It has taken me a long time to write this blog post. About a week! It is hard to know the reason for that, but in some ways I think I have been enjoying the internal glow and satisfaction of having finished it, but at the same time not really knowing what to say or how to say it. My blog is 95% so that I record what I learn about each race and what works and what doesn’t. It’s helpful if I go back to do races. I suppose there is a spin off “benefit” to others if they find anything that I right even slightly helpful.
I have already spammed my social media accounts with pictures of the race, and various tidbits of analysis (like how I managed to run round the track at the end of the 100 miles in just 2 minutes 8 seconds (8:34/mi pace!) or that somehow it was the first race that didn’t prominently involve involuntary body functions.
Anyway, I think I am now ready. As it stands, I am recovering well. Again as with the aftermath of Thames Path 100 (back in April 2017) I am taking 2 weeks off running so make sure that I am absolutely as fixed as I can be ahead of another training block and before the next 100 mile race (Coming up at the start of August).
I was delighted with my performance on Thames Path 100 (22hr 26 minutes) and I didn’t know how things would work for me on the South Downs. The SDW is of course pretty hilly, and despite the fact that I have done hill training and they are no longer quite so fearsome, I knew that I would be hiking up them and running as much of everything else as I could manage.
I think what plagued my thinking slightly was my experience on the SDW100 back in 2015 (that was my first 100 and it was an awful experience back then – even though I finished in cut-off – so much so that I vowed NEVER to do one again…..). As I write this blog – I’ve now done 4 in total. So this is either because I don’t learn or I actually love it.
I was lucky enough to be able to share a hotel room with my mate Dan Park once again. It is becoming a bit of a norm now – that I put out an SOS about lack of accommodation and then Dan rescues me each time. I think he is quite simply a top dude and every time I spend time with him I learn so much more about running these silly long races. Hat off to you mate.
So on Friday afternoon I found myself in Winchester Premier inn. I got there early to chill and relax. I grabbed a coffee and observed an increasing stream of people who didn’t fit the usual profile of prem-inn patrons line up and check in at the desk. I soon got chatting to a few folks and was pleased that both of them finished their debut 100s.
I soon met up with Dan, and after a coffee with a few mates, and bumping into the amazing Stephen and Jo Turner we waited for Steve Navesey to pick us up to take us to register and do kit check the night before the race. Steve and Bev are amazing. They selflessly and seemingly run other runners back and forth between hotels and the start line. They’re brilliant. Great friends. Thanks so much – you’re awesome – and the cake and coffee is on me when I see you next!
Kit-check the night before the race is great. It’s more relaxing, and it’s a great opportunity to meet up and catch up with friends before the race the next day. We lined up first of all to go through kit check. I had double checked all my kit against the mandatory list, and was ready to show whatever I needed to demonstrate that I had in my possession. This time it was baselayer, waterproof jacket and headtorch and emergency light. Check! Onwards with the poker chip in hand (to denote I had passed kit check) to line up to get my number.
I waited in line, grabbed my number, changed my mobile number that I had previously registered and scrawled my details on the back of my race number. Everything sorted, I had a quick look around the centurion store (managing to resist the temptation to buy more kit) and then headed back to the hotel with Steve and Dan and the others.
Back at the hotel we had an evening meal with a couple of other new friends and discussed the race ahead. For the record I had burger and chips. Delicious it was too! Then off to bed and eventually to sleep after setting every alarm known to man for about 4:30am and incremental minutes either side of that. At least there were two of us – me and Dan – who could set our alarms. I had everything charging up for the next day (Top Tip: Bring an extension 4 gang socket – so many electronics to charge from phones to GPS watches to torches these days!)
4:3o am! It soon came around. We faffed for a while. Got our stuff sorted. Dressed and then headed down for our rendezvous with Steve and the others. Short drive (but a long walk if you didn’t have a lift) to the start line.
I met up with some of my mates – including Paul Commons – after dropping my finish line bag in the van. Refilled my water at the taps inside of the pavilion and excitedly and nervously chatted with my friends.
Soon enough it was time to get lined up on the start line and listen to the briefing. I find this goes really quickly and I never take very much in.
The horn blew and we were off! I started my music and got my head down. Determined to enjoy every second of the race and that this wouldn’t be such a painfest as the first time I did the race back in 2015.
The fact is however that 100 miles is a bloody long way and lots and lots can go wrong. The weather forecast had been changing all week from a wet start and 17 degrees to completely dry and mid 20 degrees. It was already worrying me. On the South Downs there is so little (i.e. none!) shade as it follows the “ridge”.
First off was the trot around the field and then the inevitable bottleneck before we entered the south downs way proper. It was exactly as I remembered it from two years previous. This time, my watch batteries were fully charged :-p I took it easy and my plan was to jog the inclines, power hike the ups, and run as much of everything else as possible. I bumped (almost literally) into Stephen Turner about 5 miles in and he even opened a gate for me J As expected that was the only time I saw him. He’s such an amazing runner.
Soon enough I was at checkpoint 1. Around 12 miles in. The race felt quite quick and it seemed to take much less time than the previous time I did the race. The route was easy to follow, and I was having a blast. At the checkpoint I grabbed a handful of food (wraps and some fruit) because I had not had breakfast with the early start, and walked out of the aid station up a slight incline. I am amazed at how many people take so much time at aid stations. Soon after we rounded a corner and the views opened up onto the south Downs. I remarked to another runner – “This is why we are here”. Such a stunning view.
The next checkpoint was only 10 miles away. I kept it going, but I was feeling the heat already and finding it quite hard going. Perhaps it was the Thames Path 100 still in my legs, but I really wasn’t feeling as fresh as back at the end of April. Anyway, I found myself dropping back a little on the pace and walking some of the lighter inclines that I expected to be running. Anyway, I wasn’t too bothered. 100 miles is a long way and there was plenty of time to put in some good running.
I absolutely loved the downhill section into Queen Elizabeth Country Park. It is a really wide expansive grassed hill and I had a blast. I really opened up my pace and absolutely flew down there. Arms out to the side and absolutely having a blast with a wide grin on my face. The suffering that I was already going through was temporarily relieved. I soon got into the checkpoint where I saw Michael White helping at the food station, and then I spotted Karen Grieves in the background and then I heard “Hey Phil – you ignoring me?” And it was Mark and Sally Cameron – who I have never met in person – but are friends on facebook and often chat about stuff. He also has a few books out – which I have enjoyed reading.
All that was on my mind was a drink of cold coke. I felt dehydrated and I just wanted more of it. I chugged it out of my water bottle rather than the small cup I had. It was the fastest way of getting it in.
I lingered a minute or two at the aid station, grabbed more fruit and then cracked on towards the next aid station. I soon noticed another runner ahead who had a familiar gait and shouted “Hey, look who it is!” It was Lee Kelly. He was powering up the hill while telling me he wasn’t feeling great. I checked he wasn’t in any really bad way and then pressed on. Knowing that it was likely I would see him later and that he would probably pass me.
I knew my pace was off by about 20 minutes already but I just needed to keep moving and to not overcook it in the heat. There was a brief respite through the wooded area and soon enough I was at the next checkpoint at around 30 miles. It always feels nice to be at this point in the race. There is a lot still to run and it is sufficiently early that you know that you still can run! I adjusted my shoes (they were not quite tight enough) and then headed out again in the blistering heat. It really didn’t feel long before I got to the checkpoint at Cocking (36 miles). My stomach hurt. I needed the loo and as I entered the checkpoint there was already someone giving a weak justification to why he didn’t want to carry on. I found that a boost weirdly…. Because while the conditions were tough, they are no reason to quit. I hate it when people quit for no reason.
I replenished my water at the checkpoint and after a toilet stop and the opportunity to wet my hat and my two buffs (one around my neck and one around my wrist) I headed off. I was barely outside of the checkpoint and I spotted a sign advertising fresh ice-cream! Hoping it wasn’t a mirage, I went inside and selected strawberry ice cream and a cold coke. I fumbled around for my money and in the meantime a lovely lady bought it for me. What a lovely gesture – you can’t know just how much I appreciated that ice cream as I walked up the hill. Yummy!
I soon bumped into Georgina Townsend. We ran a section of Thames Path 100 together a few weeks previously, and we got to walking up the hill together and then broke into a little jog. It was nice to share some miles. We pressed on when we could and took walking breaks up steeper hills. It was such a lovely section of the race. I rarely enjoy running with other people in an ultra, but Georgina is a rare exception. We shared battle stories and I asked her about her recent race that she won (Liverpool to Manchester double – 100) amazing.
We breezed through some checkpoints but I had been cramping up badly in my calves briefly every time I started to run again. I took S-caps and kept an eye on things. Anyway, I had this really weird ankle cramp at around 40 odd miles and literally almost tore Georgina’s shoulder off while I was dealing with the spasm! I also took the opportunity to order from my crew “a non gassy fruity drink like rubicon mango but not like that”.
Soon we bumped into some Serpentine runners – my London club – who get EVERYWHERE! We pressed on with them, and on the couple of miles before the 50 mile checkpoint I dilly dallied up a hill and let them all press on into the distance. They were nowhere to be seen at the 50 mile checkpoint. I recognised a chap who I was volunteering. I volunteered there last year with him, and he did a great job of listening to me moaning for 3 minutes while I sat down before I got moving again. I found it difficult to eat anything but fruit. And at one point everything tasted so odd to me. Nothing tasted like it should have done. I felt this from around half way point on the taste – so my tastebuds must have gone mental.
I knew that it wasn’t long before I could meet up with my crew and pacer (Samantha Mills) at the point near Washington. It was a lovely surprise to see Sam earlier than expected and we ran into the aid station together. I took the opportunity to get my legs up for a few minutes. Have some pasta and generally sort myself out. I was off the pace that I planned and I felt I was having a shit race. I really wanted for this not to be a sufferfest, but the fact is that it pretty much felt awful from mile 5 onwards. I needed to snap out of it. Soon I would be with my crew and getting that lovely drink that I ordered…….
When I turned up I was consumed by disappointment in finding that I didn’t have a drink waiting for me but instead some fruit. I hope I contained it enough but the brain doesn’t do well at regulating emotions and social niceties during Ultras. So hopefully it came across that I was very grateful for the fruit (the mango fingers were yummy!!!!!) and that I loved my crew dearly for being there but that I really really wanted a fruity drink. I think they sensed this and they tell me that I held it together reasonably well J I had a cuddle with my wife Susie and moved on with my sticks and my pacer.
I pushed on. Had general moans. Had a few sweaty hugs with Sam when I was feeling shit and just soldiered on. I ran where I could. I walked where it was an incline to protect my legs for later. The next sections I don’t remember much until I got to Botolphs aid station and the most delightful welcome. My friends Sarah Sawyer and her husband Tom (both of them bloody amazing out of this world ultrarunners) were at the aid station. Sarah noticed me from about 50 meters away and ran out to greet me before guiding me into the aid station. It was lovely to see her and Tom. I introduced her to my pacer Sam, and we had a sweaty hug (sorry for that Sarah!). The best coffee from Tom and soon we were on our way. Sarah did a great job of keeping things positive at the aid station. We have a joke about matching parkrun and 100 mile times. I said that things weren’t going to plan but that I was pressing on and would see what I could do.
So, we were at 62 miles. Next up was Beeding Hill. I marched up there with a renewed sense of purpose click clacking with my sticks. This whole section now to pretty close to the end is really familiar to me because I have done a lot of recce runs over the run up to the race. So I knew what was coming up and where I could reign things in and where I could put down the pace. I was determined to get close to Clayton Windmills (no longer an aid station) before it got dark. Soon we came up to Truleigh Hill YHA. I knew there was a café inside so asked Sam to pop in and get me a calippo. I put my legs up on the bench and lay on the ground. I got my calippo, opened it and then dropped it in the soil. Yuck! Sam cleaned it off for me by pouring a coffee over it – which led to it super freezing (Mbenbo effect!). A few runners pressed on past me, checking I was ok, but I was happy to see them continue on ahead of me.
Soon I was on my feet again and enjoying my calippo. After a little while I broke into a trot again and then soon enough we were at Devil’s Dyke and the next crew point. I was overwhelmed with love when I found that my crew (Rob Small and my wife Susie) had brought me 4 cans of apple and raspberry J20 AND a bottle of mountain dew. Yum yum! I tried to burp such was the speed that I gulped down a can and then pressed on again. At some point Sam picked up a buff from a gate and realised it had been “soiled” yuck!
Did a bit of running and then made it to Saddlescombe Farm checkpoint. 66.6 miles in. The sun was starting to go but last time it was dark when I was at this checkpoint so I knew that I was doing much better than my debut 100 miler (result!!!!) I still wasn’t eating much and Sam had noticed this. (The sign of a great pacer!) She insisted that I think what warm food I wanted to eat at the next crew point (72 miles in – at Ditchling Beacon). My order changed from quarterpounder meal with coke, to chicken nuggets with a white coffee. I started dreaming of it.
I made it past Clayton Windmills and it was starting to go dark so I got my headtorch on in preparation. I was starting to feel sleepy and at a couple of points I called Sam to stop. I had some caffeine shots and then cracked on. Soon we were at Ditchling Beacon. I changed out of my wringing wet tshirt into my long sleeved merino top and had a lie down on the ground. A friend of Steve Navesey offered me a seat in his car for a brief shut eye while I waited for my crew to turn up. It was here that I saw Alzbeta Benn who was here to pace Lee Kelly for the next section. There were also some people who were covered in glitter and were surprised to find lots of runners and cars (which were not involved in dogging!)
Soon Rob and Susie turned up with my McDonalds meal. How lovely it was. Salty fries and lovely chicken mcnuggets. I had the coffee. Had a minute or two sleep in the back of the car and then headed back out. I managed to put on some good pace for this next section. I overtook a few other runners and felt that having an longer break at Ditchling was time well spent. I felt great for the first time in the race. It was a bit cooler and it was dark.
I kept things moving and this was all lovely and familiar territory. The whole thing just went like a breeze though it was getting harder to keep the pace on for any stretch of time. I passed through Housedean aid station a few miles further on. Soon enough we were at Southease aid station. It was 84 miles in. I managed to bump into Georgina again at this point. I knew that it was touch and go for sub 24 hours but I vowed to press on and see what I could do. We headed up the hill which felt easier than in training and then managed to put on some bits of running here and there. We saw some lovely flowers.
Eventually Sam said that she had a surprise for me at Firle Beacon around 86-7 miles in) Susie was there and she was doing to pace me from there rather than Bo Peep. Sam said some lovely words to me and made me cry a little bit and then passed me over to Susie.
We pressed on and my recollection that it was downhill from that point for a while was dashed when I found we seemed to keep heading up inclines! I was in no mood for this! J Anyway, soon enough it was a downhill section and I was running again. We went past Bo Peep crew point and Susie grabbed something for me from the car. (the bottle of mountain dew). We carried on moving. This section was still familiar to me and I was enjoying the benefit of recce runs and the knowledge of what was coming up – and the fact that I knew we were going the right way.
Soon we came down into Alfriston and into the aid station. I didn’t stick around and went in just to give my number. I pressed on. I was on a mission. I wanted this finished. Pushing on we eventually made it to Jevington – again I didn’t go in I just gave my number….. and breezed past. I didn’t even refill with food or water. I just wanted the finish line. From this point there is only a handful of miles. Mostly very hilly ones. I swear the hills are steeper than ever at the end. I was struggling but I was pushing what I could. After what seemed like forever, we finally reached the “trig point” and the descent into Eastbourne.
The descent is tough on tired legs and I wanted to avoid twisting my ankles so I took it steady. Soon we were on the tarmac, and having watched the video on the centurion webpage about the last section I knew every twist and turn. I ran the whole way. Must be around two miles.
I didn’t slow. I didn’t stop. I didn’t walk. My quads were in constant pain from the hill bashing and I was determined to run all the way to the finish line on this section. Pavement. Cross the road. Pavement. Hospital. Runner. Cycle Path. Runner. Runner ahead started running. Then the sports track. Cheers. I ran. Susie peeled off. I went progressively faster around the track. Flew under the gantry. Stopped Garmin. DONE!
2 minute 8 second lap of the 400 metre track at the finish
My time……… 1 day, 1 hour, 1 minute, 1 second. Holy moly. How the hell did I do that! Ok, I missed out on sub-24 hours… but under the conditions I was pleased with this. It was over 4 hours faster than the first time I ran SDW100 back in 2015.
I suffered from the start. Too hot for me. I hate heat! Having remnants of a cold, and partial hearing in one ear wasn’t going to make for an ideal race. I knew I was off the pace from the start. I really had to grit this race out the whole way. I can’t tell you just how much of an effort it was to keep moving. I never wanted to quit but it was just the biggest effort to push on at times.
Once I got inside I had a lie down and had a little snooze!
So, half way through Grand Slam with the toughest 100 next up – North Downs 100 (104) in August.
In no particular order thanks to:
The volunteers who made the race possible – filling cups of coffee, filling up water bottles, dealing with all the diva demands (not me this time – I was happy to find that the apple was already cut into slices
Susan Bradburn – my wife – who paced me from Firle Beacon onwards. The last 12 miles or so I think. She did a great job of encouraging me along at the best pace I could manage at the time. She had the biggest moaning section to deal with. Those hills towards the end are vicious on already tired legs. She opened all the gates without fail and was absolutely marvellous.
Samantha Mills – who was epic with her pacing. She was awesome. She was happy to sing, dance and talk at me which was exactly what I needed. She was fun and I can’t tell you how much I laughed on the inside when you picked up that shit filled buff hanging on the gate (mwuahahahhahaha!). You also almost made me cry with what you said near Firle Beacon. Thank you sooooo much Samantha. I look forward to returning the favour sometime.
Rob Small – for being an amazing dude for driving and ferrying my wife and samantha around between crew points, checkpoints and responding to my emergency diva demands for some nonfizzy fruity drink (second time this year I have crazed that kind of thing) – oh and a bottle of mountain dew rocket fuel. And McDonalds chicken nugget meal with coffee at Ditchling Beacon My crew and pacers were marvellous. Nothing too much trouble. I know I have forgotten so much already but real highlights were HOT McDonalds at Ditchling Beacon, Cold drinks at Devil’s Dyke, Hugs at various other points. Awesome the lot of you.
Mark Cameron and his wife at Queen Elizabeth country park – sorry I didn’t clock you at first, my excuse was that I was already in a world of pain and suffering with the heat and remnants of a cold. Was really nice to see you both. Sorry if I was a bit zombified!
Dan Park for giving me a last minute spare bed in his hotel room. That’s the second time this year you’ve responded to my lack of bed Thanks so much and it’s been a pleasure to chat before the races rather than spend all my time on my own inwardly panicking about the race and not getting up in time.
Sarah Sawyer and Tom Sawyer with your band of merry volunteers at Botolphs. The greeting from Sarah was so lovely and her excited chatter made sure that everyone remained positive and energised. Best manual timer and greeter ever! Thanks so much!
Alzbeta Benn for the sweaty hug (my sweat not yours!) at Ditchling Beacon.
Karen Grieves at various points along the way. You rock!
Bev Navesey and Steve Navesey who ferried us back and forth from the hotel to the start line – both on friday night to register and also in the morning. You guys are epic. Thanks so much. Was great to see you along the course too. Next time I see you – the coffee and cake is on me!
One of the nameless crew (now identified as Mike Churchyard ) who on noticing I was having a 2 minute kip on the floor at Ditchling Beacon offered me a seat in his car instead. Perfect! Thanks so much for that.
Liam Gibson – who popped up in so many places and provided some much needed cheer as I struggled on through the race.
Stuart March for photographs (of course) and many high – fives along the course.
Nici Griffin and James Elson and the rest of the centurion team for putting the race on. You guys rock!
Mimi Anderson for coaching advice as usual.
And so many messages of support from my friends.
- My feet are fine. No blisters. Nothing. All perfect. Same as on TP100. My decision to buy up all the remaining supply of Pearl Izumi N3 in size 10.5 is clearly the right decision!
- I was originally going for sub 24 hours. But pushed and pushed all the way even when it became very much on the line. I know that people give up in the head when targets like this go. I don’t let it happen. I pushed. When 24 hours passed, I changed my target to 25 hours and despite running the last 2 miles solidly I only missed by 1 minute 1 second
- Knowing the route was great. No navigation errors and I knew when it was easier to push the pace, and when to not stress it. I had recce’d most of the section between Botolph’s at 61 miles to Alfriston at 92 miles.
- I hiked the ups, and ran the flats and downhills. I jogged the slight inclines. Seemed to work reasonably well.
- Those bloody hills towards the end are nasty!