“Rest – walking is encouraged.”
I decided against going for a walk, and am contenting myself with having pottered around at work. I’ve either escaped DOMS or it’s yet to kick in, but my left knee feels like it could do with an extra day of minimal activity. I’ll take it out for a pootle tomorrow and see how it’s doing. In the absence of any Juneathon activity, I shall offer up the tale of my weekend jaunt from Winchester to Eastbourne.
South Downs Way 100 was a race in four parts, but to get the full flavour, I’m going to have to give you a mile-by-mile run down*.
Mile 1: Winchester to 1 mile away from Winchester
There’s a very peculiar cycling event, I forget the name of it, where the cyclists have to go around the track behind a moped for a few laps before they are finally allowed to go hell for leather. The start of SDW100 doesn’t feature a moped, but it does start with a lap of a field and a pinch point before the runners troop slowly past a receiving line of volunteers and supporters, absorbing as much encouragement as they can to see them through to Eastbourne.
Mile 2: 1 mile away from Winchester to 2 miles away from Winchester
Okay. I give up. I can’t remember the run in this much detail. There was some terrain. It probably involved a hill. And some views. And some other runners.
Part 1: Leapfrog, love and blood
The first 48 miles of the race (Winchester – Beacon Hill – Butser Hill – QECP – Harting Downs – Cocking – Bignor Hill – Amberley) were one gigantic game of leapfrog. I was walking the ups, going easy on the flats, enjoying the downs and spending as little time as possible in the Aid Stations and at crew points, and I saw the same runners again and again and again and again. Martin Bushell, Ashley Hurd, Andrew Cooney, Dudley Manning, Rachel Wood, Melanie Ross, David Thomas, Sharon Bolister – we crossed paths back and forth, sometimes exchanging a nod, sometimes a few words, sometimes a more substantial conversation (and in one case, an “Oi, Louise, you’ve missed the turning” for which I shall be eternally grateful).
At each of the Aid Stations and Crew Points, I was surrounded by supporters, and barring a plague of miniature stones which worked their way into my trainers and passing a bloodied and bruised runner on the hill down into Cocking**, this section of the race was essentially good fun.
Part 2: Down in the dumps
The next ten miles (Amberley – Kithurst Hill – Washington – Chanctonbury Ring) were grim. My pace dropped off, my oomph deserted me, all the runners that I’d been leapfrogging gradually seemed to vanish into the distance, and then, just before Washington, I felt a sharp pain just above my right knee that made running downhill feel like a high risk activity. I limped into Washington, accompanied by Elvis, and spent 15 minutes telling my crew that I’d been doing the maths and that although I would definitely be finishing the race, it was likely to be an 18 hour death march from here. Unimpressed by my impression of a wet blanket, my crew whipped out some miracle healing gel (only active ingredient: placebo), plastered my knee with it and told me to get the hell out of there and that they’d see me at Botolphs where we could reassess the situation.
I slunk out, muttering under my breath at the cruelty of fate, and inched my way up the hill back onto the South Downs Way.
Part 3: Peaks and troughs
The next 25 miles (Chanctonbury Ring – Botolphs (crew) – Botolphs (family) – Botolphs (aid) – ‘evil’s ‘yke – Saddlescombe Farm – Clayton Windmills – Ditching Beacon) were a veritable smorgasbord of emotion. The miracle gel worked miracles, and the threat of a 50 mile death march receded. My cousin appeared out of nowhere to tell of a cheering squad if only I could make it to the bridge at Botolphs. My crew met me at Botolphs crew point with chocolate milk and promises of more miracle gel if the first lot wore off. My family were, as promised, at the bridge at Botolphs brandishing maltesers and telling me that I was utterly, utterly mad and no relative of theirs. The walk up from Botolphs to Truleigh Hill offered up a truly stunning view across the downs (and an Ironman to remind me to look at it), a road crossing on the way to ‘evil’s ‘yke garnered a welcome cheer from the SDW50 runner who eased passed me in the final stages of Paris Marathon, the drop down into Saddlescombe Farm yielded a surprise “Go Louise” from some ‘athoners. All of these things boosted my flagging spirits, but my mind just would not let go of the thought that if I was finding these hills hard, I’d never manage NDW100 and if I DNFed this race then I’d never have to face the Box Hill Steps in anger. Add to that dropping energy levels and general heat-induced wiltage and I was not a pretty sight.
Fortunately there were no crew points between ‘evil’s ‘yke and Ditchling, so I had no option but to plod on, and plod on I did.
Part 4 – cool, calm and collected
I arrived at Ditchling alone and left with Jools, the first of my two pacers for the final section of the race. I am a complete and utter convert. Quite aside from the fact that a pacer can act as a gate-opener extraordinaire, just having somebody running along side me helped to banish my demons, settled me back down into a rhythm, and possibly more importantly, stopped me from spooking at the eerie glowing eyeballs of the sheeps and cattles in the fields. Combine that with a couple of hugs and hellos from Chris, Gary and Drew at Southease, and by the time we reached Bo Peep, I was in remarkably good spirits.
Unfortunately for Kat, the second of my wonderful pacers, good spirits were not enough to stave off the ultra shuffle. I ran along the flats more slowly than she could walk, picked my way gingerly down the hills, made painfully slow progress up the hills, but did keep moving forward, and eventually the trig point at Jevington came into sight. I stole a hug from Nikki, turned left down the gully by Drew’s mum, and followed Kat down towards Eastbourne trying desperately not to lose my footing.
There wasn’t too much to do after that, other than walk-run to the stadium and then muster up all the energy I had left for the final lap of the track.
I have no words to say how much it meant to me to share my race day with Andy, Kat and Jools and how grateful I am to Andy for getting me to the start, providing a mobile aid station along the whole course and then magicking me back to my hotel room.
I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again. I am a lucky, lucky sloth.
* Just kidding.
** He had two people with him, the ambulance was on its way and he recovered well enough to insist on going to Eastbourne for his bacon sandwich.