South Downs 100 mile race report

I ran the SDW100 in 2018 and absolutely loved it, so much so that it made my top 3 in ultra marathons when I reached the big 100. Therefore I was always looking forward to going back and racing it again. Given it was a mere 5 weeks on from the TP100, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was worried that the wheels could come off at any point and the back to back 100 milers would take their toll. In the end I needn’t have worried and it became almost my perfect ever race.

The start for the race had been moved to Matterley Bowl, a fantastic location with some sweeping views. As usual I started out slowly as the gun sounded and settled into 08:30 min mile pace. The pre-race plan was to get to halfway in around 7 hours 20 then go for about 8 hours – 8 hours 30 mins in the 2nd half. I finished in 15:56 last year which I was delighted with at the time and would have comfortably settled for that again.

Steady away early on…

The first 20 miles or so felt tough and I seemed to be lacking a bit of energy, which was probably on account of reduced sleep due to a 10PM change in hotel in Winchester. Thats a story for a different day but safe to say I wont be staying at a Travelodge any time soon (existing non-refundable booking for Ashford aside). However on reaching QE park and the climb up the hill I seemed to find my stride and I was feeling strong through to Washington. As I ran into Washington I had made up 8 places and was now in 4th not far behind my chief Grand Slam challenger Ian Hammett who was looking strong.

At Washington I met my first pacer, Danny Ocean for the first time (ever!). We had chatted on Strava but never actually met in the flesh before. Danny was great company and we ran through to Clayton together. Again everything was feeling good and the wheels were still firmly on. I had also managed to go past Ian by this point and was into 3rd place. The nutrition plan from the TP100 remained in place here, a GU gel every 30 mins, water, salt and a vegan chocolate brownie every couple of hours on top.

I then met Paul Russhard at Clayton who was to pace me through to the finish. Paul was simply fantastic, his encouragement was relentless and he gave me real belief that we could catch Paul Maskell and Geoffrey Cheshire out in front. We were running every hill and on checking the live online timings I could see the gap was closing. Finally about mile 93 just past Alfriston I caught up with Geoff to move into 2nd. If anything I was starting to feel even stronger by this point and it then started to sink in that I could run a really quick time.

Running straight through the aid station at Jevington I had one last climb. Again we ran strongly up the hill and at the trig point Drew Sheffield said the gap was down to 2 minutes. I literally gave it everything going back down and then onto the tarmac I finally saw Paul out in front. However 7 min miling wasn’t quite enough as Paul found something to take the win by just over a minute. My finishing time was 14 hours 29 minutes, similar to the TP100, a time I simply could not have imagined running beforehand.

So near yet so far. Approaching the track at Eastbourne…

So in summary , I had run the perfect race, gone under 14 and half hours, ran the 3rd fastest time ever on the course yet come up agonisingly short. I paced my brother at the SDW100 the year Mark Perkins blazed home in 14:03 and was simply in awe. I couldn’t comprehend how someone could run that course under 14 and half hours. Yet 5 years later I was in such exulted company. After the agony of just missing out on the win has subsided, I can now finally look back and feel proud of the run.

So onto the North Downs 100 in August, round 3 of the Grand Slam on my home turf. Ian Hammett ran another great race and came in 3rd so its neck and neck pretty much as we head to Farnham.

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