After a wet and muddy Thames Path 100 just two weeks earlier, we were delighted to get a clear weather window leading into this one, the trails finally getting a chance to dry out and the record field of 350 runners and 60 volunteers were granted close to ideal conditions on the day. Warm and sunny but with some passing cloud cover and a cooling north easterly breeze, it was a fast and glorious day out on the North Downs Way.
With a year off for the pandemic in 2020 aside, the North Downs Way 50 has been our longest running event. A lot of small things have changed in the intervening period, mostly to help make the event sustainable and open to more entrants, but ultimately it is the same race. The course used to finish outside the pub, but now runs an extra few hundred metres up into the fields. The Box Hill check point has moved across the road and St Martha's CP became Newlands Corner. But everything else is the same. And so each year, the runners get to test themselves against what is now one of the longer standing UK ultra distance events with over 2000 finishers in that time.
Because of the longevity of the event, when a course record gets broken it is a special moment. And in the mens race that was what we were treated to. The pace from the start was extremely fast. 23 year old young gun with what is clearly a bright future in the sport - Callum Job - went off hard and led through CP1 and CP2 - covering those first 14.5 miles in 1:34, putting himself 8 minutes up on Ry Webb's Course Record pace from 2021. A minute back sat Jose Rodriguez, who had run a great 100 miler at our South Downs Way 100 last year.
The section over to the A24 is fast and then the most challenging part of the course between Box Hill and Reigate Hill always seems to shake the field up. Emerging from that stretch first was Jose. He made Caterham at Mile 38 in 4:39, which put him 7 minutes up on record pace and 9 minutes up on his nearest contender Patrick Wightman, now in second place. Over the final miles, Jose slowed a little but so did Patrick and Jose had done enough, coming across the line for a new record 6:33:35. Patrick Wightman ran a superb 6:41 for second place and fourth fastest all-time on this course. Third place went to Gatsby Fitzgerald who climbed the rankings all day to finish in 7:15.
The front of the womens race came down to three athletes who occupied the podium positions from gun to tape, but the lead changed hands multiple times along the way making for fascinating racing.
The early faster running came from Canadian fast marathoner Alicia Kelahear and Amy Sole who had had a good SDW50 back in April. The lead changed hands several times between those two over the first half of the race. Meanwhile Katie Grinyer in third made steady progress and crucially after half way, began to close down the two out front with more consistent, marginally faster splits through the sections over to Reigate Hill and Caterham View Point. She passed Amy on the way to Caterham and then Alicia on the way to the final check point at Botley Hill. A lead she managed to maintain all the way to the finish in a winning time of 8:35. Alicia ran home in second in 8:46 and Amy took third in 8:49. Close, exciting racing throughout.
Katie Grinyer the 2023 NDW50 Champion
In the age categories awards went to the following:
First FV40 was Rike Jones in 9:23 and the first FV50 award went to Kit-Yi Greene in a superb 9:03.
First MV40 was Jose Rodgriguez the race winner. First MV50 was Adam Wilson in 7:55. First MV60 went to Simon Blanchflower in 9:17. First MV70 went to Ken Fancett finishing his 57th Centurion event in the process.
We had eleven people cross the line in the final ten minutes of the race, with regular Centurion volunteer and runner Kevin Stone treating us to a nail biting 12:59:25 to become the 317th and final finisher on the day.
Kevin Stone finishing with 35 seconds to spare
As ever we cannot do any of this without our incredible volunteers and the team of race markers and staff who dove tail the logistics at these events. A huge thanks to all for making this event the successful one that it was.