The short version
This was handily supplied by Brian (@BrianDrought) when I was struggling to think of what to write in my blog: “I was really concerned about being able to beat the cutoffs but in the end I absolutely smashed it!”.
This pretty much sums it up, and I’m almost tempted to post a picture of the medal and stop there.
But for those who were after a bit more detail, and to do the experience some justice, here’s the longer version.
The long version
Back in the heady days of last summer, fresh from first ultra success, I signed up for this race and was really excited about it. Only 16 miles more than I’d done previously – that can’t be so hard, surely? In July I had a lovely weekend away in Alfriston, reccying the Eastbourne end of the course which is furthest away from where I live.
Roll on to early 2018 and things couldn’t have felt very different. I’d been nursing an ankle injury since November, and while I hadn’t been told not to run on it, I’d been advised to stick to tarmac and shorter distances to avoid aggravating it. Not the best training for a hilly trail race and not the mileage I need to even maintain fitness, let alone take on a 50 mile challenge. In early February I was seriously thinking of pulling out, but in the end dithered beyond the deadline for getting any refund, so decided I would at least start the race and see what happened. The ankle was somewhat better by the end of February, and I managed several longish runs on the route, meaning there was only a seven mile section that was unfamiliar and I had at least tested all the mandatory kit and food choices. Still, 23 miles was the furthest I had run since Portsmouth Coastal marathon before Christmas, and overall mileage for 2018 was pitifully low.
In the couple of weeks leading up to the race I got increasingly stressed about absolutely everything but mainly the cut off times. The race has a 13 hour overall cut off and individual cut off times for each of the checkpoints. These times sound very do-able in theory, but on scrutinising the times I had completed the sections in while training on them, I found that they were close to (and in some cases slower than) the cut off times. OK, I had not been deliberately rushing, and on some of the days conditions had been particularly challenging (thick sticky mud, and in one case, snow). but I had been doing these on fresh legs, in daylight. How much slower would I be towards the end of a 50 mile race, the last part of which would almost certainly involve navigating in the dark? Add to this the relentlessly wet weather in the couple of weeks leading up to the race, and I had almost entirely convinced myself that it was an impossible task, I was not fit enough, and I would be lucky to get half way without being timed out. The lovely people on twitter did their best to cheer me up but I really had let myself get worked up about the cut offs. Things went from bad to worse as the Wednesday before I woke up with a sore throat and was seriously wondering whether I would be too ill to run by Saturday.
I got very little sleep on Friday, and woke at 4am on Saturday with stabbing abdominal pains (I don’t know what this was about, probably just stress, but I was pretty sure I was dying and wasn’t going to be running anywhere). Anyway, they subsided and we arrived bright and early at Worthing College for registration and kit check. That was all fine but things quickly got too busy and as I was feeling quite disorientated and not very sociable I retreated to the car to eat a banana and stress out in private.
It was a relief to get going. At about 3 miles in I spotted Ally (@photogirlruns) sprinting off ahead, and had a quick chat with Brian, who had also had an injury-plagued build up. I had a bit of a conversation with someone called Jodie from Kent which was also good to settle the nerves. I was still not feeling great at this point – the throat was like sandpaper and was contributing to making me feel dehydrated even early on. The first 11 miles to checkpoint 1 went pretty quickly. I didn’t go mad on the pace, but was pulled along by the crowd rather faster than I was really comfortable with. I was also incredibly mindful of the need to get some time in the bag ahead of the cut offs and had resolved not to mess about at aid stations, not to stop for any photos (I was also worrying about my phone battery lasting) and to try to run as much as possible.
I arrived at Botolphs about 50 minutes ahead of the 3 hour cut off, and pressed on as I didn’t need water. The second section I found one of the hardest – the cut off between Botolphs and Saddlescombe is 1h25 and this took me 1h20 to cover just over 5 miles. It was good to bump into Ian (@Ianb65) who I see a lot at local races. I stopped for water at Saddlescombe but again pressed on as I was feeling stressed about the timings, headachy and mostly just like I wanted to stop and cry. I used my course knowledge to duck into the church at Pyecombe, knowing there was a toilet there (and even tea and coffee if I’d had time to stop). I felt smug but got a very funny look from a passing runner as I left.
Bizarrely, at around 20 miles in things started to improve for me, and I continued to feel more and more positive as the race went on after that point. The course was surprisingly dry, with none of the slippy mud which had previously slowed me down so much, and the early rain shower had disappeared though there was a strong headwind at times. The ankle was totally fine until about 22 miles, and didn’t seem to be getting any worse. There is a long downhill section heading towards Housedean which gave me a boost, and the sun came out slightly too. I hit marathon distance in 5h20 (not speedy at all but far better than I had anticipated) and I got to Housedean at 26.6 miles knowing that I had over 7 hours to do less than 24 miles. (I later found out that the winner had actually finished in the staggering time of 5h44, about the time I was leaving here.) I had a longer stop to sort myself out properly (but made the rookie error of trailing the mouthpiece from my bladder in a puddle on the barn floor, which was probably full of cow poo). The poor volunteer rinsed it off for me and I didn’t have much choice but to carry on drinking from it, convinced I would probably die of a horrible disease but hoping this would occur after I had finished and claimed my medal.
From Housedean to Alfriston I settled down and quite enjoyed things. I’d taken a couple of paracetamol at Housedean which had done the job at seeing off the headache I’d been suffering from. I quite quickly adopted a strategy of walking the big hills, running the downhills, and where it was flat or only gently uphill I would run 40 paces and walk 20. Having short, stumpy legs and being a bit of a wimp when it comes to running down hills, I found that I was being overtaken when walking uphill and when running down, but that I was making good progress compared to others with my walk/run efforts as many people were walking a lot. I also got an ego boost when I caught up with a lady who had been looking strong ahead of me. She had reached a field where there were cows standing on the path and was too scared to go through. I don’t mind cows at all (they’re not scary unless they have babies to protect, or they at least have big horns) so I felt very badass leading a little group of other runners confidently past them.
At Alfriston I was brought a cup of tea by one of the volunteers (the volunteers were all angels, with nothing too much trouble for them). Although I had been mostly eating the food I had brought with me to save on time and use up weight, I also inhaled some crisps and peanuts to keep me going. My watch had been on charge in my pack since the last checkpoint 7 miles back so I had had no idea how fast I had been going, but was pleasantly surprised by how much time I had banked. A 12 hour finish seemed possible, which was amazing as I had been worried about making it in 13.
There is a long climb out of Alfriston so a good long walk and by this time it was getting a bit chilly. By Jevington, the final checkpoint, it was raining and I stopped just to put my waterproof on. I knew there were only a few miles to go and that I wouldn’t have to do the dreaded gully descent into Eastbourne in the dark, as long as I kept moving. The last bit on the downs was shorter than I remembered and there was a volunteer at the top of the hill (and a ton of course marking) to point the correct path down the hill. As it was raining, the gully was indeed very slippery, but far less overgrown than when I’d run it before, so I got to the bottom without mishap. From there you are on paths/roads and there is only about 2 miles left, and I remember thinking that whatever happened I had time and energy to crawl to the finish if I had to. In fact I felt pretty much fine, and ran the entirety of the road section to the finish, which is a nice victory lap of the track. Coming into the finish I was greeted by the most spectacular pink sunset, which seemed a fitting way to end.
My eventual finish time was 11:11:11 (great numbers!) – this really was beyond my wildest dreams and I am so happy I did decide to go for it after all. It was only when we got the coach back to collect our cars at the start that it began to sink in just what a hugely long way 50 miles is, as the drive took well over an hour.
Overall I would definitely recommend this race. It was very well organised and well supported, with excellent course marking and aid stations. The medal and t shirt are very nice and I’m glad I have them as momentos (especially as I didn’t take any photos). Centurion’s good reputation is clearly well deserved and the volunteers were amazing. However, it is definitely a ‘serious’ race, and in hindsight I should probably have picked something more low key and with longer cut offs.
Although on the face of it I had a successful day, I still have mixed feelings about this race. I love marathons/ultras and trail running but the stress leading up to races and the time it take me to recover afterwards (not legs so much, but lingering nausea and fatigue) has prompted me to take a break from the long stuff for now. I wish I had enjoyed the experience more – if I had been less rushed I would have spent more time at the aid stations, sampled the delicious food on offer there, chatted to more people, enjoyed the views and taken some photos. I thought I would be telling everyone about my achievement, but I have ended up hardly telling anyone: in fact I’ve actually felt quite embarrassed about admitting to having done it – 50 miles seems like a crazy distance when you are talking to a non-runner. What I enjoyed most about the whole thing, on reflection, were the long recce runs in preparation for the race and the opportunity that gave me to explore a new area, and this is what I’ll focus on for the next few months.