The first event back for 2021 after a long, dark winter made for a collective sense of relief and elation across the whole community from runners, to volunteers and staff. The incredible conditions were the icing on the cake. Temperatures were cool to start with but quickly levelled out at an almost perfect 11 degrees, with bright sunshine and a gentle cooling breeze. Which all made for PB central down at Eastbourne Sports Park with many of our regular runners shattering their previous bests for the course and for the distance. All in all it was a wonderful occasion.
A video recap of the day can be found here (c/o Steve Ashworth Media)
Ronald Davies heads up Truleigh Hill (c/o Stuart March Photography)
Thanks to covid postponing the 2020 edition of this event, the SDW50 also happened to be the last race we held prior to this, so it was interesting to compare and contrast. The covid protocols were all still in place of course which makes it a longer, harder day for everyone whilst we work to ensure social distancing, sanitisation and protection against transmission are all at the heart of the event. But what shone through was the soul of the race. Despite all of the above, the course and the community lifted everything above those additional issues and that is why we continue to work so hard to get these races away when things are still not back to normal.
From a racing persepctive, one of the key ingredients to runners pushing themselves, is the competition. With the time trial starts that we must still have in place in order for the queues at check points to be reduced/ removed, it makes for a different type of race. Runners are racing the clock first and foremost. Is this leading some to pace better? Or are they losing the edge because they can't directly see or know where their nearest competition is. Hard to say!
In the womens race, Sarah Hill came in as 'favourite' but apparently not quite at her best. But luckily for us that made for an exciting race despite the overall leading times being a way off what we have seen in recent years. Sarah opened up a big gap over second and third over the first half, but began to slow over the closing sections.
Sarah Hill ran out 2021 Champion (Photo c/o Stuart March Photography)
She gradually gave away more and more of her hard fought lead to those behind and it was a fast closing Tamsyn D'Arienzo that pushed her closest. Had the course been a couple of miles longer it might have been too much but Sarah eventually held Tamsyn off but a scant 90 seconds to take the win. Third place went to Vicki Balfour in 8:59.
Vicki Balfour took third place (photo c/o Stuart March Photography)
In the mens race, we saw stellar times from our front two in the end, with both Richard Mcdowell and previous winner here, Jack Blackburn, running into 3rd and 7th on the all time fastest performances on this course across all nine editions.
Richard went off extremely hard, but when you have finished first Vet 40 at the London Marathon in 2:23 then hard is a relative thing. He did perhaps push the envelope all the way out over the first half of the course however. His times through the first three check points were ahead of Tom Evans' 5:44 course record splits. His first 10 miles were run in 62 minutes and he made the marathon mark at Housedean Farm check point in 2:53, 7 minutes up on Tom's time in there.
Richard Mcdowell charged through the first half of the course before coasting through to victory
However he felt that keeping that kind of effort up was not necessarily sustainable and made a conscious decision to back off at that point, taking the ascents easier and running slightly more within himself to eventually cruise home in 6:02 for a comfortable 18 minute margin over second placed Jack Blackburn. Richard races the Thames Path 100 in just under three weeks time which for sure played into that decision. A smart one no doubt! Third place went to Peter Windross in a solid 6:38.
In the Age Categories, winners were as follows:
FV40 went to overall winner Sarah Hill. FV50 to Mel Horley in 9:18. FV60 to Christina Kluth in 10:43, just three minutes outside her own existing AG record.
MV40 went to Richard Mcdowell in needless to say, a new record time. MV50 to Mark Pinder in 7:07, setting a new AG best in that division and finally topling Rick Curtis who has until now held all three fastest times in that age group. MV60 went to Bob Empson in 9:30 and MV70 to of course, Ken Fancett in 10:22.
351 runners made this a smaller field than usual but our biggest with covid protocols in place and it was fantastic to see everyone respond with exceptional attitude towards the situation. The seemingly harsh rules of no spectators, limits on crew numbers and the covid secure protocols at check points are all major limiting factors on the overall feel of the race, but they were by far overshadowed by the huge feeling of warmth and just sheer joy at being back together, out in the open air with the sun shining, doing what we all love.
Social Distancing at Housedean Aid Station (Photo: Jack Atkinson Photography)
It is as ever, the volunteers that truly make the day. Our deepest thanks to them and all their selfless work to allow these events to go ahead. Now more than ever they are the single biggest factor in not just being able to proceed, but how we proceed.
Thank you to everyone that played a part in getting our season off to a safe and successful start.
One Community 2021 came hot off of the back of two other virtual events that together formed a trio of virtual challenges focused as we worked through a long dark winter of lock down here in England and in most instances, across the world.
One Slam began on 1st February and ran all the way to the 31st March, giving those runners who were still cramming miles into the final days, just one day off before the One Community week! One Love 50km/ Half/ 5km happened back on Valentines day and for many was absorbed into the longer One Slam event. 2000 runners took part in those two events and over 500 committed to this third edition of our One Community week. That is 2500 people who came together to run, share their stories and support each other via the community facebook group, social media and finally with this One Community week, back together again in person as this fell into the first week out of national lock down in response to the pandemic.
With the event taking place over Easter weekend, the idea was to give runners a chance to commit to slightly more than they would usually be able to - with four days off work for most, assisting with available running time and recovery.
As we have seen in the previous editions, the 100 mile distance was the most popular choice with over a quarter of the runners starting out with a 100 mile week (or in a few cases, in one go!) being the objective. But as usual many decided to down grade as the week wore on so that we were left with just over 100 finishers in that category.
The range of ages and locations was as usual, huge. That is such a wonderful bonus to these virtual events, that those who would never ordinarily get a chance to race with us in person over 50 or 100 miles, can line up alongside siblings, parents, childen and any other friends and family, anywhere in the world. We had runners from as far afield as India, New Zealand, the US, Canada and Brazil taking part. Many of them having run with us in person in the past but who for a long time have not been able to get back to race again for obvious reasons.
As we move through the road map out of lock down, the virtual events we ended 2020 and started 2021 with, come to an end. We raised over £5000 for charity across the three events, planted over 500 trees thanks to those who gave up awards for Trees not Tees. And a whole heap of litter picked thanks to the epic endeavours of some of our younger runners who are truly leading by example.
When the time is right and we feel there is a strong reason to bring everyone together remotely again, we will put on another virtual challenge but for now we go back to focussing on our in person events, with some relief it must be said that we are in a position to do so from just a week from now.
Thank you so much to all of you who took part in these three virtual races, for your support for us, the charities and for one another.
The inaugural One Slam virtual event was by far, the longest event we've ever staged. Lasting from 1st February until 31st March, runners had two months / 59 days to cover the equivalent of one of the following four distances. The Slams each take place within a calendar year ordinarily of course:
We thought running this much over some of the coldest, darkest months of the year would probably only attract a hardcore of runners, focused on challenging themselves in all weather, perhaps with a hopeful eye on the in-person race season starting at Easter. But, in a fashion we have come to expect from our incredible community, over 800 runners stepped up to give one of the four distances a go.
Approaches to this challenge were as broad as could be imagined.
Immediately, some runners went out to get it done in as short a time frame as possible. Our interactive map gave runners their position relative to the in person events, in their traditional calendar year. Pretty quickly some of the 600 milers were into event numbers four, five and six racing through 150+ mile weeks.
One of the major challenges for most at this stage however, was that in England where the majority of our runners are based, lock down restrictions meant that many could only train once per day. So if a treadmill wasn't available, there was a commitment to get some very long daily outings in to stay 'in touch' with the average daily distance target.
We also saw a lot of chopping and changing of distances early on. There was quite a bit of burn out during weeks two and three as the reality of the length of the task in hand began to hit home. But most runners adapted their daily routine to factor in the miles. Some went for the rinse repeat strategy of running the same distance or even the same route every day of the challenge. But many were able to still get the variety in their training. Of course, most eventually ended up with the most consistent period of running of their entire lives - somewhat of a revelation as to what they could perhaps achieve in the future.
In the end, the completion rate was extremely high. Some runners did drop down in distance, a few also went up - but more than anything the community interaction particularly during the closing stages as many runners took their events 'right to the wire', was the best part of it all.
In the process of this event, £3,000 was donated across MIND and NHS Charities together from the entry fees. Over 100 trees were planted through Trees not Trees via runners foregoing their awards.
A huge thank you to all of the runners that committed themselves to running with us over such a tough period in all of our lives.
Valentines weekend was made a little more special this year for those involved in the inaugural One Love virtual event. Runners had the choice of taking on 5km, a Half Marathon or 50km but had perhaps not banked on conditions being so tough. As it was, much of the UK saw below freezing temperatures for the entire of the weekend and made for some hard miles. Many faced snow, ice, strong winds and the lowest temperatures of the winter so far. BUT, in true ultra style, runners persevered and adapted goals (and clothing) to suit!
Artwork as ever by the wonderful Owen Delaney who also ran the event
A little over 1000 runners registered, with over half attempting the 50km. Around 300 went for the Half Marathon and just under 200 for the 5km.
The wonderful thing about these virtual events is the diversity in ages that they attract. Our youngest compeitors in the Under 5 category - some taking advantage of the opportunity to ride or scoot their 5km, all the way up to Vet 80s at the upper end. Runners from 17 countries took part in the event.
We had a total of 945 people finish the event and in the process, £1000 was raised for each of two charities from the entry fees: MIND and NHS Charities Together. £650 went to the Re-Run Shoe Bank thanks to their Wheel of Fortune add-on and 215 trees will be planted through Trees not Tees via runners who switched receiving a medal to plant a tree instead.
Thank you to everyone involved, this event definitely provided some light at an otherwise incredibly difficult time as we emerge out of a long winter with this pandemic.
Photo: Andrew Smith (@cactusruns)