Wednesday 17 April 2013

South Downs Way 50 - Race Report

What an event. Some of the worst weather conditions that I have ever run in, and that is saying something after the snow and wet of the CCC in August 2012. I'm yet to see the photos from the race, but when I do I'll be sure to save and post them up.

Race day arrived with minimal fuss. Normally nervous, I wasn't expecting much coming off a solid base of 10 - 15 mile runs and not much else. I've been training faster than last year, but mostly as I have spent less time on the trails. I picked up two other runners, Tim (@jedirider) and George (@GeorgeKnights) from Clapham Junction and drove to the start line. Nice to share some good banter on the way down, and another great part of the trail running vibe. Generally the crowds are pretty mellow at these sorts of events, and this one was no different. I always check out what everyone is doing and wearing, and saw someone carrying sticks (knowing the terrain, they weren't going to be used!), and a runner carrying a spare pair of shoes (with rain coming, they'd get soaked!). A lot of people wearing compression kit, but as a firm non-believer I refused to budge on getting into that sort of stuff. It was sunny and I had my TNF CCC cap with me, but I didn't want to look like a knob so kept it in my drop bag for Eastbourne.

Chatting to Tim he made it clear his idea to get in front early and avoid any logjams. I decided to do the same and with the horn going off we made our way out of Worthing and worked up to the South Downs Way. I found the first 5 miles quite warm and stripped off arm warmers and gloves, but kept them handy as I knew what was coming.

Being guilty of going off too fast before (see: North Downs Way 50, Classic Quarter) I kept to a strategy of around 10 - 10.5km/h and running up as many hills as possible to keep all muscle groups moving. The first checkpoint was relatively straightforward 11 miles in, but I knew the pace was far too fast for people to keep up. I was averaging 11km/h at that stage and I know most people in that field couldn't run under 7 hours (although one could!!) I ran with a South African chap for a while (Doug Murray, who would later finish 6th in 8 hours flat) and we chatted. Very nice guy, and clearly aware his Hoka's weren't cutting it in this weather. He was too quick for me though and I let him go, occasionally catching him back up.

The second check point was only 5 miles further on at Saddlescombe and that was a nice break as the weather started to close. I walked the hill out and called my wife to say hello, keep her updated and also drop a tweet about how red hot the pace was! Even though people in front of me were disappearing off into the distance I knew that we had 33 miles to go so the race hadn't started. I knew the next part of the course well, and offered people advice on where to run. I hope that doesn't come across as arrogant, but I know from past experience a little help on where to turn is always very welcome! I ran a very strong section thanks to the walk, and kept up a good pace, arriving in Housedean around 4 hours or so. Coming in I found Tim and started chatting, but he didn't recognise me until we stopped! Nice of him - a lot of people say I'm forgettable and this just proves it ;-) A great stop in the shed as the weather came in, and got more food in me. This is something I need to do and spend more time at aid stations as I know it will help me towards the end. I even met (briefly) Richard Ashton (@c3044700) of TP 100 fame, and saw Graham Carter (@GrahamCarterGC) but wasn't really with it so didn't properly introduce myself...

Coming out of Housedean I was buoyed by the idea of the banter at the next station with Bryan (@bryanwe) who I bailed out on a SDW recce and also completely cocked up the TP100 thinking it was a week earlier than it was (in a way, glad I missed that!) Before that though was the first time up high with real battling conditions. It was very cold, wet but not as cloudy as it had looked from down below. I had a bit of a stitch at that stage from the food and drink, but again knew it was going to work out in the end. We climbed up immediately and I watched several people (Doug and Tim included) disappear off into the distance. There was a cluster of runners in front that I wanted to pass and would have a chance later. Stats say I was in 12th place at Housedean, but managed to lose a couple of places along the way. I had Tim in my sights, but my strategy of running my own race meant that I kept my distance, enough so that gates would close before I arrived etc. Tim knew what I was up to, and later we discussed it as a strategy he uses as well, so it wasn't about being rude but just being in my own zone. We arrived into Southease together at 34 miles and saw Bryan. Again, I wasn't recognised so that kept me in high spirits :-( Isn't my accent enough? I hung about a bit there while Tim ran off again in front of me, and I put my jacket on. I had arm warmers back on and gloves but it was getting cold. It was about to be proven as a very smart decision.

The climb out of Southease was the one I looked forward to the least as I knew it was never ending. I walked the climb there, arriving and thinking that Tim had accelerated out of site (in fact he was now behind me taking the wrong turn!) I then took a slow job as the cloud descended and I came across countless groups of DoE kids out in some terrible conditions, maps out looking lost. They were on the trail so they were OK. It was a really long slog here as the terrain continues ever so slightly up, and it was just sapping energy into the wind and rain. My hood was flapping in the 20 - 30mph winds, and rain was forcing my eyes shut. I stopped at a carpark for a gel (the only one I took the whole race, the rest I did on real food) and kicked on, with no idea who was in front and who was behind. Head down I continued, having run this leg last week with Marshall. However, I found myself down a track as the cloud cleared and staring at a scene I hadn't seen before, with no Centurion Runner tape in sight. What to do! The trusty Samsung came out and google maps put me in the centre of Brighton. I certainly wasn't there, so accepted defeat and headed back up the trail to find another DoE group of kids who were also lost. Thankfully someone else arrived to say we were all in the wrong place and to head back up. I kicked on and found another runner coming down, I've also read the winner took a wrong turn as well so I was in good company. This diversion cost me 16 minutes though. What it did was galvanise me and I picked up the pace from there on in to Alfriston where I came across a large group of guys asking why I was behind them when they knew I was in front. It was all so confusing.

More food in Alfriston and I knew the last section well, and that it was 12km only. I walked the climb out as I knew I would need strength to kick it home. The wind was incredibly strong and I gave up protecting the shoes from puddles and just dug in. I was making good time, and picked off a couple of runners before Jevington. There I could see a group disappearing off out of site (I think Tim was in that group), a quick pit stop then up and out the climb which wasn't bad, and I ran about 80% of it. There was a guy in front of me who I helped out with the final turn down onto the streets of Eastbourne and then kicked on at 12km/hr home. Not quick, but 78km and 8 hours and 15 mins in that was a handy pace!

Coming to the finish line I had heard the race organiser say we had to run a 400m lap, but I thought it was a joke as everyone laughed. However it wasn't a joke...Tim had just finished and cheered me in and I crossed the finish line in 8 hours, 26 minutes and in 11th place overall. I walked across the line and actually felt OK. I had the best shower I had ever had, had a longer chat with a few guys like Doug and Richard, before taking the shuttle back to the car. We had no idea where George was but a text later we knew he also had a stonking run in 9.12. In fact he was coming into Eastbourne as we were leaving to get back to the car!

The legs siezed up and there was good chat in the shuttle back. All in all a great experience but everyone was amazed by the conditions. A few people with hypothermia and also a search and rescue mission until midnight on Saturday gives you an idea of what it was like. The trail itself isn't that tough, but one wrong turn that looks oh-so-right and apparently you end up in the middle of Brighton...the big test is will I be on the start line in 2014, and the answer is a definitive yes! I imagine this race will sell out quickly next year.

A big thanks to all the organisers. If you are reading this (I don't know who does), I can strongly suggest Centurion Running events as worth doing. So well organised, full of support and just great people to meet along the way. The final times are here:

My final stats are:-
81.21km (diversion!)
11th place (200 entrants, no idea how many started, finished)
5387ft of climbing (we were told less, Garmin wrong?)

Here is the journey!

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