In the lead up to the 2014 Petzl South Downs Way 100, the team behind the scenes had worked harder than ever to ensure the event laid on was as perfect as possible to create the best support and conditions possible for a fast race. The few days before this years event were hot and humid, but with a big thunderstorm which ended just prior to race start, the air cleared and a slightly cooler day and night presented themselves to the starting field of 239 runners.
That number made this our biggest ever 100, up from 217 at this years TP100. This was matched by the largest number of volunteers we’ve ever had out on course supporting those with the dream of reaching Eastbourne in under 30 hours.
Friday night saw the 3rd annual SDW kids 1 mile. And the record breaking weekend began there. Max Sydenham looked cool and calm during his first 0.5 mile loop and with 400 to go it looked like he could break the course record. With an outstanding sprint finish he crossed the line in 6:07 setting a new benchmark for the under 12s! 7 other runners toed the line, with one other particularly notable achievement, Spencer Chapman-Skill deciding that one medal wasn’t enough, did the double and ran the race twice, the second time 7 seconds quicker than the first! Our youngest finisher was Isla Hill in 9:47 aged just 4 years old. Stars in the making and I am very much looking forward to the day that one of our kids 1 mile finishers goes on to complete the SDW100 in full….
Lining up amongst the starting field were half a dozen internationals, a large cast of returning runners (some going for 3/3 SDW finishes to date) and those hoping to finish their first 100.
The half mile lap of the field to begin was led by Stuart Mills. Stuart was doing some sprint warm ups before the race and I had wondered why given that an easy lap of the field seemed to be the perfect way to get going, but I quickly saw why. It is not an overexaggeration to say that he led by almost a minute after the first 0.5 miles. His astonishing starting pace led to some disbelief amongst the crowd and lead runners behind him, but chatting to Stuart afterwards he made his plan clear.
As an analytical runner, Stuart has succeeded in running at the very top of both Ironman and Ultra Running for a career most could only dream of. He knew on paper that Mark Perkins was capable of a much faster finish than he was, so made his move early in an aim to put so much time in to Mark that he wouldn’t be able to close the gap, or would be defeated psychologically by it. He hung out at what I like to call ‘suicide pace’ for the first 22 miles, reaching QECP and the first major land mark in the race in 2:43. For the purposes of reference I’ll mention here that Robbie Britton’s course record from 2013, was 15:43. Stuart was 26 minutes under Robbie’s split through here. The thing was, Mark wasn’t that far behind! He came through in 2:52 and looked very comfy. Richard La Cock, this years NDW50 winner also looked comfy in 2:57. All three were under the fastest times we’ve ever seen for that section of the course. Through Hartin Downs Stuarts gap was reduced by Mark, and as they reached Cocking aid station at mile 35, Mark crept past and made 2 minutes whilst Stuart ate and drank at the CP.
From there on it was a different kind of race: Mark Perkins vs the clock. Each time I saw him he seemed fine. At the NDW100 last year he struggled, reaching half way suffering cramps and other issues which dramatically slowed him. This time he had his family as crew once again, operating at an incredible level of efficiency, giving him the mental and physical lift each time. And with over a marathon to go he picked up Sarah, his wife, as a pacer, a lady who enjoyed 2nd place at the UK 100km champs this year. Everything was faling in to place as he went further and further ahead of course record splits, by almost a minute a mile, averaging in the low 8s. 46 minutes at 54 miles, 64 minutes at 70 miles. Were we finally going to see someone go under 15hrs at one of our 100s? I kept waiting for the slow down, but it never came. He was in pain leaving 91 with sore feet and feeling the hurt, but then again that’s fairly typical for 91 downland miles!!! As he came off of the trig point with less than 3 miles to go we braced ourselves for one of the most astonishing performances in a UK ultra for many many years.
Mark crossed the line in 14:03:54. The first thing I told him was his time and said ‘15:03?’. I had to check the watch again before I could confirm that he had in fact broken the course record by 100 minutes exactly and won in an average pace of 8:26 per mile.
I don’t know what the record for a 100 mile trail race on UK soil, is. I imagine we would need to have the course ratified officially for distance, something that is almost impossible for a trail race, but whatever the case I would hazard a guess that Mark’s is either the fastest or one of the few fastest ever run on UK soil. A truly incredible athletic achievement and one that no one could have predicted.
Behind him, Richard La Cock also ran an astonishing race, using his own experience from 2 NDW100s and two super 50 mile efforts this year, to convert in to a 15:11 finish, which also went 32 minutes under the course record. A bit like Western in 2010 when Anton smashed the record but was beaten by Geoff, Richard may feel hard done by but was accordingly delghted and amazed with his own time.
Third place was picked up by the indomitable David Ross who is in the shape of his life, that’s saying something for a man who has 300 marathons, 10 Comrades and a number of 100 mile finishes to his name. He dipped under 16 hours for his first sub 17 finish and his first podium.
Behind him, Duncan Oakes, winner of this years Classi Quarter came over the line in 16:26 smiling from ear to ear. A truly talented runner with a superb attitude to the sport.
And then came Stuart Mills. I’m personally delighted he chose to race this event this year. Whatever anyone may say about his pacing, he races that way for a reason. It’s always tactical, he’s always thinking, and whilst some people might criticise that, what better way to silence those people than by winning as he did at least years Lakeland 100 in the same way. This time it didn’t work out and he had a very long hard day (for him) out on course. But he didn’t jack it in, he hung his head and gritted his teeth and jogged on to the track with perfect form as always and finished up in 5th in 16:33. Then sat around joking and watching the football on the track TVs!
The male race was a runaway from Mark. The ladies race had a similarly strong line up, but was led from start to finish by Sarah Moorwood. Sarah has so far run 3 100 milers, and won them all. At the TP100 she suffered in the final 50 and slipped a long way back of her potential finishing time. She’d learned a lot there and knew she had been a little lucky to hold on to the lead to the finish. This time she got it almost bang on. The threat from the trio of Team GB girls behind her, Emily Gelder, Karen Hathaway and Sharon Law, didn’t seem to phase her and she was able to convert a strong start in to a stunning 17:36 for 9th overall. Our second fastest ever female 100 mile finish behind Jean Beaumonts astonishing 16:54.
Sharon Law, winner of 2013’s Winter 100, ran a super solid race throughout. Admittedly not feeling like her best at any point she showed true class in staying strong and consistent from end to end with an 18:51 for second. Karen and Emily earned joint 3rd coming home together in 20:11.
Mark, Richard, Dave, Sarah, Sharon, Karen and Emily all walked away with prize money from this years sponsor title sponsor Petzl. We’re extremely grateful to them for helping us to attract the calibre of runner to the event which led to some superb racing and blazing fast times.
24 runners made it home under 20 hours, and a massive 90 made it in under 24hrs for the coveted 100 Miles - One Day belt buckle. Jay Mccardle entered the track with under 2 minutes to go to make the mark, and kicked hard down the back straight to finish with a massive 28 seconds to spare.
The warriors out fighting for their finishes within the cut offs were still a way back on course racing to fulfil their own dreams. It was a sobering thought, that when Mark finished, we still had runners between check points 6 (mile 42) and 7 (mile 50) making their way to Eastbourne.
The cut offs snared people at each point as the aid stations began to shut down, but not many. And something strange happened with our final runners, they began to get faster! Having shaved cut offs at many of the check points, runners began to make time back somehow, feeling that pull of the finish. Jimmy Hartwelll, final runner on course and within 5 minutes of the cut at one point eventually brought the race to a close in a time of 29:30. Our fastest ever final finisher.
All in all, 179 runners made it home, for a 75% finish rate. This race continues to bring out the fastest times from all sections of the field, and our highest finisher rates. Something to think about when considering this or the TP100 as the faster course.
A massive thank you as always to the incredible team of volunteers and indeed the management team for their exceptional dedication in allowing an event of this magnitude to run so well. And a final thanks to Petzl and Gu Energy for supporting us throughout the year.