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Sunday, 16 June 2013

South Downs Way 100 Race Report

It all started with a dash out of school on Friday afternoon and jump on the train into town and then from Waterloo to Winchester. I was feeling so very un-nervous it was a little strange. Last year I was almost shaking with nerves until I started my 23 hrs 30 min 100 mile race. This time round, it felt different. I dropped my gear at the B&B and met up with Helen on the way. We scouted round the tiny town centre in search of a good carb load and settled on a place for plenty of pasta and garlic bread. It was great to catch up with Helen again and we began planning the little run we had planned for the following day.

 I said goodbye to Helen and then went back to the B&B to have a final sort of my drop bags. Then the much needed excitement hit me and I couldn't sleep! I must have finally dropped off and the alarm went at 4.00am, Tom lane picked me up at 5.00 and I was at Chilcomb for the start of the SDW100, nice and relaxed and ready to go. Tom saw us off and then again at the top of the 700ft high Cheesefoot head.

It was a chilly start but after a mile or so, it was jacket off, head down and start to grind out the early miles. Last year there was a sharp shower for an hour or so to take the shine off the morning. This year, windy and cloudy and a nice soft surface after some heavy rain. Puddle dodging aside, Helen and I both stated that we were not feeling it like last time around but still got a healthy clip going. The field was much larger (250) than last year but even those early miles saw a very spread field in terms of speed. Knowing the task ahead we kept our pace down to a pace that would not allow us to go into the red, not even on the hills. In no time at all, Beacon Beeches (checkpoint 1) was upon us and a friendly welcome followed by coke, apricots and cherry tomatoes was my diet. Checking my times from last year we were about 2 mins quicker for the first 10 miles, although Helen stated that she felt we were slower. Next it was onto the longest gap between checkpoints on to QE2P at mile 22.5. We must have got a move on here, assisted with the usual high quality banter, fueled on coke and fruit and even the high point of the course at Butser Hill (889ft) was run almost all of the way. On the way down with a very minor navigation error we were caught by Springfield Strider David, who had finished 20 mins ahead of us last year. As we carefully descended Buster Hill to avoid mincing our quads, I felt that the plan was starting to fall into place. I felt good. Checkpoint 2 QE2P was reached 8 minutes quicker than last year. We left the Checkpoint quite quickly after fueling on wraps, tomatoes, melon and a scotch egg. After a run/walk up to let the snacks get to my stomach, there was a period of big hills up and down but always with a run, not a walk. Helen and I overtook quite a few runners here and as we caught the last wafts of wild garlic through the wet wooded trails, in no time at all we were at the summit of Harting Down for checkpoint 3. (more coke, fruit and some peanuts) I can't work out if we were more intelligent at checkpoints or going quicker, or both, but despite my next words, arrived at Cocking aid station 30 minutes ahead of last year's times. This was an impressive 2 minutes per mile quicker than previous! Awesome! However, I was to be thwarted big style.

Catching and overtaking around 10 runners between 793ft Beacon Hill, 773ft Treyford Hill and 803ft Linchdown Hill it was off down the wide open chalk and flint escarpment of Cocking Down which we were now running down at sub 8 min miles. And that is where I clipped a rock with my right foot, flew threw the air, landed on my wrist, (actually on my Garmin) then elbow, then face and somehow my shoulder and both knees, coming to a rest further down the hill. The first thing I did was jump up and start running again. That was weird. Helen stopped me and hung my shattered Garmin in front of me. "Don't you want this then?" A few other runners caught up, checked I was OK, asked lots of questions and aside from a lot of blood and a ripped running top, I soldiered on. Looking at my face in the wing mirror of a car at Cocking aid station I realised that this was a little more serious than a tumble. I'm often falling down on long runs, losing concentration and not looking where I am going but this was me versus solid flint and chalk and the ground won. I cleaned off most of the blood at Cocking (35.1 miles) and off we went. I had my first and only gel at Cocking. Somewhere in the next few miles I think I went into shock. I felt very cold, was confused and didn't really know what was going on. I had a little walk, then continued to run, much to the annoyance of Helen who wanted to make sure I was OK. That was the dawn of realisation, after stopping very briefly at Bignor Hill (mile 42) aid station (we were now an hour up on the time from last year), that I was in pain, pain that was more than just discomfort. My face hurt but more worryingly, I was struggling to move my arm and my wrist and hand was very swollen. Then my chest started to hurt which I later realised was me also landing on the drinks bottle strapped to my chest, which was affecting my deep breathing as the bruising took hold. In my pocket, my shattered Garmin continued to beep away, mile by mile of which I was counting the miles out loud as there was no screen. Last year we walked the long cobbled Roman road up the 738ft of Bignor Hill but this time we ran all the way. The demons in my head were whispering to me to stop and pull out. These voices got louder and louder as the pain increased and I decided that I was on a real wobble, called George who was waiting at Washington (mile 54) to pace me to Clayton Windmills (mile 70) to come and pick me up. I was bailing. Wow. This should have been a really hard decision but it was easy. Something in my head said it would make sense. I didn't want to hold up Helen and I would fight another day. Amberley at mile 48 would be my last. I gave Helen a big hug goodbye. She didn't want to leave me, bless. The sun came out and a wave of relief came over me as George, Astrid and little Jo pulled up in the car. George wanted to take me to hospital but I said to drop me at the nearest train station. Hero George drove me all the way to the A&E at Lewisham, so that I could be near home for when I left hospital. Poor Linda and Tim drove all the way to Washington on the bike to come and see me, but Linda, being on the back of the bike, didn't get my text to not come. I think Tim enjoyed getting the leathers on though!

Things then really began to take toll. I felt a bit weird in the car but after the mars bar and some juice, I started to feel a bit more human. Later, the hospital told me that I had concussion. Arriving at hospital I prepared myself for hours of waiting. The service from the nurses, doctors, radiologist and consultant were excellent and hats off to them for the turnaround in about 1 hour 45 mins. The result was 9 X-rays (allegedly my arm was too big for the X-Ray table) and cheekbone. I had initially been booked in for a CT scan but the  doctor quickly worked out that I was mental anyway and lucid enough to be probably not in need of one. All of the x-rays looked fine and amazingly no broken bones. Diagnosis; concussion and ligament damage to the distal section of the left wrist, bruising/contusion to the wrist, elbow, shoulder, cheekbone and chest.

By 8.00am I was home, bathed and a steaming hot plate of sausage and chips smothered in gravy, feeling sore but glad that I pulled out at mile 48. Waking up this morning, I am obviously in a bit of pain. The odd thing is, the pain is all from the fall and I don't even feel like I ran 48 miles yesterday. I don't even have any running related stiffness at all. I've had a load of messages and texts wishing me a speedy recovery and lots of comments that I must be gutted but in truth, I am not at all. This was totally the best outcome after the fall. Had I carried on and had swelling in my brain, it might have been game over. Had I broken my wrist/arm, then the damage done by running another 52 miles might have put me out for many months. Helen crossed the line in 21 hours and 47 minutes. In my head during the mid part of our run I had 2 goals which were beginning to unfold. 1) Finish in the dark. 2) I had the figure of 22 hours as a target time. Helen achieved both of these and knocked 1 hour 43 minutes off our time last year. Well done Helen. Awesome run. The real heros of the day though: george, Astrid and Jo, who cut short their weekend to drive from Washington checkpoint at mile 54, then decided to take me all the way home. I am so very grateful for your kindness.


  1. Yowch! Nasty! It sounds like it'll take a while to recover fully but I hope you are starting to feel better.

    Get in touch once you are sufficiently unbroken and we should finally meet up for a jog and a jar.

  2. Blimey - I've seen several falls on the downs and there is alway blood - those pesky flints
    I had a trip just coming down the slop into QE2P, luckily just a stubbed toe and a stumble.