Sitting close to London, the NDW mirrors the South Downs Way, running from West to East across the country, from Farnham to Dover. The 100 starts at the far Western trail head and stops 102.6 miles east of there in the village of Wye, and is a tough event. Clearly, covering 100 miles on foot in one continuous movement (or close to) isn’t a straightforward proposition, but the North Downs Way is a much more difficult trail to negotiate than it may at first appear. The constant winding nature, changing underfoot conditions and short steep ascents/ descents all chop in to a runners rhythm and make it more technical than one might expect.
2012 was the first time we had held the event in this direction and we saw some strong efforts from 4 runners in particular, one of which was Ed Catmur who ran out eventual 3rd. Ed had also taken 2nd at the inaugural NDW50 in 2011. He returned to the 100 again this year with some strong early season results under his belt and with obvious knowledge of the trail. Over the years he’s won trail events of all distances against deep fields and runs his own race, hard off of the front. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
We had 156 starters register before our 0600 start time on Saturday. There seemed to be a more relaxed attitude amongst the runners than usual, perhaps as the forecast looked extremely favourable with cloudy but bright skies and a dry, fast trail to run. Temperatures were considerably lower than last year when many had struggled in the heat.
At the first checkpoint, Puttenham mile 6.7, Ed was out in front, slightly ahead of a pack of three moving together including Anthony Forsyth and Mark Perkins (SDW50 champ) both running their first 100 mile race. Nobody stopped and the pace was fast. First lady through CP1 by some margin was Gemma Carter, heavily taped up but moving well, followed by Wendy Shaw and Helen Smith running their usual solid well paced early efforts.
At CP2 St. Marthas on the Hill (12.5) Ed maintained his lead of a couple of minutes, Anthony and Mark in together shortly after with what emerged to be three very different race approaches. Ed was running uncrewed, taking his time through every checkpoint employing haste but not speed before pushing on and thanking volunteers. Anthony had a sizeable, finely tuned crew and didn’t stop at all, with water carriers running with him as he gave instructions. Mark looked cool, calm and relaxed with a beaming smile as he leant less often on his crew of 2. It was amazing to see three such different approaches, all admirable in their own way.
Already the rest of the pack were quite a significant distance back of the front three. The ladies field on the other hand were well placed and close together. Everyone made it as far as St. Martha’s with our first drop there.
On to Box Hill at Mile 24 and Ed’s split was 3:12, 4 minutes off of Craig Holgates record NDW50 split. Ed concurred with my suggestion he was moving a little too fast, even for him and took his time to refuel. Anthony roared straight through exactly 5 minutes behind with Mark still with him. Dave Ross, Toby Froschauer and Richard La Cock were all moving very well a few minutes back again, Dave completely fired up on endorphins and loving every minute of it, bear hugging people at the aid station.
On through Reigate Hill and Caterham View Point towards Botley Hill the only change was that Anthony began to leave Mark trailing just a few minutes back and the front two began to extend their lead over everyone else. We awaited their arrival just after the steep climb alongside the Titsey Estate and to our surprise it was Anthony who emerged in to CP6 first, running straight through to meet his crew down the line, as Ed emerged just 30 seconds back.
Knockholt Pound and the 50 mile point with the indoor major halfway aid station fired up and ready to go, pizza, pasta, homemade cakes and a host of other goodies out on display, all completely ignored by the front two dueling it out blow for blow. Ed arrived first, stopped and took a good few minutes inside. Anthony fired past again dropping his bottle and issuing orders at his slightly nervous looking crew, saving every ounce of energy for the race and subsequently leaving first. Clearly this was shaping up to be something special.
Piece of String co RD James Adams making light work of Box Hill.
There was absolutely nothing to choose between either runner all the way until Detling aid station at mile 82. The lead was occasionally traded but mostly Ed lost crucial minutes refuelling whilst Anthony running very slightly slower made them up on account of his excellent crewing plan.
Charlie Cain our landlord at Saddlescombe Farm SDW aid station, moving well in the early stages.
Anthony stated after the event that it was just past Detling that he felt the first significant gap really opened up, as Ed made lighter work of the more technical section between mile 82 and 86. Through Hollingbourne and on to Lenham Ed stretched the lead slightly and by the time he hit the mile 91 aid station he had a 10 minute advantage over Anthony. Of course, that lead would mean nothing if he had even 2 bad miles at this stage, the pressure was on and it was going to make for an incredible finish. He maintained his advantage through the final CP at mile 98.6 and opened up in the final few miles. He was running like he’d just started as he hit the road in Wye, crossing the finish line in a time of 15:44:39.
Ed Catmur receives his winners trophy and two above, running strong on the trails.
Ed’s performance here shouldn’t be underestimated. I had anticipated that the race would be fast but that a few contenders would be in it to the last, the course record likely to go in better conditions, but sub 17 would be an excellent day. I couldn’t ever have predicted that Ed would turn out the second fastest time we’ve ever had at a Centurion event, on what I consider to be the toughest course of the 4, albeit marginally over the SDW. I don’t think that many other British runners home or abroad would have significantly bettered that time, he didn’t ever falter.
Toby Froschauer surpised by a visit from his father at the finish. Toby is our new Downs Double record holder.
Of course, one clearly significant factor was that he was pushed all the way. Anthony, coming in to his first 100, made the race what it was. With the two of them dueling it out, both were pushed to their absolute limits and it was a joy to see a 100 miler raced with such guts and determination by two class act runners, right from the gun. Anthony lost a little more time in the final few miles and crossed the line in a very emotional 16:03:47, giving 19 minutes away to Ed. On any other day he might have won the race by a huge margin. His approach in training went against the grain of our previous 100 mile winners, as he clocked massive mileage which in most eyes would have been counter productive, but as he explained at the finish, he believes that hard work makes up for a lack of talent (obviously not lacking!) and that is where his dedication pays off. The outpouring of emotion at the finish spoke of a man who had dedicated a vast amount of time and energy into grafting the best possible performance he was capable of, a great example of what hard work and tremendous dedication can return.
Anthony Forsyth makes his dream a reality after months of hard work.
Mark also had an incredibly debut 100 miler, with major stomach issues and vomiting from before the 50 mile point, he rallied and fought all day to record 3rd place in 17:45:48. Dave Ross got close and Mark could undoubtedly feel the pressure from behind but he dug deep and held off the late challenge to cement his place on the podium. Similar to Anthony, with this experience behind him he will be one to watch for the future.
4th home was the strong man of UK marathoning Dave Ross, followed by crowd favourite Toby Froschauer who, much like Mark, smiled from ear to ear from start to finish. Just after Toby finished and disappeared, so did our finish line, by two opportunist thieves who kindly decided to remove our feather flags and LED lights from the finish area. Apologies to all remaining 92 runners who were thus greeted by a sorry looking flag as our finishing line!!!!
The ladies race was a very different affair with the lead changing hands many times throughout the day. Helen Smith started strongest and stayed out front for much of Saturday, with a 15 minute lead at Knockholt mile 50, over Mary Heald. Wendy Shaw sat third just a few minutes back on a day when things were not going to plan and many would have dropped, Wendy gutted it out for 102 miles for her fourth consecutive podium at a Centurion 100, something which may perhaps never be repeated and a streak she will hope to continue. Helen’s day came unstuck between mile 55 and 65, a longer stop causing her to drop out of the top 3 and making way for Leila Rose to come past. The 1,2,3 was maintained from there on in, with Mary forging ahead the strongest of the day to finish in 22:40, astounded that she had walked away with the win. Mary was our last drop of the Winter 100 in 2012, on the final out and back. She decided that to make amends, she’d enter the Slam and do it right. She has gotten stronger with every passing race and it has been a joy to watch her improve over the past 8 months. Leila was our second to last finisher in 2012, and has trained for this race for 12 months since. She poured all of her heart and soul into preparing to return for a sub 24 hour finish and achieved it with 13 minutes to spare and picked up second overall in the process.
Grand Slammer Mary Heald picks up her first win.
13 runners started out the day with the hope of finishing their 3rd Centurion 100 of 2013, on route to the Grand Slam, all 4 x 100s in one calendar year. In the end just 9 made it home, from a total of 22 with such ambitions at the outset of 2013, the attrition rate has been typically high. Those still in the hunt for the giant buckle include some remarkable stories from fastest to ‘most conservative’ and the updated list of 2013 Slammers can be found here. Wendy Shaw has bagged 2nd, 3rd and 2nd respectively in the 3 races to date, whilst Jack Mortassagne has managed his finishing times just under the cut offs and with the precision of a man with over 25 Comrades finishes behind him. Ann Bath, I hope she won’t mind me saying, is a miracle story much in the trend of Ken Fancett, last years champ at 62. Ann is the same age and has battled through all 3 so far, including additional 100 mile runs at 24hr events also within this calendar year. She will go on to become our oldest official slammer at the Winter 100.
All in all of 156 starters, 97 finished within the 30 hour cut off for a finish rate of 63%. Our final runner out on course, Marketa Martins, made the cut off at mile 98.6 with 26 minutes to spare, but with incredibly painful blisters she made it home in 30:07 just 7 minutes past the final cut. She was one of many who gave their all, but for whom that official finish remained elusive. There is always another event and we’re honoured to be able to meet the incredible group of people that show up to run these events in the full 30 hours, or just half of that.
The final words as always, must go to our incredible volunteers. It’s something that I mention every time, but it simply isn’t possible to put ultra distance races on without a large number of extremely selfless, patient, hardworking and competent volunteers who give up their time and energy to give something back to the rest of the running community and allow other runners to achieve their dreams. Every one of our finishers commented on the quality of the course marking and the support at the aid stations for which the volunteers and race staff must take all the credit.