What food helped me get 2nd position in the Wendover Woods 50 mile race?
What kit did I use?
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Wendover Woods 50 Mile Race - An Overview
The Wendover Woods 50 miler is an ultra-race with 5 x 10 mile loops on forest trails.
The course is very enjoyable, yet challenging, with wide soft trails, smooth descents, runnable climbs and steep ascents.
There’s 3,050 metres of total climbing too.
Which is the equivalent of going up Mount Haleakala - the tallest island on the Hawaiian island of Maui!
The race also has lots of character.
There are sections of the course named The Snake, The Powerline Descent and you even get to see the Gruffalo!
Like all Centurion events, the organisation was superb.
And the volunteers were one of the highlights.
So, a huge thanks must go to James Elson, the other organisers, and every single supporter.
What Were My Goals?
I approached this race a lot differently to my other recent races.
I used it purely as a training run as part of my build up for my attempt at a world record in May 2019 - To run more than 800 miles in 9 days.
The main objective of the entire week was to achieve a high weekly mileage, with some big back-to-back days.
Because of this, I completely ignored my previous advice on how to taper for a race.
To do this, I did 40km (25 miles) of running on the Monday and 40km on the Tuesday. Even though the race was on the Saturday.
Note - Please don’t do this when preparing for your own races. This is absolutely NOT how you should treat races normally. But I was doing it for a very specific reason.
I did have a couple of days rest immediately before the race.
But my training plan also meant that I was going to do another 40km (25 miles) on the Sunday.
How Did I Prepare?
Because there wasn’t the pressure of needing to have a good performance, there wasn’t as much pressure in training either.
i’d only completed my last 100 miler a month before Wendover Woods 50 - The Autumn 100 Mile race, where I came first!
As ever, good organisation was at the heart of my preparation.
Having a rigorous checklist for the kit, nutrition and admin that I need to think about is one of the reasons I think I have performed so well recently.
And I split the checklist down for what’s needed before, during and after the race.
You can see what part of this looks like below
To help you plan your own races, I'm going to give you my checklist.
Simply click the button below to send me an email to get it.
How Did the Race Go?
The day started off very well.
I beat my alarm to wake up naturally at 4:55am.
Which is always preferable to being woken by the harsh buzz of an iPhone.
And then it was time for my low carb, delicious (but smelly) breakfast - tinned sardines and boiled eggs.
With a bit of Cajun spice thrown in for good measure!
The highlight of the journey to the race was when we were stopped at traffic lights at 6am and looked up to see a rave going on in a flat.
We had a short discussion about how tame it looked compared to the ones we’d had 10 years ago at university.
They didn’t even have whistles. Which are the sign of all good raves…
After gazing longingly up through the flat window for a few moments, we decided that we prefer to wake up at 6am to go and stand in a cold, wet field as part of a running race, rather than still being awake from
the night before...
Or at least that’s what I said.
I’m not sure Ben and Jack, my crew, agreed
After arriving at the destination, it was time to get checked in, get the bag prepped for the final time and then realise that I’d lost my whistle.
Which was a problem because the whistle is a mandatory piece of kit.
And if you have your bag inspected and you don’t have the mandatory kit, you get a 30 minute penalty.
The top 3 finishers always have their kit inspected.
And I thought I had a good chance of a top 3 finish.
So, it was time to start looking for a whistle…
The mobile Centurion running store didn’t sell them...
The organisers didn’t have a spare...
And there were no ravers up from the night before to lend me one...
Walking back to my drop bag in defeat, I succumbed to the fact that I’d have to take a 30 minute penalty if I finished in the top positions.
Or, I’d have to steal one off of a fellow runner’s backpack on the way round.
Luckily, someone overheard me begging the volunteers to give me a whistle.
And he proceeded to pull out about 3 or 4 from his own bag, and give me one of them.
I can only assume he thought he needed that many whistles because he was expecting to get VERY lost out on the course.
Or he knew that idiots like me would turn up without mandatory kit. And he was a kind chap.
Either way, it was an amazing slice of luck that he helped.
And yet again, I find myself in debt to someone who helped me out in one of these events.
So a huge thank you to ‘whistle man’!
And before I go on...
... Yes I do appreciate the irony that I offer you my pre-race checklist to help you get organised...
… And then have basic fuck-ups like forgetting a mandatory piece of kit!
But the checklist wasn’t the problem in this situation.
It was the human operating the checklist (me) that was the problem!
So here’s another chance to get your copy of the FREE pre-race checklist.
After a quick photo with my two support crew, where I had the opportunity to show off my legs in incredibly short shorts, it was time to get started.
It was the standard start to race, where everybody goes off far too quickly.
But halfway around the first lap it was myself and Stuart Leaney, last year’s winner and course record holder, who found ourselves ahead of everyone else.
On the first lap, we had a short, polite ‘battle of the running CV’.
This is where you ask questions about the other person’s running history… To see if you have a chance of beating them or not.
Or maybe that’s only me who does that...
Anyway, it became very clear, very quickly that Stuart was a few levels above me, for a number of reasons:
He has run in multiple mountain races in Europe vs my training along the flat River Thames. Which is much better preparation for the very steep ascents in Wendover Woods
He has a marathon PB of 2:27 vs my 2:30
And he beat a Kenyan runner in last year’s race!
By the end of the first lap he’d opened up a lead of about 30 seconds.
And that was the last I’d see of him.
It was great to meet my crew at the end of the first 10 mile loop.
Ben and Jack came along because they are going to be two of my support team during my world record challenge next year.
So it was a great chance for them to practice supporting me by providing food, drink, kit and emotional support.
Although it probably wasn’t the best idea to make Jack responsible for my food...
When the food I mainly use is mixed nuts and raisins...
... and Jack has a severe peanut allergy.
Anyway, I set off on my second loop…
I was probably worrying too much about whether I’d come in on my second lap and see Jack with a red face and convulsing after touching my nuts...
... Because I took a wrong turn, which cost me about 2 minutes.
And then subsequently slipped over on a particularly muddy part of the course.
Luckily no damage was done. And I was off again.
Laps 3 and 4 were uneventful, until the start of the fifth and final lap, where I forgot to take my backup head torch with me.
This would have resulted in a 30 second time penalty.
Luckily, Jack spotted my error and Ben chased me down after the checkpoint to give it to me.
So off I went on the fifth, and final, loop.
The previous 4 laps had been spent wondering whether there was any possibility I would catch Stuart.
It was obvious that I wasn’t going to catch him with my own skill and running ability.
So the only way it was going to happen was if something unfortunate happened to him...
Like taking a wrong turn
Or getting eaten by the Gruffalo
These vague hopes meant that I kept up a decent pace for the first 4 laps.
But at the end of the fourth I was told that I was 16 minutes behind him.
And 15 minutes in front of 3rd.
So with a new found acceptance that I wasn’t going to catch him, I decided to use my ‘trigger word’ for the race - which was ‘tomorrow’.
I’d chosen ‘tomorrow’ as my trigger word because the main objective of the weekend was completing big back-to-back training runs.
And I was planning to do a 25 mile run on Sunday.
Using my trigger word at the start of lap 5, when I knew I had limited chances of winning, but a good chance of maintaining 2nd, meant that I took the last lap easier and focused on not injuring myself.
It was a choice to take the last lap easily.
Even though the official race review stated that I really struggled on the last lap.
Not that I have a bruised ego or anything! :-)
The last leg did include one of the most satisfying parts of the race...
As I was lapping someone, and trying to give words of encouragement to ‘keep moving, you’re looking strong’, the person shouted back...
“Are you the guy who won the Autumn 100?”
I sheepishly replied that I was, and then they shouted…
This was one of the best parts of the race so far.
And it proves what I’ve known for a long time...
There’s at least one person that likes my blog!!!
Or maybe they had forgotten a whistle…
And they were only giving me that compliment to make me stop… And then ambush me for it.
That’s a good technique I’ll remember for my next race!
After that unbelievable high point, the race was over.
I came in 2nd with a time of 7 hours 54 minutes.
After the mandatory kit check (where I had everything, including a whistle!) it was off home, with my amazing crew.
A 220km (137 mile) Week
The next morning I was awake at 4:45am to set off to complete a 25 mile run.
Despite a bit of soreness, I completed a marathon, without any food or water, in about 4 hours 10 minutes.
Which included a negative split!
And this capped off a very satisfying week of running 220km (137 miles).
Which was yet another great step on my journey to attempt to break a world record by running 800 miles in 9 days.
Follow My Attempt to Break A World Record
I’d love for you to follow me on my journey.
So if you want to stay up to date with my progress.
Or if you just want to get hints and tips to help you achieve your own goals.
Then sign up with your email address, using the form below.
You’ll even get a FREE training plan template that will help save you time, money and effort when creating your own plans.
Plus, you can follow me on social media and on Strava
My Key Race Stats
Overall Distance - 82.8km (51.4 miles)
Overall Time - 7 hours, 53 minutes, 53 seconds
Average Speed - 10.5 kilometres per hour (6.5 miles per hour)
Average Pace - 5 minutes, 43 seconds per kilometre (9 minutes, 13 seconds per mile)
Calories Burnt - 5,944
Calories Eaten - 5,775
Number of Farts - infinite
Number of Baby Food Pouches Eaten - 0
Number of ‘Thanks’ Given to Volunteers - not enough
What Tips Do I Have to Help You Prepare for An Ultra?
1) GET A DEDICATED SUPPORT TEAM
Yet again it was obvious what a huge difference a strong support team makes.
Catherine (my wife), Rosie and Lottie (my daughters), were my number one supporters throughout the entire build up to the race.
Their dedication and sacrifice mean that I’m able to train and attempt the world record in the first place.
And I’ll be forever thankful for their support.
Despite them not being there during the race itself, I always felt their presence with me.
Ben Cooper and Jack Donaldson were amazing support during the race itself. They’re two of my best friends and will be crewing me during my 9 day challenge in may 2019.
It was fantastic to have them there experiencing this type of atmosphere for the first time.
Their selflessness is also something I’ll never be able to pay back (although I promise I’ll try!).
And a big shout out to Jamie Riddett.
Jamie is going to be the third member of my support team. And would have been at Wendover Woods.
But he became an uncle shortly before the race, so he had to change his plans at the last minute.
And yet again, my sports psychologist, Evie Serventi, sacrificed part of her weekend to come and support. Along with her husband, Grant.
So, another huge thank you to them!
2) Get the Right Kit
Here are some recommendations that I personally use and that have improved my performance.
Please note that if you buy anything using these links I will make a tiny amount of money. But it will not cost you any more than usual. For a full explanation of how I use affiliate links, please click here.
Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Running Vest 3.0 - This bag is lightweight, but has a huge amount of storage for all your race gear. There are some really accessible pockets for getting stuff whilst on the move. And it’s really, really comfortable.
Petzl NAO Headtorch - It’s definitely worth investing in a good head torch, rather than going for the cheapest one possible. I’ve switched to the Petzl Nao headtorch recently and it gives you a very strong beam of light, which means you’re much more confident when running in the dark.
Saucony Peregrine Trail Shoes - These are my trail shoes. They are lightweight, yet have great grip for some of the muddier, tougher trails.
SuuntoAmbit 3 Run Watch - I’ve had this watch for more than 5 years and I love it. It’s got all the key features you’ll want for an ultra race. Very long battery life, an easy-to-use interface and it’s superb value. It’s so good that I recently purchased another one as a backup for the longer distance races I take part in.
Plantronics Backbeat Bluetooth Earphones - I’ve tried a lot of headphones for running. And these are by far the best that I’ve ever had. They’re perfect if you don't want the hassle and annoyance of wires. They're a great fit and stay in place even when working out at higher intensities. Plus, they are really great value.
3) Get the Right Nutrition
The right nutrition is also vitally important.
I primarily used mixed nuts and raisins for the Wendover Woods 50 mile race. They give you lots of calories and generally don’t upset your stomach like other foods.
Plus, they are what is available at aid stations at Centurion events.
But I also have a couple of other secret weapons for nutrition
Pip And Nut Nut Butter Sachets - These are a great alternative to gels and come in a variety of very tasty flavours
High 5 Electrolyte Tablets - A great addition to your water bottle to ensure your electrolytes stay topped up
4) Plan A, B and C Races
The fact that Wendover Woods wasn’t my ‘A’ race, or even my ‘B’ race, made me a lot more relaxed in the build up.
And it meant that I had different expectations for the event.
This is really important for when you have a big, ambitious goal, which you build up to for a long time - Your ‘A’ race.
Less important races are great opportunities to practise your nutrition, logistics and race strategy when the outcome doesn’t matter as much.
For advice on how to plan A, B and C races, read this article on How to Create Your Own Training Plan.
What’s Up Next?
The next few weeks are going to include a lot of big back-to-back training days as I ramp up the mileage significantly before Christmas.
My coach, ultra-legend Mimi Anderson, has set some huge weeks for me.
Including one week of more than 250km (155 miles)!
You can follow my training on Strava and on social media.
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What Should You Read Next?
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Read about my 1st place at the Autumn 100 mile race, including how I prepared. And grab yourself a FREE pre-race checklist