In the last few months I’ve challenged myself to race a marathon-plus distance on the trails every month –
April – Three Forts Challenge
May – Weald Challenge
June – Cortina Trail
July – Chiltern Challenge
Extreme Energy, who organised the Chiltern Challenge, have been on my radar for a while, with many of my running friends, online and IRL, praising the races they put on in terms of route beauty, organisation and support. The Chiltern Hills have also become one of my favourite areas to escape to from London to find the trails, starting with the OMM Lite challenge this time last year with Nige and since then on some adventures with Never Stop London and Wild Trail Runners, so signing up to this race was a no-brainer.
On Saturday, Stephanie and I ran the Chiltern Challenge together as part of her last long training run for Round the Rock ultramarathon in Jersey next month. We didn’t actually realise we’d both signed up for the race until a few weeks before but having done my previous long races alone I was so glad of the company for this one, especially with Stephanie. For both of us, these type of races are there to be enjoyed. Neither of us were out for a fast one. We wanted to have fun on the trails, chat, eat and make friends along the way, and we certainly ticked all those boxes at the weekend.
After a night in Datchet staying with Steph, we drove to the start at Princes Risborough with an aim to start running at 9am. Walkers are set off at 8am to give them a head start on the route and runners at 9 and 10 depending on expected finishing time. We hoped to complete the race in under 6 hours so were on the start list for 10am, but we predicted it might be a hot day and wanted to make the most of our Saturday in the cooler temperatures, so we rocked up about 8.20am, picked up our numbers, chip timers and finishers vest (presumptuous!), visited the loos and were called to the start line for a briefing just before 9.
After a bit of a slow start – we set off too far back in the crowd and had to sneak through the narrow trail to get ahead – we found our pace and settled in. There were a few sneaky hills thrown in at the start too, maybe to slow us down a little, but we used them as a warm up and soon picked it up again when the trails became run-able.
On our way I spotted two friends, Davide and Suzanna, and we chatted to them for a bit before leaving them to it and arriving at the first checkpoint, just over 10km into the race. We checked in with our wristbands and were quickly out again, leaving the food and drink until the next one as we were both carrying water and our own snacks if we needed.
Between the first and second checkpoint I ran alongside a girl called Helen and we started chatting about races and running etc. and before I knew it I’d lost sight of Steph. I was sure she was just behind so I kept up with Helen and the miles ticked over quickly, arriving at the aid station having run just over the half marathon distance. Here I picked up some orange squash, marmite sandwiches (heaven) and a Chia Charge banana flapjack, and just as I was downing my second cup of squash, Stephanie ran into the checkpoint, beaming.
From 20km until the end we ran together, to-ing and fro-ing, walking the hills, holding gates open for each other, side by side on the wider trails and one behind the other along the long stretches of fields. The half way mark came and went without us even realising and when we got to the 3rd checkpoint at just over 30km I had a feeling that I didn’t want this day to end. We were promised Coca-Cola at the 4th checkpoint, which would bring us to marathon distance and just 8km to go, and both Steph and I were counting down the steps to reach that station, for the love of coke!
Leaving the last aid station I felt like I was flagging a little but this was when we worked well as a team. We both went through our own highs and lows during the race but we were there for each other, encouraging or just distracting. As the race continued the runners became more and more spread out and this was when I felt so grateful to be running with Steph, as usually I’ll be out on my own, fighting my own mind battles. With 1km to go I could feel the end in our sights and as we began to hear the supporters at the finish line we also spotted a familiar face who had come out to cheer us on, Zena. It was a great little boost to finish strong and we crossed the line together in 5:24:41 and joint 9th lady finishers.
A great day out running with my best friend Steph and a seamless event organised by the lovely Extreme Energy. I would highly recommend checking out their races, especially if you’re giving ultramarathon distance a go for the first time, as they’re so welcoming and take out all the effort of planning a race so you can just focus on running and enjoying it!