Monday, 22 June 2015

South Downs Way 100.

So here I was once again on the start line for the South Downs Way 100. I had first attempted this race back in 2013. And I might add that I was a bit ambivalent about being able to run a 100 mile foot race. I had thought if I can do 100k, then 100 miles could not be that hard. How wrong I was.
I DNF'd at 54 miles.Inexperience, poor training and  under estimating how hard it is to complete a 100 mile race put paid to my ambivalence.  I try to learn by my mistakes in life. Also I am not someone that likes to give up on things so I asked for some help.  I got a coach for 16 months ( James Elson ) at Centurion running, today's race organizer ( )  and put some hard work in and I got some good results. I finished 3 x 100 milers and I achieved PB's at half marathon, full marathon and at 50k also. 

Back to the  start line at Chilcomb sports ground, and I am now looking to nick my fifth Buckle, and get my second race in the Grand Slam completed. The race starts at 6 am, so friends Mark Johnson and Jonathan Wilkes and I had travelled down on the Friday. We registered on that evening and walked back to the Premier Inn, which was a mile away. 
Taxis are not great in Winchester!  Mark and I shared a room. We had a good laugh that 
night, which took my mind off the race.
Lucky Number 13.
In the morning we decided against a taxi and walked to the race. It was overcast and it was humid. I looked out for Luke and other friends. I asked Luke what his plans were for today. Was he going to race it?  I could tell from the smile he was planning to! The usual race brief, the weather was looking good with some tail wind. Nici had put some interesting stats 
together for today's race e.g. finisher number 89 would be the 3000th Centurion race finisher. 

                                                     L - R Mark and Me                           L - R Me and Luke                                                                                           

At 6pm James set us off, we did a loop of the field and then out onto a path and back onto ourselves, we were now on the South Downs way. I felt excited and glad to be going. There was not much talking going on. I was feeling relaxed. My pace was easy. My plan was to hopefully avg 12 min/mi pace for the first half. Running flats and down hills and hiking up the hills. And also not to sit around in the aid stations.  My nutrition plan was baby food, bananas, olives and my home made chia gels. Sickness and shits plague me normally, I also had some loperimide to help as well.
Picture Courtsey of Jon Lavis.
There was nothing really happening for the first 20 miles, I was feeling the humidity.  It slowed my pace a little and my legs felt a little tired. Running down Beeches Hill was awesome. You had to be careful here as it would be easy to roll an ankle. The views were stunning. I passed through the first two aid stations with no problems and as I was running along I was trying to take in some of the spectacular views as much as possible. The ground was hard underfoot and very uneven in places. 

At some point my head started to go, and when I mean go, it went straight out of the race. I was not enjoying myself. It was hot, my legs were telling me they were tired. I started the process of the internal battle with dropping. I am pretty stubborn and kept going. I was eating regularly and I was having no problems with sickness. The sun was out and I was 
enjoying the bits of the shade. I kept going and put some music on to distract myself. 

Running down Buster Hill was a welcome relief after the hill to get there. There were a lot of walkers coming up as I was coming down. I had met Mark earlier and mentioned I was struggling. I could see him up ahead. Getting into QECP Aid station 22.6 miles. I arrived in 
4.35 hrs, so my avg pace was around 12 mins 10 secs. I topped up on my water. The next mile or so was hilly and through some woods. The shade here was welcome. I ate a little then took an s-cap. I was taking one of these every 90 minutes. I was now remembering the route from 2 years ago this was good. I am pretty good at remembering routes.

Coming up to Harting Down there is a slow climb up through some woods. With bits of 
runnable flat. I was hiking the hills and focusing on moving as efficiently as possible. So if there was bit of flat for 20 paces I ran it. Also I was not hanging around in the aid stations. It felt good to get to Harting, I topped up with more water and ate a little fruit. More nice views once up on the hill here. 

The next Aid Station was Cocking 35.1 miles.There is a nice run down to here but it is quite 
flinty and rutted in places, you have to be really careful.  As I got near the bottom I saw an ambulance. Another runner had taken a tumble and smashed his head requiring 21 stitches. Luckily he was not too bad.  I arrived here in 7hrs 41 mins, my pace had now slowed by a minute to 13.09. I was feeling it a bit by now and I walked into the aid station. I did not stay long. 

From here you go up a chalk hill. The sun was shining and I could see birds flying above me. My feet were starting to hurt. I was walking and I was feeling a little off! I phoned my partner as I knew from previous experience of staying with those thoughts on my own I would drop. So I phoned Donna, straight away she asked what was going on. "My legs are tired" I whined, "I keep thinking about dropping, my head is driving me mad". She said something like "you can sort the legs, you have been here before. I know what you mean about your head, it often drives me mad! And I am glad I am not running 100 miles with it! Get to the next aid station"  I laughed and got moving.

My spirits had lifted and I was enjoying the run, I decided then that I would finish this and get that Buckle I was after. I soon arrived at Bignor Hill 41.7 miles further on. At some 
point between here and Kithurst I noticed how sore my feet were getting with blisters. I had already stopped to put some vaseline on hot spots. My feet had not really recovered from the Thames Path. I had used a lower hill drop  shoe and this had caused major feet problems with my heels. Post TP  I had ended up cutting big bits of skin off my heels as it had just come loose and soft, this just left soft skin underneath. I was now suffering for this. Previously I had worn Nike anti blister socks and never suffered with blisters. I will be going back to them!

As I made my way from Bignor Hill the trail became very familiar heading towards Amberly and coming down a hill, I could see the river Arun in the distance. I had to to stop and tend a blister it was on the side of my left heel. I took the pin from my race number and lanced it, the liquid look like it had some blood in it. A few runners stopped to see if I was ok. I covered it with a compeed, then taped it up. And started to move forward. As I got near a road crossing I saw the BOSH flag and Steve Amiet sitting there. It gave me a lift to see him. Steve is a friend and a fellow marathoner.  He will often be out supporting others. We had a quick chat and I kept moving on. 

I was soon at Washington, not in the time I wanted, but I had gotten there and I was going to carry on!  As I came into Washington I was greeted by Elvis. Then as I ran down School Lane, I was clapped in by the volunteers. After receiving a lovely  hug from  Karen which was much needed I went straight to the aid station. My plan was to be quick at being in and out of the Aid stations. I changed my whole running kit here, I was getting a little bit of chafing in the undercarriage region so it was a good idea. I sorted my feet out, ate a little and said 'hello' to Alma who volunteers at a lot of the Centurion events. 

Donna knew I was struggling and came to meet me here to see if there was anything she could do. It was lovely to see her. I had to put my head down as I walked up School Lane and she was running down. I felt a a little tear develop! She walked with me till I had drank my cup of tea! The next bit of the course I remember well it is where I dropped last year. Having eaten and seen Donna I was feeling good and I was soon walking up the hills as strongly as I could. I knew it was not far to Botolphs. To get here there are few hills but once up on top with dusk approaching the views were awesome. I was running well here knowing I would soon meet Donna and Gary McKivett, my good running friend, who was pacing me from Botolphs to Ditchling Beacon. The evening air was cool now and as I ran I thought about the next part of the race. I would be glad of some company. Despite what was going on in my head. I wanted to finish. 

I soon met up with Donna and Gary at the small village of Botolphs. It was really good to see both of them. Donna gave me a few essentials and we soon headed off. We had just a short run to get to Botolphs aid station at 61 miles. Sarah and Tom Sawyer were here and it was nice to see some familiar faces. Sarah told me Mark had passed through a little while ago.

I had a nibble and Tom made me a cup of tea to go in my x cup. Gary  and I headed off again. I was feeling good in myself. But fatigue was starting to settle in. We made our way hiking up the hill to Truliegh Hill. We ran, walked once on the flat and by the time we got to the youth hostel it was starting to get dark. I had a spare head torch which I gave to Gary and I put mine on. Once past the youth hostel we hit a down hill and started to run it. It was quite flinty in places and hard going. We had a few further hills as we made our way to Devils Dyke. As we made our way up to the road we noticed a runner was going the wrong way so we shouted to him. He rejoined us on the right route. We ran the hill down into Saddlescombe.

A view back to Devils Dyke.
I sat here, I needed to as my feet were pretty sore now. It was another fab aid station. Fairy cakes and home made soup, I ate something but I am not sure what. I mean I cannot remember. Lisa was here, another friendly and familiar face at Centurion events. Gary and I soon carried on, it was around 4 miles to Clayton Windmills. I knew the route well as it is on one of my regular long runs. It was getting a little bit fresh. Coming out of Saddlescombe you come to quite a steep hill, once up the top we came to New Timber hill which we ran down. After that we were at Poynings up by the golf course. 

Getting to Clayton the route goes back a bit on itself. I found out here that my friends Jonathan and Darren had dropped. I was disappointed to hear this as I was sure they would have a good race. It was a great aid station.Burgess Hill Runners really put on a good spread and the cheese straws were awesome. Hardcore rave was playing and there was quite a few lights. With the onset of fatigue it felt a bit trippy and surreal and like I was on something. Then with great fanfare someone turned up on a motorbike and announced 'Philippe was on his way!' This set off a chain reaction of 'Philippe is coming!' and movement. It was funny to see and felt almost like a superstar was about to turn up. Me and Gary smiled about this. It was another BHR whom I had met out on the course. He was also suffering with blisters.

Gary and I walked out and up the hill and ran-walked to Ditchling Beacon ( 71 miles)  We arrived here at 1.00am. I had planned to be here for between 10.15 and 11.00 pm. Gary's pacing duties were over. I was very thankful for his support. My friend Nick Jones was here waiting with Donna. I only live a mile or so down the road and it did not even enter my head. I put a warmer top on and had a cuppa soup with some bread. It was busy here with other runners crew. We soon headed off to the next aid station which was Housedean, situated at 76.6 miles and right next to where the SDW crosses the A27.
Ditchling Beacon 1.00 am!
There are some nice down hill sections on this part of the route, which we ran and made some good time. At Housedean I should have checked my feet. But I did not. I ate and had a cup of tea, then left. I knew what was coming, there are some big hills, but also the trail is flinty and rutted. We then had what is known locally as the yellow brick road. An old tank track of concrete that is long and hard. Once over the A27 my feet were really sore. We stopped on the side of the trail. Nick helped, as I think I put on another compeed once I had lanced it. I remember it was really stinging. We carried onto Southease which was at 84 miles. I lost all sense of time. I was feeling very fatigued and the thought of just over 24 miles left was too much. I wanted to sleep and did not feel human.

Nick did great and kept me moving. A pacer has a hard job and it's not easy trying to get someone to keep moving efficiently at this stage. We kept going and hit the yellow brick road, running as much of it as we could. I had volunteered at Southease last year, so it was nice to reach here. I had a toilet stop and another cup of tea. Nick took a photo of me, he asked me to smile. You can clearly see how knackered I am. Looks like I'd been hit by a truck.
Southease 84 miles,and that the best smile I can manage!
After Southease there is Itford hill, a proper slog on a good day. But with 84 miles in the legs! There were cows  roaming about and they did not look too friendly. I was feeling a little anxious. I could see the headlines 'Ultra runner trampled by cows!' Once up the top Nick kept us running and  walking on the flats. Every now and again, I would bleat "I want to drop". Nick would just say "not on my watch!" and kept moving forward. At some point, I knew I would get this done, Having had 3 DNF's before, I just thought about how I would feel the next day. I knew if I did drop then the next day I would be kicking myself, knowing that I could have done it.  It was the same on NDW last year. I had reached 76 miles and I dropped. The only issue was what was going on in my head. 
Nearing Jevington and blackmailed with a sweet to move on.
It was good being with Nick, he kept moving forward.  At one point I remembered I had some chocolate coated coffee beans I had from Luke and Sunday as a Xmas present. I took a few and in 5 minutes I was running again and ahead of Nick! We laughed at this.  So every now and again I would pop a few. This was the hardest section for me. At times I felt like I was falling asleep on my feet. I think we had another hill before getting to Alfriston, getting there was a relief. Some of this is the same route as the Beachy Head Marathon. A very kind lady helped patch up my feet here. The pads of my feet were sore, the heels were sore just from the constant pounding. She put loads of vaseline on for me. That was the best that could be done.

We ran along the river before getting back on to the trail. My memory here is vague. I do remember Nick bribing me with a sweet to get moving quicker. He had done so earlier with a banana, making me run to a certain point before I could eat. I just remember feeling relief at getting to Jevington. We sat on the bench outside the hall. The guys here made me a fresh peanut butter sandwich.The volunteers here were great, as at all the aid stations. It was hard to eat anything as stuff gets stuck in your mouth, its like eating cotton wool. I felt good in myself here. The end was near.  Out of Jevington we had a hill to go up at about a mile long.  We walked up this and kept moving. The sun was lovely and warm and I was just in a t-shirt again. 
The Trig Point 2 miles to go!
Getting to the Trig Point at Eastbourne was awesome. Nick took my picture here. Donna phoned to say she was on her way to meet me. Down from the Trig Point is a steep down hill. It is gulleys where rain water has eroded the trail. Running down here was painful. I tried to run as gingerly as I could. 

I felt overcome with emotion and kept welling up. Nick asked me how I was feeling. I was feeling pretty good. We met Donna and had a hug and a kiss. Donna was not expecting me to be running, but that was the plan - once on the flat again we would start running. Donna ran with us.  It was hot and I was feeling awesome. Despite the mental and physical hardship I had the end in sight. 

Thank you to everyone involved in making this possible. The Thames Path had taken something from me and I did not really have the high afterwards even though it was quickest 100 miler 25.38. The SDW had been longer, time wise 28.58, but I got so much from it. 
Nick Jones and Me.

Sprint finish!

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