2015 South Downs 50 - More Up than Down

Back in the early part of the year I had no intention of running an ultra until later in the year as I was preparing for a spring marathon (PB attempt). However things had changed quickly when the opportunity came up via waiting lists clearing for some of the Centurion waiting lists and one of them had been the Thames Path 100.

Stupidity and fast broadband speeds enabled me to sign up quickly and then realised I needed to have a 50+ mile qualifying race. Oh...so while I am here I will enter the South Downs 50 as well just 4 weeks before it. With that it was job done, well apart from actually running it.

So over the last 2-3 months I have been putting in some good consistent weeks of miles and a handful of long runs with the focus very much on getting through the South Downs 50 in good shape, not injured and qualify for the Thames Path 100.

Nerves building

I travelled down to the start of the race after a 6.15am departure time, arrived at the destination at around 7.40am which thankfully turned out to be just before the mad rush for kit check and registration. It didn't take long to go through the checks, said hello to Bryan who was on kit check before walking over to the registration desk to receive my race number 464. I plonked myself down in a chair had a cup of tea and chatted to various people who were looking forward to the day.

As discussed in my previous post plan A was to finish the race in 8-9 hours and I was going to stick with that. First rule of racing is to have a game plan and stick then assess throughout the race how I was feeling.

I started near the middle of the pack at the start line waiting in anticipation for the final countdown by James Elson when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said "Hi Rich, how you doing?". It took me by surprise albeit a nice one as it was Matt Wilson who had travelled down from up near Windermere. He wished me well and headed to the front line (he is a good runner and so he should). The countdown had finished and we were off with a bang or in my case and easy plod without getting steamrolled over.

The first part of the race heads out of Worthing for a few miles before joining the South Downs way. I used this time to ensure that I was moving along easily and not go out hard. So many times I have run out hard in races not fully understanding the impact, its a silly thing to do unless you are looking to win from the front (certainly not me). Game plan brain was in gear and the journey was about to begin.

When the sound of the horn went and the cheers of the crowd had gathered we were under way. The legs definitely needed warming up and in the first 3-4 miles I definitely did not feel all that comfortable, I had planned to keep things aerobic (I can talk most of the time without a problem) and fun. This was anything but fun as the breathing was hard and my legs felt heavy!

The first checkpoint was at the 11.2 mile point at Botolphs in a lay by. I put my slow start to warm up down to some initial undulating hills in the first few miles and that I had been up since 5am. I reminded myself to smile and relax as it's just a game. Again keep it fun and enjoy it.

Around about 7 miles in a runner settled in beside me and started chatting. As everyone knows chatting to other runners throughout an ultra race is definitely one of the many positives I like. His name was Dan and after exchanging some initial small talk we both had in common similar goals racing wise today. Dan was aiming to do the North Downs 50 in May in 6 weeks time and was using this race as a  good primer for the South Downs 100 in June in order to get enough points for the UTMB lottery for 2016.

South Downs glorious scenery 

Botolphs CP 11.2 miles

We hit the first checkpoint with a few other runners in tow. I drank a couple cups of coke, a GU gel, took an S-Cap and had one of my bottles filled with water. Dan and I then marched out of the checkpoint straight into a tasty climb ensuring along the way not to rush anything being eaten or drunk. The miles ticked by and I began to feel a lot better, I put it down to the fact I will still waking up from my early morning The weather remained grey but quite cool which was ideal and I refused to put my spare base layer on as I felt still warm enough despite the wind being quite blustery up on the ridge but had to keep gloves and hat on as those ends always freeze!

Saddlescombe Farm CP 16.6 miles

Having passed through the Saddlescombe Farm aid station taking on board more coke, GU and S-Cap it was obvious to see that coming out of each aid station there would be a nice climb for us to march up. The next CP was around 10 miles away and this would be a longer section because of that so I made sure to relax, kick back and enjoy the ride especially as we were going to take in one of the highest points on the course at Ditchling Beacon.

A bit grey but a great day to be out there

Feeling good at Ditchling Beacon

Just after hitting half way point in around 4 hours 20 minutes the sun came out just as we came down off off the ridge. It was fabulous to feel the warmth and I felt pretty damn good at this point. The pace picked up a bit and I didn't hesitate to take a photo. Of course this was a race but you got to take photos.

Absolutely stunning trails

Housedean Farm CP 26.6 miles

The next aid station was at Housedean Farm. Just before the CP I was feeling so good that as we hit a steep downhill before the CP I decided to just let myself go and get down as quickly as possible. I love running downhill and this steep descent before the road was just sheer joy, I must have looked off saying "good afternoon" to a couple just about to tuck into a sandwich as I shot passed them. I entered the CP with a smile on my face but didn't stay long other than filling up on water, GU and S-cap. I didn't wait for Dan but knew he would join me as I as started jogging up the road.

Quick note on Centurion Volunteers

I have to point out that the volunteers were fantastic at the aid stations. Whether it was filling your bottles, friendly chat, no task to small and wishing you encouragement to move forward you just can't ask for more than that. James and team should be immensely proud of what they have created.

The next section ticked by without a problem really but with another nice climb in the middle of it and a toilet break my average pace did drop a little bit off. Coming into Southease we had been told to take the bridge over the train station track to avoid any unnecessary accidents. Of course you always get some people who ignore that advice (and they did on this day) but for the sake of a few seconds it's rather pointless to be taking those risks.

Southease CP 33.9 miles

Having come into the Southease aid station I was feeling a little fatigued and with a big long climb up onto the ridge again I made sure to take on board some additional food besides the GU and coke I had been sticking too since the start of the race. Looking back now that climb out of Southease felt endless and definitely the most taxing but still enjoyable as the views were pretty cool.

Once back up on the ridge I started to feel cold so I decided to put on the spare base layer. My lower back and arms began to ache a bit from fatigue and I vividly remember lacking energy around the 35 mile point. The next 5 miles were definitely the slowest of the race for me but nothing horrific as such but definitely more walking than I would have liked as my right hip abductor began to say "hello Mr Stewart remember be", Ouch!  Fortunately although sore my legs didn't feel bad at all. The next stop Alfriston CP.

Alfriston CP 41.6 miles

A friend of mine had pre-warned me that the climb out of Alfriston will definitely zap the legs after having run 40+ miles but with just over 8 miles to go I didn't worry too much about this.  Having briefly stayed at the check point eating some crisps and sausage rolls as I couldn't face gels Dan and I began our march up the climb and what a climb it was.

I didn't know whether I would hit my race finishing time of 8-9 hours as the climb was definitely taking anything I had left out of the legs but this didn't matter as the scenery was absolutely beautiful. Some lucky folks get to train here on a daily basis! About halfway up we caught a few other runners who we had seen in the distance at the previous checkpoint. While Dan chatted to them I stood still and enjoyed the moment, and course you guessed it took some photographs!

Don't forget to take in the moment

Days like this don't come around often
After catching up with the other runners I had a brief chat and found out one of them is running the Thames Path 100 so I said I will see you there before trotting off after Dan who has carried on ahead.  I found that could run more freely now and although the legs were tired and the hip abductor still reminding me not to put my foot down (as if I could) I continued to enjoy the running. I caught up with Dan just before descending off the hill into the final CP at Jevington.

What I would give to run here on a daily basis
Jevington CP 45.7 miles

I checked my Garmin as we entered the checkpoint and showed 8 hours 15 minutes. With about 4.3 miles to go I was doubtful a sub 9 was on but there was a still a chance if I pushed myself. Dan wasn't so sure either but with this chance we didn't want to waste time. I didn't bother to refill the bottles and quickly left after having my number checked.

The climb out of Jevington up to the trig point although not as severe as the others was still steep but again so much fun especially as you know the finish is not that far away. As Dan and I crested the top of the hill and Eastbourne came into view a gentleman pointed us into the direction of the final turn and descent to down the the streets of Eastbourne.

Dan took off at this point and I followed but I was not coasting the downhill as quickly as hoped and was more intent on staying on my feet. Just before I hit the bottom my Garmin ran out of battery!!! Aghhh. Well almost that feeling but to be honest I put my head down and just kept running. I turned into the street following the Centurion marking tape. Keeping my up I felt like I was running at a good clip although not catching Dan. It was then that someone pulled up beside me and said "Hi mate, do you know where the finish line is?". I just said it was less than 5 minutes away.

After providing directions I realised in those final moments of the race that the end of the journey was nigh and I was feeling quite sad about that. I had thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and I still felt good despite the quads being a little unhappy. I tried to take in all the sights and sounds as I headed down the path to the running track, I honestly didn't want it to end.

Finish Line

As I made my way into the final corner I entered onto the track giving high fives to the kids there. It was a great atmosphere and could see Dan just about to cross the finishing line so I picked up the knees and ran as hard as I could without looking like a complete twat.

I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face and Mimi Anderson congratulated me and put a finishers medal around my neck. She asked me if I had enjoyed it and replied with "It was a splendid day on the trails".

I had no idea on my final finishing time but knew I was going to be close to 9 hours. I spotted Dan who was with his wife and friend Henry. I congratulated him on a great race and thanked him for the miles we ran together today. His wife checked my final time and it was 8:57:26 and 61st place. I was absolutely stoked with that. I had paced it well despite a low point around 35 miles pulled off plan A.

Yes I look like I have been swimming with my Ashmei hat

I rang my wife to let her know I was OK and that I had finished the race. I got changed into spare clothes as I began to feel a bit chilly. Dan and Nadia (Dans wife) offered to take me back to Worthing to get my car instead of the bus which was fantastic. The journey didn't take long back to Worthing and we chatted in the car about the race and future races coming up. It was a shame the day was over. I thanked Dan and Nadia for the lift back and I'm sure we will bump into each other again

This was my first 50 mile race in 4 years and I felt like it pretty much went to plan and I felt a lot stronger than in any event I have done so far. With the focus now on recovering this week the Thames Path 100 is just over 3 weeks away and I just cannot wait.

Happy Running!

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