On Wednesday evening, the BBC was forecasting pleasant running weather for the south coast- about 8-9 ˚C and white cloud, By Thursday, however, the forecast had changed: the temperature was the same but with sunshine early in the morning, it would then cloud over with light rain expected late morning and heavy rain, with strong winds from the south and later the south-east, before lunchtime. Unfortunately the forecast was right.
Saturday morning was lovely while we were getting ready for the race, and I was able to sit on an outside bench, rubbing Vaseline on my feet, without getting cold. Number pick-up was straightforward and kit check rapid, concentrating on real essentials. At 0850 all the runners gathered for the pre-race briefing, including some strong warnings about the likely weather. At nine o’clock, there was a brief count-down and we were off!
With my left ankle not yet 100%, and my strained inner thigh muscle, I wasn’t expecting to be very fast, and set off at a conservative pace, chatting with other runners. In the first section from Worthing up towards the SWD I met Owen, coughing somewhat due to an infection his children had given him. I later learned that he was in training for the Leadville 100 in the USA later this year. I also ran with Snap! for a while, then my ankle slowed me and he got away from me.
Weather wise, the first two hours or so were very pleasant, then the breeze began to pick up, and a few drops of rain spattered in. Heading for an uphill stretch I stopped and put my windproof jacket and trousers on, and just minutes later was very glad I had done so, as the strengthening wind was getting chilly.
Then the rain started. As it grew heavier, I stopped briefly again to exchange my windproof for my waterproof jacket, just in time, as it began to rain in earnest. I had been running with Owen at this point, but lost touch during the brief pause, and dropped further behind a while later when I stopped in a tiny bit of shelter in the early section of the drop-down to Housedean Farm, to exchange my windproof trousers for the waterproof ones – in retrospect I should have done that a bit earlier. I saw Owen leaving Housedean Farm as I was arriving, and ditto at the next checkpoint. By this time I was running with Simon, whom I had met previously running Lloyd parkrun as part of his training for the London Ultra 50K this February, and we accompanied each other most of the rest of the way, finding waymarks, commiserating about the wind and generally keeping each other going.
The wind on the tops was relentless, mostly a strong side wind from the south, but sometimes veering to become more of a head wind. Even on the downhill stretches it made running slower and much more difficult, and uphill was definitely walking only. The sloppy, slippery mud footing in some sections was an additional challenge. I was very glad that my peaked cap and the hood of my waterproof coat were keeping the rain off my face, as it was definitely stinging when I did make the mistake of looking to windward. The leeward side of my hood was snapping in the wind so loudly it was almost painful.
Visibility was down to 200 metres at best on the tops, sometimes under 100m, and we were extremely grateful that, where there was no chance of attaching the red-and-white marker tape to anything, Centurion crew had sprayed bright orange arrows, labelled “50”, to confirm the route direction. This was particularly necessary in some of the areas where the trail was not well trampled across featureless grassy hilltops. Everyone helped everyone else with the navigation. One “highlight” was reaching a tied-shut gate, with no apparent signage until another runner spotted that on the far side of the gatepost was a SDW Acorn sign – so we climbed over the gate and 200 yards further passed a very-welcome piece of red-and-white tape confirming we were still going the right way.
At Southease Aid Station I got assistance to drag my warm top on; this made a significant difference to my comfort level when we were on the tops. Either here or at Alfriston (I can’t remember which!) there were a couple of runners sitting shivering in foil blankets, and a couple of others, who had been discovering that their jackets were not really waterproof, were having theirs tied around their torsos to keep them warm while they continued.
Coming out of the last checkpoint at Jevington, we were please that there were less than five miles to go, and headed back up into the wind and rain philosophically. After a while up on the top, Simon slowed and commented that it had been a while since we saw any red-and-white tape. It dawned on us that we had managed to follow the fingerpost for “Beachy Head and Eastbourne”: we were going the wrong way… Just then we met three other runners, the same group, I think, as we had met at the closed gate, one of whom had a proper GPS map/route. This was a real low point for me as we all headed back up the hill, first on the trail then veering across (following that GPS map) until we finally saw the trig point and the sunken path heading towards Eastbourne. Another of the spray-painted arrows confirmed we were back on track! The other three runners leapt ahead, I followed more slowly, very glad of my bright hand torch illuminating the obstacles underfoot, with Simon just behind me.
Emerging onto the road, Simon expressed his intention of trying to finish at under the 11 hrs 30 minutes mark, and I told him to go for it. Meanwhile, I remembered that I had promised to ring my husband when I reached the last checkpoint, and had totally forgotten, so I stopped and dug in my pack briefly, but failed to find my phone. Getting going again was hard, and my pace was horribly slow. Nevertheless I finally turned off the path and towards the Sussex College athletics track. Passing the car park I spotted our car and veered off to wave to my patient husband before dragging my very weary legs around the track and in through the finish (in 11.41), where Aidan was waiting.
- Meeting some great runners.
- The Centurion crew and volunteers. The crew had done a fantastic job of marking the route. Everyone at the checkpoints/aid stations was really helpful, whether in putting more water into my drinks bladder or assisting me to get my extra warm layer on.
- The food. Once again, Centurion did a great job with stocking the aid stations. Many thanks in particular for the vegetarian jelly beans at the first stop and for the green-ear Percy Pigs at Jevington, and for the cheese sandwiches/wraps at all the stations except the one where they had run out. They even provided vegetarian sausages in buns at the finish.
Next: North Downs Way 50, 18th May.