Using words feels like a cheap way to express thanks. Esepcially this year. This write up is first and foremost dedicated to the volunteers of this years South Downs Way 100. Words feel cheap because they cannot show enough of the gratitude and thanks I feel. So, to put that to right the least I can do is promise to follow in their footsteps and volunteer at a race next year and just try to be even half as awesome and helpful as they all were for me. This write up is also dedicated to my running partner Jason Skirrow who just never gives up on me when the going gets tough. This is a dude who always knows what to say and do when things gets rough. And then my family. The early morning training wake up alarms that end up disturbing everyone, my endless running talk and obsession. I could go on. These events are not made successful on your own. There is a world of goodness out there pulling you along each different phase, and a multitude of ripples that affect other people. Thank you all so much!
*pause for thought* I might cry now *dry my eyes*. Ok, that’s out of the way. Good. Let’s move on.
This year saw me attempting a return to the South Downs Way 100. Last year my good friend Jason and I attempted our first one hundred miler at the SDW100. There was no time goal then. The aim was to try the distance and see if we could do it. We did. It took us over 26 hours to complete the course. This time we wanted to go back with a goal of earning that finishers buckle which says “100 miles. One day”. For those who don’t know, the Centurion finishers buckles are slightly different. If you can get to the finish within a day you get a buckle that states you ran the race within a day. Last year our buckles said “100 miles. Finisher”. Both are huge achievements, but our aim was to get the ‘one day’ buckle. Jason and I went into the race knowing what we needed to do and that things would be tough in the later stages. And they were.
Before I head into the race itself I wanted to touch upon an injury that I had been carrying for a ridiculously long time. Nearly two
years. The reason I wanted to mention it is that I’ve spoken to other runners who have had the same symptoms and not known what it was.
This particular ‘injury’ or niggle started affecting my running nearly a couple of years back when I was putting in a lot of faster paced
runs. More than likely caused by way too many fast runs each week. The pain affected my lower abdominal region, especially near my pubic
bone which if I pressed hard while running felt very bruised. After runs, especially the long runs I’d spend a few nights waking up with
each turn in my bed. The pain was focused around my stomach muscles because using them was causing the pain. I searched online for things and came up with a few ideas as to what it could be. It was not stopping me running, but was definitely affecting my pace and ability to
run long. I actually ran my first 100 miler with it. During the final 70 miles, each near fall I had where I had to engage my stomach
muscles was a very painful experience. All based around my core. Anyhow, I continued to run with it for a long time. Six weeks prior to the
2018 South Downs Way 100, I had a sudden urge to seek help about it. I don’t know why – it just felt right doing it. A friend at work sent
me to a recommended osteopath in Romsey, Hampshire. Within a week I was sitting in his office and being asked a load of questions. He then examined my flexibility and stretched and pulled me in all sorts of ways only to discover miraculously that there was nothing seriously
wrong with me. He boiled it down to simply this – no core muscle at all. I must admit I was relieved. My mind immediately thinks stress
fractures or hip problems or something more serious. He gave me some simple core exercises to do at home which at first I thought was too
little. I always like to jump heavy into things. But the exercises were super tough. It ended up being a 12 minute core work out done from
the top of my stairs at home. I realised after day one of doing these that I was seriously weak in the core. Fast forward two weeks and I
started to feel an improvement. Can you believe it ??!! Nearly two years of running like this and all it came down to was my core.
Unbelievable. I owe a lot to the osteopath (Tony Stokes – Romsey). Six weeks on and I am even better now. Each night I spend 12 – 15 minutes doing core and I’m even noticing a small six pack but that’s likely also due to the weight loss from the training :-/
The South Downs Way 50 was one of many training runs for the hundred this year and of course includes a free recce. I did a few other 50k efforts in training, ensuring I always ran back to back. Getting in those back to back days is important. One run I had been dying to attempt for ages was the run home from work. I live in Portsmouth and work in Hursley, Winchester. A perfect combination. It’s pretty much a seven mile run to Winchester where the race starts and from there it makes up to just over 50km’s if you head up and into Petersfield city centre after Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I managed to do this training run twice. There was no way I was getting lost on race day for the first twenty miles! Training runs was done with Tailwind as nutrition which actually ended up being a problem for me on race day but I’ll get into that bit later. I’ve kept my same race pack from last year which is my Ultimate Direction Anton Krupika version. Everything else was pretty much bang on the same as last year. Even my shoes I kept the same apart from the ATR’s which were now v4’s due to the constant tearing on the v3’s.
For this years race weekend, Jason had booked us a room at the Holiday Inn in Winchester. If you ever want a hotel that is quiet, clear, spacious and perfect before a race then this is the one. Not that you get much sleep the night before! The day before the race has turned into quite a tradition over the two years. We both had sports day to attend for our children who are in the same school. We spent the day cheering on the kids in various races and lounging around in the sunshine trying to rest as much as possible. It was a good day out this year with our kids each getting some form of enjoyment and success out the their days. I had a HUGE bowl of Italian gnocci for lunch, trying to carb up after a week off of the carbohydrates (as much as possible), and a few weeks off of most sugar. Felt good. So good. After sports day it was back home to start getting serious. Kit check was probably run through my mind a thousand times and completely unnecessary panic mode ensued. Not sure why I get myself so tense and worked up during packing time. Packing for anything else doesn’t bother me. I guess the last thing you want to happen the night before is to forget something crucial. It could really throw you. Before long we were at Fratton train station in Portsmouth. Train cancelled. Great. Apparently some signal problem in Basingstoke. Nothing a large latte cannot sort. It was only a 30 minute delay until we hopped on a train to Southampton and then changed onto Winchester. No prob bob. Arriving at Winchester reminded me of some kind of wild life program. No, I don’t mean the people at all. I mean spotting the runner. Jason and I immediately spotted runners. You could see Hoka and Altra shoes all over the place. It wasn’t long before we hooked up with a few other runners in order to share a taxi to the start. I am terrible with names but I remember a Sam, who luckily I got to see his race report after the event. So pleased he got the finish and sub 24 hour buckle. Awesome work there Sam! It was great to chat to like minded people. I’ve said it before but runners, especially ultra runners who are running these kinds of distances, are defintely my tribe. Kind, calm, helpful and friendly. I guess the same could be said of any hobby really. It’s just comforting to feel like you are somewhere you belong and in good company.
Arriving at registration was a good feeling. It almost feels like the start of the race for me. It wasn’t long before kit checks had been done and we were on the grass packing up the drop bags and ensuring everything we needed at mile 50 and mile 75 would be there. There was time for a few photos and time to meet some new running friends. We met Louise from the Free Weekly Timed podcast who was volunteering pretty much all weekend. Louise is a dedicated parkrunner who has run more unique parkruns than most I know.
It was great to meet her too because she was managing the Washington aid station at mile 54 for the race itself the next day. It was just another hook in the mind to help get you through the day and to the half way point. Before long I called up a friend from work Clare, who was so kind to drive over from her house down the road and give us a lift to the hotel. Saved us a hassle with taxis. Kind! Checked into the room easily, ensured our taxi was booked and then it was down to enjoy a quiet meal in the hotel resturant which was surprisingly empty considering how many runners were staying there. Timing wise it was good because we met up with another runner I had been in touch with on the Centurion Facebook group who was going to share a taxi with us in the morning. He and his wife were also eating there. Lovely bunch also looking forward to the race. We saw other runners too but everyone was pretty much in that pre race head space and wanting just a quiet night I reckon. Sweet.
Boy do nights drag on before a race. My word! Zero sleep. I literally laid away all night tossing and turning. I read most half hours on the rooms alarm clock face and before I knew it my alarm went off. Shit. But ah well. It happened last year too. I mean, if you’re gonna be tired, why not do it properly and completely wipe yourself out. I’m an all or nothing guy actually so suits me. Still, I was pretty tired. Shower. Teeth, Fill the bottles. Out the room. Jason and I were at reception and waiting for our taxi by 5:10am. Runners about, all getting taxis. We arrived just after 5:15am at the Chilcomb Sports Ground and had enough time to just sit on a sofa and relax. I always have good intentions of seeing people here, but only a few greetings were actually made. We did manage to get our lucky photo like we did at the SDW50 with James Elson. Sweet. Soon we found ourselves on the start line with James echoing all the important things we needed to bare in mind for the miles ahead.
Simple yet important are the race briefings. Jason and I started near the front and took off quickly after the sound of the horn. Strava started on phone. Suunto watch started. This was it. “Oh man – we’ve only just gone over the start line.” What a thought to have! Round the field once it was until we popped out of a hedge and onto the South Downs Way. Heavenly. Here we go.
The first three to five hours always seem to go by really quickly for me for longer races. Before I knew it we had arrived at the first aid station which I did not have to stop at. I had decided to carry a plastic bottle with me full of tailwind for the first ten miles so that I did not have to stop at the first aid station. It worked a treat and stopped me having to start opening Tailwind packets early on in the race. The plan was to drop the bottle into the rubbish bin there but in fact I just carried on with it until QECP aid station and then filled it up again then. It helped keep me in a positive mental state early having to dig around and get Tailwind out yet, or eat much into my soft flasks of Tailwind I was carrying. At QECP we stopped for a few minutes. Jason had to get a plaster on a hot spot which he didn’t want turning into a blister. QECP was busy with people. QECP parkrun had been happening and many runners were finishing up there. I saw some friends who had come to say hello. Mark and Sally, Bracken. Oh look it’s Alex and Ellie. And James from QECP parkrun. James ran with me up a steep hill to the start of the parkrun, from where Centurion send us left and up through the woods. After a high five and greetings from James, Jason caught up (he hikes up hills like a BEAST!) and we were back on the path towards Harting and then Cocking. Harting Down aid station came quickly, with volunteers being ever so helpful as they had been at QECP. Cries for ‘water in this one’ and ‘tailwind in that one’ were a little less there as the field was just starting to show signs of spreading out a bit. Here we saw Russ who had been out marking the course earlier that morning for Centurion. Russ is a very experiences ultra runner from Portsmouth who has given me much advice in the past. I thanked him for the hills he’d directed us up (sarcastically!) and we quickly moved on. The taste of some pineapple pieces remained in my mouth for some time after that station. Cocking aid station was great. Jason got a bit ahead of me there and ended up coming into the station a couple of places in front. We had met up with a french runner called Sebastian who was moving really well. We ended up with Sebastian for most of the day moving forwards and backwards from him, but I knew he’d end up ahead of us as he was fantastic on the climbs. We had lots of climbing to come in the second half!
Through the awesome volunteers at Cocking we past a tap which was too tempting not to use. Hands under the cold water and spread all over our necks, faces and heads. SO refreshing. The sun was hot now. It had been cloudy but with some long periods of direct sunlight. I had my Hoka cap on and kept switching it to the right of my face so to shade my cheeks as much as possible. I also had a buff on which in sunlight
seems ridiculous, but it does keep your neck protected from the direct sunlight. You can also dip it into water at the stations which I found out at about mile 40. The volunteers at one of the stops there were awesome and said to just get it completely wet to help with the heat fatigue. Worked a treat! Washington aid station was just great. It was not busy like last year and we realised then just how well we were doing. We had been told we were in about 23rd and 24th place. What?! Ok, let’s shift it a bit, but then again let’s just enjoy the time we’ve gained and use it to gather some energy for the next part of the race. Inside the aid station there were tables and tables of food. The volunteers were amazingly attentive to our needs and before we could even sit down we had a small bowl of pasta and bottles were full. I used my time here to wipe down with baby wipes. Felt great. We had a good old chat to everyone there and we had also bumped into Louise again which was great. I did have a funny moment at this aid station. Walking into the toilet there was another runner who was standing stark naked in the middle of the room, washing himself quite vigorously. Fair play. Just didn’t expect to see that walking in. Quick pee. Back to pack the bags. Goodbyes to the lovely volunteers and Jason and I were off again.
The second half is where the fun begins. Hills hills and more hills. The legs started to get heavy. The heat got to me and things were starting to grind me down. Nausea. Horrible horrible nausea was kicking in which was strange because I had been drinking Tailwind. I think because of our good pace (we were about 1 hour ahead of schedule) and the humidity and sunlight I was starting to feel a bit wonky. Before Saddlescomb Farm aid station my stomach went completely. I needed a poo. Yep, it’s ok to say that. We’re ultra runners yes? These things are part of your race. I had a mild panic on that there wouldn’t be a toilet there but fortunately there was. Before we got there we had passed a runner who was severely throwing up what looked like antifreeze. He assured us he was ok and so we moved onto the aid station. When we got there another runner pulled in too who started to throw up against a wall. It was just all getting to me now and didn’t help. “Right, where’s this £$##%$£ toilet?” was all I could think of. In I went. My vest bottles were being done outside. Apologies on getting a bit into the detail here but the loo break lost me a lot of weight. Felt great. However the nausea was hitting me badly. Jason came in to rescue me and tell me we needed to go. He had mentioned quite a few runners were coming into the station which I did not care about too much. We were now about 2 hours ahead of schedule and were still running strong along the flats and slight incline and declines. We had been putting in 9 minute to 10 minute miles along some lengthly stretches. Before I fell asleep on the loo, I picked myself up and headed out. Jason had prepared me a bag of salted potatos to eat and take with me. What a dude. I didn’t feel like them but they made such a difference to my race. By this time we had bumped into a running friend David from Portsmouth who was being paced by his girlfriend. It was nice to chat to them and have some more in the group but I wasn’t really great company at that point until the end. I could only really touch on conversation without feeling sick so kept it to a minimum. After leaving Saddlescomb we hit a long hill where the sun came out strong. It was at that point I hit my darkest hour. Blimey. I wanted to end it. I wanted to lie down on the grass and recover. I had thoughts of heading back to Saddlescomb. Then I had thoughts of carrying on. With a nice pat on the back from Dave and Jason egging me on up ahead I just put one foot in front of the other. One foot at a time. Go. Next one. And the next one. Just keep going I kept saying to myself.
After more miles, more hills and some conversation we came down a hill into Housedean. We had now bumped into Rachel who we’d met in the first stages of the run. She had been fighting some demons along the route and was battling it out for 3rd female place with another runner who had just slightly got ahead. We had a quick chat and ran some miles together, heading down into Housedean Farm for mile 75 where our second drop bag was. It was really quiet here and the volunteers were preparing themselves for the masses due to arrive over the next few hours. At this stage I knew we were even further ahead than expected. Amazing. Still couldn’t quite sit right with me and Jason kept on focusing on our finish time. His watch was telling us some crazy finish times which I couldn’t believe. Was it real? Who cares, let’s just
press on. I topped up my bag of food which to be honest looked a bit like a squashed mess. Potato, flapjack, salt, and a few other things
which I was tighlty holding all the way through. I just kept picking bits out of it, not really caring what it was and chewing a bit. Then
swallow. Then sip Tailwind (yuk!). Then sip water to get rid of the taste. Repeat every so often. Man it was hard work. After Housedean we
hit one of our favourite bits that we call the Ring of Doom. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. At the top it was still very light. Last year it
had already been dark for hours. We used that motivationally and tried to play a game to see how far we could get before having to turn our
head torches on. We got pretty far. Head torches went on while we were running along a ridge. Said ridge went on for bloody ages. So long
we were both swearing at it. How can you swear at the ground? Trust me. When you are running in the dark at mile 80 you can swear at
anything when it gets tough. We were still running though and making such good progress on bits we had to walk last year. Both Jason and I
were in good spirits about the running. It could have been bad if we’d needed to walk. Massive amount of effort went into maintaining this
effort level. Huge. Lots of questions being asked in our heads and lots of doubt but we motivated each other to keep going. I would just
start running at points and Jason would keep behind me. We’d then switch it a bit and he’d get ahead a bit. It worked nicely. I wasn’t good
company at this point as I was still feeling slight nausea and just so fatigued. Coming along the road into Southease we bumped into Rachel
again. She was doing incredibly well and facing the same problems we had too. Across the bridge it was with some slow stair walking, and
into the aid station. Cup of tea was nice here. I sat for two minutes and drank it up. Then, it was off after getting more Tailwind and
water. The climb out of Southease is one of the hardest. It’s steep. It is long. It goes on for bloody ages. We pushed as hard as we could
and once at the top we ran a bit on across the next few hills. This ridge bit went on for ages too. It just felt endless.
Alfristron was a real welcomed sight. You come out of hills, grass and trees and down onto a road with some very nice houses on it. I recall seeing one house with some kind of horse statue in the garden. Hitting Alfriston town centre brought back some memories from last years run, however it was already morning light last year whereas this year we were in complete darkness and the town was dead quiet. Turning left into the alley way after a marshal jumped out and directed us down and we were eventually entering the hall. Greeted by some fantastic volunteers who were just so wonderfully helpful and upbeat. They really provided a lot of energy when I was feeling pretty spaced out and exhausted …. and still sick. Tea with one sugar was my order and it was the best cuppa ever. A top up of Tailwind and water and soon we were off as some other runners came into the aid station.
Now in my mind the climb out of Alfriston heading to Jevington was going to be hard, but my gosh did it go on. And on, and on, and on. It honestly felt like it would never end. I’ve changed my mind now on which climb is the hardest on this route and it’s definitely this one. You basically go up and then have a short down for a few minutes before heading through a church yard and past the aid station in Jevington. The station here is actually at the top of a short flight of stairs. Many runners pass on through and don’t stop here as it’s only four miles or so from the finish line. I called for a stop. I think Jason wanted to press on but he was happy to stop for me. One more tea, a top up of water only which felt so nice not having to ask for more Tailwind. Then we were off again. It was there we lost about five places, however the time we had to get through was just unbelievable. It was about here where I finally agreed with Jason that we’d made good time. He did laugh. All night I just couldn’t believe we’d make such a good time. But here we were, running down into Eastbourne after saying hello to the volunteer at the trig point. We had to walk the rutty downhill and got passed by a few more runners. No troubles at all. It’s all good now. We’re all getting through for that sub 24 hour buckle. Jason and I continue to run. We ran almost the entire way through the Eastbourne roads and into the sports ground. Then it was just pure joy. We hit that track together and smiled all the way around. 20 hours and 31 minutes was our finish time! Nearly six hours faster than last year. I still can’t believe it, a week on writing this.
The end of the run was in darkness. At that same time last year we were just arriving in Southease where my family had been waiting for hours to surprise us. We were treating to some applause and a few photos on the finish line before heading into the building where we just
crashed out on the floor. We grabbed a spot in the middle of the room with some chairs and a flat mat. David and Heather who we had been running with a bit joined us and we were just all in some kind of dazed and confused state. Ian, one of the volunteers even came over and
got us hot food and drinks! Couldn’t believe it. Such a dude. He was absolutely brilliant and even got us a second helping of drinks later on. This guy must be some kind of ultra runner because he probably did 100 miles in short sprints to and from different people that day. Thank you Ian! I starred at my buckle quite a bit and tried to take it all in. Finishing these kinds of races is definitely a slow burner for enjoyment. I showered about an hour later and then just chilled out by heading in and out of the building to clap in other runners who were finishing their runs. I saw some fantastic finishes. My best was the two runners that I exited the gate for and absolutely went mental when they have less than three minutes to get around the field to finish in under 24 hours.
We absolutely went nuts for them and they both made it by putting in a great last lap of the track. It was almost too much to watch. I bumped into Louise again who had come through to see the finishers and we had a quick chat about the running. I also got to meet Nicki from Centurion who was doing some online result processing I think. Was lovely to chat with her for a bit over a coffee. Jason at this stage had been sleeping under a gold coloured space blanket. He looked like something of a space craft (and sounded like one too!). He managed a couple of hours or so of broken sleep. Before long our final bag arrived and we gathered our thoughts and decided to hit the train station. We managed a walk to the station which was quite nice however it was slow on and off the pavements and onto the bus replacement service (boo!). Once in Brighton we got some food and coffee and just did a bit of spaced out people watching. That’s us being spaced out, not other people. When our train came in later, I literally passed out and only just remember waking up in Fratton. I must have been really shit company on the train but apparently not because Jason took a series of photos and videos of me lying with my head back and mouth open. What a sight! I never see myself like that but it was quite funny.
So what have I learned and taken away from this race? Number one – people around you are key. Without their help the finish line may not come. Next is that my nutrition isn’t quite sorted like I thought it was. I like Tailwind and have had success with it, and I will continue to use it but running at the pace we did in this race, in the heat, I felt I needed a bit of real food to mix with it. I need to work out what that food is moving forward. I learned I want to volunteer. Like I said in the opening of this write up, I plan to volunteer next year at a Centurion race and follow in the footsteps of all the good people that helped me through my race. Kit. I have a good idea of what is required of me in terms of kit and the collection I’ve got is now enough to support me through these warmer month events. I have learned that I can race the 100 mile distance but also that I have a lot more to learn about them and myself. I look forward to taking on my next challenge and learning experience soon.