Wednesday, 4 May 2016

South Downs Way 50 2016 race report

I remember this corner with that odd tight turn just before the tree and the soggy mud just after. It's where Justin "Jimmy" Bateman reminded me to have a salt tablet. I remember that left turn, because I took a 'pit-stop' there. I remember this hill and that one. I was waiting for that communications tower. The pigs don't smell any better, but they seem to be on both sides of the trail now. Huh, I saw a mountain bike in the exact same spot last time. There's more sun now, but I still didn't stop for that ice cream I once promised myself. I walked this hill reluctantly, but less so now. And the hatred I felt for the final miles has lifted with a higher pace.

The distances of the SDW50 are hard to explain to others

I've only run the Centurion South Downs Way 50 once before

But it felt like I was running my regular trails. I knew what was in store and I looked forward to the ups and downs. I acceptingly slogged the never-ending ridges between the numerous gates and counted down the steps to the friendly aid-stations. I fondly recalled where I stubbed my toe in 2014 and where I found a second wind and ran like a child.

I felt no fear or trepidation at the start, this was just a 50 miler and I'd slog it out come rain or shine. But I hadn't expected the barrage of memories all vivid and as fresh as the day before. What makes an ultra for me isn't the run, the trails or even the exceptional organisation from Centurion, it was, as ever, the people.

I missed Justin on this run

I haven't seen him in a while and I specifically blame him for getting me into ultras. He deserves nothing but all the medals I have. He helped me get through the SDW50, he goaded me into signing up for the Ridgeway ultra and he carried me home on that one too. I'm really looking forward to re-uniting with him on the North Downs Way 50 in May.

I've really got to stop waving my thumb at photographers!

But enough with the soppy

I had one mission today, beat the PB Justin and I set ourselves in 2014. Actually I had two missions, that one was mine, but Ruth, not wanting to be kept hanging around too long, gave me a 10 hour limit before she started driving home. That gave me an extra 10 minutes over on my PB in case I didn't make it. It was going to be tight.

My carefully planned and executed training had me in the best shape of the week and whilst I was able to hold off the inevitable onslaught of the man-the-myth-the-train that is Ilsuk Han, I did keep him at bay until 37km. He passed me like he was on a golfing holiday and wandering to the next lazy driving green. Smooth and calm as ever. He complains, but he's consistent, gets the training in (or so I believe) and he thinks about his approach. And it works well. I look forward to seeing him pass me again at the North Downs Way 50 in May too.

Me and Kuji smashing it

It's a small world at times and none more so than in the ultra community

As Ilsuk was approaching me I met none other than Kojiro 'Kuji' Oshima who I had met previously on the NDW50 and, I believe the 100 too. He's a lovely fella and he seemed in high spirits and happy to see me. As I type I'm beaming a smile at the screen and around the room, but these words of warmth and joy can't quite express how nice it was to see him out there and how no doubt we'll be at the North Downs Way 50…

At some point I also met Cat Simpson. I introduced myself as a friend of Justin's and we chatted for a little while. We passed an 'Andy' she called out to, who seemed to be struggling. Cat and I chatted for a few more minutes before she effortlessly cruised out of view. Good luck to her SDW100 run this year.

Andy. Hmm, I wonder whether that's the fella Justin has run with? Well, he caught up and I again introduced myself as Justin's friend and again we chatted a little while. He was struggling with an injury behind the knee, but he was still clipping along at a fair pace. We wandered into the half way point together. Nice chap, but the knee was a struggle for him. I wished him well and hope to see him, yup you guessed it, at the North Downs Way 50 in May!

There were a lot of other people I met along the route. The odd hello, the short conversation as we passed each other back and forth, up and down. It's really quite pleasant. Everyone in the same situation and, for the most part, enjoying the experience too.

Another thumb!

I'm going to say I was quite impressed with my run

I kept it steady (as best as I could) at the start, there was no mad rush off and I was even considered enough to consciously start walking the hills when it provided a strategic advantage, and not just when it became too much. It was paying off. I felt pretty good around the 40 mile mark and with some (slower than normal) mental arithmetic I wondered whether I might be able to get that PB.

And so, the chase was on. Head down, focused and making the decisions that will see me go faster overall. Walk that hill, track that guy and push hard on the flats. Walk for 30 seconds, recover and let's go again. No walking or slowing until the next gate. Power walk this bit. Get some food in. Remember your salt tablets. Right, we're getting there. It's coming together. Keep it going and we'll get it. OK, get it a bit faster now, oh sod it, go for it. GO FOR IT.

Centurion South Downs Way 50 - Worthing to Eastbourne

By the end I was giving it some real beans

I had big eyes for the finish and one eye was never far from checking the watch either. I could do this, I could feel it. I just needed to dig that little bit harder.

I was flying. Or that's what it felt like. Consistent speed, constant pushing and no let-up. It felt great. Clearly others had the same idea and they were picking up their pace too. I would have gone faster, I think, but for getting stuck behind a queue (how very British. And doubly so that I politely accepted my fate and kept my position). However, once out on the pavement it was go-go-go. I'd realised at this point I was close to the PB. I just needed to keep going and not blow up.

If the finish line had been another mile I may have walked over the line. I was really giving it everything I had. I fully expected to have something left to sprint the infamous running track at the end, but I had nothing. I was already giving everything, and in fact I didn't care. I'd get the PB, I was about to greet my wife and I was hoping that maybe I'd get a glimpse of Ilsuk and Kuji to congratulate them for a job well done. And, I'd collected another awesome SDW50 medal. I couldn't have been more chuffed.