The runners and volunteers at the inaugural Winter 100, endured torrid conditions for over 24 hours of the 30 hour event, but battled through to the bitter end, embodying the spirit of ultra running.

The format for the race was a series of out and backs utilising the Thames Path and Ridgeway National Trails. Streatley and Goring are uniquely situated on the confluence of both National Trails, offering up a course consisting of 4 different 25 mile out and back spurs, each covering a new section of trail.

During the preceding week, a huge amount of water fell on the South West, Wales and the Midlands, causing widespread flooding. On Friday afternoon, we arrived in the area to monitor the height and flow of the river Thames. The entire area was under flood alert, a status designed to get people ready to think about evacuating an area should the water continue to rise. Meeting with an environment agency representative in Benson on Friday evening, we were warned that according to calculations the river was still on the rise.  We visited and ran a half a dozen sections of the course on the Friday evening and in all cases, the river was exceptionally high but still below the point of breaking its banks. We returned to HQ to set the Piece of String Fun Runners off (not along the Thames) and worked on contingency plans should the Thames Path become unsafe.

 

By 6am Saturday morning and despite no additional rain falling overnight, Benson Footbridge had been shut and the river had spilled it’s banks in numerous places. Perhaps worst of all was the section after Wallingford which had gone from above water to under at least 18 inches within the space of 8 hours. The principal danger with a flooded path is one’s inability to see where the path extends and where the riverbank lies. An easy miscalculation can see a runner take a step off of the bank and in to the fast moving, freezing cold river. The original course was simply too dangerous to run.

Our contingency plan was conveyed to the runners at the race briefing at 0930 on Saturday morning with the assurance that whatever happened during the day, a 100 mile race would still be held. All Thames Path legs would be abandoned, including a short stretch of the 3rd spur along the Ridgeway which also skirts the Thames and was under water. The new course would instead make two 14 mile out and backs to Wallingford via the Ridgeway, before runners would tackle the original 3rd spur twice, ending as before with the 4th spur still in tact. The total distance would grow to 102.5 miles.

Whilst the briefing was being held, course markers were busy covering the new route in time for the first runners coming through. Without their flexibility and hard work the race would have come undone early on. As planned, at 10am runners set off on their first 7 mile stretch to Wallingford. Early leader Anthony Low held a solid 8 minute mile pace and looked strong, hotly pursued by many of the pre-race favourites, Martin Bacon, Richie Cunningham and Terrence Zengerink. Perhaps the only surprise was that 6th place overall was being held by Jean Beaumont the lead lady. By the time the runners returned to Streatley at mile 14, Martin Bacon had taken the lead, which he held almost until the return to Streatley at mile 28. By that point Richie Cunningham had edged in front and wouldn’t relinquish that advantage at any point from then onwards.

Richie is one of the finest ultrarunners in the UK. He has an incredible pedigree behind him having twice won the West Highland Way Race a true classic of the UK calendar. He runs for Team Pearl Izumi and has raced all over the world with great success. He does it all with an unassuming attitude, a fine racing strategy and a kind word for every other runner out on course. With the new course layout, runners from the front to the back were passing each other throughout the race and encouraged each other equally throughout.

The rain had begun just before the start of the race and became heavier at certain points throughout the day. Out on to spur 2 and 3, both eastbound legs on the Ridgeway, the Grims Ditch & ploughed field sections became torrid, muddy and extremely hard going. As the day wore on, runners began to drop under the intense mental and physical strain of the race. 14 hours of darkness with heavy winds and rain lay ahead, conditions that many found simply too much.

Richie, however, remained unphased. His pacing was almost metronomic as he powered out on to the 4th spur along the Ridgeway, 77 miles in and with just 12 hours 20 on the clock. The race behind had changed shape numerous times. Nick Weston, 3rd place at this years SDW100, began to show his sub 10hr Ironman class as the day wore on and battled his way in to 2nd. At one point he looked to be gaining on Richie but made only a few minutes back in to a lead that was already over 40  minutes strong. In the end Richie was able to stretch home in a finishing time of 17:14:10, a phenomenal effort given the horrendous conditions. Nick followed home in 18:01:17, a super performance, with Martin taking his second Centurion 100 3rd place of the year in 19:04:39.

The ladies race had looked fairly open before the event, however there was one name I had been unfamiliar with prior to the start. Jean Beaumont dominated things from the get go. Similar to Richie she worked hard all day, leading from wire to wire and powered through to an overall time of 20:23:46. Wendy Shaw looked cool, calm and totally prepared throughout the race bagging her third sub 24hr 100 mile finish of the year and taking home 2nd place in 22:58:25. She worked all the way to the line to break the 23hr barrier. Third lady was held by the battling Mary Heald until the cold just became too much and she unfortunately had to drop late in to the race at Bury Downs, with 17 miles left to go. That left the door open for Nichola Newton who ran in a smiling 27:39:28.

5 runners began the day hoping to become the first group to take home the enormous Grand Slam buckle, awarded to those finishing all 4 Centurion 100 milers within a calendar year. Having each finished the TP100, SDW100 & NDW100, David Bird, Allan Rumbles, Tremayne Cowdry, Ken Fancett and Andy Miles all toes the startline looking fresh and ready to get the job done. Unfortunately, the conditions that took a massive toll on the other entrants, also hit the Slammers just as hard. David Bird was forced to pull out of the race at Swyncombe but showed what an incredible person he is by taking it in his stride and wishing all of the other guys the best on their own attempts. The remaining 4 seemed to have an air about them for much of the race, perhaps a quiet knowing smile that comes with experience. They each looked totally in control of their own destinies and ready to take a break, sitting back on the achievement of a lifetime. Ken made it home first. As per our previous interview with him, at 62 he dominated the slam from the start of the year eventually finishing all 4 races under 23 hrs. His total time for the 4 events a little over 86 hours. Allan came home next, breaking 24 hrs for the third time this year, his total time at 95:32 for the 4. Tremayne ‘Dill’ Cowdry came next, struggling with achilles problems since the NDW100 he made this one look easy, getting stronger throughout the year. He came in with 26:30 on the clock for a total time of 101:38. Finally, Andy Miles who it seemed hasn’t stopped smiling all year again did things at his own pace, enjoyed the whole experience and came in with 28:21 on the clock for a total time of a little over 111 hours. These 4 guys became pioneers and there will be almost 5 times that number taking on the challenge in 2013.

The stories at the front bely the stories at the back. As is always the case, 100 mile races are equally as much about those who fight for up to 30 hours to get the job done. This race was no exception.

Having toiled through 75 miles of rain, freezing cold and treacherous mud, the elements had one final battle to throw at the runners – the wind. As the night wore on, the wind grew and to a phenomenal level out on the Ridgeway. The aid station at Swyncombe was totally destroyed in the wind, leaving volunteers operating from vehicles where they not only continued to feed and tend to runners, recording times and communicating with HQ, but maintained the supply of hot drinks to the tired and cold runners. Nothing more could ever be asked of a group of volunteers.

At Bury Downs (mile 83/92), it simply became impossible to tie anything to the ground. Instead, we parked one of the crew trucks on the ridge and operated our aid station from the back of it, bringing runners up and out of the wind and in to shelter in an otherwise totally exposed section of path. A temporary additional aid station was added by willing volunteers through the night between Streatley and Bury, and at the furthest point on the course, Chain Hill, a previously wind sheltered check point experienced a change in wind speed and direction which destroyed the shelters there. Again, a crew van was relocated to that site to act as a sheltered checkpoint for the runners. All in all the very spirit of the UK ultrarunning community came out in force to maintain the safety of the runners and allow them to fulfil their dreams of running 100 miles in one go. Nothing more could have been asked of any one out on the course and as a result, no single runner experienced cold related illnesses that required treatment during the race.

Finally, as the dark lifted around 7am, so the rain and wind began to depart leaving clear blue skies and beautiful welcome sunshine. The runners out on the course pushed on to the finish one by one and were welcomed home with open arms. Scott Brockmeier finished his 24th 100 miler of 2012, his first in the UK with the preceding 23 having been run in the US.

The final runner, Spenser Lane, had departed out on to Spur 4 with just 10 minutes to spare under the cut offs. At Bury Downs mile 83 his margin had reduced to 3 minutes. He held that same margin through mile 87.5, 91.7 and eventually made it home in a total time of 29:56:50, 3 minutes and 10 seconds under the cut and making it the closest final finisher to the 30 hour cut off we have yet had at one of our events.

Spenser crossed the line in 31st place from a starting field of 75, for a finishing rate of just 41%. Despite their being only 3800 feet of climb in the entire course, the conditions had taken a huge toll on the field.

This was a true Winter 100. It would have been impossible to hold the event safely without the incredible work of the 50 volunteers. I would like to thank each and every one of them for their efforts across race weekend.

 

[[*racetable]]

Almost exactly a year after the first ever Centurion Running event, we were back where we’d started on the North Downs Way for our 4th race. One significant change over 2011 was the omission of the marathon distance as we focused instead on allowing more runners to take on the challenge of either 50 or 100 miles.

The races filled up quickly and we were delighted to see many familiar faces returning from the NDW2011, the TP100 2012 and those hardy few who had run the SDW100 just 6 weeks prior.

In the run up to race day, it looked like we would be blessed with glorious sunshine and we were not disappointed. Running in the heat creates a multitude of additional challenges for runners but the majority coped with the conditions, some making the most of the drier faster ground earlier on.

The North Downs Way is a deceptively difficult trail. Whilst there are plenty of stretches of glorious smooth wide trail running and significant stretches of tarmac where the pace can be picked up, there are also some much more technical sections to negotiate. The most difficult part, however, is the way in which the 10,000 feet of ascent accumulates, mostly up rutted or uneven stairs or paths which make running almost impossible. Those rhythm breaking stretches left many runners reeling in the heat on race day and the finishing rates certainly tell a story.

The 50 mile course remained the same as the previous year. Martin Kennards 2011 Course Record of 7:35 looked under threat from early on as Darryl Carter bore down on the aid stations at a blistering pace. Darryl made it through to the 50km mark at Reigate Hill in just 4:25 but had Steve Patterson and Andrew Stevens pushing hard 6 and 8 minutes back respectively. By the time they had emerged at the top of Botley Hill, Steve had a two minute lead over Darryl and proceeded to hang on through to the finish, taking the win in 7:22:45, 5 minutes ahead of Darryl. Both went under the old Course Record. Andrew Stevens rounded out the podium as the only other man to break 8 hours.

 

In the ladies race, some late drop outs left the field wide open. Marie Doke’s 2011 CR stood at 9:20:07 a tough mark to beat in hot conditions. Debra Bourne ran in a superb 9:53:20 for the win in her first 50 miler. She was followed by Alison Gordon in just 3 seconds over the 10 hours mark with Rosemary Close taking third in 10:16:52.

The 100 mile race was set up to be highly competitive with a deep field of runners toeing the start line in the mens race. The 2012 course moved to a point to point race over the 2011 out and back and those who finished both, commented on how this years was a slightly harder proposition overall.

A large pack formed at the front right from the gun pushing each other and the overall pace to what was for some, an unsustainable level. The group stayed close together through to Reigate Hill before the heat started to take its toll. Running in the top 10 throughout were Ed Catmur 2nd in the NDW50 in 2011, Max Willcocks sub 20 hr runner at the TP100, Richie Cunningham double WHW champion, Justin Montague who had recently won the Round the Island XNRG event, Manel Lago an elite runner over from Rio De Janeiro for the race, Christian Ritella from Sweden and Alice Hector tackling her first 100 but with a stellar triathlon career behind her and a strong of shorter ultra wins to her credit. Quite the race was building.

Before setting off down the course we were able to watch the front group come in to the 50 mile aid station. Ed Catmur made it through in 8:09 but took a sizable break to regroup during which time Justin, Alice, Richie and Manuel also made it in. Manuel had taken the lead shortly after botley hill but had gotten badly lost in the fields before the aid station and had lost around 20 minutes or more as a result. His motivation was low but he left refueled and looking like he was in the hunt. Sure enough as the race moved on to the 60 mile point at Wrotham, Manuel had recaptured the lead from Ed and began to steadily move further clear throughout the remainder of the race. We welcomed him over the finish line in first place in an eventual finishing time of 17:51:56, a stellar performance all things considered. The race for second was intense and Justin Montague worked hard all day to eventually finish just 3 minutes ahead of Ed Catmur in 3rd, with both breaking the 19 hour mark. Particularly impressive from both guys as Justin was running his first 100 and Ed had run both the SDW100 and Lakeland 100 in the preceeding 6 weeks. In fact Ed took home the Downs Double crown with a combined time of under 40 hours for the two Downs events.

Perhaps the performance of the day, however, came from the ladies field. Alice Hector ran with the lead guys from the start and held on right through to the finish. In her first 100 under trying conditions she blew away the female competition to record a 4th place overall finish in 20 hours and 10 minutes, paced home by her one man crew of Alexander Miller. She won the ladies event by over 5 hours and her 50 mile split time would have been enough to win the NDW50 by over an hour and a half and go an hour under the CR. It’s quite obvious that Alice can go on to achieve some incredible things if she chooses to do so and it’s wonderful to see another triathlete making a successful transition to ultra running.

Second place in the ladies field went to Helen Smith in 25:16:31 who has now finished all 4 Centurion 100 mile events in succession. Prisca Vis from the Netherlands took 3rd place back home with her in 27:29.

As usual there were some truly inspirational performances right down the line. In the 50 mile event, Israel Archuletta made the final cut by just 4 minutes making him the 80th and final finisher under the cut off from a field of 91 starters, an excellent finishing rate in hot weather.

In the 100 mile, there were still 12 runners out on course with under an hour to go and every one of them made it in under the 30 hour cut. It’s always a moving experience watching those who have battled all day, night and morning making the finishing line and we were proud to welcome all of them home under that finish kite. In total 69 runners crossed the line from 117 starters and a finishing rate of 59%.

4 official Grand Slam entrants began the NDW100 and all 4 finished. Ken Fancett turned in another superb performance earning his 4th straight 100 miles - One Day buckle and leads the Grand Slam standings by an unassailable 8 hours. Allan Rumbles wasn’t able to convert a third straight sub 24 time but did go on to finish comfortably, looking strong. Tremayne Cowdry recovered well from a hard SDW100 as did David Bird who had a long day but overcame many demons to make it over the line with plenty of time to spare.

Next up in the series is the final race of the year, this November, the Winter 100 and the less conventional Piece Of String Fun Runs.....

Once again we’d like to thank the volunteers for making the race everything that it was. A huge cast of helpers were out there on race day helping runners to achieve their goals and ambitions, many out there for hours longer than the runners themselves and performing multiple different roles. We’d like to thank the following people for their help with the event and extend thanks to any others we may have accidentally missed:

Official Timings: Neil Bryant Registration: Andy Parker, Gary Dalton, Robin Threadgold, Neil Bryant, Pete Morgan, Naomi Hawney, Sam Robson, Al Black, Dan from Oz. Course Sweepers: Dennis Cartwright, Mike Sartorious, Cameron Kirkwood, Nick Greene, Anthony Forsyth, Duncan Phillips, Bryan Webster, Charlie Johnson.

Course Markers: Ann Bath, Cliff King, Nicholas Eaton, Lee Briggs, Clare Pepper, Paul Gilbert, Sam Robson. Finish Line Teams: Paul Gilbert, Mike Jones, Clare Pepper, Neil Bryant, Sam Robson, Alex Black, Charlotte Valentine, Jon Valentine, Rachel Smith, Marc Thatcher, Dylan Thatcher, Jack Mortassagne, Grant Vernon, Ed Griffin, Keith Griffin, Jackie Elson, Rebecca Malcom, Rachel Smith, Fiona Mcnelis, David Ridley.

Aid Station Crew: Henk Van Der Beek, Sam Robson, Ann Bath, Stephen Crafford, Fiona Mcnelis, Pete Morgan, Craig Lucas, Elizabeth Bemment, Charlie Johnson, Nick Brisley, Garry Curley, Dee Combs, Robin Threadgold, Rachel Smith, Nicholas Eaton, Gabby Corry, Hugo de voil, Gary Dalton, ben Wilding, Claire Shelley, Jany Tsai, Cliig King, Ryan Spencer, Al Whyte, Dave Merrett, Paul Gilbert, Lee Briggs, Matthew Sellwood, Mark Griffiths, Spencer Rolls, Bryan Webster, Barry Miller, Luke Ashton, Brigitte Groves, David hardy, Spenser Lane, Duncan Phillips, Chris Mercer, Dick Kearn, Jan Kearn, Russell Deen, Caroline Deen, Jim Deen, Sheridan Morris, Nick Green, Lindley Chambers and family, Duncan Anderson, Craig Ecclestone, Yin-Hai Cheung, Matthew Hobson, John Whittaker, Andy Gorman, Martyn Turner, Dave Brock, Phil Elson, Sean the Driver.

 

Race Reports - please add yours in the comments

Back in 2011, the NDW50 was our first ever Centurion event, held alongside 100 and marathon distance options. The course has remained unchanged in that time aside from the final 200 metres through Knockholt Pound village. Over the previous 4 years we’ve seen excellent weather each time, and this year was no different.

195 runners gathered at the trail head in Farnham on race morning, faced with 50 hot and hilly point to point miles. The route has plenty of flatter runnable sections but with a blend of lots of different terrain types and some stuff climbs including Box Hill, Reigate Hill and Botley Hill in particular the routes 5600ft of ascent feels like a lot more at times. The difficulty of this race as a 50 is somewhat borne out by Craig Holgate’s superb course record of 6hr47, the only runner to have ever gone sub 7.

The first section of the race is flat and fast and we welcome the lead pack through Puttenham aid station at mile 7, in 50 minutes flat. Already slightly ahead of the group was South African Richard La Cock. With a 7:01 5th overall at the SDW50 six weeks earlier he came in looking to improve and make his way on to the podium for the first time. The furious early pace stayed constant through Newlands Corner and on to Box Hill at mile 24, which is where the race really starts with the brutal ascent of the steps of the western side. It’s a short climb but a steep one and it pays to be patient. Richard’s time through the Box Hill aid station before the climb was 3:01, 7 minutes up on course record. He was pursued by Thomas Jeffery in 3:10 and Adam Stirk in 3:18, already slipping back from Richard’s relentless running.

On to Reigate Hill and across the most difficult section of the course, Richard arrived to a big crowd enjoying the sunshine, still on course record pace, but with the first cracks appearing as the heat began to take it’s toll. The gap was still growing however, yet he didn’t stop to check splits and timings, he just pressed on. Caterham View Point, mile 38 and Richard had dropped 6 minutes in 6 miles on Craig’s 2013 best and it was now a case of him holding on tight to the lead he’d built in the early stages. That he did, as he pushed through Botley Hill mile 43 and powered on home to the finish in a superb time of 7:05:12. The second best time we’ve seen on the course and with a path laid down by some very talented runners before him.

 

 

The battle for second and third was intense and separated by just a few hundred metres just 20 minutes from the finish, where both runners went off course. By the time normal business had been resumed, positions had switched and eventually John Melbourne ran out a 5 minute gap on third place Thomas Jeffery. Their times were over 40 minutes back of Richard’s, showing that depsite their detour he truly had had a stellar day.

In the ladies race, Gemma Carter led proceedings early on, running with the lead guys and positively sprinting through the first aid station. As the day wore on Gemma began to suffer with some stomach issues and the frenetic early pace faded, on which Annabelle Stearns was able to capitalise. After dropping from the race in 2013, Annabelle had unfinished business and looked utterly determined from the outset. Her steady early pace saw her climb from 14th at Box Hill to 9th overall by the finish and run out the ladies winner in a time of 8:18, good for just under 10 minutes miling. Gemma rallied and toughed out her finish for second lady in 8:36, to add to her podium finish from the SDW50. Third lady Deborah Turner broke the tape in a time of 8:54.

Many of the runners found themselves having to dig especially deep in the warm temperatures but were treated to the usual feasts laid on at the aid stations. Assisted by 50 of the most incredible volunteers, they were met by Allan Rumbles’ bacon barge at mile 11, and later with Jelly and Ice Cream at Caterham Aid station, something which is becoming an annual fixture continued on by local, Bryan Webster.

Last year the race saw a huge finish rate but it became obvious from early in the day that many were going to suffer at the hands of the heat to an early end to their race. All in all, 171 runners made it across the finish line under the 13 and a half hour cut off to be labelled official finishers. The battle at the back from Botley Hill in to the finish, was truly epic, With 10 minutes to go we were still waiting on 9 runners to come home. A sudden rush brought 5 of them across the line, the final runner Jeffrey Lee leaving himself just 19 seconds to spare, our tightest ever finishing margin. The final 4 made it to the finish just after the cut off had passed and deserved the credit for giving their all to complete the challenge. We hope they will all come back next year to dip in under that official cut off.

 

Of the final finishers lists there were a few extra worthy mentions. Ken Fancett became our highest all time Centurion runner. Having completed the Grand Slam and holding the record initially, he has now run a total of 800 miles at our events, and is entered in to all 6 of our races this year including his second Grand Slam. Rusty Gardham also finished 3 from 3 in his attempt to complete all 6. And we had our youngest ever finisher at 18 years and 10 months, Ryan Holmes.

 

A huge thanks once again to our army of volunteers, to the National Trust and National Trails for allowing our races to go ahead and to the runners and their families that make this event what it is.

 

The South Downs are a special place to a lot of people. They’ve recently been classified as one of our national parks and rightly so. As you drive south in the direction of the coast anywhere between Winchester and Eastbourne, it appears as though a giant wave of land has rolled in from the sea and it never ceases to put a smile on my face.

When Jen Jackson announced in 2011 that she wanted to pass the South Downs Way Race on to someone else, I sent her a long email explaining why I hoped she might consider me as custodian for the race, not least because I love the trail so much. I was delighted that she did and we started making plans for it in July of last year. We were also delighted that Jen decided to actually run the event herself.

So, 12 months later and we had 163 people lined up ready to take on 100 miles of rolling trail.

When you’re putting on a race for the first time, it’s all about trying to visualise everything down to the finest detail to ensure the weekend goes as smoothly for possible, whether for the runners or the volunteers.

Our start location, like many things was an experiment and with a little work will be a good one. The race began at 0600 on Saturday 30th June, with runners making 1 and 2/3rds circuits of the playing fields in order to ensure that the distance met 100 miles exactly and to try to ensure there wasn’t too much bunching up through the narrow exit on to the SDW. The first part worked, the second didn’t and it was a little tight but eventually everyone was through and the important thing was that most people had a beaming smile to share with us as their own personal adventure began. First out on to the SDW was Martin Bacon and last out Tim Welch. Tim walked the two laps to give himself the maximum chance of scraping the cut offs from the very start (it’s ok he does this every race and always finishes with a handful of minutes to spare - quite incredible).

In the front truck, our role all day was to drive the head of the field and ensure that every aid station was established in good time for the first runners, that the volunteers were greeted and instructed properly and that things were clear ahead on the trail. As a result of that the first runner we saw all day was the winner crossing the line.

Following the action as reports came in from our 70 aid station volunteers was exhilarating. We heard early reports of a quick pace being set at the front, in almost ideal running conditions for June on the Downs - light rain to start but temperatures staying below 17 degrees all day (just a few degrees cooler at night) and clearing up later with a tail wind most of the way in to Eastbourne. We had switched the direction from the previous year to try to give runners the wind advantage and it looked like it had paid off.

Martin Bacon, who had previously finished on the podium at the SDW Race, raced into QECP at mile 22 in a little over 3 hours and over 15 minutes up on the competition. He was pursued by a group of very high calibre runners, some of which had made a minor detour in Exton, but which included Sam Robson, Ryan Brown, Ed Catmur and Wouter Hamelinck. In the ladies race the early pace was set by Gemma Carter who rolled in to Queen Elizabeth in 3:24 and with a 29 minute lead over second placed Claire Shelley. Quite an astonishing pace off the front from both the male and female leaders so early in the race.

As we fought traffic through the Goodwood Festival of Speed which threatened to derail our day, the group pressed on through Harting Downs just over the marathon mark and on up to Cocking at mile 35 and the second major aid station managed for us by Dick Kearn, the RD of the Grand Union Canal Race. Between Harting and Cocking, Ryan Brown had passed Martin Bacon and made his way into the aid station 9 minutes ahead and with a significant group trailing close behind. It was clear that the race was on.

As runners departed Cocking they made their way up on the SDW ridge through possibly the most remote section of trail in terms of vehicular access. The long path to Amberley is broken only by the occasional farm track. Our volunteers managed to negotiate the fairly treacherous road up to Bignor Hill at mile 41.6 to provide a water only stop for the runners coming through and it was here that Martin unfortunately had to drop from the race with a nasty ankle injury. Ryan maintained the lead and we were now on to Washington setting up the major halfway (54 mile) aid station providing hot food and drop bags to the runners coming through).

Through the rest of the pack, the pace remained high. Nobody pushed the early cut offs to the edge and there were relatively very few drop outs to this point. We were expecting not only fast times but a very high finish rate too, all round things were shaping up to be a stellar day for those hoping to cross the finish line in Eastbourne.

Ryan made Washington in 8:31 and was clearly flying. As a superb triathlete and accomplished ultrarunner it seemed that this could be his day. He was now 10 minutes clear of Wouter in 2nd, a man who has finished a huge number of the hardest 100 milers across the world, but who had been nursing an ankle issue for some time before the race. Sam Robson was a further 10 minutes back and was reported to be looking strong too. Could Sam or Wouter make up the ground? Or would Ryan keep pushing alone to the finish?

In the ladies race Gemma had held the lead from the start and continued to do so through Washington, but from a huge early advantage, Claire Shelley had made up ground to sit 17 minutes back in second and had clearly managed her race pace very well. All in all 149 runners made it to Washington, an incredible percentage of the 163 starters.

We raced on through the remaining check points all the way in to Eastbourne where we pulled on to the athletics track at around 8pm. It was time to fly the finish line kite and back track up the trail, 2.6 miles to the point where the runners would leave the South Downs Way for good and make their descent into Eastbourne and the finish. Pete Bowles and I took turns in flagging every other lamp-post, glow-sticking and chalk painting the ground through the town and back up onto the hill and as we reached the trig point the sun was starting to set and the lights of the track were clearly visible down below. What a fine sight for the runners to be met with at mile 97.

We ran back down the hill to the track and got everything in order as we heard news first that Sam Robson had made up a huge amount of time on Ryan and actually passed him at one stage close to Jack and Jill (the windmills at mile 69) but that Ryan had regained the lead shortly after and maintained it through to Jevington. Wouter had unfortunately had to drop with the persistent injury so we were left with a two horse race for the overall win across the final 4 miles.

Just as we secured the finish line banner firmly to the ground we saw a headlamp bobbing away in the distance to appear on to the track and begin the final half loop around to the back straight finish line. It was Ryan. He had pushed on and made up a few extra minutes on Sam in that final section and crossed the line in an absolutely stellar 17:04:26. The conditions were great, but nobody can take anything away from his performance, a truly astounding time for 100 miles with a significant 12,500 feet of climbing. Sam followed 19 minutes later maintaining an excellent running stride into and around the track for a 17:23 finish, also an incredible performance in what is still very early days in his own ultrarunning career. His future is obviously extremely bright. We were treated to a thrilling finish for third overall as Nick Weston hit the track looking comfortable and relaxed only to reach the back bend to rounds of cheering and encouragement behind him, from Steve Scott’s crew. Steve had opened up quite the sprint finish and whilst catching Nick looked near impossible, Nick did manage to muster up that extra gear to kick down the back straight and ensure his podium finish was safe in 18:08, just 53 seconds up on Steve in 4th.

Around that time we had also had confirmed reports that Gemma Carter who had led since the start had been caught by Claire Shelley around the Saddlescombe Farm area (mile 66) but had leapt away again when met by her pacer Stuart Mills at Jack and Jill. Unfortunately for Gemma, she had sustained an injury which had caused her pace to suffer and she dropped at Southease with just under 17 miles to go to the finish. Claire had stayed conservative all day and was left with the energy not just to finish off the race for the win but to pick things up even further and come home super strong to boot. Following her win at the Grand Union Canal Race in 2011, Claire had sustained a bad injury a few months later and to see her round the track to run in 6th overall in 19:43 was wonderful. Second equal on the ladies podium were Nicole Brown and Hannah Shields who had both run incredibly consistent races also. They crossed the line together in 22:56 in an emotional finish - Nicole being Ryan’s wife rounded out an incredible weekend for the Brown family, taking home a first and second respectively.

Claire was our final sub 20 hour finished, 6 in total, but the onslaught of runners under the 24 hour/ one day mark began shortly after. In total 48 runners earned 100 mile - One Day Buckles, with Mark Smyth sparing just 90 seconds in his 23:58 and change. This race director was somewhat relieved at the number, having had exactly 49 One Day buckles produced....

There are so many unbelievable stories behind those finishing from the front to the back of the pack that they are too many to mention. We witnessed pairs crossing the line having run every step together (husband and wife or great friends) and those of all ages, races and running abilities making it into the track before the 30 hour cut off came down. That’s what makes ultrarunning so special.

Here’s a snippet of some of the things you may or may not know about some of the SDW100 finishers:

  • Tara Williams finished the event in 26:37. She walked every step.
  • Finisher Jack Armstrong was paced by his girlfriend from mile 70, and by his fiance from mile 90. Don't worry it's the same person! They got engaged on the hill just before Alfriston.
  • No runners dropped beyond Alfriston at mile 91.5.
  • Our second to last finisher in 29:47 Tim Welch finished his 10th 100 miler at the SDW100.
  • The leader in the Grand Slam standings, Ken Fancett, finished 9th overall in 20:32:03. He bettered his TP100 time by 67 seconds. Ken wore number 62 at the race - and is 62 years old.

All in all we had 117 runners cross the line for a finish rate of 71%, way higher than we had anticipated and testament to an incredibly tough and committed group of runners.

As organisers we could not have asked for any more from runners, crews, but most of all our volunteers.

We often mention to people that it is the volunteers, not the runners, that make these events happen. There were those out on the course that gave well over 30 hours of their own time for no other reason than to help runners achieve their goal of running 100 miles. It’s impossible to thank them enough for what they gave over the weekend. Without them the sport and the community we all enjoy wouldn’t exist.

Photo credit to Wayne Pilling - Thank you Wayne!

The SDW100 will be back in 2013 and a date will be announced shortly. For now it is on to our second summer race, the NDW50/ 100 in just under 6 weeks time where the quest of our 4 Grand Slam entrants for the elusive but enormous GS finisher buckle continues....

The inaugural Thames Path 100 was an epic weekend filled with all the typical highs and lows of a 100 mile race. It contained incredible performances from the front runners posting blistering times, insipiring tales of triumph over adversity by runners from all sections of the field and the disappointment for some of an elusive finish.The inaugural Thames Path 100 was an epic weekend filled with all the typical highs and lows of a 100 mile race. It contained incredible performances from the front runners posting blistering times, insipiring tales of triumph over adversity by runners from all sections of the field and the disappointment for some of an elusive finish.

One thing is for sure, however easy a 100 mile race may look on paper, there is nothing easy about covering 100 miles on foot in under 30 hours. All in all 128 runners completed their journey from a field of 191 starters, a much higher finishing rate than we had anticipated pre race and a credit to those that took on the enormous challenge of running from London to Oxford in one go. 

Race registration went smoothly at the Old Town Hall on Richmond waterfront and it was great to see so many familiar faces from the ultrarunning circuit plus a good dozen runners coming back for more after running in the North Downs Way 50/100 in 2011, our first Centurion event. After a short briefing the runners ammassed on the start line and at 10am sharp left for the first aid station at Walton, mile 12. Early reports came in to us whilst we were setting up aid station two, that the front runners had gone through Walton in 1:31, Robbie Britton, winner of the NDW100 in 2011 out in front but hotly pursued.

The conditions were absolutely perfect for a fast day, with dry ground from a week or so of very little rain and relatively cool temperatures.

The conditions were absolutely perfect for a fast day, with dry ground from a week or so of very little rain and relatively cool temperatures. The sun did come out however and a few red faces were seen later that day. The pace of the leaders through Wraysbury, Windsor and on to Cookham remained high, whilst the pace at the back of the field seemed to be dictated by the 4mph cut offs. Many lost time around the Eton/ Dorney Lake area where a gap in markings around the diversion caused significant issues, but with perseverance runners found themselves back on course, either using their maps or intuition. 

On to Henley and the 51 mile point, we found ourselves being chased hard by Craig Holgate who had stolen the lead around Windsor and begun to open up a gap over Robbie in 2nd, Martin Bacon, David Ross, Graham Booty, Matt Winn Smith and a handful of others. Mimi Anderson led the women, a lead which she would hold on to all day in a thoroughly impressive win. 

As darkness fell, the temperature dropped but not too significantly and the aid station teams welcomed runners with open arms through Reading (mile 58), Whitchurch (mile 67) and Streatley (mile 71) where Dick Kearn of GUCR fame had established a perhaps too comforting welcome of hot food and drinks for runners in out of the dark. The police kindly removed all of the glow sticks leading runners to and from the Whitchurch aid station down Manor Road leading to some interesting route taking in that area but again everyone persevered, shepherded by volunteers who spent all night on rotation at the corner of the high street ensuring runners held the correct path. 

Craig Holgate crossed the finish line in 15 hours and 11 minutes for an incredible 100 mile debut, an average pace of just over 9 minutes per mile.

Craig pushed on through Benson, Little Wittenham and Abingdon and shortly after midnight we received notice at the finish line that he was on his way down the last 5 mile stretch from the Lower Radley aid station. He crossed the finish line in 15 hours and 11 minutes for an incredible 100 mile debut, an average pace of just over 9 minutes per mile. He was followed by Robbie Britton in a very strong 16:02 for 2nd and Martin Bacon picked up 3rd in 17:41. The winner of the female race, Mimi Anderson came through in 18:50 in joint 7th overall running with Cliff King and her pacer Penny Matkin and looking as strong as every on crossing the line. As the 20 hour mark came closer, Sandra Bowers ran in for 2nd in 19:54, timing her finishing push to perfection. All in all 14 runners broke the 20 hour barrier. 

The forced abandonment of the race at 12:05pm on Sunday, or 26 hours and 5 minutes into the race was an absolute necessity and undoubtedly prevented adding further runners to the growing list of those treated with cold related illnesses both at the finish and out on the course.

The next significant marker was a big incentive for those still on course - with sub 24 hour times earning runners the coveted 100 miles - One Day Belt Buckles. We eventually ended up handing out 68 with Philip Smith picking up the last one, finishing in a well timed 23:56. As is always the case following the 24 hour mark, a gap ensued before runners started to re-emerge out of the now worsening conditions. We were braced for a very different day of weather on the Sunday, but the incredibly fast and dramatic decline in temperature coupled with heavy rain turning to sleet and then snow and heavy winds threw any remaining runners out on the course into a critical situation, for which the majority were not prepared. The forced abandonment of the race at 12:05pm on Sunday, or 26 hours and 5 minutes into the race was an absolute necessity and undoubtedly prevented adding further runners to the growing list of those treated with cold related illnesses both at the finish and out on the course. Runners were phoned and reached out to on the course by an incredibly diligent group of aid station volunteers, sweepers and course officials so that everybody reached safety by 2:26pm when the race ended. A full report on the abandonment can be read here

We'd like to thank all 191 runners who toed the startline in the inaugural event for making it the race that it was. It will be back in 2013 with a few significant changes, but the core of the race will remain the same. 

Thank you to the 80 volunteers that gave their time and energy, some who worked tirelessly for 36 hours straight to get runners across the finish line in as best shape possible.