I've always had a pull to this race for various reasons. I've heard many great plaudits about Centurion events and how well they're organised. I did my first ever Ultra on the South Downs back in 2009 I was persuaded by Jen Jackson to come do the Downlands challenge, it was a 30 miler out & back so I'd experienced 15 miles of the downs & that was my only *recce* So I thought I knew what lay ahead. Jen went on to create the SDW100 & was RD for 2 years before handing it over to James who's certainly ran with it since & created a whole host of new races.
When I told Nick & Susan I'd entered they immediately said they were coming to crew for me. I'd been quite prepared to go solo as I knew the race was well supported with no less than 14 aid stations which are supremely stocked by marvellous volunteers. But I wasn't complaining- Team Santababy goes South. Nick also did that same Ultra in 2009 & Susan had marshaled on the 100 when Jen was RD so again it had a pull for both them too. Ian is always busy organising WHWrace at this time of year as well as his real job keeping him busy so he was staying home to watch from afar
I had no time to get down to recce it due to commitments most weekends- Marshalling at D33, Fling & Cateran, running London Marathon & occasionally seeing friends & family to remind them I do more than just run. I had to plan my long runs carefully to fit in between all that. I kept checking back on my last training plan for WHWrace and decided that my target for SDW would be same -sub22
I definitely trained harder than I have done for any race. Pushed myself harder, sorted my nutrition out, lost weight & did strength training. After London I was feeling strong & ready and eager for June10th and to get on those South Downs. So given my only recce was 8 years earlier I sought advice from Debs M-C -supermum, super athlete, super Centurion winner. She gave me her plan and I sent it onto my crew to peruse so we could make some plans & ETA for checkpoints. I'll quote Debbie in saying " its a beautiful course, think of it as a long run in a big English garden "
I also read endless blogs from last years race, I perused over pictures of the course and studied the elevation profile. I was ready & excited.
Friday 9th June-6.55am
Ian took me to train station & I was on my way to Lincoln where Nick lives & we were all leaving from there to drive down Winchester.
I had pretty much whole first class carriage to myself so I moved from my solo seat to a 4 seater and spread myself out a bit and settle down for my breakfast
Had a lovely relaxed journey and Nick was waiting on me when I arrived. We drove to his house and Susan arrived about an hour later. Quick bite to eat & Team Santa headed south. Journey passed fairly quickly & soon enough we were checking into hotel.
It was a glorious day so after organising my race stuff and going through couple things me & Susan headed down to beer garden for a bottle of wine in the sun. We'd decided to head down to registration for 6 and get number and had made plans to meet up with Steve who'd recently moved to Winchester all way from Oban and with Lorna & Gavin. We were so busy enjoying the sun the wine and the chat we suddenly realised it was after 6! oops. Grabbed a coffee to take upstairs to Nick and we set off for registration a wee bit later than expected. We quickly found Steve, Lorna & Gavin. There was lovely excited atmosphere and I joined queue to get my number.
James was going up & down queue apologising for the wait (it wasn't that long!) and it was after a quick hello to him that I realised I was supposed to bring my kit with me for kit check. Oh my god, I was so embarrassed. I'd read all the instructions twice and somehow managed to miss that. Given that my husband is a Race Director & at least 10 of my friends are I was more than bit mortified. James just laughed & told me I had plenty time to register & kit check in morning. Lorna was much amused by this and took to facebook to let the world know!
We left to go get some dinner at a wee pub that Lorna & Gavin had passed on way - after driving down endless roads we eventually found it. After ordering food and getting nice bottle red we had bit of wait for our food. Certainly wasn't best meal I've ever eaten, maybe I was unlucky but it has to be worst lasagne I've ever encountered. Thank god the wine was good.
Cant remember name of place so cant warn off- beautiful location though and lovely big beer garden.
We bade Farewell to Lorna & Gav and headed back to hotel to get some sleep. We were all asleep pretty quickly and soon enough the alarm was going off at 4.15 am. tea & porridge downed we headed off to race start. Got my kit checked, number on and was raring to go.
Wandered over to start around 5.30 and caught up with Giacomo who I'd last seen at WHWrace he'd never recced course either but had downloaded route to his garmin. We were all excited & soon enough James & Nici did race briefing before setting us all of on loop round field
Once we were out field we were on South Downs way and on our journey to Eastbourne. The sun soon came out & it was very warm even though it was early.
Debs had advised me to pick up drinks at first aid station at Beachonhill so I made sure I'd drank most of my first bottle by time I got there and duly got it filled up. They had tailwind and although I'd never tried it before I decided to go with that and stuck with that for rest of race.
First big CP is QECP at 22.5 miles (3.47 - 71st) it was very busy arriving here as parkrun had just finished. Saw Nick & Susan here and told them my feet were already hurting, not great so early into race. We took off my shoes and socks to find lots of sand, think it must've been stuck under the insole- no wonder my feet were sore, being rubbed with sandpaper for 22 miles. change of socks and good clear out of shoes and it felt so much better. my crew are ace.
There was a long climb through the woods out of there and this theme would go on for rest of day. The course was rock solid, I'd anticipated lots of lovely grassy hills to run on and nice soft landings. Reality was somewhat different. If there were any loose rocks my feet seemed to find them and bashing my poor wee toes. It was however very pretty, I loved all the little villages and the houses on route made me envious of them living in such a delightful area.
As the day went on it got warmer and I made sure I was hydrating well and refilling at every aid station. I stuck to tailwind in my bottle and drank water & coke at each station, ate couple grapes and bit of pineapple at few places too. I'm not big on eating during races but I do try. I was struggling with a pain in my right groin but it wasn't stopping me running & I was making good progress. My feet were hurting too but hey, its an ultra, its hot- things are going to hurt. After a pretty gruelling hard on feet downhill into Cocking (35miles in- 6.26 68th))I arrived in big field to get big hug from my crew, Lorna was still there too & I enquired after Gavin who seemed be not too far ahead.
Next big aid station is Washington (54 m - 10.23 61st)just as I arrived in village my phone rang and it was Ian, it was great to hear his voice, I told him I had been struggling with groin pain and e told me it would probably ease off and not to stress about it. that something will always hurt at this stage. I knew he was right about that! he also told me he was very proud of me and that half of Scotland was watching my progress and willing me on.
I knew that hard it was for him to be watching the race unfold from over 400 miles away but he was getting regular updates from Susan & Nick which eased his mind somewhat- he knows I'm in safe hands with those two looking after me
I was directed down a hill towards the village hall (yes, that pattern continued!) Jon & Soph were also here as was Lorna, her sis & nephews who showed my a big Saltire they'd came with. my crew plonked me in seat outside and tended to my every need. I swapped bags here as my back was feeling bit raw with chafing and I thought a dry one might help. Nick offered me all sorts of stuff and I only said yes to Irn Bru which made a group of supporters standing behind laugh out loud. "well she is Scottish" Nick said. My goodness it was good, and chilled too!
I didn't go into village hall, Susan topped up my tailwind and off I went after bading farewell to Jon & Sophie.
I got to Botolphs aid station at bottom of yet another hill which was beside a busy road to find Gavin lurking around so left there together after being shown safely across road my lovely smiley marshall. I said to Gavin " oh yay look, another hill" he laughed & said "it gets worse" He'd done the 50 so knew what lay ahead. He apologised for having not much chat & I said I was in same boat, he remarked wryly "thats was a bit of a change from normal"
Given we were both in bit of slump I reminded him that running a 100 mile race on your birthday is pretty stupid way to celebrate. I told him i'd been going through the miles & ticking off Scottish races as I did so- then I started thinking about where i'd be on WHW at any given point. It took my mind of things working it all out. Gavin laughed and said "glad its not just me"
The climb went on forever and went on to tarmac road at top where Gav pulled away, I could se him for a bit ahead but I seemed to loose him. I was bit confused that I couldn't see him ahead as I went up a big hill and sure enough when I saw my crew next, Lorna said "did you pass Gavin" I hadn't so presumed he had dived somewhere off course for loo.
I was still running pretty well here & quite often swapped places with these two guys, and another couple of runners all doing run-walk sections on route to Saddlescombe farm
I remember looking out to the coastline & seeing the sea here, views were glorious, the smell from the pigs less so!
The hills just kept on giving but i still felt pretty good. Next aid station was Devils Dyke (66.6miles) my crew weren't allowed here but had parked nearby as Nick wanted to say hello to Brigitte Groves and I was looking forward to getting there & meeting her. Nick frst met Brigitte through UKnet runners & he'd asked her if she knew anyone who could pace me for last section when it was dark. She'd came up trumps & hooked us up with Brian Friend.
This is what makes the Ultra running community so special, people going out their way to help complete strangers. The crew there were superb, thanks so much to them all for their cheerfulness and support.
My garmin was on low power by then and so was my phone so I went into bag to get chargers but couldn't find the cables. quick message to crew and they realised with horror they had cables with them.
Wasn't to fussed about garmin but phone is essential part of kit so needed that charged up. Susan messaged to say Nick was heading out to meet me. This was around ditchling (mile 72)
As you can see I'm still in happy wee place. Its always great to see your crew, they put so much time & effort to looking after me & I'd never take that for granted or be grumpy with them. I could see the sun was starting to get low &stopped to look back and reflect on my journey so far. It was around 9pm by now & I knew I had around another hour before darkness fell
I met up with Brian coming down hill just before Housedean farm, He'd ran out to meet me. we'd never met before & had only conversed through messenger but he came bounding up hill with smile on his face asking if I was ok. I Gave him a hug and said "you must be Brian!" how many complete strangers would give up at Saturday night to come running through the darkness on South Downs way. Brilliant. Tried not to hang around Housedean farm & as I was leaving someone shouted my name out, I turned back to find Mike Churchyard who I got great hug off. Lovely to catch up with FB friends in middle of nowhere!
We got into Southease Aid station (84m 17.31 -43rd)and got bottles refilled. Brian encouraged me to eat something, cant recall if I did or not. I was eager to get moving
Brian was great company & was telling me many stories of all the races he has done over SDW, his enthusiasm for route is wonderful. It was great not having to think about navigation in the darkness knowing I was in safe hands. I'd managed to keep on bumping into Gavin at checkpoints but he usually left before I did. At one point we were altogether up a hill and it was pitch black and we all sang Happy Birthday to him, I think that's when he ran away from us :o)
We had picked up another companion by here, I think his name was Bart and was originally from Holland but now lives in Brighton. He decided to stick with us as he reckoned he'd have got lost on his own. We were on a nice downhill trot around mile 88 when suddenly I got shooting pain in my left thigh which brought me to a complete standstill. I tried to gave it a rub and it was like i'd been injected with cement, It was very painful to touch and I tried to start running again but it was painful. I'd went from feeling pretty strong & still running when I could to painfully hobbling very slowly. Normally I can march pretty quickly but I certainly didn't feel like I was now.
12 miles is a very long way to slowly hobble. We had 2 aid stations left to go through, at 2nd last one (alfriston) was in a church hall, we weaved trough graveyard and entered into a cocoon of loveliness. I sat down for bit of rest, took couple paracetamol and had best cup tea i'd ever had. I had been feeling pretty sick since pulling muscle in thigh and as I stood up to leave there I had to rush to toilet thinking I was going to throw up but nothing came up. We left thanking the fabulous crew there & get head down to tackle yet another hill. I lost many places here as people marched up hill past us.
I'd broken this section into aid stations and next one was Jevington, I didn't need or want anything here, not even sure why we went in but it was ever so pretty. The guys there told us we'd broken back of t and we could walk backwards and still be comfortably under 24hrs- this was pleasing news to Bart wh was still with us here. One more climb to go. Brian assured us it was easier & shorter than climb out of Alfriston (phew!) he did keep on telling us how glorious the views were too and that we were missing out n the darkness. Maybe he wanted us to jog up there next day to see them ;)
We did indeed reach trig point quicker than expected and the cheery marshalls pointed out the finish line to us and warned us of the tricky descent. Again I was passed by fair few runners, it was ere we also lost Bart as he could still run and he hooked onto guys in front. Tricky indeed it was, I slipped a few times on the rocks which made for more waves of pain & nausea. I just kept plodding on knowing end was in sight. Brian had called Nick to let him know we were close by. Our head torches were off by now and the dawn chorus was in full voice.
I managed a few short jogs here and there & our hearts were lifted by the glorious sunrise and the birds singing us into that last mile.
I'm pretty sure I drove poor Brian mad saying "where is this bloody sports track" We arrived at the hospital & he assured me we just had to run round there and it was round the corner. I was again passed by a few folk here as I still unable to run more than few metres at a time.
As we spotted the Sports centre (at last!) Susan & Nick appeared, I hadn't seen them for ages and was delighted to see them. Nick & Brian ran round track with me, Nick peeling off to run across & get me finishing. Brian stayed with me and encouraged me to run to end which I did. Lorna ran over with the aforementioned Saltire provided by her nephews and handed it to me to finish with
Finally- 22hours and 37 minutes after I left Chilcombe sports centre I went under the finishing line. Still smiling. 11th lady 74th overall out of 220 finishers.
Reflections- the thigh trouble meant I didn't get finish I wanted nor the time, I was passed by 31 people in those last 12 miles but I'm still delighted I kept going & finished in fairly decent time.
I think I went into this a bit blasé- yes I'd trained well and was fit as could have been. But I didn't have the full respect for the course- I thought I'd have lots of rolling meadows to skip along, and even though I knew the profile, the elevation and had studied many a blog - I wasn't prepared for the toughness of it all underfoot. The hills, they just kept on giving...
lessons- Respect the course, Respect the distance. I know left nothing out there and gave it my all knowing how many had so generously donated to the two good causes I am fundraising for
my fundraising page - click here
my fundraising page - click here
I am as ever indebted to Team Santababy - I know Ians' mind was at rest knowing I was in very capable hands of Nick & Susan and adopted crew member in form of Brian- what a lovely man. He spent most of his pacing duties trying to persuade me back before I'd even finished. That man loves SDW with his heart & soul. Brian, thank you. Nick & Susan- I'm so happy you insisted you were coming along for the ride, and what a ride it was.
James, Nici and the whole of Centurion crew- you didn't disappoint. Beautiful route, superbly organised- nothing you could improve on from what I could see-well done.
Will I be back.....