North Downs Way 50 race day usually dawns bright and sunny, giving a chance for runners to head out and truly enjoy some of the best mixed trails to be found in the South East. This edition delivered exactly that for our intrepid band of runners who arrived in Farnham early on Saturday morning to start their 50 mile adventure, east to Knockholt Pound along the North Downs Way.
279 made this our second largest of eleven editions and at the front of the race, both the womens and mens overall places were hotly contested battles, right through to the finish.
The womens race kicked off with a fast early start from previous SDW50 champion Sarah Hill. She led the pace through to the half way mark, followed closely by Amy-Jo Clarke, Jennifer Sangster, Sophie Biggs and Nicola Soraghan. In the end, all five were still duking out for the overall positions through to the final miles. Sarah slowed after the climb up Box Hill and was passed by Jennifer and then Amy-Jo. Less than a minute separated those two through Reigate Hill at 50km and through Caterham mile 38. It was only entering the final 10 miles that Amy-Jo was finally able to pull clear, but that she did and finished in style, gapping the rest of the field in the process to come home in 8:06 for the win.
Jennifer faded in the final stages, not assissted by a small detour just a few miles from the finish which left Nicola Soraghan, who finished in very strong fashion, to run her way into second in a time of 8:20. Third place went to Sophie Biggs just six minutes further back.
The mens race was equally as close. Despite the 2022 SDW50 champion Luke Davies also lining up to race here, it was Ed Knudsen who came in as the pre-race favourite.
Ed is a really conistent performer over this distance and has previously run home winner of the Chiltern Wonderland 50. Through the early part of the race he ran out in front, with Sam Harper running in his first 50 miler, leapfrogging or alongside. The two were together on the climb up Box Hill before Ed pulled out a small margin over the following miles. Sam dropped back a little and was replaced in second by Daniel Weller who then began to close on Ed. Ed admitted that, out in front, he tried to enjoy the day a little more and relaxed, taking things a bit easier than perhaps he should have. Coming into Botley Hill aid station at mile 43, Daniel was less than a minute behind and Ed needed to get his game together. That he did and he ran home for the win in 6:55. Daniel held on for a very strong second in 7:00 and third went to Sam Harper who had a fantastic first 50 overall, finishing in 7:13.
In the age groups, the FV40 category was won by Jennifer Sangster in 8:35. First FV50 went to Sophie Biggs who was third overall in new age category record of 8:28 - a substantial achievement, taking 20 minutes off of the previous best. First FV60 went to to Claudie Combelas in 12:28. That's two consecutive races with FV60 finishers. Long may that continue.
First MV40 was Rob Feline in 7:38. First MV50 was Mark Thomas in 8:54. First MV60 was Chris Finill in 9:12, Chris is one of the 7 ever-presents at the London Marathon having run every edition of that race. First MV70 was Ken Fancett in 10:25 who was extremely disappointed in his performance, but became the first MV70 to finish this event. Behind him, David Rootes also finished in the same age category - fantastic to see.
Debra Bourne also deserves a mention for finishing her 100th ultra here. The more remarkable part however, is that she has a 100% finish record in that 100 events. Not many people can lay claim to that kind of consistency.
70 volunteers made the day the special one it was. We always get a good turn out on the trail for this one and as our first ever event it remains a very special one to us.
Stuart March Photography
Stuart March Photography