Thursday, 4 June 2015

Surviving the South Downs Way 100

With the race ever looming and many people who are running it for the first time asking for advice, I thought I would give my few snippets to surviving the South Downs Way 100.

Remember it's a long way

Sounds blindingly obvious, but its not. Easy to forget on 7 miles in when you are blasting the downhills and jumping cow shits like Killian Jornet that there is still 93 miles to go. You WILL pay for this later when you are falling on the downhills and tripping through cow shit. Chances are Killian Jornet you are not.

Remember it's not that far.

So yes an immediate contradiction to point one, sounds about right with most ultra advice. In the contradiction is true. This is part of the mental component to the 100 mile distance. Build the distance up too much in your mind and the race will become about nothing other than fear and trepidation. The consequence being as a result of the hesitation you will be slipping through cow shit from the beginning, panicking and generally not enjoying yourself. Set a comfortable pace, acknowledge you will slow down and set about enjoying each mile individually. This is a beautiful route. Don't get to the finish and realise you've run the whole thing with your head down.

Be comfortable in your kit choices.

With nerves setting in don't start seconding guessing kit and buy something new because it might make you better. It won't and the uncertainty will probably cause problems. Utilise the kit you have trained with and know and love. That said if kit is broken or problematic then replace it, but replace it with what you know.

Don't carry excess weight.

It's very easy to add a couple of kilos of weight you don't require and over a 100 miles that will add up. My physio shared the delightful news that when you jog, 15 times your weight goes through your legs with every stride. A couple of kilos becomes near on 65lbs extra force through your legs. Now I'm not suggesting you should under pack. Nerves will have you throwing everything and the kitchen sink into your back pack. Remember a sink is useless if not plumbed in. Think everything through and utilise drop bags to store stuff you need later in the race. This can assist considerably and just make it a little easier (note the word little).

The descents and ascents will more or less even themselves out.

Make the most of the good running. There is plenty of it to be had on this route. Lots of the aid stations are in the valleys and can be jogged down into. This is always a great moral boost. You then leave the aid station normally to an uphill. Walk it and don't let the adrenaline have you running up it beyond your means. Equally don't fret the slog up the climbs. More often than not when you get to the top there will be a nice bit of runnable flat to enjoy.

Love the aid stations but don't stay long.

Damn these centurion aid stations are epic. So epic it would be very easy to stay too long... DONT!!!! 14 Aid stations on the course. It's really helpful if utilised in the right manner. Remember though 5 minutes at each aid station would cost you 70 minutes!!! Imagine how gutted you would be timed out with 20 minutes to go and in touching distance of Eastbourne. My advice is grab what you want from the aid stations, say your thank you's and remember that hill you are walking up?! Now is the time to shovel food into your face whilst walking. Maybe consider one point where you will stay for a bit longer. Mile 54 being a good option, but every time you stop you also have to get going again and that will get harder and harder. Don't get stuck in the DNF chair. Get to Housedean and you will understand what I mean by this.

Don't Fret the GPS.

It is quite common when I am running alongside people that I hear these words, "where's the aid station? My watch says it should be here." Remember GPS is inherently inaccurate. Just check strava after for the variation of overall distances. I promise Centurion have not tricked you and aid stations will always appear. Just enjoy the running and tick off aid stations as you pass through them.

Don't get lost.

More specifically don't get lost beyond repair. Trust the maps, the signs and the tape. If you do take an errant turn then keep your eyes peeled for a sign or tape. If you see nothing for about 1/2 mile (unless a straight with no turn offs at all) turn back and double check. Even if you prove to be going the right way it's a small amount of time for a potentially very costly mistake. Plus the confidence you are going the correct way will probably result in faster running. During the race at any possible turning do a scan for signs and tape (especially at night). I've yet to be on a centurion event where at a turning there isn't an indicator of Which way to go.

Go at your pace

This is such a friendly race that it is easy to get caught in conversations and friendships. I have made some friends out on the course. The danger is that you compromise your race pla. Invariably people feel good at different times. People also have different strengths and weaknesses. I am better descending than.ascending. I make these points because when you start running with others it's easy to compromise pace to run together and still feel bad later, but didn't optimise your pace when you were feeling good. Guess what that new friend has now run off where they are sticking to their plan. Turns out they were just having a low spell and are now off like a rocket. So absolutely make friends, chat etc, but just establish the culture that if one of you pulls away you will see the other later (even if that's a lie). This will enable you race plan.and have fun.

Get a good light source.

If you have not done much night running it can get pretty dark on the downs. A good torch will make things a whole lot easier. It will enable you to run with confidence, spot signs and tape, trip hazards etc. The dawn will be here before you know it and with the sunrise I guarantee a renewed sense of energy and determination.

Don't get cold.

The downs can be brutal when the temperature drops and the sensation can be amplified if it's a warm day into a cold night. There is a point about 62 miles into the race before you climb back up onto the downs where it is always a good idea to get a layer and jacket on. The south downs has been described as having its own eco-climate. Not by me, but by the local paragliding club. I trust them where judging weather is concerned. Up on the top near the sea it can get very chilly and windy. Act to prevent rather than cure. It will be better in the long run.

Bring a buff.

Even if the temperature doesn't drop it is likely at some point the wind will pick up. Having a buff to hand is a great way to keep the wind of your ears. It can make a significant difference. When you are being battered by the wind a little thing like this can be a huge morale boost and really improve a race.

Bring suncream!!!

Don't be deceived. If the sun is shining then you will need cream. When the winds pick up it can feel cooler than it is. By the evening if you are burned you will be wishing you had put suncream on at the start, especially with the salty air lashing at your skin.

The Jevington descent can be tricky.

So you have got to the top of jevington. The hard work is done and just about three miles to grind out. Don't lose focus the descent can be a little tricky , with narrow path and rubble it's easy to twist an ankle. A DNF at the bottom of Jevington would suck. On the plus side you should have seen the end of all the cow shit.

The home stretch.

So you are off the South Downs Way and on the home stretch. Don't Sprint just yet though. The adrenaline might have you feeling like you are nearly there but it is still over two miles. Take it steady, pace it out and get ready for an epic finish.

Enjoy the monumentous track finish. There is something quite special about that final 400mtrs. However much you are hurting soak up the atmosphere, bury the pain and run that bloody thing. There is no feeling like that moment.

These are just a few of my views based on my own successes and mistakes. Hope they help and look forward to seeing you all at the race and in Eastbourne clasping a buckle. I'll be the man with a monster on my back :)

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