Normally I am fairly quick to write up my race reports but this has been written 3 months late and with a race in between so it might be more historically inspired fiction rather than a detailed factual account. I know I saw someone I knew at every aid station that I recognised and saw a lot of people out on the course.
The South Downs Way 100 is exactly what it says on the tin - a race of approximately 100 miles along the South Downs Way. I did it back in 2016 as leg 2 of the grand slam and had a good day finishing in 23:12. It was my favourite race of that year and I was looking forward to coming back.
I'm getting better at admin with 100 mile races - although you can't tell that from my pre-race photo. My nutrition plan A was to go down the gels/carb drinks route and I packed accordingly. I had my bag of mandatory kit and I was ready to go.
There was a bit of a spanner in the pre-race plans. Normally I have a controlled taper with the last day being a bit of walking but nothing much. However today was the "global day of giving" at work. The entire company takes a day off work to do some good in the community. It is a fantastic day with a free gym session with a beer or three in the pub afterwards. However this isn't ideal preparation for a 100 mile race. To make matters worse, our job was changing the bark chippings of the playground at Hackney Park. There were two main tasks - shovelling the bark chips or transporting them in wheel barrows. I went for the wheel barrowing. I logged about 30,000 steps in my 6 hours of hard graft but I thought the shovelling could potentially have done some serious back/hamstring damage.
We were let off at 4.30pm and I made my way to Winchester on the train. A quick taxi ride to the start and I checked in. I caught up with Graham and Louise on registration and watched the SDW1 - a lovely race for the kids. I had booked the holiday inn which I was convinced was walking distance from the start but it wasn't. I was half-tempted to walk there but ended up chatting to the traffic marshall and grim sweeper from Lon Las and decided this was a bad idea and called a taxi. £5 and 5 minutes later, I was safely checked into the Holiday Inn. It was a busy road and it would have been dangerous.
I was checked in and had the usual pre-race dinner of cheese and onion sandwich, cheese tasters, and can of lager. I watched a programme on the Kennet and Avon Canal (recce for the KACR145?). The next programme was Gardener's World. I deliberately watched it to numb my brain for a good night of sleep and it worked well.
I was up early and had been offered a lift by Bev Navesey as I hope not to walk in the morning. I was chatting to Paul McLeery in reception and we ended up being offered a lift by a fellow racer and her parents. She was pretty handy based on chats about having her kit checked post-race as she had won a prize. I don't know who she was but thanks for the lift!
I had pre-registerd so it was a case of dropping off drop bags and chatting to a few people. Last time, I was here at 3:50am but it was a bit more civilised this time. I caught with Paul Pickford and Tracey Centurionoholic Watson as they reported back on the massive stones that were in Phil Bradburn's trainers for the GUCR.
I also had a chat with the lovely Allie Bailey from the Bad Boy Running podcast. She takes her pre-race nutrition almost as seriously as I do.
The race starts with a lap of the field before heading off a bit later along the SDW. I saw Marco at the start - and quite a few others. I deliberately set off slowly. A lot people came past breathing remarkably hard for the start of a 100 mile race. I bumped into Frank who I work on the same street as. We had a catch up and compared notes on our races of the last year. Frank was having a few stomach problems with the heat so was going a bit slower than normal and I was happy to keep pace with him.
We stopped losing places at about 5 miles and started to reel people in. First aid station was about 10 miles in and I got there in 1:40 so nice 10 minute miles. Despite this, I was in 142nd place... The Grim sweeper was on duty, and I was back on my way. A bit of melon and a top up of water and tailwind and I was on my way. The weather was really warming up.
I had been consistently averaging 10 minute miles but I was hammering the downs but walking the ups (with little jogging breakings). I managed a section of 6 minute/mile on the way down Butser Hill which was great to loosen the legs and save the quads.
I picked up a few more places before coming into the QECP. Marco was on volunteer duties and he helped me on my way after a very quick chat. The heat was picking up so the shaded climb here was lovely. I had 4 hours as par for a sub 24. I was about 5 minutes inside this so roughly on 23:30 pace but feeling well. I was here in 4:00 in 2016.
It is a quick section to Harting Down where Graham was on duties.
Another hill and descent and it was Cocking aid station. There were lots of crews parked up and I had quick chat with Max and a few other people as I walked into the aid station. Sam Robson who finished sub 20 and 3 hours ahead of me at the 2016 was sat and struggling. It didn't look good for his race but he gutted it out (pun intended) for a sub 24. There was a tap after you leave the aid station and I took the opportunity to soak my head in the lovely cold water. I was here in 6:21:46 which was 4 seconds slower than 6:21:42 of 2016. Consistent....
I was up to 79th place - up from 142nd after 10 miles. It was getting really toasty and there was about 15 seconds of rain - it was quite humid at times. I shared some miles with various people - Paul PT was having a tough day when I came past him on one of the hills and I chatted with Paul Haynes and Henry and a few others.
Bignor Hill was Janette and Joe but it was a far from Janet and John style experience. Joe always seems to get mentioned post-race and would give you the shirt of his back if he thought it would help you finish the race (he has given away socks before). Joe was the Irish bloke wearing a kilt. A hug from Janette (I must have stank by this stage) and I was getting towards halfway. I was still on the sugar train with Tailwind and gels being complemented by biscuits and fruit.
Kithurst Hill was halfway and I was well under 10 hours (par for 24). Ian Lang was on duty and is easily recognisable by his GS100 tattoo on his chest. It was quite a warm day so I will let you off the clear volunteer uniform violation.
Onwards to the first drop bag at Washington. I caught up with the lovely Tim Cox and sadly saw Tom Sawyer call it a day here. It was a fairly quick change here. Clean clothes, chargers, headtorches etc. I had carried two headtorches with me from the start but switched to the big dog. I stopped for two bowls of lovely pasta and possibly a welsh cake or two. The wonderful Louise Ayling was on the aid station if I remember correctly. I got here in 10:19 - about 10 minutes up on 2016.
It was a bit of a plod out of the aid station. I had been a bit greedy and was going to be digesting for an hour or two. I don't know if it was a good thing to take a break from the sugar train but I was going to have to take it easy for a bit.
I can't remember too much apart from the aid stations. Botolphs is a lay-by on a busy road and gets a mention in Vassos's book. Tim was here again and a quick chat and on my way up a very slow grind of a hill.
I met quite a few people out and about between Washington and the windmills. It is now 3 months ago that I'm writing things up. Simon Best was out supporting and I'm sure I gave Russell Banks an FYB! on this stretch. There was also some Gurkhas out training. They were running in a group and came past wearing just shorts. I moved out of the way assuming they would be flying but they were only a bit quicker. I managed to hold on to the back of the group and overtook one of them just before they stopped for some watermelon. This was a nice mental boost as I had 12 hours of running in my legs.
All of the aid stations are amazing but Saddlecombe is outstanding. They had espresso chocolate ball things which were superb. They have kept up the devil's aid station theme as the are 66.6 miles in. I filled my doggie bag with some extras for the road. In 2016, there was an aid station just a few miles from here but the windmills were being restored so it would be 10 miles to Housedean farm.
As always, it is a challenge to see how far I can get before needing to use a headtorch. Light was fading but it was a clear sky and I managed to get to Housedean aid station and the 76th mile before I need to use it. I had a quick drop bag stop here and had a quick chat with James Moore who I met at the Riddlesdown park run. This is in the shed of a farm and fairly basic but it reduces the risk of extended faffing.
It is a long slog out of this aid station and it was almost dark now. At least I only had less than a marathon to go now. It was about 11:30pm by the time I arrived at Housedean. I made a lame joke about having to cross the bridge - it must get dull for the volunteers when the 200th runner comes through.
I only had 16 miles to go now and it was still Saturday. I gave myself the chance to have a lovely cup of tea made by Phil Bradburn. We had the briefest of chats about his recent GUCR finish and I was on my way. It is a really really long slog out this aid station. These aren't alpine ascents but a 175 metre high climb grinds on for a while. I bumped into Lee-Stuart Evans here. He was here to pace Allie Bailey and was lurking on the climb. It helped to pass the time as we spoke about his adventures on the Monarch's way which he had recently completed. The 600 and something mile Monarch's Way crosses the SDW near the start. He headed back down towards the aid station and I headed up into the hills.
I had a headlight which was rapidly gaining on me as I went up the hill. It was a single head torch so might have been a pacer trying to catch up to their runner. As the bright headtorch pulled alongside, it was a cyclist. In my head I said "cheating f***ing cyclist" except I didn't say it my head. Fortunately the mountain biker saw the funny side of it and we had a chat going up the hill. He had cycled from his home in Guildford that morning and had planned to stop a few hours earlier but had got caught up following the race. He got to the top of the climb and decided it was time for a kip so got his tent out and stopped for the night. I only had about 15 miles to go until my sleep time.
The next section was really tough in 2016. The sea fog had come in and navigation was tricky. However this year, the fog didn't come and it was fairly plain sailing to Alfriston. I took a somewhat extended stop here (still only 5 minutes or so) and had a quick chat with Drew and possibly Zoe? My crappy Petzl battery gave up the ghost here - it had managed about 2-3 hours or so. I should have changed to regular batteries but I just used my back-up torch.
It is quite a dispiriting climb out of Alfriston which went on for a good half hour. I traded places with a few people but generally I was one of the slowest coming through this section. I had a quick chat with Macca - he reckoned we were on for 21:40 which seemed to good to be true.
I skipped the Jevington aid station - I had a bit of drink and a gel or two so figured I would save the time and disruption to my rhythm. Up the final climb and I saw the trig point. It was still absolutely pitch black at this point. It had been dawn in 2016. A quick hello to the marshalls and time to get ready for "death gully". Judging by my watch, I might sneak under 22 hours.
The descent of "death gully" was quite amusing. I had picked up Henry Church and has pacer son on this section. They were absolutely flying down it. They had also gained an orphaned pacer who's runner had dropped. To add to the fun, the pacer didn't have a working headtorch so we were hacking it down a relatively sketchy bit of trail with 3 headtorches between 4 and mine wasn't the best.
Henry dropped me and the orphaned pacer so we made our way down with me lighting the way. This was a lot more fun than blister blighted hobble of 2016. I made it through to the road with almost all of it running. It was all a bit much for my stomach but the sugar train had last 98 miles. I got overtaken by someone as I was bent double which was annoying.
Last mile or so was through the outskirts of Eastbourne and I could see the glow of the stadium. Sub 22 was definitely happening and I might even a friend's time of 21:55 last year which I had been very impressed by. I had watched the video of the finish a few times but this time it was in the dark. Eventually the track emerged. I had a goal of finishing a Centurion 100 wearing a headtorch and I had done it. It is a stupid goal but normally when you look through the finish photos, it is all the good runners finishing in the dark (apart from the really really good runners who finish in daylight).
Once round the track and I collected my buckle and the celebratory press ups. I was done and dusted in 21:41 - a massive PB on a tough course.
It was strange at the finish - normally it is packed with runners but the showers were empty and the place was quiet. I was 51st over the line and not too many people. The shower was really warm - normally it is getting cold by the time I cross the line.
I had a slight flaw with getting home - I had expected to finish and get the first train home but that didn't arrive so I got to lounge around for a few hours. I had tried to snooze in a corridor but I was still buzzing and my body was still confused. I had finished at 3:41am which is still the middle of the night. I caught up with Tim and Hammy and cheered a few more finishers over the line. #
I got a taxi to the station and picked up a cheese pasta salad for breakfast and bottle of fizzy water and made it home for just after 8am.
A very good result - I am in the Western States draw again and just need one more race finish to get auto entry for UTMB. It had also gone as well as any 100 miler and I had been consistently running the flats and downhills all the way to the finish. James and the volunteers really make the race and while my Welsh experience from last year shows I can run 100 miles without the support, it is a hell of a lot more fun and quicker with the help of the Centurion army....