Following our experiences on the North Downs Way 50 in 2016 we were keen for more – See our 2016 NDW50 Report.
Jamie, Richard and I had all agreed on trying the South Downs Way 50 as our next ultra event. I was interested in all the comparisons being bandied around between NDW vs SDW on the Centurion FB page.
It was like the great North-South divide, but which was one is better ?
In the words of Harry Hill “There’s only one way to find out – FIGHT“
As expected post NDW50, Jamie was relentless in trying to persuade us to do a 100 mile event, now we had a qualifying 50 under our belt. I however, was still not convinced that 24 hrs plus, without life’s essentials, like sleep or alcohol was for me.
Luckily we started seeing some impressive pictures of the Centurion 50 Slam Gongs on their FB site, so Jamie turned his attention this. All 3 of us were up for the 50 Slam, but then one of our other running buddies Tom, soon announced his wedding would be on same day as WW50. Our Slam attempt was postponed for another year.
SDW50 was booked, but we had missed the cut off for booking NDW50, so only made the waitlist. Luckily we eventually made the cut for the NDW50 so “The Downs Double 50” was on !
SDW50 on 8th April and NDW50 5 weeks later on 13th May.
Summer training for me had been non existent, as usual. I sweat profusely in any temperature over -1C, so rarely run once the mercury starts rising.
To placate Jamie further, I agreed to do the 100Km Race to the Stones with him in July – so running in heat is something I need to conquer.
Our work running club had decided on doing the Bournemouth Marathon in Oct. Totally unprepared, I ran this as my first official training run. Naturally I found it tough with such little prep, plus the unseasonably hot weather.
I managed to survive our Dorset Dash, but unfortunately Richard was starting to suffer from a painful hamstring issue. This got progressively worse after he completed the Chelmsford marathon a few weeks later. Richard and his wife Karen were booked to run the Tokyo Marathon in Feb, to complete their Abbots World Marathon Majors. This had been several years in the planning, so understandably he made the decision to drop out the trail events/training and concentrate all efforts on recuperation, ahead of Tokyo.
Richard had been the “break-man” for NDW50, stopping Jamie going off too quick. I was now given this challenging role. One I was not relishing.
In January, another run club adventure, this time out to compete in the Gran Canaria Marathon. Another great weekend, which taught me another valuable lesson about running in the heat.
Quite simply put, you need to drink plenty of water !
Not rocket science, but easy to mess up. My “little and often” gulps were way under what I needed. A serious dizzy spell hit me with 3 miles to go – not a pleasant experience. When I could eventually pee, it came out the colour of a Costa Coffee Black Americano !
We had planned to do some recce runs on the SDW ahead of the event, but like the old adage, the best–laid plans of Jamie and I, fell by the wayside.
We had done 3-4 trails runs up 28 miles on the NDW as preparation, but most of my training seem to be road runs, with members of South London Harriers. A great bunch of runners, many of whom were training for Brighton and London Marathons. I managed to do plenty of Sunday morning 20 milers with them, which I really enjoyed, but this had seriously limited my trail running.
As such, I wasn’t feeling as prepared as I would have liked.
The day of the SDW50 was soon upon us. My wife Di had agreed to drive us to the start at Worthing, meet us at a number of the crew stops, and be at the finish to drive us home – what a star !
What a lucky man I am, it only cost me the promise of trip to New York for my wife and daughter (don’t worry she agreed to perform the same crewing role for NDW, so well worth it).
The weather was unbelievable. Quite simply, not a cloud in the sky. Factor 30 sun cream was liberally applied. With kit check and registration slicker than ever, we were soon off to the starting field.
In the starting “paddock”, it was great to catch up with old friends Tim Cooke and Neil Boosey (the blister popper from NDW50 Part I). Neil had provided me some great course notes, which I was hoping would negate the lack of local knowledge.
Neil’s final advice was “big hills after every aid station, fill up on liquids, grab the food, don’t hang around, and eat it on the uphill’s“.
James the RD counted us down, and we were off, dead on 9am.
I had decided on an easy 11-12 min/miles pace start to finish, with overall aim of completing it in under 10 hrs. Jamie was adamant it would be “well under 10hrs“, I was happy to be running and just wanted to finish in one piece.
The first few miles were all up hill, mainly chalky single track. I could already feel the warmth of the sun, so my aversion to running in the heat was playing on my mind. Not wanting a repeat of the “coffee coloured pee” I was on the liquids straight away.
When we finally started to get onto the ridge of the SDW, apart from the absolutely stunning views, the cool breeze was most welcome. What was soon apparent was the lack of any form of cover. The course was very much an open expanse of rolling downland hills, with limited vegetation/ tree cover. Compare this to the NDW50, which I would estimate 60-70% is under a canopy of trees. Anyone who had not put on the sun lotion today, was going to end the day medium rare !
The lack of vegetation also allows you to see first hand, quite how big some of the hills on SDW are. We could make out small dot shaped images of runners on the tops of the hills, way, way in the distance. This vision of what is coming, is simply not possible on NDW, as the hills are, by and large, shrouded in trees (I think I prefer not knowing quite how far up some of these hills go !)
The Aid stations came and went, and as Neil advised, after each one, a BIG hill followed. It is easy to plan for “grab and go” at the aid stations, but the sheer variety of food in front of you, the great volunteers, and simply having a break, make this a difficult task to execute. I am not chasing times, so was happy to tuck into the array of goodies and chat with the fellow runners/volunteers.
By half way, the pattern of our run was clear. Jamie ignored me continually moaning about the pace. He ran on regardless, looking around every couple of minutes, and when significantly far ahead of me, would give me one of those stares, then slow down enough to let me catch up.
For me I have always found I actually feel more comfortable the further I get into long distance runs. Like the NDW50 last year, I only started feeling “good” from about 35 miles in. Prior to this I am constantly worrying about knee/ankle pains, and simply if I can finish at all.
Di met us at Firle Beacon and topped up our drinking flasks with more electrolyte. We’d both had enough of this by now. “Do you fancy a cup of coffee ? ” she asked. I can honestly say, that was the best tasting coffee I have ever had – no word of a lie. It was divine, and really lifted our spirits.
More aid stations, and more Tailwind consumed. I had read about the product, but this was the first time I had used it (I must say it seemed to do the trick). Its great to have this type of product provided as part of the event.
My rate of “bottom burps” increased as the run progressed, and so the obvious “Tailwind” jokes followed. Jamie said the reason he was constantly running ahead of me, was due to “air quality reasons”, as opposed to poor pacing.
Time was progressing well, and scenery got better and better. We ran the flattish and downhill areas, but I had to succumb to walking up all the big hills. Frustrating as this was, for me, it was the only way to ensure I didn’t grind to halt in the latter stages.
We entered the little village of Alfriston @ 41 miles and had a few minutes in the Chapel aid station to stock up of food and drink. At this stage I calculated we should make the sub 10hrs mark, but only if there were no more significant hills. We ran on, and of course, there were more hills ! I was painfully aware at how slow I was walking up these hills – my spiteful Garmin told me 16 min/miles !
We reached the final aid station at Jevington. We had a dilemma,to plough on or sample one more round of fruit/peanut butter sarnies and jelly babies. The latter won the day, so up the steps and into the village hall we went, for one final feast.
We rushed out again after a few minutes. A check of the Garmin and I shouted “as long as there are no more hills we will make sub 10” -you guessed it, another mother of a hill !
Jamie put on his determined face and muttered something about “I haven’t come this ****ing far without getting under 10hrs”. He power marched up the hill and I tried my best to keep up. When we got to the top we caught up 3 other runners. By now we all saw the infamous Trig point near the gully of death.
I have never been here before, but had watched that YouTube video of the last section of the course so many times, I didn’t need to look out for the course markings anymore. I announced to the other runners I knew the way. Jamie had seen it precisely zero times, so for the first time in 47 odd miles, I was in front and leading the way !!!
I kept looking at my Garmin, not really knowing the exact distance to the finish.
To be safe, I said lets speed it up, so down the gully, round the alleys and along the road we went, at around 8 min/miles. Everything felt good. Past the hospital, round the roundabout and the finishing track in Eastbourne was in sight. We sped past a number of runners in those few miles. We entered the track and Jamie said “lets do a sprint a finish.”
Then the quickening pace and possibly a “wafer thin” Chocolate Peanut Butter Gu Gel I had gobbled down at Jevington, hit back !
As we entered the track my stomach went into convulsions, and I was dry retching. My first thought was about the mess my puke would make on the pristine running track.
Jamie shouted at me to go faster, more dry retching and then a torrent of abuse was hurled back at him. I decided to keep on running but to point my mouth in the direction of the inner grass circle of the track, so any vomit would miss the running area.
I keep retching all the remaining 200 meters to the finish and continued after I crossed the line. For once in my life, I actually managed to press the stop button on my Garmin (what a pro !) as I crossed the line. Normally its about 5 mins later I realise to hit the red button.
Time: 9hrs 43min 43 Secs -We had done it !144th out of 393 starters
So what is better, SDW or NDW ?
All will be revealed in PART II …….
Final Thoughts on SDW50
- Beautiful Course
- Much hillier than either of us were expecting
- 1st rate organisation as ever from Centurion Team
- So well marked – even Jamie didn’t take any wrong turns
- Incredibly supportive and enthusiastic group of volunteers
- May try some more of that Tailwind ahead of next event
- A cup of coffee works wonder
- SDW50 on the list for 2018 – sub 9 hr 30 Min aim