The Petzl South Downs Way 100 did not figure in my plans for this year, but some nice Twittering by Mr. Sam Robson had whetted my appetite and I got that urge, that desire to run every single race I could. It is usually a little devil on the shoulder that I do my best to ignore, but this time I felt differently.
I’d only been undertaking light duties after the World 24hr Championships in May, taking plenty of rest days and eating well, but I couldn’t lie to the devil on my shoulder, I was going fast. Breaking my own training records in nearly every session and thinking, just contemplating, what if I enter the Petzl SDW 100?
So that little devil won the discussion (he very often does with me, but he’s not that bad a chap) and I found myself in a tent next to the start line in Winchester waiting for my crew to arrive. Unbeknown to me Mick, my usual crew, had had a family emergency and my Dad had to step in at the last minute to help my friend Coxy keep me on track all day. I felt for Coxy, sharing a van with that man all day would be interesting…
At the start line everyone wanted to know how fast I intended to go, James had painted me as the “favourite” for the win and people were talking about the pressure. I didn’t feel it, I just knew I had to go out and enjoy myself and see how my body went. I had a pace in mind but that was my little secret (maybe Coxy and Dad knew too) but none of us really believed it was possible. After some play fighting with Sam at the start, we were off. I was expecting a few guys to rush off but after a couple of laps around the field (my forte) we were off on the SDW.
So it was soon just Sam, a nice chap called Olly and myself trotting along at the front, with us taking turns to get the gates, like a Tour de France breakaway looking after each other. I found myself dishing out advice to Olly in 2nd and thought “how arrogant am I? I’m in first and telling second how to do it?”. We got to the first check point and Olly and me pinged straight through, Sam, being unsupported had to stop and then catch up, a tiring extra activity in addition to carrying those beautiful but weighty sideburns of his!
I soon found myself alone, possibly because of a headwind I was creating myself but I was slightly ahead of schedule and feeling comfortable just trotting along. It was nice to see surprised faces on each of the checkpoint staff as I popped through and I was grateful to see smiling and helpful people at every stage. I love helping out at races and our sport is built on the efforts of volunteers, something we must never forget.
So I figured I’d just plod along until I could pick up a pacer at mile 54 and then get towards the business end of this race. I’d been informed of the stellar performance of Jean Beaumont behind me and there was a little bit of surprise from some people that a lady was in 2nd. Get with the times, women are as good as men at this game and even though the 2 races are classified differently I saw Jean as just another competitor trying to chase me down.
As James said in the race preview, I like to run my own race and will rarely hog the lead early, it just so happened that today my own race was out on the front and I was the hunted instead of the hunter today, a slightly less enjoyable task but good fun all the same. I knew that if I just kept moving faster than anyone else then the win was mine. Only after 54 miles I allowed myself to think about this, the back 50 is the home straight after all…
Coxy joined me at Washington at 54 and I went through in about 7:50, which was a bit under schedule but I still felt fine, the legs strong and able to sneak away from Coxy (a sub 3.20 marathoner and 100 mile runner herself) on the downhill, letting gravity do some of the work for me! I’m no fell runner but I’m not bad downhill for a Southern Fairy, which is possibly more to do with being a few sandwiches short of a picnic than any ability. Coxy did a fine job of pacing and was also grateful for a break from my Old Boy, coping with her own ultra marathon in that van, the two of them having a couple of “navigational disagreements” but keeping it all looking smooth to my eyes!
So on we trotted along, enjoying some fine weather, some tail winds and fantastic views across the South Downs. These rolling hills are a joy to behold and it’s a playground I will be spending more time in in the future. My aim was to get to Ditchling Beacon in 1st place, where I met Paul Navesy, another team Centurion runner and speedster in his own right, and we would make sure we brought home the bacon from there. 30 miles to go and now it really was the business end of this race.
Coxy, glad to have stopped running and probably missing my Dad’s company at this point, was back in the van and Paul and me got going. This section was one of the most runnable in the race and Boy George, were we running. I think there was even a sub 7 minute mile in there somewhere, tanking it down those lovely descents and powering up the hills. Paul reckon the tail wind was making the up hills feel like flats but his fine, waxed legs had only just started. They definitely felt like hills to me!
The food was still going down wonderfully at this point, Cliff Shot Blocks, fruits gums, rice pudding and, of course, jelly Meerkats! It was the fluids that were starting to be an issue, everything seemed to be collecting in my stomach. I jogged into the Petzl checkpoint at Southease and made sure my Zipka head torch was on and bright…shame it was still light but I hope the guys at Petzl didn’t mind my aim to finish the race in daylight? Irony is a beautiful thing!
The next few miles were the only ones of the race where the wheels came off a little bit, walking uphill into a headwind on the big Horseshoe past Southease was where I had to dig deep to keep the pace up. I’d promised not to worry about times until 15miles to go but I knew sub 16 was on the cards if I wanted it. The downhills were still wonderful and I was giving Paul a run for his money, as long as I didn’t lose too much on those pesky up hills!
After emptying a few litres of fluid from my stomach it wasn’t long until I was picking up the pace again and feeling alright. The beautiful thing about a 100 miler, compared to a 24 hour race, is that the quicker you go, the nearer the finish is! I felt that any extra effort was just going to make life easier and I could push hard with actual benefits!
We skipped through the last 2 checkpoints, still leaving that wonderful look of surprise on people’s faces and headed down into Eastbourne, with Paul stopping every now and again to make sure the markings were all in order.
I bumped into James Adams and Drew Sheffield on the final drag to the finishing track and it felt good to be pacing it in to the finish. Drew headed off to warn them but James stayed with, a very nice gesture but I’m not sure if it was his choice to make, we’re still going pretty strong ;)
We hit the final loop of the 400m track and, although I’ve been round a few in my time, this one felt like the longest one ever. I got to the finish line, stopped to walk it in Kilian style, arms in the air and then remembered that just isn’t my style, dropped a shoulder and sprinted over the line (I don’t want to make it easy for someone to take my new CR). Then I collapsed in a heap, a very happy, elated, smelly but joyous heap.
15:43:53. I hope you don’t mind some course language here, but fiddle-sticks, I was pleased with that. There’s a picture of my pacing targets I had set as a high target and I cannot believe how close I stuck to them.
My dad and Coxy were at the finish and I could not have done it without them. Paul made the last 30 so much easier than I had any right to have it, I owe him big time (hopefully an assault on the SDW next year?). Centurion running and Petzl had put on a great event and James Elson was on top form as always, as were all the volunteers.
The £500 that Petzl put up as a prize is a wonderful thing and hopefully a sign of things to come for a great sport that is growing in stature year on year. In order to try and keep Ultra Running as pure as it is now I’m going to donate £100 of my win fee to charity, something that I intend to do every time I am lucky enough to win something, just so we don’t forget the real reasons for being on those trails, enjoying it, pushing ourselves and being part of a great community of people. I’ve chosen the Brompton Foundation, a charity very close to a friend of my mum and one that does great work.(http://www.thebromptonfountain.org.uk/)
What’s next for me? It is always going to be Spartathlon, a race I feel is a worthy adversary to have a right good tear up with. Before that I’m going to make a leap into the great unknown, leave my job and make ultra running my life, with the help of a bit of remote coaching and living dangerously. Fingers crossed!