26. November 2017

A Walk in The Woods: 2017 Edition of Wendover Woods 50

After having watched the second half of the film adaptation of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in The Woods, I can’t help but spot the remote similarities: an ambitious challenge, an uncompleted journey through the “woods”, and a literary attempt to explain the adventure. In my case, I gave up during a footrace of 50 miles and about 3000 m elevation gain, known in the runner’s world as Wendover Woods 50.

There is something incredibly attractive about setting oneself unattainable goals. For once you have started your journey, you might as well find that it is not at all as impossible to achieve that goal. Working on the seemingly impossible is incredibly motivating. So maybe not having a well-defined stretch goal was one of my mistakes that led to my failed attempt to complete Wendover Woods 50. But let’s start at the beginning.

A couple of years ago, I dreamed of completing the (ultra) race Lakes in A Day, a 50 miles race with 4000 m ascent through the whole Lake District in a single day. Clearly, this sounded pretty much impossible to me, which just gave me extra motivation. Nearly two years later, in November 2016, I ran my first ultra marathon, and it was Wendover Woods 50. This is a five-lap course of 10 miles each through Wendover Woods, a patch of fairly pretty forest on a hill near Wendover, a town north of London. I was relatively well prepared and completed the race in about 11 hours (see this post).

This time however, I wasn’t as well prepared—mistake, although somewhat deliberate in as much as it was my choice not to invest as much time in November into training. In the first lap, I felt nevertheless quite strong and completed the lap in 1:53 h—mistake, the first lap can feel easy but then the bill comes later. So I knew by lap 2 that I have to slow down in order not to exhaust myself. Lap 2 completed after ~2:12 h, total elapsed time 4:05 h.

But in lap 3, I got slower and slower and I was finally forced to walk in the second 5 miles. So I put my hope on recovering in lap 3 by walking a lot such that I could run lap 4 again. But the hope was in vain, and I walked large parts of lap 4 as my leg muscles were so tired that I could not steer them with the precision needed for the uneven, sloped terrain prevalent on the course.

During lap 4, it was when it dawned upon me that I would likely have to walk also lap 5 if I wanted to finish. It turned out, given that I had finished the race in 2016 already, just finishing was not giving me a lot of motivation; yet, completing would feel better, more in line with the view I have of myself, and also that would give me a medal (for some reasons, runners like their medals, don’t ask me why). Walking for the remaining ~15 miles did not sound remotely attractive. Missing the last train home as a likely result did not add to my motivation either. My muscles were pulling so I finally decided it’s not worth to spend 4 more hours walking around the woods in the dark. Thus, I left the race-course and took a shortcut to avoid “Gnarking Around” and “Railing in the Years” (two named sections that every runner can recall from the relentless ascents they feature) in order to get back to the checkpoint at the start/finish so I can hand in my race number.

Funny, now I have good motivation to do the race again in 2018. Revenge!