A very early start as I drove down to the finish at Rye at 5am to get to race briefing at 6.45am and as I pulled into the car park felt weary in the way when you get an early flight at Gatwick. Several other runners pulled into the car park looking equally zonked. The race HQ was a community hall in the centre of Rye....very low key. The 100 race briefing happened and off they went and then it was our turn. Race Director Mike Jones gathered us around to tell us of a small course change which meant we stayed on the 1066 Country Way and not the Saxon Shore route at the end. The route would be 52 miles.
And then it was off to the coach for the start!
As I walked down to the coach a voice shouted out "Ultra Bobban?" and it was none other than ultra legend Ewan Dunlop. Top 5 finisher at St Peters Way, 21 hour SDW100 and Grand Slam competitor this year. We sat behind one another on the coach and caught up on running stuff. Listening to conversations on the coach, there were no ultra virgins here. Lots of tales of 100s, MdS, overseas events and the like. This was an experienced but small field of about 38, but with plenty of overseas entrants. The coach arrived at the start.......or did it? This is where the confusion of the day started.....and we spent another 15 mins driving around the high Ashdown Forest at Crowborough looking for the start. And there it was. Every runner dived out of the coach and headed for the bushes. Funny sight. The Race Director was sort of Monty Python-esque in his instructions......" Errrr, you go that way.......GO!"
And it was off, hurtling down the heath at about 7.30s for no more than a mile......and the whole field looked at the instructions and said "which way now? These instructions are shit!"
Regular readers will know that I lament LDWA instructions but no more.....No grid references, no distances, just a set of statements...go left at the tree would be a good example. So I whipped out the OS map and Ewan popped on the GPS and we back tracked with most of the field behind us following......that is except Sideshow Bob who with his massive Ginger hair had gone the right way.
We soon caught up with and overtook Sideshow. Off the forest and down into Fairwarp and through beautiful bluebell woods. Now glad of a choice of trail shoes, I started to get into a groove. The leading runners were in a pack of about 10, with a French guy, a nutter, Ewan, the MdS chap, Johnny M who looked in good shape and a couple of others. We arrived at CP1 which was in the process of being set up. Some coke and water and crisps, which we had to unpack ourselves.........but still we knew we were first through.
Then, a mile up the road we overtook some runners, the chap in red with the most massive rucksack, the woman in black and 1066 man. Now 1066 man was the most odd chap. This cannot be understated. He had no means of carrying anything (not even the mandatory equipment on the kit list?!) and had a skintight 1066 T-shirt. How did he get in the lead?
We overtook as they were going slowly, but as we approached CP2, 1066 man came in just after us after being nowhere in sight. GB vest and ultra legend Stu Mills was at CP2 taking photos. Had he not shouted at us, we would have totally missed the CP. 1066 man was French. And mad. I'd laughed all the way to Rye with the Radio 4 newsreader referring to a comment made by a senior Tory in hot water as "mad swivel-eyed loons" but here was one in the flesh!
Out of CP2 and with the weather getting much warmer than predicted, I donned a hat and kept up with my fluids. Our group was now 4. MdS Essex man, Johnny M, Ewan and I. We really motored away. To our surprise, crossing a field, we saw MdS man about half a mile ahead? This was weird. Really weird. We overtook and dropped him as he was running really slow.
We then caught up with the woman in Black.....how did she get ahead? She kept getting lost in front of us and was running pretty quick (burnout?) We ran together up to mile 17. I stopped for a piss, Ewan for a walk break and the other runners went off up the wrong trail. We followed the difficult to follow Wealden Way....a very technical trail. I would not have felt at all confident for the 100 milers doing this at night.
We were in the lead....in a small field of 41...but a lead is a lead! CP3 was literally just set up so it was time for a deeper graze. The territory was more open and the sun beat down on our brow. We had a great clip onto Herstmonceaux Castle and the giant Bell End of the Greenwich Observatory and Science Centre which took us across Horse Eye levels where at one point, we dipped into the sub 7s as a herd of about 50 cows charged us across the swamps. Shiiiiiiiiiiitttt!
The course was now hilly. The profile on the website might have been the wrong way around! I was in the lead......
And then Ewan took over!
So it was like this until we got the CP4. CP4 had not even been set up so we had no option but to run on with very little water and food left as we were travelling as light as possible.....which was a great strategy, but a high risk one.
We got to CP5 which was water only. I had my last 2 gels and off we went. The temperature was starting to cool, but the terrain was getting hillier so we had some walk breaks on the inclines. We really really stocked up at CP6 in Battle. As first ones in, I had 5 cokes, a peanut butter sarnie and crisps. 9.6 miles was the target to CP6 and then there were just 5.6 miles to go after that. Through Battle town centre and then we were held up by the level crossing. Then it was on through Westfield and at 43 miles, Ewan spotted a figure behind us, approaching fast. We were caught by a storming Johnny M who looked like he had hit the afterburners. Anyone who runs a training run from Dagenham to Epsom every week would be on form....and off he went. at 45 though, he was lost again and we re-caught him. Not for long though.
CP6 was missed and we had to go back to find it.....that lost us 5 mins. Just coke and some chocolate here. Totally un-signposted, the same small amount of food and a pissed off looking marshal. Not great. Even worse was that the next guy was on us.
We filled up on coke and ran-walked the last 5 miles or so. An amazing sky opened up as we saw the sea, Winchelsea and a cruel 120ft climb into the town. It was then route 1 all the way to Rye. 10 hours 16 mins and joint 2nd place. We were just over 10 mins behind John and celebrated with a beer and some pictures. It was 90 mins slower than my next fastest 50 but with navigation and hills, was happy. The next guy came in nearly 25 mins later. No one else arrived before we left the building!
So, second place at an ultra! I was well chuffed. Shattered but chuffed. My legs are not as bad as I thought today but my feet are a bit beaten up. A beer, a t-shirt and a medal was well worth the effort.......the beer tasted so good.