Tuesday 21 June 2016

SDW100 Race report

Top line … 17:12:41.  1st lady.  6th overall. 

Standing in a field in Winchester wearing the signature CR team yellow vest, the pressure was on.    I had the fear.  Big time.  I eagerly awaited the signal of the 6am horn, so I could get started on the journey on the South Downs Way to Eastbourne – a mere 100 miles and 12,000ft later. 

Saying farewell to my boy.  Photo: Stuart March
Training had gone well, but I could have done with another week’s taper.   I was starting with a bit of an on-going foot injury, but I wasn’t overly concerned about it.  It hurt in the latter stages of the Highland Fling, but the ground on the SDW is more forgiving than the WHW. 

For once, I trained – for a whole month - in temperatures that the south of England usually enjoy this time of year.  It’s not often we can say that, but it looked like the weather gods had turned the map of the British Isles upside down.  In Glasgow, we were basking in sunshine, while the southerners were enjoying something more typically Scottish.   

I have been known to obsess about climatic conditions.   The week of the race the temperatures rose quite sharply, but looked to fall again for race day.  I could handle 20 degrees.  Maybe. 

Winchester to Queen Elizabeth 22 miles (3:28hrs) 38th 

I said my final farewells to my crew – Marco, Paul and Cairn – at 6am on the dot were off.

Lap of the field with Wendy - on  her 14th CR 100 race

Photo: Stuart March
I had some lose figures in my head (and pocket) but it was hard to firm up a race plan.  Although I had recced the whole course over two weekends, I’d messed about chatting and taking pictures.  It was more about learning the route and much less about running sections at race pace.   I used the past three ladies’ winners as a steer.   I knew I’d be slower at the start, but that’s just how I roll.  Anyone that I asked about my goals, the answer was “I’d like it to start with a 17”.  Maybe it was more of an affirmation, but I still made me feel pretty cocky saying it. 

Photo: Stuart March

Photo: Jon Lavis
Photo: Jon Lavis
 Rather than pluck numbers of the sky, I kept my plan pretty simple.  Easy and by effort.  It’s pretty basic, but it always amazes me how many people I overhear saying they are going too fast at the start.  I had the lyrics to Guns ‘n’ Roses. Patience going over and over in my head “…take it slow.  It will work itself out fine.  All you need is just a little patience”.

It was lovely chatting to Wendy, Kit-Yi and Leanne on route to the 10 mile aid station at Beacon Hill Beeches.  I pressed on, as I’d carried enough to see me through to the first crew point at 22 miles.  Or so I’d thought.

Although the temperatures were kinder, the humidity wasn’t the best for running.  I was pretty much drenched by then and drinking way more than I usually do.  I’m so used to running around the trails and hills in Scotland and the Lake District, so being in an area I can’t top-up-al-fresco is alien to me. 

Photo: Jon Lavis
I was catching up with a briefly chatting with a few runners over the next few miles and then ran with Radio 2’s Vassos Alexander for a few miles.  Check me, randomly throwing in a celebrity running buddy!  He’s a really nice chap, who just loves life and shows genuine interest in people.  We chatted loads before parting company at Queen Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth Car Park to Cocking 35 miles (3:28 - 5:39) 23rd

By the time I’d met my crew I’d tipped over to the incoherent side of dehydration.  I guzzled loads, picked up two bottles and a few snacks and left, with a view to keeping support points to a minimum.

Photo: Jon Lavis
The results tell me I was 38th position.  I passed Sarah Sawyer before the checkpoint and I knew Jess Gray was ahead, so I was second female.  I’d asked my crew not to give me any updates about where I was in the race until at after half way.  And even then on a need-to-know basis.    

I marched up the hill through the wooded trail feeling a little woozy.  The humidity was really taking its toll here and I struggled to run on the hills.   The next section is a bit of a blur.  I drank nearly a litre of fluid over the six miles and I could have done with more.  At Harting Downs (27 miles) my crew told me everyone seemed to be struggling with humidity, so I took comfort in the fact it wasn’t just me.

Harting Downs. Photo: Jon Lavis
From then I had an invasion of negative thoughts going on, and I was quite literally shaking my head.  I was using Eddie’s trick of simply counting, which seemed to clear the crazy and helped loads.

My niggling foot was ok on soft ground, but anything rocky and it was a bit ouchy.  Although my shoe choice - Salomon S-lab Sense – were perfect for the course, terrain and conditions.  They probably weren’t the wisest choice with a foot issue and the small matter of 100 miles.   My crew had my back-up shoe, La Sportiva Bushido at the ready.  But I never changed into them.  In hindsight…yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

Grimacing on the rocky descent to Worthing, I arrived to see the smiling faces of Iain and Sharon Bareham.  It was lovely to see them.    I was told by the CP marhals that I was first lady, but knew that was a mistake.    I arrived at 5:38.  Two minutes ahead of my sketchy 5:40 target. 

Cocking to Washington 54 miles (5:39-8:49) 14th

I was looking forward to the hike out of Cocking.  Two chaps went running past me, which made me doubt my effort.  Maybe I shouldn’t be walking.  But it was hot and it was early, so I let it slide.  I passed them both again within about two miles. 

I was slowly starting to come around again.  By the time I hit Bignor Hill, I was back in the game.  I stopped to pick up some water, as I wasn’t meeting me crew for a miles.  On arrival I was told Jess was 10 minutes ahead.  I was surprised it wasn’t more, but wasn’t concerned.  The same chap went to double check and informed me it was 14minutes.  I was still surprised it wasn’t more.

The little jog up Bignor reminded me of the great day I had with Karen Hathaway on the course.  The views are just stunning.  I nearly planked a few times taking it all in.

I met my crew in the sprawling metropolis of Amberley.  Picked up some fluids and Shotbloks, downed some fizzy water…and then spent the next mile belching.  Classy.  But I was in my happy place.  Lesson learned.  Getting so dehydrated early on caused me at least 15 miles of discomfort.

I was starting to pick it up again and ran straight through Kitchust Hill and Chantry Post aid stations.  I had enough to keep me going, and just wanted to focus.

The descent to Washington seemed to take longer than expected.  I passed a wedding party, who must have been delighted with the influx of sweaty runners.  Although, I had just caught three of the wedding guests peeing al fresco, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

Marco and Cairn were sitting on the grass along from the church and told me I’d now closed to 9 minutes on Jess, but when I got to the checkpoint (54 miles) she was still standing there.  I didn’t hang about, as I had to find where my crew had parked. 

Washington to Clayton Windmills 70 miles (8:49-11:44) 9th

I picked up some supplies from the guys and moved on, seeing Jess approaching.  I was crossing the field when I heard someone approaching rapidly.  I thought Jess had really put a sprint on, but it was Marco.  Panicked because I forgot to pick up my headtorch, which was a race rule to carry from Washington.

I chatted with Jess briefly, before pushing on.  I know she’s feisty so didn’t expect her to give it up easy, but I refuse to look back in races.  Whenever I see someone looking back, I know I’ve got them. 

I was trotting along quite nicely and heard what I thought was something banging in my back.  I presumed it was my head torch, so tried to body shuffle readjust.  Then I realised it was Jess’ footsteps, as she was literally on my heels.  This continued for the next four to five miles to Botolphs (61 miles).  Us, inches apart.  Earphones in.  Stoney silence.  I found the situation a little bit disconcerting.    It wasn’t until I got to aid station and stopped to pick up some Coke, I looked back and she wasn’t there. 

I marched up the hill and was greeted to the sight of a smiling Dan Lawson – looking like he'd gone up a few pantone numbers on the tanning colour chart.  Maybe it was the stress/exertion of the previous few miles, but I was starting to dip a little again.  Dan was out for a jog and was planning on turning at to Devil’s Dyke, so jogged along chatting loads. I concentrated on getting some calories in without barfing. 

I crossed over the road at Devil’s Dyke a bit confused about where the crew point was.  I thought it might have been the next car park, so pushed on.  I heard some shouting behind and turned to see Paul, Marco and Cairn running down the road with carrier bags.  It was a comical sight.   They confirmed what I already suspected, Jess had dropped out.  I swapped bottles, picked up a few bits and ran on down Saddlescomb, joking with the two guys I passed that they were getting chicked. 

At the farm, I briefly chatted to Jason Lewis who was stopping his race there.  He’s since discovered he had pneumonia, so that’s a pretty legitimate DNF story.  I didn’t stop at the CP, but I got a real buzz from the cheers I got from the ladies there. 

I was feeling on top of the world and just loving it.  Unlike traditional road running distances, the best thing about ultra-running is that you can hit some horrible lows in races, but pull it back to high-kicking status.

I remember the road crossing at the golf course being super busy, so I stopped, took my earphones out and looked left and right about 10 times.  No road crossing dramas this time.

I saw the ever-smiling Mark Perkins with his wife Sarah and their kids approaching.  Mark is also on the Centurion team and although we’ve chatted over the last couple of years, we’ve never actually met in person.  Fever-pitch excitement.    Sorry for the squealing and sweaty hugs, guys. 

Next stop the Clayton Windmills.  Although I didn’t actually stop, just acknowledged my arrived and left.  I was starting to feel a little bad as all the aid stations volunteer were amazing and poised ready to help and I like “Eh, can I go now”… and pushed on to meet my crew two miles later. 

Clayton Windmills to Southease 84 miles (11:44-14:13) 8th

Then I met The Naveseys!  It didn’t actually see them at first.  Just their MASSIVE German Shepherd Zach.  Hugs all round.  Except for Zach.  He was eyeing me up as an afternoon snack.

Then I had some company from a super cute five-year-old, Charlie, who broke away from his parents on a family walk to run alongside me.  The kid had some great chat and some serious endurance, so I had to play the race-back-to-Dad as fast as you can game.   

I met Marco and Paul at Ditchling Beacon (72 miles) for some last supplies before the 12 mile stretch. After saying farewell, I was starting to feel the effects of sweating and chafing.  I’ll spare you the graphics but I reapplied some Vaseline, peed what can only be described creosote and popped a blood blister on my foot with the pin from my race number.  I didn’t really spare you anything there, did I?

After I popped the blister, I did that half-run, half-limb run down the descent to Housedean Farm aid station.   But hey, it took the focus off my quads.  It’s funny how something can hurt, but another issue comes along to replace the discomfort focus.

I stopped for two cups of a Coke and a brief chat to the aid station volunteers and John from Lyon and Simon before heading over the bridge. 

On the climb (sorry don’t know the official name) which seems to make an unnecessary u-bend, I saw a runner in the distance.  I was trying to make out who it was.  It looked like Duncan Oakes.  If it was, he was having a stinker of a race because he’s a machine and frequently schools the youngsters on racing.   Anyway, whoever it was knew it was me gaining as they seemed to pick it up. 

My quads were aching again, but nothing more than the I’ve just run an undulating 80 miles kind of ache.  Foot and blister were fine though.  See?

I passed through the village on my way to the railway crossing and the final (timed) aid station.  This is where I stayed during my recce, so was in familiar territory.  I also knew there was a nice climb coming up, so didn’t want to prolong the effort.

Southease to Eastbourne 100 miles (14:13-17:12) 6th

I caught up with Duncan on the climb.  He was, as ever, smiling and being very gracious.  On any other day Duncan would have been well on his way to finishing the race by that time.  But he was suffering from a chest infection, so put ego and plans aside just to finish.  That’s why everyone has such huge admiration for Duncan. He just gets the job done.     

There was another runner in front with a pacer.  Even from a long way off I could see he was distressed about seeing me.  I honestly couldn’t have cared less. 

At this point I was estimating a 17:25-17:30, based on previous ladies’ winners’ splits.  Again it was hard to gauge, but I didn’t want to mess about and miss the sub 17:30.

Then I saw Claire Shelley bounding towards me with her usual plugged-into-the-mains energy levels.  You can’t help but smile when you see Claire, so it was lovely to see her.  Then her sidekick and my CR teamie, Drew came through the carpark saying all the right things like “flying”, “crushing it” etc.  Didn’t even matter if it wasn’t true, but it gave me real boost.

I know the next crew point is called Bo Peep car park and the clue is in the name, but there were fecking sheep everywhere.  Which is fine, if they didn’t think you were chasing them and frantically running all over the place! My footwork was struggling to negotiate frantic sheep. 

Last support point, I picked up some Coke, a Garmin back up and my Petzl Nao.  I carried the Tikka for kit purposes, but the Nao is far superior.  Especially with a defunct brain.   See you in Eastbourne, guys. 

I was happy to do this section in (almost) daylight as I was concerned about the faint track in the grass.  It’s hard enough to follow during the day.  Thankfully I didn’t need to turn on the headtorch until about half a mile before Alfriston. 

I arrived at the aid station and pushed on to come face-to-face with a herd of cows.   I wasn’t so gallus then, as I circumnavigated the field, knee deep in cow shit.  There was just no way I was going through them.  I even turned off my head torch so they couldn’t see me.  True story.

After stopping at the Alfriston CP, Dean Oldfield and his pacer, Stephen passed me again.  Obviously super impressed with my cow whispering skills.

There’s a long climb out of Alfriston which, on fresh legs, is very runnable.   But a fast hike was suiting me just fine.  Then is plateaus across some grassy sections, before a steep descent in the final aid station in Jevington.    Last year’s lead runner got lost here – yes, with three miles to go – so I was being very cautious. 

Again “Do I need to come in?”  No, bye.  Another big climb up to the final trig point, where the race route breaks from the SDW and follows an alternative course down to Eastbourne.  I made the mistake during my recce run, missed the trig and ended up going to Eastbourne twice.  Even in the dark I was baffled how I ever made that mistake.

I can’t remember what time I hit the trig, but I was amazed at how much time I had to get to finish only 2.5 miles away! Of course in my excitement, I missed a turn and ended up scrambling back through some jaggy bushes.  Only thing I was concerned about was not ripping my skort.

Then I was out on the road.  Nearly out in front of a van, because my legs didn’t stop in time.  I honestly couldn’t believe how much energy I had.

Although I’d run this section before, I was starting to worry that I was on the wrong road.  It wasn’t until I recognised a few buildings that I settled and reminded myself to enjoy the final stretch.  Then I took the left turn down the path to the sports centre – which seemed to take longer than last time.

And there it was.  The mecca that is Eastbourne Sports Centre.  The race involves a lap of the track before finishing under the gantry.  Cairn was sitting poised ready to kick my ass on the sprint again.  But this time he burned out and had to wait for him.  Pah!  Take that, kid.  In his head he still thinks he “won” though.

So I finished in 17:12:41…. Happy, happy, happy! Maybe I could have gone for the 16:56 record, but it's not worth pondering over.  
Best crew ever!! xx Photo Stu March

Thank you so much to my amazing crew, Marco, Paul and Cairn who were, as always, simply phenomenal. I couldn't have done it without them. Paul continues to be my lucky charm. 

Big hugs to James, Nici, Drew and all the aid station volunteers.    The support around the course was truly amazing. 

Think I’ll be grinning about this for a long time.

Although arriving home, Cairn was telling me about all the things he was going to say for “news” at school…running a kids’ race, ice cream on the beach, sleeping in a van.  When I asked if Mum winning a race would feature in this list he replied “Mum, you didn’t win.  People finished before you”.  So harsh.

Men's race
Neil Kirby 15:30
Ian Hammett 15:46
Ally Watson 16:28

Ladies' race
Debbie Martin-Consani 17:12
Cat Simpson 19:08
Maryann Devally 19:33


Vamosprabalada said...

Great report Debs. I'm the same I always eagerly await the 6am horn...

Robert Osfield said...

Well done Debs, great racing and report. Honours have to go to Cairn though... great quote at the end :-) My kids have also perfected the art of cutting down ones achievements...