8 May 12 by James Elson

South Downs Way: Self Supported Attempt

Things have been going well the last few weeks. A fortnight ago we had a great weekend away at the Highland Fling, then this past Sunday I was fortunate enough to be able to pace a coaching client of ours and a tremendous athlete - Tracey Horne, to a 3rd place finish at the Three Forts Marathon.

The South Downs Way was a boggy quagmire which slowed everybody down somewhat, but that's part of the fun. With my unbeatable combination of Montrail Mountain Masochists and Drymax socks I have suffered zero blisters during the past fortnight of significant mileage.

That is good news because this weekend, Neil Bryant and I are going to attempt to run from Eastbourne to Winchester on the South Downs Way.

I can't begin to describe how excited I am about this run. There is something so inherently appealing to me right now about leaving the watch and the world behind, setting off on an adventure which involves doing only something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other until we reach the other end. Nobody to count us in, no pressure to reach a certain point at a certain time and freedom to move uninterrupted and as a team over what I truly believe is the most outstanding trail in Southern England.

All in all the South Downs Way footpath is just over 100 miles in length. I would dearly love to reach the far side in one unbroken and continuous forward movement having relied on nothing other than ourselves and a few local shops on route.

Neil came up with the idea as part of his continued efforts on the trailblaze scheme. Just a few weeks ago he found himself at Exton, 88 miles in, forced to withdraw due to a confluence of circumstances out of his control. So he emailed me afterwards and asked if I wanted to have a crack at it with him. Yes I did.

Neil is fast becoming one of the most talented ultrarunners we've got. Not only have his 2012 results been fantastic, he is I believe the most prolific high performing ultrarunner in the UK right now. Can I think of anyone better equipped to be doing this with? I really can't.

Even as little as a year ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of dropping a run like this in to the calendar, especially so close to the big summer racing season. Since we've moved out of London and I've had more time to do things at my own pace, I've noticed my focus has changed a little. When I started running I quickly built up a tick list, as most runners seem to do, and started working through it one at a time. A good number of races off of that original list have been finished. A few are still to come, but whereas that was all I was in to 5 years ago, right now I'm just enjoying running for pure running sake. The goals have changed, in fact, with a lot of races packed in to a short period of time, I find myself resenting the calendar for not allowing me to get out on my usual local trails as much.

So this weekend is an experiment in so many ways. There are a lot of unanswered questions. Will we make it? Are we going to run out of food or water during any stretch, particularly overnight? How are we going to function as a team? How muddy is it really going to be? I can honestly say I haven't bothered to worry or even try to answer those questions. I don't see the point. This is probably the most simple task I've given myself in running terms this year. If you don't have to worry about logistics, what is there left to think about? If we don't make it, run out of food or water, get stuck in horrendous mud, it doesn't matter. It's all just part of the adventure. And if I find myself hankering for a finish line, well I'll only have to wait another 3 weeks to be standing in Durban on the other side of one.

Afterwards it will be back to the rigid structure of recovery, training, taper, race, repeat as I try and negotiate the hurdles of Comrades, The West Highland Way Race, UTMB and Spartathlon but if this summer goes well, I am left with just three of the original races I had listed out*. I hope this journey has a longer lasting impact on where I decide to take my running however....


* Incidentally the only races still left to run off of my original bucket list are: Hardrock, GUCR and the Iditarod Invitational.