The postponed eighth edition of the South Downs Way 50 took place on Sunday 25th October 2020. Our first ever Sunday event in ten years. With all the turmoil that continues to surround much of our daily lives, our ability to continue to stage these events comes down to a number of factors, but most crucially here we were only able to go ahead with the support of the South Downs National Park, the local landlords and councils and of course the army of volunteers who get together to help provide the covid-secure platform on which the runners are able to run. A huge thanks to all of them, now so more than ever, for helping us to get this event to happen this year.
303 runners began the race, setting off between 0600 and 0830 in the time trial/ rolling start format that has for now become a regular feature of our events in 2020. What was particularly interesting here was that both in the mens and womens races, the leaders on the ground were often not leading the race, or even necessarily in the top 3. Mainly because the events were so closely contested, with very little time separating the first several runners in each.
The challengers for the overall positions this time out, came from a wide range of backgrounds and that made it particularly exciting. There were a few first timers, thrown into the mix with some of our most experienced runners and particularly at the 50 mile events as opposed to the 100s where experience and patience counts for a lot more, some of the gambles in terms of pace and effort tend to pay off!
The conditions on the day were mostly good. Some of the runners who got very wet in short sharp downpours might contest that but for a day out in late October on the Downs, things were pretty much as expected. Thankfully a massive wind and wet weather system rolled through and got out of the way just a few hours before the start bringing 60mph winds with it, leaving a moderate Southerly wind which became increasingly South Westerly, assisting the runners a little in the direction of travel. Rain was heavy at times and made the ground slick or sticky in places but the dry patches were plentiful and at times the sun even managed to shine through making the 12 degree temperatures about perfect for good racing.
In the mens race we had Grand Slam course record holder Jon Ellis, who also set a new CR at the Chiltern Wonderland 50 last month up against Ed Knudsen. Jon is running the Slam again this year but so is Ed and he ran a close second behind Jon at that first 50 of the four. So as the battle unfolded on the course it was interesting to see how hard each would go, whether either would hold something back for the next two races which are of course just three and five weeks away respecitively.
In addition to those two we had Tom Tweddell, running his first ultra and coming from a very strong OCR background. Josh Barrow with only a couple of shorter ultras from a few years ago, very much an unknown, and Jack Bromley also with just a handful of shoter ultras under his belt.
Jack went off hardest and ran the fastest split through to check point 1 at 11 miles in 1:20. He dropped to second on route to the second check point, a position he held until Southease at mile 33 before he began to drop back out of the podium places. Meanwhile Josh Barrow ran through into the lead from just after CP1 and maintained that lead through to the finish. A really impressive and well judged effort from someone so new to the format. Obviously there is a bright future ahead for him.
Running home in second was Ed Knudsen, who was at most only ever 6 minutes behind Josh - that being at the final check point with 4 miles to go. Coming off the downs, Josh's choice of road shoes cost him a little in the gully but he just managed to stay ahead of Ed on paper (Ed had already finished the race in real time), clocking a 6:15 to Eds' 6:18. Third place went to Tom Tweddell who was first over the line in real time, having climbed from 7th to 3rd throughout the day, edging out Jon Ellis in 4th by a scant 31 seconds in the end.
It is worth noting the overall calibre of the mens race this year. Tom Evans' 5:44 course record is only one of two, sub 6 hour times we have ever seen on this course and he of course has gone on to represent Great Britain at a range of formats including cross country, half marathon and no doubt many more to come. Behind the two sub 6 times. Behind these, the four fastest finishers this year all go into the top ten fastest runners we've seen in 8 years of the SDW50.
The Grand Slam standings now look very interesting indeed, with Jon leading Ed by just 8 minutes. Both are marginally ahead of Jons all time record after the same two events. But there are some hard yards to come!
Jon Ellis bidding to improve on his own Grand Slam record
In the womens race, things went off in a similar fashion with a tight race, albeit at a rather more moderate pace compared to the men. On the ground Kat Short and Sharon Bolister led the way, with Michelle Maxwell starting later but actually leading the splits by a narrow margin from the get go. The gap between all three at Check Point 1 was just 5 minutes and by Housedean Farm at the marathon mark, there was still just 7 minutes between them. Kat continued to lead the way on the ground and crossed the line first in 8:25. Sharon came home shortly after, beterring Kats time by just over a minute in running 8:23. Before Michelle came home third on the ground but with the fastest time of the day in 8:15. Jodi Gauld took fourth having run in second early on, within the times of the first three and only slipped out in the final stages, coming home in 8:30. This year helps put into perspective how strong Julia Davis' sub 7 hour course record from last year really is.
Michelle Maxwell, Kat Short and Sharon Bolister, the first three women overall
In the age categories a number of records were set.
The womens awards went to Michelle Maxwell, FV40 who also won the race. FV50 went to Maryann Devally in 8:52 which was a record by 10 minutes and FV60 to Christina Kluth in 10:40 also a record by 13 minutes.
Mens V40 was taken by Guy Hudson in 7:14, V50 by Giles Mayley in 8:06. MV60 to David Prince-Iles in 8:14 which was a fantastic age group record of 9 minutes. MV70 to Ken Fancett in 9:46. It was nice to see Ken running a 50 for a change, he rarely does, sticking mainly to our 100s but of course because he gave it a go he shattered the existing age group record by over 2 hours.
278 finishers out of 303 starters for a finishing percentage of 92% is pretty great going. As per the other events this year, those who are showing up are less in number than regular racing years but they are a committed bunch who are putting everything into one of the few opportunities they have had in 2020 to pin on a bib. We will keep on keeping on and try to give everyone who initially signed up to run with us in 2020, the chance to do so.