This years SDW50 was a record breaking race for Centurion in many ways.
Going into race weekend, the management team and volunteers went into overdrive making sure that no detail was left to chance. We braced ourselves for the arrival of such a large crowd and were delighted to see so many familiar faces from the UK ultra scene, but also a host of new ones too. This event has the potential to be one of the most competitive, scenic and exciting trail 50s we have here in the UK and we definitely started to see that shine through this year.
As the runners lined up at the start, the elite guys and girls began to filter forward, wary of the narrow trail under a mile in to the course. Last years champion Mark Perkins, our two Centurion Team Runners Paul Navesey and Edwina Sutton, Paul Sargent and Rick Ashton all looking smiley and ready to give it a good go. Behind, a total of 315 runners all ready to get themselves to Eastbourne, 50 miles by foot in under the 13.5 hour cut off.
As the gun went at 0900 prompt, runners streamed past the crowds and away on to the trail, meeting the South Downs Way proper 4.6 miles in.
Heading to aid station 1, mile 11, the crew were anticipating Paul Navesey to be through at 1010, and 2 minutes behind schedule sure enough he appeared, followed a minute back by Rick, Paul Sargent from Burgess Hill Runners, and another minute back, Mark Perkins last years champ. Already a big gap had formed over the rest of the field and it seemed set to be a 4 horse race for the overall.
It wasn’t by chance that all 4 of these runners knew the course intimately. They had each spent hours recce-ing it, racing on it and learning it’s peaks and troughs. In the ladies race, the eventual top 3 ladies had done exactly the same. Clearly each of their hard work had paid off enormously.
Up and over the second hill fort at Devils Dyke, runners made their way down to Saddlescombe Farm CP2 at mile 16.6. the volunteer team there were sharing the aid station area with a holding area for ewe’s carrying triplets and were promptly rewarded with the spectacle of lambs being born literally adjacent to the aid station. Runners began streaming past, still led by Paul and Eddie respectively in both races, both with commanding leads even at this early stage.
Housedean Farm at mile 26.6 is a great mid way marker in the race. It comes at the end of one of the fastest sections of the course after the flat track from Jack and Jill windmills, all the way down to the A27 crossing. Paul was within a minute of his ETA there, screaming through the marathon mark in just over 3hrs and on track for his A goal of a sub 6 time. Mark Perkins had moved in to second and with his usual winning smile was making himself popular as always with everyone out on the course and running extremely well, set to obliterate his own record of 6:55 from 2013. Behind him Rick and Paul Sargent still looked strong though of the 4 Paul seemed to be working that little bit harder.
The week prior to the race we had been granted permission to migrate our Southease check point to the new South Downs YHA facilities right on the downs, and what a great venue it turned out to be. Friends, family and crew were there to assist the volunteers see the runners through this 34 mile point and kept a wonderful atmosphere going all day. Paul screamed through bang on 6hr schedule, Mark was 10 minutes behind exactly as he was at Housedean, and was met by his crew of father and his little girl, complained a little of cramp but still had a beaming smile.
Three of the lumpier climbs in the race come in the final 16 miles, and it’s on the climbs that Paul is at his strongest. Everyone seemed to pay a price - small or big - from the hot early pace, but Paul held his own and turned off the SDW with 2.8 miles to go in 5:50. He made his way down to the track and entered it with 6:10 on the clock. Yours truly had estimated a finish time of 6:11 exactly and with an 88 second final 400 split (that’s sub 6 minute pace), he crossed the line in 6:11:28.
The race for second was on with Rick Ashton closing in usual fashion and passing Mark Perkins with less than 10k to go.
As Rick turned on to the back straight of the track, Mark came in to the stadium, and eventually crossed the line just over a minute back over Rick’s 6:23. All three went well under Marks’ 2013 Course Record set in poor conditions. Interesting to note that in the men’s race, the top 5 runners average age was just 28, against an average entrant age of 40. A sign of the younger generation pushing the pace at the front perhaps….
In the ladies race, Eddie Sutton held a 13 minute lead over Sarah Perkins (3rd Placed Marks’ wife!) at mile 27, 34, 41 and the final aid station at Jevington. Amazingly consistent splits from both. Eddie turned off the SDW first and held strong to the finish running in a 7:09, with Sarah following in at 7:19 both over an hour under the 2013 CR of 8:22. Super running from both. Gemma Carter who had a very strong race in 3rd all the way held on to the final podium position in 7:32. Eddie still new to ultras now has two wins and two course records to show for 2014 so far. She has a very bright future ahead.
Out of a field of 315 starters, we ended up welcoming 301 across the finish line. A finish rate of 96% which is quite frankly exceptional. It was truly amazing to watch the interaction between runners and volunteers, friends, family, crew and pets along the way and great to see so many supporters at the finish line welcoming loved ones home.
Our final finisher Graham Kanna came off the downs looking like he may just miss the final cut off, but was brilliantly ushered by Mike Sartorius our mercurial sweeper who had covered all 50 miles to that point, to a final finish of 13:28, 2 minutes inside the final cut.
All in all this was a special day from the blazing times at the front, to the strongest finishes at the back and one where the ultra community as a whole seemed to swell together to make it an unforgettable experience for all involved.
The greatest thanks as always go to the volunteers, but also to the SDW National Park for allowing us to stage this event and our sponsors for this event, Gu and Orange Mud.