12 Jul 11 by James Elson

South Downs Way Race 2011 & 2012

This past weekend I had a blast managing the 3rd Checkpoint on the South Downs Way 103 mile trail race from Eastbourne to Winchester. I have helped out at a few races over the years but never at a 100 mile (++) event and I have to say I was pretty humbled. I like to think that as a runner I am pretty gracious to the volunteers when I come in to an aid station, taking the time to thank them for spending 2/ 12/ 24+ hours standing out in all conditions with really one simple aim, of helping runners to reach their goal of finishing. Paul, another volunteer and I, set up in Washington Car Park, mile 49 on the course, at 3pm in the sunshine  and awaited our first runners to come through. We had quite a simple arrangement as there were 45 starters to worry about and not a marauding mass of 100s of 10k runners, so we put up a gazebo, a half a dozen chairs in the shade underneath and a long table across the front which we adorned with standard ultra fayre, 50 odd cups of coke and our aid station speciality cheese and ham wraps. At around 4pm Jen Jackson, the race director, arrived in the car and Paul and I went to get some extra water from the other side of the A24 where there is a tap right on the SDW trail. Then we sat around chatting and eating the aid station food waiting for our first runners.

At about 5:35pm Nicola Golunska rolled in, so a little over 8 and a half hours to around half way. It isn't exactly par for the course for a female to be leading a 100 mile race at the half way mark but clearly Nicola was on a mission and had pretty much killed her pacer in getting to us so quickly. Just as she left to carry on to Amberley, 7 miles up the track another runner Mark Collinson came through stopped and chatted for a minute whilst we filled his bottles, grabbed some food and went on his way also. And so the pattern continued. I hope and think that for our part we were pretty good at getting the runners what they needed, filling bottles, packs, grabbing food and drop bags and generally just trying to offer some encouragement but the response we got back from all 42 runners who came through Washington was fantastic. People seemed to respond well to the set up despite the fact that they had faced 49 miles of hilly terrain into a 20mph headwind and a blazing sun. In the end, 40 of the 42 made it out of the aid station and an incredible 37 of 45 starters finished the race. It made it a thoroughly rewarding experience and exemplified exactly why I got involved with ultras in the first place.

The race was only its second year and managed by Jen Jackson whom I have come to know from various trail events and from my recent appointment to the Trail Running Association Committee, which Jen also sits on. For some time, Jen has mentioned that she would like to move on from managing the SDW race in the future as it is simply too time consuming amongst the hundreds of other commitments in life. When I first decided to put on our first 100 back in August of last year, I looked at the South Downs Way as my logical first choice. It is the trail on which I have done most of my running and racing and quite frankly I just love the whole track although particularly the heart of it from Amberley up to Ditchling Beacon in daylight as well as at night. There was no way I was going to double up with Jens race however, one 100 miler on a national trail is enough after all, so I moved on to other locations and struck upon the North Downs Way and the Thames Path which we have up and running and we look forward to our first event in exactly a months time.

When Jen mentioned she wanted to hand the race over to somebody a few months ago I messaged her and explained how much I would love to take the South Downs Way Race on from 2012. To my delight, Jen has decided to hand it on to us to manage in the future.

Not much will really change as quite frankly, I didn't hear a single bad word said about the race this year and from end to end it was a resounding success. There are things that I like in 100s that I will probably look to add for 2012 but I will take nothing away. So, in short, in a few weeks time we will go live with entries for the continuation of the South Downs Way Race: 2012 Edition. I am overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this trail and I have little doubt that will end up rubbing off on the event and the communication for which I make no apologies! In the meantime, any questions can always be directed to me at racedirector@centurionrunning.com and I will post a little more when we have done a proper hand over with Jen and are ready to go.

So I guess really it's just left to say thanks to Jen for setting this race up and for throwing an unbelievable amount of time, energy and love into the race. Hopefully we will be able to continue to build on her hard work and turn this in to a long standing, well organised and significant UK 100 mile trail race.

For our part that will be 3 x 100 milers and I am not underestimating the amount of work that will be for our small team. I have a plan in my mind for a 4th 100 but not for some time yet and that will very definitely be all that we take on. As with limiting the number of runners for each event, we also want to make sure we limit the number of events themselves so that everything remains well organised, well executed and with runners safety and enjoyment at the top of the list of priorities.

Exciting times ahead but we have a very tough act to follow.

Oh and we just had our buckles for NDW100 mile finishers delivered. Pretty awesome I hope you'll agree....

100 miles one day (sub 24 hour) and Finisher  (sub 32 hour) Buckles