The first 50 mile race of the 2020 season took place this past weekend, with 224 runners starting the fifth edition of the Chiltern Wonderland 50.
The course is a 50 mile loop route through the Chiltern Hills, starting and finishing in Goring on Thames and in the perfect conditions we were gifted, offered the runners a chance to really enjoy the day.
Lining up amongst the 224 starters were four previous Centurion event winners. Two time CW50 mens champion and course record holder Jon Ellis (also the Grand Slam record holder), 2019 mens champion Ed Knudsen and in the womens race 2018 Grand Slam and Autumn 100 Champion Laura Swanton and 2012 NDW100 Champion, Alice Hector.
It would prove to be those four athletes who dominated the mens and womens races respectively.
The time trial style start over a 2 hour window was again in place here as we continue to ask runners to spread themselves out based on projected finish times. Ed Knudsen went off early for the men and with Jon starting slightly later due to parking issues it really did have a time trial style feel to it. Jon had a clear plan to simply go for it from the start and shoot for the stars and post a finish time better than his 2016 mark, whereas Ed seemed to be focused more on the race itself. Jon blew through check point 1 and the 10 mile mark in sub 6:30 pace which given the climbs and gates already endured by that stage was a real statement. Ed however was through in 1:10 himself so was certainly not looking to sit back. Over the coming miles, Jon bridged the literal gap back to Ed in real time, but on live times with his later start was starting to build a margin on him. The two linked up briefly before Jon forged on slightly and dug in deep to try and run the circa 6 hour dream time he had in his head. In the end the final stages would prove to be his undoing with regards to that goal, but he was able to hold it together enough to break his course record with a 6:22 final time.
Jon Ellis on route to a new Course Record
Ed was just marginally behind Jon's splits over each section but ran an extremely solid race across the board, to come home second in 6:42. Third place went to Matthew Brown who ran a smart race to move from fifth at Check Point one, into third at the half way point and held it there until the end for a finish time of 7:21.
Ed Knudsen ran really well for second place, after his win last year.
In the womens race, things were extremely close right from the get go. Laura Swanton and Alice Hector were out to race hard in a similar to vein to the Jon vs Ed battle in the mens race. Alice left slightly before Laura, so whilst 13 minutes or so in real time apart at check point one, they were in fact through there within just 16 seconds of one anothers splits. By Mile 17 Bix, Alice held a two minute advantage, but as the hillier middle third of the course kicked in, Laura pulled some time back and at the marathon mark had forged into a two minute lead. That gap grew substantially beween Ibstone and Swyncombe check points as Laura emerged there with a 16 minute advantage. Laura is so strong on the climbs and Alice seemed to be suffering with issues that could possibly derail her completely. But Alice is a seasoned endurance athlete and rallied to finish with the fastest closing 9 mile split of the entire race, male or female. It was impressive to see and whilst ultimately she fell 9 minutes shy of Laura's winning time it made it a very exicting finish to a superb head to head. Both went under the old course record and Laura's winning time of 7:37 establishes a significant 21 minute improvement on the mark to beat.
Third place went to Clare Hanson who ran in third place from the CP2 onwards and fnished in a very solid time of 8:13. Charley Jennings one of our most consistent 50 mile performers of recent years, took fourth in 8:27.
Laura Swanton returned to winning ways
Alice Hector was the fastest runner in the field over the final section of the course
The race saw a superb 93% finish rate this year, the highest we have yet had at this event and vying with one or two others for a record finish percentage.
In the Age Group categories, MV40 went to Matthew Brown who was third overall. MV50 to Vince Darley in 8:27 (an age group record by just a minute), Vince is having somewhat of a vintage year. MV60 to Doug Cackett in 8:53, taking a massive 1:18 off of the previous MV60 age group record at this event.
In the womens age groups, Laura won the FV40 category in winning the race. FV50 went to June Harrison in 9:37 and FV60 to Jane Smith in 11:28. In doing so, Jane became the first ever FV60 finisher of this event.
Thanks to all our volunteers who made it another safe and successful day for everyone involved but also of course to the landowners for trusting us to deliver a safe event on their properties and to Goring Village for welcoming us in year after year, through good times and less good!
Our second 'real' event of 2020 took place this past weekend. The Thames Path 100 was originally a March race back in 2012, but the weather and flooding in the first couple of years saw us push it to May where it has been ever since. This year it was postponed six weeks out from race day into its new date of September 5th-6th.
The format, as per the NDW100 four weeks prior, was a rolling start over a 2 hour window of time which allowed us to spread out the 230 starters over a good distance. This format alleviates congestion at check points and at pinch points on the trail and the more relaxed, time trial style start has already found favour with many. One of a few positive effects of the necessary Covid-19 protocols we have in place for the time being.
In contrast to this years NDW100, the conditions were close to perfect. Rather than records happening at the wrong end of the spectrum, we instead saw some much more positive ones emerging from early in the race. At most of our events, we see one or two runners drop out at check point 1 or 2, sometimes even earlier, before a slew start to drop from the marathon mark onwards. On this day, we did not record a drop out of the race until 5:45pm, a staggering 8 hours and 30 minutes after the last runner had started. We had to keep checking that the Race HQ phone was actually switched on! That translated into an 80% finish rate. That is almost unheard of in 100 milers, a record at this event by 7% over any of the previous eight editions.
The start list included some very capable athletes, most notably previous TP100 champion Samantha Amend was looking to better her 16:00 time from three years ago.
With the time trial style format, tactics were at play a little as to when the faster athletes started, but the majority went off close to the earliest start time of 0730.
In the mens race, Ed Fisher led the early running, with a 1:17 split through CP1 mile 10.5, he continued to lead through the 50km mark at Dorney in 3:50. Further back in the field than those who would go on to lead later, it wasn't clear that he was in fact leading at that stage, but shortly after, Eds pace began to falter and it was Geoff Cheshire who took the virtual lead, arriving into Cookham first - but suffering slightly from some stomach and cramp issues. Russ Arnold who had run a solid Autumn 100 a couple of years ago then took over, emerging into Henley at mile 51 and the 'half way' aid station first overall in a time of 6:54:54. Sub 7 hour splits through Henley are a rare occurence and he was the only on to achieve it on this day.
Through the second half of the event, Russ forged further and further ahead until the only question became, whether he would capitulate a little in the final stages as he had done at the 2018 A100, or go on to challenge the course record. In the end he sped up over the final stages in a similar fashion to last years winner Ian Hammett and came home for a 14:13 final split, our second fastest time ever at this event and just four minutes off the course record. Whilst the race finished 0.9 miles earlier this year due to the finish line change, the additional diversion at Streatley balanced some of that out - so a pretty close call for sure.
Russ Arnold won the mens race and was just four minutes outside of Craig Holgate's course record
Second place went to Martin Johnson, who was perhaps second also only to Russ in terms of pacing and race execution. From 21st at check point one he made his way patiently through the field to finish in 15:19. Third place was taken by Geoff Cheshire. Given that Geoff was at Goring aid station for an hour, trying to take control of his cramping issues, he stormed through the final 25 miles to record a seriously impressive time of 15:22 just three minutes back of Martin.
Martin Johnson and Andrew Smith. Martin went on to a superb second place and continues to improve race on race.
The womens race looked likely to be about one runner and it did pan out that way. The question for Sam Amend was more about whether she could challenge her 16:00 best here from three years ago, and potentially shoot for a British 100 mile trail record - unofficially given course measurement of trail races being extremely loose. That was set by Susie Chesher who ran 15:22 at the Autumn 100 (see the full 100 mile GB records lists here).
Sam Amend on her way to a second TP100 title
She led right from the start and ran well through 50km in 4:13 before slowing a little on route to Henley mile 51 in 7:39. It looked unlikely at that stage that she could return an even split in the second half and whilst Sam did suffer some issues her experience in going long is now starting to shine as she was still able to hold together for a 16:28 and a winning margin of 2 hours and 19 minutes. A classy display on a day when she would have hoped for much more.
Michelle Maxwell ran in second place all day and similar to Sam, wasn't challenged for that position as she recorded her second, second place finish at one of our events in 18:46. Third place was taken by Dominique James in 20:40, just three minutes ahead of the ever improving Allie Bailey in fourth.
183 finished the race, and we handed out 109 100 Miles - One Day buckles within that. Also a record for this event.
Special mention to Markus Flick who despite need to travel over from Germany continued his streak of TP100 finishes, he has all 9 editions under his belt so far, a feat he also has going at the A100 and will hope to continue next month.
In the Age Group Categories, the winners were as follows:
MV40 went to Geoff Cheshire who also took third overall. MV50 to Alan Clark in 19:19. MV60 to Simon Bennett in 21:35 and MV70 to Ken Fancett in 22:11. Ken is disappointed in his last couple of runs, but this is an age group record of 1 hour 25 at this event and matches his own all time V70 best at any of our 100 mile events.
FV40 went to overall winner Sam Amend and FV50 to Michelle Payne in 22:56.
After two of four events, there are just 20 Grand Slammers still in the hunt for the buckle for completing all four in a season. With each event between four and five weeks apart as opposed to being spread out over 5 months, this is an especially tough challenge this year. The current standings are available here.
A huge thank you to everyone involved for getting this race to happen.Our team of volunteers, the landowners who trusted us to manage check points safely at their venues and our sponsors some of whom were out in person supporting the event. La Sportiva, Petzl, UD, Injinji and Tailwind Nutrition.
Our next event is just a few days away, the first 50 miler of the season, the Chiltern Wonderland 50.
Perhaps fairly predictably, this race report is not going to start out in the traditional manner of focusing on the race itself, but rather on paying tribute to what was achieved by everybody involved in staging the safest possible event in the light of the current situation.
In terms of organisation, this event presented probably the single biggest challenge we have faced. At least equal to the flooded course years on the Thames Path and Winter 100s. The success of the weekend, the staging of a safe race in current conditions took an astonishing level of grit and determination from volunteers as much as the runners.
Starting with the volunteers. Never have we witnessed such sheer selflessness and dedication in all of our years in ultrarunning as were witnessed over the weekend and that is really saying something considering the ten years of graft we have been privy to. Firstly, that we had 95 people willing to trust us and the runners to keep them safe in what are still very uncertain times is nothing short of incredible. But then they were asked to spend up to 30 hours wearing masks and nitrile gloves as a minimum at all times. To maintain social distancing from each other and the runners when their every instinct is to rush in and fill bottles, provide food for, high five and hug, commiserate and congratulate and just be there for them. To concentrate at every moment, whether through the night or in 33 degree temperatures, on every runner sanitising hands in and out of check points, filling and topping up food and water supplies on the tables, guiding runners through one way systems and giving them support whilst standing back. Not once, in the entire 34 hours of the weekend from opening registration to closing the finish, did we see a volunteer not have a mask or gloves on where asked. Not once did any member of staff have to quietly speak to anyone about maintaining standards. Everybody just did it. If ever you doubt the good in people and the support in a community, you simply must come to an event like this to witness the lengths people will go to for others to be able to achieve.
As for the runners, before we speak to the race they deserve thanks and praise themselves. They also trusted us to put on a safe event, one that didn't expose them to unnecessary risk of transmission. That they would be looked after as well as ever despite the challenge. 234 of them felt safe to do that and to each of them our thanks for placing that trust in us. They also behaved impecably at every juncture. Not complaining about having to constantly use the sanitiser, wearing masks in aid stations and following one way systems, filling up their own supplies, being kit checked out on course. Thanking the volunteers and us, for being there for them, despite the incredibly tough run they were pitting themselves against.
Runner Ally Whitlock at the North Downs Way sign in Farnham
Overall we all knew that this weekend wasn't just about this race. It was about settting an example, that even in these uncertain times, our sport is one of the safest things we can be doing right now. That if we share responsibility for our actions, we can get back to doing what we love, safely and successfully and with only minor changes to events in years gone by.
The burden of conditions on top of all of the covid secure protocols was both a blessing and a curse. It meant that staging an almost entirely outdoor event through the night, was practical. But it meant for such a challenge through the heat of the day for everybody. Ultimately that heat took a massive toll on the runners and many records were set, sadly not the sort of records we like!
This race was our first in August of 2011 and as such this was the tenth edition. The changes since 2012 have been minor but in order to maintain the greatest level of safety for all involved a few more major changes were implemented this time, including but not limited to:
- Bibs being posted and runners were not required to attend registration. Kit checks were carried out at random on course.
- The start was open for two hours, with faster runners asked to start first to maximise the spread of the field from the outset
- Temperature checks were performed at the start
- At the check points, runners were asked to sanitise hands both in and out. Indoors, masks were mandatory and requested at any outdoors aid station.
- All food was single serve and runners had to fill their own bottles/ drinks
- Social distancing was mandatory at all times
From a purely racing point of view, the time trial format changed things at the sharp end. Runners were of course, never clear on the start times of others around them and therefore without jumping on our live timings page mid race, would not know what position they were in. That however seemed to be a relatively minor inconvenience for those involved because as mentioned above, this sport attracts runners who just roll with the punches and frankly get on with it. They would go out and run their best races and if they ran their best days, then the race format was different but exicting in a new way.
This format is here to stay for now, not only does it make the most sense from a spread of the field perspective but it is a condition of the UK Athletics rules for race permits and insurance.
At this point a thanks to all of the starters for their self seeding. They were asked to kick off at certain times based on their estimated finish times and with really very few exceptions they did that. They realised that in doing what we asked, they were helping us and thereby them run the safest race possible, by spreading the field out through the earlier check points that could otherwise see queues build up. As we move forward with our season we can only hope that the runners continue to realise this and make good helpful decisions without us enforcing start times for everybody. Our biggest 'gathering' in the start chute was 6, spread out over 50 metres or so.
At 0500 the first runners began heading over the start line on their way to Newlands Corner and the first official aid station. Straight away the forecast 33 degree afternoon temperatures seemed to temper any hard early pace and we saw some of the slowest split times at this event ever, over the early miles. That factor stayed true throughout the day and into Sunday.
In the womens race it was Rebecca Lane who set the fastest early splits, up through Box hill at mile 24. She arrived there in 4:09:18, just 5 seconds faster than Melissa Venables' split at the same point. Rebecca is a veteran of many of our events including the 2019 slam, with Melissa Venables coming in to her first 100 miler, but having previously won many events including the British 100km Championships in 2016.
Through the late morning, the cloud just lingered a little longer than forecast and with a bit of a breeze, conditions were tough but not horrendous. But then afternoon hit and the fierce sun burned off what was left of any cloud cover and began to cook runners out on the trail. Shaded, woody sections were not too bad but on the exposed chalk sections it felt like an oven.
The heat caused havoc out on course leading to the third lowest finisher rate from our 36, 100 mile races to date
Melissa played an extremely smart pacing game and through the heat into the evening she ran through much of the mens field, as we tend to see from leading female runners. A quarter of the way into the race she was in 40th overall. Three quarters of the way into the race she was up into the top ten. The female field stretched out as the race progressed and Melissa simply expanded her lead at almost every stage. Rebecca Lane slowed and ultimately dropped at Knockholt, with Jillian Convey replacing her in second place, running a very well paced race herself. Dominique James was in third place for almost the entire event and in the end, those three would hold positions all the way to the finish.
2020 Womens Champion Melissa Venables
Melissa triumphed in a winning time of 21:42:09, Jillian took second in 23:10:18 and Dominique third in 24:24:09.
In the mens race it was rather a different affair, with several early front runners being ground to a halt by rising temperatures. Setting the fastest pace over the early miles by a long stretch, was Peter Windross. The former Thames Path 100 champion came into this race with three previous top tens at this event and clearly wanted to push for a win this time. Starting at around 0520, he was the runner out in front not just on time but literally, leaving Caterham aid station at mile 38. But as he hit Knockholt the wheels began to fall off a little and he would spend increasing amounts of time trying to cool off at subsequent check points all the way to Bluebell Hill at mile 76, before finally calling it a day there.
Past TP100 Champ Peter Windross led for the first two thirds of the race before later dropping due to issues from the heat
By that stage he had been passed by Juhana Kirk. Juhana had also been struggling in the heat. Second all the way through the first half of the course, he dealt with sickness and stomach issues, through Reigate and Caterham but by Botley he had somewhat turned that around and found a more steady rhythm. With 50km or so to go he took control of the race and when Peter dropped he was left with a forty minute lead over second place. Although he gradually gave time back over the course, he hit the track in first and came home in a time of 19:33:27.
2020 Mens Champion Juhana Kirk
Ashley Varley who ran home in second, ran a tremendously well paced event, he came from all the way back in 71st place at mile 15 to finish second and was closing hard at the end. His final time was 19:51. One of the very few who judged his effort just right in the conditions. Third place went to Vince Darley, an experienced runner who had one of his best days on the trail in the process.
Down through the field we saw a few runners get things right and really come through strong over the second half. The night was beautiful, with temperatures in the high teens, great views and that special feeling of being back racing through the night again. But many suffered as a result of the early heat and the drop out rate was catastrophic.
The 46% finish rate was our third lowest of the 36, 100 mile race that we have organised. Beaten only by the first Winter 100 (43%) and last years Wendover Woods 100 (44%). Topping out at 33 degrees, this was the hottest race we have staged. Just 17 runners came home in under 24 hours for the 100 Mile One Day buckle, a rate of 7% which equals Wendover Woods 100 as by far the lowest percentage of those we have ever handed out.
Traditionally, this race features our lowest percentage of female starters. This year we had 40 women start the race, and 15 finish. A higher percentage of starters than we typically see here.
Finally age Group Award Winners were as follows:
Ashley Varley MV40 winner (second overall), Vince Darley MV50 winner (third overall), Peter Mcmanners MV60 winner and Ken Fancett ws first MV70 in 25:21.
Ladies winner Melissa Venables also won the FV40 category and Debra Bourne was the FV50 winner.
With our recent focus on increasing the number of Black runners in our sport, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that just two black runners competed at the weekend - Sonny Peart and Keir Monteith - both Grand Slam hopefuls and both finishers. Sonny is the runner who featured on our Black Runners in Ultrarunning Podcast. This is an area we are committed to working on with him and the focus group that has been set up. We will continue to run figures on the percentage of black runners in starting fields which will be helped by the ethnicity data we will be taking for all forward event entrants.
Sonny Peart finishing the first of his planned four 100 milers with us this year.
Where do we go from here? Well things might get incrementally easier, but they may also get harder. But that is the reason we all love this sport. Without difficulty the sense of achievement simply would not be there. And to all the runners and volunteers who stick with whatever 2020 throws at us, I like to think we will all look back on it and say we did our best. One race at a time!
Thanks again to all of you within our community for supporting us through this year so far and into the rest of the season.
After the incredible success of the One Community Virtual event at the end of May, coupled with the extended delay in the re-start of racing through the end of July, we decided to put on a very different and potentially much more challenging virtual event to bridge the gap and keep us and the community focused and training towards something.
The idea of an elevation based challenge seemed a logical one given the distance based nature of the One Community event. One Up was born.
Runners had a week, from Monday 20th to Sunday 26th July, to gain as much elevation as they could via running, hiking, climbing, stair machine, treadmill - anything on foot essentially. There were two categories. 'Up Only' involved one or more sessions run on a treadmill or with transport/ assistance back down. And 'Standard', where the runner needed to ascend and descend the entire amount on foot.
Whilst distance was not a factor, it was of course a major consideration and forced runners to think carefully about their chosen routes. A shallower grade of climb and descent would present an easier option in terms of effort, but a much more substantial amount of distance to be run to complete their chosen level. This was a particularly prevalent thought for those shooting for the very highest summits.
Overall there were eight levels to aim for, and much like the One Community event, a chance for all ages to get involved which was without doubt the best single part of that previous event - the whole community being able to be a part of something.
What was clear very quickly was that there were a range of different approaches being taken towards reaching targets, based mainly around access to hills.
Many of our community are of course based in the vicinity of our events - so the South East, where hills are not exactly common place and certainly not steep or long. Those who had gone to investigate good options for the week quickly jumped on reps to optimise elevation gain in the shortest amount of time. Whilst others took a more relaxed approach and simply incorporated more elevation into their weekly running.
As the week progressed the arduous nature of the ascending but particularly the descending, began to take its toll and many runners chose to re-evaluate goals. With the top levels starting to slip from reach for some, others turned up the heat and some of the sessions being laid down were mind boggling, with runners commiting to 15-30 hour stints on one climb, some spending hours a day on the treadmill and others repping quite frankly tiny hills many hundreds of times.
But as per the One Community event, the best single thing about this virtual challenge was that it allowed everyone to set themselves a stretch goal, but then to increase or decrease that based on what they could manage around day to day commitments - and it is this kind of moving target that has been a really valuable part of these virtual events. The full results can be found via the tab above.
As we return to our regular racing season from August, the virtual calendar will most likely not be extended in 2020, but with the wider community engagement of the One Community and One Up challenges being what they were, plus the funds raised for charity in the process, we will most likely bring both back in 2021 - albeit with some small additions and amendments particularly the inclusion of team awards.
Stay tuned for more information in the coming months. Thank you to all of those who took part in these two virtual weeks, for making this strange and difficult period in our lives so much more fulfilling as a result.
Onwards and upwards! Here are some images of the week from across the community.
We began our 2020 race season in the most unimaginable way, postponing and cancelling our first 5 events of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If you'd told me before the season started that we would be organising a virtual event at any point, let alone at the end of May 2020 I would have never have believed it. But as the situation became clearer through April, that life would not be returning to normal any time soon we realised that we really needed to try it, because the possibility of creating net positivity and good was overwhelmingly high.
When we looked at it, it seemed the only option to give runners whose events had been postponed or cancelled, a chance to be part of an event in the near future. By picking a universally accessible format we could also open up a Centurion event to the families and friends of our community who ordinarily wouldn't ever get a chance to run with us. We could give everyone including ourselves here a focus for positive effort and energy during a time when almost everyone has suffered in varying degrees with the ongoing effects of lockdown. It seemed possible we could all generate some much needed revenue for charity, recognising our frontline workers and what they continue to do for us every day. It could be a way to help us a business to survive the financial impacts of the crisis which have been felt across the entire leisure/ hospitality sector.
So, with that the idea was born and wow did it deliver.
We had anticipated a best possible turn out of 1000 runners and had placed awards orders accordingly. Come the 25th of May, we had over 3500 on the 'start line' and by the end of the week we would have 3985 runners taking part. By far our biggest ever event.
The format seemed to appeal to so many because everyone had an opportunity to get involved. From 5km to 100 miles, our runners had a week to cover their chosen distance whether it be in one go or spread out over the course of the week. We felt there was a real opportunity here for new runners to be a part of things, but also for our regular runners to experience a bigger volume 'training' week and perhaps see what was posssible with their running in the future as they look forward to getting back to our in-person races.
A few stats from the event:
- We had runners from 40 countries across all 7 continents taking part. The award for 'most remote' falling to the team of seven runners at the South Georgia British Antarctic Survey Base, 800km from the nearest land out in the Southern Ocean.
- Our youngest runners were under a year old and our oldest two were 86.
- Of 3985 starters - 1727 were female and 2258 male. 593 were under 18 and the average overall age was 38.
- The majority of entrants were in the 100 mile category with 1338 of the runners registered.
- £1552 were received in donations from runners to the community fund, which was made accessible to those who have been hit hardest financially by the crisis. We doubled the pot and in total, 135 runners were able to take part at no cost.
- Over £8500 was raised for the NHS Charities Trust as a direct result of entry fees.
A number of runners set off just after midnight on Monday 25th May as the event got underway and throughout the first day we started to see the results coming in as many used the bank holiday in the UK to get the week off to a good start. A week later some runners were out for the dying seconds to see the event through to its finish.
It is simply impossible to highlight performances as for each of the seven race distances, we had catetogories from Under 5 through to Vet 80 - More than 170 categories in all plus the canicross division in each! The truly incredible performances are also hidden amongst the stats.
Some of the entrants had literally never run before. Some came out of isolation for the first time since March to take part. Some were forced to running on a treadmill, on a cruise ship, in cold storage containers, in their back gardens. The list goes on and I am quite sure we will look back on this with the benefit of time and realise just how crazy it all was. But people ran and made a force for good.
The flood of messages and positive energy across social media even before the event began was overwhelming. Very quickly into the week we became unable to keep up with it all and had to just let the wave wash over us and everybody else.
We want to thank all of you that took part. No matter the distance, the challenge, or the time. This was about a community coming together and looking out for one another when we are not able to do it in person for the time being. The community is the single most important thing about what we do and we were delighted to welcome so many more of you to it this week. Long may it continue.
For now, you can click on the results link above to see the list of all the finishers.
Thank you to all of you.