This was one of the more epic weekends we’ve had at Centurion Running. Handling two races covering about 230 miles of trail and 103 runners spread up and down the countryside was hard work and required a big team to handle, but it turned out to be worth every ounce of energy. First, the Piece of String….
James Adams (co - RDs) blog posts on the event are here. You MUST read the relevant posts if you are at all interested in this event. In fact, just read his whole blog anyhow, it's worth it. The report below is a more factual approach from my perspective. James’ contain the creative line. That’s how we roll. It’s a good combination….
After the 2012 Piece of String, Adams and I wanted to up the ante a little, not on distance but on misery. On our regular Thursday night meetings in Welwyn Garden City (home of UK ultrarunning) we devised a plan to throw some rather larger curve balls in to this years race equation. We selected our 15 ‘valued idiots’ having made them go through the usual entry process of submitting an email and misery photo application, before applying for postal orders from the RSPCA as entry fees.
On Friday morning we met the 13 starters at Streatley, and James allowed Ian Brazier, late on payment, to select the string from his magical machine, in order to determine the course/ distance they’d all be running. We promptly dispatched them on leg 1 up the Thames Path, which turned out to be a 100 yard dash where they were herded unannounced on to a minibus. Some were shocked, some looked unfazed, but from a rowdy bus, the volume got lower and lower the further we drove down the M4 and away from our meeting point. After an hour and a half we made the turn off towards Bath and so predictions of our being headed to Wales or banking around to drop them on the Ridgeway, became predictions of running the Cotswold Way. Neither were right.
Instead, we took them to an industrial estate and gave them maps headed to Bristol and on to the coast. 4.5 miles down the road, Drew Sheffield, Claire Shelley and I interrupted their leisurely jog and turned them back on to the Kennett and Avon Canal. As this started here and ended up in Reading, one or two began to think ahead as to what might be happening….
Checkpoints managed by Nici Griffin and Justin Horrocks in Bath & Devizes, then Lee Briggs and Andrew Jordan in Avoncliff & Pewsey, saw the runners pass through the 50 mile marker and the 10 remaining were already well in to the first night of running, still headed east. Remembering that the race could end anywhere at anytime, Sam Robson led the way initially before Tim Landon began to stretch his legs in what was quite an impressive run to this point. Through the night pop up checkpoints manned by Jany Tsai & Rob Westaway, and Paul Ali and Paul Stout jumping in where required, led runners onwards and eastwards as far as Reading. Duncan Anderson met them there. Duncan volunteered only the week before the race for this spot at mile 92. His brief from me was ‘i’ll text you sometime late Friday and let you know where in the Berkshire area you need to be but it’ll be somewhere around 2am to 8am Saturday morning for an undicslosed amount of time’. His response ‘no problem, looking forward to it’. The volunteers are as crazy as the runners at this one.
James Adams kept pulling the strings with his creativity running wild whilst I tried to keep a handle on reality and reign his genius in to a remotely feasible race format, where we could at least ensure everyone wasn’t going to die. That combination has worked well until now and the ideas flowing for next year are ‘next level’.
At Reading, Tim Landon was beasting the course. 90+ miles in he was in danger of earning himself a buckle as we turned him towards Streatley. The most incredible part of this wasn’t Tim alone, but that 9 of the 13 were still going. James and I were quite frankly blown away by this. We didn’t actually have enough maps to hand out at Streatley we were so taken aback by the performances. By Streatley, mile 100 - 110ish, we had Tim out in front by almost 3 hours, Terrence Zengerink behind, Sam Robson, then a group of three including Rich Cranswick, Tom Forman and Steve Mcallister departing out on the next leg, up the Ridgeway. The last runner to this point Chris Edmonds missed the cut off by 15 minutes at 104 miles, but was otherwise fine.
Up the Ridgeway I got a call from Tim Landon who had fallen and needed evac. A cruel twist of fate having done so well. Dave Merrett drove off to find him, while James Adams and I had a meeting at HQ and went over the final logistics of the next phases as the runners became intermingled with the Winter 100 starters. After Sam Robson, the only returning finisher or starter from 2012, dropped, 6 runners all made it through the 120ish mile CP and were on their way up the Ridgeway towards Princes Risborough. Well in to the 2nd day and now night of running, Terrence arrived at the CP first. Behind him, Rich/ Steve/ Tom went off course and decided to call it a day, but again were surprisingly chipper and pragmatic about it all. Unphased by 120 miles of running? Yep, good enough for the Piece of String. As Terrence arrived he was handed another significant section of Ridgeway running by Adams. He didn’t know it, but this was the final test. Stop here and drop. Or take the next stage and be met just 100 metres up the trail with the finish line. DNFing 100 metres from the finish would be miserable, but then that was the point.
Terrence took the map and although hallucinating fairly badly, left that CP and less than a minute later, entered in to glory, going down in history as POS finisher number 3. Not far behind him and upbeat all day, night, day and night again, Benjamin Hall came in and faced the same decision. As Adams hid Terrence in the back of the car, something Terrence later described as acutely painful on 130+ mile legs, Ben too made the bold decision to go where only one had gone before, and finished the race.
Some of the best of this race was summed up by Terrence 24 hours later as he returned to ‘thank us’ after a nights sleep. He mentioned that he’d been hallucinating for much of the race about seeing James or I in a bush or in the trees ready to jump out and tell him to head somewhere else. I can only hope that this years entrants spend many nights dreaming about that happening, enough for it to fade and their wanting then to return next year to do it all again.
In 2012, torrential rains leading up to the race, wiped out half of the Thames Path and part of the Ridgeway sections of our course. This year the course received little rain in the fortnight before, and was largely dry, mud free and as fast as anyone could have hoped come race day.
In the pre-race preview, I singled Ed Catmur and Sharon Law out as the two favourites, both with long race pedigrees behind them. Ed in particular we knew could do something special on the right day, having blitzed the NDW100 in 15:44 for the win back in August and I’d adjusted our aid station opening times down for a 14:30 finish to allow for that possibility. It turned out to be just enough, for the first 10 hours….
90 runners toed the line and the first out and back to Little Wittenham north on the Thames Path and back to HQ was run at an insane pace. Ed made the run out (12 miles) in 1:24 and returned to us in 2:51 for sub 7 minute miling or 12 hour pace. As scary and unsustainable as that was he looked fresh. He also clearly didn’t care that he was running too fast. He was prepared to put himself on the line this day, something very few are brave enough to do at a 100 mile trail race.
Dave Ross came in 5 minutes later working harder, employing his usual all out approach. The first 25 runners or over a quarter of the field came in under 9 minute miling for that stretch and I tried to get some to calm down a little for fear of utter carnage later on. The conditions were absolutely perfect, 8 degrees, low sun, flat and dry, but somehow it didn’t seem likely that we’d have 25 sub 15 hour finishers. In the ladies race Charlotte Black down from the Shetland Islands looked comfortable in at 3:25 and up 9 minutes on Scottish 24hr record holder Sharon Law.
Out on to leg 2 up the Ridgeway to Swyncombe and back, the notorious Grims Ditch and some small rollers affected times for most, apart from Ed. In the mens race, he rocketed back to HQ reaching mile 50 in 6:30 on the dot. A time that most could only dream of for 50 miles and he genuinely didn’t have a bead of sweat on him. Too often it’s said of a front runner that they weren’t even trying but he wasn’t even trying. His lead by this point was 37 minutes over Matt Winn Smith who again looked supremely comfortable.
Ed’s strategy was clear. He had run a flawless 100 at the NDW100 and he was only interested in one thing, going as fast as he could over the distance knowing that if he failed, he failed. Too often, elite level runners drop out when finishing at below their target time or anticipated position don’t materialise when a day doesn’t go 100% to plan. In a 100 mile trail race, things are likely to derail slightly at some point and Ed took that gamble as do all eventual champions/ record breakers.
He motored on through the 100km mark in 8:38 and it was then that he began to come unstuck. Stomach issues which have plagued him before kicked in and he began to slow a little on the return to HQ at mile 75. With 10:45 on the clock it looked like sub 15 was out of reach but It takes massive guts and determination to run a 100 mile race with everything you’ve got, come up short and still take a win. I went out on to the course at mile 85 to see him and he was doubling over every so often with stomach problems, yet still holding a 10 minute mile pace. Ed is one tough dude. Although Matt Winn Smith made a huge dent in to his lead and at one point closed the gap to under 30 minutes, Ed is not a man who caves easy and he actually pulled back time during the final 12 miles to take the win in 16:04.
After he had finished shivering and convulsing on the floor a little as he does at every race, we chatted about his strategy and performance. He shrugged his shoulders and said ‘yep I went for it and it didn’t happen today, but it will next year’. I’m sure it will. With him entered in to the Grand Slam it is going to make for fascinating viewing.
Behind him, Matt Winn Smith ran a totally different race, consistent, controlled and comfortable, he picked up 2nd in 16:39 with a 9:59 average mile pace. 3rd went to Barry Miller who wins my award for most improved runner in 2013. Incredibly he was also a Grand Slammer who had a huge gap to make up on the 2 ahead of him in that overall race. He didn’t do enough to claw it all back but has shown huge potential for the future and huge heart to go with it.
In the ladies race, Sharon shadowed Charlotte Black for the first 50 miles, sitting anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes back. One benefit of the course format is that the out and backs allow runners to get accurate splits on the competition in front or behind. It’s also a source of huge encouragement and morale boosting as runners meet each other regularly on the trail. Sharon nipped in to the lead which was a minute at mile 75 and stretched her legs in the final 25 to record an 18:44 to win and crack the top 10 overall. Charlotte came in with a 19:51, followed in third by Grand Slammer Wendy Shaw in 20:51. Wendy has now podiumed at the last 5 Centurion 100 mile races. Consistent doesn’t come close to describing it. With plenty more to come from her those podiums may turn to wins.
In 2012 we set off 75 runners and welcomed 32 home in total. This year with 90 starters, we had 40 sub 24hr efforts and 69 finishers for a finish rate of 77%.
Amongst the 90 starters were 9 Grand Slam hopefuls and all 9 made it home again within the 30 hour cut off. In the end, Mark Fox secured the best cumulative time across the 4 x 100s and holds the new Centurion Grand Slam record of 83:32:17. Wendy Shaw took the ladies and 2nd overall with 85:56:32 and third was Barry Miller in 86:38:31. 9th finisher was the incredible Ann Bath in 117:27:03. She may have only had a scant 2 hours and 33 minutes to spare cumulatively over the 4 races, but I’d challenge that at 64, hers will be an Age Group Record that will stand for many years to come.
As the crew at HQ awaited the arrival of runners under the 30 hour cut, we began to get concerned that Jerry Smallwood, our final runner and stalwart of the UK ultrarunning community/ sweeper extraordinaire, would slip by the 30 hour limit with an agonisingly small margin. Dick Kearn steeled himself with a beer, everyone held their breath and to enormous relief, Jerry carried himself over the line in 29:56 allowing that crucial average 2 seconds per mile gap between an official finish and fastest ever non-official finish. He took home the rubber chicken as his prize but also the hearts of everyone at HQ there to witness it.
It’s been a wonderful year at our events and I feel incredibly blessed to be part of the community spirit that the volunteers and runners create at our races. With an exciting year ahead next year we’ll be preparing to go even better and look forward to many more records and epic performances from first to last as always.
An annual review will follow including our own selections for performances and runners of the year so stay tuned to the blog.
Sitting close to London, the NDW mirrors the South Downs Way, running from West to East across the country, from Farnham to Dover. The 100 starts at the far Western trail head and stops 102.6 miles east of there in the village of Wye, and is a tough event. Clearly, covering 100 miles on foot in one continuous movement (or close to) isn’t a straightforward proposition, but the North Downs Way is a much more difficult trail to negotiate than it may at first appear. The constant winding nature, changing underfoot conditions and short steep ascents/ descents all chop in to a runners rhythm and make it more technical than one might expect.
2012 was the first time we had held the event in this direction and we saw some strong efforts from 4 runners in particular, one of which was Ed Catmur who ran out eventual 3rd. Ed had also taken 2nd at the inaugural NDW50 in 2011. He returned to the 100 again this year with some strong early season results under his belt and with obvious knowledge of the trail. Over the years he’s won trail events of all distances against deep fields and runs his own race, hard off of the front. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
We had 156 starters register before our 0600 start time on Saturday. There seemed to be a more relaxed attitude amongst the runners than usual, perhaps as the forecast looked extremely favourable with cloudy but bright skies and a dry, fast trail to run. Temperatures were considerably lower than last year when many had struggled in the heat.
At the first checkpoint, Puttenham mile 6.7, Ed was out in front, slightly ahead of a pack of three moving together including Anthony Forsyth and Mark Perkins (SDW50 champ) both running their first 100 mile race. Nobody stopped and the pace was fast. First lady through CP1 by some margin was Gemma Carter, heavily taped up but moving well, followed by Wendy Shaw and Helen Smith running their usual solid well paced early efforts.
At CP2 St. Marthas on the Hill (12.5) Ed maintained his lead of a couple of minutes, Anthony and Mark in together shortly after with what emerged to be three very different race approaches. Ed was running uncrewed, taking his time through every checkpoint employing haste but not speed before pushing on and thanking volunteers. Anthony had a sizeable, finely tuned crew and didn’t stop at all, with water carriers running with him as he gave instructions. Mark looked cool, calm and relaxed with a beaming smile as he leant less often on his crew of 2. It was amazing to see three such different approaches, all admirable in their own way.
Already the rest of the pack were quite a significant distance back of the front three. The ladies field on the other hand were well placed and close together. Everyone made it as far as St. Martha’s with our first drop there.
On to Box Hill at Mile 24 and Ed’s split was 3:12, 4 minutes off of Craig Holgates record NDW50 split. Ed concurred with my suggestion he was moving a little too fast, even for him and took his time to refuel. Anthony roared straight through exactly 5 minutes behind with Mark still with him. Dave Ross, Toby Froschauer and Richard La Cock were all moving very well a few minutes back again, Dave completely fired up on endorphins and loving every minute of it, bear hugging people at the aid station.
On through Reigate Hill and Caterham View Point towards Botley Hill the only change was that Anthony began to leave Mark trailing just a few minutes back and the front two began to extend their lead over everyone else. We awaited their arrival just after the steep climb alongside the Titsey Estate and to our surprise it was Anthony who emerged in to CP6 first, running straight through to meet his crew down the line, as Ed emerged just 30 seconds back.
Knockholt Pound and the 50 mile point with the indoor major halfway aid station fired up and ready to go, pizza, pasta, homemade cakes and a host of other goodies out on display, all completely ignored by the front two dueling it out blow for blow. Ed arrived first, stopped and took a good few minutes inside. Anthony fired past again dropping his bottle and issuing orders at his slightly nervous looking crew, saving every ounce of energy for the race and subsequently leaving first. Clearly this was shaping up to be something special.
Piece of String co RD James Adams making light work of Box Hill.
There was absolutely nothing to choose between either runner all the way until Detling aid station at mile 82. The lead was occasionally traded but mostly Ed lost crucial minutes refuelling whilst Anthony running very slightly slower made them up on account of his excellent crewing plan.
Charlie Cain our landlord at Saddlescombe Farm SDW aid station, moving well in the early stages.
Anthony stated after the event that it was just past Detling that he felt the first significant gap really opened up, as Ed made lighter work of the more technical section between mile 82 and 86. Through Hollingbourne and on to Lenham Ed stretched the lead slightly and by the time he hit the mile 91 aid station he had a 10 minute advantage over Anthony. Of course, that lead would mean nothing if he had even 2 bad miles at this stage, the pressure was on and it was going to make for an incredible finish. He maintained his advantage through the final CP at mile 98.6 and opened up in the final few miles. He was running like he’d just started as he hit the road in Wye, crossing the finish line in a time of 15:44:39.
Ed Catmur receives his winners trophy and two above, running strong on the trails.
Ed’s performance here shouldn’t be underestimated. I had anticipated that the race would be fast but that a few contenders would be in it to the last, the course record likely to go in better conditions, but sub 17 would be an excellent day. I couldn’t ever have predicted that Ed would turn out the second fastest time we’ve ever had at a Centurion event, on what I consider to be the toughest course of the 4, albeit marginally over the SDW. I don’t think that many other British runners home or abroad would have significantly bettered that time, he didn’t ever falter.
Toby Froschauer surpised by a visit from his father at the finish. Toby is our new Downs Double record holder.
Of course, one clearly significant factor was that he was pushed all the way. Anthony, coming in to his first 100, made the race what it was. With the two of them dueling it out, both were pushed to their absolute limits and it was a joy to see a 100 miler raced with such guts and determination by two class act runners, right from the gun. Anthony lost a little more time in the final few miles and crossed the line in a very emotional 16:03:47, giving 19 minutes away to Ed. On any other day he might have won the race by a huge margin. His approach in training went against the grain of our previous 100 mile winners, as he clocked massive mileage which in most eyes would have been counter productive, but as he explained at the finish, he believes that hard work makes up for a lack of talent (obviously not lacking!) and that is where his dedication pays off. The outpouring of emotion at the finish spoke of a man who had dedicated a vast amount of time and energy into grafting the best possible performance he was capable of, a great example of what hard work and tremendous dedication can return.
Anthony Forsyth makes his dream a reality after months of hard work.
Mark also had an incredibly debut 100 miler, with major stomach issues and vomiting from before the 50 mile point, he rallied and fought all day to record 3rd place in 17:45:48. Dave Ross got close and Mark could undoubtedly feel the pressure from behind but he dug deep and held off the late challenge to cement his place on the podium. Similar to Anthony, with this experience behind him he will be one to watch for the future.
4th home was the strong man of UK marathoning Dave Ross, followed by crowd favourite Toby Froschauer who, much like Mark, smiled from ear to ear from start to finish. Just after Toby finished and disappeared, so did our finish line, by two opportunist thieves who kindly decided to remove our feather flags and LED lights from the finish area. Apologies to all remaining 92 runners who were thus greeted by a sorry looking flag as our finishing line!!!!
The ladies race was a very different affair with the lead changing hands many times throughout the day. Helen Smith started strongest and stayed out front for much of Saturday, with a 15 minute lead at Knockholt mile 50, over Mary Heald. Wendy Shaw sat third just a few minutes back on a day when things were not going to plan and many would have dropped, Wendy gutted it out for 102 miles for her fourth consecutive podium at a Centurion 100, something which may perhaps never be repeated and a streak she will hope to continue. Helen’s day came unstuck between mile 55 and 65, a longer stop causing her to drop out of the top 3 and making way for Leila Rose to come past. The 1,2,3 was maintained from there on in, with Mary forging ahead the strongest of the day to finish in 22:40, astounded that she had walked away with the win. Mary was our last drop of the Winter 100 in 2012, on the final out and back. She decided that to make amends, she’d enter the Slam and do it right. She has gotten stronger with every passing race and it has been a joy to watch her improve over the past 8 months. Leila was our second to last finisher in 2012, and has trained for this race for 12 months since. She poured all of her heart and soul into preparing to return for a sub 24 hour finish and achieved it with 13 minutes to spare and picked up second overall in the process.
Grand Slammer Mary Heald picks up her first win.
13 runners started out the day with the hope of finishing their 3rd Centurion 100 of 2013, on route to the Grand Slam, all 4 x 100s in one calendar year. In the end just 9 made it home, from a total of 22 with such ambitions at the outset of 2013, the attrition rate has been typically high. Those still in the hunt for the giant buckle include some remarkable stories from fastest to ‘most conservative’ and the updated list of 2013 Slammers can be found here. Wendy Shaw has bagged 2nd, 3rd and 2nd respectively in the 3 races to date, whilst Jack Mortassagne has managed his finishing times just under the cut offs and with the precision of a man with over 25 Comrades finishes behind him. Ann Bath, I hope she won’t mind me saying, is a miracle story much in the trend of Ken Fancett, last years champ at 62. Ann is the same age and has battled through all 3 so far, including additional 100 mile runs at 24hr events also within this calendar year. She will go on to become our oldest official slammer at the Winter 100.
All in all of 156 starters, 97 finished within the 30 hour cut off for a finish rate of 63%. Our final runner out on course, Marketa Martins, made the cut off at mile 98.6 with 26 minutes to spare, but with incredibly painful blisters she made it home in 30:07 just 7 minutes past the final cut. She was one of many who gave their all, but for whom that official finish remained elusive. There is always another event and we’re honoured to be able to meet the incredible group of people that show up to run these events in the full 30 hours, or just half of that.
The final words as always, must go to our incredible volunteers. It’s something that I mention every time, but it simply isn’t possible to put ultra distance races on without a large number of extremely selfless, patient, hardworking and competent volunteers who give up their time and energy to give something back to the rest of the running community and allow other runners to achieve their dreams. Every one of our finishers commented on the quality of the course marking and the support at the aid stations for which the volunteers and race staff must take all the credit.
The 2013 Petzl South Downs Way 100 was epitomised by blazing fast times, perfect running conditions and an unrivalled level of camaraderie between 190 runners and 90 volunteers making it a most memorable weekend for all involved.
The idea of reversing the direction of the course to travel from West to East from the old SDWR route, was to allow runners a better chance of a following wind given that the downs more regularly experience a strong westerly blowing across the ridge. We couldn’t ever have envisaged quite what an effect that might have for this years event, but together with relatively cool temperatures and little to no rain, the times across the board exemplified just what a perfect set up for 100 mile running mother nature had allowed (about time I might add!!!!).
Friday night registration saw runners gather to camp out at Chilcomb which is a fantastic spot for a race start perched right on the SDW national trail itself. As darkness came and went, so did the heavy rain and we awoke to clearing skies under which to finalise the registration and briefing of 190 starters all with the dream of reaching Eastbourne on foot in under 30 hours.
6am and the runners were off, with 2 laps of the fields exiting out on the SDW, not without a little patient bunching towards the back of the pack. First out onto the downs was Robbie Britton, last out in his usual fashion, our good friend Tim Welch warming up by walking the first mile, Mr. Experience we call him.
The race at the front of the field can be summed up relatively simply. Robbie led from the gun in what can most accurately be described as a master class in 100 mile running. To those who know Robbie, the outcome came as no suprise. Throughout the last few years it’s been a great pleasure to watch him develop from a strong runner with a clear head and bags of confidence, in to an experienced 100 mile/ 24hr runner who is most definitely one of the top handful of UK 100 mile runners we have at the moment.
A small group formed on the 10 mile stretch to CP1, including Robbie, Sam Robson and Ollie Stoten all cruising along at sub 8 minute mile pace. A minute or so back a pack had formed including other pre-race favourites for the overall including leading ladies Jean Beaumont and Clare Mullenger.
At QECP Robbie held a small lead over the others as Sam Robson unfortunately dropped back and eventually out with a knee injury. And so the race rolled on throughout the morning through Harting Downs and on to Cocking mile 35 where Robbie’s lead was around 5 minutes overall again chased closely by Jean Beaumont and a group of pursuing guys.
This early in the race it can be tempting for lead runners to start to capitalise on a lead and push the pace whilst they feel fresh, but Robbie’s maturity started to pay dividends here as he resisted the urge to push on and held a steady effort level managing his nutrition and hydration with the help of his small crew of two. We started to take note of the split times from this point on and gradually as morning turned to afternoon, Robbie started to drop further and further under Ryan Browns CR pace from last year.
Robbie wasn’t alone in pushing ahead of 2012’s times however. The entire field seemed to be moving like a steam train through the Checkpoints, leaving cut offs trailing in their wake. It was the most incredible thing to watch unfold as volunteers began packing aid stations away literally hours ahead of schedule.
Robbie pushed on through the intermediate aid stations to reach the major ‘half-way’ point at Washington, mile 54, in a time of 7:53, averaging 8:45 per mile with around 6500ft of climb behind him. His lead at this point had grown to 21 minutes over second place overall. Perhaps not a surprise again to those that know her, but second place overall wasn’t a guy chasing Robbie down, it was Jean Beaumont. In third and fourth coming in together were the Italian pair Bortola Mora, a previous star of the CCC and Davide Grazielli, an accomplished 100 mile runner who had driven from his home in Italy, just the night before the race after the flights were cancelled in to the UK thanks to strikes. Quite an epic feat of endurance just to make the start line.
From 54 in to the finish, Robbie simply let his class shine as his pace barely dropped. At Ditchling Beacon he picked up his pacer and fellow Centurion Ultrarunning Team member Paul Navesey who knows the downs as well as any other and they began pushing on through the remaining CPs towards Eastbourne. Much of the longer uphill drags were hiked hard but that time was made up as Robbie completely destroyed any downhills at borderline flat out effort. Out front, the aid stations were set up early in order to be ready in time for Robbie as his anticipated finish time dropped in to the 15’s. As he passed through Jevington with 4 miles to go, the lead was almost an hour and rather than letting up, Robbie simply turned on the afterburners to hit the track and cross the finish line in a time of 15:43:53 or 9:26 per mile for 100 miles with 12,600 feet of climb. He took home a cheque for £500 from race sponsor Petzl as a result. This performance was probably Robbie’s best to date, but that is really saying something when you consider that he recently placed in the top 20 at the World 24hr Champs with a distance of 239.008km. His time gave him a margin of 1 hour and 21 minutes under Ryans Course Record. Quite a future this man has ahead at aged 26.
The only thing that could perhaps shift any attention from Robbie’s result was an equally incredible story building behind him. Jean Beaumont won our inaugural Winter 100 in 2012 and looked untroubled by fairly horrendous conditions. She was perhaps the only person who looked as strong as Robbie throughout during the SDW100. Jean has raced 3 x 100 milers to date, and has 3 course records to her name. Her total focus on the task at hand was evident from the minute she left the fields at Chilcomb, to the minute she stepped on to the track. Nothing was going to stop her. Jean held 2nd overall for much of the day, trading places only towards the end with Davide Grazielle who went on to 2nd overall in a time of 16:39:39, just under 10 minute mile pace. Jean was next on to the track and came in for 3rd overall in 16:56:38, again netting herself the £500 female winners prize. Much like Robbie she led from wire to wire and took a massive 2 hours and 47 minutes off of the Course Record. Jean trains her own way and clocks on average around 40 miles per week. Quite the wake up call to the idea of quality being as important as quality in a sport where it can be tempting to think it it necessary to clock massive mileage weeks in order to succeed.
On the mens side, Paul Bennett and Max Wilcocks ran a super race together step for step for 3rd overall sharing the spoils, also under the 2012 Course Record time. Second lady home was Clare Mullenger in 18:43, an hour under the 2012 womens CR and 3rd was taken by Wendy Shaw in 19:45. Wendy now leads the Grand Slam standings outright for 2013.
Reports from back down the course were equally as exciting as those at the front. A record low number of drops were recorded in the first half of the race and the last runner out on course cleared the Washington Checkpoint 2 a massive 2 and a half hours before the cut off passed. This wasn’t only unexpected, it was absolutely unprecedented. The wind speeds during the day had started to creep up and peaked at 28 mph directly assisting the direction of travel and enough to almost destroy the aid stations at Cocking mile 35 and Clayton Windmills mile 70, where volunteers were forced to adapt to manage resources and the runners through those sections. They did so faultlessly. It was clear that records were going to up and down the field.
In the end we welcomed 27 runners home under 20 hours or 15% of the field. 91 runners made it home inside 24 hours for the 100 MILES - ONE DAY buckle, a total of 48% of the field. By far and away the highest ever sub 24 hour finishing percentage we’ve ever had at our events and 21 more sub 20 hour runners than we had in 2012. Almost every previous 100 mile finisher crossing the line, PB’d at the distance. Inevitably the slow down towards the back of the pack continued as time wore on but as always in 100 mile racing, the very best stories are saved until last, when those final few go way beyond their limits to make their dream of running 100 miles come true. With an hour to go we had 129 runners home and 13 more out on course stretching for that finish line under the 30 hour cut off. Our last runner Dianne Aldrit made it across the line in 29:50 meaning all 13 made it home for 142 finishers out of 190 starters - a 75% finisher rate, again our highest ever by over 10%. 12 Grand Slammers started the race and 12 made it home, moving on now to the NDW100 with half of the 400 miles behind them. Whatever you say about the whether, every runner still had to run the distance and 100 miles is really quite some distance.
What can be said in summary? 15 aid stations manned by 90 supporting volunteers, a course exceptionally well marked by our marking team and the perfect running conditions with a fantastic tail wind made this one incredible weekend.
Our huge thanks to Petzl & Lyon Equipment who not only supported this event with prize money but also gave up their time to staff the start and finish lines as well as the Housedean Aid Station open through the night at mile 76. Support for UK ultrarunning is growing. It’s very much our intention to help the best we have continue to develop and race against one another in both the male and female fields whilst never losing sight of the fact that the challenge of 100 mile racing is the distance. Those making the finish in 29:59 are as incredible as those reaching it in half of that time. Petzl and Lyon helped us to give us that extra push this past weekend.
The race will be back weekend of 14th-15th June 2014 with registration details to follow in due course.
Final thanks once again to our volunteers who as always gave their time and selfless support to help runners achieve their goal of covering 100 miles non-stop and on foot.
This past weekend saw the 3rd annual North Downs Way 50 take place. Starting out in Farnham, Surrey, runners would make their way from the NDW western trailhead, to Knockholt Pound in Kent, 50 miles further east. During the past two editions of the race, runners had been treated to good weather and fast conditions, but with a slightly overcast day and cool but not cold temperatures, 2013 race day was set up for some very fast times. We couldn’t have anticipated just how fast however.
Both the mens and womens fields were full of talented athletes and the course records looked under threat from the off.
Puttenham, mile 6.7, is always a frenetic experience for the volunteers and as 152 runners came marauding through at pace, it was clear that there would be some carnage later on as a result of early efforts. In the lead pack of 4 men around a minute clear were Craig Holgate and Dan Afshar, two of the pre-race favourites, but with the leading ladies Emily Canvin and Mary Grace Spalton just a minute behind.
The first half of the race is on less rugged terrain with considerably less climbing than the second portion. On through checkpoint 2 at St. Marthas with the sandy climb up to the church, through Ranmore Common and eventually down the winding descent through Denbies Vineyard in to the Stepping Stones Car Park, Craig held a slender lead over the rest of the field and didn’t pause for breath as he began the climb up the western flank of Box Hill. His time of 3:08 through that Checkpoint (mile 24) was 13 minutes ahead of CR pace at that point and frankly he looked completely untroubled. Dan Afshar followed just 3 minutes down before a long line of runners all between 3:20 and 3:30 including both of the leading ladies looking strong and composed.
The 7 mile section between Box Hill and Reigate Hill is where the race always starts to open out. The climb up Box Hill, various sections of stair descents and ascents as well as the climb up Reigate Hill break the runners’ rhythms and can be exceptionally hard going in hot conditions. Craig was first to emerge at Reigate and with Dan fading, had pulled out a 17 minute lead over his nearest rivals, Doug Murray and Matt Winn Smith who came in together. On to Caterham Hill and as per the Thames Path 100 in 2012, aid station crews were being warned to make sure they were open ahead of schedule for Craigs anticipated arrival. Mile 38 and Craig emerged in 4:59, and a 30 minute lead. It had become a battle of Craig vs the clock, it was just a question of how far under the course record of 7:22 he would go. Meanwhile the ladies record was being put into question by an even greater margin. Emily Canvin leading through mile 38 in 5:38, a 13 minute lead over second placed Mary Grace.
Craig kept up his effort level and began to look as though he was at least trying as he ran through the final checkpoint, before making his way onto the finishing ramp with ease, eventually crossing the line in 6:47:19 to go 35 minutes under the course record. The race has around 5000ft of climb over 50.8 miles bringing Craigs average pace out at almost exactly 8 minute miling. His effort is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding we have seen in the UK this year so far. Doug Murray coming off of the back of a very strong SDW50 as well as the Marlborough Downs 33 mile the weekend before, managed to hold off Matt Winn Smith, for 2nd in 7:26, Matt coming home in 3rd in 7:45.
3 more runners broke the 8 hour barrier including multiple Centurion event veterans Nick Greene and Stu Blofeld, but most notably Emily Canvin. After winning the inaugural South Downs Way 50, Emily took home her second trophy in as many months with an astonishing 7:49 for 5th overall, wiping 20 minutes of Alice Hectors NDW100 split, our best ladies time for those 50 miles to date. Mary Grace Spalton also enjoyed a superb race coming home 2nd in 8:10 and Susan McCartney took home 3rd in 8:19:57 giving her male counterparts a lesson in pacing as she moved from 27th at Box Hill, to 12th overall at the finish. It is absolutely wonderful to see the level of female competition rising so quickly both at our own races and across the UK ultrarunning scene.
The day began with 152 starters, and 152 runners made it as far as Box Hill at mile 24. We usually experience at least a 5% drop rate before CP3 so to see every runner make it that far was fantastic. 66 runners made it to the finish inside of 10hrs and a total of 138 finished under the 13:30 cut off for a finish rate of 91%, the highest ever at one of our events and with average times around an hour faster than we’d expected across the board.
As runners began to filter in through hours 10, 11 and 12, the crowd were treated to a proposal from runner Andy Pumphrey to his loved one as he crossed the finish line. This was the second time this has happened at one of our events, so currently we’re averaging one engagement for every 2 races!
As always we were treated to a nail biting finish as the final runners Catherine Marriott, Alan Keen and Mark Griffiths remained out on course past the 13 hour mark. Catherine had only just made the cut off at Botley Hill the final CP and we knew things would be tight. Seeing headlamps bobbing along the trail behind the finishing field indicating around a half a mile to go, it was once again going to come down to a minute here or there as to whether they would make it in time. Mark arrived first, having completed the entire race in Luna Sandals. Catherine arrived next, accompanied by our sweeper Mike Sartorius who swept the entire 50 miles of the race, something that is very much more difficult than it may sound. Finally, Alan arrived just a minute later as he crested the ramp to cross the line in 13:27:42, with just 2 minutes and 18 seconds to spare.
65 volunteers gave up all day Saturday to help runners achieve their goals. We’d like to thank each and every one of them for everything they gave to get the race working safely and smoothly and as is always the case, going above and beyond in so many ways. Runners were treated to homemade goodies at various checkpoints, unwavering support and dedication and hot food and drinks at the finish after a hard day on the trails.
The South Downs Way 50 was the only new addition to our race calendar for 2013. The SDW remains my favourite UK trail and the intention was to create a race out of the eastern end of that route, giving runners the opportunity to see what I believe to be the best parts of the trail, as well as providing the SDW100 runners a chance to run th last 45 miles of the course, supported, prior to the longer event in June.
The runners gathered for registration in bright sunshine down in Worthing, as the weather attempted to lull everybody in to a false sense of security. The forecast for race morning and the following day, were bright sunshine with light breeze.
The weather for Saturday afternoon and evening was however forecast to be wet, very windy, bringing with it low visibility up on the ridge due to the encroaching low cloud and mist and runners were warned of this at registration, many having come prepared after checking the forecast and pre-race briefing emailers. Kit check was carried out as usual and before the day was out the majority of runners had cause to employ almost every single piece of their kit.
The race began at 9:30am and as runners wound their way up to Chancontbury Ring, and down to the first aid station at Botolphs. Mark Perkins and Michael Buchi led the way arriving at the 11 mile mark in under 8 minute mile pace. Michael had travelled over from Swizerland from the race, a young runner but with some top results in mountain ultras I had hoped he would push the pace and was not to be disappointed. Closely behind followed Martin Rea, an Irish National 100km runner and Reece Ingram. The first three hours of the race were in the bright sunshine extending views out across the weald to the north and the coastline to the south. Conditions changed quite dramatically in a short space of time as the first spots of rain were felt around midday.
The runners pressed on through Saddlescombe Farm and began the section on to Housedean Farm and the marathon mark. Already we were getting drops, some struggling with past injuries and some with the sticky underfoot conditions and worsening weather. At Housedean, Michael Buchi arrived in the lead in 3:26. Mark, Martin and Reece followed him in to the marathon point, with Mark just three minutes back, all well under the 4 hour mark for some fine running. In the ladies race Edwina Sutton came through in 3:58 with Emily Canvin 12 minutes back and Sarah Morwood 22 minutes back respectively.
The weather had by this point turned nasty, with a headwind forcing runners backward as they continued their journeys east and on to Eastbourne. Volunteers and race staff fought to maintain order at the CPs, managing runner safety as job number one. The finish line team were set up at Eastbourne ready for the one lap of the track finish many had dreamed of seeing during their hard training for the event. Mark Perkins arrived first having made his move and held the lead from shortly after the Housedean CP, and made his victory lap to finish in a total time of 6:55:37, a stellar time in extremely difficult conditions. He was visibly cold at the end and expressed how rough conditions had been particularly on the tops.
Michael followed him in 7:08 considering all he had been through a gutsy display for sure. Martin Rea and Reece Ingram came around the track together for joint 3rd overall in 7:39:35. In the ladies race Edwina Sutton unfortunately dropped at Southease (mile 33) which left the door open for the ladies behind. Navigation in very low visibility conditions proved difficult at times and Emily Canvin was able to take advantage of her smooth path to the finish to win in 8:23:30 averaging just over 10 minute miles for 50 miles of rough trails/ weather and 4800ft of climb, a superb effort. Second place was claimed by Susie Casebourne in 8:48:52 with Sarah Morwood picking up third in 8:56:14 having gone wrong after the final CP where she had held the lead. Great running all around.
As the back markers left Southease at mile 33, Paul Navesey in control of much of the course marking late in the race and myself, drove up to Firle Beacon the midway point on route to Alfriston to ensure runner safety on the tops. Southease as the only outdoor CP in the last 5 CPs had wrestled with the shelter at times but had dealt flawlessly with everything that had been thrown at them. Visibility at the top was down to around 30 metres but each runner came through with a smile on their face and only one required the warmth of the car before continuing on.
The rain at the track continued to pound down with high winds necessitating the removal of the finish line gantry for safety reasons. As the hours ticked by the number of runners coming in to Alfriston suffering from the cold and wet was growing but the vast majority were able to gather themselves after warming up a little and press on through the last indoor haven at Jevington and on to the finish. The medical teams and volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure runners had what they needed to either complete their journey safely, or to simply get warm again.
Returning to the track the finishers were coming in thick and fast as hours 10 and 11 race time, rolled around. With a final cut off of 13.5 hours (10:30pm), runners needed to have departed Alfriston a little after 8pm in order to make the cut there, however one runner remained unaccounted for at the back of the pack. Our finish line staff and volunteers continued the supply of hot food and drinks to the runners who had pushed themselves all the way to the finish. Despite the conditions many had recorded very impressive times and the drop out level remained less than expected which said a lot for the determination of the field. In the end 124 out of 164 starters completed their journey for a finishing rate of 77%.
After communicating at length with the missing runner, a search and rescue operation was instigated and together with our race management team, the runner was recovered to safety before the day was out. Incidentally the runner was recovered on the course itself, re-inforcing to us the importance of the mandatory kit and course markings which we insist on at each event.
I'd like to extend an extra special thanks to our volunteers who would have gone home just as tired as many of the runners from working all weekend to ensure runner safety and enjoyment.
The event will be back in 2014, bigger and better and blessed with better weather I hope that it will become one of the most beautiful but challenging 50 milers we have here in the UK.
It's always difficult to sum up the experience of running, crewing or volunteering at a 100 miler. This was undoutbedly the most challenging week we've ever faced at Centurion. I was quite calm until Monday morning. At that point our careful eye on the river levels which had been in recession after one of the wettest years on record, was caught by the Henley River Cam which showed the levels beginning to rise over the path adjacent to the bridge.
To cut a long story short, the deluge over the weekend preceding the race had fallen on saturated ground and with nowhere for the water to drain, it simply ran off in to the river and caused the levels to spike in an alarmingly short space of time, from well below the banks, to spilling over the top in places almost like the taps had been left on in the bath. As we drove down to the river to spend the day on the course on the Tuesday, our hearts were in our mouths as we pulled up to various sections. Walton was ok, Wraysbury was ok, Windsor and even Cookham were still ok. Then we pulled in to Bourne End and walked down to the path to find a 200 metre section completely under water. All that could be seen of it were benches marooned as islands in the stream. Driving on up to Marlow things were ok again but at Henley and most alarmingly at Streatley and Wallingford, the Thames Path was under water.
The danger presented to runners of course has nothing to do with the depth of the water sitting on the path, but rather the inability to distinguish between the path and the bank of the river itself. During the event particularly at night, a runner unable to tell the two apart could easily step off in to deep water and be carried downstream. With the current as strong as it was in the river, anyone falling in would have been swept away in an instant. Consulation with the environment agency followed. Would the river continue to rise? If there was more rain, then yes. More rain was forecast every day between Tuesday and race day. At that point we reverted to replanning the race using our flood route/ back up course.
As a trail runner myself I've been subject to course changes and race cancellations over the years, both at home and abroad. The most important thing to me, is that should a course need to be changed due to a situation out of the control of the race organiser, that the race a. still be held as far as safety permits b. that that course remain the same distance as the original event and c. still take in as much of the original route as possible without the need for navigation (unless that be a stipulation of the initial event).
The 100 mile distance is unique. It is a huge round number and as far as we were concerned the distance would need to be upheld or we postponed the race. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday pouring over the maps looking for alternative link ups to miss out the sections of river we knew to be flooded, but our greatest fear remained nagging at us throughout, the possiblity that the river may rise during the course of the race, leaving runners stranded or trapped by rising water levels. Our course marker James Binks had been out on Sunday where the river had risen by 9 inches over the two hours he was out running the path north of Henley.
Due to the flooding immediately north of Cookham and the possibility of more dramatic flooding upstream of that point, we planned to restrict the course to the first 38 miles of the original route only and hold the race as a series of out and backs.
I left the house at 5am on Saturday morning and the truck lurched around the first corner in the thick and settling snow. Arriving in Richmond the snow was falling but not settling. We had no idea how many would show up to register in this weather. All told 164 souls arrived to run 100 miles in under 30 hours.
Just before the race start at 10am I scanned the field and saw many familiar faces. There were the front runners including amongst the ladies, Mimi Anderson who'd won the ladies event last year, and the Scottish 100 mile record holder Debbie Martin-Consani. There were the guys and girls shooting for the 100 mile One Day buckle, awarded to those completing the race in under 24 hours. And there were those at the back, to whom finishing was everything.
The Thames Path especially on the section of the trail this years race took place on, is pan flat, however the sitting water and mud on the course were in places severe which countered the effects of the faster course somewhat.
Early in the day reports came in of Martin Bacon, David Ross and Justin Montague all running hard out front, clearing the 11 mile CP in 1:23 and change, pursued by a chase group including many talented ultrarunners but similarly first time 100 milers including Luke and Rick Ashton (not related).
After a recent operation it wasn't to be Justin's day and he later dropped but Martin and Dave continued to forge a trail out ahead until Dave eventually began to pull away in typical fashion. As they came back through Windsor mile 82, the gaps were almost non-existent and within the space of 20 minutes we'd welcomed all 4 of those runners in and out together. For me the most solid of the group seemed to be Luke Ashton who had the outstanding attitude of genuinely not being overly concerned about his position, focusing only on getting to the finish line in his debut 100.
An hour later I received a call from Dave stating that he was borderline hypothermic and walking towards Cookham, at which point his wife Mel raced off to get him some warmer clothing. I was gutted for Dave as he had put so much in to the first 90 miles only to have it come undone as it so often can late in a 100. That left the door open for the other 3, we had no idea until the first runner appeared in to the growing lake over the path adjacent to the finish line, who that would be. It turned out to be Martin Bacon, who'd delved in to his wealth of 100 mile experience to push through and finally elevate himself from regular podium placer, to champion in a time of 18:10:53, thoroughly deserved and a tenacious performance from beginning to end. Just under 3 mintues later Luke Ashton came home in second place, followed 21 minutes after that by Rich Ashton to round out a 1,2,3 including 2 first time 100 milers. Dave Ross gutted out his finish, a superb effort under the circumstances and came home in 6th overall.
On the ladies side, Mimi Anderson the previous champion suffered with some issues early on and unfortunately dropped, leaving the door open for Debbie Martin Consani to push out alone at the front all day for the win in 19:19:20. Debs arrived at registration fairly late on and with her husband/ crew Marco in tow. The utlrarunning talent in the Martin-Consani family is something to behold. I first got a report on the race from the guys at Walton who mentioned that Debs was cruising along about 30th place and looking relaxed. What unfolded was a master class in pacing, determination and planning. Debs didn't stop at aid stations, and by that I mean she literally ran straight past us at mile 82 ensuring we got her number, not breaking stride and ploughing straight through the gigantic puddle under the railway arch leading out to the final out and back.
As she'd gone through the day her CP positions read: 37, 27, 11, 8, 6, 5 and my money was on the fact that she'd push the guys all the way. In the end she came home in 4th place overall in a time of 19:19. On a 103.8 mile course with sitting water and mud for vast stretches that is a mind blowing performance. Wendy Shaw ran a superb consistent race from beginning to end, elevating herself from regular sub 24 hr 100 miler to 2nd place finisher with a time of 20:58. Third was picked up by Ellen Cottom in 24:19, again a first time 100 miler.
There are so many incredible stories behind so many of the runners in an event like this that it becomes impossible to touch upon them all so I'll pick out just two that exemplified the overall event for me.
My own race felt tied to that of Jack Mortassagne and Clive Bugeja, from the week following the 2012 event. Our cut offs at that race had been staggered allowing a slowing pace towards the end. Both Clive and Jack had been captured by the particularly tight cut off at Benson, ending a 7 mile stretch which they both felt had stopped them from completing. I listened to their reasoning and made the big decision to bring in equal paced cut offs from the start allowing an average pace of 3.3mph from start to finish.
Both Clive and Jack were coming back for retribution and I was determined that they both finish. Alongside them were a group of other runners who had been stopped within 9 miles of the finish in 2012. My main focus on race weekend is ensuring I know where all runners are on course at all times. Most times I checked in with a closing aid station and asked who were the last runners through, I heard the same two numbers: 179 and 58. Jack and Clive. They weren't together, they weren't always last, they certainly weren't fast, but they were getting it done. As I waited in Windsor to close the 82 mile cut off, long after the first finishers had gone home, through came Clive and then through came Jack. They had an hour to spare at this point. They stoically got some hot food/ drink down, got ready and pressed ahead out of the aid station for the final 21 mile out and back. We drove off to Cookham to sweep the 92 mile aid station there and saw them both come through. Both were concerned about the cut off and had a right to be so, there was now a shrinking buffer between them and their ultimate goal, 30 minutes in Jacks' case and a little more in Clives. I head back to the finish with 90 minutes still to go on the clock. I both love and hate this part of the race. Seeing the emotion on the face of runners, crew and supporters upon crossing the finish line is the best part of the day. The reason we do it.
The worst part is the agonising count down to the final cut off, where there is that chance that someone will miss out by minutes or even mere seconds. As the final hour rolled around, there were 9 runners still out on course. At 29:20 on the clock, out from under the railway arch emerged Clive Bugeja. Thinking about the relief on Clives face as he realised he had finally shaken off that huge monkey of a DNF on his back from a year ago will put a smile on my face whenever I think back to it. The minutes continued to tick by and we welcomed the other finishers home, Ann Bath a world record holder at the Vet60 distance (104 miles in 24 hours), Dave Foxy Bayley avenging his DNF at the Graveyard 100 from just 3 weeks earlier, Spenser Lane ticking off the first of his planned 4 events for the Grand Slam this year, Traviss Wilcox running his 3rd 100 of the year already and Roger Davis all fulfilling their pre-race goals of finishing.
With 20 minutes to final cut I ran back down the course to try to encourage the final runners home in time to make the cut off. I got as far as the boat yard just before Windsor High Street where I found Jack running at an incredible clip, hotly pursued by our sweeper Jerry Smallwood. Jack looked utterly determined and focused, totally driven towards his goal and he didn't slow for anything, raising a high five as I informed him that he had it in the bag. We ran together the three of us through and up to that final puddle and through the railway arch to the finish line where he crossed in 29 hours 51 minutes and 26 seconds. Over 8 minutes to spare. As much as we put these events on for the elite guys and girls at the front, nothing will ever beat seeing the total joy on people's faces as they finish so close to the final cut off. Running for 30 hours with the constant looming threat of a cut off hanging over your head, that you might miss your finish after all of that time and effort in the months leading up to the race but especially during it and to finally rid yourself of all of that doubt in one beautiful moment. Nothing beats it.
All in all a total of 90 runners made it home under the 30 hour cut off for a finishing percentage of 55%.
The Thames Path will be back again in 2014, but we will look to change the date once again to better accomodate potential environmental conditions. Stay tuned over May/ June time for the launch of the next edition.
Finally a huge thank you to all of our volunteers, without whom the race simply wouldn't have been possible.