Race week had been a long time coming, I’d spend 4 months training, the last 6 weeks of which hadn’t gone to plan and after a long 3 week taper and a fairy disastrous encounter with the South Downs at CTS Sussex doubts were beginning to surface.
This race and the Cardiff half were the first ones where I’ve really felt that nervous/excited feeling on the build up to race week that has been missing for such a long time, it was a good sign, it meant I was ready to take on whatever lay ahead.
The weather was horrendous early morning the wind and rain actually woke me up at 4.45 battering on my Worthing B&B window. However by the time we gathered for the race brief at just before 9 the rain had stopped, and I made the right decision to take off my rain coat and carry it in my pack.
The first few miles are not on the South Downs way and due to the rather wet weather we’ve had over the last week were incredibly muddy. I had only wore my Inov8 ultra 290s on two 7 mile runs having made a last minute decision to try a shoe with a wider toe box after the Salomon Speedcross destroyed my feet so badly at CTS Sussex I had to drop out at half way.
I hadn’t run on wet or muddy trail in them and I quickly realised they had absolutely no grip whatsoever, I was frustratingly moving sideways, slipping backwards and teetering throughout, although I somehow didn’t manage to fall over the entire race despite a few near misses- thanks core.
My goal in the race was to break it down into mini races between the checkpoints and the first one was after 11 miles at Botolphs, most of the aid stations had lovely runnable flat and downhill segments before them which meant big climbs after. I saw Steph at this checkpoint which was a nice boost, and I was quickly in for a handful of fruit/nuts and hiking up the first big hill.
I tried to run everything that was flat or downhill and then hike up the hills, the serious big ones are located after every aid station so I tended to grab some food and walk up while eating and updating the other half of my progress. I sipped water every 15 mins and had a bite of something whenever I needed, although I don’t feel like I ate much during the whole race!
I actually can’t remember much of the race now- it seems to have blurred into one undulating muddy memory! The hills are very very long, just when you think you are at the top they keep going up further but it means there is actually a lot of runnable sections on the course.
I made it to checkpoint 2 at 16 miles in good spirits and refilled my camelbak here as I knew the next stop was not for another 10 or so miles. The problem with my UD Jenny pack is that it is so small it’s a real squeeze to get everything in, so I had to unpack everything to get the bladder out which was then too full to go back in- bladders are not time efficient, but it’s not like I was trying to win the race! This checkpoint was wonderfully stocked, I had some more nuts/fruit and some melon which was delicious.
The next stretch was a long one, but it was one that saw us past the half way point and I was pleased with my progress. It was turning into a beautiful day and the views were just something else- you don’t get that in London, neither do you get those hills. My training involved less than a handful of off road runs and some hills in Greenwich park, the South Downs way it is not.
I had heard the second half was tougher than the first and would probably agree, there are some really steep sharp climbs which were a struggle to get up in the mud, as well as the long undulating ones. The weather turned quite quickly and we had a pretty torrential downpour when I was around 27 miles in for about 10 mins, I quickly got my jacket on and kept it on for the rest of the race as it got very breezy on the more exposed segments. I had packed some cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes smeared with almond butter which I am glad I did as it totally hit the spot and was a change from the sweeter stuff on offer.
At the next checkpoint I had a quick pit stop and found a toilet in a cafe which I sneaked in. I washed my face and felt all refreshed. I then loaded up on some mini peanut butter wraps- best snack all day- and was off up another undulating hill. I did feel like we were constantly going up and up and up, although this might be because I had to take the downhills very slowly as I was wary of my toes and recently blackened toenails which had caused me to drop out of CTS Sussex. I also knew I should have stopped and put plasters on some hot spots on my heels, which were pretty bad by the end of the day.
I was enjoying chatting to lots of incredible people, and hearing tales of their races past and future- I felt like there was such a good vibe at this event which starts with the staff and volunteers and is reflected all the way through to the runners, you find yourself passing and being passed by the same people all day exchanging a few friendly words which propels you forward.
At checkpoint 4 it become a bit more manageable to think about distance with 16 miles to go, I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The next checkpoint after this was about 7 miles away, I just broke it down into time to eat/drink, and started to count down the miles.
I had a total emotional breakdown at mile 40, I guess you kind of strip back all the layers in ultras and emotions are raw. All day we had been running through fields of calves, piglets and lambs and this one little lamb and the way it was snuggled up to to its mum just struck me to the core, how can we be so cruel and incompassionate, it really got me.
On arrival at checkpoint 5 I was informed that all the cider and prosecco to fill your bladders up with had already gone- need to be faster I guess! I had another lengthy stop to fill my bladder again-and grabbed some clementines and coke. I left the CP and immediately regretted not using the bathroom there, luckily I could walk the long hill and my stomach settled down although I started to suffer with nausea with about 12 miles to go. I knew I needed to get to the next checkpoint and was hoping there would be a toilet!
There was again a lot of very runnable sections here although by runnable I’m talking 12 min miles as it was all the legs had by this point. As I got to the final CP I was delighted to find there was a toilet for a final pit stop, I had some melon and was on my way- hoping to get off the downs before dark.
As we rounded the final hill at sunset we reached the much talked about trig point and were guided safely down the correct route, this next segment was probably the hardest of the day, narrow, rutted, muddy chalk, I could barely stay upright and tip toed down it trying to hold onto anything- I was so glad to be off this section before dark.
The next section was absolutely never ending I had watched the video on the road section but it seemed so long in real life. I started running with Victoria and we ran the last few miles together which really got me to the finish. As we neared the bright lights of the sports ground, we realised we had to run round the track to finish and so commenced a slow shuffle for personal victory and just finishing before it was totally dark, collecting out medal from the inspiring Mimi Anderson.
I cannot put into words how good this event was, it was so well organized, the checkpoints were great, volunteers were amazing, course well marked and we were very well looked after all day. It has a very good vibe about it which they have worked hard to cultivate and it’s such a welcoming community.
I had such doubts when I had to drop out of CTS Sussex, and the days following it I actually considering pulling out of this race- was the love there, why was I doing it, but I’ve laid that all to rest now- it’s the set backs that make us stronger and make the good days all the more worthwhile and the SDW50, well, that was a good day.