Chiltern Wonderland 50 – Centurion Running

Centurion Running events have taken on iconic status in the Dawson household over the past few years.  Firstly, because the ultra pioneers in our club (Jan, Paul, Darren and Philippe to name just a few) had all completed a Centurion event and secondly, the South Downs Way 50 and 100 are run over the national trail that we love so much.

Nick has volunteered at the SDW 50 and 100 and we have supported, taken photos and crewed on the both events.

So, everything pointed towards doing the SDW50 and 100 in 2017.  However, the Chiltern Wonderland 50 popped up beforehand, with the chance of completing the inaugural event through some wonderful countryside.

Training had gone well.  A few marathons, including a back to back weekend and the stomach has been quiet for some time now.  In the run up to the race I wasn’t my usual ‘excited like a kid in a sweet shop’ self, which meant that I was sleeping better and eating well, which was all very positive.  The weather in the lead up to the race was incredible.  In the space of 3 days, we had gone from 35 degrees baking heat to flooding after torrential downpours.  Race day was perfect, much cooler, cloudy and only a little drizzle.

We stayed in Reading overnight at a Premier Inn to leave a 20 minute drive to the start.  Compulsory kit check, number collection and bag drop were quick.  We had time for a few last minute kit adjustments before the race brief and the short walk to the start.

My plan was to get to the half way check point (25.8 miles) in 5 hours and then do the second half in around 6 hours with 11 hours being the ultimate goal.  It’s pretty difficult to know exactly what to plan given that you don’t know the course and it was the inaugural event.

So, off we go.  The first 6km are mostly along the Thames and relatively flat.  The aim at this stage is to go as slow as I can.  It’s definitely a marathon (well nearly 2), not a sprint.


There are a few things that I am trying to put right with my game plan and one of them came up pretty early.  It was cool at the start, so I set off with a base layer on.  5 miles in, I was boiling.  I was faced with a decision.  Stop and take it off and lose 3 minutes or so, or wait until the first check point at 10 miles and get increasingly hot, sweat lots more and potentially cause issues later in the race.  It’s not rocket science, but previously I would have waited until the aid station.  These issues may seem minor, but getting over the hurdle of fixing a problem and forgetting about losing a bit of time is really important when you’re going to be on your feet for 11 hours + (or up to 30 hours on a 100 miler).  Similar issue to Nick refusing to stop to remove a stone from her shoe on the recent Lunar-tic marathon.  I did stop and remove the base layer.


The first hill comes at 6km.  It is about 700m long and is around 12%.  A little warm up for what lies ahead.  The bumps in the road continue, as does the beautiful countryside, including the lovely Crowsley Park and Pissen Wood.

I developed a problem early on in the race.  Much too early.  At around 10 miles I started to get cramps in my right calf.  I seldom cramp and I certainly don’t get cramps this early.  With 40 miles to go there were 2 really important things to do.  Firstly, don’t panic and let it worry me or get me down.  Secondly, deal with it and try to make it go away.  I stopped every 5 minutes or so to stretch it out and I kept up the intake of water, salt tablets and electrolytes.  This lasted for about 90 minutes, but it slowly eased.

The calf cramps were replaced with ‘washing machine stomach’.  It’s the only way to describe it.  Gurgling belly and increasingly worrying wind.  I was running and chatting with a young lady at the time.  I apologised to begin with, but then gave up on that, offering a blanket apology for my arse noises.

I knew that there were some serious hills in the middle of the race.  There were 5 really testing sections, 4 leading up to the aid station at half way and 1 afterwards.  Below are the profile maps.  There are 2, as I used 2 watches.


The first one is 2km long and the gradient between 5% and 15% through Warburg Nature Reserve.  The second one goes through Stonor Park for 2km with a total climb of more than 100m.  The third one is shorter at about 500m, but the gradient gets up to 25% at times to Cobstone Mill (location for filming for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1967).  The fourth one goes through Twigside Bottom and leads up to the aid station and is another 2km with gradients up around 14% towards the end.  The final hill of the 5 was another 100m climb.


The aid station at Ibstone was very welcome for 2 reasons.  First of all, it was just over half way.  The countdown had begun.  Secondly, the second half of the course was easier than the first half (easier not easy).


I reached the half way aid station at 5 hours 17 minutes.  That was 17 minutes slower than hoped, but good going, given the hills.

I ate well in the aid station, filled up with water and electrolyte tabs again and headed off uphill, through another wooded section before I had to quickly disappear into the woods and evacuate my ‘washing machine’ stomach.  I have never had this issue before.  Violent diarrhoea in the middle of nowhere is not funny.  But there we go, another thing successfully dealt with.  Onwards and upwards.

The second half of the race was easier, but certainly not easy.  There were several sections where up hills lead steeply into wooded areas, which became increasingly tough as the legs got more tired and the light began to fail.

Concentration levels had to increase as the conditions became more difficult.  There were sections with serious camber, steep down hills and one area that passed through a badger set with large and slightly hidden holes.  Towards the end, we ran through woods in the dark.  The head torch helped, but it is still tough to concentrate on the way ahead, flint on the floor, ruts/tree roots in the path and moveable objects like dead branches and brambles.

There were a lot more gradual down hills in the second half of the race.  They were very welcome as the body began to tire.   Slowly but surely, the miles were ticked off and we arrived back in Goring, where we had started.  With about half a mile to go, there were several groups of people cheering us on and the finish line was in sight.

I finished in 11 hours 15 minutes, so the second half was quicker than planned.  I was 15 minutes outside the A target time.  I don’t really care though.  This was a fantastic learning curve and a wonderful experience.


So, apart from being an experience in itself, the CW50 is part of the learning process, which will hopefully culminate in the SDW100 next year.  So, what did I learn?

Unexpected things can go wrong.  Early cramps and dodgy runny poo have never happened before, but I dealt with them and got on with it.  When you’re out for 11 to 30 hours, a lot can go wrong, but there is a lot of time for it to get better as well.  Don’t panic and deal with it logically.

I love jam sandwiches.  Well, I love jam sandwiches in the second half of a 50 mile race.  I will probably not touch them again until the next race, but it’s good to know.  Food is still an issue.  I was still eating well even at the last aid station.  However, who knows what’s going to happen from 50 to 100 miles.  Maybe jam (and peanut butter?) sandwiches are the way forward.

I certainly can pace properly.  I keep getting it right, which is the huge improvement that I have made this year.  I was pretty close to the target times for both halves of the race and I started off slowly.

Organising your kit makes things so much easier.  We bought some small waterproof bags.  I carried 2 with me on the race.  One kept my spare kit dry (jacket, change of top and spare socks) and the other had my medical supplies and food in.  I also had another which didn’t go with me on the race.  That had all health and sanitary products in that I didn’t need during the race.  This is a simple small win, but knowing where everything is means that you are more relaxed and you don’t forget anything important.


Centurion stage fantastic races.  There is a different feel to other trail races I have done recently, although having just done a relay carrying a squeaky rubber chicken, that’s not a surprise.  They are very professional and nothing is left to chance.  You can’t when people are out on course for so long.  The marking out on the course was perfect.  I got lost once and only lost about 5 minutes (don’t pay more attention to your mobile phone than the arrow signs).  If anyone is looking for a tough 50 mile trail event next year, you will not be disappointed if you have a go at this.

Finally, it has become even more evident that 100 miles is a very long way and we have a lot of work to do to get to the level required to complete that distance.  In the 24 hours after the race, both Nick and I expressed doubts about our ability to complete the SDW100.  I am sure that we are not alone in going through this immediately after a tough day on the trails.  However, that has now passed and the 9 month plan is now being written, races being booked and goals being set.

I would like to thank James and the Centurion Team for all of their hard work.  Everything was perfect.  My first Centurion event lived up to everything that I had hoped it would be.  Can’t wait for next year.  Special thanks to the young man at the final aid station for giving us all extra power with his sign.


Next is the Bovington Marathon with White Star Running in December (unless I can find another in the meantime).

Have fun, Neil.


13 The Hard Way and The East Farm Frolic

Another weekend of back to back races beckoned and something bad happened.

We had to say goodbye to Ernie.  He only came into our lives under a year ago.  We gave him food, warm shelter, a cushion and laps to sit and dribble on, regular brushes and all the love we could.  In return, he gave us love and lots of fun.

Making the decision that he was too ill to carry on was tough and having him peacefully die on my knee was equally as hard.

There’s a bit of a hole in our lives now.  Bye bye mate.


A weekend away was really what the doctor ordered.

We started with the inaugural 13 The Hard Way.  This is a trail half marathon organised by Sussex Trail Events (one of my 2 favourite race organisers) on our doorstep.


As you can see from the profile below, it’s pretty easy to guess where the name comes from.  This definitely rivals the 3 Forts Half for the crown of toughest half in the county.  104 metres of climb in the first kilometre.


After the first climb, it is up and down all the way to the 7km point along the wonderful South Downs Way.


Then it is downhill all the way to the turn around point, apart from a ‘little bump’ when you are almost at the turn around aid station.

The climb back out when you start to retrace your steps is brutal.  It is about 4km in total and really tough in the heat.

Even when you get back up on to the main wide area of the South Downs Way, you’re not out of the woods.  It’s still up and down all the way back to the steep final downhill section (which I walked).

As with all Sussex Trail Events races, this is welcoming, low key and a great way to spend the morning.  I know this part of the the SDW like the back of my hand, so nothing was a surprise.

I heard one lady saying that it was her first ever trail run.  She was either very brave or didn’t read the race description properly.

Burgess Hill Runners made up a considerable portion of the field, including a couple of first time half marathon runners.  It’s very impressive to take this one on for your first half marathon.



As soon as we finished, it was back home, quick shower and the surprisingly short drive over to Dorset for the 12 hour East Farm Frolic from White Star Running (the other of my favourite 2 race organisers), which was due to start at 8am the following day.

BHR had 5 teams of 4 plus a large amount of small people in tow.  We had a large group of campers and once set up, it was time to pop to the main race tent for some hydration.

The race was laps of 6km-ish and the idea was to do as many as you could in 12 hours as a team of 4, 3, 2 or as a solo runner.

The course was up and down, through some woods, over some fields, down some tracks, up some tracks and back to the start line.


With the usual sense of WSR fun, the baton was a squeaky rubber chicken, which had to be carried at all times.  And there was a chicken baton change over point.


I managed 6 laps, which was just over 37km.  Another lap would have made a marathon, but the exertions of the past few weeks, the beer from the night before and the temptation of clean clothes, a shower (the best portable shower in history), a beer and a chat got the better of me and I stopped.

I was lucky enough to do the last lap with Gary, one of the most improved runners in the club and a top chap.


The winner did 69 miles.  Amazing.  Almost as incredible is the medal.  Wow.

What summed up the weekend and really shows what White Star is all about was Monday morning and the Folic Chaos race.

We had never done a Chaos Race, as we have always left after the race.  The Chaos Race is a bit of fun for everyone over a short distance and any profits go to charity.  The proceeds of this race went to MNDA.  It is £6 to enter and the medal (yes, there’s a medal) was tremendous.

We gathered for a dance warm up, then we removed our shoes, put one in each of the large refuge sacks at the finish line and watched them disappear off up the hills where they were deposited on the floor in 2 different places.

The idea is that you run up the hill, find your shoes, run back down the hill and complete a 4km circuit, including a visit to the Love Station, before heading back to the start and collecting your lovely medal.


We walked a lot of it, nursing a bit of a hangover, and giving the kids a helping hand up the hills.  This was probably my favourite part of the weekend.  The kids got a chance to experience a race and an aid station and they got a great medal.


A huge thank you to Rob (at the Frolic) and Jon and John (at the Hard Half) for the great photos.  Thank you for Jay, Chris, Danny and Steve at STE and Andy & his team at WSR.  If Carling made weekends and all that.

Now for 3 weeks of taper before my biggest test so far, the Chiltern Wonderland 50.

Take care, Neil.