(All Photos courtesy of Stuart March - see link left for full gallery)
Our eigth and final event of 2017, the second edition of the Wendover Woods 50 brought us a spectacular day in a whole host of ways.
The week leading up to the race had been wet and windy, but race morning dawned bright and icy cold with runners greeted to race registration by 0 degree temperatures.
242 runners joined us and got underway on their journey of five, ten mile loops around the trail network of Wendover Woods at 0800. The final cut off of 15 hours loomed large in the minds of many including some of the Grand Slammers coming in to this event with 150/150 miles completed so far in 2017. For four of our runners, Calvin Hemmings, James Bennett, Ian Lang and Tracey Watson, the day was about completing 8 out of 8 events with us in 2017 for the double Slam of 600 miles.
Up the front of the field, we welcomed some of the best runners of 2017 back, with a host of new faces who would go on to make it a classic race in both the mens and womens events.
For the men, Jon Ellis came in off of the back of winning the first three of our 50 milers this year, hoping to complete an unprecedented clean sweep. Ry Webb came in to this fourth event, with three podiums from the first three fifty milers of his slam.
Alongside these regular, incredibly consistent performers were notable new faces. Francis Bowen travelled from Iten in Kenya to take part in his first ultra. He is the fastest marathoner we've ever seen run an ultra in the UK and possibly any trail ultra anywhere - with a PB of 2:08. Who could guess what he might be capable of. Stuart Leaney the 50km Treadmill World Record Holder who had also had a good run out at the Mont Blanc Marathon earlier in the year seemed like he had potential but was also a big unknown trying his first ultra. Finally, Neil Kirby came in with huge results from 2016 but issues in 2017 which seemingly could be behind him after a good result at Beachy Head Marathon a few weeks before hand.
In the ladies field, Cat Simpson - course record holder at the GUCR - was making her debut in the Centurion Ultra Team yellow tee. Gemma Carter, winner of this years SDW50 was coming in off of the back of a great year with lots of very solid runs at the 50km distance. Amy White winner of this years Race to the King was running her first Centurion event and was clearly capable of pushing Cat and Gemma. Charley Jennings was also in contention after a second place at this years CW50 - and led the 50 mile Slam on course for a new ladies record across the four events. Her desire for a good run would also be huge.
From the start, all of the main mens protagonists ran loosely as a group. No doubt the idea of loops four and five and the 10,000ft of climb and descent, tempered most of the tempation to go hard right from the gun. Notably, Francis positioned himself behind of Jon and Neil as he got to know the course, get a feel for the shape of it and work out what might be feasible. He was clearly bitterly cold but also completely aerobically unchallenged by the effort. The same could not be said for some of those in the chase pack who were clearly pushing very hard early on. But most in control were certainly Jon, Neil, Stuart and Ry together with Francis. The first loop disappeared in around 1:22 with Stuart, Francis, Jon and Neil altogether.
As loop two began, Francis obviously felt some confidence to run off of the front a little and through the second go around he led the field by two minutes, with Stuart Leaney and Neil Kirby in second and third. Jon sat back a few minutes and looked like he could be struggling a little but it was still very early and as per 2016, loop three was to be crucial in the overall shape of the race.
Francis Bowen leads through Mile 15
Out on loop three, Francis had finally warmed up a bit and looked relieved that he could finally feel his feet. However although he emerged back at the end of that loop out in front by over two minutes, he immediately came in and sat down, complaining of sore toes. It seemed as though the trail shoes he was not used to wearing were causing discomfort and he was wary of damaging his body. He looked as fresh as he had at the start physically, but mentally he was immedately out of contention and dropped from the race there. Behind Francis, Neil Kirby also succumbed to the cramping issues he's suffered routinely this year and also had to drop.
That left Stuart Leaney out ahead of Jon in what now seemed to be a straight two way battle between the unknown Stuart, and Jon looking to make it four wins out of four. At the end of Loop four, Stuart still looked strong, took a few seconds to get sorted and pushed on, whereas Jon ran straight through the check point and out on to loop five. The gap was just six minutes. Out on that final loop, however, Stuart found pace and strength anew and flew down the trail to a resounding final sprint across the line in a time of 7:33:59, a new course record by 5 minutes. Jon slowing only significantly in the final 5 miles finished second in 7:49. Third place was taken by the ever consistent Ry Webb who now has four podium finishes to his name in 2017, in a time of 8:08.
Stuart Leaney strides down the final field to victory
Stuart throroughly deserved his victory and with this being his first ultra it will be exciting to watch his progress in the future. The 2:28 marathon pace he brought in translated well to the trails and hills. Jon has had the most exceptional year, with 3 of 4 victories and a second at the final race, it's possible we may never see such consistency again. Ry Webb also deserves credit for the way he has paced himself in each race and throughout the year.
Jon with an exceptional years medal haul. He also took home three trophies in 2017.
In the womens race, the battle was just as tight as the mens, if not closer at times. Loop 1 saw Amy White pushing hardest and she took a 90 second lead out on to loop two over Cat Simpson. Both Gemma and Charley were within two minutes of Cat. All four came in focused, wasting no time in taking what they needed and pushing straight out on to loop two.
Amy White leading the race early on
Cat overturned the 90 second defecit in to a 30 second advantage at the Hale Lane Check point half way around Loop two and now looked to build a lead from the front. In at the end of loop two, Cat had a minute over Amy and six over Gemma. Charley a further ten minutes back looked to be secure in her bid for a slam record but the win was down to the front three.
Cat Simpson negotiating a descent mid way through the loop
Throughout the final three loops, Cat very gradually extended her lead and out on to Loop four her advantage of eight minutes in a time of 6:57 left her tantalisingly close to her first Centurion Trophy and the course record.
Eventually running home in 8:57, Cat was just six minutes outside of Sam Amend's mark from 2016 but was good enough for the win. Amy came home in 9:11 for second and Gemma third in 9:28. Three absolutely fantastic runs.
Cat receiving her winners trophy from Vassos Alexander
Charley Jennings shattered the existing womens 50 mile Grand Slam record, followed by the ever consistent Sarah Cooke who has had a fine year for second in the Slam.
This race held our highest ever percentage of female runners - 21% of the registered field and that is fantastic to see. The level of racing made the womens race just as exciting as the mens race. Long may the trend continue of increasing women participant numbers in this sport.
The stories of the Slammers and the mid-back back runners were in many ways even more exciting and poignant than those at the sharp end of the field.
Darla Crispin came in off Loop 4 with just 7 minutes to get out on to Loop 5 in her quest for the Slam. Having been a regular runner of ours for many years, Darla battled through chemotherapy in 2016 and put herself in for the Slam as a way to get back to health and to prove to herself that she could be the runner post cancer that she had been before. The first three 50s were a huge undertaking, but she made her way to the finish of each, with 35, 20 and then 16 minutes respectively, to spare under each of the cut offs. She knew this would be tight but she would give it her all. She nearly didn't go out on the fifth loop, but she preferred to be beaten by the course giving everything she had rather than drop out and accept defeat. Out she went and fought valiantly all the way to Hale Lane at mile 45.5, where she missed the cut off by just two minutes. As heart breaking as that was, Darla came back to HQ and thanked everybody profusely for all of their help in getting her that far, for a wonderful year and with gratiutude for how far she had proved she could go. A total inspiration to everybody from a very special person.
With 15 minutes to go to the 15 hour final cut off, 9 runners were still out on course. They came trickling in until 14:49 elapsed at which point things went very quiet. One feature of the finish at this event is that the supporters and volunteers can see runners make the final 2-3 minute run around the perimeter of the field on trail before they climb the stile in to the final finish sprint over the line. With just 3 minutes to go and two runners still out on course, both of them Grand Slammers, we spotted the first lamp and just behind, the second. Staff, volunteers and most prominently Vassos Alexander who abandoned his post of handing out awards, made their way out to bring home these final two warriors.
Tim Cooke turned in to the field with 2 minutes to go and crossed the line in 14:59:04 to complete his Slam.
The final runner Jack Mortassagne is no stranger to a tight finish. Jack has been a long standing runner of ours and has 30 Comrades finishes to his name including one just 122 seconds inside the cut off. He was going to be much closer than that here. People who've witnessed him finish before will remember his signature sprint finish, be as he is a prop forward for his local rugby club let's just say you do not want to stand in this mans way when he can smell that finish line, he will give every ounce to get there. As he climbed the stile with less than a minute to go I was pretty sure he wouldn't make it, by about 10 seconds. I was wrong. With 16 seconds left to spare in his journey to the Grand Slam, he charged over the line in emphatic style. The most fantastic of moments to end a truly memorable season.
The final standings for the 2017 50 Mile Grand Slam can be found by clicking here.
Thank you to all of you, runners, volunteers, crews and supporters for making it a truly memorable one.
See you in April 2018 for the South Downs Way 50.
This years Autumn 100 was once again the final 100 of our season and happened to be our 25th all time 100 mile event. We were hoping for some fireworks from the runners, but from the outset it seemed that the weather might dampen them somewhat.
Through the week leading up to the race runners, volunteers and staff were all keeping regular tabs on Storm Brian brewing out in the Atlantic. The forecast was clearly low confidence as things veered from one extreme to another, but what was a constant was the forecast wind - sustained speeds throughout Saturday of 40mph+ with gusts of 50, remaining blustery through the night. Whilst the course was perfectly safe in running terms under such conditions, our outdoor check points would be impossible to pitch and so, as in 2012, we were forced to resort to bringing in extra Luton Box Vans to act as indoor sheltered spaces at the four outdoor check points. Everyone prepared also for heavy rains which would have made for very tough going indeed.
Race day dawned bright, sunny and breezy which took the edge off of things as 242 runners gathered in Goring for the four, 25 mile out and back spurs returning each time to HQ in Goring. The race got underway in typically enthusiastic fashion but the splits from the expected leaders were far more conservative than last year. it was a two horse race right from the off. James Stewart a Scottish ultrarunner was down for his first attempt at one of our races. As a GB 24hr team member and with a 13:39 100 mile under his belt at Rocky Raccoon 100 earlier this year, we were hoping he could recreate some magic here. Right with him from the start, Paul Maskell this years Arc of Attrition 100 course record holder and 2nd at the NDW100 in August.
James Stewart out in front on Leg One, just ahead of Paul Maskell
From the gun, the two were never more than a few minutes apart, running their own races they spent varying amounts of time in check points, the race seeming to ebb and flow between them. The first loop was completed in a shade under 3 hours for James and a shade over for Paul. At the end of leg 2/ 50 miles however, we were suprised to see Paul back in first in 6:36 elapsed with James 6 minutes back. James' stomach was causing distress but he seemed able to put that behind him as he closed the gap to just four minutes at the 100km mark out at Chain Hill. The nature of this race is that at the far point of each 25 mile out and back, runners have the opportunity to see and assess each other in passing. But Paul wasn't to be rattled and he ran in off of Leg 3 in to 75 miles with a 6 minute lead once again. It was by Whitchurch mile 79 however, that the gap had expanded significantly as James was to go on and lose his stomach a further 10 times on Leg 4, whilst Paul ran an extremely solid leg to come home in our second fastest ever time of 14:34. A superb run in challenging conditions no doubt helped by James pushing for 3/4 of the race.
Paul Maskell went on to win in 14:34
James gritted out Leg 4 to come home in 15:26 in a truly gutsy performance. Third place picked up by Peter Abraham, his debut 100 in a strong 15:57.
Fourth place went to Dan Masters in 16:24. Dan required a 17:34 or less to set a new overall Grand Slam record and so takes the honours there with a cumulative time of 68:45:23 for the four events. John Stocker from whom Dan took the record put in an extremely gutsy end of year after various issues to finish his second consecutive slam on top of the Canal Slam and Thames Ring.
John and family after his 2nd consecutive Slam
In the ladies race, it seemed to be a one horse race on paper with Mari Mauland over from Norway for her fourth and final race of her Grand Slam season looking for her third win of the four events. Mari led from the gun with over an hour on the rest of the field by the 50 mile mark and an eventual winning margin of two and a half hours. She took home her third trophy of the year but fell just short of Sally Fords 2015 Grand Slam record of 72:34 with a 73:11 cumulative time. An incredible year all the same.
Mari went on to her third win of 2017 and the Grand Slam title
Behind Mari, it was Centurion stalwart Wendy Shaw who picked up 2nd just underneath the 20 hour mark in what was her 17th Centurion 100 mile finish. A female record in itself. Third place went to Emma Hogben in 20:41.
Wendy Shaw on route to second in her 17th Centurion 100 mile finish
178 finishers crossed the line out of our 242 starters for a finish rate of 74%, above average for our events. Much of that was down to underfoot conditions being good for the time of year and the fact that despite high winds especially out on Leg 3, weather conditions were largely very favourable. We were very fortunate in that as other events around the country experienced more major disruption.
A few other notable performances. Ken Fancett finished in 20:59, his 5th Grand Slam and 21st Centurion 100 miler. All records. Ken is 68 years old. I know Ken is mentioned a lot in our reports, but with those kind of stats the completely awe inspiring nature of his achievements doesn't diminish.
Sandra Brown and Richard Brown raced as husband and wife but ran their own events. This was Sandra's 185th 100 mile (or longer) event, and Richards 135th. Sandra was unfortunately stopped short with stomach issues this time but Richard was successful. Sandra's quest for her 200 100 mile or longer finishes continues in just a few weeks in Monaco. She will undoubtedly achieve that literally unbelievable mark.
Jo Turner and Steve Turner have volunteered countless times with us over the years and both finished all four events this year to become the first couple to complete the Grand Slam. We were all absolutely delighted for them.
Jo and Steve Turner
110 volunteers made this event happen. Many spent over half a day labouring on behalf of runners parked up in the back of vans in roaring winds through day and night. Many words of thanks have been received from runners post race which will be passed along.
That wraps up the 100 milers for 2017. Next up is our final event of 2017, the Wendover Woods 50. Congratulations to all who toed the line this weekend, especially the successful Slammers completing a journey that has lasted almost six months.
The final Grand Slam of 100s table is available here.
213 runners lined up the morning of Saturday 16th September for 50 miles of glorious trail running around the Chiltern Hills. We named the race the Chiltern Wonderland because of the remote nature of the route despite proximity to many major towns, the incredible views across dry valleys, the variety of terrain and superb trails. Once again runners returning to us at the start finish confirmed our belief that this is a special little race and one we are definitely going to hang on to.
The competition at the front of both the mens and womens fields was hot. This being the third race in the 50 mile Grand Slam and the third time this year that Ry Webb, Paul Russhard and Jon Ellis had lined up against one another. Jon Ellis had already run out victourious in both the SDW50 and the NDW50 (course record) this year, on top of winning the inaugural edition of the Chiltern Wonderland 50 last year. He was a clear favourite coming in. Ry already has a 2nd at the SDW50 and a 3rd at the NDW50 to his name and Paul a 7th and a 5th. Alongside those three was our most impressive runner of 2016, Neil Kirby. Winner of the 2016 SDW50, SDW100, NDW50 and NDW100. What would happen on the day?
In the womens field, ladies Grand Slam leader Charley Jennings seemed likely to be up the front from the start but the remainder of the field looked largely wide open on paper.
From the gun, we saw some predictably hard efforts going down. In front of all the above protagonists was Ukrainian international runner Andriy Tkach. We found out afterwards that his mandate had been to 'do a Jim Walmsley' and whilst he didn't quite throw down the string of low 5 minute miles ala Jim, he did lead the pack through check point 1 in under 70 minutes. Behind him were Jon, Ry, Paul and Neil all within 4 minutes.
Ry working hard up an early climb
The faster running over the first two sections to Bix made for continued fiery pace to the mile 17 check point. Andriy had taken a minor detour, allowing Jon to take the lead and in true Jon Ellis fashion once he was out in front he didn't relinquish his advantage, but instead steadily built on it across the remainder of the race. His was another powerful performance, posting the fastest splits of the race for every section, eventually coming home in 6:36. That time is 11 minutes off of his 2016 time and he was definitely hurting by the finish but he earned his third win of the year with a margin of 35 minutes over the rest of the field. A very impressive result.
Behind Jon, Ry and Paul battled back and forth. But it was young gun Oliver Thorogood who looked bouncy as anything at check point 2 who eventually came through over the final section to run home second in 7:11. In his first 50 mile race it was an incredibly mature display of patience and pacing. An exciting future ahead for the youngster.
Ry came home with another podium finish, his third in three events this year but perhaps carrying a little fatigue in from his epic completion of the Kom Emine trail across Bulgaria last month. Paul Russhard came home with another 5th, eventually surpassed by fourth placed Neil Martin who was first vet over the line, also in a very well paced effort.
The ladies race was neck and neck from the start, between Charley Jennings and Rachel Fawcett. The two were seen together at every check point and in fact seemed to be helping each other as much as they were pushing each other. In fact right down to the last few hundred metres, the two shared the trail together.
Rachel and Charley ran together all day but still raced the finish
However, the two decided within sight of the finish that they were going to race it in and let the chips fall as they may. We were absolutely delighted to see that the competive drive was there from both ladies and it was a dive for the line that saw Rachel take it by less than 3 100ths of a second over Charley. Good thing we had our new electronic chip timing system in place to separate them! They were both extremely gracious on the line and supportive of one another. That is what racing should be about and it was wonderful to see. 8:41 and change, was the time from each.
In third place was a very happy Joanna Edwards in 9:17 with stalwart, consistent and deserved Janette Cross just 5 minutes back in 4th.
Conditions on the day were better than expected. Heavy rainfall impacted the trail overnight but it was largely still good running and times amongst the mid pack were very solid. We had a relatively high number of drop outs however and 187 runners crossed the line in total.
As the final check point closed, the last 9 mile section containing lots of fast descending seemed to be delivering all remaining runners on course to us just in time for the 13 hour cut off. But at Woodcote 4 miles to go, it looked likely that the last four were going to be very very close indeed.
Ray Bernice and Clive Nottage came home together in a time of 12:58:21/22 with massive sighs of relief. Followed 30 seconds later by Peter Smith who had less than 70 seconds to spare at the end. Rob Carr, our final runner out on course and a regular volunteer with us, missed the cut off by just four minutes in a valiant effort. He will be back.
Heading up the Grand Slam standings with just one race to go, Wendover Woods 50, Jon is obviously out in front by a massive margin. A finish there should see Jon take the overall and the record by literally hours. The big question is, can he do the seemingly impossible and win all four of our 50s within a calendar year?
In the ladies standings, Charley Jennings has a 90 minute lead over consistent Sarah Cooke. By just finishing the WW50 either of those ladies will take at least 3 hours off of the ladies Slam 50 record.
Final thanks as always to our incredible volunteers. 50 of them made the journey over to the Chilterns to make the day the success it was.
The next event is the Autumn 100, back in Goring, 21st October - 22nd October.
The seventh Edition of the North Downs Way 100. Arguably our toughest event, certainly if you look at the course records, average finish times and finisher percentages. That remained the story of the weekend this time out also when, in largely good conditions, we saw the highest attrition rate of any of this years events so far and the lowest proportion of sub 24 hour/ 100 mile one day buckles handed out at one of our100 mile events, ever. This was our 24th 100 mile event, so that is quite a record to be broken. It was however a magical weekend as always, made more special for those that completed the journey against the odds.
Runners push the pace early on
229 runners lined up at 0600 Saturday morning in Farnham. Returning runners aplenty but some new fast faces too. Amongst those, Paul Maskell winner of this years Arc of Attrition. Alongside Dan Doherty, one of our Centurion Ultra Team Runners.
Paul and Dan went off together and led the early pace through CP1 and CP2 reaching Newlands Corner together, mile 14.7 in 1:44 elapsed. Just a couple of minutes back, Norbert Mihalik, finisher of this event in 2016 and fresh off of a super result at the 220km Ultra Balaton earlier this year looked relaxed and in control also.
A couple of miles after the check point, a short diversion made by the leaders left Norbert out in front. And once he took the lead, despite the odds, he was able to hold on to it for the entirity of the race.
NDW100 2017 Champion Norbert Mihalik
Norbert looked strong through CP3 Box Hill and CP4 at Reigate, seemingly running within himself but pushing the pace too with the wind in his sails from taking an early lead. His split of 7:28 through Mile 50 was a way off of course record pace and that seemed to be always just slightly out of reach, but was enough to give him a 20 minute margin over Paul Maskell in second and Kristian Morgan, also a returning runner at this event, in third. Those three would go on to finish in that order with seemingly no serious hiccups throughout the remainder of the course. Ollie Stoten at one point forged ahead of Kristian in to third but unfortunately later dropped at Detling, mile 82. Norbert was by far the strongest on the day however as he put time in to everyone else with every passing mile. At Mile 66 his lead was 36 minutes and had reached almost an hour by Detling. Over the last 20 miles he put another 15 minutes in the bank over Paul to eventually cross the line with a time of 16:39 which put him third on the all time list for this event. Norbert has been getting stronger year by year, earlier in 2017 he lowered his marathon PR to a 2:38 and he clearly has scope for more in terms of both speed and endurance. An exciting future awaits him in the sport.
Paul Maskell worked hard all day after his running partner Dan Doherty stopped with a groin injury at Reigate Hill, 50km in to the race. He ran out in second on his own all day and deserved a fine podium finish at his first Centurion event in a time of 17:53. Kristian Morgan ran a solid race for third place in 18:18.
The ladies race was fascinating on paper coming in, but sadly two of the top contendors - Maryann Devally and Zoe Salt - withdrew due to injuries in the week leading up to the race. That left Mari Mauland, this years TP100 champion and Grand Slammer ladies race leader as favourite and she did not disappoint. Solid and patient early on, Mari ran 17th overall / 1st lady through Box Hill Mile 24, with Sarah Cameron over from France, 5 minutes back in second. They already had quite a lead in the ladies field with Kate Whitfield and Laura Swanton in third and fourth, 16 minutes behind at that point.
Sarah Cameron took second on the day
Much like the Mens race, the ladies positions proceeded to remain static all day. Kate Whitfield unforunately dropped later in the day but Mari, Sarah and Laura held first, second and third right through to the finish and in true style as we see every time from the ladies, paced it brilliantly. Mari moved from 17th at CP3 to finish 8th. Sarah from 24th to finish 11th. Laura from 51st to finish 34th. The gaps between the three leaders widended across the day also mirroring the mens race. Despite suffering stomach issues as she did at this years SDW100, Mari extended her lead to almost an hour at the finish, coming home in 19:35, our third fastest ever female time at this race. Sarah's 20:28 put her 5th fastest all time and Laura was the final lady to break the 24 hour barrier on the day with a 23:31.
Mari Mauland. Now two time Centurion 100 mile champion in 2017
Overall we saw an attrition rate of 36%, 147 runners from the 229 starters eventually making it across the line at the Julie Rose Stadium in Ashford. This was our second year finishing on the track, runners completed a full lap this year and that seemed to be a big hit. We're starting to feel at home there now and it's provided a much better finish than the green at Wye. Superb weather on the Sunday saw lots of family, friend, crew/ pacer support out to cheer in all of the runners. Lorna Muirhead taking the honour of our final finisher cheered over the line just as vociferously as the first, with just over 6 minutes to spare under the 30 hour cut off.
Double Slammer Calvin Hemmings putting on a good show over Box Hill
A massive thanks as always to our 93 volunteers who made this event everything that it was. Battling some pretty heavy rain showers on the Saturday and the long dark night as runners made their way ever east toward their destination.
Bluebell Hill Volunteer Team
We have one final 100 mile event of 2017, the Autumn 100. For our slammers that means just one leg of the journey left. Mari has a deficit to make up to reach Sally Fords overall record, but she is within reach. Dan Masters requires a 16:34 or better to capture the overall Grand Slam record from John Stocker who is also still in this years competition.
Dan Masters now leads the overall Slam Standings
A blue sky day, evolving in to a blazing sunset, followed by a clear night, full moon and finally the sea mist rolling over the downs in the dying hours of the race, made for a brilliantly atmospheric weekend of running on the South Downs Way. A record 297 runners arrived in Winchester over Friday night and Saturday morning ready to start at 0600 on their maximum alloted 30 hour quest to reach Eastbourne, the entire length of The Downs away. But not before 20 kids aged between 2 and 12 showed them what pure running really is in the annual SDW 1 mile around the fields at Chilcomb! This event is definitely the highlight of the weekend and we are still crossing our fingers that one day, one of the kids from the 1 mile eventually graduates to the 100.
We were anticipating a close race in both the mens and womens fields and that is exactly what we got. Some fascinating and ultimately very exciting racing. On to that first.
Right from the gun we saw a closely bunched group out front with James Poole, Steve Lord and James Bennett leading the way together. With a small gap over clusters of 10-15 runners moving well together.
Through CP1 at Beachonhill at mile 9.8, James Bennett came through first in a relatively pedestrian (compared to usual!) 1:18 with a gap of less than a minute over the others. The next section down to QECP is a long 12 miles and is our first real indicator of who is forging the pace. James Poole led the way in to there in just over 3 hours, with the top 7 all within 8 minutes of him. Noticeably Steve Lord looked very comfortable in second in 3:02, determined not to get sucked in to the hard and heavy over racing early on at the TP100 six weeks ago.
By Harting Downs just 5 miles later it was all change however, as James Poole withdrew with a hamstring issue and Steve found himself in the lead. The gaps remained very tight, Steve extending to 7 minutes over James Bennett at Cocking mile 35, coming through in 4:58. But the heat of the day took a massive toll and it was as usual those that had run within themselves early on that went on to reap the rewards. Steve Lord eventually pulled the pin at mile 50 and handed the lead over to Steve Speirs who had travelled over from Virginia Beach USA to run with us. His wife Ally taking part in her first 100 miler also on the day. Steve is a very experienced customer and that showed as he continued to run within himself, despite pressure from three runners literally within sight of him for much of the next 20 miles through Washington and then Botolphs at mile 61.
In to second at that point, Adrien Prigent however was clearly having a stellar day. He'd looked strongest on the climbs early on and it looked like the cream was rising to the top for a race between Adrien and Steve Speirs over the final third. In the end, Steve stayed consistent but Adrien went on to a dominating final thirty miles as he crushed everything through to the track to come home in 15:43 for a break through win. His margin an eventual 55 minutes over Steve who held on to second in 16:37. Performances both were elated with.
Adrien Prigent, 2017 SDW100 Champion
2017 SDW100 Runner Up Steve Speirs
Third place went to the ever popular Matibini Matibini. Mati looked done at mile 44, struggling in the heat but he is a tough cookie and found some of his strongest miles towards the end of the race. With each 100 that passes, it looks increasingly as if he could one day step up to take home an overall win.
Mati taking third
But Mati's race was intertwined with another for third. As the men faded futher and further, Sarah Burns-Morwood ran herself through the top 10 and in to the overall podium positions. Hers is quite the story and perhaps worthy of a focus in more detail than we have time for here.... the ladies race was a fascinating one.
Sarah initially ran with and slightly behind of reigning TP100 champion from six weeks ago - Mari Mauland - over from Norway for the second part of her assault on the Grand Slam record. Both looked to be struggling with the heat between miles 35 and 54 but seemed to be doing just enough to maintain rhythm and continue to gradually overhaul the men to move up from 9th/ 10th to 6th/ 7th at Washington mile 54.
Mari moving well in the early stages
By Botolphs at mile 61 however, Sarah had maintained her pace whilst Mari had dropped back suffering from some stomach issues. Sarah was our 2015 SDW100 champ. In fact she's also won the TP100 and W100 in the past. But that was all before a major bike crash in early 2016 which left her with a fractured patella. Numerous operations and months of intensive rehab later, she began light running 6 months later in defiance of the initial prognosis that she may never run again. Nobody really knew if she could get back to completing let alone competing, least of all Sarah but the determination to try was incredibly strong.
Improvements came gradually but not without many set backs and in December 2016, she reached a point where the pain from the metal in her knee was so bad she simply could not go any further. A January operation followed and a rewind back to rehab with advice from the doctors to stop running completely. Sarah wanted to be fit to race, not run but race, the SDW100 in June. Four months later, in late May, she showed up to a Trail marathon and the following weekend the final test of her knee, she won the Eco Trail Oslo 80km. She was ready, but would her knee let her go the extra 50 miles?
Through the last 40 miles of this years SDW100 she ran strong and steady. The physical issues she suffered are all knock on effects from the knee, but she is one of the most determined runners out there and smiles her way through everything.
Sarah enjoying being back at her favourite distance
Without a watch, she had no idea when she reached the tarmac in Eastbourne at mile 98 what kind of time she was on for. She crossed the line in 17:30 for the win and most important of all, a time that was six minutes under her winning time of 17:36 from 2015. That is much more significant, because it shows she's back to where she was before and she can now focus on putting herself firmly back on the map doing what she loves most, without fear that her knee will collapse.
Sarah and husband Jason after her second SDW100 victory
Behind Sarah in second, the super experienced and ever steady Annabelle Stearns overhauled a 20 minute defecit at Southease with 16 miles to go, to come home second a scant eight minutes ahead of Rachel Fawcett who ran home a brave third. Both just under the 19 hour barrier. Mari held on to fourth in 19:11 and keeps her Grand Slam dreams alive after a very gutsy performance when things did not go her way.
A few interesting facts and stand out efforts from the remainder of the field:
- Ken Fancett at 67, finished his 64th 100 miler this weekend. His time was 20:40 for 30th overall. On his way to his fifth Grand Slam. Ken has the 5 fastest finisher times in his age group at the SDW100, from 5 starts. All five performances are between 20:30 and 21:10. Take what you will as the mind-blowing element of those stats
The indomitable Ken
- 297 runners made the starting field 33 greater than 2016 and our biggest ever SDW100. 220 finishers was our record. A finish rate of 74%, one of the highest we've ever had.
- The final finisher, Diane Aldritt, was our final finisher in 2013, her last run here. In 2013 she crossed the line in 29:50:54. This year she finished just 44 seconds slower.
- 112 volunteers and 14 Staff made the race happen this weekend, a ratio of just under 3 runners for every 1 volunteer!
A huge thank you to those volunteers, to all of our sponsors and particularly to the South Downs Way National Park for continuing to allow this race to grow and evolve.
The seventh edition of the North Downs Way 50 dawned with yet again perfect conditions welcoming a record field of 245 to Farnham, each with different goals but one ultimate aim, reaching Knokholt Pound and the finish 50 miles further east inside the 9pm/ 13 hour cut off. We've had three events in 2017 so far and we are three for three of pretty much perfect conditions. Long may it continue!
Amongst the men's field were the top four from this years South Downs Way 50 as well as returning runners from last years top ten. Of particular note, Jon Ellis who had won last years Chiltern Wonderland 50 and this years SDW50, aiming to take home is third Centurion Trophy. On the ladies side, the field looked wide open, with no clear favourite going in. It seemed a stretch to think anyone could go near to Holly Rush's 7:11 Course Record but we were excited to watch a good battle unfold.
From the gun, Paul Russhard laid down the law and sprinted off in to the distance, albeit slightly less substantially than 2016 where his lead increased by a minute a mile in the early stages. The calibre of runners around him meant that he found himself regrouped quickly rather than running alone this time and it was right at the Puttenham check point at 6.5 miles that Mark Innocenti steamed past and took the lead. Mark's recent 2:35 at London put him on paper as having the greatest speed and with a couple of years of ultrarunning under his belt now, we couldn't wait to see if he could take things to the next level with a big win here.
Mark Innocenti leads the way shortly after Puttenham aid station
Through Box Hill at mile 24, Mark's lead was around 7 minutes over Paul and 11 minutes on Jon in third. He looked like he had worked a bit for that but moved forward with confidence. He shortly after made a short detour which cost him some time and focus and it was Jon who was able to capitalise on that, closing the gap to under a minute by Reigate Hill at the 50km point. Paul had slipped back to 8 minutes behind. A few miles later, Jon took the lead and drove hard for home, closing in on the course record with every mile, eventually running home for 6:37:27 - 6 minutes under Craig Holgate's previous best. Seven years in to see a course record go is fantastic. Jons run oozed experience, judgement, great pacing and strength, reminiscent of his superb win at the Chiltern Wonderland 50 last year and a much stronger all round effort than back at the SDW50 in April despite taking the win at both.
Jon Ellis crosses the line for a new Course Record
Mark had burned hard from very early on and despite slowing down, grit his teeth and held on for a very gutsy second in a time of 6:56, fending off the classic late charge and excellent pacing of Ry Webb who also came in just under the 7 hour mark. That's two podiums in two years on this course for Ry, who was also second at this years SDW50.
Ry Webb battled to go sub 7 and third
To see racing of this calibre is fantastic. The guys at the front are pushing themselves and each other to new heights. All of these guys are returning time and again to test themselves, make improvements and race in the true spirit of the sport which is outstanding to watch.
The ladies race also turned out to be an exciting one, with three ladies battling it out from the gun to take home the honours.
Charley Jennings went out hardest and came through Puttenham with a two minute advantage, something she held on to until Box Hill where Michelle Maxwell and Liz Weeks came through just a minute and two minutes respectively, behind.
Liz looked most comfortable, with the greater road speed of the three together with experience on this course, it seemed likely that she could be the one to come through strongest. Positions chopped and changed over the next 7 miles as first Liz then Michelle took the lead. In doing so, Liz suffered a set back she couldn't recover from and with a growing margin over the rest of the field it was Michelle who ran home first in a time of 8:26.
The battle for second was phenomenal, with Svenja Espenhahn coming past Charley in the final field, within sight of the finish with an 8:52, with a gutsy Charley coming home just a minute behind.
As the day wore on, the hills and steps took their toll on the 245 starters and the number depreciated a little to 221 by the finish, our final runner making it home a healthy 8 minutes under the cut off rather than the usual last gasp few seconds we usually have at this race. We echoed our thanks to Steve Wilson for the lack of panic this year.
We are all, runners and staff, indebted as always to the 60 volunteers who provide the framework that allowed the race to take place safely and sustainably. We will return for edition 8 in 2018 and can only hope we see a similar calibre of racing at the front, and determination to reach goals from every runner out on course.
The 2017 Thames Path 100 was our sixth edition of this event. The relationship between this race and weather conditions has traditionally been more tumultuous than any of our other seven. Things were set perfect this year however. A high of 14, low of 8, dry underfoot and overhead and with a gentle following wind for the runners all the way to Oxford. Would we see some records tumble?
Race Start at Richmond Upon Thames
The gun went at 1000 exactly and as we expected, it was Mark Denby who immediately looked to stamp his mark on the race. The 2016 Autumn 100 champion and course record holder went off, incredibly, even faster than his sub 7 minute mile pace from that event, dropping 6:30 min miles one after the other as he ran through the first two check points out in front. His pace made Craig Holgates 2016 Record splits look pedestrian. He hit Wraysbury, mile 22 in 2:32 and pressed on to the 50km mark at the Dorney aid station in 3:40. Behind Mark, Steven Lord, winner of the 2016 Hardmoors 110 and indeed the Hardmoors Slam was keen not let Mark get too far ahead and worked hard to stay within 7 minutes of him at the same point. That put Steve bang on CR pace.
By Cookham just 7 miles later however, everything had changed. Mark had walked in to the aid station with a hip problem. Steve had taken the lead, through in 4:57 and Michael Stocks had moved in to second just 4 miunutes back. From that point, Steve paid the price for chasing Mark and Michael surged to the front, never looking back. Through Henley in 6:48 elapsed it was clear it wasn't in fact going to be a day for records to be broken, but Michael's progress from there was solid and steady. He eventually crossed the line in 14:57 elapsed, becoming only the fifth runner to break 15 hours at one of our 100 mile events.
Behind Michael, pacing prizes go to second place Dan Masters (15:30) and third place Jeremy Isaac (16:25). Fantastic to see two returning runners learn from previous 100 mile pacing errors and have such fantastic overall races. Dan is heading for the Grand Slam and is already 2 and a half hours up on John Stockers 2016 record split at stage one. There is a long way to go yet though, about 300 miles!!
For the ladies, it was Mari Mauland who ran out in front from wire to wire, bettering her 2016 second place and 19:11 overall time, with a superb 16:55, our fourth fastest ever womens 100 mile performance. As typical from our female runners all the way from the front to the back, her pacing was superb. At Dorney the 50km mark, she lay 18th overall, 29 minutes ahead of second place Sarah Sawyer. By the time she crossed the line, she'd dropped her pacer in the final few miles and made her way up to fifth overall. A sensational run. Mari is also running the Grand Slam this year. As with Dan in the mens field, she is off to quite the start with a 90+ minute margin over incumbent record holder Sally Ford's 2015 splits.
Behind Mari, Sarah Sawyer held on to second place all day. Having a bumpy ride in her training through early 2017 Sarah came in with a lot of question marks over her fitness, but she proved yet again that she is in the right sport, as she ground out a gutsy finish having suffered many issues from around the mid-point of the race. Naomi Moss, eventual third place finisher, closing in all the way, fell just six miunutes short of Sarah at the finish. Fantastic to see both of those ladies put in such huge efforts to get the achievements they deserved.
Overall, we had expected conditions to present us with much higher than average finisher rates at this event. But that was far from the case, with 209 of 297 starters making it home inside the 28 hour cut off for a 70% finish rate. 297 incidentally was our largest ever 100 mile starting field, 2 more than in 2016!
There were some incredible other stories amongst the field as always. Ken Fancett came through for his 19th Centurion 100 mile finish, his 6th consecutive Thames Path 100. He is joined by Markus Flick from Germany as the only other runner to finish every edition of this race.
Markus Flick on his way to 6 out of 6
Darren Handley finished the race, and then proceeded to run back down the course to return again later, in his effort to cover 166.4km on behalf of the Royal Marines Charity. Mentally a huge effort and impressive to behold. All finish line proceeds will also go to his charity from this event.
Last but not least, it was Bryon Powell from www.irunfar.com who perhaps won the day in many ways. He ate and drank his way to the finish, soaking up every ounce of Thames Path ambience along the way. We were honoured to have him join us for this one after all he and his partner Meghan have done for this sport.
88 volunteers out on course made this the safe and successful race that it was. Our deepest thanks to them as always.
This season started with a bang as the fifth edition of the South Downs Way 50 got underway with a record of field of 393 runners at 0900 Saturday 8th April.
The weather forecast was for clear skies, sunshine through the entire day which eventually led to some struggles with the heat for everyone, albeit the cooling easterly breeze played it's part in making sure it didn't get too rough. Underfoot the ground was completely dry and hard packed making for fast going. We were expecting a great race.
The intentions of some of the runners were made clear straight from the off, as a small group of three led the early pace. Paul Russhard, Jon Ellis and Danny Kendall as expected leading the charge in the overall positions. Through Botolphs it was that group together, but by Saddlescombe Jon had taken the lead and seemed to want to push the pace most of all three.
Paul was already noticing his legs and felt that the run for the win was likely to be slightly beyond him on the day. That left Jon and Danny moving back and forth over the next 10 mile section to the Housedean check point at just past the marathon mark. Coming in there, Danny had a slender 40 second lead, both making seamless transitions on towards Southease. However by the next check point it was all change as Jon forged a commanding lead and Danny dropped back with calf issues to eventually stop at that check point.
From there on in it was Jon against the course and although he slowed, he held a strong enough pace to run in a 6:27 for a win of almost 20 minutes. His second Centurion 50 win, following on from his Chiltern Wonderland Course Record last September. He now goes in to the NDW50 with a strong result under his belt.
Behind Jon, Ry Webb ran probably the smartest effort level all weekend and made his way through the field to finish second in 6:47. That matched his second from the NDW50 in 2016. Ry's running has come on a long way in the last couple of years and he will be looking to take that top spot one day soon enough. He will race Jon again at the NDW50 too and moves on to try to run a 50 mile Slam record this year.
Third place went to Ian Hammett who worked hard all day. Ian brings a lot of heart to each event he shows up to and will look to build on this result towards Spartathlon later in the year.
In the ladies race, things changed around a little more and in the end, 2nd-3rd-4th were almost within sight of one another on the track.
But first home was Gemma Carter. Gemma has run many of our events over the years, with a couple of podiums to her name. Her 7:32 best at this event from a few years ago was a superb result, this time she went one better and came home with a superb 7:21 to walk off with her first Centurion trophy. 8th overall in a field this big shows what a great day she had.
Gemma's usual style is to lead from the front, but this time she was a little more patient early on and she came from behind to record this result. Second place was won out by Mandy Regenass in 7:54, with Melanie Frazier third in 7:57 and fourth Jennifer Sangster in 8:00 flat. It is absolutely fantastic to see the ladies field full of this level of calibre and racing each other for superb times overall.
This was our first event for age category prizes as we look to try to highlight some of the incredible performances being recorded across the wider field.
The Mens V40 prize went to Mike Ellicock who with a 2:31 marathon PR is perhaps the second fastest person on paper from this field behind only Danny Kendall. He scraped home just underneath the 7 hour mark. Mens V50 went to regular and South Downs resident Rick Curtis in 7:40 and V60 to Timothy Boone with 8:47. What was a very special moment was to see Richie Morrissey, the only V70 in the field come home with a 12 hour finish. Richie was the second to final finisher at our first ever SDW100 and came on to the track with the biggest lean we've ever seen at one of our events. To have him back in this age cat and still an hour inside the cut offs - a truly special achievement for him.
In the ladies race, Mandy in second overall was also first V40 home. Janette Cross who has become so consistent in the last couple of years was fist V50 in a superb 9:15. Marion Hemsworth won the V60 category with a hugely impressive 10:53 from Diane Delderfield in 12:23.
Overall, from 393 starters we welcomed 364 runners home, our highest ever number of finishers. Our 58 volunteers held the event aloft and made it the very special day out that it was for so many.
It's just three weeks until the first 100 of this year at the Thames Path and we look forward to welcoming many back to that one as well as many new faces too.