The South Downs National Park once again delivered a spectacular weekend for everyone involved in the twelfth running of the South Downs Way 100. For volunteers, staff and supporters, bright sunshine and the stunning scenery made for a really special journey. For the runners, however, it was a race of two halves. The heat got up early on Saturday and felt fierce right through until the late hours of Saturday evening, derailing more attempts to finish than we've ever seen here before. But when the sun did go down, the drop out rate fell off of a cliff and those that hung on through to see the sun set, had the most spectacular night up on the downs.
339 runners began the race from the natural amphitheatre of Matterley Bowl just outside of Winchester at 6am and spirits were high, but not without a little anxiety about the struggle that the heat was likely to deliver in a few hours time.
The pace was quick right from the start in both the mens and womens races.
Sarah Page and Centurion Ultra Team runner Edwina Sutton led out for the women and stayed within a few minutes of each other through the first third of the race, Sarah slightly ahead. In third place sat Teresa Reason.
Eddie passed Sarah between Cocking and Houghton, mile 44 and held it through Washington, mile 54 and the first drop bag point. But the heat had now taken it's toll on everyone and the pace slipped across the board. None more so than for Eddie who was stopped by stomach problems that had dogged her for many hours and which would eventually stop her. Sarah pushed back into the lead and an impressively consistent Cat Simpson, also one of our team runners, forged her way into second place having sat all the way back in eighth in the early stages.
Moving up into third Aoife Ni Mhaoileoin had had a similar day to Cat, biding her time early on back in seventh and moving up all day. The positions stayed the same through the back third of the race and Sarah crossed the line first in 19:31:56 in a superb debut 100. Unfortunately Sarah was missing an item of mandatory kit at the finish and so received the one hour time penalty giving her a revised finish time of 20:31. Something which to her credit, despite what was clearly an unintentional infraction and therefore a shock, she took in very good grace. There was then of course an edgy hour to see what time the second place runned would come home. Cat held on for second in 20:40 meaning Sarah's default margin of victory was 9 minutes. Third place went to Aoife in 22:07.
The mens race played out quite differently. Three front runners left the start at pace and were there or thereabouts on course receord splits for the the first quarter of the event. Would they sensibly get some mileage under their belts before the real heat got up and run through strong, or would it derail their efforts - it felt like a gamble.
Jacob James led the early miles but was the first to come undone as he dropped out before the half way mark. Henrik Westerlin - previous Autumn 100 champion and Jose Rodriguez who set a new mens course record at the North Downs Way 50 three weeks ago, forged the front of the race for a while but Jose had taken a fall on the way down into Cocking and Henrik was very visibly struggling with the heat at Houghton Farm mile 44 and at Washington where he spent some time. Though Henrik led in there, it was Tim Bradley who'd looked in control from the start, hovering back in fifth early on, who then rocketed not only into the lead but out ahead of the field.
He ran an extremely well executed race, not fading noticeably at all, arguably the most consistent effort of any runner on the day as he extended his margin all the way to the line in a winning time of 15:50.
Henrik ground out a hard fought second place in 17:09 and third place went to Alan Clarke who much like Tim, had a really consistent run - he was eighteenth at check point one and ran into the podium places only 15 miles from the finish, overtaking Peter Windross who had crept up into third. Pete finished fourth so the last three years he's had a first, second and fourth here.
The mens podium: Tim centre, Henrik right and Alan left
The Age Category awards went to the following runners:
FV40 to Sarah Page the race winner. FV50 to Tara Taylor in 25:16. FV60 to Trinity Buckley in 29:19.
First MV40 was Henrik Westerlin also second overall. MV50 went to Pete Windross in fourth. MV60 to Graham Merfield in 23:39. MV70 to Ken Fancett in 26:24. His 97th 100 mile finish.
192 finishers made this the lowest finish rate we've ever had at the SDW100 - just 57% of the starters made it to Eastbourne. On the all time list it also creeps into the top ten lowest finish rates we've had in what was our 52nd 100 mile event since 2011.
On a weekend like this, the volunteers matter more than ever and almost 120 people made it all possible. Our huge huge thanks to all of them.
Those in the Grand Slam should feel very proud to still be in the hunt for the giant buckle after the two extremes of the wet and muddy TP100 and the sun baked SDW100. Onwards to Wendover Woods Weekender in just four weeks time we hope to see many of you there!