Chiltern Challenge 50km

Chiltern Challenge 50km – well I was looking for a challenge!

by Jo Sharples


Why would you ever want to? Followed with, are you mad? Seem to be common reactions to me running the Chiltern Challenge 50KM ultra. Mad, in my opinion, no but lost maybe. So lets start at the beginning.


Berlin Airport 2017.

I had just run the 2017 BMW Berlin Marathon, and was queuing to check in at the airport. It seemed most other Brits had also chosen this flight home. Berlin had been a mixed bag for me; I was overall pleased with my time, but couldn’t quite stop the disappointment I was feeling. I had experienced very difficult family issues in the final part of my training, and had been struggling to work let alone have the motivation and determination to train. This alongside an attempted burglary the day before the marathon in our hotel room had me mentally on the next flight home. There were too many problems and worries I could not solve here and I needed to escape. What was I to do? My race pack was collected, I had even already pinned my number to my LBAC vest. I could not honestly tell you what MY decision would have been if Sam had not been there. His stern, fair, and supportive talk was 100% the reason I made it to the start line. So I should have been happy with 2min shy of a PB- but that had not been the goal at Berlin.

So I was stood in the airport queue going over and over the race, when I started to overhear a conversation from some runners in front of me. She was saying how excited she was for her next marathon, I joined in the conversation to ask what is was. She said a group of her friends had entered an off road marathon near her home and she was excited for the chat and cakes on the way round. We spoke for most of the time we were queuing, she had entered Berlin to get a PB, and a PB she had got. But she said what she really loved was not the city marathons but the trails. The route, course and terrain are so variable that her goal is just to enjoy each one and not worry about time. I found this mindset so refreshing. Over the last year I had become maybe a bit too fixated on times, and pace and had forgotten why I actually run. This got me thinking!


Little Horwood 2018

After months of deliberation I pressed enter … the XNRG Chiltern Challenge 50KM.

I had decided I needed a challenge where I would set myself 2 goals. The first was to simply cross the finish line and complete the race, and the second was to enjoy it! But why an ultra, you ask. Well a marathon distance would have not been challenge enough, and too easy to set time goals by default. I chose this race as it was just the next step up from the marathon distance, it was local and reviews had said it was a good introduction to ultra running.

The final thing I decided after I entered this race was to not tell anyone, except family. This was for the very selfish reason that I did not want the standard questions: So how is training going? How was I feeling? Did I have a time in mind? I wanted this to be personal and private for me, to help me find the reasons why I ever laced up a pair of trainers and put one foot in front of the other.


So a hydration vest was bought (and maybe a buff headband) and my training began.


Here there and everywhere 2018

I had my tribe as company on most Sundays as the runs lengthened. Amy, Kas, and Abi were brilliant company and kept me sane on Sunday mornings. I also incorporated races into Sunday long runs, running out and back on relay days, and home from other races. Being creative was the key.

As the Sunday runs lengthened, my 5km times fell and I ran my 2nd ever sub 20min and a PB at the Rocket 5km. Followed then by my 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th sub 20min. And with every week I was loving my training more and more.


Princes Risborough August 2018

Race day was here, and so were my nerves. The longest training run had been 25miles and at the time I thought that was equivalent to doing a 20mile for a marathon, which was fine. But then the gremlins had started placing doubts in my head, and 50km (31miles) seemed an awful long way more than a marathon.

I arrived really early on race day, and saw the walkers and 9am mass start head out. I was due to start at 10am and the temperatures were rising. I had packed, unpacked and repacked my hydration vest, fastened and refastened my cap and visited the toilet numerous times. I looked around, and thought how unfamiliar the runners round me were. Firstly everyone had so much gear (maybe too much in 25 degree heat), but they also were so friendly, chatting and smiling. I normally do not talk much before races as I am often resisting the urge to vomit but the atmosphere was so supportive and pleasant.

The race began. The route description certainly had not lied about the terrain, about a KM in was the first “challenge” I looked up and saw everyone walking. What is going on I thought to myself as I tried to keep slow jogging, they knew something I did not as up and up and up we went, and walk I did. The route was spectacular, and I spent most of the first 10 miles with a group of four chatting and getting to know each other. I actually ended up running the majority of the race with the lady who was with me then. This was also her first ultra, and she had ran 3hr11 at Abingdon marathon. We were joking that neither of us really knew what we were doing. Sam joined me at the second checkpoint and we ran 11ish miles together which was just what I needed. He left me with about 9 miles to go, although everything had started to get a bit foggy at that stage. The heat was stifling and my effort was increasing. Every incline turned into Everest and the checkpoints were havens. The last 5 miles were the hardest and toughest miles I have ever ran, and probably the only time my enjoyment wavered. I overtook the lady with 1.5miles to go and my focus then strongly became that finish line. The overwhelming feeling of happiness when I crossed the finishing line was immense. My mum and Sam were there to cheer me in, which made it even more special. 4hrs51min was my finishing time and goal 1 and 2 were complete! Embarrassingly every marathon I have ever ran I have cried crossing the finish line, I always say it is a combination of exhaustion and overwhelming emotions. I was silently proud to not cry at today’s finish line, but as I got into my car to drive home; salty, sweaty, smelly, exhausted, and elated that is when the tears started. And I thought to myself between sobs;

This is why I run.