Written by Helena Knightley - http://www.thefitadvisor.co.uk
It’s exactly 1 week since I finished the SDW50, and here is the race report I’m sure you have all been waiting for! It’s pretty long so grab a drink of your choice and enjoy!
Obviously when I was running I thought of multiple great openers for this race report, needless to say now I can’t remember any of them! Luckily for you though my amazing crew did make some notes for me of things I told them, so there are some gems to come! Anyway enough of that. I did it! I f***ing did it!!! I ran 50 miles in 11 hours, 36 minutes and 17 seconds and I loved almost every second of it!!! As I sit here tonight, I still can’t quite believe it, I can’t believe how “easy” I found it.
Now I’m not saying it was easy, but I found it easier than Edinburgh Marathon last year and easier than my 50k last September.
So, I travelled down to Worthing for the race the afternoon before. Having prepped everything with my crew and spending the morning cooking up my fuel for the race.
I spent the afternoon relaxing and then took a quiet walk along the beach to the town centre for some dinner. The sand and sea worked wonders to help calm my nerves and stopped me thinking about the impending challenge. Then when I got back from dinner I got into bed and painted my finger and toe nails! The only way to stop me pacing around or unpacking and repacking my bag!
When my alarm sounded in the morning everything went in a bit of a blur, last bits into my bag, shower, dressed and then breakfast. I struggled to stomach the 2 porridge pots but forced it down just as a programme came onto Channel 4 about the Tarawera Ultra Marathon – talk about inspirational timing. Then it was time to head to reception to meet Mike and his wife who had kindly agreed to give me a lift to the start.
Once at Worthing College the start came around very quickly, kit check, registration and a trip to the loo and I was ready to go. I met up with Andy, Ben, Shaun, Susie and Gez (all of whom had been on the recce a few weeks earlier). A few quick photos, the race briefing and we were off!
For the first 1.5 miles I kept pace with Ben and Shaun, but then they disappeared into the distance and I fell into my rhythm. For someone who had never done 50 miles before the distance is incredibly daunting, therefore I had broken the race down into sections…
I made sure I knew how far I had to go to the next check point or crew point but didn’t think beyond that. The first 11.2 miles ticked off pretty quickly, with the only ‘event’ being the addition (vs when we did the recce) of loads of piglets at the pig farm at around mile 6. I even stopped to take a picture, how cute! For a while after that, all I could think was – I want a pet piglet!
When I reached the first checkpoint I stuck to every tip I had been given about aid stations. I didn’t stop for longer than 30 seconds, I still had plenty of fluids and food and knew I was seeing the first of my crew in another 4.5 miles. So I cracked on. One thing I quickly learnt was that after every check point was a hill so grabbing food to eat as you walked up the hill was a top tip!
The miles ticked along nicely, at mile 13 as I was running along a road a car pulled up alongside me, an elderly lady driver opened her window and asked
“Where are you all going?”
Me – “We are running a 50 mile race”
EL (Elderly Lady) – “Where do you finish?”
Me – “Eastbourne”
EL – “Where did you start?”
Me – “Worthing”
EL (looking at me in disbelief) – “What for?”
Me – “FOR FUN” I shouted as I ran off!
Next up I saw Claire and Sarah, it was so lovely to see familiar faces. Quick refill of water and a hydration tablet and of course a selfie, and I was off again…
…next up was seeing Louise and Sam. I was excited to see them, I was still feeling strong and now I was 4 hours in. When I reached Clayton Windmills (where I was seeing the girls) they weren’t their! PANIC shot through me. I pulled my phone out and tried to call them but my vintage Nokia had no signal so had to get my iPhone out. What if they had been delayed coming? I got through to them and they informed me they were in the car park but would come up now. Again I made it brief, grabbed some extra food from them and then off I went. I felt bad because they had come all the way to see me but I couldn’t hang around with them. One thing to note is every crew point is at a high point, therefore cold so the last thing you wanted to do was stop for any length of time. Equally though, I felt bad for my crew who I could tell were freezing every time I saw them.
After leaving the girls I knew I had 16.4 miles before I would see any of the girls again but there were 2 check points in that time.
I continued ticking off the miles and continued my strategy of not stopping for longer than a minute at the next check point. Between CP (check point) 3 and 4 I had a section I didn’t know, as I had gone wrong when I did the recce before. I was excited for some new scenery even if it did end up including the “yellow brick road” that hurt my body a lot at that point. With over 7 miles between the CPs I knew this was the longest I would have to go without a ‘break’ so knew if I could get through this bit quickly the rest would be a doddle (hopefully). I also used this time to do some Maths, (for those of you who don’t know I am secretly a self-confessed geek). I started calculating how much time I was ahead of schedule, what time I might finish and also how far ahead of the recce weekend I was. Every answer made me feel good and positive, I was hitting every check point earlier and earlier vs my plan. my sub-12 finish was looking achievable and not making the finish before 10pm was looking increasingly unlikely. These thoughts all spurred me on and I officially came into Southease and I hug with Susie at 16:23. Well over an hour earlier than on the recce weekend. I still felt strong. I paused here a little longer to grab some additional food, knowing the gnarly hill coming out of Southease. I also pulled the packet of prawn cocktail crisps out of my bag to eat.
As I walked up the hill out of Southease I fell into step with another runner, we shared the crisps and chatted about running. Having the company helped me up the steep latter part of the hill and he willingly went between me and an angry looking cow near the top! (Thank you if you happen to read this!)
We continued the next 2-2.5 miles together until I reached my crew. I stopped briefly again with Sarah and Claire and he went on. While we were chatting, and as I was telling them how good I felt as I offloaded my rubbish to them I suddenly felt a pain in my left foot like nothing I had ever felt before. A sharp pain in my toes followed by a rush of pins and needles. “Ouch” (expletive removed ;)). I knew the blister I had felt developing had popped but equally knew that I only had 2.5 miles till I would see Bryony and Hayley who had clean dry socks, shoes and blister plasters, so I decided to leave it till then. I thanked the girls for coming down, hugs all round and then continued, and very quickly the pain disappeared and I found myself moving well. I soon passed my cow protector and before I knew it I came to Bryony and Hayley who were amazed at how early I was!
I took a seat on the boot of the car for a minute and decided I didn’t want to take my shoes off. I had a quick chat with them, offloaded rubbish, topped up fluids and changed my visor for my hat as the temperature was dropping rapidly now (it was about 17:45 I think).
As I sat there I found myself asking, “What the hell am I doing?” I don’t know why because I was loving it but Hayley’s response made me laugh and kept me going through the next 11 miles, “I don’t know, you are CRAZY”.
A few photos, a selfie – obviously, and I was off again. It was a weird feeling knowing I wouldn’t see them again until the end now. The final 11 miles were broken down into 3 sections in my mind:
- 2.6 miles of flat and down to Alfrisston where I knew there was a toilet! (YAY)
- 4.1 miles to Jevington, including my least favourite hill
- 4.3 miles to THE END! Including some unknown territory
I arrived at Alfriston pretty quickly but was feeling pretty tired at this point. Took my pack off and went to the loo. When I came in I clocked hot drinks were available so after the toilet accepted a super sweet milky tea. It was perfect, just how my Nana used to make tea when I was a teen. Instantly drinkable and totally restorative (Tim that’s for you!). I sat down for a couple of minutes dunking some cookies in and enjoying the moment. I was swiftly stirred from my thoughts by a crew member reminding me not to sit for long. He was right. I jumped up binned the cup, pack back on grabbed some chocolate and left with a thank you to all the volunteers. The first bit from Alfriston is lovely and runnable, muddy along the river before “BAM” the hill starts. Interestingly I managed to run the first bit of this hill, I had tried this throughout and had surprised myself with how easy I found running some of the smaller more undulating hills. It is always incredibly encouraging when you are comfortable running when others are walking.
As I hiked up the hill I was joined by two guys and spent 80% of the hill with them chatting away about all sorts from the hill to one of the guys hangovers! Near the top I stopped to take a picture and they headed off but they had helped me through the worst of it – thank you boys!
As I reached the top and started to run again the sky and views took my breath away, it was the most beautiful afternoon/evening. I soon dropped into Jevington and couldn’t believe I was at the last CP. I had a bit of food here, some coke and a little chat with the volunteers whose encouragement almost made me cry. I knew at that point I must be tired but felt positive, I was 90 minutes ahead of the cut off here.
I could walk the last 4.3 miles and would still finish. I walked out of the checkpoint, sent a quick text to B telling her where I was and started running again before I hit the final hill up to the trig point. This section was lonely and a tad emotional. It’s funny I had watched a TV programme the week before about girls training to be in the army and someone commented on how girls cry sometimes for no reason, that was me then. As soon as I realised what I was doing I gave myself a talking to – “Pull yourself together Helena” and marched on up that hill.
From the trig point the decent began, it was a huge relief at first knowing I had no more up hills and as I ran down the wooded pathway my mind drifted to trail running in Chamonix, darkness was drawing in and I didn’t want to have to stop to get my head torch out so pushed on. If I could reach the streets of Eastbourne before it got dark I’d be alright.
I continued to run as the path got narrower, suddenly out of nowhere a fellow runner (about a foot taller than me) came striding past making it look so effortless! Urgh! The path soon levelled a bit and I gave up trying to avoid the muddiest bits, I was nearly done it didn’t matter now if my feet got wet. My inner kid took over and the mud became my friend. All of sudden I was on the road and that was it, one mistaken end (I thought the hospital was the college and got super excited), one slightly eerie path where I was guided by a fox and then the track and Bryony and Hayley’s cheering faces appeared in front of me. Those last 400 metres were horrible. It’s been a long time since I ran on a track and halfway around I was met by a head wind. I pushed through and there it was, the finish line.
A beaming smile from Mimi Anderson made it all worth it. She is one of my ultra running heroes and after presenting me with my medal she chatted to me for a bit, genuinely interested despite having completed lots of races significantly longer. THANK YOU MIMI (especially as you looked freezing!)
What a day, can’t believe it is over!
THANK YOU Centurion for organising such an amazing race, thank you Mike for the lift to the start, thank you to all the incredible volunteers! Thank you Susie for the hug at Southease. Thank you for all the amazing other runners, bar 2 everyone I met was lovely, encouraging and inspiring.
THANK YOU to all my crew for making the effort to come and see me (none of them are ultra runners), encouraging me, being patient with me, taking lots of pictures and being generally TOTALLY AWESOME!
Lastly thank you to everyone else who has encouraged, supported and congratulated me, followed my journey on here and social media! Yes I did the race for me and absolutely loved it but if it has inspired just one of you to lace up you trainers and head out for a run THAT is truly amazing and worth a million medals!
Loved it so much, I’m contemplating the 50 grand slam next year! How did that happen?