This ultra came as a complete surprise to me in that I had completely forgotten I had entered. It was only 4 weeks prior that I received an email from Centurion Running race director James Elson detailing final race instructions. There must be some mix up so I emailed James as I was 100% certain I had not entered. Yes you did came the reply - turns out this was my free entry after volunteering last year! Oops. After getting over the initial shock that my longest MK marathon training run was now no longer a 20 miler around the street of Leighton Buzzard but instead a 50 miler over some pretty brutal terrain I actually started to enjoy my training again. This training didn't though come in the form of long 6 hour weekend runs in the hope of tricking myself that it was an ultra runner again. Instead I focused on stacking up the mileage on the ElliptiGO (see www.elliptigo.com if you haven't a clue what I'm talking about :-). I incorporated my commute from Leighton Buzzard to Watford as a long training ride and was doing 45-50 miles to work and 22-30 miles home twice a week, plus a longish ride at the weekend including a 76 mile sportive across Buckinghamshire - Cobblers Classic.
In total in the preceding four weeks to SDW50 I only ran a handful of times, and didn't make a step in the final two. My last ultra was UTMB in August and since then only ran Snowdonia of any significant distance.
Fast forward to race morning and I arose at 6am in the back of my car at the start in Worthing. A broken nights sleep but its all good and I was looking forward to the day ahead whatever it had in store for me. I registered early and then went in search of breakfast ~paleo style. That can mean only one thing - a massive full English breakfast. By sheer good fortune I came across a local café (@downlandscafe) which cooked up the most amazing breakfast with double everything!!
|I don't think pre-race fuelling gets any better than this!!... 1hr before race start :-O|
This was without doubt the single best decision all day as it fuelled me throughout the day, topping up on just nuts, fresh fruit, cheese and a couple of Cliff Bars/ shot blocks on the way around.
My strategy for this race was going to be just to finish. I had no right to expect anything else based on my lack of any specific training. But that then changed when I checked the race shuttle bus times that took runners back to the start. I had two choices - a 6pm bus (sub 9hr finish) or 11pm (finish under the 13.5hr cut off). My planned relaxed day out in the hills had now turned into a full on race! I now had one very clear goal - get back by 6pm for that damn bus!! Just 9 hours to complete the 50 mile route which included 4500ft of elevation gain.
I knew a section of the route as it's the second half of the SDW100 but I would be revisiting the place where I had my darkest EVER moment in an ultra in 2012 when I pulled out at the 83 mile mark (even though I was doing well and had LOADS of time in the bank - don't ask!). I therefore had unfinished business with this course and was looking forward to reaching and moving beyond that point, in a physical and mental sense.
I planned to run an even paced race from start to finish - not something I have ever successfully managed in an ultra. But I knew this was my best chance of success rather than going out too hard on no run training and blowing up big time before half way. So with a fully charged Garmin I kept a close eye on my pace never running under 9 minute miling except for a few down hill sections. My average pace as I hit the first aid station at around 12 miles was exactly 9:30mpm which felt right. I was running well within myself and I positively encouraged people to pass me in these first miles to ensure I kept a lid on it. I was certain I would be seeing these runners again today.
There's nothing too dramatic to write about that happened in the rest of the race. The best ultra strategy is often the least exciting and I guess that's what happened. So no drama, just spectacular views of the South Downs when they weren't shrouded in cloud and mist. I was feeling surprisingly good throughout and kept expecting something to happen that would reduce my steady run to crawl but the strategy seemed to be paying off. Throughout the second 25 miles my average pace stayed at just under or just over (depending on whether we were going up or down) 10 minute mile pace. For many runners this might seem a tad slow but over the distance and terrain it was for me more than I had ever hoped for coming so under-trained into this race.
The climbing continued in the final 10 miles which when you've already covered 40 only gets harder. However the ElliptiGO training was really paying off. It really is the case that the ElliptiGO motion is very similar to climbing the South Downs. I could actually physically sense the same movement in my muscles as they worked efficiently to drive me up and over the Downs. And whereas the majority of runners were now walking all the climbs in the final quarter of the race I was able to maintain the same pace that I had from the beginning. It certainly wasn't effortless, this was a 50 miler after all, but it was mildly comfortable and came as a huge surprise to me. I just didn't expect it.
Another strategy that paid off was to spend the minimal amount of time at the aid stations. My substantial breakfast meant that I was never hungry and just grabbed a handful of stuff on the run only stopping long enough for the superb volunteers to fill my water bottles.
And so that's the tale of my South Downs Way 50. Well almost... I reached the top of the Jeverton climb from where you had just 4 miles to the finish. Word has it they are all downhill however the reality is that 1 of those miles is but the rest are all on the hard pavements of Eastbourne and boy was that tough going. I felt worst in the final 2 flat miles of this race than I had in the proceeding 48 miles combined. I'm not sure whether it was just the mind letting go when it sensed the finish line or just because I had battered myself on the trails and only now was starting to feel the effects of this effort. On reflection it was probably both. As I came around the corner and spotted the sports stadium for the trac kside finish I was mightily relieved but hugely satisfied with my performance. I crossed the finish line in 8 hours and 7 minutes in 35 position out of 350 or so starters. My 5 mile splits and stats from the race are below.
5 miles splits
Strava link here with full mile splits and stats - SDW50 Strava page
So what do I take from this for my next and only other ultra of the year (NDW50 in May). Well its just one thing...actually two things.... Run less, ElliptiGO more!!! :-D
oh And pace it right!!!
What may change my approach to the NDW50 however is that I've planned my own dualathon with the run on the Saturday followed by a 100 mile sportive on the ElliptiGO on the Sunday. If you asked me on Sunday whether I could have ElliptiGOed 100 miles off the back of the SDW50 the sheer thought would have put my legs in a cramp so I clearly have a bit of training to do for that one, but the signs are good after the weekend. Next up is the MK marathon on the May bank holiday where I plan to run sub 3hr pace and just hang on for dear life. I have no right to expect such a finish time on my current training but it will be interesting to see how close I can get.