I signed up to the Chiltern Challenge online back in February. The process was very easy indeed and entry cost £52.00. This turned out to be £1 per kilometre and for how the race turned out, worth every penny.
The race starts and finishes at the Princes Risborough School. Trains run regularly from London Marylebone and take between half an hour to 50 minutes. The race organisers offer a free minibus transfer from the station to the school but, to save any potential train delay nightmares, I chose to stay in a hotel just two miles from the school.
The team at XNRG had clearly done this before and number collection was completely seamless and painless. One station gave me my number, a second issued my map and a third gave me my timing wristband before directing me to the tee shirt collection area.
The Chiltern Challenge starts at the school so we had access to the toilets (I didn’t have to queue at all), changing room, showers and the large sports hall is used as the bag drop. There was also free tea and coffee on offer before we set off.
The Chiltern Challenge:
The race is split into three waves; the walkers head off at 8am, runners predicting a 6 hour+ finish at 9am and the elites at 10am. Having overcooked my estimated finish time I was placed in the elite start but a quick email to XNRG and I was in with the 9 o’clockers where I belonged.
We gathered in the school carpark for a briefing at 8.45am. The chap who gave the brief was as helpful as he was funny and that really helped calm a lot of the nervous energy bouncing around the carpark. And then we were off.
Pretty much as soon as you leave the school you encounter a rather large hill. That might seem a little cruel however I found it really helpful. I’d been told that it was ok to walk the up-hills so seeing everyone take this approach was very reassuring for me.
There is a check point / aid station roughly every 10km where you scan your timing band as you arrive. Each station was filled with a great selection of snacks and drinks and staffed by the most friendly people you’re likely to encounter.
Because of the staggered start, I past a lot of the walkers and wished them well. I was also past by the elites, which was phenomenal. Almost each and everyone said words of encouragement as they went flying past which really made me feel like part of something.
The route takes in some truly stunning countryside. Under the forest canopies is like running in a fairy tale and the open fields and vistas are worth the effort. It is by no means a flat race but only two sections caused me any real difficulty. The first being a steep descent on tarmac which I tackled too cautiously in the rain, the second some steps cut into a downhill around 5k from the finish which a fellow runner warned me about as we approached them. (He actually warned me of impending leg cramp and then asked for a piggy back, I couldn’t stop laughing.)
My watch ticked over 50km with the school seemingly nowhere in sight but I’ve done enough races to know not to panic. After crossing an open field that felt like a mile long (it wasn’t) I came across a big yellow ‘finish’ sign and followed the sound of cheering around a corner or two and over the line. (I ran approximately 52km overall.) You scan your wristband one last time before being given a very lovely, weighty medal and a print out of your time.
Back inside the school there’s plenty of cake, tea and coffee and also a tuck shop should you fancy something like a can of fizzy pop or a beer (I had one of each).
After the prize giving I collected my bag with no waiting around, got washed up and gratefully accepted the free shuttle back into town for the train.
Value for money:
For your £52 you get:
- Train station transfers;
- Free tea, coffee and cake before and after the race;
- Chip timing;
- Well stocked aid stations;
- 52 kilometres of well-marked course over a beautiful route;
- A lovely medal;
- A free technical vest;
- Free photos;
- First-timers certificate;
- Looked after by an experienced and super friendly team.
I would definitely say that I got my money’s worth.
If you’re considering your first ultra-distance event I’d highly recommend the Chiltern Challenge. Extreme Energy truly do take care of everything except your travel to Prince’s Risborough and, of course, your training.
The only thing that didn’t happen on race day was to be given my first-timers completion certificate. I’m not annoyed by this as it’s being sent in the post instead so something to look forward to!
If you’re thinking about taking the plunge and training for an ultra, check out our compilation of tips for first-timers here.