Race Report from across the pond – the South Downs Way 100 mile

Wanting to go further afield for a trail race?  Read on about Paul’s experiences of his first 100 mile race in the UK – the classic SDW100 – on June 15th, 2013.

South Downs Way 100 start line
South Downs Way 100 start line

It was 4:48am on Saturday morning. When the alarm went off I knew it would be a long day, a very long day. I quickly dressed and grabbed a bowl of porridge before the short walk form my B&B to the start line of the South Downs Way 100 mile race from Winchester to Eastbourne. After a short pre-race briefing and some nervous chit-chat the gun sounded at 6:00am and 200 runners hit the trail.

I started in the middle of the pack at an easy pace, knowing that saving energy at the early stages would prove invaluable later on. By the time I reached The Queen Elizabeth Park at 22 miles I was maintaining a good pace and was in 80th place.

Along the trail runners had started to spread out and I spent many miles running alone. At Amberley (50 miles in) my support team was waiting for me with smiles and Marmite sandwiches to keep me going.  Although the event has 15 fully-stocked checkpoints, it’s great to have some additional support of your own.


As I ran into the 7th checkpoint at 54 miles I was given a lift as I collected my first pace runner, Jane, and from this point on I would have company through to the end of the race. Jane did a great job of keeping me motivated as we powerwalked up the hills and pushed on along the flat and downhills sections, even running ahead to open and close the gates for me!!!  Another 8 miles on and it was Ben’s turn to take up pacing duties as we pushed on towards Eastbourne.

I started the race with a realistic target of completing in a time of 26 hrs but as the race progressed I started to dream of finishing within 24 hrs.  If I could complete 70 miles by the time it was dark at 10pm surely I could do it, surley I could realise the  dream of completing 100 miles within ONE DAY.

South Downs Way 100 miles - route
South Downs Way 100 miles – route

The Clayton Windmills checkpoint at 69.8 miles was a chance for runners to collect their drop bags containing warmer clothes for the night section to come, but I wasted no time changing as I left the checkpoint in 52nd place, knowing that I could rely on my support crew for warm clothes along the path if needed.  I was still moving strongly and keeping warm wasn’t a problem. With darkness closing in, Ben and I donned our head torches with just 21 miles to go and 8 hours to cover the distance within the magical 24 hours.  All I had to do now was to keep pushing and with the help of my pacers and supporters I was starting to believe that I would complete the race in a great time.

Over the past 18 months I had run over 2,000 miles in training which included a number of shorter ultra marathons (33 to 50 miles) all in preparation for this 100 miler. The training and experience was really starting to pay off as I passed countless other runners that had started a slow walk or rested at checkpoints. As the hours passed my GPS watch had run out of battery power and I had little idea of my overall time or even the remaining distance to cover.

After hours of following the ticker tape markers across the South Downs we suddenly found ourselves high above Eastbourne with the bright lights below us. Knowing the finish was within reach we pushed on down the narrow trail and out onto the bright streets. The final mile passed many houses in total darkness but as Eastbourne slept the race continued.  From this point street lights lit our path all the way to the athletics track that marked the finish of the race. As we entered the track a small but loud crowd welcomed my arrival and I set off around the track on the final 400m to cross the line in a surprisingly fast time of 20:48:04 and in a respectable 38th place!!!!

Paul and his pacers at the finish line.
Paul and his pacers at the finish line.

I still can’t quite believe the race is over and that I managed to break that 24 hour barrier. I don’t think I’ll be winning a big ultra any time soon as the race winner crossed the finish line without even using his head torch in a time of 15:43:53!!!! My pacers, Jane and Ben, and support crew really helped me complete the race safely and I am truly grateful for their support throughout the night.

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