The Wendover Woods 50 was billed as a tough event on paper and indeed much of the pre-race chatter was around three significant features. Firstly, the near 10,000 feet of climb (and descent). Second, the format of 5 x 10 mile loops. Third, the likely underfoot conditions on woodland trail in November. This was our eigth and final race of 2016, the culmination of the inaugural 50 mile Grand Slam (SDW50, NDW50, CW50 and WW50) and for three pioneering runners, the end to a Double Slam year.
175 runners gathered in a moody, misty trig point field for registration early on Saturday morning. There was an air of quiet apprehension from both the runners but also from the organisers. As with any new event, there are a number of unknowns and one of those was just how the start might get off. Briefing began at 0758 from the road through the woods and exactly 2 minutes later, runners were let loose on some of the best that the forest had to offer.
Woodland trail running is always popular and something which is sadly nowadays so hard to find in the South East. Little pockets like this, protected and maintained by the Forestry Commission, are gems standing out as the last bastions of older landscapes. The network of trails in Wendover Woods is vast. The area covered by the woodland barely makes 1.5 by 1.5 miles, but after countless excursions in to the deepest recesses of the area, we managed to construct a 10 mile loop that was varied, exciting, and didn't ever cover the same stretch of trail twice. One of the best features of Wendover itself, is that different sections of the wood are so distinctive from one another. We ended up naming nine different segments (some taken from existing strava creations) so that runners had a reference point for where they were, out on course. Classic fast stretches like 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' and 'Hill Fort Loop' were intersected with some steep climbs and descents like 'The Snake', 'Gnarking Around' and 'Power Line'. Variety was something that would break the potential monotony of five loops down in to manageable chunks.
Being an inaugural race, we had rough expectations on timings and had allowed an extended 16 hour cut off, three hours more than at our other three 50 mile events. At the end of lap one we saw a pack of five runners come through mostly together in a tad over eight minute mile pace, something we were sure was going to lead to some massive explosions later on, but nevertheless very slightly slower than we thought we might see! Jon Ellis (CW50 champ), Neil Kirby (SDW50 and NDW50 champ) were right there, together with Pip Blackburn and Mark Innocenti - previous top 10 finishers at our events. Also in that lead pack were Jeff Pyrah and Samantha Amend. With the speed she posseses, Sam's presence there wasn't a surprise but with Jeff, a name present from only a couple of ultras previously, we had overlooked the man with the greatest raw speed of all the runners in the starting field (2:34 marathon PR). Certainly what was clear was that the race was going to be won by the person who slowed down the least.
Through the end of lap two, the guys above were all still together, with Samantha dropping off by 12 minutes but with a big margin of 23 minutes lead over Sophie Carter running in second for the ladies. Through lap three, it proved to be Jeff and Neil who had the greater strength as others began to drop off, feeling the burn of the early fast loop. Jeff and Neil's third loop at 1:33 was already 9 minutes slower than the first, on a course which actually looked to be improving in condition thanks to the now snaking single track appearing throughout the woods. The first time we've seen that happen.
Sam Amend on some of the woodland single track
Through lap four it was clear that it was a two way battle as Jeff and Neil gave us one of the finest displays of racing all year. Jeff led out and Neil in his trademark fashion, marked every move and hovered a short distance behind. At the end of lap four, just four seconds separated the two. At mile 48.5, we had reports in that Jeff was 10 metres ahead of Neil as both sat poised to put everything in to the final, longest climb of the course up to the finish. Waiting expectantly in the field, it was Jeff who had the legs on the day and outkicked Neil on that final climb to finish in a time of 7:39, with Neil coming home just 3 minutes later for second. Third place was picked up by Pip Blackburn in 8:05, with the rest of the field a further 24 minutes and more behind those three.
Neil Kirby marking Jeff Pyrah through the majority of the race
Jeff captures victory after 7 hours and 39 minutes of battling
In the ladies race, Sam held on to her lead all day. Having recently come home with Team Gold for the GB 50km ladies, she ran supremely well on a course which in truth doesn't suit her road background. She dug deep all day, had done the ground work and came home in 8:51 for 10th overall. Her second Centurion victory of 2016. Second and third went to Sophie Carter and Sarah Sawyer, who could jointly be awarded the prize for looking most in control all day. Both ran in their eventual finishing positions through the entire day, both making up about 15 positions from their overall lap one placings to their finish placings. As usual, the ladies show the guys how to pace.
Sophie Carter cruising the trails
The number of drops we saw was lower than expected, but we still saw our second lowest ever finish rate at a 50 mile event, with 81%/ 142 of the 175 starters eventually making it over the line. Conditions were as close to ideal for November as we could have hoped, nevertheless on the whole runners applied themselves to the challenge of this course in a fundamentally great way. 43 Grand Slammers made it home to receive their giant medals including John Stocker, Tracey Watson and Jim Vince, who each completed all eight events in 2016. 1st Overall in the Grand Slam standings and now record holder was Warwick Gooch, who, with just a 15 minute lead over second place Dean Oldfield coming in to this race, managed to eek out another 3 minutes here for an 18 minute gap. The leading overall lady in the slam was Rosie Williams in 44:21, a gap of less than 60 seconds over 44 hours of racing ahead of Sharon Dickson in second. Final Standings can be found here.
Somewhere during the course of the day, we welcomed home our 5000th ever finisher. It's been 6 years of events to get there. But as we always say, none of this is possible without the volunteers. Marshalling junctions for 6+ hours, standing out at the Hale Lane check point deep in the woods for 15+ hours and manning the start/ finish location for 18+ hours, nothing was too much for these guys. They are the first ones there and the last ones to leave, still out there working hard until the end of the day, when a lot of the runners are back at home tucked up in bed. These are the true heroes of the weekend.
Well done to everyone who took part in, volunteered at, crewed or supported at one of this years events. We try to continually improve what we deliver to the runners and volunteers and things went brilliantly through this first expanded year of events. We look forward to welcoming many of you back in April for the South Downs Way 50. Until then, keep a look out on the blog for an end of year review and enjoy your winter seasons.
All Images c/o Stuart March Photography
The stories from this our fourth and final 100 of the year, from the front of the field right through the middle to the final few were truly remarkable and echoed many of those we've seen throughout 2016 at other events.
The Autumn 100 has grown steadily each year to this it's fifth edition, where we would welcome 245 runners to Goring and Streatley for the 1000 start Saturday morning. Conditions were good both weather wise and under foot and there was much excitement to see what results the weekend might bring.
The series of four different 25 mile out and backs, returning to Goring each time, create a unique opportunity for everyone involved in the race to see it unfold each step of the way. Spur one is flat, fast and slightly shorter than the other three, but nevertheless when leader Mark Denby appeared back in 2:46 elapsed, a full 24 minutes under course record pace, there was more than a little discussion around whether he could possibly hold on to that kind of pace. We've yet to have anyone break 14 hours at one of our events (Mark Perkins' 14:03 at the 2014 SDW100 is still our all time record), but Mark Denby was out on sub 12 hour pace. Behind Mark, Ed Fisher appeared also well under 3 hours, followed by John Stocker, the leader of the Grand Slam standings for this year, in 3 hours flat.
At this point, usually I'd go on to talk about the overall race and focus on the top three men who tend to take the podium places before going in to the ladies race, but the ladies in the field and one lady in particular were about to show the guys how to run 100 miles.
Behind the top three, Susie Chesher came in to HQ in fifth overall with 3:16 elapsed looking cool, calm and collected. Without crew or pacers she simply went about the business of running within herself. Pre-race we had hoped for some exciting racing amongst the women and true to form, Jess Gray sat on Susie's heals for the first Spur and out to the far point of leg two at Swyncombe, before Susie began to steadily increase her advantage. What also came with that was a gradual overhauling of almost everyone ahead of her.
Susie in the Groove
Back at Goring at half way, Mark had given back ten minutes of his huge spur one buffer over the record but led comfortably in 6:16 elapsed. He made his way out on to the Ridgeway and seemed to have the weather Gods on his side as showers past all around but seemingly not over head. At the 100km mark at Chain Hill, his time of 8:14 indicated he was losing a little time on each leg, but only a couple of minutes at most and he ran away from that check point still with a spring in his step. It seemed we were going to witness something special.
Mark focused before the start
He arrived back off of Spur three in 10:02 elapsed and now had not only the course record but the overall Centurion 100 mile record within his sights. Spur four out to Reading and back on the Thames Path is a tough leg to finish with, mostly mentally albeit if a runner has enough in the tank it's flat, fast and good running. Mark did have enough in his legs. He ran a superb final leg, the fastest we have ever seen, to eventually cross the line in 14:07 for a massive 28 minute Course Record. I don't think anyone was as suprised as Mark.
His was a brave race, run from the gun and whilst many jumped on it initially as a suicidal opening gambit he proved everyone wrong and ran a truly exceptional final third. His was the second fastest all time performance at a Centurion 100.
Perhaps a pang of sympathy for Mark, however, as what was one of if not the finest display of running all year was over shadowed by arguably the best female 100 mile performance we have ever seen. By the time she had come off of leg three, Susie had caught second place overall John Stocker as he took some time to rally in the check point. Susie methodically went through the motions of ensuring she had everything she needed to run a solid final leg and she looked supremely focused as she left to finish the job.
It became apparent when she hit the final turn around at Reading in 13:03 that we were going to see a fatest all time female 100, the only question was by how much. Susie crossed the line 2 hours and 19 minutes later for a final finish time of 15:22, taking 50 minutes off of the course record, becoming the first lady to break 16 hours and doing so by a full 38 minutes. A time that was also good enough to give her second overall on the day. Her assessment on finishing of 'that went pretty well then' summed up the manner with which she had executed her race.
Behind Mark and Susie, John Stocker ran home for third overall and with a time of 16:14, betters the overall Grand Slam 100 mile cumulative time by a scant eight minutes. He had a job to do and whilst his start was also in his own words 'a bit quick' he was able to use all his strength and experience from a long year of racing to hold on to his prize. Ed Fisher came home third male in 16:17 elapsed just three minutes behind John.
John Stocker and family with his 100 mile haul
Second lady and 5th overall was Jess Gray, who on any other day would most likely have been at or close to the front, but she can be very proud of her first 100 mile finish in a time of 16:42.
Third lady Cat Simpson, home in 17:24, pulled her usual trick of starting steady and then cruising through the field. 34th after Spur one she finished in 11th overall. Perhaps best of all was the look on Dad Simpsons face considering the possibility he may be dropped as her pacer as he hovered in HQ waiting for her to come in!
Left to Right our Top 3 Ladies, Susie, Jess and Cat
We went on to welcome a massive 106 runners home under the 24 our mark for their One Day buckle and a total of 179 runners crossed the line for an official finish. 24 Grand Slammers completed their fourth and final 100 of the year in the process. Ken Fancett finished his 4th Grand Slam, once again this entire report could be about that one man. Wendy Shaw, fourth lady in a Personal Best finished her 16th 100 and her 3rd Grand Slam. Whilst all of the finishers deserve special mention, there are two individuals I will touch upon.
Firstly our very own Russ Tullett, who finished his first 100 here just outside of 24 hours. Russ has volunteered at I would hazard a guess at something like the last 20 events. Not only does Russ volunteer, he is there from opening of registration, to closing of the finish performing every duty under the sun. No job is too big, too small, too dirty or too tiring for him. He has become the most integral part of our team over the last few years giving everything to the sport when he was injured himself and unable to take part when he so dearly wanted to. After a long year of training and gradually working through his recovery he lined up and put himself in a huge amount of pain to get himself over that line. A finish deserved on so many levels.
And finally, a mention for Tinu Ogundari. Tinu began running 100s with us a couple of years ago and in mutiple attempts hadn't reached the finish. Tinu is not a fast runner, she doesn't profess to be and to be perfectly frank I think there are a lot of people over the years who have thought that her dream of finishing a 100 mile event would forever be beyond her. But this weekend, despite spending most of the race as the last runner out on course, she applied herself every step of the way, wasted no time in check points and worked as hard as anyone else we've seen. She went out on leg four just half an hour under the cut off and it seemed likely she would come up just short once again. But despite leaving Reading in last place, she motored her way back to us to cross the line ahead of five other runners in 27:31. This our almost final 100 mile finish of 2016 sums up what this distance is about. Perseverance. To all who thought it impossible, for all of those times Tinu has missed cut offs and ridden the sweeper bus, to those who looked on and thought she didn't posses the speed to do it, she showed them how.
Tinu getting it done
Thanks as always go to our volunteers without whom none of this is possible. See you all in April 2017 for the Thames Path 100.
The 2016 Chiltern Wonderland 50 was our inaugural event on this course with this race the third of our four 50 milers in 2016. A group of 181 runners congregated in Goring on the banks of the Thames for a race day set fair in conditions. 51 of those were Grand Slammers hoping to complete the third part of their journey to 200 miles in 2016.
The course takes runners away from Goring on a 50 mile loop which contains some truly stunning trail, a feeling of remote running despite the relative proximity to major metropolitan areas. With 5000ft of elevation gain, there is enough to make it tough going for everyone - the leaders racing throughout, to those hoping simply to finish under the 13 hour cut off.
The first 3.5 miles on the Thames Path are fast and flowing on rolling trail. At the end of this short opening stretch Jon Ellis had already made his intentions clear storming through well under 7 min mile pace. Neil Kirby, winner of our previous two 50s in 2016 about 50 metres behind marking Jon in his trademark fashion. The gap over third was already three minutes and it looked like it could well be a two horse race right from the line.
Through the check points at Tokers Green Mile 10 and Bix Mile 17, the front two stayed in those positions and continued to put more time in to the field. The hilliest and slowest section of the course through from Bix to Ibstone saw Jon start to open a gap as he made the marathon mark in 3:13, an impressive effort on it's own without his attempt on the final 24 miles.
At Christmas Common mile 30, Neil was hanging in 7 minutes back but he began to fade and by the time he had reached Swyncombe at mile 33, Jon's lead had grown to 13 minutes and Neil pulled the pin there with dead legs. Tired but no damage done as he looks ahead to Wendover Woods in November.
Jon continued to pull away from everyone else and now had a monumental lead over the rest of the field. In one of if not the strongest displays we have seen from anybody in 2016, he eventually crossed the line in 6:25, a full 50 minutes over the rest of the field. With this being an inaugural event, we felt that something around 6:30-6:40 was likely to win it, but Jon bettered that and looked good at the finish. A superb run and a great win.
Behind Jon, the field were relatively tightly compacted, but it was Ian Hammett, second at the SDW100 earlier this summer who held on to second in 7:15. Third place was picked up by John Stocker ten minutes later, a 50 mile Grand Slammer who is also happens to be comfortably leading the 100 mile Slam standings. He looks set to put in an incredibly consistent year with strong results at 6 of his 8 events with us in 2016 so far. With Neil Kirby dropping out, Warwick Gooch now heads up the 50 mile Slam Standings, going in to Wendover Woods 50.
The ladies field was less competitive than it might have been with a number of key ladies failing to make the start line for a number of reasons. That left our own Team Runner Edwina Sutton, seemingly the odds on favourite going in to the race. With ultrarunning however, the job still has to be done and Eddie ran a very controlled race to move from second early on to take the lead before CP1, and hold it all the way through to the finish. Her time of 7:58 saw her finish 11th overall.
Behind Eddie, Christine Howard ran a great race to come home in a time of 8:27, again well paced and losing a few minutes only at each check point to Eddie up ahead. Third place went to Sarah Samme in a time of 8:45. Three great female performances to open the account at this race.
The number of drops on the day was exceptionally low. With temperatures between 12 and 15 degrees, a little wind and almost no rain, conditions made for fast and enjoyable racing. In the end, just 22 runners dropped - although our final two finishers came through within 30 seconds of the 13 hour cut off making for some very exciting times indeed. Two were left out on that course just past the cut, Ian Lang and Ray Hasler have been close to other cut offs this year and just made it home, this time it wasn't to be. But both finished the course and can go home with their heads held high.
The feedback from the runners was almost universally positive for the course, the layout and as always our volunteers. It looks like the CW50 is here to stay and we look forward to welcoming the race back as our third event of the 2017 50 mile Grand Slam.
(All Photos c/o Stuart March Photography)
This 6th edition of the North Downs Way 100 included a new finish location, an incredible weather forecast and a truly exciting race in prospect with past champions and rising stars toeing the line for 100+ miles.
A field of 229 runners set out from Farnham at 0600 Saturday morning. As predicted in the preview and in line with his NDW50 performance earlier this year, Paul Russhard took the race by the horns from the gun and went out hard. His times through the first three check points were only just outside those of Craig Holgate's NDW50 course record splits. Paul ran through Box Hill mile 24 in 3:02, with a 17 minute lead over James Poole in 2nd.
The afternoon was set to be hot and humid as is often the case with this event thanks to where it sits in the calendar, on the first weekend of August. That always takes something out of those who push hard. Those who hold back and conserve for the cooler night time temperatures often reap the benefits later on and that was certainly the case over this weekend.
As the front of the field moved on to Knockholt Pound, Mile 50, Paul held on to his lead and had even extended it, making that mark in 7:21 to Neil Kirby's 7:41. Soon after the aid station however, Paul was visibly slowing and Neil was beginning to exude the strength that has seen him take the SDW50, NDW50 and SDW100 crowns already this year.
Neil took the lead shortly after and began to run away gradually from the rest of the field. His lead extended by a few but crucial minutes at each check point, eventually arriving in to Detling mile 82 with 15 minutes over James Poole who was still in second as he was for most of the day. Neil pushed on and in his trademark style buried himself almost as deep as he could go and crossed the line for first in a time of 16:46. He wasn't quite as wobbly as at the finish of the SDW100 but it was a close run thing! So he's now won all four of our events that he has entered in 2016 including both the SDW and NDW 50 and 100s. He is a true competitor, humble, tough as they come and is having a truly exceptional year. We will see him twice more in 2016 so there is yet more to come from him.
Behind Neil, James Poole held on to second through to the finish and ran a superb race for 17:20. James races a lot and this was not a focus for him, but he has turned in some superb results over the last couple of years and we wish him all the best for the upcoming UTMR and Spartathlon. In 3rd place was John Stocker who leads the Grand Slam standings overall and again has been steadily improving through the year.
The ladies race was led from wire to wire by Debbie Martin-Consani. It wasn't a surprise to see that, but it doesn't make it any less exceptional, especially considering her pacing which as mentioned time and again is a lesson to all. Debs moved from 20th at Box Hill, in to 6th overall by the finish. Her time of 18:34 shattered the existing course record by a full 45 minutes and she took home yet another trophy to add to her bursting cabinet. It sits very nicely alongside the SDW100 victory from this year. A masterclass as always.
Behind Debbie, Annabelle Stearns ran a great, well paced and sustained race to finish in 21:41 and looked fantastic when she crossed the line. Third was taken by the indomitable Wendy Shaw in 22:33. Yet another 100 finish for her and on route to her third Grand Slam which will in itself be a ladies record.
There were some epic battles against the course, the conditions and the demons from many of the runners. Some had glorious days where everything went to plan, but for most this race really is the toughest thing they've had to endure in their running careers. The scenes at the finish line were incredible and varied as always, from subdued gratification that it's all over, to outpourings of joy and emotion. We also had an engagement which makes it 5 in total now at our events!
Our final finisher Hideo Takano is a man with a wealth of experience at making finishes right inside the cut offs, being as he is on route to his 20th Comrades often leaving himself minutes to spare. The less than 9 he had here made it exciting for all without the stress of thinking he may not quite make it.
Overall the race overall had a fairly typcial ratio of drops, with 153 of the 229 starters crossing the line. Our average finish rate over the life cycle of our 100 mile events has been 66% and this event matched that exactly.
127 Volunteers were as always the reason this event was able to go ahead. To them our greatest thanks. So many as always going way beyond to make the event the safe and successful one that it was.
(All Pictures Courtesy of Stuart March)
This 5th edition of the South Downs Way 100 dawned relatively cool and overcast belying what would become much more difficult conditions through the latter part of the first day. 260 runners toed the line including lots of great competition at the front of both the mens and womens fields. Past champions included in the men’s field, Neil Kirby - 2016 SDW50 and NDW50 champion and Duncan Oakes - 2015 NDW100 Champion. In the ladies field Debs Martin-Consani - past TP100 Champion and GB International and Jess Gray - 2015 NDW50 and 2016 SDW50 Champ.
The pace out of the gate this year was more reserved than normal as a group of runners ran tightly together through the first two checkpoints. Ewan Dunlop made it through QECP mile 22 in 3 hours flat, with a group behind including Neil Kirby, All Watson (2nd NDW100 2015), Jason Lewis, Duncan Oakes and Pip Blackburn (2nd SDW50 2015). The strength in depth of the early front runners made the race an exciting prospect. It was notable however even at this early stage that times were considerably behind Mark Perkins' 2014 CR splits.
Throughout the day, the heat and humidity rose and exceeded the expected forecast. Runners who held something back and managed their race during the harder going were rewarded later, whilst those who pushed hard came unstuck and suffered through the middle portion of the race. At Washington mile 54, Ewan Dunlop held on to his lead, coming through in 7:40 elapsed, with Neil Kirby 5 minutes back and third placed Ian Hammett in 7:49. All three looked strong.
The profile of the last half of the race contains the bigger climbs and descents and it is on that ground that we’ve learned this year Neil Kirby is so strong. He played a cool tactical race as he stayed close behind a hard charging Ian now in second by the windmills at mile 70, Ewan maintaining a slender lead. By Southease mile 83, Ewan had slipped back 12 minutes as Neil continued to keep Ian in sight, now our race leader. Over the longer descents, Neil was able to turn up the pace and finally put Ian behind him as he kicked for the finish. Coming off of the trig point with 2.7 miles to go we wondered how close the two would be, but in the end Neil ran out a relatively comfortable winner in 15:30:44. His debut 100, his third Centurion win of 2016, he has proved time and again that he can dig very deep indeed and run a tactical race to boot. Neil has the NDW100 coming up. Another exciting race in prospect there for sure with Ed Catmur reigning CR holder also on the start list.
Ian Hammett crossed in second place in a time of 15:46:55 for a superb debut 100, Ally Watson eventually picking Ewan off for 3rd in 16:28:35.
The ladies race lived up to the headline billing. Jess Gray went out hard and put significant time ahead of our Team Runner and GB International Debbie Martin-Consani. Jess was up by 7 minutes at QECP mile 22 and as much as 13 minutes by Cocking at mile 35. By Washington, that lead was back to 9 minutes, but with Jess taking a short stop in the aid station, Debbie exited straight away and took the lead for the first time. The two ran close together until Botolphs just before the 100km mark, at which point Jess called it a day. That left Debbie with a big lead but in her trademark fashion it was the overall positions that were now within her grasp. She made her way steadily through the field showing the class athlete she is, rising all the way to 9th at Mile 70, 7th at Mile 84 eventually finishing 6th overall in our second fastest ever female time on this course, 17:12:41. So much can be learned by so many from the level of race management and patience that Debbie brings to the longer events.
The rest of the ladies race behind Debs was fascinating to watch. Sarah Sawyer, Kit-Yi Greene, Maryann Devally and Cat Simpson all featured in the top 5 for most of the day. At Washington, Cat in 5th was 17 minutes back of 3rd placed Maryann, but over the second part of the race, she made superb progress and eventually ran home in second with a time of 19:08:03. Maryann came home in third having suffered in the latter stages but through gritted teeth pulled off a super 19:33:05.
The night time brought some mist to the ridge making navigation difficult in places for some, but 111 runners made it in under the 24hr limit for their 100 Miles - One Day buckles. Later, a total of 203 came home inside the 30 hour cut off, an almost identical finish count and rate to 2015.
We had some poignant moments at the finish too. Every finish is special, but some come with added meaning. Shelley Kyte and Mark Potter lost their baby exactly a year before to the day and finished in her honour, running both the NDW50 and then the SDW100 together.
Vassos Alexander from Chris Evans’ Radio 2 Breakfast Show seemed to enjoy the day as much as anyone and could not express enough thanks for the volunteer effort over the course of the day. He ran a superb first 100 miler finishing under the 20 hour mark alongside one of the stalwarts of our/ UK ultra events, Sam Robson. Sam, after a rollercoaster ride at this race in past years, made it around the track for the first time since his 2nd place in 2012, our inaugural event. Here is a link to Vassos' words on the event during the Monday Breakfast Show.
This race saw our highest ever number of volunteers out on course, a massive 138 of them tending to runners at a ratio of one for every two runners. As always, these events would not be possible without that army behind the scenes. It is a staggering amount of man hours that are required to get a point to point 100 to happen safely and successfully. Nothing can be achieved without them.
With 8 weeks to go until the NDW100, the first half of this season has been action packed and better than ever. We hope that will continue through the NDW100, A100 and our two new events for this year, the Chiltern Wonderland and Wendover Woods 50s.
All photos courtesy of Stuart March.
The sixth edition of the North Downs Way 50 dawned cool and bright, greeting 213 runners to registration with the promise of near perfect conditions to run 50 miles on this stunning and surprisingly little explored trail within a stone’s throw of London.
Runners tackle the climb up Box Hill
With increasing history comes increasing tradition and with an unchanged course from the last 4 years we had a few runners on the line looking to match up to one another but also to runners past and the existing course records.
The NDW50 splits roughly in two. The first 24 miles to the Stepping Stones checkpoint at the bottom of Box Hill is on the whole very fast going. But we hadn’t yet witnessed anything like the kind of pace we saw from early leader Paul Russhard on race day.
Stepping Stones, Mile 24
Lining up at the trailhead, Paul looked ready to launch a one man assault on the course. Around him, a solid field of other hopefuls made their final preparations, including perhaps most notably, this year’s SDW50 winner Neil Kirby and Commonwealth International Marathon Runner and GB 100km team runner, Holly Rush. I think many were secretly hoping we might see our first female outright winner come the finish at Knockholt Pound.
As the gun went, Paul disappeared. He immediately put serious time into Craig Holgate’s (6:43) Course Record Splits, reaching Newlands Corner (mile 14.7) in 1:35 and Box Hill in 2:47, putting him 10 minutes up at the ‘halfway’ point. The question on everyone’s mind was, are we witnessing something spectacular, or were we about to witness one of the all time great blow ups? It turns out, a little of both.
Behind Paul - Neil Kirby, Paul Radford and Ry Webb ran largely together to Box Hill but a huge 17 mins behind, trailed closely by Holly Rush who looked extremely comfortable from the get go. Last years ladies champion Jess Gray sat 30 seconds behind Holly all the way to Box Hill. It was shaping up to be a fascinating afternoon all round.
After Box Hill, the climb up Reigate Hill and the choppy nature of the terrain traditionally separates the field out, with those who’ve held themselves in check reaping huge rewards over those who have started too quick. We often see tens of minutes put in between check points throughout the top 10 in this race.
At Reigate, 50km, Paul Russhard’s lead was down to 10 minutes, with Neil Kirby now moving into clear second and hunting him down. Neil was so strong all day at the SDW50 and he ran a similar race here. He is exceptionally good on the climbs and the second half of this course therefore played right into his hands. In the ladies race, Holly had moved into a 4 minute lead over Jess.
By Botley Hill, mile 43, the race had splintered completely. Neil emerged in 1st, jogging the whole climb into the checkpoint with a now significant lead over second. But the surprise was that it was Paul Russhard still holding on to that second spot. Although he was slowing significantly he grit his teeth and gave his all right through to the finish. Behind him, Ry Webb looked fresh and ready for a good finish, and Holly Rush most relaxed of all now 4th overall and moving really well straight through the checkpoint.
Overall Champion Neil Kirby
7 miles later at the finish, we greeted Neil Kirby over the line for 1st and a superb double to start the year. He became only the second person to break the 7 hour mark, Craig Holgate, with 2 times in the 6:40’s, the only other person to do so on this course. Ry Webb eventually passed Paul Russhard for 2nd in a superb 7:05, but Paul held on to 3rd in 7:09, collapsing on to the ground at the finish having given his all.
In 4th overall and with a stellar time of 7:11, Holly Rush showed her class and took 38 minutes off of the course record. In a 50 mile event in it’s 6th year, that is an unbelievable improvement in the mark. Jess Gray eventually stopped at the final aid station with knee trouble, and that left Holly with a winning margin of 1 hour and 9 minutes over second placed Annabelle Stearns. Annabelle pipped Alex Coomber to 3rd by a mere 30 seconds having run much of the way together.
Ladies Champion and New Course Record Holder, Holly Rush
The atmosphere out on course on race day was fantastic, one of the best we have ever seen. Our 60 volunteers encouraging their running counterparts with themed aid stations, music and a banquet of epic proportions along the way. Their hard work paid off as 199 of 213 starters crossed the finish line.
One particularly notable stat this time, was that 23% of the starting field were female. That is the highest proportion we have had yet and it is wonderful to see. Long may that ratio continue to increase.
Our final finishers as always, came home with the tightest of margins. Ian Lang and Ray Hasler, two veterans of our races were cutting things very fine indeed on their way to us up in the final field. Ian had run a very smart tactical race and timed things to perfection, eventually leaving himself just under 5 minutes to spare. Ray on the other hand cut things rather closer. At 67, Ray has been a fixture of our events since the very beginning. He always brings a smile with him and we have shared many highs and lows. He’s run well over 1000 miles with us and finished all of our events. This time he was literally screamed over the line by staff and volunteers with a scant 56 seconds to spare. Just to add extra drama to the occasion, the petrol powered generator providing air to the inflatable finish gantry gave up with 52 seconds to go, collapsing in a heap right behind Ray lying prostrate on the ground. Relief doesn’t come close to the general feeling of all involved.
On now to the South Downs Way 100 in just four weeks time, our 4th event of 2016.
Thank you once again to all of our volunteers, runners, crew and race sponsors for making this one such a memorable weekend.
James congratulates Ray at the finish, with the collapsed gantry behind
Ray a few minutes after the finish!
This 5th Edition of the Thames Path 100 was an exceptional one. From the front to the back it was a record breaker with our highest ever number of starters and finishers at a 100 mile event, a new overall course record and the fastest female 100 mile time we’ve ever had at a Centurion 100 miler.
295 runners registered themselves in Richmond Upon Thames on Saturday morning. Bright sunshine, cool temperatures and firm ground underfoot in most places along the 100 mile course greeted the runners and the 15 Staff and 93 Volunteers readied themselves for a fast and action packed day. The only fly in the ointment was the forecast for temperatures to hit freezing overnight into Sunday morning. How would the mid-back pack runners cope with that after 50-100 miles on their feet…. certainly organiser stress levels were pretty high in anticipation of a long night.
Two runners seemed in a class all of their own coming into the race. Craig Holgate of our Centurion Ultra Team was back to try to better his own Course Record of 15:11, still standing from 2012. With respect to runners that have come before and since, that time was not indicative of where the course record should perhaps have stood and Craig was clear in his objectives taking a pace plan for 13:40 into race day. In the ladies field, Sam Amend has all the class and speed from a stellar road racing career and some very promising signs in her first few shorter ultras. This was to be her first 100 and a big step up, so somewhat of an unknown but with all the potential there to record something spectacular. It turned out that from start to finish, the front of the race was totally dominated by these two superb athletes.
Craig’s day went to plan for 92 miles. Having a team runner in the race is useful because we know to the minute what time he is looking to get to various points alongside the course, and nobody is as metronomic as Craig. One thing is for sure, he isn’t the kind of runner to run any single mile of the race faster or slower than he intends to run any other. It’s a masterclass in race management. Through the early part of the day things were right on track, he was feeling good and made up around 5 minutes on his planned time to Henley, coming through there in 6:28 elapsed, bang on 8:00 miling and looking good for something in the low 13s. He had a lead through the ‘half way’ mark of 58 minutes. Pushing on through the back half aid stations he slipped in to his La Sportiva Helios SR for some extra grip on the slippier terrain and crewed to perfection by his wife Abbie and two daughters he pushed on at the same relentless pace. Through Abgindon mile 91 in 12:14, we readied ourselves for not only our first sub 14hr 100 miler, but our first sub 13:30. And within 10 minutes of that, Craigh went off course. He had become disorientated in the gravel pits by the railway line just after the Abingdon aid station, and could not get past the train line. The mistake was such a simple one, the wrong one of two paths, but so easily made at mile 92 in the dark and with 12 and a half hours of hard running in your legs and mind. Eventually, Craig found his way back to the TP and under the railway line, but the cost had been huge. He had been lost for over half an hour. Eventually making it through Lower Radley the final aid station, he put his foot down and crossed the line in 14:09. In doing so he took over an hour off of his old course record and set the second fastest ever 100 mile time we’ve seen at our events. Craig was disappointed with the error but pragmatic in the end. He knows he had a 13:30 day and that has to be the biggest takeway from such a fine run.
All day, Samantha Amend had trailed Craig in 2nd place overall, until roughly Reading / 58 miles alongside eventual 4th place finisher Mark Grenyer. A potential fade did not materialise however as she went on to hold a really solid running effort over the last 40 miles, where so many others stumble and screamed home over the line in 16:00:09. That mark bettered Sarah Morwood’s previous Centurion All Time Record of 16:13 set at the 2015 Autumn 100 and was a truly exceptional debut. At the finish Sam looked fresh and clearly has the ability and endurance to go very much quicker. What a debut and an exciting future ahead.
In third place, Sam Pullan came home just over the 17 hour mark, with 4th going to Sam’s early running partner Mark Grenyer.
Behind Sam in the ladies race, Mari Mauland came home in a superb 19:11, making her way through the field at every stage of the race. That 2nd place betters her 3rd at the 2015 NDW100. Third place went to Hilde Ackenhausen in 19:34. It’s always superb to see three ladies beat the 20 hour mark.
A largely dry and sunny day on the Saturday turned in to a bitterly cold night as temperatures by the water dropped to freezing point. With some freezing fog hanging over the path it made it both magical and tough for the runners, and we saw a large number decide that it was not to be their day. In the end we welcomed home 207 of 295 starters for a 70% finisher rate. 128 of those made it in under the 24 hour ‘100 miles ONE DAY’ buckle, a massive 51 minutes separating the final finisher under 24hrs, with the first one over. That’s fairly common and goes to show just how much of a drive people have when close to 24hr to go for it in the final stages.
A huge thank you to the 93 volunteers out on course. To the runners who looked after fallen comrades during the night time stages whilst awaiting support. To the crews and supporters for looking after the runners and to our sponsors Julbo, Petzl, La Sportiva and Gu Energy for helping make the logistics of this event possible.
The South Downs Way 50 kicked off our 2016 season and heralded the opening event in the inaugural 50 mile Grand Slam. This 4th edition of the race appeared, on paper, to have a competitive ladies field and a wide open men’s equivalent. The story for the day ran largely to that script, alongside the largest field we’ve ever had at a race.
At 0900 on Saturday 9th April, 378 runners departed Worthing with the intention of reaching Eastbourne in under 13 hours. Torrential rain and high winds had greeted the majority of arrivals to registration, but just as the race got underway, things cleared up and we were treated to a dry if grey start.
The early pace in this event is often frenetic, with runners jostling position on the narrow trail to Cissbury Ring. Once up to Chanctonbury around mile 4, they meet the South Downs Way for the first time and enjoy one of the fatest sections of the course, all the way down to Botolphs. On arrival there at mile 11, Rob (Wyclef) Forbes had a huge lead already and looked set to run a similar race to Victor Mound in 2015, a time trial against himself to the finish. The same picture played out at Saddlescombe Farm after the climb over Devil’s Dyke, but shortly afterwards Rob took a wrong turning and found his way on to a bridleway that he thought to be wrong. Back tracking he then repeated his mistake having spied a walker in the distance. Returning for a second time to the turn, he then found Neil Kirby running the route and continuining on the correct path, so promptly fell in behind. At Housedean, the two emerged with around 3hrs31 on the clock, Rob with a beaming smile despite his double nav error. Through Southease (34) and Alfriston (41) the two remained within yards of each other, before on the climb out of Alfriston over the Long Man, Neil finally dropped the hammer and put a few minutes on Rob. He held on to his lead for the remainder coming in to the finish with 6:35 on the clock. Rob finished a scant 5 minutes back in 2nd. A great race through the latter stages. Third place went to Charlie Haywood in 6:56, who at just 20 years old has a very bright future ahead of him.
The ladies race was a closer call in the early stages as pre-race favourite Jess Gray ran through CP1 in a narrow lead over Sarah Sawyer, with a number of other ladies hot on their heels. Leanne Rive, Kit-Yi Greene and Amelia Watts all came through in close succession. At Housedean Farm, just after the marathon mark, Jess had grown that lead to a commanding 20 minutes, headed through in 3:55 with Sarah Sawyer in 2nd - 4:15 elapsed. Right behind Sarah, Kit-Yi and Leanne emerged almost together, trading places leaving the check point with Amelia Watts a couple of minutes back. At Southease (34), Jess’s lead remained the same whilst Amelia had moved into second, with Leanne just behind in third, and the positions stayed that way on to the finish. Jess’s finish time of 7:40 was good for a 25 minute margin of victory, with Amelia home in 8:05 and Leanne in 8:09.
The runners were treated to some sunshine up on the downs and a following wind throughout the day, which acted to cancel out some of the slower conditions brought on by the mud on the course. There were a large number of drops throughout the day however as the distance and sticky ground caused many to slow, in the end 341 made the finish. The excitement of last years finish - Maxine Lock making it in with just 11 seconds to spare - was matched not by the close proximity of the cut off but by the energy expended by Ian Lang and Nel Knapp as they hit the track. Both had 15 minutes to spare so well inside the 13 hour time limit, but they raced flat out to the final bend when Ian managed to pip Nel to the penultimate finisher place. It was our most exciting track finish of the day, saving the best until last.
The South Downs Way 50 has grown and we’re incredibly grateful to the National Park, the National Trust and the various landowners for allowing us to stage what is such a special race route. The field has grown steadily since the outset, but will grow no further for the time being. Some of the logsitics were improved this year with the help of our race sponsors La Sportiva, Julbo, Petzl and Gu Energy.
Nothing would be possible, however, without the 63 volunteers and we had out on the course making the race happen. A huge thanks to them.
The races now come thick and fast with the TP100, NDW50 and SDW100 all within the next 9 weeks. The TP100 is up next on April 30th and we have some extremely exciting prospects in the Men’s and Women’s fields. It might be time for some long standing course records to tumble….