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.