The Country to Capital 45 mile #ultramarathon started at Wendover, Buckinghamshire at a local pub called the Shoulder of Mutton.
Stepping out from our lodgings into a cold, wet and windy day we carried our bags the half mile to register. The village was still asleep as we trudged through the wet streets parts still covered in ice and melting snow to spy a bunch of other runners walking slowly to the pub. Inside the pub was a different story with the humdrum sound of conversation and laughter, pub staff walking around with trays piled high to the ceiling with bacon wrapped in freshly warmed bread. Here we met old ultra friends, Rob, his girlfriend Susan, world champion Lee, David from London to Brighton in September and who was to run with George and I for the race that day. As we were already kitted up it was a matter of registering getting our kit on the van and joining in the banter.
At 8.20 am the briefing commenced telling us of hazards, route changes and what to do in an emergency and with the traditional last question "Why are we doing this?" we were told "Because you are superbly trained athletes" we were ushered outside to concentrate on keeping warm and nursing our Garmins.
"...3, 2, 1" and we were off running down the High Street to the bewilderment of the market stallholders setting up for the day as 90-100 runners hurtled past. Winding our way out of Wendover along the icy back paths of the village around the church and then down towards Great Ash and Great Missenden. George and I were joined by David (London to Brighton Vet) and Rob a pal we had met up on a couple of occasions at the Doyen of the Downs. The first few miles were filled with joking, mild mickey taking and laughter as we settled into the run. The weather was atrocious with a wet clawing rain that was soon to see our maps disintegrate and non-designated map readers putting them into the bags to stay dry.
The difficulty with the first few miles on this type of run is the number of runners and the differing opinions of route to take. For every 10 runners there will be 3 map readers and mistakes happen such that you doubt your own decisions and I have to admit at one point we made that mistake!
As we approached mile 4.5 miles we soon found a few of us stopped staring at our bedraggled maps scratching our heads. It soon came apparent that we were in Ballinger Common and had missed our turn by about 200 metres! One runner, Tom, made a call.....a BIG call and told us to turn east down a side road, we then ducked down a path way and then found ourselves back on the main bridle path....genius call and we were back on track.
To Check Point 1 (Chesham)
The run continued and the field thinned out and we kept a consistent pace sensibly walking the rain soaked woodland uphill trails and running the downland tracks opening into fields. We took joy in seeing our buddies disappearing into the distance...the wrong way as they missed a turning but then join us again when they saw us crossing the field to their left, I think we had made up a deficit of 200 metres but it still felt good :-)
After that we clambered up a icy precarious rise, along a muddy wood section and then a lovely down hill section to check point 1 where we were greeted with the most scrumptious fruit cake, Jelly Babies and a bottle of water. Rob's girlfriend took some picks, more banter from the other runners and we left.
Time to consolidate
Again we saw runners disappear in the wrong direction straight from check point 1 and others appearing from completely wrong directions. It was madness but we have enough experience now to ignore those around you and traipsed off to make our own mistakes!
The weather was getting better but the maps had had a battering by now and it seemed they wanted to run on road when in fact it should have been trail (that would have led us on the right route) and yet again we found a gaggle of runners I got fed up and just made a decision to and get on the right side of a river and then to navigate off the features to get on track towards Latimer and then break away. It was around this time that David took a bit of a tumble on a muddy path, not normally a problem but on these long runs can cause issues. I have to admit David did look a bit shocked by the stumble but he is a tough little number and continued on, I think we had counted by now that Rob had changed his clothing combination about 5 times much to our hilarity and he is now called WardRob due to sartorial fortitude. I took great joy in shouting "Between mile 5 and 10 I shall be wearing lime green to match my shoes"
The snow still fell quite deep on the ground and was thawing fast with melt water flowing freely off the fields, over the fields our feet were frozen but soon warmed up on the wood trails and road, I was thankful that I had greased my feet in the morning and as we approached check point 2 at Buckinghamshire New University we were met by a flooded road that was covered in melt water for a stretch of about 200 metres. On the first puddle we navigated around it but I found it more dangerous to do so than just run through the second section, after all I was already wet!
Check point 2
This check point was really welcome and was at about mile 17, more fruit cake and water. My cough had begun telling me I needed salts and water so used by water ration to add a Nuun tablet. Rob make another sartorial change, this time a lovely pair of silver and orange running shoes to offset his lovely orange "3 hour" top, George a fresh pair of gloves and myself chatting up the CP staff for a new map. David was having a few problems physically but he was toughing it out, after all we were coming up to mile 18, wall country!
To me the next stage was a really big psychological one, the M25 ring road was within earshot and also we were within a stones throw of the Grand Union Canal
The Grand Union Canal
It was mile 23 and spirits were still high, David was fully recovered from his bad patch, George had controlled us well keep our reins in, Rob was chantering on the bit and I was feeling a little worried about the next 22 or so miles. Navigation had gone well and now it was a matter of solid running. I think it was the flatness of the run that worried me as we were now using totally different muscles on already tired legs.
There is not much to say about the next 23 miles but during this time we agreed that Rob go on ahead as he is much trimmer and pacy compared to our persistent style of running. The GUC once the pride of Victorian Britain, a main arterial route between Birmingham and London, is now a sad waterway filled with litter and shopping trolleys and a mish mash of hippies living in run down long boats. Proud wharfs now replaced by new housing association blocks and gas stands, now worn out monoliths on the horizon.
With that we as a group were fine, there was no need for map reading, the map was now just a guide as to distance between check points and it was a matter of digging deep and working against our personal demons and dig in.
At Mile 32 we finally came to Bulls Bridge the only turning we had to make at the canal, signs saying 13.5 miles to go. It was hear that our mood went up again as we realised we were only about 2 hours to the end and that there were no doubts in our resolve. Revitalised we ran onwards and saw another runner ahead, we were making headway and were feeling good. Around this time we agreed as a group to go for a run/walk strategy as the flat canal terrain was paying toll on us downland runners, a strategy that proved to work well, pick a distant target, run to it and then walk for a few minutes and repeat. We soon found this technique to really eat up the miles, checkpoints came and went. I had my own bad patch when I found myself getting really light headed and so had a peperami...boy did that little sucker work and with the addition of a carb gel was ready to plod forward.
The dusk began to fall and the headtorches were pulled up and switched on. The canal path now became a world of surrealness, animals scattered, cyclists came whizzing down the course and lone walkers scurried about their business no doubt spooked by the arrival of 3 runners passing them silently.
We thought we were running really fast when a runner came past and had a chat, encouraged us and then sauntered off at what I assume (and hope) is my normal training pace!
The last Mile
We were seeing the signs on the path junctions, Paddington 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles... and as we saw each one our hearts rose and we felt new vigour in our stride. Then I saw a lone figure, Joao (pronounced Jogo) a fellow competitor he shouted "Not far guys it is around the corner" David called back "We have 4 minutes guys we can't do it" I shouted "well we can bloody try" and we "sprinted" off to Little Venice, bridge in sight shouting ahead for walkers to move aside. David was shouting "45 seconds" again the bit between our teeth we belted around under the bridge to a finish line.....the clock 8:59:58.....we had beaten our 9 hour target by 2 seconds, a dip finish on a 45 mile run......BRILLIANT
A great days run, a run of two halfs, the beginning and the end. I loved it. Thanks to George, David and Rob you were great.