South Downs Way 100

Not written a race report since my WHW triple crown last year. However I felt my experience at the SDW100 was sufficiently epic to merit trying to remember by wordpress password. 

We (Jen and myself), set off for Winchester on Friday morning. However it soon turned into an ordeal where a delay or cancellation in every mode of transport (ironically with the exception of the Edinburgh trams) saw us get in to Winchester over 2 hours later than planned. It would have been even later had we not abandoned the train journey early to get a taxi, when we learned the connection we would miss was going to result in a hours wait in the arse end of nowhere. So by the time we got dinner I hadn’t eaten or drank in about 7 hours. Less than ideal prep for a 100 mile race but I made up for it at dinner…inhaling pizza, garlic bread and a jug of water. We then headed to the hotel to get settled and to let me empty all our luggage back into assorted piles.

Race morning went pretty well. I had got about 5 hours sleep and had my mountain fuel for breakfast. Given I got zero sleep and couldn’t eat before the WHW race…I was doing well. We then jumped into a taxi, registered, faffed and then sat nervously for the start. Along with the obligatory toilet break every 5 mins.

James the race director gave us some brief instructions, then counted down….3,2,1….Go! Let’s run 100 miles. First part of the race went fairly to plan. I was a few minutes bit off 20 hour pace but not much. I knew I’d be a bit behind as the estimates based on previous results seemed to suggest a fast start and slow finish. After a cool, damp start the temperature just kept rising. The cloud cover kept in the heat and constantly teased us with a few spots of rain…only to get more hot and humid. Damion said it was about 24c at one point….6c higher than anticipated. By 35 miles in I was feeling the heat but still moving well. That is, until I emptied my guts on the trail side (and a little on my shoes) at mile 40. I immediately felt better and pressed on getting some food a few miles down the road. Then at mile 47 it happened again (although my aim had improved). Bugger. I got to the aid station at mile 50 and managed to get some food down me. Only had to make it a mile to see my crew (Jen, Damion, and Holly). Ended up heaving at the trail side once more and had to sit down twice just to cover that mile. I couldn’t even walk in a straight line let alone run. I approached my crew with all the vigour and agility of a sack of potatoes. Inside I was begging them to tell me it wasn’t safe for me to go on, I wanted someone else to make the decision for me…surely not a good idea for me to go on. However they must have forgotten to pack the sympathy as they set about re-fueling me and talking me back into the game. So I stopped there for about half an hour, just to get enough energy to make it the 3 miles to Washington where I could get inside out the sun/heat for some pasta. I had a chat with Tim Lambert as he came passed, he was also struggling in the heat, so it helped to know I wasn’t the only one…and he showed no signs of packing it in! He had also made himself a target for me to catch!

I was told to walk and let my body recuperate and cool off. But within a mile I was doing 9m/m and ran all the way into Washington, stopping only briefly to drink some water when I thought I might be sick again. I was back on good form by the time I reached Washington, and I don’t think my crew could believe it was the same runner they dragged off the dirt just 3 miles earlier. I stopped for a while to eat pasta and enjoy being sat down and indoors. I needed to change things up a bit so I ditched the tailwind (hydration/energy drink for those not in the know) for water and salt tablets and left there with a 40min buffer on my 24h pace.

Before I knew it I was running well again…even running up hills and catching all those that passed me in that hellish part of the race when I wanted to quit. I Took my time in the next aid stations to get food in though as I knew I had depleted my reserves already. I continued this all the way through the second half of the race, never really having another bad spell. For the last few aid stations I was just trying to get the job done, so a couple of glugs of cola, and a few of water then on my way again.

The mist descended for the last 16 miles which made navigation a nightmare, and we managed to help a few runners back onto the right route. However it did make things nice and cool … even if you could only see a few feet in front. With 2 miles to go I was completely burst and struggled to get into a run, but I managed to keep things moving along and we continued to overtake a few more runners. I had gone over the last mile on road in my mind so many times, that it didn’t feel as long as I thought it was going to…but I have never been so relieved to get to an athletics track. 400m to go I gave it the beans 1 last time, as if I was running the last of a 400m intervals session (it felt fast….). Crossing the line I collapsed in an exhausted heap, not for the first time in the race…but certainly the last!

I had gone into the race gunning for 20h and was sure I could do it. However with the hot conditions, and my lack of ability to perform well in them, I was (and still am) well chuffed to get a sub-24h finish.

The acknowledgements. No good (or otherwise) blog would be complete without thanking the people who helped you out along the way. Much like Formula 1. The driver just turns up and steals the glory then writes some crap on the internet about how hard they worked for it. The real work goes on behind the scenes. So here goes….

The support crew – Jen, Damion and Holly. Apart from bringing along some pureed beef as food for me to eat …. These guys were on point from the start. Wouldn’t have got anywhere near the finish without them, they got me out of what felt like a completely hopeless situation. Not to mention they gave up their weekends to chase me across the countryside feeding me and dealing with my tantrums. What a team!

Centurion staff/volunteers – There was almost a 1-1 ratio of volunteer to runner. Every aid station was in full swing party mode, and have enough food and drink to keep us all going. Definitely one of the best races I have ever taken part in, and will make the trip down to do another one of their 100 milers.

RunRecover – I started working with Neil MacNicol at the end of last year with the aim of improving my race performance. Despite not making my 20h target, I was still able to finish the race strong in tough conditions, having lost a few hours to the heat. Certainly not something I could have done before. Hopefully I can keep the form going to nail that sub 20h in my next 100 miler!

RaceFitness – Kieron’s fitness classes have been great at improving my overall body strength and agility. Functional outdoor fitness using the environment as a gym definitely beats standing indoors repeatedly picking  up a bit of metal then putting it back down again. Even if it means you are obliged to take part in an obstacle race now and again.

That’s all for now…hopefully my next blog will be a really uneventful tale of how I ran 100 miles, everything went to plan and hit my targets.

For the stat geeks like me….here is my strava link

below: me looking surprisingly fresh with a hard earned belt buckle!


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