South Downs Way 50 – 6th April 2019

The first event in the Centurion calendar and the first of four 50 mile Ultra’s I hope to complete in 2019 in aid of Momentum Children’s Charity. The Centurion 50 Grand Slam is something I have been planning for a couple of years in memory of my daughter Zoe Marie 10 years after she sadly passed away and the fact that it came round so quickly worried me a little if I am honest. In the beginning I had been trying to decide between attempting either the 50 or 100 Grand Slam but timing out at Thames Path 100 last year made the decision for me. Let’s face facts, I am not a great runner, but I run, I’m not quick over distance but I’m a stubborn bastard and hate to quit, I could do with losing a fair bit of weight but love my grub too much to really do anything much about it. However I know I can cover 50 miles in 13 hours so it was the right choice to make to attempt the 50 Slam. If I have learned one thing in my many years on this rock it’s that your goals should always be achievable and whilst I still believe I can finish a 100 miler (watch this space) doing 4 in the same year would be a tall order and then some. So the 50 slam it is and I started the year a bit out of sorts after twisting my knee at last year’s Wendover Woods 50. I ran Tanners Winter 30 in January in a much slower time than I would have liked, realised I had a lot of training to do if I was going to hit my 12 hour target for the South Downs Way and then went down with a bad chest infection and lost 2 weeks of training, not the best of starts to my preparations I think you’d agree. I finally got out on the SDW to Recce in late February and twice again in March and having run the second half on two occasions I was feeling a bit better about what I was to face on the day thinking that the hills out of Southease and Alfriston weren’t that bad, however what I failed to factor in was having run 30 to 40 miles before having to tackle the buggers.

Having registered and collected our race number on the Friday evening Andrea, Greg and I rocked up with plenty of time to spare before being led from the college into the sports field for the race briefing at 08:20 with James Elson setting the runners off at exactly 08:30 on the dot because that is how Centurion events work, like clockwork.

The SDW50 course starts in Worthing and spends the first 6 miles warming you up nicely with a steady climb of around 230m to join the South Downs Way. You then have a lovely decent for the next 5 miles into the first aid station at Botolphs (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either) where the first platoon of the Centurion Army (as with every other aid station) were waiting to tend to our every need. Having started with an additional layer on because it was so chilly at the start I took the opportunity to strip a layer off, refill my bottles and grab some food as I knew from one of my recce from Botolphs to Pyecombe that I had a bloody long climb ahead of me up onto Beeding Hill before heading out across Devil’s Dyke, and that is pretty much how the entire day went, climb for a while, run/walk the flats sections and downs, zoom in and out of the aid stations and repeat, over and over and over again. I had been told prior to running this race by Centurion stalwart Richard Goulder that it was easier than the NDW50 which I did in 2017 and I have to say in my humble opinion he lied, I felt it was much tougher due to the nature of the hills. The NDW might have some nasty hills but they all seem to end fairly quickly by comparison whereas the hills on the SDW are just relentless. In particular the climbs out of Southease and Alfriston are particularly tough both climbing to around 200 metres over 1½ miles. According to Garmin Connect in total the elevation gain over the day was just in excessive of a vertical mile at 1620 metres, no wonder my legs felt tired.

Being the first race of the Slam attempt and NDW50 being only 6 weeks away I resisted the urge to follow Andrea and Greg and push for a PB, Andrea went out like a bullet early on and flew off into the distance, I sincerely hoped she hadn’t done too much too soon and therefore struggle on the final stretch. Greg I could see up ahead in the distance on and off for some time and even had a quick chat with him at Saddlescombe Farm, he was leaving as I arrived, but that was the last I saw of him until the finish line where in true style he and Andrea were waiting to cheer me home both having sneaked in with seconds to spare to go sub 11.

I had my race plan set out in my mind and was determined to aim for around 12 hours. I knew I could average in excess of 14 minute miles and I would be fine, as much as 15½ minutes per mile and I would still finish within cut off which was the number one priority regardless of time, just so long as I finished. I had resolved to try and get a good first 20 miles in the bag and then rely on my tried and tested run/walk schedule, run a minimum of 100 steps (usually more) then walk a maximum of 50 (never more) and then walk the ups. I passed halfway bang on schedule in just under 5½ hours and I knew from then I would be good for my time. I was feeling really strong and taking into account I knew I could average around 13 minutes per mile using my run/walk strategy and push uphill at around 20 minutes per mile, the fact I only had 4 big hills left to tackle meant I had plenty of time, I didn’t need to bust a gut and I would be finished by 8:30pm. As luck would have it amongst a number of runners I chatted with I got talking with a lovely lady called Lisa and despite an early tumble she was keeping a really even pace so I just stayed with her talking her ears off (poor girl) until she eventually got away from me just past Devil’s Dyke. It seemed that everyone we passed along the way knew her by name, she must have been the most popular person on the downs that day. I was really pleased to note that she finished well just a few minutes ahead of me.

The support along the way was as always totally amazing, not just the friends and family that came out to cheer me on and meet me at the end but also the supporters of other runners. The thing about an Ultra which I have found to be true of each of those I have done is that you tend to play leap frog with the same people all day long and the encouragement both given and received is all part and parcel of distance running, runners are simply the best bunch of nutters you can find anywhere, they’ll always give you the time of day and give help when needed. A number of people in particular kept popping up all over the place as they followed their runners through the course and they simply didn’t reserve their cheers and good humour for their own runners, these are the people along with your fellow runners and volunteers that get you through an Ultra.

The day and the miles passed so quickly, chatting away with everyone else around me, counting off my steps and generally trying to concentrate on not stepping into holes and avoiding pointy lumps of upturned flinty rock that would dig into the sole of your foot like a piece of discarded Lego. This is the one and only thing I regret about my run, I missed so much of the beautiful scenery around me as my attention was mostly concentrated on the ground ahead and not on what was around me, but when I did look up the views were just stunning.

And so after many up and downs, I finally got to Jevington, the final hill before the decent down into Eastbourne. This is where the Recce’s really came in useful, as you descend off of the South Downs Way you follow a gully path and there are two paths you can take, I knew to take the right hand path, a little narrower and slightly overgrown but much better going underfoot making the descent much easier. Before I knew it I was on the main road heading up towards the Hospital which meant a short trot along the cycle path, into the sports ground, a lap of the track with my little pals James & Matthew from the 26.2 Road Runners club and I was finished, 11:48:05, bang on target and feeling quite pleased with myself. On arrival I had a great reception waiting for me to cheer me home, my long suffering partner Sam in her excitement and the gloom mistook the runner in front of me as myself as he approached the stadium and got a cuddle from a complete stranger after he came back to say hi, thanks Ben that made her day!​

So another Centurion event done and dusted, the organisation was as always absolutely brilliant, the volunteers were just incredible, even those at Southease Station who made us climb the steps over the railway bridge and not allow us through the gates, (rules are rules) Nothing is ever too much trouble for these people and let’s face it without them the events just wouldn’t happen so a huge thank you to everyone who helped me get across the finish line. The best part, for once I actually felt good when I finished, I had no blisters, had come through completely unscathed and even Greg’s much better half Sarah said that for once I looked strong whereas I usually look like death warmed up at end, that in itself really pleased me, I felt I still had many miles left in the tank, slows mile but miles nonetheless.

So enough of my rambling, all that remains is to say huge thank you to everyone who has supported me with sponsorship so far, at the time of writing I am currently sitting in excess of £3,000 raised, loads more than I ever anticipated and I still have 3 races to go so thank you all so much. If you would like to sponsor me as I await the next instalment of the Centurion Slam check out my story by clicking the sponsor me link and thank you in advance.

Relive ‘SDW50 – Awesome day out on the downs, loved it’