Sunday 14 April 2013

Marathon No.34 - South Downs Way 50 Mile Ultra

On Saturday, 13th April 2013 I set off to run my 34th Marathon in The South Downs Way. It was going to be my 7th Ultra Marathon and my first ever 50 mile challenge. I've been feeling a little apprehensive about this one. Two weeks before the race I was very nervous because I've never competed in a 50 miler before with a 13.5 hour cut off time.  I was pleased that the run was happening in spring so it wouldn't be too hot or cold. I was later going to realise that British weather is so very unpredictable!

The SDW50 course follows the South Downs Way for 80% of the race, the first 5.7 miles and the final 2 miles were not part of the South Downs Way course. It is one of the geographical landscape wows of England, with a total elevation gain of  4,800 feet.
Brand New Kit - Water Bladder, Fleece Top, Running Bottoms & Spare Batteries for Torch/Mobile Phone

All runners taking part were expected to carry a 'Mandatory Kit', those runners who refused to kit check were disqualified from the event, the safety requirements were very stringent on this run, and although this should have provided me with some comfort, I found that it further increased my feeling of unease at having decided to run this Marathon. Some of the items required for the run were as follows :-

1) Fully Charged Mobile Phone including the numbers for the Race Medic and Race Director
2) Water Bottles/Bladder capable of carrying a minimum of 1 litre.
3) Survival Blanket : 1.4m x 2m minimum
4) Waterproof Jacket (With sealed seams)
5) Route Map
6) Compass
7) Headtorch
8) Back up Light source (Handheld Flashlight)
9) Warm Hat
10) Gloves
11) Base layer

The race started at Hillbarn Recreation Ground, Worthing at 9am and finished at Eastbourne Sports Park (Athletics Track) and the cut off time to the finish was 10.30pm. The route was not marshalled and runners had to take their own responsibility for crossing roads and navigating the course safely. Most of the course on the South Downs Way was very well marked out with the National Waymark signs which was a very pretty acorn symbol. There were also red and white stripey tape and a Centurion arrow sign posted along the route.

There were a total of 6 Aid Stations, and each aid checkpoint had its own cut off times :-

Start: Worthing (Mile 0)
Aid 1: Botolphs (Mile 11.2)
Aid 2: Saddlescombe Farm (Mile 16.6)
Aid 3: Housedean Farm (Mile 26.6)
Aid 4: Southease (Mile 33.3)
Aid 5: Alfriston (Mile 41.6)
Aid 6: Jevington (Mile 45.7)
Finish: Eastbourne (Mile 50)

The weather on the morning was fairly sunny but just a bit cold, and as usual I was worried about my fingers freezing up. On a couple of occasions during the run I managed to get myself lost, which was stressful but eventually I would find the track again (usually after running around in circles for a good 15 minutes).

All was going well during the run and I was beginning to enjoy it until I reached Mile 10-12. The little drizzles of a rain soon changed into a brutal ice cold wind. As I reached Mile 16.6 I physically could not run any further uphill, I was gasping for breath and struggling to make it. This was when I had to reluctantly concede that I could not continue any further with the run and that it would be best to stop at the next Aid Station No.3, which was at Mile 26.6.  I normally don't give up without pushing myself to the limit but on this occasion my decision to stop at 26.6 Miles was made because of the horrendous weather conditions. I could see without doubt that there was no way I could finish the 50 Miles before the cut off time of 13.5 Hours in such severe weather without risking hypothermia. It was my decision to stop and sadly this was my very FIRST ever 'DID NOT FINISH' race!

Every limb in my body was exhausted and just  would not co-operate. I just walked, walked and walked battling against the strong winds and the heavy rain which felt like hard pieces of hailstones hitting my face.  With my left hand holding the hood of my water-proof jacket, I plodded hard along in the hope that the miserable weather would end soon, and the sun would appear, the flowers would bloom and rabbits will jump out of their little burrows.. this is what spring is supposed to feel like, is it not?!  The weather didn't let up, it just became progressively worse. First sweeper John was following me until I reached 16.6 Miles and then Gary followed me until I reached to 26.6 Miles. Both were clearing away the red and white tapes and Centurion sign posts which were put out for the runners. Having them close was a bit of a relief.

The MEDAL I never got!!
The course was mainly chalky hills, roads with some muddy areas and a few very big puddles. At one point I slipped and fell in to the mud, my gloves, water-proof jacket, running bottoms became very muddy. My new pair of trainers became drenched and I could feel my socks were soaked in rain! I was freezing and felt so horrible covered in mud and dirt that I just wanted to finish. The back pack I was carrying was useless as the strap was too long, and every time I adjusted it, it would loosen again so I ended up strapping it around my right arm for the entire race. ....................... At one point I heard my glasses case drop but didn't pay much attention, I now realise my backpack was slightly open and I had dropped a few of my items along the way. When I reached Housedean Farm at Mile 26.6, I was then driven by Charlie to Southease (Mile 33.3) where I met Bryan Webster who was marshaling. Bryan ran the TP100 2 weeks before (A 100 Mile Event also organized by Centurion Running). I was sat in the warmth in the mini-bus for around half an hour before I was greeted by Mark who also quit at Mile 33.3 and we were both driven to The Old Chapel in Alfriston (Mile 41.6) where hot drinks and food were served.  This was the point I realised I had lost my camera too! which had £75 cash and a spare memory stick inside the pouch of the camera case.... After speaking to James (the Director), he'd told me a runner had contacted him about a camera which she had found a long the route. (I am now in the process of retrieving my dropped items). Thank you so much to Sue Jones in getting in contact with me! There were a few other runners who quit at this aid station and we were all driven to the finish at Eastbourne, where more hot drinks and food were served (I will never forget the delicious HOT-DOG I had, it tasted so good after the nightmare run I had been through). After baggage collection, Dave the driver then drove us all back to Hillbarn Recreation in Worthing.

Drenched Blistered Feets & Brand New Muddy Salomon Trainers..........
South Downs Way 50 Mile Ultra - DNF (26.6 Miles - Time 7 Hours & 20 Minutes)
The organisers were brilliant, they were quick to react when the weather turned for the worse and were eager to help out in any way they could. A very 'Well Done' Event organised by Centurion Running.   The volunteers, medics and crews were fantastic support from start to finish, very well organised and I must admit the the safety of the runners did come first.

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