SDW100 2024 – 3rd time’s a charm

This was a big deal for me. Having failed to get past the halfway aid station at 54miles in the previous 2 years I’d given myself one more chance to get this done.

Race Day Details

  • Route: South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne, 100 miles.
  • Elevation gain: 12700ft (3800m)
  • Start Time: 06:00, Saturday, June 8th
  • Cut-off: 30 hours
  • Weather: Perfect with overcast skies and cool temperatures ranging from 9°C to 18°C throughout the day.
  • Support Crew: Cally and Vicky ❤️
  • Strava:

Pre-race concerns

My biggest concern was a calf injury which I’d been carrying for a few weeks. It had blown up on me in the SDW50 a few weeks earlier but I’d managed to push on finish in a good time which gave me some confidence to be able to deal with it again.

The elephant in the room was, of course, not finishing the past 2 years. I’d learned that you just can’t take anything for granted in a 100. I had to find a way to finish, even if it turned out to be a bad day – I kept telling myself “there’s only one way off this track: the finish line”.

Early miles

The opening miles were smooth and I settled in to the rhythm of running the flats and downs and walking the hills. This allows the body some active recovery and is just standard practice for ultras (unless of course you’re up at the front). It was great to know what was coming up – the route was quite familiar by now – which helped with the mental rhythm.

The first aid station comes at 10miles – a chance for an early review and system check. I gave myself about 80%, could work with that.

First Crew Point: 22 Miles – Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP)

QECP was a key milestone and I’d arrived here the previous two years with a face like thunder, already having bad days, not ideal for such a short distance. Carolyn had given me strict instructions: “I want to see a smiley face”. It looked like it was on, maybe.

The leg pain was ‘there’ but manageable but then at 21 miles I had a heart arrhythmia. Bloody bad luck. I’ve lived with an electrical irregularity in my heart my whole life which manifests as tachycardia (super fast beating, 220+ bpm) or arrhythmia (‘normal’ pace but irregular rhythm). I never know what the trigger is and even if it kicks in I can generally catch it quickly with breathing routines. The arrhythmia is harder to normalise and I just could not catch this one en route. I decided to press on the the aid station and take a break, face like thunder again.

QECP (mile 22)
2022 2023 2024

As soon as I arrived I sat on a bench and tried to breathe back the steady pace. No luck. It was so frustrating to see all the runners I’d passed streaming by – it was messing with my head. I got up and went to the aid station to get some food and get the heart rate up a bit. Weirdly, if I can spike my rate, I can get the regular pace to ‘kick in’ as the rate comes down. No dice this time. After 30min I decided to just press on, I knew a long hill was next and I thought perhaps I could just walk it out.

Cally and Vix were at the aid station exit and I paused a moment, took a knee, and tried one more breathing routine and ‘click’ I was back!! Such a relief. Running with the arrhythmia is like having a flat tyre – you just can’t get going and energy and capability feel like they a clamped at 50%. It felt so good to be normal again and I could reset on the long uphill out of QECD.

Further Setbacks

All good, until it wasn’t. Yep, another arrhythmia kicked in about a mile later. I pushed on about 5 more miles and then took myself off the trail into a field so I could lay on my back and just try to sort this once and for all. After 5 minutes there was no change and I just could not bear the sounds of runners passing by behind the hedgerow. It was a bleak moment. I decided to just press on and hope for the best, taking it slow, one step at a time.

I eventually saw Cally & Vix again at the 35 mile crew point, still in the grips of the arrhythmia but at least having beaten back thoughts of dropping out. I took a moment to lie in the grass next to the car and ‘pop’ heart came back to normal. This was huge. I could finally leave the girls with a real smile on my face and focus on clawing back some places. I felt good enough to be a bit competitive (lower case ‘c’).

“Back in the room”

Right, crack on!! It was 10miles to the next aid station at Houghton Farm and I needed a good stretch. Things were going well and I was making up places. This was a big mental boost. At some point here I caught up with Martin – a chap I’d met at the start and shared many of the opening miles with. It was great to see a familiar face out on course. He is made of stronger stuff – this was just his second of 4 hundreds this year. Yes, he’s doing the Centurion 100mile grand slam, wow, Kudos Martin.

We ran/walked together for a spell and then I felt good enough to push on. Its a downhill run into the Houghton Farm aid station at 45 miles and Cally and Vix were on the roadside to welcome me. With a proper smile on my face I remember calling out to them “I’m back in the room!” – so good. After a refreshing sparking water provided by the girls I was on my way, my nemesis firmly in sight.

That nemesis was the aid station at Washington, 54miles in. This was where I’d dropped out the previous two years. “Not this time” I kept telling myself. It was going so much better all-in-all than the previous 2 attempts. Yes I was in pain, yes I’d had a setback but I was moving and my head was right.


Leaving Washington

Before getting to Washington, however, the first of two extra curve-balls hit me. I tripped and took my first of two tumbles. Its the most awful feeling when you realise you are going over especially on a hard-packed, pebbly, slightly down-sloping surface. Boom! Next thing I know I’m on the deck, knee bashed and bloodied, arm cut and hands and wrists stinging from breaking the impact. To add insult to injury all the muscles below my waist decide to take the opportunity to cramp up hard – I can just hear them yelling at me “what the hell??!!”.

I lay for a moment mentally doing a systems check and evaluating my life choices. The system check came back ‘OK’ and I was able to get up and get going again. The injuries were mostly superficial. Whew!!

It’s hard to express how good it felt going into Washington knowing I was going to leave it. I knew that if I could leave Washing I was going to finish. This was happening. After changing tops and prepping for the nightshift I was on my way. Once again boosted by the support of the girls. Its a pretty lousy day for Cally and Vix who are basically just going from crew station to crew station to see me for 2 minutes – a thankless task. It meant the world to see how happy they were to see me get going again.

Cup of coffee in hand I walked out of Washington and bumped into Martin again – so good to see him making great progress too. I also bumped into Hezel (from my running club) and his partner Mylene – both incredibly seasoned ultra runners. It was 7pm, still light and I was ready for the nightshift.

Night shift

The South Downs are elevated, rolling hills and provide panoramic views over the Southern coast. As the evening set in Brighton came into view and the sunset was just magical. I’d said goodnight to the girls – no point in crewing through the night, I’d see them at the finish.

The job became simple: mile to mile, aid station to aid station, run when you can, walk the rest. It was good to still have some running in the legs albeit a slow plod.

The memories of this section are quite blurry. The layby aid station at Botolphs at 61.2, Saddlescome Farm at 66.6 (I know, cruel joke of a distance!!), Housedean farm at 76.6.

Housedean comes just after a rail crossing but you can’t walk across despite the availability pedestrian crossing. No, you have to take the bridge, steps up and steps down 🤣. I remember thinking ‘how cruel, surely there are no trains at 1am?!’. It was here that I had a little sit-down with a cup of coffee and took stock.

Plan B

I had a rough outline for the day:

  • Plan A – things are going brilliantly, shoot for a sub-24hour
  • Plan B – not perfect but push for the best you can with one eye on bettering the previous 100mile time of 27hours 52min.
  • Plan C – bad day, just beat the cut-offs along the way and finish.

Sitting next to me at Housedean (76 miles in) a chap was dropping out and giving his number and GPS tracker to a marshal. Sobering. It was around 1am with 5 hours left to complete the remaining 33 miles for Plan A’s sub-24. No dice. It was actually a moment of relaxation to let that go. I had moved into Plan C after the heart issues from mile 20 to 35 but after recovering and moving up the field I was vaguely keeping an eye on the 24 hour mark. In truth I’d lost about 45min of stationary recovery effort and that was just too much to give away and still hit Plan A.

Now I was in Plan B and hoping for a sub-26 hour. Sunrise came at 4:46 am with a beautiful clear sky shared by sheep and cattle dotted over the downs. The 26 hour target kept me motivated but there were times when I just thought “to hell with it, there is enough time to walk it in”. The reason for the thoughts was the pain. Starting with low-grade pain in the calf from the start and later superseded by pain throughout the legs and a general malaise. Its a strange thing to decide to subject yourself to this form of torture. No one is forcing you and you can pull out at any time.

That’s the thing. To set out a goal, prepare for it and still not be sure you’ll make it on the day. To have a go, to push. There is something beautiful in that simplicity. Its whats known as “type 2 fun” – fun afterwards. Being able to look back and know that you have (at last) conquered your goal. I was clinging on to all of these thoughts.

Final miles

Afriston at 91.6 is another great milestone – it’s a fascinating aid station being housed in an old church and inside the last 10 miles. I had another sit-down (on a pew) and cup of coffee getting ready for the final push. Two more long uphill slogs would lead to the iconic trig beacon atop the hill overlooking Eastbourne. All the while I was yo-yoing between “push for 26” and “sod it, just walk it in”. I could not do the maths properly in my head but thought I should have a run wherever I could.

At last I hit the trig beacon at 7:10am – 50 minutes left with 3 miles to go. All downhill. On any given day that is a doddle but my quads were screaming with every step and I knew I’d have to push myself to make that deadline.

After coming out of “the gully of death” as the drop off the hill is affectionally known by some, the final stretch is mercifully on tarred pavement. I always prefer trails but this a good version of running on the road. Finally turning into the stadium I see Vix and then Carolyn. Centurion are famed for finishing on athletic tracks with a 400m lap of honour to round out the race. The girls joined me for the first bit then cut to get finish photos.

On reflection

25:54:59 – Plan B, done. So happy with that. Sure I was in agony and my nervous system did not know if it was Arthur or Martha but I had finished!

After completing my first 100 miler – The North Downs Way 100, 2020 – in blistering temperatures of 35ºC with a 56% drop-out rate I thought perhaps I have what it takes. The past 2 years have taught me lessons otherwise. Really important is impeccable physical preparation and condition. Weirdly, my first attempt in 2022 saw me in the best shape of the 3 but still it was a bomb. The second vital part is mental prep and mental state on the day. Its about finding the will to go on, solving any problem which comes your way. It’s about making the outcome more important than any current issue.

I can only imagine what it must be like to line up at the start of a 100 miler with all ducks in a row both physically and mentally. I’m OK leaving that unknown as I take this finish as a win and close the book on 100 milers.


Progress through the field
The position itself is not really important but moving forwards is a great mental boost.



My 26 week training plan
This included: a 30miler in Jan, Tokyo marathon, SDW50 miler, NDW 50 miler


The day of days…