Sunday, 11 August 2013

North Downs Way Race Report (sort of...)

Wow! What a race!

Not from me; I pussied out after about 25 miles...

But the race itself was pretty much dominated by two runners; Ed Catmur and Anthony Forsyth. I have met Ed at several other Centurion events, and he always runs a great race. He led the 2012 NDW100 race to the halfway point, and finished in third in the end. I met Anthony through Facebook, and knew that he was out to push for the win. He had completed the NDW50 earlier this year, and had clocked up some really high mileage out on the course. But this would be his first 100 miler, and many of us know that a 100 mile race is a very different beast to a 50 miler. What would happen when they pushed each other?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The weeks leading up to the race had been pretty poor for me in terms of training. I was still suffering the effects of my injury from Transvulcania and hadn't been doing much in the way of running. But things were much better, and I had managed a good long run a couple of weeks before with no real issues. So I decided to give the race a shot, knowing that if things got bad I could pull straight out before any serious problems occurred.

As with the SDW100, the start of the NDW100 is close to my parents, so we decided to head down south for the weekend. I left Jen and Lottie in the capable hands of my parents and headed to meet Dan Park in Farnham. Dan attempted this race last year but unfortunately had to pull out early due to problems with his ankles. This year he had a score to settle.



We arrived at registration on Friday evening where plenty of people were already gathering. I got a chance to catch up with Gemma Carter, who was in a similar position as me; starting the race with an injury and not wholly expecting to finish. But she was in a good frame of mind, having decided to run and enjoy it rather than pressuring herself - we are supposed to enjoy running after all!


I also took part in a research project being conducted by Danny Longman, who funnily enough is also from Cambridge. He is interested in looking at the effects of ultra distance racing on human physiology, so arrived with a team in tow ready to take measurements of height weight and impedance (not to be confused with impotence), as well as taking a blood and saliva sample. Ooh. Real science!

After registration, Dan and I headed off for dinner with fellow runner James Adams and his wife Gemma, along with another runner Kelly and her husband Chris.

While there, James' eye was drawn by the Mulberry Challenge; eat four 8oz burgers, a mountain of chips, some onion rings and some hash browns, and win a free T-shirt. With a little goading about how funny it would be to wear the shirt during the race, James gave it a go. He's had a lot of luck with eating contests this year already apparently. Unfortunately it was not to be, and he was forced to DNF. After only 2 burgers. Disappointing. I'm sure it wouldn't have happened if he had used poles... But at least it's given him something to blog about!


We retired to bed, and got prepared for the early start. My bag was packed pretty minimally and everything was in easy reach, and all of my kit was laid out for the morning so I wouldn't forget anything. I decided to have a crack at taping my feet which I have never really done before. I don't normally suffer from too many issues with blisters, but figured if it works to get rid of any issues that might arise it would be worth a shot. I have practiced a few times and it seems to work pretty well. I used some Rocktape (I'm not sold on the scientific claims, but it works well as sticky tape) along with an adhesive spray, and left some pretty interesting sticky stains on the bed sheets. Given that Dan and I almost ended up sharing a double bed, it should give the cleaners something to think about.

We got to the start in plenty of time, dropped off our drop bags, and walked with the rest of the runners to the NDW trail. I lined up alongside Mark Perkins, David Ross, Anthony Forsyth and Ed Catmur, hoping that I was in a position to keep up with them. David commented to me that he was happy to see me join the "sideburns fraternity". Join?! I thought I was the only member!
After looking around to make sure that I was as far from Robbie Briton and any of his coaching clients as possible (I didn't want a repeat of his shady tactics from the SDW... :D ), the horn went and we were off! The starting pace was good; pacey but not too fast. A little breakaway group of about 8 of us took off, and we pretty much stuck together for the first few miles, causing some queuing trying to get through the many gates and sties along the way.

We reached the first aid station at Puttenham golf course pretty close together, with Ed taking an early lead. I generally don't drink too much, but topped my bottle up to be on the safe side and headed straight out. My plan was to avoid drinking too much, only drinking to thirst (usually equating to a couple of hundred mls per hour), and eat one gel every hour and a half with a bit of fruit along the way. This relatively minimal approach seems to work pretty well for me.

The pack opened out slightly in the next section and I found myself running on my own but with the other runners just in sight. A lot of this section was familiar, having run it during the Pilgrim's Challenge last year. Navigation was my worry with this race. Despite all evidence to the contrary, my navigation is actually pretty good. What I'm not so great at is doing it while trying to run fast when I'm trying to avoid looking at the map as much as possible. But between the excellent course markings and the GPS file on my Garmin watch, I had no issues at all. The GPS course was occasionally off, especially through the woods, but the markings easily showed the correct route.


I came into St Martha's just behind a small group of runners, but just ran straight through. By this point I had hardly drunk anything and had plenty to last me even for the next long section (about 12 miles).

My knee had starting aching almost from Puttenham, and I had decided to see if it was just sore, or a sign of a more serious problem. I stopped briefly for a quick whizz, and when I got going again it really didn't feel good. I got running properly eventually, but it wasn't a great sign of things to come. I was caught up by Phil Taylor who was running his first hundred, and looking nice and relaxed with it. We kept each other company for the next few miles to the Box Hill checkpoint, where I decided it was best to pull out.

We had done the easy part of the race, but it was only going to get tougher, and the idea of running another 75 miles on a dodgy knee did not appeal. Things clearly aren't right, and I care more about being able to run day to day than I do about racing. I decided to stop while it was just an ache, before I made things worse. Writing this the following day, things are definitely better than after SDW100, where I could barely walk for a week after running only 12 miles. So with a bit of targeted rehab I should be back on form soon. Hopefully for the Stour Valley, but we'll just wait and see.

I handed in my number and proceeded to cobble together a rather interesting ensemble from garments hanging around in James Elson's and Lee Brigg's vans. My plan was originally to bum lifts between the aid stations to help out where I could, but I was offered a lift back to Farnham so decided to head home to spend time with Lottie and Jen. Unfortunately Gemma had also decided to drop out (for similar reasons to me), and her other half, Sam, was able to fit me in the car.


I wasn't really surprised by having to pull out, but of course I was disappointed at once again not getting to run the entire route. But hey ho. On the plus side, I got to go to a family barbecue (which they were apparently waiting to have in my absence...) which was lovely. Unfortunately Lottie was a little minx all night, so between the lack of sleep, the screaming, the vomit, the drool, and the issues getting her to eat anything, I might as well have been at the Detling aid station...

However, the real story was unfolding via Twitter, as we were getting updates of what was happening in the race. Anthony and Ed had taken off, and were pretty much racing neck and neck from mile 30 onwards way out in front. And the pace was incredible. Last year's course record from Manuel Lago (17:51:56) was pretty stout, with a bit of a navigational mistake last year leaving a little room for improvement. I envisaged a time of around 17 hours taking the win. The pace being thrown down was easily within this, with both runners coming into the halfway point in about 7:10 - a bloody good time for a 50 miler when you don't have another 50 to go!

The next 50 miles was an amazing guessing game of who was going to come in first, with the two guys vying backwards and forwards, pushing each other faster and faster. I'll be honest; I expected a blow out. I didn't think that they would be able to hold that pace over that course. But oh was I wrong! One deciding factor was the fact that Anthony was running with quite an entourage, whilst Ed was running solo with no crew nor pacers. This allowed Anthony to head straight through the checkpoints while Ed stopped. At one point Ed was first in, but Anthony was first out, which was very exciting!


It wasn't at all clear who was going to win in the end. It could easily have gone either way. All it would take was a navigational error, a stomach problem, an errant muscle cramp. But in the end the answer came as Ed crossed the line in 15:44:39 - over two hours off of the course record! To put it in perspective, this is almost identical to Robbie Britton's amazing run at the SDW100, but over a longer and probably more difficult course. Part of that likely comes from the push Ed had from Anthony, but just think how fast that would have been if he had a crew with him! Phenomenal work and well deserved. He even made it in time to grab a pint and some pork scratchings at the pub before closing time!

Anthony came in second place in 16:03:47, an astounding time especially considering that this was his first 100 miler. On any other day this could easily have been the winning time. Third place went to Mark Perkins in 17:45:48 - still under the course record, but unfortunately hampered by some stomach problems along the way.

The ladies race was won by Mary Heald in 22:40:01, outside of last year's fantastic 20:10:39 course record from Alice Hector but a great time none the less. Second was Leila Rose in 23:47:55, and third was Wendy Shaw in 24:21:09.

I think that now we are starting to see some real class act performances in UK races, with runners really pushing themselves hard. It will be amazing to see how other runners respond next year, and whether we will see even faster times. The flood gates are open for some astounding future performances, which can only be good for the future of the sport. The UK Ultrarunner Awards nominations for Performance of the Year are already looking stacked!


A huge congratulations to everybody who ran the race (it's not all about the front runners), particularly to Dan who managed to put his demons to rest by finishing in 28:35:19, making him an official finisher of the Downs Double (having already finished the SDW100). Also a huge thanks to James, Al, Drew and all of the guys at Centurion Running who once again have shown why they are the bench mark for UK ultra running race organisation. And finally a huge thanks to all of the amazing volunteers who make these races what they are.

Now to get myself sorted so I can get back to running and maybe actually see some of the volunteers later in the race! Fingers crossed.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write-up mate... It was genuinely exciting watching it unfold on Twitter. Hope the knee gets better soon pal.

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