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The South Downs Way 100

100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne

Saturday 15th. to Sunday 16th. June 2013

Eastbourne has never figured as the destination for a journey to the Promised Land but for me this year, setting off from Winchester in the early morning, I (Brian Feldman) was as determined as any pilgrim to arrive at the end of the South Downs Way.  Last year I had to pull out at 76 miles and I did not want a repeat of that disappointment.

On a good summer’s day, the air would be warm, or even hot, and the views, north to the North Downs across the Weald and south to the coastal resorts of Littlehampton, Brighton and Bognor Regis to the sea would be stunning.  But for me when I am running a warm day, such as we have had recently, is a killer so the forecast of only 150C was just right except for the wind which would gust up to 28 mph, but also no rain.

My support crew of John Hughes and Tony Bennett would be with me all the way and be one of the main reasons I succeeded.  Another reason is that in 2012 I noticed that many people used walking poles and after practising with them on my reconnoitring trips I carried a pair of ultra-lightweight Lekis, but the biggest difference this year was water.  My problems last year were all due to dehydration, I had not drunk sufficient liquid, but this year I consumed my Isostar at the rate of about half a litre per hour and had no problems at all in keeping going.

The race starts at Chilcomb, just outside Winchester, with a couple of laps of the sports field, but most of us had not completed half a lap before the front runners were hard on our heels.  “Take good look”, said one wag, “It’s the last you’ll see of them”, and of course he was right.  Once out of the field we were on the South Downs Way proper and it felt as we were really on our way.


The old South Downs Way race was 80 miles long starting at Queen Elizabeth Park, near Petersfield, so I had five hours of running before I reached the familiar point.  For those unfamiliar with the South Downs the profile of the terrain is of a long, often steep incline of a mile or more, then a relatively flat plateau followed by a steep decline, before the uphill climb begins again.  For comparison Potter Street Hill rises 61 metres in just under a mile, whilst, for example, on the SDW Truleigh Hill is 203 metres, the rise from Southease 200 metres, and there are numerous lesser undulations along the way.  The highest point on the SDW is at Ditchling Beacon, at 248 metres or four times Potter Street.


I reached the first checkpoint at Beacon Hill Beeches one minute faster than last year and feeling good.  A quick banana and drink with John and Tony at Exton after which the path climbs to the Old Winchester Hill Fort, but sadly no time to look at the remains.  My second meeting with J&T was near Meon Springs.  Rice pudding and jam set me on my way towards Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) at 22 miles.  This is a main checkpoint and again I was a minute ahead of last year.


But now the wind was gusting to 28 mph making it feel quick chilly so a quick change to a base layer, rice pudding and a very welcome cup of tea and I was off, still feeling very well.  The checkpoint at Harting was quickly passed and approaching Cocking you can see the Isle of Wight on a clear day.  However, 35 miles in 8 hours 17 minutes, was a little slower than 2012, but still in great form.  More rice pudding, more tea and on.


The checkpoint at Beacon Hill at 42 miles crosses Stane Street, a Roman road, and then down to the River Arun at Amberley.  The climb up from Amberley reaches 200 metres, 3 x Potter Street, but gives wonderful views across the Weald of Kent and Sussex, and a good excuse for a pause.  Kithurst Hill, at 50 miles, was achieved after 12 hours 25 minutes, still slower than 2012 but feeling so positive I knew then that I would get to the end.  An easy trot down to Washington at 54 miles for a rest.  John and Tony were wonderful, tea, pasta, chocolate and I was on my way.  The hill from there on the A24 is 135 metres, 2 x Potter Street in the same distance, so twice as steep.  Here the poles really came into their own.  By this time last year I was beginning to feel wobbly, but now I was “racing” up to Chactonbury Ring.  All along here the views to the coast and inland were lovely, even in the hazy conditions.


A very warm welcome from the checkpoint at Botolphs, 61 miles, as well as exclusive catering from the well known firm of Bennett and Hughes.  By now it was dark, so I had to negotiate the difficult Truleigh Hill and path by headtorch.  From now until about 4 on Sunday morning, when it became light enough to see, the effort in reconnoitring the route a week beforehand demonstrated its value in that I knew exactly where to go and what the path looked like.  The next checkpoint was at Saddlescombe Farm, where more rice pudding and tea set me on my way to the Clayton Windmills.  My left leg was beginning to cause some pain so I could not run for more than 200 metres at a time, but could walk fast with my poles.


I was momentarily lost in the dark trying to find the checkpoint but eventually arrived there at 12.41 on Sunday morning almost exactly my 2012 time, but this year I felt great.  I pushed on to Housedean Farm at 76 miles and again being certain of the route and terrain I was physically and mentally able to keep up my momentum.  This was in stark contrast to last year when I arrived at the checkpoint exhausted and unable to continue.  Crossing the road at Housedean towards Southease the dawn began to come up.  Climbing  yet another hill I crept past a herd of sleeping cattle and then reaching the summit of yet another long climb I knew I had a relatively flat plateau to run on.  There was a glorious sunrise of deepest red to cheer me on and now I began to believe that I would get to the finish.


However, at Southease, 83 miles in, I had a panic that I was short of time but I had 6 ½ hours to complete 17 miles, which sounds easy but when you have already been up for 26 hours and running non-stop for nearly 24 of them your brain is not working as well as normally, which is why a support crew is so necessary.  However, a glance at the results show that some people who were ahead of me at that stage took 8 hours for the final stretch.


I made Alfriston in double-quick time and rushed on to Jevington, where a cottage at the bottom of the path proclaims it to be the birthplace of Banoffee pie, but there was not a moment to lose.  Climbing the mile-long hill I reached the top and had a moment to view my destination in Eastbourne which lay spread out below.  No pilgrim to Mecca, Canterbury or Jerusalem could have viewed their destination with greater relief and joy than I did at that moment but I still had 3 miles to go.


Finally, I entered the track for the last 350 metres, being cheered on by the reception party at the finish and even managed to break into a run for the last 100 metres.  I had done it, 100 miles in 28 hours, 56 minutes and 58 seconds effectively non-stop. At 66 I was the oldest competitor finishing 129th. out of 142 who completed the distance, a further 48 runners pulled out.


Still smiling at the finish after 100 miles and 12,700 feet of ascent.  Approximately 63 Potter Streets!


It is not uncommon on a long run, to have to push yourself through a bad patch, but this year I had no such feelings.  I enjoyed every minute of the run, with a great feeling of triumph and delight at the end, so much so that I have already signed up for another 100 mile run next year, this time along the Thames Towpath, at least it will be flat.


My thanks to the checkpoint volunteers and special thanks to my crew: John Hughes and Tony Bennett for their unwavering support and without whom I would not have been able to complete the run.



Brian Feldman