Saturday, 7 July 2012

South Downs Way 100 (83.3) race report....

That's me centre shot all in blue actually leading the SDW100 for 10 metres!! :-D
Well where to begin... This was most definitely not the outcome I was expecting. I went into this race full of confidence and came away from it with my first DNF! argh.... This race went from awesome to disaster in a very short space of time. What I want to do is to go back through events that led up to the point where I pulled myself from the race to understand where it all went so very wrong and see what I can learn from it for next time.....
The South Downs Way 100 mile ultra race goes from Winchester to Eastbourne with 12000ft of ascent along the way with as much descent too!

REASON 1 for my downfall - smashed quads and steep/long descents do not go well together. I camped the night before and got about 3-4 hrs sleep max (REASON 2 - lack of sleep). My alarm was set for 4:30 to give me enough time to cook up some porridge on the camping stove. That was lush. I was keen to get going and thoroughly looking forward to the race. The race started at 6am. Soon after the start the heavens opened but only for a short period. Enough to get a good drenching but we soon dryed out with the sun shining once again. I soon got into my stride and settled in for a long day out of the Downs.

The views over the South Downs were stunning

The first 50 miles went by without incident. I was working quite hard but it didn't feel unsustainable. Even my left foot which I was slightly concerned about going into this race was of no cause for concern. I felt good and was running with a group of runners in the first half including a chap called Ken Fancett wore number 62 and is also 62yrs old! He finished the TP100 in 20h:32mins!! (2 hours quicker than I did) and he finished this race 67 seconds quicker than his TP time in 9th place overall. Unbelieveable!! I tried to stick with Ken for as long as I could knowing who he was. I would gain and take him on the climbs and the descents but his pace on the flats was a couple of notches quicker than mine and I just couldn't keep up. Neverthess I got into the 54 mile checkpoint at Washington in good spirits in 10hrs 16mins. My average pace was 11:15mpm and I was in 25 position out of 163 starters. I was flying!! 

Coming into the Washington 54 mile aid station

Refuelling at Washington with a good cuppa and drop bag

My stats up to Mile 54

Dist          Time          Leg Dist  Leg Pace   Rank
9.8            01:40         9.8          10:12        34
22.6          03:57         12.8        10:42        45
27.2          04:54         4.6          12:25        25
35.1          06:15         7.9          10:14        25
41.7          07:49         6.6          14:15        25
50.1          09:24         8.4          11:19        27
54             10:16         3.9          13:29        25

I exiting Washington a bit slower than I arrived as my legs after 15 minutes or so of inactivity were feeling a little more fatigued. From here I can't remember much of the route but it continued to climb and descent regularly (as I did from the very start) and my pace dropped off between each aid station little by little and then by a lot. However I wasn't actually losing position by as much as I thought I might. My parents were out supporting me too and met me at various CPs along the way including Clayton Windmills (Jack and Jill) at mile 69.8. I was 70- miles in and very weary upon arrival but their support buoyed my mood momentarily. In the previous 3.2 mile section my average pace was 16:34.

Clayton Windmills at mile 69.8 (trekking poles NOT walking sticks!!)
I wrapped up as the wind was blowing and continued on. But the coat soon came off again as I warmed up with the sun still shining. At this point I was doing the maths and thinking that at the speed I was now moving a sub 24 hour finish was looking more and more of a challenge. But rather than using this as motivation to press on and pick up the pace I simply didn't have it in me and continued to plod on getting slower and more down beat with my lack of progress. My position out of Clayton Windmills was 32nd so despite the drama going on inside my head the reality was that I was still doing a lot better than I thought. My positioning simply didnt matter to me though. What mattered was a sub 24 finish and this had a dramatic and unexpected effect on me.There was no Plan B and I simply found it impossible to refocus my goals. As my legs too became heavier and my pace continued to slow the realisation that I was still gonna be out here for a good while longer starting to dawn on me.

As the sun went down and the darkness descended this didn't help either. The 6.8 mile section between Clayton Windmills and Housedean Farm took me 2h13min (avg pace 19:34mpm). Throughout this section the thought of dropping was preying large on my mind. My quads were trashed and mentally I was a mess. I had given up all hope of a sub 24 hr finish even though doing the maths now in the cold light of day it was potentially still on. At Housedean Farm I took a long break and told the volunteers that I was thinking of dropping. What hadn't occurred to me was how long I would have to wait to get back to the finish if I did drop. It was only 10:30pm and the sweep up bus would be over a 8hr wait! The best they could offer was to crash in the back of one of the volunteers car until then. That wasn't very appealing. I had two hot coffees and a few bits to eat and ploughed on into the darkness.
An earlier Aid Station with a good section of fuel!!
It was the next section from 76 miles to 83 miles that put an end to my misery. On the flats I could hardly muster a shuffle, the downs were impossible (or at least that's what my mind was telling me!). On the ups I was still moving as quick as most aided by my trekking poles which were great for the climbs. Nevertheless it was my sheer lack of will to continue for whatever reason and lack of mental toughness that saw me drop at the next aid station. I was utterly relieved that is was over. There was no sense of dissapointment or shame at that point that I had quit. It was what it was and my race was over. My pace for the last section was 22mpm. My splits from Washington to Southease aid station where I dropped were as follows.  

Total     Total    Leg     Leg

Dist       Time    Dist    Pace   Rank
54         10:16    3.9      13:29   25
61.2      12:10    7.2      15:45   29
66.6      13:27    5.4      14:16   29
69.8      14:20    3.2      16:34   32
76.6      16:33    6.8      19:34   38
83.3      19:00    6.7      21:56   51 (DROP)

I was in 51st place when I dropped so dispite my anguish and constant lows I was still in the top third of the field. How strange then that I decided enough was enough. Even the lure of finishing my fourth 100 wasn't enough to make me want to continue. And there was the small matter of the Grand Slam in 2012 which was my ultimate goal to complete all 4 Centurion Running 100s. This hadn't even crossed my mind once during the race and hardly entered my reasoning for continuing. I look back now and am gutted that I didn't weigh this element up a bit more in my mind. My Grand Slam dream is over and with it the GS buckle slips through my fingers.

Had it been my first 100 I know I would have finished it for sure. That I am 100% certain. So therefore it seems that simply completing a 100 is not enough of a reason to go on when the pain really starts to kick in. Sub 24 was all that mattered.... AND THIS WAS MY BIGGEST MISTAKE. I was too narrowly focused on this one goal without any thought to a Plan B that I could call upon when things really got tough. I was so certain of running sub 24hr that it hadn't even occured to me that I would need a back up plan. So going into the NDW100 in 5 weeks time you can be certain that I WILL have a plan B and probably a plan C, D and E too. One thing is for certain and that is that I WILL finish the NDW100. I have no idea what time I will run and I don't care but I will finish and I will finish.

A few other things I have learnt from this run:
- music may have helped me when I got really low and couldn't kick myself out of it so next time I will have an emergency ipod shuffle in the pack (next to the emergency blanket) just in case
- if someone offers to run with you when you are about to throw in the towel take up their offer cos you won't regret it!!!! A fellow runner and CR Grand Slammer offered me exactly this when I dropped but I simply refused to listen to him. I'm very sorry Alan!!! You so very nearly saved me
- never decide to drop between aid stations. I did and this was the nail in the coffin. Get to the aid station first. Sit down, drink, eat, take time out to recuperate. Take 30 minutes if you need to BUT don't drop
- Have a back up plan!!!!
- Don't get fixated by time goals!!! OR Bucklemania!!
- Enjoy it out there....



  1. Amazing effort Stu, just my slow plod in the middle section as sweeper was tough in places but to do this with an extra 54 miles in my legs just shows how brilliantly you did. That was one tough course...hat off to you for going as far as you did and have some really good lessons learnt.

  2. Great write up Stu. It's a shame you didn't push on to finish but I totally understand how you felt, right down to the relief of finally making the decision to drop out. It's so hard to refocus after that much time on the move though, when you're tired and unhappy. I think it's necessary to have an experience like this at least once so that you know what it feels like and, as you say, know how to prepare and deal with it in the future.

    Well done.

  3. Cheers chaps. Agreed that it was certainly a learning experience trail dragon and not one I'm gonna repeat EVER!!! defo should have carried on but hindsight is a wonder thing and the brain soon forgets the pain when u look back on things...

  4. I'm so sorry, Stu. You obviously weren't bloody minded enough. Remember Magnus Magnusson? 'I've started so I'll finish'. When it's not going as you wish, get angry, tell yourself off, swear under your breath if necessary and 'just do it' (that was Nike). Return next year for another grand slam attempt. I might just join you.

  5. This certainly makes fascinating reading for me Stu. Not ever getting near the top half of any ultra field, I have no comprehension of where you were mentally. Is it easier for me just to want to finish? is it easier for us mid packers to just dare to improve? Absolutely it is. You put yourself under huge pressure - more than I ever have and, like you said, hindsight is a wonderful thing eh?. certainly a big learning curve and am sure you`re tons stronger for the experience

  6. This event just proves how good you were the last times that you finished the 100's. In anybody's book it is still an amazing achievement.

  7. Great to read your report and sorry to hear that you didn't finish. I must have gone past you somewhere near Clayton Windmills as I hit Blackcap as it went dark.

    We formed a group and made sure that we kept positive discussions going.....I hope that you make it back up on the NDW100. Won't be there myself as am on honeymoon but am crewing/sweeping for the Winter100.

  8. Sorry you didn't manage to get to the end of the SDW Stu, but 83.3 miles is nothing to sneeze at! It was a bloody tough course. Don't kick yourself for pulling out, just use it as fuel for NDW. I'll be crewing at a couple of the checkpoints, so if I see you looking ready to drop I'll kick your butt and get you moving on again!

  9. Thanks for a great write-up. The SDW100 is going to be my first century in 2013. As a result of your report, I have recruited my brother to run the last 23 miles with me. I hope he can help keep me positive.