Maverick X-Series Chilterns race recap

This just in: run in the sun and don't drink enough and you'll get into trouble

To most people, doing a marathon as a training run is bonkers. When I started running a few years ago, the idea of a 26-mile long run would’ve been laughable at best. Then I got bit by the ultra marathon bug and I’m unphased by the distance now, using races like the Maverick X-Series Chilterns as a catered run.

The event took place earlier this month and consisted of four routes that began in Wendover. There were 10, 20, 42 and 52 km options and you won’t be surprised – given previous paragraph – that I opted to do the 42 km course. With similar terrain to Chiltern Wonderland 50, which I’m currently training for, and being local, doing it was a no-brainer.

Maverick X-Series Chilterns route information

Parking, registration and the start-finish were all situated at the Chiltern Way Academy. There’s not much to say about this to be honest. There were sufficient toilets without long queues, several stalls with sponsors flashing their wares and a short pre-race briefing, before we all got going just after 9:00am.

The first three kilometres consisted of a few steady climbs towards Coombe Hill, totalling about 110 metres of elevation. Tough enough for most runners and made trickier by mobile chicanes in the form of teenagers doing their Duke of Edinburgh and the narrowing trails.

Runners passing Coombe Hill monument in the Maverick X-Series Chilterns race
Me, looking grumpy (standard) – photo by Jake Baggaley

The field then spread out once I reached the monument at the top and it was nice to begin dictating my own pace. With a sense of (over) confidence from knowing the first half of the race, I weaved my way through the series of woods to Chequers at a steady clip.

The route then skirted around the Prime Minister’s country retreat to Beacon Hill, which is a huge mound that forms the backdrop to Ellesborough village. It’s also here that – on the marathon route at least – the first aid station was situated. Being only 14 km into the race, I thought it was too early to stop and so carried on. A mistake, as I would later discover.

On I went, through a churchyard, across some fields and then, due to the farce that is HS2, following a last minute route change. Instead of continuing along the Aylesbury Ring footpath, we were sent onto the main road leading into Wendover. Not a glamorous couple of miles, but there’s little Maverick could’ve done given the circumstances.

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Ellesborough - Maverick X-Series Chilterns
The first half of the race had all the eye candy – photo by Jake Baggaley

It was here that I said farewell to my post-covid running buddy, who’d dropped down to the 20 km route. His absence was soon felt, as I missed the distraction and the innate sense to keep going. Another thing I felt at this stage was the sun. It was getting hot, hot, hot.

Mercifully, shade was on offer along the Grand Union Canal towards Wendover Woods. As happy as I was to get out of the sun, I do have a weird hatred of running along rivers and canals. I find them mentally exhausting and a bit dull. I don’t think I’d ever be able to do something like the Thames Path 100. I’d probably chuck myself in the water to get it over with. (Un)fortunately, this section only lasted for five kilometres.

I was absolutely parched by the end of it, now just over halfway into the race. My bottles were empty and stepping into the midday sun from the coolness of the canal was like opening an oven door. Not to fear, because my research told me the second aid station was nearby. “It’s just over there, on the left,” confirmed a marshal when I asked for its location. Ace.

Precision Hydration on one of the aid stations in the Maverick X-Series Chilterns race
The aid stations were well-stocked – photo by Jake Baggaley

So over there and to the left I went, through a small opening and into a teeny tiny copse. No aid station. Maybe it’s located within the Chiltern Forest Golf Course, which the route goes through? Nope, no sight of it in there either. It was only after hiking up a whacking great hill that I discovered my definition of “over there” differs greatly from others. Still, at least I hadn’t missed the aid station.

On offer was water, Coke and Precision Hydration, along with the usual snacks, like crisps, fruit and energy gels. I usually get by with a combination of Tailwind and GU Gels, so I topped up my bottles and off I went. And then my body capitulated in spectacular fashion.

The temperature was now into the high 20’s and shade was scarce as the route now favoured open fields. I started to suffer, first with waves of nausea and then my first ever bout of mid-race cramp. There I was, clambering over a fallen tree, when PING! My hamstring went, leaving me perched on top of a tree trunk like I was riding a mule.

This episode lasted for a few minutes, but once the cramp subsided I continued as normal. Splendid. Not far to go now… oh, hold on. The Tailwind-GU combo wasn’t sitting well in my stomach and the nausea was becoming too much to bear. I had no other option than to bring it all back up, which was nice. So nice, I did it twice.

Running through a field near the end of the Maverick Chilterns race
Outta the way! – photo by Jake Baggaley

It was about here that my frazzled brain recognised I was suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Running didn’t seem like the best idea, so I jogged to the final aid station and sat down for a while, hoping the sun would disappear and give me some respite. That didn’t happen, so I sought to resolve my hydration issue.

With nothing to lose at this point, it seemed like a good opportunity to try something else, so I opted for the Precision Hydration mix. It’s basically a strong electrolyte drink and the one available was from their PH 1000 range, providing 1000mg of sodium per litre. To put this into context, that’s about twice the amount of normal sports drinks.

My first impressions were that it was like drinking flavoured seawater, but I soon got used to it. I began to feel human again, too. OK, so I wasn’t magically rejuvenated and dashing to the finish, but I felt much better and was able to continue. At a snail’s pace.

After shuffling through field after field after field – the first half of the race is far more varied – I eventually descended back into Wendover and realised, with a kilometre to go, I could finish in under five hours if I bothered to run. In hindsight, it didn’t matter, but at the time my silly noggin was determined to beat the clock. So I put in a late surge and crossed the line in a time of 4:59:40. My slowest ever marathon.

Afterthoughts

If the Maverick Chilterns had been an important race, then I would have been a bit miffed. As a training run, it fulfilled its purpose.

Long runs provide opportunities to experiment with hydration and fuelling strategies, and also develop a strong mindset in preparation for an ultra marathon. I thought I had my nutrition nailed by this point, but this race showed me you never stop learning.

I usually consume two scoops worth of Tailwind mixed with 500ml of water per hour. That’s 200 calories. I then tend to top it off with a GU Gel every 90 minutes or so, which is another 100 calories. For simplicity, let’s say I’m consuming 250 calories per hour.

The thing is, if you don’t drink enough then the GI system uses water from your bloodstream to help digestion. In theory, to absorb 250 calories could require up to 750ml every hour. Factor in water lost through sweating and it’s obvious why I suffered with stomach issues.

My choices are to either up my water intake, or reduce the amount of calories I consume per hour. I’m not keen on the idea of lugging a water bowser with me and with Tailwind’s motto being ‘All you need. Really,’ I’ll be testing that soon.

As for the race itself? Well, it was decent enough and I’d recommend it, especially if you’re looking for a long distance race that’s lumpy, but largely runnable. A couple of hills lend themselves to power hiking – both near Wendover Woods – while the rest are shorter inclines that can be tackled at a slow pace.

The course was well marked with signage placed at regular intervals and it was difficult to go wrong. The GPX file on the website was accurate as well – something a lot of organisers skimp over – a feat more impressive as the route was regularly changing due to HS2.

You also get free race photos, too. They help make an otherwise boring blog post look all the more interesting…