South Downs Way 100 Race Report

Posted by Chris Foulds on 8 September 2019

I did the SDW50 in 2018, which is mostly the second half of the hundred mile route and has nearly all the more difficult hills in it.  Finished that in about 11 hours 30 minutes but with no idea how it would be possible to do more or less the same thing with a 50 mile warm up.  On the other hand, it was an excellent recce – the endless rolling hills aren’t quite so endless when you know what’s coming, and the double summits are definitely less frustrating when you know to expect them!

The 100 mile version goes from Winchester to Eastbourne and has lots of superb scenery – down to the sea on one side sometimes, lots of nice fields and villages all around.  When people talk about a beautiful patchwork countryside, this is what they mean.  Usually with less physical damage involved though, the SDW50 cost me a big toenail from banging on the inside of some Speedcross 4’s on the downhills.  It didn’t actually come off until outside the showers at Thunder Run a few months later, which was entertaining for the person I was talking to at the time 😊

Pre race dinner.  Omnom and, indeed, nom.

Pre race dinner

Kit faff.

Kit faff

This time I have Altra Lone Peak 4’s which are less bangy, and 100 miles in my legs from the Thames Path 100 five weeks before.  This should be interesting, I’ve never tried two runs like that so close together.  I’ve done almost nothing in between the two apart from Liverpool half marathon, and that didn’t end well into the wind along the banks of the Mersey.  The South Downs Way is very exposed on the second half, so pretty much hoping for gentle conditions but we get whatever we get.  As it happens the only rain and wind came early on in the first half, which has a fair bit of tree cover and other shelter.  That’s just as well because the rain was horizontal through the gaps in the trees.



Registration is on Friday night in at the start location in Matterley Bowl.  When we start the next day it’s two circuits of the bowl which gives a nice view of the runners plus it’s partly single file so it stops me going off too fast.  We’re soon on the South Downs Way itself, and navigation is easy until I attempt to go the wrong way in a village and someone calls me back.  Getting lost at a Centurion race is quite an achievement as there’s tape everywhere, but I decide it’s probably time to start using the map on my watch 😊

Not long after the first checkpoint at Beacon Hill Beeches the route comes out of a wooded section onto a hillside for the first spectacular view of the day.  This is where the rolling hills and nice little villages start coming into view.  It’s superb.

The next 25 miles or so are a bit wearing though, maybe it’s fatigue from TP100.  I’m not particularly on it and not especially enthusiastic.  That’s a problem because to finish a hundred miler you really have to be invested in it, the smallest amount of negativity can get bigger and bigger to the point where you don’t want to carry on.

Still, it doesn’t really last and on the hill above Cocking aid station I realise I feel OK, my legs have an enjoyable amount of pain in them, I’m doing what I really enjoy doing and there’s Stuart March taking the official photos!  Plus the checkpoint is in Cocking and how can you not have a juvenile laugh at that?  Hur hur hur that sounds like “Cocking” 😊  Now stop fannying about and move like you got a purpose.

Somewhere between Cocking and Bignor Hill we run in to a huge flock of cows coming down a narrow lane.  The farmer redirects us through one of his fields and after a short detour we’re back on the course.  Bignor Hill sees a sit down to replace plasters, they don’t seem to resist sweat very well so probably time to come up with a better idea.  Soon at halfway though and the car park at Kithurst Hill.  The volunteers tell us not to hang around – there’s likely to be plenty enough time lost at Washington in four miles’ time because that’s where the first drop bags are.  I’m somewhere near the back of the field but there’s still vegan cake left omnomnom.  I’ve done half the race in 12 hours which I’m OK with – it leaves 18 hours to do the rest which should be plenty.

On to Washington.  This checkpoint’s in a village hall, full of runners meeting pacers, collecting stuff from drop bags, eating the first hot food of the day and generally getting ready for the second half.  I’ve got a clean shirt and various gels to collect, plus some more flapjacks which for once are not making me feel sick at this point.  It feels like a pretty quick stop and then out through the village onto another hill.

The second half of the race follows that pattern – checkpoint, hill straight after.  Nearly all of the larger climbs are in the second half so I’m expecting it to be difficult.  I work on my motivational speaking – “I ******* **** hills, they **** ** *** ******* ****.  I **** ******* one, make it ******, make it ******, make it ******, * **** **”.  It isn’t easy talking in asterisks, I can tell you 😊

The route now goes past Chanctonbury Ring.  This sounds like something you need to put ointment on, but it means I’m on the SDW50 route now and I’ve done everything to come at SDW50 last year.  Mental familiarity will be a big help, and the pig farm soon comes into view which means Botolphs aid station isn’t far either.  The second UBM (Urgent Bowel Movement, for those not paying attention at TP100) strikes shortly before the checkpoint, which is awkward as it’s in a small layby.  The first was in some woods earlier on with lots of space away from the trail.  However the route after Botolphs carries on up an exposed hill which is in full view of everyone at the checkpoint, and nobody needs to see that.  Fortunately there’s a secluded hedge just before.  I expect a small part of it to be slightly taller than the rest next time I run past.

The sun sets in the next section, so a quick stop to put on the headtorch and then through Devil’s Dyke.  I pass someone who says she hates this bit, but it doesn’t take long to get through and then we’re at Saddlescombe Farm.  It’s another busy checkpoint with a lot of people sitting down and other trying to eat / cope with stomach problems.  The sweep bus is there too and the runners on it look totally done in.  I push on into the dark, and a very mild night.  I’ve got three layers on and seriously contemplate taking my jacket off because it’s so warm.  Wasn’t expecting that at all.

Housedean Farm comes up at about 76 miles, like Saddlescombe Farm the aid station is a big concrete shed with an open front.  My second drop bag is here and I decide against a change to more cushioned shoes, I’m not having any problems with the shoes I have on.  I do have problems standing up after retrieving extra gels and flapjacks from my bag though, it’s definitely a bit hurty.  I’m feeling a bit sub-optimal but a bit of food rectifies that.  Not before I try to go the wrong way out of the aid station though 😊

After crossing the A27 we start another hill.  About half way up I can hear snoring, which surprises me.  Then I notice I’m surrounded by eyes, wasn’t expecting any spectators because it’s the middle of the night.  It’s a hill full of cows, and it’s a relief to be a in a field not full of cows when I get to the top and through the gate.

Daylight comes as I’m on the Yellow Brick Road, a stretch of farm road made of corrugated concrete that constantly catches on the tread of my shoes.  At the end of it I need to rest for a few seconds on a gatepost, feeling a bit short on energy.  Food required and then onwards.  I can see the hill at Southease in the distance, but there’s a few miles to go before that.  On a sharp descent down I’m attacked by the third UBM of the race.  Maybe it’s a sign my nutrition is working properly?  There’s no cover round here, the trees at the bottom of the climb are no use and then it’s a farm road for a mile or so with fields either side.  I pass a runner and her pacer then head for some trees and bushes away from the route.  Which turns out to be a stream.  I go back to the actual route and head into a small clearing just as the runner and her pacer go past.  As it’s obvious what I’m about to do I apologise for a bit of ultrarunning that definitely isn’t a team sport.  The runner says it’s OK as she’s already seen someone throwing up.  About twenty seconds later the pacer shouts “Go onnnnnn son” from up ahead which makes me smile, as does his runner telling him “Look, he told you it’s not a team sport”.

Anyway, having dealt with one movement I then carry on with the two footed variety.  Southease is another aid station in a concrete shed.  Fill water, put electrolyte tablet in, bin gel wrappers, thank volunteers, get going again.

All the hills up to now have been easier than they were in the SDW50 last year.  No idea why, maybe I’m a bit fitter or just taking them more slowly?  This one isn’t easier.  It’s very, very slow going but I make it to the top and shamble on.

Alfriston’s next after taking a very wide detour indeed to avoid a cow with calves (they might just have been three cows standing close together but I wasn’t going to go and check).  This one’s a village hall, time for a quick sit down and then on to the last 9 miles.  It isn’t far to the last checkpoint at Jevington through more rolling hills.  By then I’ve got about three and a half hours to do a little over four miles so I stop doing cutoff maths which is a relief.  As I begin the final advance on Eastbourne I don’t exactly have a spring in my step but I’ve relaxed a bit.  I meet a cyclist who remembers the South Downs Way 80, which is bit before my time but used to finish pretty close to where I’m heading for today.

The last climb up to the trig point is swamped with insects, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as I remember from the SDW50.  Quick tap on the trig point itself then down to the gully of doom / death (take your pick) into Eastbourne.  I nearly manage to get that wrong until someone out for a walk points me at the next piece of tape.  As I near the bottom suddenly I have a dog sitting on my shoulder which is odd because I’m definitely not running with one.  It take a few seconds to work out what I thought was the nose of the dog is actually the top of a water bottle flopping about.  I’ve just passed a dog walker and the small part of my brain which isn’t thinking about the race decided his Labrador had jumped onto my shoulder 😊

Imaginary dogs dispelled, there’s just a couple of miles of pavement and then the track finish at Eastbourne Sports Park.  Much to my surprise I’ve sneaked in at just under 28 hours, two hours inside the cutoff.  More than happy with that.


Stats this time:

UBM:  3

Plasters:  Too many.  Need to think of something better.

Imaginary dogs:  1

Hills:  A lot.

Buckles:  1



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