The seventh edition of the North Downs Way 50 dawned with yet again perfect conditions welcoming a record field of 245 to Farnham, each with different goals but one ultimate aim, reaching Knokholt Pound and the finish 50 miles further east inside the 9pm/ 13 hour cut off. We've had three events in 2017 so far and we are three for three of pretty much perfect conditions. Long may it continue!
Amongst the men's field were the top four from this years South Downs Way 50 as well as returning runners from last years top ten. Of particular note, Jon Ellis who had won last years Chiltern Wonderland 50 and this years SDW50, aiming to take home is third Centurion Trophy. On the ladies side, the field looked wide open, with no clear favourite going in. It seemed a stretch to think anyone could go near to Holly Rush's 7:11 Course Record but we were excited to watch a good battle unfold.
From the gun, Paul Russhard laid down the law and sprinted off in to the distance, albeit slightly less substantially than 2016 where his lead increased by a minute a mile in the early stages. The calibre of runners around him meant that he found himself regrouped quickly rather than running alone this time and it was right at the Puttenham check point at 6.5 miles that Mark Innocenti steamed past and took the lead. Mark's recent 2:35 at London put him on paper as having the greatest speed and with a couple of years of ultrarunning under his belt now, we couldn't wait to see if he could take things to the next level with a big win here.
Mark Innocenti leads the way shortly after Puttenham aid station
Through Box Hill at mile 24, Mark's lead was around 7 minutes over Paul and 11 minutes on Jon in third. He looked like he had worked a bit for that but moved forward with confidence. He shortly after made a short detour which cost him some time and focus and it was Jon who was able to capitalise on that, closing the gap to under a minute by Reigate Hill at the 50km point. Paul had slipped back to 8 minutes behind. A few miles later, Jon took the lead and drove hard for home, closing in on the course record with every mile, eventually running home for 6:37:27 - 6 minutes under Craig Holgate's previous best. Seven years in to see a course record go is fantastic. Jons run oozed experience, judgement, great pacing and strength, reminiscent of his superb win at the Chiltern Wonderland 50 last year and a much stronger all round effort than back at the SDW50 in April despite taking the win at both.
Jon Ellis crosses the line for a new Course Record
Mark had burned hard from very early on and despite slowing down, grit his teeth and held on for a very gutsy second in a time of 6:56, fending off the classic late charge and excellent pacing of Ry Webb who also came in just under the 7 hour mark. That's two podiums in two years on this course for Ry, who was also second at this years SDW50.
Ry Webb battled to go sub 7 and third
To see racing of this calibre is fantastic. The guys at the front are pushing themselves and each other to new heights. All of these guys are returning time and again to test themselves, make improvements and race in the true spirit of the sport which is outstanding to watch.
The ladies race also turned out to be an exciting one, with three ladies battling it out from the gun to take home the honours.
Charley Jennings went out hardest and came through Puttenham with a two minute advantage, something she held on to until Box Hill where Michelle Maxwell and Liz Weeks came through just a minute and two minutes respectively, behind.
Liz looked most comfortable, with the greater road speed of the three together with experience on this course, it seemed likely that she could be the one to come through strongest. Positions chopped and changed over the next 7 miles as first Liz then Michelle took the lead. In doing so, Liz suffered a set back she couldn't recover from and with a growing margin over the rest of the field it was Michelle who ran home first in a time of 8:26.
The battle for second was phenomenal, with Svenja Espenhahn coming past Charley in the final field, within sight of the finish with an 8:52, with a gutsy Charley coming home just a minute behind.
As the day wore on, the hills and steps took their toll on the 245 starters and the number depreciated a little to 221 by the finish, our final runner making it home a healthy 8 minutes under the cut off rather than the usual last gasp few seconds we usually have at this race. We echoed our thanks to Steve Wilson for the lack of panic this year.
We are all, runners and staff, indebted as always to the 60 volunteers who provide the framework that allowed the race to take place safely and sustainably. We will return for edition 8 in 2018 and can only hope we see a similar calibre of racing at the front, and determination to reach goals from every runner out on course.
The 2017 Thames Path 100 was our sixth edition of this event. The relationship between this race and weather conditions has traditionally been more tumultuous than any of our other seven. Things were set perfect this year however. A high of 14, low of 8, dry underfoot and overhead and with a gentle following wind for the runners all the way to Oxford. Would we see some records tumble?
Race Start at Richmond Upon Thames
The gun went at 1000 exactly and as we expected, it was Mark Denby who immediately looked to stamp his mark on the race. The 2016 Autumn 100 champion and course record holder went off, incredibly, even faster than his sub 7 minute mile pace from that event, dropping 6:30 min miles one after the other as he ran through the first two check points out in front. His pace made Craig Holgates 2016 Record splits look pedestrian. He hit Wraysbury, mile 22 in 2:32 and pressed on to the 50km mark at the Dorney aid station in 3:40. Behind Mark, Steven Lord, winner of the 2016 Hardmoors 110 and indeed the Hardmoors Slam was keen not let Mark get too far ahead and worked hard to stay within 7 minutes of him at the same point. That put Steve bang on CR pace.
By Cookham just 7 miles later however, everything had changed. Mark had walked in to the aid station with a hip problem. Steve had taken the lead, through in 4:57 and Michael Stocks had moved in to second just 4 miunutes back. From that point, Steve paid the price for chasing Mark and Michael surged to the front, never looking back. Through Henley in 6:48 elapsed it was clear it wasn't in fact going to be a day for records to be broken, but Michael's progress from there was solid and steady. He eventually crossed the line in 14:57 elapsed, becoming only the fifth runner to break 15 hours at one of our 100 mile events.
Behind Michael, pacing prizes go to second place Dan Masters (15:30) and third place Jeremy Isaac (16:25). Fantastic to see two returning runners learn from previous 100 mile pacing errors and have such fantastic overall races. Dan is heading for the Grand Slam and is already 2 and a half hours up on John Stockers 2016 record split at stage one. There is a long way to go yet though, about 300 miles!!
For the ladies, it was Mari Mauland who ran out in front from wire to wire, bettering her 2016 second place and 19:11 overall time, with a superb 16:55, our fourth fastest ever womens 100 mile performance. As typical from our female runners all the way from the front to the back, her pacing was superb. At Dorney the 50km mark, she lay 18th overall, 29 minutes ahead of second place Sarah Sawyer. By the time she crossed the line, she'd dropped her pacer in the final few miles and made her way up to fifth overall. A sensational run. Mari is also running the Grand Slam this year. As with Dan in the mens field, she is off to quite the start with a 90+ minute margin over incumbent record holder Sally Ford's 2015 splits.
Behind Mari, Sarah Sawyer held on to second place all day. Having a bumpy ride in her training through early 2017 Sarah came in with a lot of question marks over her fitness, but she proved yet again that she is in the right sport, as she ground out a gutsy finish having suffered many issues from around the mid-point of the race. Naomi Moss, eventual third place finisher, closing in all the way, fell just six miunutes short of Sarah at the finish. Fantastic to see both of those ladies put in such huge efforts to get the achievements they deserved.
Overall, we had expected conditions to present us with much higher than average finisher rates at this event. But that was far from the case, with 209 of 297 starters making it home inside the 28 hour cut off for a 70% finish rate. 297 incidentally was our largest ever 100 mile starting field, 2 more than in 2016!
There were some incredible other stories amongst the field as always. Ken Fancett came through for his 19th Centurion 100 mile finish, his 6th consecutive Thames Path 100. He is joined by Markus Flick from Germany as the only other runner to finish every edition of this race.
Markus Flick on his way to 6 out of 6
Darren Handley finished the race, and then proceeded to run back down the course to return again later, in his effort to cover 166.4km on behalf of the Royal Marines Charity. Mentally a huge effort and impressive to behold. All finish line proceeds will also go to his charity from this event.
Last but not least, it was Bryon Powell from www.irunfar.com who perhaps won the day in many ways. He ate and drank his way to the finish, soaking up every ounce of Thames Path ambience along the way. We were honoured to have him join us for this one after all he and his partner Meghan have done for this sport.
88 volunteers out on course made this the safe and successful race that it was. Our deepest thanks to them as always.
This season started with a bang as the fifth edition of the South Downs Way 50 got underway with a record of field of 393 runners at 0900 Saturday 8th April.
The weather forecast was for clear skies, sunshine through the entire day which eventually led to some struggles with the heat for everyone, albeit the cooling easterly breeze played it's part in making sure it didn't get too rough. Underfoot the ground was completely dry and hard packed making for fast going. We were expecting a great race.
The intentions of some of the runners were made clear straight from the off, as a small group of three led the early pace. Paul Russhard, Jon Ellis and Danny Kendall as expected leading the charge in the overall positions. Through Botolphs it was that group together, but by Saddlescombe Jon had taken the lead and seemed to want to push the pace most of all three.
Paul was already noticing his legs and felt that the run for the win was likely to be slightly beyond him on the day. That left Jon and Danny moving back and forth over the next 10 mile section to the Housedean check point at just past the marathon mark. Coming in there, Danny had a slender 40 second lead, both making seamless transitions on towards Southease. However by the next check point it was all change as Jon forged a commanding lead and Danny dropped back with calf issues to eventually stop at that check point.
From there on in it was Jon against the course and although he slowed, he held a strong enough pace to run in a 6:27 for a win of almost 20 minutes. His second Centurion 50 win, following on from his Chiltern Wonderland Course Record last September. He now goes in to the NDW50 with a strong result under his belt.
Behind Jon, Ry Webb ran probably the smartest effort level all weekend and made his way through the field to finish second in 6:47. That matched his second from the NDW50 in 2016. Ry's running has come on a long way in the last couple of years and he will be looking to take that top spot one day soon enough. He will race Jon again at the NDW50 too and moves on to try to run a 50 mile Slam record this year.
Third place went to Ian Hammett who worked hard all day. Ian brings a lot of heart to each event he shows up to and will look to build on this result towards Spartathlon later in the year.
In the ladies race, things changed around a little more and in the end, 2nd-3rd-4th were almost within sight of one another on the track.
But first home was Gemma Carter. Gemma has run many of our events over the years, with a couple of podiums to her name. Her 7:32 best at this event from a few years ago was a superb result, this time she went one better and came home with a superb 7:21 to walk off with her first Centurion trophy. 8th overall in a field this big shows what a great day she had.
Gemma's usual style is to lead from the front, but this time she was a little more patient early on and she came from behind to record this result. Second place was won out by Mandy Regenass in 7:54, with Melanie Frazier third in 7:57 and fourth Jennifer Sangster in 8:00 flat. It is absolutely fantastic to see the ladies field full of this level of calibre and racing each other for superb times overall.
This was our first event for age category prizes as we look to try to highlight some of the incredible performances being recorded across the wider field.
The Mens V40 prize went to Mike Ellicock who with a 2:31 marathon PR is perhaps the second fastest person on paper from this field behind only Danny Kendall. He scraped home just underneath the 7 hour mark. Mens V50 went to regular and South Downs resident Rick Curtis in 7:40 and V60 to Timothy Boone with 8:47. What was a very special moment was to see Richie Morrissey, the only V70 in the field come home with a 12 hour finish. Richie was the second to final finisher at our first ever SDW100 and came on to the track with the biggest lean we've ever seen at one of our events. To have him back in this age cat and still an hour inside the cut offs - a truly special achievement for him.
In the ladies race, Mandy in second overall was also first V40 home. Janette Cross who has become so consistent in the last couple of years was fist V50 in a superb 9:15. Marion Hemsworth won the V60 category with a hugely impressive 10:53 from Diane Delderfield in 12:23.
Overall, from 393 starters we welcomed 364 runners home, our highest ever number of finishers. Our 58 volunteers held the event aloft and made it the very special day out that it was for so many.
It's just three weeks until the first 100 of this year at the Thames Path and we look forward to welcoming many back to that one as well as many new faces too.