Friday, 20 June 2014

South Downs Way 100

I do love the South Downs, it is a beautiful place to run. I can't think of many places I'd rather be in this country of ours. So running the whole length of it in the beginnings of summer holds much appeal to me. This would be my second running of the race, my first in 2012 was my performance of the year. Everything went right that time round so I was hoping for some more of that.

We travelled down on Friday afternoon in my father in laws van with the intention of me sleeping in the field in a bivvy bag and my crew sleeping in the van. The weather up until Friday had been fantastic so the idea of sleeping in the field seemed like a good one. We arrived in the middle of Friday afternoon and had a nice couple of hours sunbathing. As darkness drew closer I checked the weather and apparently it was pissing down right where we were? Well it wasn't but it was coming!  As it had been so lovely during the day I thought I'd wing it anyway so I flipped the tailgate up on the van and lay down under it and pulled the strings on my bag tight to my face. As I closed my eyes there was a flashing coming from over the hedge which I first thought was a train track but as it got gradually closer accompanied by some very loud bangs I realized it was the storm coming. I decided to ride it out and stayed put. Well it rained so hard it soon became impossible to get out my bag as I and all my gear would have been soaked. It was lashing in under the tailgate and the constant water bouncing off my face made it impossible to sleep. I had to do something, so I undid my bag, grabbed my foldup chair and put it over my face. I was soon tied back into the bag and managed to get a fair few hours sleep. I did however wake up in a rather deep puddle! I'm so glad my bag was 100% waterproof.

It was still tipping it down up until 5ish so I stayed in the van as long as possible. I had my number already so I thought I'd hang on as long as possible to save starting in wet gear. I got to the start line at 5.30 ish and didn't have a lot of time to catch up with everyone but said hi to most of my good friends. Time just flew and before I knew it the brief had been and gone and we were toeing the line. As we started Stuart Mills run off like he'd robbed someone. I just thought, what an amazing athlete he has this in the bag.

After my epic fail in the TP I decided the best plan of attack in this one would be to not have a plan and run on feel. Run for the love of running. The difference was massive, I had put so much pressure on myself for a pb at the Thames path that it took away from the enjoyment I get from running ultras. Well sod that this time, I was going to have fun. The strange thing about having no race plan is you have to make instant decisions on race tactics and as I rounded the field I had to decide what my starting pace would be. The one decision I did make and have stuck to for a long while now is to run my own race at my own pace, so no chatting for me for the first few miles just get on with it. At the TP my start pace had been 7.5 min miles, this time I settled into 8.5 min miles which was comfy and I was on my way.

The downs are gorgeous and the running was heaven CP1 was soon upon us, I had drunk half my 500ml of electrolyte and half my water at this point but didn't bother to refill as my crew had said they would meet me at 12 mile so I had a couple of cups of water and pressed on. Mile 12 came and went and I was sipping my water hoping I would see my wife soon but nothing. It was very humid, my head felt like it was in a pressure cooker as I approached the late teens of the race. My usual bad patch at 18 mile hit bang on its ETA. I was feeling really shit, thirsty, hot and  I really couldn't be arsed. My thoughts went to dropping, I couldn't think of any reason to carry on. During my ultra running life since my first 100 and only DNF, I have become mentally very strong and can usually find good reason to get it done. Could be any number of things but there is always something that you can latch onto, then you can put your DNF thought back in its box and crack on. Not this time though, for the first time I was questioning whether I could even be bothered to carry on for another 80 mile. What is the point? What am I getting out of this one? I've got a busy week next week, do I really want to feel like shit?  Luckily I entered the back end of QE park and knew the aid station couldn't be far, I sucked the last drops out my bottles and headed through the park and down the hill to the CP. My wife had found the CP but hadn't had internet all morning so couldn't look up where to meet me hence the lack of support. I drank plenty, ate some food, chatted about quitting with the wife and changed my wet hat and buff before moving on.

My feeding regime is a massive work in progress and I really didn't eat enough during the TP so I made sure I ate well this time. A caffeine free GU every couple of hours and more fruit than you'd find at a fruitarians banquet. I started to feel better and the running became easier, mile 22/23 to mile 35ish are usually very good to me and today was no exception. I could really enjoy being there. I really love the flora and fauna of the downs, it is truly outstanding and I just soaked it up for a few mile. I ran into Harting downs and my pal Gary Kiernan was helping out, it didn't take him long to take the piss about me carrying poles.
 I know the pole debate will never subside but I carried them as when else am I going to practice with them? I have the UTMB coming up and what sort of fool would go there having not used them over the distance. Not me. For those interested I used Black Diamond ultra Z poles and they were fine. I carried one in each hand for the whole distance and used them on some of the steeper climbs. My technique improved no end. The ease of putting them together and dismantling them really is really good and I shall carry on with them at every opportunity until August.
I could feel maceration starting on my feet around 35 mile, I've had it so much that I can recognise the first tingles. I was determined that this wasn't going to ruin my race so I pulled up at the next available stop, cleaned and dried my feet. I also changed socks and sprayed my feet with a silicone spray I'm experimenting with at the moment. I'm pissed off with trying to find the perfect shoe so I just wore an old pair of NB this time around. They were doing alright but it was early days.
I soon reached half way in roughly 9 hours which was perfect for a sub 20 which I would obviously take however much I was trying to run for just the love of it. I pushed on to Washington and was greeted with a hug and a kiss from Karen Webber and lots of clapping from the amazing support. I changed shirts, ate more fruit and soon went on my way feeling better now than I had since the start. This wasn't to last long.
Within a few short miles I was feeling shit again and amazingly tired. I was so tired I thought I was going to fall asleep on my feet, something that doesn't usually happen until about 2am but this was only about 5pm. I ran for quite a while with David Thompson who I've seen and spoken to many times but never ran with so it was nice to chat for a while and compare notes on how shit we felt. I was having to dig deep and was having strong thoughts about quitting again. Luckily there was a reason to continue, something I am trying to achieve so I focused on that and kept going. Somewhere around 60 mile I bumped into Luke Ashton he had got a wiggle on and was pushing for the finish already there was no keeping up with him so after a brief chat he ran off. Luke is a fantastic runner and although we have been close time wise on a few occasions I am under no illusion that he is the better runner and on his day, untouchable by myself. He is however game opposition and if I've got my racing head I will push myself to race with him, just not today. I ran down the long hill to Boltophs, had a quick stop and carried on.
 I was at least pleased I was able to run on command I hiked the ups and waddled/run the flats and downs. Somewhere between Boltophs and Saddlescombe farm my waddle turned into a half decent run and as I cruised along my toe hooked on a flint and I went straight into some brambles ending up on my back. Moments like that can only be laughed at, I lay my head back into the brambles looked at the sky and laughed, Oh what the hell am I doing? Getting up is always a lot harder than going down and what a struggle it was to get back up. Cp9 soon passed by and I was heading for Clayton Windmills. Clayton is a weird stop, you think you have run past it and are going wrong before you turn 90 degrees left and head on into the aid station. I was feeling hungry for real food and found a massive wedge of over cooked flapjack, burnt bits and all. It was delightful and I left the windmills a happy man, chewing on burnt flapjack and only 30 to go.
I was running ok now, slowly but running all the same and the miles were ticking away. Around mile 80 as darkness set in I started chatting with Dan Mayers, he too is running UTMB this year so we had plenty to chat about and good company he was too.
Next CP was Southease and another chance to sort my feet out, they were getting really sore again and I bit the bullet and changed to road shoes for the last few miles. The hill out of Southease is one of the bigger ones and I used my poles to good effect and hiked all the way up. On reaching the top I resumed running again and soon overtook Ken Fancett and caught Dan up. This section is quite featureless and although not overly difficult to navigate, you need to have your wits about you. I thought it best that I stick with Dan for this bit and Ken soon caught us, the three of us run/walked all the way to Alfriston. A quick turn around here and we pressed on, Dan ran ahead but was too fast for me so off he went. 8 miles to go and I was still running and ran all the way to Jevington albeit slowly. The last CP is always nice, you are there, you've done it, now enjoy it. I was checked in in the street and given the option to carry on but I walked into the aid station to say hello and thank the volunteers. I always think the last cp must be the worst to volunteer at, no-one stops, no-one eats or drinks and the hours are long. Pretty thankless really.
4 miles to go and I hiked my way up the hill out of Jevington, about half way up a light appeared behind me. I started to pick up the pace right to the top where I met the lonely marshall who ushered me off the downs. With the thought of someone overtaking me I got a last spurt on, all the way down the hill, past the houses and onto the main road. I switched my light off and ran by the street lights to the roundabout, hooked a left and ran down the home stretch. I actually passed Jez Isaac with only a few hundred metres to the stadium. Felt a bit of a git passing and always do that close to the end but needs must and I was on one. I entered to stadium for my final lap as I ran round that track I almost shed a tear. It had been hard and I'd almost pulled out 80 miles previous I felt quite emotional. I crossed the line got my hug from Nici, my medal from Mimi and a kiss from my wife. 20 hrs 43 but this run wasn't about times or places it was about loving running. As I stood there and calmed down I felt very unsteady, my legs were extremely wobbly and I was escorted to a seat. It was over. I showered, ate and headed for home. I need to get to bed as I had a family barby later in the day which I made and very nice it was too.
I had some major negative thoughts during the day and a lot of time to contemplate my running future. Although the camaraderie is second to none among the longer distance ultras, I for the first time ever have considered packing in the 100's. They are very hard, they take an age to recover properly, they affect my work and I don't feel I have anything to prove to myself anymore. I ran a sub 18 last year and I don't think as long as there is a hole in my arse I can better that time. The main attraction has always been  pushing my boundaries and seeing what I could achieve but once you've achieved all you wanted. What next? There are a few things I still need to do, Western States being the main one and I shall continue for sure until that is done and hopefully in sub 24 (I still have to get in first). Who knows that may well be my last 100! Watch this space...

Massive well done to Mark Perkins for smashing the SDW record time. Didn't see that coming after Stuart Mills opening mile. Also a great performance for 3rd by David Ross, about time you had the race to match your talent. Good running buddy.

Thanks again to for your support.

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