Btw....it was a long day so might be a long blog post!
So it started at 4am, an alarm and a jump out of bed at a grim but well stocked running HQ.....aka Travelodge. A nice hot bath to warm up the muscles and a cup of tea and hot cross bun for brekkie and it was off to the start of the SDW100 at Chilcomb in Winchester. Arrival at the scene of the start of an event like this has not girded my loins since the start of the Ridgeway in 2010 at the top of Ivinghoe Beacon. As soon as I arrived I spied Helly and Claire Shelley, Essex Dave, Elaine, Allan Rhumbles, Kev and a few others who are omnipresent at such events. Queue for the mens was about 20 deep so I went to the briefing by Centurion organiser @Badwaterjames or ultra legend, James Elson.
The start was the usual affair, a couple of laps around a large field to string out the throng and allow the fastest runners to the front for the narrow path section before the trail head opened up.
After lap 1 I decided to leave the race, run back to the car park and get out of my trail shoes and into a pair of newish road shoes. It wasn't that wet. Then anyway! The end of lap 1 saw a shameless show of stupidity when a runner took to the front and into lap 2 ahead of some of the GB trail athletes and internationals in a show of extreme arrogance in leading the pack onto the trail head.
It was on to the SDW! After a couple of miles of muddy trail and a chance to catch up with Helen and Claire, the heavens opened and runners dived for cover to encase themselves in the lightweight waterproof gear stashed away in rucksacks and day packs.
It was within the first 5 miles that none other than 100 marathon legend Johnny Mac. I had not been expecting him so was a complete surprise when he popped out of a wet hood and I ran over for a big hug. I was provided with a Clif bar (not sure) and a satsuma (which was declined) and I headed off again through the mud and rain up Cheesefoot head. After a long climb and back down again, Mac was there again. This time I stopped for a satsuma and a chat. Mac was getting ready for the Boddington marathon on Sunday and had come to wish me well. It was now pissing it down!
CP2 in QEII Park was another lush spread. It was like a gigantic picnic. These chaps at Centurion are ace. James Elson...hats off to you fella!
Helen and I recounted various stories of the next leg which was on her favourite stomping ground, the SDM marathon. Up up up to Harting Down and Beacon Hill. We stopped at CP3 for 5 cokes, a scotch egg and a pork pie. (I was asked at work today how many gels I took over the 100 miles.....one I said......you must be mad! was the reply......little did they know!)
We stuck to the top of the Downs for a while which was a welcome break from the massive hill ascents and descents, which allowed us to tick off 40 miles in no time. Up to Bignor Hill for the 41.7 mile checkpoint of water only. This was perhaps the only time I felt alone during the run. After chit chat with Helen and David, we all had a stage of running alone, never more than about 100m apart, but time to take in the scenery and reflect on our own progress and the struggles to come.
Helen and I set off, full and ready for action. Up to the next familiar marathon haunt of Chanctonbury Ring. Wow....it was stunning and at 790ft, a long climb. We were coming off the top and chatting away when Di and Dave from DPR took some pics and then joined us. I was expecting them at 4am so was shocked to see them approaching mile 60. We ran down across 3 Forts marathon territory and into the next CP for a quick pit stop. Di and Dave were amazing and really lifted our spirits to the next level. Di also taught us how pigs have sex......typical!
The next 6 miles were tough miles that you need to bed into and grind out. Helen and I overtook loads of runners walking up Truleigh Hill whilst we ran it.....on to Fulking and Devil's Dyke.
This was an unscheduled stop so we agreed to meet later and on we trotted.
Fatigue was just rearing its head when we approached CP10 at Clayton Windmills. We panicked a little as the CP signs were not clear and we had done slightly over mileage but sure enough, we found our way to the windy ridge by Jack and Jill. I've run the Downland Ultra 4 times but never had actually been to Jack and Jill. A quick leg drain, 3 cokes, a tea and 10 roast potatoes and I was good to go. It was great to see Susie Wood to cheer us up and wish us well! Helly and I set off from Clayton at 9.45......we were now on course for a sub-24!!!!!!!
The next few miles were sublime.....old territory, 2 ultra runners, overtaking all and sundry, we ran up Ditchling all the way (bearing in mind this was 72 miles in......all hail to us!) and on to Black Cap.
Black Cap is a significant landmark for any seasoned ultra runner....Downland Ultra and London to Brighton. It is a landmark that needs to be respected as if you miss the turn into the woods.....it is bye bye SDW! But we knew the trail, and we picked up the amazing Mike at this point. Mike was, like me, running his first 100. He was at a good pace but we had to work hard to convince him that he was going to go sub 24. His missus was at the CP and there was some confusion as to whether he would drop out if he was off the pace of the 24 hour mark. This man wanted the belt buckle......he now needed the PMA!
Only Housedean Farm and this would be the last time I would see Mrs UB until the finish. We donated milk from the car to CP11 and had a coffee. George joined us here and we started the great climb of Newmarket and Castle Hill....a real walker now. George was due to be with us for 7 miles. We chatted and ran-walked. Tiredness was now well and truly in our veins. Spirits were high as we reached Southease with ease and Mike was happy to be with us as we knew every inch of the track, from "naked rambler corner" to the "yellow brick road", Helly and I were night-time sat-nav for weary runners!
Di and Dave were at Southease but asleep in the car. Rather than wake them we carried on, George at the helm, as we ran-walked up to Beddingham Hill and Firle Beacon. It was clear here that many runners had gone wrong as we saw lights all over the downs. Even though we doubted and double checked a couple of times, we never, ever wavered off course.
The rain beat down upon our faces from the right side as we traversed Firle Beacon. We were approaching 91 miles and we had just under 3 hours to do it. We stopped at Alfriston for about 15 minutes. It was like zombie town. There were runners in bits. I used the facilities and had to apologise profusely to the poor lady that was next in the queue! Helly was adamant that I ate some food, like some scolding mother figure! I duely ate a plate of beans, washed down with a coke and a tea. Off we went to the final CP at Jevington. In the way was the Long Man of Wilmington and 670 ft of climb.....small but at 93 miles in....a mountain.
I started to hit trouble. Fatigue had its claws around my neck and was gradually sapping my inner soul. Every now and again we would break into a trot for maybe a quarter of a mile. Mike would shout out the pace and the time left for sub 24. We had a number of "casualties" that tried to sap our strength by suggesting other routes, other ways as they were riddled with their own self doubt. We pulled the map out for the first time and Mike used the GPS. Jevington arrived down a long descent and a small church hall with snacks and coke did little to warm my heart. I wanted to finish.......Di and Dave were there with massive encouragement but I was now in pain, zombie like and in the "zone" finish.
The final 5 miles was in sunlight. Little was said. George just kept looking at me to check I was OK. From leading the group right through to mile 94.5, I now sat on the back.....hanging on, pulse racing, having stopped all sweating. I glugged on beetroot and cherry juice, which sugar and liquid stirred me back into life. We hit the trig point at Jevington and it was now 2.6 miles downhill!
When we say downhill, we mean down a rutted stream bed. The it was into Eastbourne and along an anonymous road around the hospital and into the sport college. How long was the road? It felt like forever. Occasionally we trotted, mainly walked and talked of a shower and a silver belt buckle. Mike gave us a countdown commentary. We were close the the finish......
.......and there it was. Mrs UB, Di and Dave shouting and screaming like banshees. Allan Rhumbles overtook us on the way into the sports ground and then we decided to sprint finish for the line. Mike, Helen and I arm in arm over the finish line. 23.26 hours, thousands of feet of hard chalky trail later and we clasped onto our 100 mile - 24 hour belt buckle!!!!
I have never felt so good as the last 23 hours. The perfect running day, supported by the most brilliant people and the scenery and atmosphere was excellent. This is running nirvana!
36 hours on........much stiffness, a 13 hour day at school and a cider later. Walking is fine and I'll have a go at running tomorrow. Thank you James Elson and Centurion. My offer of crew for next year and/or the NDW100 stands.
I feel alive!!