly miles at a good speed. My legs on the other hand would have much preferred a nice sit down in a comfy chair. There was only ever going to be one winner.
I managed the first lap at a reasonable pace, but I was working far too hard. Lap two was when things started to go south, with a steady drop off through laps two and three.
The wheels had well and truly fallen off by lap four and the industrial level profanity was in full flow by then. I really must mention that I was swearing at the course, the universe but most of all myself and in particular my quads and calves and their complete lack of any power or interest in proceedings. I was still doing my absolute best to be polite and pleasant to everyone else I met along the way as it certainly wasn’t their fault that I was having a horror story of a race.
Lap five was darker, slower and swearier. The climbs were steeper, the descents were harder and the tree roots had grown to truly epic proportions. Several that I had skipped over on earlier laps had mysteriously increased in size in the dark, to the point that I needed a leg up and a rope to get over them. And don’t get me started on my final ascents of The Snake, Gnarking Around and Railing Back The Years. I suspect the nightmares and cold sweats will stop eventually.
I will be definitely be filing this race under ‘that didn’t go very well’ in my list of races, but that was just the way that it went for me on the day. The course is superb and the race really does give you the best of British trail running at this time of year, even if I couldn’t get the Blair Witch Project out of my head during the last lap in the dark.
I’m not sure I have ever been as relieved in my life to see a finish line as I was that day, even though I was trying to embrace the suck on the last lap. I’m not sure who said that a bit of suffering never hurt anybody, but I’m not entirely sure I agree with them. Life would be kind of boring though if every time you stood on the start line of an ultra you knew that your day would go really well. Part of the joy of these races is their unpredictability – you can train all you like but fifty miles is an awful long way and a race can go south pretty quickly.
So I’m proud of this result. It’s good for the soul to grind out a finish from time to time, so my should must be in particularly good shape at the moment. It’s taken four days for my legs to stop hating me but I’m sure they will forgive and forget eventually….