South Downs Way 100

South Downs Way 100

After completing the North Downs Way 50 mile race in 2015, it seemed to be the natural progression to have a go at a 100 mile race and the South Downs Way 100 was ideal as I knew a fair amount of the course.

At the time of my last Channel attempt in July 2016 I was 2 stone heavier and just doing a weekly 3 mile jog as cross training. Once the 100 miler was booked, I gradually increased my mileage and had got up to 20 miles by the end of 2016. Having built up the running again, I started to use a walk (the hills)/run strategy that I would use in the race for my longer training runs and the really serious stuff started in March with the first run of over 30 miles. Over the next few months I completed 7 runs of marathon distance or more and had recced the whole of the South Down Way course, including a ‘big’ weekend with a 33 miler on the Saturday and the 27 mile 3 Forts (Cissbury, Chanctonbury and Devils Dyke) Marathon on the Sunday. Fortunately, I experienced very few injury problems during the training and knowing that I could manage 60 miles over a weekend without problem gave me a lot of confidence.

I was one of 297 competitors who started the race at 6 am on Saturday 6 June 2017 with the aim of reaching the finish in Eastbourne by 12 noon on the Sunday, ie within 30 hours. The race starts at Chilcomb, just outside Winchester and follows the South Downs Way for virtually all of the 100 miles, until you drop down to the finish in Eastbourne. There are 13 aid stations along the way with food and drink, as well as a few other designated areas where you could meet your support ‘crew’ and mine (Katie, Mary, John and Tom) were brilliant.

The weather on the Saturday was hot, but fortunately not blistering and I sent off at a steady pace, a bit slower than training and walked anything that was a bit a hill. The first half of the race from Winchester to Amberley was generally very runnable, mainly rolling countryside with a few steep climbs and a particularly steep descent from Butser Hill to the A3.

By late Saturday afternoon, I was approaching the half way stage and feeling fairly good, but then I think the heat took its toll and I had a bit of a ‘wobble’ at around the 47 mile mark.  There was a nasty descent on a flinty track down from Bignor Hill to Amberley and at the bottom, I couldn’t get running properly, so walked to the crew access point in Amberley. I had a funny few minutes feeling sick and faint before setting off again up Rackham Hill towards the stretch that overlooks Storrington and then suffered excruciating cramp (calves and thighs at the same time) on the steepest part with nothing to hold onto. All you can do is grin and bear it until it subsides.

The shame was that I was now on ‘my training patch’ and some good flattish running, but every time I tried to go beyond a slow jog, I felt the cramp coming on again. From the 52 mile checkpoint, you were allowed a support runner and whilst this was only ever a contingency plan, having seen me at Amberley, my crew decided I needed some support and my daughter Katie joined me at that point. Over the next few miles I managed to get some salt on board and didn’t have any cramping problems for the rest of the race. My brother John joined us at Washington. He was going to be the ‘contingency’ runner that may be needed at the end of the race and was slightly surprised to be called on to run immediately and stayed with me until Devils Dyke at about 65 miles, by which time it was dark and we were using head torches.

Katie took over the support role again from Devils Dyke, only for us to find, on reaching the Ditchling Beacon, that John had had to be taken home after feeling unwell (he had been sick the previous day) and despite me saying that I was fine, Katie insisted doing the next leg and also called my youngest son Tom out at about 4 am to be ready to do the final 15 miles or so from Southease. All told Katie did 22 miles.

The overnight part of the race was a fantastic experience, it was cooler, but not cold and it wasn’t just that there were fellow runners close by, you could also see the head torches of those either a long way in front or some behind.

I was always conscious of the time and generally kept well ahead of the cut offs that applied at each aid station, although at one point got close to 1 hour from the cut off and was a little concerned as I knew I was slowing. At the Housedean aid station on the A27 just up from Brighton’s Amex Stadium at Falmer, the rallying cry from the aid station helpers was that there was less than a marathon to go, but there were still some big hills to climb and descend. The next hill (Castle Hill) was long rather than steep so we decided to run most of it and when I felt ok at the top, I knew, barring injury that I would finish. That was also the point that the sun had come up and we had a spectacular red sunrise as we looked over Lewes.

On reaching Southease at 85 mile, Tom then took over the support running only to face 3 of the steepest hills. First out of Southease, and then Alfriston and just before we took on the final hill at Jevington, an old chap in the village said ‘Winchester must seem a long way back’ as I ran past. It then dawned on me how long I had been running.

However, we were well ahead of time and other than the hills, I managed to run most of the final part of the course. Having come off the Downs, the run to the finish through Eastbourne was quite emotional. Some of the locals obviously knew about the race, were very supportive and cars even stopped to let you cross the roads.

I finished in 207th place having taken 28 hours 50 minutes and 37 seconds, a long way behind the winner who did it in 15 hours 42 mins (and they were nearly 1 hour ahead of the 2nd place finisher), but I was well inside the 30 hour cut off.

Over the 100 miles I was in a group of approx. 20 runners (and one guy who power walked the whole way). At various times I would either overtake or be overtaken as some were quicker up or down hills or took longer stops. Everyone was friendly and supportive and it was pleasing that most of those finished, although 77 of the starters didn’t.

Except for the short time after my Amberley ‘wobble’ and cramp, it was an enjoyable experience. I probably won’t do it again (although have a different 100 miler booked for 2018), but was just pleased to finish with very few aches and pains and also to recover well after the race. I have got my medal (actually a belt buckle) and my tee-shirt, although the icing on the cake was a few weeks later on Father’s Day, when Katie gave me a lovely canvas of a photo she had taken from Castle Hill of the sunrise over Lewes. A precious memory.

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