‘Onwards and upwards’
This day had been along time coming. About 12 months in all honesty. In April 2013 I competed in the inaugural SDW 50 organised by the smooth running machine that is Centurion Running and it wasn’t a good day.
After having suffered for 5 months with pitiformis syndrome and many related injuries I was forced to drop out about half way after running in pain from the first checkpoint and mentally battling with the option of another DNF… This wasn’t, as you would expect, how I wanted this race to turn out! The South Downs are dear to my heart and I wanted to do well.
Roll on 2014, injury free (bar the odd usual niggle we all see to suffer from, especially in tapers!) and I was ready to race. I had spent a solid 6 months solely focusing on this race after Casears Camp 50 in October (which also went very well) and literally thinking about this race every single day… Planning, dreaming and hoping for what was to come. I worked hard and kept my head down. I had some clear goals for this race.
4th April 2014 and the alarm buzzed away at 4:30am. I knew I had a job to do. There wasn’t the usual feeling of nerves or excitement just this feeling of ‘ok let’s go do this thing’. I’d prepared and it was time to put all my efforts to good use. I felt a sense of calm.
Porridge, packing, dragging the other half out of bed and we were off to Worthing at 6am. Picking up my second well experienced crew member (also known as MUM) en route and we arrived perfectly on time at 8am to a much much busier and more structured event that the year before. I guess with twice as many people entered this year (450 odd) it was going to be a bigger affair. I was getting excited….
Runners were scattered everywhere as I tried to spot a few friendly faces in a sea of compression gear and beeping Garmins locating gps.
Over at registration I had the delight of bumping into Gary Dalton who was on kit check, James Adams who was loitering (did you know he has a book out???!) and many friendly faces queuing up- Paul Ali , Paul Navesey and Edwina Sutton to name a few.
I bumped into my old mentor Stuart Mills and we had a good chat about our year’s of racing and training, myself on the up out of last year’s injury and unfortunately himself just recovering from injury and not racing today. Chatting to RD James Elson, I also noticed how much calmer he was this year at the registration. I think having the wonderful ‘Mother of Centurion Running’ Nici Griffin to help organise is doing a world of good!
Once checked in, bib 56 pinned on, I escaped back to the car to stop myself from doing my usual and chatting to everyone so much so that I forget to get ready. Anyone who knows me knows it’s hard to shut me up (sorry!)
8:50am race briefing by Mr. Elson, a quick good luck to David Hegarty and then before I knew it we were counting 10,9,8,7,6….
Strangely I felt completely calm, I felt focused and just totally in the zone for the job at hand. Nerves and excitement, in fact the presence of any emotion had evaporated. I was simply still of mind.
GO! Sprinting off after Paul Navesey and the lead guys, I took 5th position on the lead out and up the first hill (Stuart Mills would be so proud! Ha) though, it didn’t last long as Paul shot off into the distance ahead and I settled into the lead pack.
I remembered to maintain pace, not get swept up in other’s running and their different speeds as a few darted past so stayed steady in about 14th place. The super powerful Edwina charged on ahead as I knew she would and I stayed a short distance behind, there was no need to think about positions at least for 40 miles!
The first 5 miles of the race are a steady climb up to reach the South Downs proper and can be quite difficult to start a race with but are actually not too bad. Soon I was warmed up and feeling a good rhythm, listening to my playlist and just focusing ahead.
Up on the SDW near Chanctobury Ring I felt really good and was ready to surge ahead knocking off a few runners. By this time I had already been passed by another talented lady Helen Taranowski and so made it my short term goal to keep up with her into the first check point.
11 miles in and we decend into Botolphs, keeping on Helen’s wing I pass her over the bridge, roll through the check point with more of a mad dash action (not smooth or pretty!) spilling the plastic cup of water over my face and having great difficulty trying to eat a chocolate chip biscuit and breathe at the same time (biscuit confetti).
After the check point there is one of my favourite hills (yes, sarcasm) and most runners are forced to hike (except Paul N. I’m sure!) so I opted for a run walk strategy to save energy.
Soon after, Helen leap frogged ahead, which was to be the pattern of events over the next 18miles as we ran never further than 100 metres away from each other. It was important to me to keep a good position regardless of how much effort it took, just keeping them in eye shot.
It wasn’t long at all before we descended down into Saddlecombe Farm, Cp. 2 at 16.6miles and with my crew waiting just in front on the other side of the road I ran past with a quick smile and wave.
I guess it’s not really all that fun for crew with a day that usually looks something like this… Up early, reassure nervous runner, drive them to start, hover around feeling out of place, jump in car to first cp, wait ..wait… Runner appears barks a few odd words and disappears in 30 seconds.. This repeats for each cp you are required at with the barking and moaning increasing in a linear correlation to distance covered. Oh and then at the finish you have the delight of a happy (if you’re lucky and they have a good day!) but shattered runner that now wants you to be their slave while they whimper in a corner about their legs/ feet etc.. Roll on a happy week!
Err.. Maybe at this point I should say what a MARVELLOUS job Sam and MUM did crewing, they have got this down to an art and could challenge any F1 pit stop in efficiency!
About 20 miles in and I was beginning to suffer. I mean really hurt. I thought this was a bit worrying as usually in 50’s it’s not until 35miles or so but figured I was really pushing the pace this time and not giving myself any slack so it was understandable. However. It didn’t make it feel any better- I know ultra running isn’t meant to be easy, I’m used to it and get it so it’s not a shock but today I was suffering. The hamstrings had already buckled and cramped up stabbing with each foot plant and the quads were on their way out too… Err hang on fellas, we have 30 miles left- THIS ISNT OVER!
So, the problem solving and mental strategies come into full force. There was nothing I could do now other than put my head down, accept the position I was in, forget the pain and focus on just pushing ahead. I refused to slow.
Descending into Housedean Cp.3 at 26.6 and I clipped along with a slightly dubious running gait now, only to glance back and see the gazelle like Sarah Perkins! Wow she was looking fresh! (But then again us runners always think the opposition do don’t we?!)
I honestly felt deflated, with thoughts of disappointment and failure floating around my head… I had tried massively hard to keep 2nd and now I could turn in 4th! ‘Sam will be disappointed, I’ve let everyone down, I’ve failed!!!’ ran through my head.
This reflected in a tough and negative climb up the 6 mile section to Southease. At one point I had slowed to a walk after Sarah passed looking comfortable and was having difficulty regrouping the troops!
However with a few tough words to myself I soldiered on with a run (think more shuffle run really) and just kept her in sight. The black clouds of negativity had really taken hold and the usual pace felt harder, the pain screaming from my body felt louder than before. I wasn’t in control.
However, soon I looked up ahead and saw I was gaining on Helen (who had been in 2nd placed lady) and this spurred me ahead. Maybe all wasn’t lost!
I passed her with a quick chat to hear she wasn’t having a great day so wished her luck and hope she was ok . On I trotted, now with a revived sense of motivation, I was back in the game!
I felt generally good, still in a lot of pain yes but good coming into Southease. There was a wall of noise from the delightful supporters and crews. It’s just so lovely to have someone smile and clap you past- it makes it all so much more bearable.
My crew were waiting here so aware of wanting to keep my place and good time I made a quick dash at the picnic (err.. I mean aid station ‘fuel’) and marched up hill after a few words from Sam. On to Alfriston.
This was one of my better sections. I really was in the zone, relenting from any slowing of pace, I kept myself strong talking to myself and focusing on each chunk of hills ahead. I was glad as this was the section where in 2012 on the SDW 100, after leading in ladies race and doing a cracking time, only a few miles from the end I had to drop due to ankle problems. It’s really stuck with me ever since and I vow to complete this race this year.
Clipping down into Alfriston, I noticed a distinct lack of function in my quads so with a steep decent I just used my calves to absorb impact- odd technique but it worked!
Meeting my crew for the last time I didn’t stay long and was shortly out and on my way, now just focus on ending this pain as quickly as possible! However Sam trying to help updated me on the position of the lady behind (6/7minutes and looking strong) hoping to spur me on. However I completely panicked! ‘Looking strong? How much behind is 6 minutes?? And she might have gained by now!’
I ran scared. Desperately trying to pace myself up the steep hill out of Alfriston. I was near crying and I felt out of control, unable to run any faster, body failing me and feeling like a sitting duck about to be pounced on by the runners behind.
I sobbed and ran my way into Jevington as fast as I could, desperately trying to fend any passing runners off. I did well and actually descending in to the last check point passing another runner ahead. Now in 17th place overall.
Quick dash through the check point and last 4 miles…
Last hill, I kept saying LAST hill. My plan had been to hike this but now in panic mode and with a time to achieve I refused to do anything other than run. Body screaming at me but I was getting to the top. I think I scared a few walkers as behind them appears what looked like a woman possessed (or possibly similar to a dog with rabies panting and gasping away) crawling up this hill.
Finally the top! This was made even better by the sight of a friendly face Drew Sheffield who beamed at me and encouraged me on, down we go..
It’s a tricky technical climb descending off the downs to Eastbourne but I made quick work of it again relying on calves mostly. I was able to pass one more runner in front which gave me confidence and I now took 16th place going into the final few miles of road.
Knowing this route really well I was in auto pilot, completely zoned out, not panicking to get to the end but just thinking about running strong and ticking off each mile. Surprisingly my stats show these were my quickest miles! (7:35, 7:45, 7:32) so that gives me confidence for the future.
Last bend and I’m on the home stretch passing the hospital, head down, keep going….
Turning into the sports track car park I am looking desperately for an indication of which way to run around the track, anticlockwise it is.. Last charge to the blue finish line.
I kept calm all the way, knowing usually I burst into tears today I was too focused for that and just crossed the line with a smile shortly followed by a collapse!
That felt good. Finally a result I am proud of and all the hard word has paid off!!!!
3rd lady. 7:32. 55 mins off old women’s CR and a PB of 90minutes!
I was so happy and think I hugged everyone! After a lot of chatting (again, as I said, it takes a large horse sedative to shut me up…not suggesting anything!) with James, Gary, Paul N., Paul A, Sam R. and congratulating Edwina and Sarah on their brilliant 1st and 2nd lady places I collapsed in the car- medal around my neck and smile on my face.
I am ready for more.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!!