Wendover Woods, home of the Gruffalo and location of climbs that are so notorious they actually have names… Gnarking around, The Snake, Railing in the years and several others awaited a small band of intrepid runners who attempted to survive the WW100…
It had been requested by the Centurion Running Community, and there had been rumours it could happen during 2019 but no one thought anyone would be stupid enough to actually attempt such a brute of a race. However now a small band of special lunatics gathered in the Trig point field listening to James Elson giving a relaxed race briefing about running round this 10 mile loop 10 times…
100 miles and over 6100m of elevation awaited all the participants (which is more climb than Mt Kilimiinjaro, and I stood on the start line chatting to Stuart Leaney who had been training in the Alps.. ‘that’ll make these hills look small’ I quipped, ‘ahh I train in the Mendips all the time (near Cheddar Gorge) so I’m used to this’ replied Stu…’great.. I live in Bedford and train on the one 30m hill we have!!’ No wonder Mr Leaney is considered the King of Wendover and he’s not too shabby over the North Downs Way course either! It would take a monumental effort to keep up with him.
This was going to be the hardest 100 mile race I had ever attempted, and with both the TP and SDW in my legs it was always going to be a huge challenge. I was determined to get this done though and settled into an easy’ish first lap with Stu. The man who was the brainchild of the route Drew Sheffield kept popping up in the early miles which was a nice bonus and his mum Liz was also a wonderful cheerleader throughout the day. In a race as tough as this it was always going to be important to have a strategy and from the off I hiked the climbs.. I needed to save the legs for the later laps, and there was no point destroying myself early.
As Stu and I hiked Gnarking for the first time, James Elson was there shouting words of encouragement… including ‘this is supposed to be a running race!’. Thanks James!! Even hiking those climbs we still finished the first lap in around 1:35 and as I crossed the timing mat in the lead Nici shouted I had won her a cup of tea of coffee… not sure what that was about, however there may have been some beverage betting taking place amongst the centurion crew who as always were superstars throughout the day.
On lap 2 Stu obviously decided he’d had enough of chatting to me and started to pull away. We were relatively close until the Hale Lane aid station when he eased away from me up the hill and as he disappeared down the boulevard of broken dreams, I hoped that I would see him again later (I didn’t!!). I was still moving well though and reached the trig point in just under 3:15…
Lap 3 and it was starting to get very warm, the humidity in the woods was an added challenge and I was relieved every time the breeze picked up. This was also a lonely lap and I didn’t see anyone until I reached the aid station. I then caught another intrepid adventurer who was on their second lap at the beginning of the boulevard. We exchanged words of encouragement and then I headed off down the hill.
As I reached Gnarking for the third time, I began to realise that I was actually woefully under-prepared for a race of this magnitude. Anyone who follows my training on Fetch will have seen that I spent a lot of time at Wendover two weeks ago, however one week of training was never going to suffice for this challenge and it was starting to show…. I mean whose crazy idea was it to attempt 10 laps of this thing?? Oh yes.. that would be mine.. so just shut up and keep plugging away Ian…
Just before the trig point I caught another 3 runners including Zoe Norman who was chatting away happily with her fellow nutters!! I told them they were having far too much fun as I clambered over the stile and into the field. Yes that’s right not only is the lap brutal but you then have to climb a stile at the end of it… that was going to be fun later!! Time on the clock was now 5:02 and in comparison to the 50k race that took place later that evening, that wasn’t too shabby… I had also taken to asking the guys at the aid station to tip water all over my head to cool off… the first time the volunteer was a bit tentative until Nici told them to just ‘dump it’ on me… then they had the hang of it!!! many thanks to whoever it was who had the honour of dousing me!!!
Lap 4 was less lonely as I seemed to catch a lot of runners, Papa Hammett had even arrived and was waiting with Victoria to cheer me on as I climbed to the top of Go Ape. It’s always such a boost to have people along the route of any race and this was no different. The joints were now starting to hurt a bit as the ground was so hard.. I had opted for my La Sportiva Bushido’s and although they were protecting my feet, the ankles and knees were feeling the impact. Apparently I wasn’t the only one finding the hard ground a challenge. Lap 4 done in just over 7:03.
40 – 50 miles is usually when I have a dark patch on an ultra just before I link up with a pacer… this time though there were to be no pacers at 50 miles. It was going to be a solo effort. I felt fine about that though and just kept plugging away.. hiking the climbs, and running when I could. Reaching the top of Go Ape, I had a nice surprise as Heidi (VLT’s daughter) had come along to cheer me on and it was much appreciated. In fact it lifted the spirits so much that I really felt good for the rest of that lap, jogging some of the inclines and running hard on the flat/downhill parts completing the first 50 miles in a little over 9 hours. Vicky had also promised me an ice lolly at the end of lap 5 and she delivered… my god an orange calippo has never tasted so good.. I downed it so quickly that I got brain freeze!!
Despite the calippo Lap 6 and 7 were really tough and for most of them I just wanted to quit. There were broken runners throughout the lap and my body was sore. My right shin was aching on the downhills and my IT Bands were starting to feel the relentless nature of the course. Going up Gnarking for a 6th time, I didn’t fancy doing it another 4 times… Dad was even filming at the top of it… and I don’t think I thanked him for filming me during what felt like my worst patch of the race… I then caught Birthday boy Paul McCleery on the climb to the trig point and then briefly let him un-lap himself as we started the next lap whilst he ate a cheese and onion pasty!! Well it was his birthday after all!! At the end of the lap 6, James Craig Simpson put in an appearance and it was a boost to see him. He helped Victoria kick me up the ass and get me out on lap 7 and also offered to pay my dad a bribe so he posted the gnarking video on FB…. The clock had ticked past eleven and a half hours now and we were heading towards darkness…
At the end of lap 7 (13:46) some of the 50km runners had arrived.. Paul Russhard gave me a fist bump, and my friends from Bedford Chris and Carmelo came over as I got myself sorted. I changed top, took on some food, and complained a lot. I’m not sure anyone was really listening, but it made me feel better!! knowing that the Petzl head-torch race was starting in 75 minutes, the competitive nature kicked in… I didn’t want to be caught too early by the speedsters at the front and now the temperature had dropped I really put a shift in at the start of lap 8.
I had come through my bad patch and was now feeling great.. yes the legs were sore, but nothing unusual about that. The minty leg rub and lucozade sport had done their trick and I was moving well. I was also loving running with the headtorch as it made me feel like I was on a different course. The woods are a different place at night and as I was still catching and lapping people it made it more interesting. I caught Mari Mauland in the gully before the Power Lines and we had a quick chat, it was the first time I had seen her since 8 am, and she was once again showing what a tough lady she is, toughing it out to another great ultra finish.
I reached to top of the Go Ape climb pretty quickly compared to my previous laps and wondered if Victoria and Dad would be there. I didn’t need to worry, they were there, but they were surprised to see me so quickly.. I asked for Lucozade and Leg rub when I next reached the trig point as it had seemed to work a treat at the start of lap 8…
Things were going well and then on the descent towards Gnarking I felt a sharp pain in my shin. All of a sudden about two inches above the ankle it was like someone was stabbing a hot poker into the shin bone. I slowed right down, got Gnarking out the way and the started up ‘railing in the years’…. Damn it I thought, on laps 6 and 7 I was looking for any excuse to quit and now at the end of lap 8 and with that buckle within reach it was the last thing that I wanted… I hoped that it was just a ‘niggle’.
As I came into the trig point field in a very comfortable 2nd place the clock ticked round to 15:47.. not bad for 80 miles and still on course for a 20hr finish…
I did though raise my concerns with VLT and Dad…. ‘If I go on I’m not sure I’ll be able to do NDW!!! what shall I do??’, experienced ultra runner that she is, VLT said ‘you’ll be fine.. ‘ and just sort of dismissed the statement… ‘No, I’m serious’, I’m in real pain..’ I repeated and she realised I wasn’t sandbagging…. ‘which is more important? finishing WW100 or doing the 100 Grand Slam??’ she asked.. The answer was simple.. I wanted that rare buckle, but as I limped away from the car we all thought another 2 laps was going to be a big ask.
We needed to not make a snap decision, I had to give it a go. After all this was a one off event and I wanted that sub 24hr, 100 miles in a day WW buckle. I knew that VLT and Dad would be at Go Ape if I needed to stop, but I hoped this wouldn’t happen.. c’mon Hammy, toughen up and get this done! Surely I could gently jog round and finish this off…
The leg was now hurting a lot on the flat and going up hill, but the real issue was any slight decline. Going down the Power lines descent for the 9th time was excruciating.. and by the time I was descending towards the bottom of the Go Ape climb I was actually yelping in pain.. I just couldn’t face making my way down the boulevard of broken dreams to the bottom of the snake and then on to Gnarking so as I climbed up the Go ape climb I knew that I was going to have to call it a day.
I couldn’t risk doing serious damage to the leg if I was going to have any chance of making the start line of the NDW100 in 3 weeks. I also had Spartathlon to think about. VLT could see the pain I was in and gave me a hug, before sitting me down on the bench and quizzing me ‘as to whether I could go on?!’ she wanted to make sure I wouldn’t regret my decision and she was checking that I wasn’t just having a paddy and trying to find an excuse to quit… Dad decided to play the role of medical examiner and pressed on my shin… It hurt so much that I almost leapt up on to one of the high wires in the Go Ape enclosure!!
If I could of carried on then I would have… I wanted that buckle badly and if I could of walked it in then I would of done but the downhills were doing severe damage to my leg/foot. So I made that phonecall to Race HQ and pulled myself from the race. It was a really difficult decision, but it was the right one and this was underlined by my struggle to walk back to the trig point field.
We were all disappointed and part of me felt like I had let everyone down. Victoria had been an absolute superstar crewing me all day, feeding me and giving me salt tablets at the end of each lap, as well as kicking my ass and ensuring I started the next lap without faffing… She would then make her way to the top of the Go Ape climb to cheer me on every lap. Dad once again had also been a legend.. travelling from Hereford with the intention of staying there until the bitter end, which at that point had looked like being 4:00 am…. He filmed, took pictures and encouraged me, but also played a big part in helping me make the right decision when I was hurt.. I can’t thank either of them enough for their help.
left: back at the hotel at 3:30am.. right: the next afternoon (right decision made)
The biggest disappointment though was that I didn’t get to wear my awesome new centurion hat for any official race photo’s. The wonderful hat was the creation of the amazingly talented Nici Griffin and it will now be a permanent feature at all future centurion races… all orders can be made through the Beanie boat… search for it on Facebook or get in touch with me for more details…..
Sometimes we have to just roll with the punches and realise that it just isn’t meant to be.. People said that I must be superhuman to attempt 5 x 100 miles races in a year, well if that is the case then Wendover Woods 100 turned out to be my kryptonite.
Congratulations to all those brave enough to even make the start line, and massive kudos to those legends who finished, you are all superstars… as for me, I live to fight another day and now I have to focus on rest and recovery as I try to do everything I can to make the start line for NDW100 in a little under 3 weeks…. #prayforhammy #thegrandslamisstillalive