Athlete: David Pegler
Event: South Downs Way 100 ultra trail run
Race organiser: Centurion
Date: 11.06.16 – 12.06.16
So it sounded like a good idea a year ago!
In 2015 I completed my first proper ultra run event and made a decent effort of running the SDW50. The next big challenge was of course the SDW100 so my name went down – why not? I had months to train and already had a tried and tested strategy – walk the uphills, eat and drink as much as possible and stay no longer than 5mins at the aid stations.
Anyway roll on the months and suddenly the SDW100 event was upon me. My training since the SDW50 a year before had not gone to plan. I had run 2 marathons, one 28-miler trail run and a handful of 2-3 hour easy long runs. There had been no serious back to back weekend runs or other ultras recorded – oh dear, this was going to hurt. My lack of preparation was also due to a number of personal distractions going on in my life, which simply meant the run training took a back seat on my priority list.
About a fortnight before I had to make a decision – do it, or not? In the end I thought, let’s do it for me, let’s do it for the experience!
So I posted my decision on the Club website with an invitation for any of my triathlete buddies to join me in part of the run through the night.
The day before I got my kit together (see below) and arranged with my youngest daughter to drive me to Winchester at 3:30am on the morning of the race.
We arrived in good time, I registered and made the final arrangements to my gear, then it was the race briefing and we started promptly at 6am.
My strategy beyond my relatively successful SDW50 in 2015 had not changed although I had decided to go slow from the off to preserve as much energy for later in the race. There was some light drizzle in the air but otherwise conditions were good. My first 20-30 miles passed without much drama. I kept a reasonable pace and walked the uphills. It did however get a lot more humid and warmer throughout the morning.
I had 2 main goals – the first was simply to complete the race within the cut off time of 30 hours. The 2nd, a more challenging goal, was to cross the finish line within 24 hours thus earning myself the more elite belt buckle that records the 100 mile distance ‘in a day’.
I was well within the 24 hour time target for the first half of the race and was looking for around a 10 hours 50 miler, not a lot different from my previous record the year before. All good so far…
Then the problems started. About 45 miles in we had a couple of steep descents which really put considerable pressure on my legs and feet – the downhill breaking effect. Now the downhills were getting harder than the uphills and I should have immediately switched to walking down the steeper descents. Of course, that was not the decision I took, and I unfortunately paid the price.
Just before the drop into Houghton and before the climb up to Amberley Mount I developed some blisters on my right foot. By the time I tried to start running again towards the aid station at Kithurst the damage had been done and my feet were causing me some concern – it felt like ‘blisters on blisters’.
I hobbled along for about 5km and at Kithurst applied some of my blister patches to the effected areas. The treatment helped a little but the next few miles were not much easier and I generally thought my race was over.
At the top of Chantry Hill I was expecting to see my old cycling buddy and Club Coach Chris Neilson who had kindly agreed to cycle up to the top of the Downs to offer his support. When I neared the agreed meeting point I was delighted to see, not only Chris, but also Gareth (our Club Chairman), Michelle and Paul all in their Club running kit to support and run alongside me.
One kind competitor kindly reminded me that I should only run with one pacer so 2 of the guys plus Chris held back while I ran with Gareth who I was surprised to hear was to prepared to support me for most of the 2nd half!
With support from the guys my spirit was lifted and I continued to Washington with the promise of some hot food and the opportunity to see my daughter who was also checking in with me.
When I arrived at Washington the amazing support team took over, making me comfortable and organising my food and drink requests. While I changed my socks, applied more plasters and gel patches to my feet my daughter fed me the food like a baby. Before long I was off again walking up to Chanctonbury Ring with Gareth.
For the next 20-30 miles and up to about 11pm I managed a slow run pace plus some walking. Gareth was brilliant at keeping my spirits high and I was very fortunate to have the company of a strong runner as my pacer.
At some time between 11pm-12am at the top of Ditchling Beacon, Gareth handed over his pacing duties to Steve, another friend and experienced runner, for the final 25-30 miles. By this time my run/walk strategy had mostly transitioned to a simple walk with the very occasional jog. Steve was very patient with me and I felt somewhat guilty that I was asking a runner of Steve’s experience and calibre to walk alongside me through the night.
We met up with another competitor (walker) just passed Lewes and he joined us as the temperature dropped and the fog descended. There were a couple of times during that next 2-3 hours in the very early hours of darkness that I was zoning out – not really knowing where I was or what I was doing. Simply trying to put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving. These were I suppose my lowest points in the race and the times I could have just sat down, curled up and gone to sleep.
Somehow, we struggled through to meet with Steve’s wife, Karen, who had driven their campervan to ‘Bo Peep’ car park and this is where he would leave me so I could continue on for the final 10-15 miles. When we arrived at ‘Bo Peep’ from one of the race official cars out jumped Gareth who was back to help me for the final hours. When he handed over to Steve at Ditchling Beacon (where his car was) he drove to the finish line in Eastbourne, got his head down for an hour or two then had run to ‘Bo Peep’ to meet me – wow, what commitment, and a huge boost to me, increasing my chances to complete the race within the cut off time of 30 hours.
So off we went – every mile took forever – it was slow going and probably very frustrating for Gareth, however he never once moaned and kept running on to open gates and make my passage as easy as possible. Likewise, the Centurion volunteers at the aid station were simply amazing and couldn’t do enough to help the competitors make it to their goal.
Those last few miles took forever and we were passed by many runners that were digging deep and finding hidden reserves. Your spirits do get lifted as the sun comes up and you know you are near the finish. I think I had been walking for so long I just couldn’t make the transition back to walk/run so we kept simply putting one foot in front of the other and battled on.
Finally the end was in sight. Gareth had run ahead to grab some gear from his car and we asked him to meet us at the track for the final 400m circuit so we could cross the line together. I had to then dig down myself as Gareth encouraged me to increase the pace to a slow jog so we could cross the line the way I had started. My legs took a while to react but finally I got them moving enough to finish the race and cross the line at a pace faster than walking.
My time was a respectable 26 hours and 19 minutes – way off the sub 24-hour pace but still comfortably within the 30 hour cut-off. I had certainly earned my SDW100 Centurion belt buckle, however I feel that Gareth and Steve played their part and I couldn’t have done it without them.
So there we have it – I have run (walked) a 100 miles and am considered a proper ‘ultra-runner’.
Would I do it again….
Well, at first the answer would have been a definite no – been there, done it and got the ‘T’ shirt (and belt buckle). A week or so later, and on reflection, I suppose I may change that answer to ‘possibly’.
What advice can I give to runners thinking about such an event (and for me if I ever do it again):
- Start slow, and go slower
- Walk the uphills
- After 50 miles, consider walking the downhills
- Take more socks and look after you feet better than I did – tape them up, more blister protection, talcs, etc.
- Try to always have an element of running. I think I got so use to walking it was hard to transition back
- I went into the race under-trained. My endurance got me through but I should have done some back to back long runs – hours on your feet count for a lot – even at very slow pace
Finally I would thoroughly recommend Centurion – the organisation and volunteers were exceptional.
That’s me done – I hope you enjoyed my race report (some pictures below).