Okay so it was not Christmas Eve and in fact not even December. The truth of the matter was i had become so excited about running the South Downs Way 100 that the build up felt like waiting for Christmas. Every day i was counting down the hours and minutes to go. This race was going to be an epic adventure and one to remember. I have been training hard over the last few weeks with the focus being to finish this race. It is no secret that i had a lingering frustration at not finishing North Downs Way last year. In less than a year could i turn everything around? could i go from being under trained and under prepared to capable and ready? and above all would i finish?
So with the race in the offering it was with about one week to go that my excitement peaked. I had made plans with my wife and prepped and ready all of my kit. I would not be having a crew or pacer. It was agreed i would utlilise my drop bags and carry kit essentials with me. My wife would meet me at the finish with our son for a father's day cuddle. We had agreed that i would keep her updated through the checkpoints, but that we would remain confident i would finish.
My plan was to run a steady race and not let myself go out too hard too early. Truth of the matter was i would be happy with a finish of 29hours 59minutes 59seconds. It was getting across that finish line that was to be the goal. An "A Game" race for me would be something around 28 hours.
The weekend started on the Friday. I drove to Eastbourne with my Family and got stuck in the inevitable M25 traffic. I hoped this was not a sign of things to come. We were so delayed that when we finally got to Eastbourne i had to be dropped straight to the station to get the train to Havant. The plan had been to spend some time in Eastbourne with my wife and son. Instead i had to leave them there. So with a kiss goodbye for both, and a promise to my boy that i would see him father's day, i went and bought a ticket to Havant. My friend Sam Robson (@stupid_runner) agreed to meet me from the station and his parents had kindly agreed for me to stay with them the night before. The train journey was thankfully less eventful than the car journey. Upon arriving a Havant Sam was already there with the car to take me to his parents. Better still when i arrived a fabulous dinner was nearly ready. I sat down with Sam and his family to a nice meal and discussions of events the following day. Sam has been knocking on the door of an Ultra win for a while now and his plan was to better his time from the previous year. For me i was all about simply focusing on getting to the finish. Sam's parents were great and with no expectation for me to be sociable allowed me to go to bed almost straight after dinner. This meant i could go to my room and prepare.
In my room i was able to take the time to call my wife and see how she and Finley were. Zoe is by nature an anxious person, but also very supportive. I could tell that she was nervous for me and that she did not want to let on. I promised to be careful and to not put myself in danger. We agreed that Zoe would be my chief correspondent for Facebook and that she would update friends and family (a fantastic job she did as well.) Little did i know that she would step up and beyond this role before the end of the event, but more on that later. So with a final goodnight and see you soon the call was over and i was left getting mentally prepared for the day ahead.
My first plan for the race was to be at the start line feeling completely ready and raring to go. With this in mind i set about ensuring that my bag was packed exactly how i needed it to be. I was so pleased that i had bought a Salomon Slab pack it really is a brilliant piece of kit. I was able to separate my mandatory kit from things i was going to need access to easily. Within about 10 minutes all my kit was in my bag and no simpler than that my race pack was ready. For the next hour it sat against the wall taunting me "have you put everything in me?", "go on check me again.", "what if you have forgotten something?" Fortunately Million Pound Drop was on and so i sat watching this whilst setting about the task of preparing my feet for the adventure ahead.
Whenever i have gone on long runs my feet have always suffered terribly with blisters. The inevitable outcome has been the loss of a toe nail or three and very sore feet. I decided that i was going to pre-tape the hot spots and see if i could limit the damage. So some well invested time saw my toe nails clipped and two toes on each foot taped and ready. With my kit laid out on the floor and an alarm set for 3:30am it was time to sleep. For a brief moment i laid back, closed my eyes and envisioned a night of restless sleep. I say brief because the next thing i new my alarm was going off and i was ready to start the day.
This was going to be one big day and in fact i was surprised by how awake and ready to go i was feeling. A few mouthfuls of malt loaf and we were off to the start. Sam's father kindly gave us a lift to the start. We arrived at about 5am and the start was buzzing. You could sense the excitement and anticipation of everyone there. I handed my drop bags into the van and said hello to Rich (@c3044700) at registration and to James Adams (@jamesradams) I am always impressed that James Elson always looks so in control of his races, but makes time to say hello to everyone and show an interest in how they are feeling. In chatting with Sam it is inevitable that you get to meet new people and this time was no exception. I spent 10-15minutes chatting to Lindley Chambers (@firemannotsam) about his plans. He was coming in off the back of Grand Union Canal three weeks previous. Personally i cant ever imagine running 100 miler three weeks after a 145 mile race.
James Elson grabbed everyone's attention for the the pre-race speech. An important moment for everyone there with James reminding people not to do anything stupid and to remember that there is always another day. I can't explain it, but somehow i knew that today this did not apply to me. I had every confidence that i was finishing this race. I had woken up feeling good my nerves had settled into positive energy and the plan agreed with my wife was fixed in my head (slow and steady gets to the end.) I had lost Sam for about the last 30 minutes as we had both been caught up chatting to various people. We all made our way to the start line being told that we would do just under two laps of the field and then head out on to the South Downs Way. I managed to see Sam just before the start. Wishing each other well it felt like the race could now begin. I settled back into the pack, plugged myself into my earphones and before i knew it we were off.
It was a perfect day for running. We had been told that the rain would chase us but we should be able to run away from it for the whole race all bar maybe the last two hours before cut off. I could not think about this right now and in truth i didn't want to. My plan was to enjoy the race and run from checkpoint to checkpoint. Thinking about running all the way to Eastbourne was just ludicrous. Running round the field really ramped up the atmosphere and i exchanged pleasantries with with the other runners. Coming round the first lap i could see Sam and Robbie off in the distance, both looking strong and both looking like they were out for a stroll. I glanced at my watch and noticed i was doing 9min mile pace (way too fast.) It felt good at the moment, but even i knew that was too fast. I slowed it back and found a pace that felt like a steady jog. We left the field and ventured on to the trails. I had a few conversations with runners and then settled into my own race. My IPOD was on shuffle and i was on a role. There is nothing like the feeling of running in beautiful surroundings. All i could think was that there was a long way to go, but i felt good. The next few miles were a bit of a blur. I was not sprinting it out, but was running the flats and down slopes and power walking the uphills. My kit choice felt good and i was comfortable and cool. Maybe, just maybe, i could do this. Maybe, just maybe, i could do this well.
Before i knew it i was cruising into the first Aid Station. I was not quick, but i was far from slow. I arrived with a smile on my face and set about devouring some salted peanuts and savoury bites (damn the ultra buffet is could.) It was great to finally ,albeit briefly, meet Dawn (@girlyrunner1) in person. She had promised me a bum wiggle for encouragement. She exceeded my expectations by getting the entire crew to bum wiggle. I left the aid station with a massive smile on my face. This is why i love the Ultra Community. Everyone was wanting everyone to finish and for everyone to beat their demons and reach the end. Running out of this checkpoint something inside me just knew, even this early on, that this would be my day. My thoughts turned to reaching the next checkpoint at mile 22. Just a half marathon between checkpoints. Running through some stunning terrain i chatted with a few runners, but was focused on my race. If people were slower i would run away and if they were too quick i would let them go. My plan seemed to be working and i was clicking through the miles without too much conscious effort. I noticed some cramping in my calves and this kept coming and going. I slowed up and took an scap and then carried on. It seemed to help and the cramping subsided. As we worked our way up the climbs a few runners came past me. I was pleased that not as many were coming past as i had expected to. My time on the high incline on the treadmill seemed to have paid off. The climbs did not feel as severe as in previous runs. We hit the down slope approaching the 22 mile checkpoint. I was running low on fluids, but was pleased that i had stuck to plan of using bottles over bladder. I could keep track of what i was drinking and it was making for a smoother transition through aid stations. As the down slope appeared i let the body go and gain pace until i hit the bottom. The grass had responded well to rain from the night before and it was like running on a carpet (sadly not all the race was like this.) We were assisted in crossing between traffic that was arriving into the checkpoint. A short diversion up the trail to a gate, where a young girl rushed to open the gate for me. I smiled and thanked her. I love the enthusiasm such sporting events generate in the public. When then ran parallel with the road and descending over a border, under the direction of a marshall, down towards those glorious Centurion Running Flags. I announced my number and headed for the buffet. I was quickly into a routine of salted peanuts and savoury bites followed by pepsi. I was tucking into the peanuts when i heard "is that Dan?" and from behind me was Ashley (@theMonkeySmokes) We have spoken a few times in the build up to this race over twitter and it was great to meet him in person. I bid him farewell and left the aid station. It was a beautiful day and i jogged out of the aid station and phoned the wife. Assuring her i was ok, bar some soreness at the front of my ankle and that i felt no worse than at mile 13 i promised to call her at mile 50.
Jogging down the road it was apparent that i was going to spend the day meeting people that i have only spoken to over twitter. Mary (@cow_phobic) was running up the road behind me. I paused and we spent some time running together and enjoying the weather. Mary is attempting the monster that is the grandslam and was looking incredibly strong. I slowed up to let my calves calm down and wished Mary well as she shot off into the distance, something told me i would not see her again today. I decided that i would put my Skins leggings on at the next checkpoint and hope that this would aid with calf issue. The pace was still good in my leg and i was run/walking with no real time plan, but trusting my body knew what it needed to do. Graham (@GrahamCarterGC) had said he would meet me just after this checkpoint and tho and behold as i dropped out of a short descent there was the big man standing by his car. He promptly greeted me with a hug and opened his boot to reveal what can only be described as Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. I took a couple of 9bars and a Yorkie. We chatted briefly whilst a stretched my legs. I was on for a 5 hour marathon, this would be above my A game plan. Graham told me that he had been watching the runners coming through and that Robbie (@ultrabritton) had been flying. Graham had not seen Sam come through. I questioned if it was possible that Sam had shot off and was trying to force a pace. I automatically assumed this would be the case and did not conceive that he would have pulled.
Running on i was genuinely having a blast. The sun was out and my game plan was working. I was finding that what i liked with the South Downs is that it gave back what it took. What i mean by this is that not far after a harsh ascent there would be a descent. The hills were rolling and i was just trying to keep rolling with them. I arrived at the next aid station, put on my leggings and departed pretty quickly. I was back on the path and running up the trail at a reasonable rate. At this point i was averaging about 5mph. My goal was always just to finish and i did not care if this was 29hrs59min59sec. In truth though my A game plan was a 28 hour race. This left enough contingency for something to go wrong. With this in mind 5mph was way above my scheduled pace.
No sooner than i had left one checkpoint the next seemed to appear. Running down a hill i could see the checkpoint, but also the climb after. I motored into mile 35 and gave the wife a quick buzz. She tried to hide it, but was clearly surprised by my pace. I was informed that Sam had to pull due to a knee injury. This was such a shame for him and his aspirations for the race. I had to stay focused on me and so i pushed on through the aid station. The terrain seemed to begin to deteriorate from here. I ran for a bit with Ashley and it was great to share our passion for ultra running. It was clear that this was a make or break race for Ashley and that on his 5th attempt at 100miles if he did not do it then this may be his last. Ashley was looking strong and like me had his own game plan. He slowed and i pushed on we shared an obligatory "see you in a bit" and that was it.
Running on trails is really a joy and there is something very magical about the South Downs. They are so open and exposed and yet the beauty is also breathtaking and awe inspiring. I am not ashamed to note that there were points when i had a tear in my eye. I felt privileged that my body was capable of running this race and allowing me to take all of these surroundings in. I hope one day in the future to be able to run this trail with my boy by my side.
The 40 mile checkpoint is apparently water only, but Rich was there and it was great to chat to him and to be able to enjoy some more salted peanuts and savoury bites. I made myself eat some banana and grabbed a few gels. I set off up the hill out of this checkpoint and pushed on to mile 50. The race was going well and a glowing thought in the back of my head started to emerge "maybe, just maybe, sub 24 hours might be on." I arrived into mile 50 feeling really good and in a time of around 10hours 30minutes. The next stop was Washington where my drop bag would be. I headed back out on to the route and pressed on to the next checkpoint. It was nice to know that there was only 4 miles to the next aid station, my bowels were churning and i was looking forward to a cup of coffee. I got to Washington and grabbed my drop bag. I took out a bottle of mountain dew and drank this pretty quickly. I put my headtorch into my bag and left a lot of the rest. My Jitterbeans were put into my bag, but beyond that i felt like i had everything i needed. Sadly the thought of a coffee turned into a disappointment and my body was clearly not wanting anything warm. I went to use the facilities which made for a much better feeling and i tried to eat something warm.
You can see from the image to the left that the warm food was far from agreeing with me. I made the decision to stand up and get moving. I did not want to lose the positive momentum that i had generated so far. I had one look at the white board that showed the ridiculous pace Robbie Britton was maintaining and set about my own task. It didn't take long for me to find my rthymn again and i still felt really good. I was moving at a reasonable pace and the pain in my ankles had not worsened. I set about tackling the trail and pressing on to the next checkpoint. Eastbourne still seemed too far away to contemplate at this stage.
Pushing on out of mile 70 i was feeling great and so i kicked on into the night. I ran for a bit and ticked off a couple of miles. My ambit had died even with the longest recording settings and so i am assuming the navigation zapped the battery. All seemed to be going fantastic, but anything can happen over 100 miles. The pain in my ankle began to escalate and it got to a point where i was reduced to walking. I hoped it would ease of, but i trudged into mile 76 with my ankles screaming. I sat down with a cup of tea and then remembered Washington. If drank the tea i was going to be violently sick. I stood up and moved. This was a defining moment of this race. I knew i was likely going to have to walk the rest of the race. I could sit on my backside and stay where i was or press on and finish this damn race. I stood up and i marched. Getting just around the corner i tried to assist myself in being sick, this was to no avail, but the act of retching settled my stomache and on i marched. I ploughed on and then opened my gift from my son. It was a really poignant moment and a much needed mental boost.
The sunrise rejuvenated my energy and my spirits. I really was not far now from the finish just a matter of 14 or so miles. I still had time in the bank and was confident that i could get to the track and avoid a countdown run. I did make the decision that no matter what i was RUNNING around the track, not shuffling, or walking, i was going to RUN.
As i dropped out off the downs approaching Alfriston a man wandered over to me. He was camping with friends and had been watching all the runners coming off in pairs and thought "a lonely runner" might want some company for a few minutes. He told me i was doing amazing and he departed back to his camp. Once again running had brought people together in a way that would never otherwise have happened.
I knew i was close to Alfriston at this point and just a climb and descent to go would see me approaching the 91 mile checkpoint this had me in good spirits and i could barely contain the happiness at this thought. I was tired, but not so tired that i would be falling asleep on my feet. I started the descent into Alfriston and then there she was, my beautiful wife running towards me with her arms in the air. I felt like a soldier returning from a war zone and in this case the war zone was the downs. I was so happy to see my wife and knew now that i would be finishing this damn race. We paced it out to Alfriston checkpoint and i made a quick comfort break and swallowed down some food. It was time to get back out on the road, but this time with some company. My wife was an utter legend she paced me out and kept me at around 3mph. This may not sound like a lot, but with 92/93 miles in my legs and making an 800ft ascent this was a hell of a task. We climb out of Alfriston and marched on. We paused occasionally and took a look around. I could see that Zoe was enjoying the time together and i was over the moon that i got to share some of the experience with her. Previously in 2009 she crewed for me when i did the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race with Nick (he appeared at mile 60.) These type of experiences, i believe, make us who we are and bring us closer together with the people we share those experiences with. With this in mind it was wonderful to be climbing the hills with my wife. We dropped down into Jevington and knew this was the last checkpoint before the finish and meant ONE more climb.
After a top up of water and a quick bite to eat i was sharply back out the door and on the road. In making the previous climb we knew at the top of this one it was just the descent into Eastbourne and we would be finished. I could not quite believe it but knew it would now happen. There was plenty of time and i was pretty sure i could hop to the finish now if i had to. Thankfully i did not have to test this theory. We got close to the top of the hill and it was now very real. It was time to start enjoying the thoughts of a buckle and shaking James' hand. I had not allowed myself to think about this things until now. It was too tempting to contemplate and so i had just been pushing on, but now i was here nearing the top of Jevington it was time to enjoy these thoughts and the conclusion to this massive adventure. At the top we were rewarded with a beautiful morning view of the south downs. It shows the undulating hills that had been tackled and it is hard to think that i had come
from over the horizon over several hours ago. When we got to the top of Jevington i saw the spray paint showing a great sight. Yes we were on track and this meant that we were nearly home. Just the small matter of up to the trig point and down the descent. Before this i had to pause to celebrate the achievement that had been made at this point. I had made the last climb and embraced the challenge. At the top of the climb a clear view of the beast that myself and so many other runners had set about tackling at 6am on Saturday morning. It was now approaching 9am on Sunday morning. I wanted to be able to finish strong but knew that i was restricted to walking so my wife and i walked on.
The descent down from Jevington was pretty tricky. It involved a lot of steep descent and was significantly overgrown from the previous recce. My concern was the obscured rabbit holes and nasty tufts of grass. Zoe and i safely navigated the descent and brought ourselves out on to the road We knew family would be at the finish and Zoe turned to me and discussed how amusing it was that so many people were going about their business and had no clue that i was walking up the road on the verge of the completion of a 100 mile race. We got closer and closer and were taunted by the sight of the college, knowing that we had to walk further down the road first. We were met by my father and my mum, niece and the most beautiful sight all weekend, my son. He was sitting in his pushchair and even with me being a tired sweaty mess he smiled and waved and was genuinely excited to see me. BEST FATHERS DAY GIFT EVER! After this emotional greeting we pressed on and saw Zoe's parents waiting for us and waving me in. I kissed Zoe and thanked her (not enough thanks in the world for her coming out), but i had promised myself i was going to run the track. I had not run for over 20 miles, but when i hit that track the legs loosened and i could hear the cheers. I over took one person and then before i knew it there was only 200mtrs left and i opened the tank. I was sprinting, actually sprinting and it felt good. I overtook another runner and powered through the line. It was a state of euphoria. I did not know where i was everyone congratulating me and James Elson shaking my hand and telling me that i had made that look like a track day 200mtr race. I wanted to hug everybody and thank them for their support. My wife was amazing from start to finish and encouraged me every step of the way.
|Finley really loved the Buckle. Maybe he will have one of his own one day.|
|My beautiful family.|
In conclusion to this event i finished in 27hours 7minutes. This was 53minutes under my A game target time even with me walking the last 25 miles. I cant describe how chuffed i am. My recovery has been amazingly good and i put this down to the week build up and the careful actions taken post race. I am happy that my reviewed training plan works for me. It involved less back to back long runs, but focuses on quality training. Lets see what happens at NDW100 again my only expectation is to finish. NDW is considered a harder course, so we will see what happen.
Finally thankyou to every crewe member who supported us through aid stations. We were met with nothing but enthusiasm and banta throughout the day and i looked forward to see people at every aid station. Thanks to the cameraman for taking a photo of me with my little family, a memory that were it not for his quick thinking would have been lost. Finally well done to James Elson. This event was flawlessly run from start to finish. The marking was perfect and between the ticker tape and signs it was a clear trail even in the dead of night. I am now an Ultra Runner and i am hooked to these adventures. Once i have time to reflect i will post again about what i thought went well, what i will do differently and what advice i would give to someone in my position.
Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me. If you would like to sponsor you still can by going here
|My Hobbit feet 24hours after the race.|
|My congratulations card.|