213 runners lined up the morning of Saturday 16th September for 50 miles of glorious trail running around the Chiltern Hills. We named the race the Chiltern Wonderland because of the remote nature of the route despite proximity to many major towns, the incredible views across dry valleys, the variety of terrain and superb trails. Once again runners returning to us at the start finish confirmed our belief that this is a special little race and one we are definitely going to hang on to.
The competition at the front of both the mens and womens fields was hot. This being the third race in the 50 mile Grand Slam and the third time this year that Ry Webb, Paul Russhard and Jon Ellis had lined up against one another. Jon Ellis had already run out victourious in both the SDW50 and the NDW50 (course record) this year, on top of winning the inaugural edition of the Chiltern Wonderland 50 last year. He was a clear favourite coming in. Ry already has a 2nd at the SDW50 and a 3rd at the NDW50 to his name and Paul a 7th and a 5th. Alongside those three was our most impressive runner of 2016, Neil Kirby. Winner of the 2016 SDW50, SDW100, NDW50 and NDW100. What would happen on the day?
In the womens field, ladies Grand Slam leader Charley Jennings seemed likely to be up the front from the start but the remainder of the field looked largely wide open on paper.
From the gun, we saw some predictably hard efforts going down. In front of all the above protagonists was Ukrainian international runner Andriy Tkach. We found out afterwards that his mandate had been to 'do a Jim Walmsley' and whilst he didn't quite throw down the string of low 5 minute miles ala Jim, he did lead the pack through check point 1 in under 70 minutes. Behind him were Jon, Ry, Paul and Neil all within 4 minutes.
Ry working hard up an early climb
The faster running over the first two sections to Bix made for continued fiery pace to the mile 17 check point. Andriy had taken a minor detour, allowing Jon to take the lead and in true Jon Ellis fashion once he was out in front he didn't relinquish his advantage, but instead steadily built on it across the remainder of the race. His was another powerful performance, posting the fastest splits of the race for every section, eventually coming home in 6:36. That time is 11 minutes off of his 2016 time and he was definitely hurting by the finish but he earned his third win of the year with a margin of 35 minutes over the rest of the field. A very impressive result.
Behind Jon, Ry and Paul battled back and forth. But it was young gun Oliver Thorogood who looked bouncy as anything at check point 2 who eventually came through over the final section to run home second in 7:11. In his first 50 mile race it was an incredibly mature display of patience and pacing. An exciting future ahead for the youngster.
Ry came home with another podium finish, his third in three events this year but perhaps carrying a little fatigue in from his epic completion of the Kom Emine trail across Bulgaria last month. Paul Russhard came home with another 5th, eventually surpassed by fourth placed Neil Martin who was first vet over the line, also in a very well paced effort.
The ladies race was neck and neck from the start, between Charley Jennings and Rachel Fawcett. The two were seen together at every check point and in fact seemed to be helping each other as much as they were pushing each other. In fact right down to the last few hundred metres, the two shared the trail together.
Rachel and Charley ran together all day but still raced the finish
However, the two decided within sight of the finish that they were going to race it in and let the chips fall as they may. We were absolutely delighted to see that the competive drive was there from both ladies and it was a dive for the line that saw Rachel take it by less than 3 100ths of a second over Charley. Good thing we had our new electronic chip timing system in place to separate them! They were both extremely gracious on the line and supportive of one another. That is what racing should be about and it was wonderful to see. 8:41 and change, was the time from each.
In third place was a very happy Joanna Edwards in 9:17 with stalwart, consistent and deserved Janette Cross just 5 minutes back in 4th.
Conditions on the day were better than expected. Heavy rainfall impacted the trail overnight but it was largely still good running and times amongst the mid pack were very solid. We had a relatively high number of drop outs however and 187 runners crossed the line in total.
As the final check point closed, the last 9 mile section containing lots of fast descending seemed to be delivering all remaining runners on course to us just in time for the 13 hour cut off. But at Woodcote 4 miles to go, it looked likely that the last four were going to be very very close indeed.
Ray Bernice and Clive Nottage came home together in a time of 12:58:21/22 with massive sighs of relief. Followed 30 seconds later by Peter Smith who had less than 70 seconds to spare at the end. Rob Carr, our final runner out on course and a regular volunteer with us, missed the cut off by just four minutes in a valiant effort. He will be back.
Heading up the Grand Slam standings with just one race to go, Wendover Woods 50, Jon is obviously out in front by a massive margin. A finish there should see Jon take the overall and the record by literally hours. The big question is, can he do the seemingly impossible and win all four of our 50s within a calendar year?
In the ladies standings, Charley Jennings has a 90 minute lead over consistent Sarah Cooke. By just finishing the WW50 either of those ladies will take at least 3 hours off of the ladies Slam 50 record.
Final thanks as always to our incredible volunteers. 50 of them made the journey over to the Chilterns to make the day the success it was.
The next event is the Autumn 100, back in Goring, 21st October - 22nd October.