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.