On Saturday, I completed my first Centurion event, the South Downs Way 50.
Having volunteered at Centurion’s four 100 mile events last year, I had very high expectations. I was not disappointed.
The pre-race briefings were comprehensive, including clear instructions on registration, a reminder of the mandatory kit list and links to the relevant sections of the website. Even I, a fan of the “leave everything until the last minute and then run around like a headless chicken” approach to race-day planning, found it difficult to be anything less than clear about where I needed to be, when and with what.
Car parking at the start was free, and marshals (“hello Richard from Profeet“) were on hand to point us to the car parks. Registration was simple, and consisted of a mandatory kit check, collection of race number, a desk where you could buy any bits you’d forgotten or ask any questions you had, and changing rooms. And loos, obviously.
There was a short but comprehensive race briefing ten minutes before the start, and then, pretty much on the dot of nine, we were off.
The first section of the race is not on the South Downs Way itself and the paths are narrow, so if you are after a storming start, make sure you’re at the front of the field. If, on the other hand, you routinely go off too fast and then regret it, relax and enjoy the leisurely first mile. Once you hit the South Downs Way, the paths widen out and by the time they narrow again, the runners have spread out enough to avoid any jams.
The route itself is stunning, and boasts some glorious views across the downs. I know this because I recce’d the route in training. Come the day, low cloud and mist meant that all but a handful of the views were hidden. All the more reason to come back next year.
The way was clearly marked with a mixture of red and white barrier tape, Centurion arrows and orange paint (the first two of which are meticulously removed by a sweeper within a few hours of the race ending, and the third of which washes away in the rain) and in 50 miles there was only one junction which made me hesitate (it was about mile 47, I was tired, I missed the obvious-once-it-was-pointed-out marker tape).
The aid stations were extremely well-stocked and also frequent. The only other 50 miler I’ve run had aid stations at 10, 20, 30 and 40 miles, all of which were tables in the open air. This had aid stations at 11, 16, 26, 34, 42 and 46 miles, two of which were in marquee tents, and four of which were indoors. And at least one of them (mile 34) had a loo.
The volunteers were uniformly friendly (though I did have the advantage of knowing about half of them and having buttered them up with chocolate at the start) and happy to help refill bladders and bottles while runners gorged themselves on mars bars, salted peanuts, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, cheese, scotch eggs, sandwiches, jelly babies, Jaffa cakes, bourbons and other assorted goodies.
The point at which you leave the South Downs Way to run down into Eastbourne was marshalled (I think for the whole race) and pretty much unmissable, and once you reached the Eastbourne Sports Park and ran the final lap of the athletics field, all you had to do was collect your medal and t-shirt, have your picture taken with a renowned author, pick up your drop bag and head inside for hot food (veggie chilli was available), hot drinks and hot showers.
If you want to run a minimalist 50 mile event where it’s just you against the elements, this probably isn’t the one for you. If you want to pit yourself against the distance without worrying about the logistics, I can’t recommend it highly enough.