#323 South Downs Way 100 Race Report

Buckle #18 earnt at the Sounth Downs Way 100, my 50th ultra! 26:10 or so, not displeased with that as a 200 minute course PB. I'm re-reading Lord of the Rings at the moment and the Elves are described as fighting the long defeat which rather struk a chord of how I view the long ultras, you're simply fighting against the defeat for as long as possible before it hits, you never really conquer the lo ng ultra distances but perhaps each time we conquer something within ourselves. Wasn't the best run as had nausea issues maybe 75% of the way, but stuck with it and got it done. Huge thanks to Heather MH , Alex Hamilton , Allan Rumbles , Fiona and Russell Morling , and lovely to see so many other folk I knew helping, volunteering and supporting!


The South Downs Way 100 was always on the horizon for me as I had volunteered at the 2013 edition so had a volunteers place available to me. It was also at the 2013 event where helping out at the finish line I'd first realised that 100 mile runs weren't actually near death experiences for everyone, to that point, I'd pretty much been dead on my feet when I'd finished one, but witnessing the incredible finishers woke me up to the fact that there were not only some incredibly athletic, fit and strong runners around, some of them finished these things with a smile and a run, not a grimace and a stagger! So that, and the Grand Union DNF strengthened my resolve to not just “wish” to do the ultra events better, but to actually do something about it, so I chopped off 25 pounds or so and compared to the 2012 SDW100 I turned up probably the best part of 30 pounds lighter, a lot more experienced and ready to have another crack at it! Rachel, my usual crew, taxi and no.1 supporter was running this event herself so I would be unsupported, didn't really feel I needed to worry too much about a pacer or crew so didn't ask for help. Lesson #1, no matter how happy you are going in to a long 100, pacers in the night, always a good idea. Remember that Traviss, but more of that later.


We didn't bother staying anywhere local for the start so drove up after an 0245 alarm call and duly got our numbers and did some last minute sorting out, always good to chat to a few folk, getting to know more of the ultra folks these days, or they know me from other ultras, the marathon scene (being the Chairman of the 100 Marathon Club, or from our own races we put on. (And I do apologise to anyone and everyone who I seemed a bit vacant when you spoke to me during this, for much of it I was feeling a bit rough!)

In fact we were chatting so much we actually missed the start, just shooting the breeze with Dave Ross and the hooter went (I'm not sure delaying him 5 seconds at the start contributed much to his amazing 15:56 time though, well done Dave!) and away we went, lap of the field to spread the runners out and then out on to the path proper.

For this event I tried something of an experiment, all my best marathons have been run on having a pretty decent feed up the evening before, all my worst marathon runs have been run on having too much of a decent feed up the evening before late. So as a balance I had a big feed up during the day before, lots of calories and generally enjoyed lots of goodies! Lesson #2, I'm really not that convinced about the whole carb loading thing, not least as everyone seems to forget the carb depletion phase beforehand. But on top of a days fairly heavy eating I had toast, a Clif bar and a fair smattering of almond M&Ms before the start washed down with a bottle of Ensure in my first water bottle. I started feeling rough about mile 3… right, over did that I feel, not sure if it was the food the day before, or too much that morning, bearing in mind the 0600 start, I don't know, but it didn't work terribly well.

The forecast leading up to the event had been pretty decent, bit warm, low 20Cs during the day, 12C during the night, no rain, bit of a breeze. What wasn't really forecast was the lashing rain overnight! Whilst it didn't rain on the event itself the residue of the good soaking was pretty obvious to start off with and I soon realised that I probably had the wrong shoes on, went for Hokas, Stinson Tarmac to be precise and they're a bit like Bambi on ice on slippy chalk based anything and there were some fairly muddy sections early on, especially between 9 and 22, and I mean ankle deep gloopy nightmare unavoidable paths, usually between a barbed wire fence and river! (OK not all of it but there was a bit like that) – I hate mud like that, and what was worse was that my feet got a dunking several times. Not utterly soaked, but wet enough, wasn't impressed! Wish I had the GTX Salomans I think, or at least for the first 20, beyond that on the Downs proper the Hokas were just fine, but my feet got wet enough that they felt pretty bad at times and was worried about the usual blister issues I seem to get when I get wet feet.

So all was well, a few nice chats with folk as we all settled into it, my usual trick of starting fast didn't really happen as you're on single track fairly quickly and pointless expending energy trying to gain a few places to go from 9:30 to 9:00 for a mile kind of thing, so headphones in, off we go. Until the, mmm… not sure I really feel quite right stomach type thing started. It was never bad, I've certainly been worse but it was just there I would say for 75% of the time, I could eat, I'd throw up in my mouth a little bit from time to time, drinking was good, electrolytes were good, I just didn't quite feel good. The biggest giveaway was that I barely liked the look of any aid station food. I don't think I ate a single cookie. I had a couple of soft ones of my own I carried, some from drop bags and a couple of lovely home made ones from the mile 66 AS, but otherwise my stock handful of cookies from an aid station was missing and that's never a good sign!

I knew from the AS set up that there wasn't much before mile 23, just the one aid station, so carried more food that I normally would as if you're just having something quick at mile 9 then it's a way to go before you're eating again (I'm a big fan of the drip, drip, drip calories in school of ultra running fueling) and I had two of my usual camelback bottles for the first 54 miles as it was due to be fairly warm (in reality it wasn't that hot, cloud cover at times was nice, the breeze in the face was good and although it was very humid at times, I think overall we got away with the weather OK).

One advantage of having run the course before (and also parts of it at other events SDW50 is the back end of the SDW100, the South Downs Marathon ends at the QECP (mile 22), Steyning Stinger covers bits, Seaford Marathon, Beachy Head Marathon) so bits seemed familiar, what bits from what event mind you was sometimes more puzzling especially when done in reverse! So off we trotted and there wasn't a huge amount of go in me, and it really didn't seem that long before almost any kind of incline meant a walk up, and some muddy bits, not feeling my best. Progress wasn't as quick as I would have liked, but I was good. AS 1 popped up pretty much on time, 1:45 from memory (I had a luggage label with the AS distances, close times and my 2012 splits and 24 hours splits on them, which fell out of my pocket after a few miles I presume as 1:45 was the only one I checked! Luckily I had two, the second I then promptly tied on to my pack, lesson #3, tie on luggage labels, you might look like Paddington Bear at times though, but does avoid things falling off you! Thank you Rachel for the spare! But this didn't have the 2012 splits on, oh well)

The muddy bits were worst from AS1 at 9 to AS2 at 22, and there was some thoroughly horrible little stretches. Clinging on for dear life at times I was trying to both stay upright and keep toes dry, managed the former (noticed some that didn't!) and failed at the latter. Aside from losing a bunch of time it didn't lighten my mood much, but the sun came out and things weren't so bad, especially when Rachel caught me up. Think she was somewhat surprised to find me, but was pleased she did as we ended up doing the best part of 40 miles together in the end. We were joined by a chap called Nigel for most of that way, he was doing his first 100 and we just trotted, walked and chatted along, ticking the miles away. Lesson #4 stick £2 in your pocket for a lovely bottle of ice cold diet coke at QECP (thank you Rachel!). I go back and forth on the view of “being prepared” I was “back” before the event, so no cash, no credit cards, my only plan is finishing. I was more “forth” when I fancied that bottle of diet coke! Lol

I did gradually start to feel better, after eating fairly decently enough at the AS at 9, 22 at 31 I decided to eat nothing for an hour or two to see if that helped, one reason I like diet coke/coke is that it makes me burp and I find that often that's what I need to clear the stomach a bit and feel better for it, so at 31 I decided I'd have one bottle of water and one half full of coke, unfortunately the chap said he couldn't let me have much as they were on their last bottle! Wasn't impressed. So anyway I didn't have anything else to eat and ate nothing else for a while and did slowly over the next few hours begin to feel better for it, the downside now being that you're at mile 30/40 or so and feeling a bit worn out as it's a warmish humid day and you've got 40 miles on your legs so dropping in 10 miles at 8:00 pace, not going to be happening! At Cocking AS (mile 35) they were on their last bottle of coke too! (Glad I wasn't that near the back…) so a decent amount in the water bottle wasn't happening but they were redeemed by having some mint Wethers Originals, so had some of those over the next miles and a tiny bag of ginger bread men… but by the time we got to half way I reckoned I was feeling good again so as Rachel had her “major change” at the Washington AS and mine was at Clayton we decided that we'd split there. I had a drop bag, which was literally just a little bag inside a plastic box (so it didn't get crushed in the back of a van!) so just grabbed that and went, interestingly at 54 I was in 172 nd at 70 126 th a good spell and not messing around at Aid Stations can gain a lot of places!

Was looking forwards to my bag of gooies as all my staple ultra stuff in there and I just plain hadn't fancied too much at the aid stations, but a spicy packet of “Buffalo Wings – Wheat Thins” was just what the doctor ordered. The great big climb out of Washington wasn't but just wandered up there having a munch. Got near the top, thought tell you what, I feel OK now, iPod back in, bit of thump, thump, thump loud Hardstyle, Manic Street Preachers and so on, and I was off! Passed loads of people, walked with a few for a little while to say hello and a quick chat, but otherwise steaming along! OK that's how I felt in my head, I suspect when I look at the Garmin data it'll be some very impressive 12 minute miles type thing, but was making excellent progress and the game plan was to get to Clayton before I needed my headtorch. (I actually carried this the whole way, wish I hadn't as my back got a bit chafed from where it dug in I think, but I have the view that nothing goes in a drop bag that if it doesn't show up, gets lost or something means my race is over, if my Wheat Thins don't show up, I'm a bit miffed, no head torch and I'm stuck)

My good spell kind of ended at 66, Saddlescombe, I had some scotch egg things, a cookie (which was fantastic) and a muffin and I think that tipped my stomach over again, just felt rough again by the time I hit Clayton for my night switch, jacket on, head torch on, changed watches, but there really wasn't much running after that. Night came down and the demons come out to play. I rather stiffened up during that time, a crew right there and then, or a pacer would have been brilliant for 10-15 minutes just whilst you sort yourself out kind of thing. It was at this stage in 2012 I struggled (well, we, with Foxy Bayley) dreadfully, 23, 24, 25 minute miles and took FOREVER to get to 76 in the middle of the night. So whilst I had made it to 70 some good 3 hours earlier than in 2012, was still hitting this section in the night. I always seem to struggle at night, I just can't seem to run on trails with any kind of confidence, the speed falls off a cliff. If I do this one again, which I am sure it will be, the goal is to get to 76 before the night gear switch as 70-76 as I discovered at the SDW50 is very runnable and what feels uphill at night, is flat or downhill in the day!

After reaching 70 in 16:05 I still had some hopes of a sub 24:00 finish, but they soon wandered away and by the time I reached Housedean at 76 it was just going to be a “get around” in 26 hours type exercise. The endless climb out of there was a dreadful drag, the legs were tired, I was getting terribly sleepy and at least was alert enough to spot the place where Foxy and I went wrong in 2012, (to this day I still don't know how we did that!) and I was just at that dreadful “I need to sleep” spot when I heard a familiar voice come behind me from Allan Rumbles who was pacing Fiona McNellis and that really was a brilliant piece of luck for me as I was dawdling and falling asleep and they really perked me up with some chat and they kindly allowed me to tag along for what must have been the best part of 15+ miles in the end. We just waffled away a bit, Allan marched us along, jogged us from time to time, opened gates and just generally was a huge help! I owe you a beer Allan, probably two or three!

Will confess to a sit down at Southease and Alfriston, hours and hours ahead of the cut offs, couldn't care less if it was a 25:30 or a 26:30 finish kind of thing, zero risk of a “mental DNF” so rested the legs, chatted, munched on what felt like, wasted time generally as knew there was a big climb afterwards and just trying to avoid it for as long as possible!

That was the end of the game really, managed to go astray right at the death coming off the South Downs, Centurion post a marshall at the top just to point people in the right direction and I of course said, yes, for sure I know where I am going. So promptly followed a dog walker for 200 yards on a parallel path and was wondering why I did that, brain in neutral! But double backed and went the right way, did manage a bit of a jog in the last mile or two, but nothing special and all done in 26:14 in the end. I did think about a mile from the finish that I would have been more pleased with a sub 26:00 but then recalled that I really had rather enjoyed wasting the time at the last few aid stations, so daft regretting that later!

Got myself sorted out at the finish and that took a while, I had my feet taped as usual but the combination of mud early, the glue stuff, sweat and tape meant that the injinis were literally welded to my toes, must have taken me 15 minutes thread by thread almost easing them off, painful! Was seriously worried I was about to lose 10 toenails, though eventually my feet, although far sorer than they had been for a while, weren't that bad, the two little toes have nasty blisters but (a day later) they're really not too bad at all and the soreness has already passed. Both my ankles were a bit sore for various parts of the run, but oddly not a twinge since and all in all think I've gotten through it pretty well.I'm fairly pleased with my time, not over the moon or anything, was vaguely hopeful of sub 24 but 26 hours was the aim and that's what I did, a 200+ minute PB from 2012 and by an odd quirk of fate I've now done 4 hundreds twice and all of them the second time has been around 200 minutes quicker!

Things I Learnt

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