Near perfect conditions greeted 252 runners for the 9th edition of the North Downs Way 50. This course is such a favourite with returning runners. The fast first half with a minimal amount of climb deliver the majority of runners to the foot of Box Hill at mile 24, in super fast times at the front and with a significant buffer over the cut offs at the back. Then the real work begins. After Box Hill, runners ascend Reigate Hill before the check point at Wray Lane at the 50km mark. And the final 19 miles in from there feature many short sharp ascents and of course the more remote fields and trails of the final 5km. Flat, but never ending!
Both the men and women gave us superb racing to watch, right from the gun.
In the mens, returning champion Stuart Leaney seemed to be a clear favourite coming in, but had elected to take this as part of a peak training week for his assault on the upcoming Wendover Woods 100, so he wasn't sure how he would hold out later in the day. Rob Payne fresh off some solid results in 2018 looked like he meant business right from the off. Paul Russhard who has tried every tactical approach there is to try to win this race, went off the front again as usual but held back much more than he typically has. These were three strong, powerful runners with the ability to go fast. Indeed the overall positions featured these three from the gun.
Paul Russhard and Rob Payne running together just after CP1
They arrived at CP1 just 10km in together, but Rob stepped ahead with Paul having gone straight through and edging away over the next section, Rob didn't look back from there. He seemed to be working hard early on but it was clearly a sustainable level for him as he simply gapped the field increasingly across the entire race. By Box Hill CP3 he was 6 minutes up on Stuart and Paul who were running within a few seconds of each other. By Caterham Mile 38 it was 13 minutes to the same two behind. at Botley, 17 minutes before he eventually crossed the line in 6:47:57 for the win. Rob went 5th fastest all time on this course. Paul ran by far the best race he has had with us to finish 2nd in 7:01. His strategy of holding back a little in the early stages, running within himself and then pusihing hard at the end had paid off and that earned him a thoroughly deserved podium place. 3rd place went to Stuart who admittedly struggled to find top gear but still ran home in 7:06. Neil Martin, leading the Grand Slam standings took 4th just a few minutes back.
Rob Payne with his winners trophy
In the womens race, the lead changed hands numerous times early on. Rachel Fawcett led things through CP1 at 10km in 54 minutes flat, with Charley Jennings who led at this point a couple of years ago hot on her heels. GB International Beth Pascall was just a minute behind seemingly more relaxed and comfortable. By Newlands, Beth had edged into the lead with Rachel, Charley and now Gill Bland all close behind. These were the four women we had expected in the lead up, to challenge for the overall positions. The next ten miles of the course across to the base of Box Hill are predominantly flat or descending and it was on this section that fast marathoner Gill forged into the lead arriving with Beth, Rachel just 20 seconds back. But Beths class on the hills shone through from this point as she ran the fastest second half of this event that we have seen in the womens race.
Beth Pascall running in third place early on
She closed the race in from Box Hill in 3:59, good enough for 7:19 and a winning margin of 33 minutes. At the end, Beth had clearly run well within herself, with this a part of her training for Western States. A case of a job well done as she went off to a hen do in Somerset straight from the finish!
Rachel Fawcett earned a truly deserved 2nd place behind beth in a superb time of 7:52, becoming only the 4th woman to break 8 hours on this course. She really buried herself over the second half and finally, after five consecutive 4th places at our events, ran her way onto the second step of the podium. We were all delighted for her and the hard work paying off. Third place went to Gill Bland in her first 50 miler, just over a minute behind of Rachel in 7:53, another superb run.
Rachel Fawcett went on to finish 2nd
Eventually, 236 finishers crossed the line under the 13 hour cut off from 252 starters, which made for a 94% finish rate. All records for this event - our highest ever finish rate in 9 years which spoke of how good conditions were.
The Age Group Awards went to Stuart Leaney (MV40), Eduard Egelie/ Vladimir Zalesskiy (MV50 Joint) and Nigel Stevens (MV60). In the womens race Rachel Fawcett took the FV40 award setting a substantial improvement in that mark with her second place finish, with Debra Bourne the 2012 Champion taing the FV50 prize. Carol Murphy ran home the FV60 winner in 12:40.
Eduard and Vladimir finish joint first in the MV50 category
As per the South Downs Way 50, it was Cat Marriot who left the real fireworks until the very end. With 45 minutes to go in the race, there were still 47 people out on course. People arrived home in groups and singles seemingly non stop all the way to 12:57 elapsed which left just Cat out on course. Cat finished the SDW50 last month, after 26 straight DNFs at our events. It was a truly emotional time for all involved. This time, with a view across the final field from our finish position giving us eyes on the final mile, Cat was nowhere in sight therefore we knew it sadly wasn't to be this time. Having left the final check point with 10 minutes to spare it was going to be a herculean effort for her to make this one. Yet with 13:00:10 on the clock she suddenly emerged into the final road and crossed the line in 13:00:42. But. She had performed what will sadly be known as a Gary Robbins at this point, having taken the shorter NDW100 route into the finish by accident, as well as just missing the alloted time. It was with a knowing smile that she lay on the ground breathing hard - she had as at the SDW50 given it her all, all day but had this time come up just short. The satisfaction of having given everything was clearly there and it was still great to see.
61 Grand Slammers completed the race and the table as it stands is available here. Both Neil Martin and Rachel Fawcett have commanding leads in the respective mens and womens overall standings.
We move on now to the South Downs Way 100 which will be our biggest ever 100 mile starting field. We love the race so much and we look forward to some more stellar racing over the weekend of the 8th and 9th of June.
Final thanks as always to the 62 volunteers that made the race yet again the safe and enjoyable one that it was.
A superb weekend of racing was had at this years Thames Path 100. Many records were broken as we watched some incredible stories and racing from up and down the field.
The day dawned cold but bright. The 309 starters eventually faced some cold showers through the early afternoon, mixed in with some sunny spells. Before a freezing night set in. Luckily with no rain or wind through the hours of darkness, most were able to cope with the cold on its own and of the 309 starters, 225 finished the event for 73% completion rate. By far the highest ever finisher ratio we have had at the TP100.
Both the mens and womens events turned out to be extremely close, hard fought races with some incredible back and forth along the way.
Up front in the mens race, the early lead was held by course record holder and GB international Craig Holgate. Behind him, previous champion Ed Catmur ran just a couple of minutes back and there was much excitement about a possible return to top form for Ed. After the front two a group of four had formed early and stayed together through the early miles, that group including both Ian Hammett and Paul Beechey.
The 2019 TP100 gets underway from Richmond Upon Thames
Bright sunshine was interspersed with rain showers throughout the early hours
Within a few hours it was all change however, as Craig pulled over just after the marathon mark with an ankle problem he had suffered from in one of his final training sessions just a week earlier. Ed faded back a little and that left Ian Hammett on his own out front having stretched away from the rest of the bunch. Over the next 70 miles, Ian ran from the front in a confident manner and paced the race very well. But it was far from an easy ride, with John Melbourne running strong through the field from 16th at CP1 to 7th at CP3 and by the half way point at Henley aid station in 3rd, he was 21 minutes back from Ian. He looked strong and over the next 35 miles, closed the gap on Ian to just 9 minutes. The two were certainly both aware of the diminishing margin and both pushed as hard as possible to make it over the line first. Both of them produced pacing masterclasses, and it was only in the final nine miles where John lost a little power, and Ian found a finishing kick to run sub 8 minute mile pace over the last 10km, that the gap opened back out again. Ian ran home for a second fastest all time on this course of 14:36 and his first Centurion win. John crossed the line in 14:58 for second - the first time we've had two sub 15 hour runs at the same race. Third place was taken by Paul Beechey who also ran strong throughout and came home in 15:48.
The Grand Slam for 2019 already looks like a fascinating encounter, with Ian and John both looking to the overall series as well as the individual events. If both can continue to stay in form through 2019 it looks like we are in for some spectacular racing, and results.
Ian Hammett collecting his winners trophy
If it's possible, the womens race was even more exciting than the mens. At check point 1 mile 12, Wendy Whearity going for her 19th Centurion 100 mile finish had the lead, with a group of 7 other women all within 7 minutes of her. At Dorney and the 50km mark, it was all change, as last years NDW100 champion Ingrid Lid had made her way through to head the field in 4:47.Centurion Ultra Team runner Debbie Martin-Consani was now just two minutes back and Wendy had briefly slipped to 5th place. Between Mile 30 and 44, the lead went back and forth between Ingrid and Debbie, but by Henley, mile 51, coming in in 8:11 elapsed, Debbie had a commanding 13 minute lead this time over Leanne Rive in 8:24 and Kelly Pepper and Ingrid both in 8:26.
Debbie Martin-Consani running in Centurion Ultra Team colours
Ingrid Lid traded the lead back and forth with Debbie across the first half of the race
By Streatley at Mile 70, Debbie held a similar lead of 13 minutes but this time over Ingrid who was seemingly back from the dead and closing fast. Also coming good again, Wendy sat just two minutes back of Ingrid. What would happen from here was anyones guess. Ingrid closed the gap to 6 minutes by Wallingford mile 77 and after Debbie missed the bridge at Benson for a short detour, Ingrid briefly took over the lead again with just over 20 miles to go. Arriving at Clifton Hampden mile 85 together, it was Debbie who exited the aid station first and turned on the gas to run home the victor in 17:40 elapsed. Her fourth win at a Centurion 100 mile event and her second on the Thames Path following victory on the flood course in 2013. Ingrid ran home second just 8 minutes later, with Wendy holding on for 3rd in 18:26. Truly superb racing on all counts.
Of the 225 finishers, 123 of those came in under 24 hours to take home the 100 MILES - ONE DAY buckle, with Ben Coleman sprinting home over the line with under half a minute to spare in what was one of the best moments of the weekend.
Age group awards went to Debbie Martin-Consani (FV40) and Ian Hammett (MV40) - Ian setting a new record time. MV50 to Paul Radford in 18:01 and FV50 to Mel Horley in 25:08. And MV60 to Simon Bennett in 21:45.
The 2019 season started with a bang this past Saturday with a classic April day on the South Downs Way. Dry weather, a cooling breeze and stunning views over the surrounding countryside. Whilst there are a myriad of stories as ever, within a finishing field of 354 runners, the two stand out results came from the womens race.
At the sharp end of the field, Julia Davis ran off the front from the gun and produced an exceptional performance in what was her longest race to date. One of the fastest female marathoners ever to toe the line at one of our events with a 2:39 to her name, Julia was stepping up in her new ultrarunning career following solid results at two shorter events in 2018. This as we know, is a runners course. Last year we had seen Tom Evans and Sarah Morwood both take home Course Records. The slight headwind this year, unusual on this course, was a factor and we did wonder if it might cause a slow down for some later on, but not for Julia. Her splits were fast through every check point, as she began under course record pace and continued to increase her margin under that mark until the fourth aid station - arriving there 11 minutes under Sarah's 2018 split. It was enough, as she held on to be the first to break the 7 hour barrier in any of our events, coming home in a new best of 6:54:26. Julia hit the track with 3rd and 4th men still making the final circuit which made for an exciting finale! Simply outstanding running and Julia is clearly a real talent to watch for the future.
At the polar opposite end of the field, Catherine Marriot was beginning her 29th event with us. Having finished the SDW50 back in 2014, Cat had started and failed to complete a total of 26 events in the interim period, coming in to this race. It takes a tremendous amount of determination to keep trying at what can be a very punishing sport. Throughout 2018 she improved, and it looked likely she would get a finish at the 2018 NDW50, before taking a detour close to the end and missing the final check point cut off with 7 miles to go. This time, Cat came in well trained, focused and ready. Whilst there were some 'serious yet encouraging' words had at check points between Cat and Staff in order to maximise aid station efficiency, Cat clearly wanted it and it became clear that she was doing enough to make it happen. With 8 minutes to go, she crossed the line to complete her third lifetime finish with us. A result and performance that sums up all that this sport is about and makes them such a special place to be whether it's welcoming home first, or last place.
The rest of the womens race was equally exciting. Running second place all day was Amy Sarkies, our 2018 WW50 champ and she held on to finish in 7:22 which puts her at sixth on the all time fastest finishes for this event and gave her a new FV40 record. Behind Amy there was a great battle for the final podium spot. Consistent performer Rachel Fawcett went out strong and forged a small gap over fourth place Charmaine Horsfall who has had some great results on the Hardmoors scene. As the race unfolded Charmaine looked the most consistent of any runner, male or female and impressed everyone by powering through from 32nd overall at CP1 to 10th overall at the finish, taking third place in the womens race in 7:27. Rachel took another fourth place in 7:47. Another podium surely beckons for her soon.
Much as in the womens race, the eventual mens winner, also a superb marathon runner led from the gun and produced a consistent display. Ben Parkes came into this race with his ultra career to date, not quite matching the calibre he has shown over the shorter road races - a 2:25 marathoner it was clear if he kept working at the long stuff it would finally click. The mens field was competitive and it was clear that Mark Innocenti who was second at last years NDW50, was not going to give up without a fight, sticking close to Ben throughout. But the gap grew by just a minute or two at each check point and with time running out, Ben was able to finish strong on the flat road section through Eastbourne, to cross the line in 6:35:49. Mark took second in 6:48:21 and Steve Hobbs was able to hold off a closing Ben Osborn by just 32 seconds to take third in 6:53 and scored a new MV40 record in the process.
Age group awards went to Steve Hobbs (MV40), Rick Curtis (MV50) - Rick improved his own MV50 record here and now holds the top three fastest times in his category - David Prince-Iles (MV60) and in the womens race Amy Sarkies (FV40), Rose Williams (FV50) and Heidi Grant (FV60).
Congratulations to all of our 354 finishers. Our thanks as always to the 70 volunteers that made this another safe and successful event. We are excited to get the 100 mile season going in just under four weeks time at the Thames Path 100. As always, follow along on the day at the Live Link that will appear on the homepage from 0930 Saturday May 4th.