Back in 2011 this was our first event, held alongside marathon and 50 mile options, on an out and back course to Knockholt Pound and return. Little has changed in the interim with the exception of the course extending now as a point to point all the way to Wye in Kent, rather than returning to Farnham. And the fact that we had 37 finishers in that first race. 3 of them started again this weekend. We also welcomed back 114 returning Centurion Runners and 89 volunteers, of which 57 had either run or volunteered with us before, exemplifying the level of community we are lucky to have at our events.
This route is a hard one. Probably our hardest. The long sweeping sections of faster flatter running are interrupted all too frequently by sections of twists and turns on rutted trail and various flights of steps up and down steeper hills which can zap a runners energy at whatever stage they are reached.
This year we would have 180 starters. At runner briefing 0530 on Saturday morning, we went through the course conditions but crucially also the likely weather forecast. Much like the TP100 in 2012, it was going to be a race of two halves, split unevenly by the conditions.
At 0600 the runners began their journey, in fair temperatures and dry, sunny weather which made for some easier early progress. The benchmark of the race pace at this event is always at Box Hill, mile 24. This brings to an end one of the easier sections of the course. Ed Catmur, returning to retain his 2013 crown, was just 4 minutes down on his 2013 CR split, with Dave Ross running alongside. As Box Hill and Reigate Hill came and went, Ed and Dave traded the lead as Ed is wont to do in our 100s. Usually, he comes out on top….
As the race rolled on to Wrotham at mile 60 and Holly Hill mile 66, Dave started to pull away a little and we were wondering if one of the UK’s most prolific marathoners was going to run away to his first 100 mile win. Certainly Dave has taken his running to the next level this year and thoroughly deserves results from the effort he always puts in. Emerging to Bluebell Hill almost out of nowhere however, Duncan Oakes took control of the race, blazing past Dave at a pace Dave was unable to match.
Duncan is no stranger to ultras and he is one tough cookie. Last year, his 27:57 at UTMB showed just what a class act he is, alongside 2 consecutive second places at UTSW. The out of nowhere comment, leads on from the fact that Duncan had finished Lakeland just 2 weeks before the NDW100, in 7th overall. Somehow he had found the legs to kick on from that and start to drop the hammer at mile 75 just 14 days on.
He never looked back. Through the final 4 check points he put a further 41 minutes in to Dave and ran away with the win in a superb 17:04. Dave held on for a second, one better than his 3rd at the SDW100 and completed number 3 in his quest for the Grand Slam. Should he finish the Winter 100 under the 30hr cut off and at least 3hrs ahead of Jeremy Isaac, he is now guaranteed the overall Grand Slam record. Jeremy’s first 100 was here last year. He ran one of the smartest days of the race as he came past Ed to finish 3rd overall in 18:01. Ed faded in the final stages but in his typical gritty fashion, still pulled through to finish 4th in a time of 19:16.
In the ladies race, there was only one lady in it for much of the day. Wendy Shaw who has podiumed at more of our events than I can count, led Caroline Billis and Jenni Ball by 2 and 4 minutes respectively at Box Hill. By the half way mark, Caroline had slipped back out of contention, and Wendy’s lead over Jenni was up to 20 minutes. That lead stayed almost static right through to Detling, mile 82, with a gap of just 16 minutes at that point between the two. On route to Lenham, the weather started to come in, in a huge way. Wendy found herself soaked through and lost a lot of time as Jenni managed to hang on to her pace and forge past. In a heartbreaking end for Wendy, she made the incredibly tough decision to stop at mile 98.4, Dunn Street. A lesson for most ultra runners out there, Wendy knew to continue even the final 4 miles would put her in danger and made not just a smart decision but the only decision she could have made. Jenni went on to capture the win in a time of 21:54 to add to her 4th place at the NDW50 back in May. A superb debut 100.
Katharine Ganly ran a smart race, looking for her 3rd of 4 in the Grand Slam, getting stronger and stronger with each passing race and took 2nd overall, followed by Rosie Williams. Rosie dropped from the event last year so for her to gain a podium spot this time was both unexpected and an amazing way to cap off her race.
The first three men and women took home prize money put up by event sponsor Eventbrite for their hard work.
Most of the 180 strong field progressed well through the first day and on towards Wrotham at mile 60. Up until Wrotham’s closing at midnight, the weather was calm and almost ideal for good progress. The Met Office had warned all week of the remnants of Hurrican Bertha tracking towards the South East sometime over Sunday morning, and at almost exactly 1am on Sunday, the wind and rain picked up dramatically. The leaders were of course already done by this time, but for everyone else out on course the difficulty of the trail and the wet, windy weather was magnified significantly. Holly Hill caught the first of the weather closing at 0200. As the race wound it’s way east, so the storm caught up with it and by Bluebell Hill, the number of drops was climbing at an incredible rate. We lost 15% of the field at that check point alone. Almost all of the runners who made it through mile 75, made it to the finish. Few dropped at Detling, taking the shelter of the hall to get on some hot food and drink, change in to drop bag clothing and press onwards across one of the hardest sections of the course between miles 82 and 86.
The finishers began to increase in number as the race at the back of the pack began to take shape. The final runners aren’t racing each other, they are forming bands of brothers as they each fight for every bit of forward progress to stay ahead of the cut offs. At Lenham, mile 91, our final runners inside the cut offs made it through with 25 minutes to spare. Christian Kammer and Richard Townsend were done. Gloves were off, packs were off, they weren’t going on any longer. But a few minutes later, after some deep conversation between staff, volunteers and runners, they decided to see if they could yet do it. From experience of time there vs cut offs, I guessed they would make it with ten minutes to spare but gave them more of a chance than that. Behind them, three runners still on route for Lenham were beaten by the cuts in huge, valiant efforts getting them as far as 91.
On to Dunn Street mile 98.4 and just over 4 miles from the finish, we knew the runners through there needed 75 minutes to make it in. With 80 minutes to go till the final cut, Emiko Kawakami and 4 other runners cleared the check point with volunteers rushing around to get them on their way as quickly as possible. Then the waiting game began.
Passing Emiko at mile 101, she was running with her pacer through the last village, with total determination on her face.
At the level crossing just 400 metres from the finish, tensions were running high, when with just 11 minutes to go, 4 runners made it in. Richard and Christian had made it. I’m not sure if they could believe their fortune reversal. Between Detling and Lenham they had averaged 2.5mph and had given up all hope. From there on in they turned in an average almost twice that and finished the race with 29:52 on the clock. Emiko was next as she burst in to tears hugged by her crew at the finish. Finally, John Whittaker who had pulled out of the race injured on email on the Friday, but decided to give it a shot, made it over the line with just 5 minutes to spare. It’s worth noting too that Marketa Martins, who last year missed the cut by just 7 minutes at the finish, completed the race this year in a time of 28:01. Way to come back stronger 12 months on.
All in all 110 runners made it over the line from 180 starters, 61% overall and with 36 breaking 24hrs for the 100 MILES - ONE DAY buckle. 17 of the 18 remaining Grand Slammers completed the race, showing as always that if you can get through the first 2, your chances of finishing all 4 in one year are exponentially higher.
This race continues to be statistically the hardest of our 4 and I think the majority of this weekends runners would attest to that.
A couple of final runner highlights. This race saw Ken Fancett become the first runner to complete 1000 miles at our races, on route to his potential second Grand Slam. And Rob Young deserves a mention for his insane project which can be found here. He ran a marathon prior to the race, and then was shipped off after his sub 24 hr finish to the Salisbury 5-4-3-2-1 50km which he duly completed.
A 2 month break now before the Winter 100 and then the final event of the year with it’s own race date for the first time ever, the Piece of String Fun Run…..