13 Nov 11 by James Elson


After launching the SDW100 entries yesterday, we had the usual initial flurry of quick fire registrations. One of the pre-requisites on the entry forms is declaration of previous running experience. One of our earliest entrants yesterday listed SDW80 as one of his preceding ultra finishes. 

It is a big goal of mine to create races with a real pedigree for quality and a real depth of history. What I mean by that is, I haven't set up these three races as one time opportunities. I would dearly love to be sitting here in 30/40/50 years time with each one still going strong. If we continue to put as much love and effort into them as we have for the past year (Centurion was born 12 months ago this month) then I think we can sustain and even grow from where we are. 

The Thames Path and North Downs Way have had many races staged on them, past and present. The same is true of the South Downs Way with one major difference. The core of the race we have created is not our own. 

I am deeply interested in the South Downs Way 80, a race organised for many years up until the late 1990s. I was made aware of it a good few months ago in conversation with Dick Kearn. Dick and I both sit on the trail running association committee and I used last night's post meeting dinner to pick his brains a little more about it. The race was organised by Harry Townsend and existed for 16 years attracting up to 600 runners, eventually coming to a close in the late 1990s due to lack of funding. The course itself travelled 80 miles from Queen Elizabeth Country Park to finish at Eastbourne Rugby Club.

Dick is too modest to talk about it in much detail but in 1993 he won the race and has fond memories of it, as do most of the people I talk to about it. The over-riding sentiment is that you could count on Harry to deliver a proper race day experience. Things that were raised were the depth of medical support, the regularity and size of some of the aid stations, particularly at the barn on Truleigh Hill and the care and attention of the volunteers. A lot of this, in fact arguably the framework of it has been picked up by Oxfam Trailwalker and there was conversation of Harry having passed on a lot of information relevant to the formation of that event which attracts massive numbers each year to the 100km course.

The similarities between our race and Harry's cannot yet be made. Certainly in terms of a course, ours is 20 miles longer and will take a slightly different route into the finish. The athletics track where we will end the SDW100 literally backs on to the rugby club which was the finish point of the SDW80 which is, I think, rather poignant. 

I only hope we can build as successful, well executed and most importantly, much loved a race as Harry's. I have asked Dick to try to contact him and see if he would perhaps like to be a part of it in 2012. Whether that will happen or not I don't know but I sincerely hope we can continue the legacy of long distance trail running events on the South Downs Way.