Wednesday, October 06, 2010

South Downs Way 100M

Date: September 11, 2010
Where: Eastbourne, United Kingdom
What: South Downs Way 100M race
Time: Got lost before the 56M checkpoint and missed the cutoff

Tossing and turning in a jet-lagged bed,
Sound of far waves crashing onto the beach;
Thoughts already in a race in my head;
Hours ticking by, sleep still out of reach.
Then we are off into the constant rain
And the rolling hills above Beachy Head.
Legs awake that week long dormant had lain;
Of missing tight cutoffs a constant dread.
On the high ridge eyes taking in the views,
Sending them to the Soul of this Being.
Blessed! Want not to be in another's shoes.
Bliss it is to be with Life communing!
Alas! All good things must come to an end.
This one came early - feet took a wrong bend.

Getting closer and closer to this race there was just one worry I had especially after going through the pictures that Jen Jackson, the Race Director, had posted on the race Web site - getting lost. Some parts of the trail hardly looked like a trail i.e. it was barely discernable. My plan was to see if I could keep pace with Javed or Keith and try and hang with them.

I landed in London on Thursday, September 9 and checked into the Best Western Victoria Palace, a hotel that was less than half a mile from Victoria Station. After taking a shower I walked to Piccadilly Circus and from there to Woodlands, an Indian restaurants. The food was awesome. After picking up some water from a Tesco I took the Tube to near my hotel and walked the half mile back.

The next morning I woke up, ate breakfast and hit the road to the Victoria Station and the train to Eastbourne. I had booked myself into the Best Western York House hotel. It was a mile or more away from the station. I lugged my luggage to the hotel, left it there (the room was not ready) and went out to eat lunch. Lunch was in an Italian restaurant. It was OK. After lunch I decided to walk off the meal and went up the hill to the start of the South Downs Way trail. It was a very steep trail leading up the hill and beyond.

I made my way back to the hotel and checked in. After an hour or so I went to a Chinese accupuncture place for a really nice massage. The relaxed feeling persisted all evening. I came back to the hotel and laid out my race stuff for the next morning. While doing so I realized that I must have forgotten my lube spray back in the US (I had not - I found the spray many days later when in Barcelona). I set out again to look for Vaseline. I finally found a couple of small containers in a store. It really came in handy during the race and after in Barcelona.

Saturday, September 11
I checked out of the hotel around 8:45 a.m. and walked to the race start which was on the Bandstand along the waterfront. It looked like it would rain but the rain held off while I was pulling my bag behind me.

I soon found the SDW starting area. Javed Bhatti was there as was Keith Godden. I recorded their interview on my portable video recorder. I took a few pictures of the start area.

(L to R: Javed Bhatti, who finished in 29:45, and Keith Godden before the Start)

(In the race Start area)

At 9:45 a.m. we were given a race briefing. The heavens finally opened up. I made the wise choice of putting on my Dick Collins rain shell. That truly, like in the GUCR back in May, was a good choice. I had my camera out when the race started.

(The Start)

I was one of the last people running towards the SDW trail since I was too busy taking pictures.

The trail started at a pretty steep angle. It soon levelled off and then changed to rolling up and down. It must have been a couple of miles later, probably going over Beachy Head, that the SDW trail REALLY changed into long and steep rollers that went down for ever and up for equally long. This lasted for almost 5 miles before we got to a long, long downhill. This downhill eventually led to a small climb and then to a road crossing which was around the 8 or 9 mile point in the race. I had caught up with Keith Godden somewhere after the long descent and we crossed the road together.

It was here that I decided to readjust my backpack. I stopped for almost 5 minutes and then continued alone. Keith had continued on. I was alone once again and had a great time running on a small downhill trail. I soon spotted Keith up ahead along with 2 other women we would end up playing tag with on and off for the next 40 miles.

Keith had come up with an ingenious way to carry the plastic, foldable map of the SOuth Downs Way trail - he had put it into a shoulder loop (picture below) of his hydration pack.

Around 10 miles we came into a little village. Javed had told us about a pub close to the SDW and I decided to go in to have my water bottles topped up. I also downed a beer (carbs!) in the process.

We started up SDW once again. It was a bit of a climb to the ridge. The views were gorgeous! The race was, like the Coyote Two Moon 100M, on a ridge (the SDW) and the Aid Stations were off ridge i.e. a descent to get to one and then an ascent out of it. Keith and I were constantly fighting cutoffs! The first AS, at 19 miles, had a cutoff of 3 p.m. or 5 hours into the race. We made it out of there at 2:22 p.m. or 4:22 into the race.

(Checkpoint #1)

It had been raining all day and the rain started up once again once we were out of the AS. We were getting used to the rain, the wind and the occasional fog banks on the ridge which mysteriously disappeared at lower elevations!

I felt so much gratitude that Life had given me this opportunity to run in a beautiful part of the world (actually every part of our planet is gorgeous!) .

So onwards we trudged, Keith and I. The next cutoff was 8.5 hours at 34 miles in Pyecombe i.e. by 6:30 p.m. We had 4 hours and 8 minutes to cover that distance. We did fill up our bottles midway through that stretch and (I can't remember all that much bout the course today) made it there and were out 8h and 12 minutes into the race i.e. at 6:12 p.m. An 18 minute buffer to help us in the next section.

I remember walking out of that AS, crossing a road and walking a flat section past a farm before which we started a long uphill section designed to get us back on the ridge. It was starting to cool down now so I got into my jacket again. Keith and I looked back and we spotted the 2 ladies we had been playing tag with all race long. Before long they caught up with us and the fours of us ran pretty much together along the ridge to the next section where we had to get off the ridge. It was at the bottom of a long hill, after crossing a "busy" road, that I asked Keith if I could make a quick foray into the bushes to answer Mother Nature's call. That probably took me 5 minutes or so and we were soon on our way.

We made it into the next checkpoint, in the Washington Car Park (49 miles), 12 hours and 6 minutes into the race (10:06 p.m.). They had some pretty good soup there and I helped myself to a couple of cups of it.

We left around 10:15 p.m., crossed a busy road and were on the other side along the SDW. We soon saw a sign that told us that we had 6 miles to go and about 100 minutes to cover them in. Since the section was supposed to be flat and runnable were looking forward to making the 56 mile cutoff before 12 midnight. The cutoffs after the 56 mile checkpoint (The Bridge Inn in Amberley) were a bit more lenient. The initial section climbed a tiny bit before becoming flat. Very soon a couple of runners, who said that they had been sitting for a long time in the 49M AS, passed us going at a pretty good clip. Soon after that we came upon a person who was waiting by the side of the trail for his runner to come through.

It must have been after we passed this person that we veered off to the left instead of staying on the SDW which went off to the right. We kept looking at the watch expecting the checkpoint to soon swim into view. It must have been around 10 minutes or so to midnight when we neared what seemed to be homes. Very soon we were on a road. We went to the right and came to a sort of junction. We chose to go straight and started running hoping that we were close to The Bridge Inn. We must have run for 10 minutes when Keith remarked that something was off. We tried to look at the map and orient ourselves. A car filled with people came up. We asked them if they knew if we were in Amberley. They were unfamiliar with the area and their car GPS showed nothing. I took out my iPhone to check its GPS and it showed us to be somewhere near Arundel.

By now it was 12:15 a.m. We knew we were lost. We ran back the way we had come and then up another road for at least 5 minutes. This too lead nowhere. I even knocked on a couple of doors and one of them looked at me incredulously while informing me that Amberley was 3 miles away as the crow flies. I knew we were done!

We were finally able to determine that the little village we were in was called Burpham. Keith called Jen Jackson, the Race DIrector, who eventually showed up with Dick Kearn to pick up up about 40 minutes later. We made it to the race hotel (Mercure) in Winchester a few hours later where I promptly lay down and went to sleep for a few hours in the conference room that had been emptied for the race.

I woke up around after 8:00 a.m. and cleaned myself up a bit before going into the breakfast room for some much needed food. I had reserved a room in the Mercure for after the race and the front desk let me have the key around 10:00 a.m. I was happy to lug my bag upstairs, take a much needed shower and get into clean clothes. I lugged my bag downstairs again to the front of the hotel.

I was expecting Javed to show up around 3 p.m. After walking around Winchester for a bit I found myself in a Thai restaurant. The food was simply superb! I strolled back to the Mercure and it was not long before Javed and Stephen Thomson finished together around 3:45 p.m. It was fantastic to see them.

(Javed and Stephen yards from the Finish)

(Talking to Javed and Stephen after their finish)

I have a lot of respect for Javed's abilities and mental strength and I had no doubt that he would finish in under 30 hours. Congratulations to him, Stephen and all the others who reached Winchester.

Was I disappointed? I looked deep down inside me and realized that I had fought hard in this race from the very first step. Running close to cutoffs does not leave much room for any errors and it was an error that put paid to my dream of reaching Winchester. I could have been more careful about the signs but it's not like Keith and I had not been so before. We just missed one sign and that made all the difference.

Keith is a wonderful companion to run with. Calm, strong and very motivated. I thoroughly enjoyed his company for the 49 miles I ran with him. Hopefully we will bot be lucky enough to get into next year's GUCR.

A big vote of thanks to Jen Jackson and her band of volunteers. Special thanks to Dick Kearn. You people totally rock. You made me feel so very welcome. I love running in the UK and will try and squeeze in at least one race there every year if I can.

Race Web site (Results, etc.)