Returning to the Trails at the Wendover Woods Half Marathon

My first official running race this year was a brand new half marathon at the picturesque Wendover Woods in March, organised by Nice Work, as part of the Wendover Woods Running Festival. On the day itself, there was also a 10km run and a kiddies’ ‘fun run’ (1km and 3km to choose from) which would have been the perfect day out for families and runners of all abilities, had the weather played ball… Moreover, there was a Canicross race the day before – something for the four legged competitors!

I can honestly say that this has been one of the most beautiful and one of the best half marathons I had ever completed, despite the ghastly winds that nearly swept me off my feet during this inaugural event. The race took us onto the undulating forest paths and trails in and around Wendover Woods which provided a great challenge for even the most seasoned runners.

The most famous inhabitant of Wendover Woods, The Gruffalo

There are many reasons that led me to sign up almost last minute for this event. First of all, I love trying new events and exploring new trails to run on. I have done parkrun in Wendover Woods a couple of times before, so I was familiar with some of the route which was a definite advantage. Finally, the forest is only about 35 minutes drive from my home so the 10am start meant I could afford getting out of bed around 8am.

I deliberately did not say ‘sleep until’, because unfortunately, Alex was having a nasty cold during the week leading up to the race which meant my sleep had gone out of the window. I remember spending the days during that week in a daze and I toed up the start line in a zombie-like state. Needless to say, after all, I did not expect a stellar performance of myself. I was going to be satisfied with just getting around the course and enjoying myself.

Upon arrival, I bumped into my friend Brie whom I had met on social media/Strava – we tend to run the same local trails around Wycombe and she also shares my love for muddy trail runs. She had come with her daughter earlier for the kiddies’ fun run which turned out to be not so much fun in the wind and ankle deep mud.

As we all lined up for the start, I surveyed the deep sludge surrounding us – it was so bad, I was prepared to wave goodbye to my new trail running shoes after the race. Yet, in an oddly masochistic way, I was looking forward to running the challenging two lap course. Quite frankly, running has become a way of carving out some ‘me-time’ and also my saving grace that has prevented me from completely going ga-ga during some of those testing weeks with poor Alex.

I was able to hit a comfortable pace early on and clock up a couple of faster kms at the beginning as the course was mainly downhill. The rest of the lap was constant ‘up and downs’, a slow drain on my mental and physical energy. I knew that the key to successfully finishing the race was down to distributing my energy evenly throughout the course; that meant resorting to speedwalking up the steepest inclines to preserve my strength and turning up the gear again on the downhilly bits. I had a strong mental game all along; I never grew tired of the hilly terrain. I actually began to enjoy the solitude, the scenery and most importantly, having a break from mum duties for a bit.

During the second lap, we lost the 10km runners so the crowds thinned out even more. Just as everyone was starting to worry about the race course being too short for the half marathoners, we were directed for a short detour halfway through the second lap to make it up to 21kms at the end. It was exactly at this point where I spotted my friend Brie as she was waving at me encouragingly, as I was huffing and puffing my way up the hilly detour section, a few hundred metres behind her.

I consumed 3 Gu energy gels at 6, 11 and 16 km’s and had some water at each of the 4 feeding stations which worked well (I normally take 2 gels only during half marathons, but I took more on this occasion given it was a very challenging course). I was aiming for a 2 hour 15 mins finish time which I slightly went above, however, considering the weather conditions, my sleep deprived state, and the fact that I had only recently upped my distance in running, it was not too bad.

My right hip flexor area was feeling a bit niggly after the run but it was all OK after a day or two. I experienced the same thing after consecutive training runs which makes me think I must have a weakness in that area that I need to address with some exercises.

All in all, this was a brilliantly organised event which I can wholeheartedly recommend to all (muddy) trail lovers. Even though the course consists of two almost identical laps, it does not get boring: the scenery is stunning and it does help to know which sections are best to save some energy for and which sections you can unleash yourself on to make up for lost time on the hills. There are plenty of marshalls and good signage along the course so it is impossible to get lost. In the end, all finishers were rewarded with a cool medal and were treated to free cakes and biscuits. The race results were posted online very swiftly, too.

Finally, there are two pieces of advice I would give if you decide to give this race a go next year. Firstly, do make sure you pack your trail shoes; I don’t see how anyone could even attempt this race without proper gear, especially in March which is known to be one of the muddiest and most capricious month in the UK. (Thankfully, my Hoka Speedgoat II’s didn’t let me down; whilst lots of runners came to a halt on the slippiest and muddiest bits, I was able to push on feeling stable on my feet.) Secondly, have a warm coat ready to wear after you finish, as the queues to the parking machines are enormous…  it was awful shivering in the cold wind in my soggy clothes for about 20 minutes whilst waiting to pay for my parking, when I was already nursing a cold!

What is your favourite spring trail race?

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