The South Downs Way 100 is our largest event and in many ways the jewel in the crown for us. It has grown over the years, little by little so as to ensure we kept the essence of it carrying over. The beautiful trail and National Park deserve the utmost respect and to be looked after. The balance between the environment, other trail users, the community, volunteers and runner experience all has to be carefully maintained. This year we allowed the numbers to grow by 15% on 2019 and welcomed a record field of 433 starters. It was our biggest ever event and with the majority of Covid protocols still in place, a somewhat anxiety-inducing one for us, but one that ultimately was worth every ounce of energy from everyone involved.
Pete Windross (Photo c/o Stuart March Photography/ Lenny Martin)
Starting from the incredible natural amphitheatre of Matterley Bowl, we set the runners off over the course of 0430-0600 so as to spread out the load on the check points. Having spectators back for the first time since 2019 was such welcome relief for us all. The atmosphere was completely different and it was wonderful to have that back.
Temperatures at the start were an ideal 12 degrees but rose to become relatively hot with high humidity during the day. Whilst that seemed to impact many runners, the number of drops was substantial but that was partly just a product of a larger starting field. Of those 433 starters, 308 made the finish, again a record for us. By our calculations this makes it the largest number of finishers at any 100 mile running event held on UK soil. The LDWA have had larger events on their 100 mile annual walking challenge of course.
A recap of race day shot by Ross Brackley
At the sharp end of the field, Rob Payne and Geoff Cheshire went out hard in the men's race and ran close to or just below record splits for many of the early miles. With Rob starting earliest, he was in the lead on the ground but actually just behind Geoff by a few minutes for much of the first 40 miles. Just after Houghton Farm, Geoff took the lead on the ground and Rob was visibily struggling perhaps a hangover of the injury he picked up at the Track 100. He would eventually drop at Saddlescombe, leaving Geoff to forge ahead. But entering the final quarter of the race, Geoff also ran into trouble and began slowing fairly dramatically. Behind him, Peter Windross kept a more consistent pace and began to reel Geoff in. By Jevington with four miles to go, Peter had passed Geoff into first place before literally passing Geoff just after the Trig Point, running down and onto the track to take his second Centurion 100 mile win in 15:30. A fantastic run. Geoff eventually spent almost three hours making his way over those final four miles but to his credit, finished this time, whereas in 2019 he had stopped at that last check point.
Geoff Cheshire (Photo: Stuart March Photography)
Also passing Geoff in the final stages were first Jack Galloway and second Craig Norris. The difference between them was mere seconds. Jack came home first having started earlier but then began a nervous wait to see whether Craig could better him for second. Craig hit the track with gusto and really pushed for the line. He just pushed past Jack's time with a 16:48:06 to his 16:48:33. It will be great to see mass starts back so that racing like this can take place head to head again. We are close to that again now.
In the women's race, it was previous NDW100 champion Karen Hacker who led the early miles. She was pursued by Emi Dixon and Alice Robinson. Until CP3 things looked to be close but at that point, Alice's tracker decided to stop talking to the satellites so she effectively disappeared from sight! It was updates on the ground via our videographer and the check points that told us what was happening. Alice ran through to the lead and held it there until we eventually were able to get a new tracker on her at Housedean Farm. At that stage she was 25 minutes up on Emi and 29 minutes up on Karen and seemed likely to go on and take the win. That she did, but a hard charging Emi Dixon made it interesting over the final stages, we had to wait a little while to do some calculations as we awaited Emi's arrival to be sure that Alice's time would be the fastest in the end. Her 18:48 was enough to do so, Emi took second in 19:07 and Karen third in 19:56.
Emi Dixon ran a super 100 mile debut (Photo: Stuart March Photography)
In the age categories, winners were as follows:
FV40 went to Ally Whitlock in 21:18, FV50 to Debra Bourne in 22:31 and FV60 to Kate Evan-Jones in 27:24.
MV40 went to Emlyn Hughes in 16:53, MV50 to overall winner Peter Windross and a new age group record to boot, MV60 to Phil Hoy in 26:22 and MV70 to Kenneth Fancett in 24:32 and another new record for him.
Perhaps the most poignant moments of the weekend were saved for the nineteen, 2020 Grand Slammers who had to wait almost eight months after the conclusion of the 2020 Autumn 100, to complete the fourth and final stage of their journey. That every one of them made the start, let alone the finish was a triumph in itself, but we were so absolutely delighted to see every one of them make it home. It felt like above all else, the people that most understood the depths we have been thrown into over the past 15 months were those hardy souls and the sense of relief that the journey was now complete for them and for us was quite frankly palpable.
Stuart March Photography
120 volunteers made this event possible. We are so grateful to every single one of them.
A final congratulations to the fastest runner we've ever welcomed to our events. Iwan Thomas toed the line on Saturday for his first 100 miler. The 400m British Record holder was raising awareness and funds for Strep B awareness after his little boy was taken ill shortly after birth. He showed true Olympic spirit at one point shaving the cut-offs as close as four minutes before pushing on and eventually crossing the line in 29:35. His fund raising page is available here and we look forward to seeing and sharing the film of his journey later this year.
Stuart March Photography
Stuart March Photography
The race that felt like it might never happen. After two postponements last May and then July, we were then forced to cancel the 2020 NDW50 completely in November, during the second national lockdown. With the winter of doubt, our return to racing in April and with three events prior to this in 2021, confidence began to gather that all would be well. And finally, the tenth edition came to pass!
Video: Steve Ashworth
Race day was a cool morning with a light tail wind. Some rain showers forecast but nothing prolonged. So overall exceptionally good running conditions for May, albeit underfoot things were more challenging after a wet week. The mud was up and made some of the surfaces pretty greasy, particularly in the second half.
Photo: Steve Ashworth
Photo: Stuart March
That made the run by the eventual mens race winner Ry Webb, all the more special. As discussed in the pre-race preview, Ry was the clear favourite coming in and with a handful of second and third placed finishes at our events over the years, a win was long overdue. He was also one of just three people coming into the race, who were at our first event ever, on this course back in 2011. The stars aligned and Ry led the race time wise from start to finish, eventually over taking Mark Pinder and Jimmy Mould - who had gone off a little earlier in the rolling start window - on the ground between Caterham and Botley Hill. He ran through to finish in 6:36:55, striving hard right to the line. Which was important because he was just 32 seconds inside Jon Ellis' course record from 2017. Second behind Ry, Lyndon Cooper ran a really strong race and finished in 7:10. Jimmy Mould was third in his first ever ultra, in 7:16.
Ry Webb Photo: Stuart March
The ladies race was a more closely fought affair and made for really exciting viewing all day. Sam Amend, fresh off of her British 100 mile record at the track 100 just four weeks ago, came in with a target of sub 8 hours. Having not seen the course before and self confessed not the strongest on the hills with most of her training for faster flatter events, it was a bit of an unknown, but as her time of 7:59:39 shows, she was spot on with her estimations.
Sam Amend wins a second Centurion event inside of a month (Photo: Stuart March)
She took the win from second placed Michelle Maxwell. The two had begun the race together but Sam had stretched away in the first half on the faster flatter ground, for the gap to close very slightly over that second half. Michelle had a great battle with Rachel Normand in third. The two were never separated by more than 4 minutes in time, albeit due to the rolling start Rachel was always behind Michelle on the ground. Rachel led early on before Michelle over turned the small margin and finished four minutes ahead in the end. Rachel's first Centurion event and an eventual time of 8:20.
Rachel Normand (Photo: Stuart March)
In the Age Categories, first place finishers went to the following:
FV40: Sam Amend. FV50: Alice Riddell-Webster in 8:46:43 which is a new age cateogry record by 24 minutes from Janette Cross' 2016 time. FV60: Christina Kluth in 11:51:30, again a massive age group best for her over the previous best of 12:35.
Photo: Steve Ashworth
First MV40 went to Lyndon Cooper. FV50 to Mark Pinder in 7:54, a new category record. MV60 went to Chris Finill in 10:12 and MV70 of course to Ken Fancett. Ken is the first MV70 to finish this event, though his time of 11:20 is a disappointment (to him not us!), Ken is continuing to feature at all of our events bar the Track 100 and winning his age category every time.
The race had 268 finishers - a record for us here, for a 92% finish rate.
Thank you to the 65 volunteers that made this tenth edition possible, finally.
This weekend saw the tenth edition of the Thames Path 100 and the fortieth 100 mile race since our beginning back in 2010. One glaring absentee was Markus Flick, our favourite German competitor who having run all 9 editions of this event, had to miss the tenth due to the ongoing travel restrictions. His bid to become the first person to finish 10 editions of any of our races will have to wait until 2022.
Spencer Millberry & Stuart Mclaughlin in the early rain (Photo c/o Stuart March Photography)
The forecast looked fairly horrendous but in the end, we were all exceptionally lucky. Heavy rain fell initially and lasted for several hours, but what followed were good temperatures all day, all night and again the next day, some wind at times and some claggy mud later on but all in all a fast day.... and that was brought home by the mens winner who screamed home in 13:43:42. That is the fastest 100 mile time we have ever seen at one of our events, the first sub 14 hour race and the fastest trail 100 mile time on UK soil.
Richard started at 0701 right at the head of the race and time trialled his way to success. The first 50 miles were despatched in a fraction over 6 hours. Some sickness and a little walking as he passed through Henley looked like it could spell disaster but quite clearly not only does he have the speed to do incredible things in this sport, he has the mental resolve too. He kept plugging away through ups and downs and got the result, if not the time, that his efforts deserved. There is much more left to come from this man.
Richard McDowell (Photo c/o Stuart March)
Behind him, Dan Lawson and James Williams ran close together for much of the race, Dan forging ahead after the first third, before suffering some troubles around the same time as Richard. James passed him and created an increasing gap as time went on, eventually crossing the line in 14:49 to Dan's 15:22.
In the womens event we saw a completely different shape to the race. Unfortunately two of the leading contenders were not to be seen on race morning which left the event wide open. Lorna Spayne in her debut 100 went off like a rocket - her average pace over the 10 miles to check point was a blistgering 7:45 per mile. Like Richard, she held that lead from wire to wire and ran home the winner in 20:02:31 showing impressive resolve over the closing stages. Behind her all credit to the extremely experienced Melissa Montague who was literally half an hour behind Lorna at CP1 and an hour behind at 50km. She seemed to be reeling in the leader through the middle third, but eventually also faded in the latter stages and came home for second in 20:24. Third place went to Jennifer Sangster in 21:38.
Lorna Spayne (Photo c/o Stuart March Photography)
In the Age Categories, FV40 went to Melissa Montague in second overall. Susan Ritchie was our first FV50 in 22:48.
Richard Mcdowell took home MV40 on top of all of his other records. MV50 went to Andrew Mckillop in 18:45. MV60 to Simon Bennett in 23:14 and Ken Fancett took first MV70 in 23:36.
Michael Charles (Photo c/o Stuart March Photography)
We had over 100 volunteers out on course this weekend, at a ratio of almost one volunteer per 2.5 runners. An absolutely incredible dedication by all of them to get this event to happen, as ever, but especially now with the other challenges Covid brings with it.
In total we had 272 starters, 188 finishers and 105 of those earned 100 MILE - ONE DAY buckles for the efforts. Statistics very much on par with this event over the years. A total of 1740 runners have completed the Thames Path in our 10 years, with 966 of them earning the One Day buckle. Here's to the next 10!
The ambition behind the Track 100 is really simple. To provide the optimal conditions for a small number of athletes to shoot for 100 mile records at World, National and Age Group level. Whilst also recording official splits at the other ultra distances recognised by the IAU and World Athletics on route.
The 100 mile distance has always been our main focus at Centurion. In 2019 we held the first edition of the event and 8 runners took to the start line. Tom Payn won the mens event in a time of 12:25 and promptly put himself 8th on the British all time list. Debbie Martin-Consani was our first and only female finisher in a time of 16:21.
For 2020 we had possibly the highest calibre 100 mile field ever assembled lined up to race including both the mens and womens 100 mile world record holders, Zach Bitter and Camille Herron. Plus Aleksandr Sorokin, the World 24hr Champion, alongside the best of British 100km and 24hr talent. Of course the pandemic took that event out just a month prior to race day and we postponed to this year.
For 2021 we accepted 25 applications, hoping that it would yield between 15-20 starters. That is the optimal number in our opinion for a race of this nature. Enough to create competition and atmosphere, whilst reducing to a minimum any congestion on the lap, in the crew area, or requiring much additional distance to be added through overtaking.
Photo c/o Steve Ashworth
The international travel restrictions ruled a handful of top athletes out and reduced the field to a core of English runners, plus two Scottish athletes given permission to travel by Scottish Athletics. We were able to get one international athlete over but it was a huge effort to do so. Aleksandr Sorokin a resident of Vilnius, Lithunia, World 24hr Champion from 2019, wanted to do everything he could to race. He is in incredible shape after training hard all through the winter and with the World 24hr Championships later in the year, the timing allowed him an all out effort for the 100 mile World Record. We worked through his travel, Covid testing and quarantine plans with Bryn Jones who would also crew for him on the day. Bryn set Aleksandr up with accomodation complete with treadmill given that he would not be able to train outdoors until his test and release scheme was complete. He was finally given the all clear to leave quarantine on the Thursday afternoon before the race and ran for the first time outside in over a week. He was ready to race.
We had invited Steve Ashworth and Summit Fever Media to come down and shoot the race, to try to document what we hoped would be a special day. They were able to produce some astounding content as the worked all day to cover the race from start to finish. It makes sense to break the report down the same way so here is how the day went.
The day before the race is a busy one as set up is carried out. Partial lap distances measured so we can ratify the other distances/ splits on route to the 100 mile including 50km, 50 mile, 100km, 6 hour and 12 hour. Final meetings with the Referee and Timing Officials are carried out and the infrastructure is put in place for the day.
The race began at 0600, with the sun just starting to break over the horizon. Temperatures were in the low single figures and with a little wind, it felt cold and gloves hats and jackets were on for most. That first few minutes are nerve racking for all, as timing systems are checked, officials are getting settled and manual lap counters bank a few sets of lap splits and begin to get to know their athlete.
Then for several hours, athletes just tick away, finding a rhythm, getting famiiar with the ebb and flow of track ultras.
Runners are settling in to their respective positions and working each other out in the goldfish bowl that is track racing. Out front by a margin is Jason Porter, the only athlete who had declared he was aiming for 50km specifically. He is moving a minute per mile faster than anyone else and is visibly working hard for his target. A group of men ran with a lap of each other for an extended period of time including Aleksandr Sorokin, Joseph Turner, Rob Payne and Andy Jordan.
In the womens race, Sam Amend is running well under an 8 minute per mile average pace in her assault on the British record of 14:43. 8 minute miling for 100 miles is 13 hours 20 total time so her tactic is clearly to put some faster miles away early on.
Sam Amend led from the gun (Photo c/o Steve Ashworth Media)
The remainder of the runners look consistent and focused mainly on their own individual performance rather than 'the race' itself. This is all about them vs the clock rather than one another.
Jason Porter made the early part of the race very exciting however, as he had declared he was shooting at the 50km distance in specific. He went out with authority and for the first 2 hours ran a steady 5:40 mile pace to put himself in with a very good shot of breaking the magic 3 hour barrier for the distance. As he hit 40km he began to suffer and stopped briefly twice, intending to drop from the race. But with some gentle encouragement he found the resolve to push on and passing through the marathon mark at 2:31 he was able to push on to a finish time of 3:00:49. There is more to come from him, for sure.
As runners make the first turn to change direction at 4 hours, Aleksandr has risen to the top of the rankings. A 3:25 split for 50km is a minute or two ahead of the average pace he needs to maintain to break the world record of 11:19. He looks totally in control and extremely smooth.
Sam Amend makes 50km in 3:54 leading the way for the ladies, again well ahead of the average pace she needs to achieve overall for a British record.
Team GB 24 hour athlete Rob Payne is the only casualty so far, with a glute problem that got progressively worse forcing him to walk and eventually to stop not long after the 50km mark. We are down to 13 athletes left on track.
Aleksandr Sorokin blows through the 50 mile mark in 5:32:01, setting a new Lithuanian National Record. That split puts him 8 minutes head of Zach Bitters 50 mile split on route to his 11:19 World best. The conditions are still good although the wind is gusting at times and coming from the North East which is the exposed side of the track. He goes on to make 87.13km in the 6 hour split and crosses 100km in 6:54:25. Every single lap is within a margin of 8 seconds between 1:35 and 1:43.
Behind him, Joe Turner ran really well to 50 miles in 5:49:10 but stopped just a few laps afterwards. That left Mark Innocenti who has looked good all day, to pull into second place. He makes 50 miles in 5:55 and 100km in 7:32. These are extremely impressive times in their own right let alone on route to 100 miles.
Our first records of the day are set by Andy Jordan. Andy is the only runner in the MV55 category and he runs a 6:11:36 50 mile split for a new British age group record. His 6 hour split is also a record mark: 78.22km.
In the womens race, Sam Amend makes 50 miles in 6:41 which is almost precisely 8 minute miling. Her 6 hour split of 72.995km is a new FV40 British 6 hour record. She can now afford a hefty tail off and still run a British 100 mile record.
Second placed lady Jo Newens records the third and fourth records of the day as she sets a new British V50 mark of 7:15:25 for 50 miles as well as a new 6 hour FV50 standard of 68.20km
Over the next several hours to the second turn at 8 hours and beyond, we lose a few more runners. Rob Forbes and GB 24hr runner Mike Stocks' days are not going to plan and both drop out, Rob just passed 50 miles and Mike makes 100km before calling it a day.
As we tick up to 9 and 10 hours elapsed, it becomes clear that we are likely to be witnessing the greatest 100 mile performance of all time. Aleksandr doesn't drop off of his pace by more than a second per lap. He continues to fuel and hydrate well. Chocolate and cream cheese sandwiches, Maurten, a Lithuanian energy drink, Oranges, Red Bull and coke/water mix are all going in. He 'only has a half marathon in 1:34 left to run. He hits 150km in a new world record mark of 10:27:48. We are now just 10km from his finish.
The remainder of the runners continue to grind away but briefly all attentions switch to one man. With three laps to go we converse with Bryn, his crew, and decide to hand him a note to get him to think about pushing on to the 12 hour split/ record once he breaks the 100 mile. This is something that Zach Bitter has done twice in the past having already set 100 mile times and is that possibly once in a lifetime opportunity to shoot for two world records in one performance. He takes the note and a lap later confirms that he is going to stick it out for another 45 minutes. The mental resolve to do that is beyond anything any of us can imagine.
But still he doesn't look anywhere near as bad as he has done at several of the 24 hour events we have seem him run at. He looks in complete control, does he have even more to give?? He breaks the 100 mile world record coming past in 11:14:56. His second half split of 5:42 is 4 minutes slower than Zachs but overall he takes just over 4 minutes off of the World Record. He pushed on to 12 hours, slows only marginally during the closing minutes and sets a new best there of 170.309km.
Aleksandr celebrates at his 12hr mark on the track. Another world record. Photo c/o Steve Ashworth Media
He is immediately whisked off by UK Anti Doping to perform his urine test, necessary for record ratification. Everyone is left speechless at what they have witnessed. Yet he seems to take it in his stride, there is no ego, no drama. Aleksandr is a man that just loves to run and to push himself. He is an inspiration to all of us.
There are still many stories being written around him and we turn attention fully back to the 8 athletes still out on track.
The time between 100km and 100 miles is a nomansland in distance running. The only other point in time to lean on is the 12hr mark, where the runners make their final turn around and change in direction on the track, as well as recording a 12 hour split. Otherwise it is just them and the dozens or even hundreds of laps left to the 100 mile target.
Four women started the race and all four remain amongst the eight still running. Jo Newens is continuing to set new records with a new British FV50 12 hour best of 121.97km. There is also another record at 12 hours, Ali Young sets a new FV45 British age group record of 125.01km.
Sam Amend continues to lead the way, she suffers a fairly major low patch where the record seems to be slipping away and at one point, her average pace points to a 14:50 finish which would mean her just missing out on the British Record.
Meanwhile Mark Innocenti finishes second in the mens race in an astounding 12:34:51 putting him joint 9th fastest all time by a Brit with the exact same time as Bill Carr from back in 1975. Third place is taken by Stephen Marks in 13:41 and fourth by Grant Macdonald in 14:31, both PBs and superb runs.
All focus is however on Sam. Over the last 90 minutes she digs deeper and deeper and speeds up substantially. Her splits are improving rapidly and it is quite clear that today, she has the fight to do whatever it takes to achieve her goal. Total focus and determination are required and she has both. As we tick closer to the 14:43 mark to beat, it's clear she has done enough. WIth 5km to go she has almost 30 minutes to do it and do it she does as she crosses the line in 14:34:03 to set a new National record - one that has stood since 1991 and belongs to Eleanor Robinson, who together with Hilary Walker are possibly the two greatest female long distance athletes we have ever produced in the UK.
Four athletes remain on track and when Mike Bisson finishes in 14:43, another huge PB and particularly impressive given some major stomach issues a few hours earlier.
Three ladies remain. Ali Young and Jo Newens are in respective battles with history to set new British Age Category marks. Sarah Sawyer who has been metronomic all day is starting to gradually slip in her pacing and it is clear it will go all the way to the wire.
Ali seems to be able to give the same drive and focus that Sam found in the finishing stages and drives hard over the closing laps to record a new FV45 British best of 15:41:17. It is a PB of almost an hour for her and thoroughly deserved given how consistent she has been in lapped format events over the last 6 years.
Ali Young (Photo c/o Steve Ashworth Media)
Jo Newens digs equally as deep and obliterates her own FV50 British record coming home in 16:32:39. It is the 14th World or National record of the day.
Sarah Sawyer is at the exact same moment grinding to a halt as she pours every ounce into the race. Mentally it is clearly well within her capability to get it done but the 17 hour cut off and a lean which is getting progressively more pronounced are going to stop her from getting there in time. With just over 5km to go it is over for her. No doubt she will return.
Our biggest thanks to the teams of manual lap counters, general volunteers, our race officials, UK Anti Doping, the Julie Rose Stadium and all of the runners and crews for making this a day that none of us will ever forget.
A summary of the Mens 100 Mile World Record and History
To put a little more story behind the time we saw Aleksandr run, we spoke to the ultra statistician Andy Milroy, who gave us some notes to reflect on.
The race was important on several levels. It sustained a long ultra tradition going back close on a century of overseas runners coming to England to challenge for records, particularly the 100 miles.
Arthur Newton in the 1920s, Hardy Ballington pre-war, then post war Wally Hayward, Gerald Walsh, Ted Corbitt, Jean-Gilles Boussuquet, Oleg Kharitonov and Denis Zhalybin and now Aleksandr Sorokin. So an illustrious history.
Aleksandr brought the World 100 mile record back to Ashford after close to 200 years - Edward Rayner previously set a world record in Asford in 1824 - 17:52!
In a period without championships, a major international race where world records are set, overseen by the IAU, is both significant and important.
Aleksandr Sorokin’s marks are historic because it moved the 100 miles to a split time, with the 12 hour event now being much stronger. The 15 hour barrier for the 200 km is within reach - Zhalybin ran 15:08:53 on the road, Kouros 15:10:27 on the track... Fifty years ago, in 1972, Derek Kay was the first man to run 100 miles in under 12 hours, running splits of 5:56/6 hours. Now the race is on to 11 hours... In 1970 Dave Box ran 12:15:09; two years later in 1972 Derek Kay ran 11:56:56. The 100 mile world record basically stagnated from the late 1970s, and the 2002 race barely moved it forwards - from 11:30 to 11:28/11:29. Zach Bitter has worked so hard over many years at the distance, but only moved it by ten minutes. Aleksandr moved the best by just over four minutes from there.
It has taken fifty years to progress 42 minutes. Arguably a sub 11 hours 100 miles should be imminent. Zach and Aleksandr being the two obvious protagonists to move this forward. These world class runners are unassuming because they don’t live in a hype bubble, each race they are faced by ordinary runners who will face exactly the same course and endure the same problems.
The first event back for 2021 after a long, dark winter made for a collective sense of relief and elation across the whole community from runners, to volunteers and staff. The incredible conditions were the icing on the cake. Temperatures were cool to start with but quickly levelled out at an almost perfect 11 degrees, with bright sunshine and a gentle cooling breeze. Which all made for PB central down at Eastbourne Sports Park with many of our regular runners shattering their previous bests for the course and for the distance. All in all it was a wonderful occasion.
A video recap of the day can be found here (c/o Steve Ashworth Media)
Ronald Davies heads up Truleigh Hill (c/o Stuart March Photography)
Thanks to covid postponing the 2020 edition of this event, the SDW50 also happened to be the last race we held prior to this, so it was interesting to compare and contrast. The covid protocols were all still in place of course which makes it a longer, harder day for everyone whilst we work to ensure social distancing, sanitisation and protection against transmission are all at the heart of the event. But what shone through was the soul of the race. Despite all of the above, the course and the community lifted everything above those additional issues and that is why we continue to work so hard to get these races away when things are still not back to normal.
From a racing persepctive, one of the key ingredients to runners pushing themselves, is the competition. With the time trial starts that we must still have in place in order for the queues at check points to be reduced/ removed, it makes for a different type of race. Runners are racing the clock first and foremost. Is this leading some to pace better? Or are they losing the edge because they can't directly see or know where their nearest competition is. Hard to say!
In the womens race, Sarah Hill came in as 'favourite' but apparently not quite at her best. But luckily for us that made for an exciting race despite the overall leading times being a way off what we have seen in recent years. Sarah opened up a big gap over second and third over the first half, but began to slow over the closing sections.
Sarah Hill ran out 2021 Champion (Photo c/o Stuart March Photography)
She gradually gave away more and more of her hard fought lead to those behind and it was a fast closing Tamsyn D'Arienzo that pushed her closest. Had the course been a couple of miles longer it might have been too much but Sarah eventually held Tamsyn off but a scant 90 seconds to take the win. Third place went to Vicki Balfour in 8:59.
Vicki Balfour took third place (photo c/o Stuart March Photography)
In the mens race, we saw stellar times from our front two in the end, with both Richard Mcdowell and previous winner here, Jack Blackburn, running into 3rd and 7th on the all time fastest performances on this course across all nine editions.
Richard went off extremely hard, but when you have finished first Vet 40 at the London Marathon in 2:23 then hard is a relative thing. He did perhaps push the envelope all the way out over the first half of the course however. His times through the first three check points were ahead of Tom Evans' 5:44 course record splits. His first 10 miles were run in 62 minutes and he made the marathon mark at Housedean Farm check point in 2:53, 7 minutes up on Tom's time in there.
Richard Mcdowell charged through the first half of the course before coasting through to victory
However he felt that keeping that kind of effort up was not necessarily sustainable and made a conscious decision to back off at that point, taking the ascents easier and running slightly more within himself to eventually cruise home in 6:02 for a comfortable 18 minute margin over second placed Jack Blackburn. Richard races the Thames Path 100 in just under three weeks time which for sure played into that decision. A smart one no doubt! Third place went to Peter Windross in a solid 6:38.
In the Age Categories, winners were as follows:
FV40 went to overall winner Sarah Hill. FV50 to Mel Horley in 9:18. FV60 to Christina Kluth in 10:43, just three minutes outside her own existing AG record.
MV40 went to Richard Mcdowell in needless to say, a new record time. MV50 to Mark Pinder in 7:07, setting a new AG best in that division and finally topling Rick Curtis who has until now held all three fastest times in that age group. MV60 went to Bob Empson in 9:30 and MV70 to of course, Ken Fancett in 10:22.
351 runners made this a smaller field than usual but our biggest with covid protocols in place and it was fantastic to see everyone respond with exceptional attitude towards the situation. The seemingly harsh rules of no spectators, limits on crew numbers and the covid secure protocols at check points are all major limiting factors on the overall feel of the race, but they were by far overshadowed by the huge feeling of warmth and just sheer joy at being back together, out in the open air with the sun shining, doing what we all love.
Social Distancing at Housedean Aid Station (Photo: Jack Atkinson Photography)
It is as ever, the volunteers that truly make the day. Our deepest thanks to them and all their selfless work to allow these events to go ahead. Now more than ever they are the single biggest factor in not just being able to proceed, but how we proceed.
Thank you to everyone that played a part in getting our season off to a safe and successful start.
One Community 2021 came hot off of the back of two other virtual events that together formed a trio of virtual challenges focused as we worked through a long dark winter of lock down here in England and in most instances, across the world.
One Slam began on 1st February and ran all the way to the 31st March, giving those runners who were still cramming miles into the final days, just one day off before the One Community week! One Love 50km/ Half/ 5km happened back on Valentines day and for many was absorbed into the longer One Slam event. 2000 runners took part in those two events and over 500 committed to this third edition of our One Community week. That is 2500 people who came together to run, share their stories and support each other via the community facebook group, social media and finally with this One Community week, back together again in person as this fell into the first week out of national lock down in response to the pandemic.
With the event taking place over Easter weekend, the idea was to give runners a chance to commit to slightly more than they would usually be able to - with four days off work for most, assisting with available running time and recovery.
As we have seen in the previous editions, the 100 mile distance was the most popular choice with over a quarter of the runners starting out with a 100 mile week (or in a few cases, in one go!) being the objective. But as usual many decided to down grade as the week wore on so that we were left with just over 100 finishers in that category.
The range of ages and locations was as usual, huge. That is such a wonderful bonus to these virtual events, that those who would never ordinarily get a chance to race with us in person over 50 or 100 miles, can line up alongside siblings, parents, childen and any other friends and family, anywhere in the world. We had runners from as far afield as India, New Zealand, the US, Canada and Brazil taking part. Many of them having run with us in person in the past but who for a long time have not been able to get back to race again for obvious reasons.
As we move through the road map out of lock down, the virtual events we ended 2020 and started 2021 with, come to an end. We raised over £5000 for charity across the three events, planted over 500 trees thanks to those who gave up awards for Trees not Tees. And a whole heap of litter picked thanks to the epic endeavours of some of our younger runners who are truly leading by example.
When the time is right and we feel there is a strong reason to bring everyone together remotely again, we will put on another virtual challenge but for now we go back to focussing on our in person events, with some relief it must be said that we are in a position to do so from just a week from now.
Thank you so much to all of you who took part in these three virtual races, for your support for us, the charities and for one another.
The inaugural One Slam virtual event was by far, the longest event we've ever staged. Lasting from 1st February until 31st March, runners had two months / 59 days to cover the equivalent of one of the following four distances. The Slams each take place within a calendar year ordinarily of course:
We thought running this much over some of the coldest, darkest months of the year would probably only attract a hardcore of runners, focused on challenging themselves in all weather, perhaps with a hopeful eye on the in-person race season starting at Easter. But, in a fashion we have come to expect from our incredible community, over 800 runners stepped up to give one of the four distances a go.
Approaches to this challenge were as broad as could be imagined.
Immediately, some runners went out to get it done in as short a time frame as possible. Our interactive map gave runners their position relative to the in person events, in their traditional calendar year. Pretty quickly some of the 600 milers were into event numbers four, five and six racing through 150+ mile weeks.
One of the major challenges for most at this stage however, was that in England where the majority of our runners are based, lock down restrictions meant that many could only train once per day. So if a treadmill wasn't available, there was a commitment to get some very long daily outings in to stay 'in touch' with the average daily distance target.
We also saw a lot of chopping and changing of distances early on. There was quite a bit of burn out during weeks two and three as the reality of the length of the task in hand began to hit home. But most runners adapted their daily routine to factor in the miles. Some went for the rinse repeat strategy of running the same distance or even the same route every day of the challenge. But many were able to still get the variety in their training. Of course, most eventually ended up with the most consistent period of running of their entire lives - somewhat of a revelation as to what they could perhaps achieve in the future.
In the end, the completion rate was extremely high. Some runners did drop down in distance, a few also went up - but more than anything the community interaction particularly during the closing stages as many runners took their events 'right to the wire', was the best part of it all.
In the process of this event, £3,000 was donated across MIND and NHS Charities together from the entry fees. Over 100 trees were planted through Trees not Trees via runners foregoing their awards.
A huge thank you to all of the runners that committed themselves to running with us over such a tough period in all of our lives.
Valentines weekend was made a little more special this year for those involved in the inaugural One Love virtual event. Runners had the choice of taking on 5km, a Half Marathon or 50km but had perhaps not banked on conditions being so tough. As it was, much of the UK saw below freezing temperatures for the entire of the weekend and made for some hard miles. Many faced snow, ice, strong winds and the lowest temperatures of the winter so far. BUT, in true ultra style, runners persevered and adapted goals (and clothing) to suit!
Artwork as ever by the wonderful Owen Delaney who also ran the event
A little over 1000 runners registered, with over half attempting the 50km. Around 300 went for the Half Marathon and just under 200 for the 5km.
The wonderful thing about these virtual events is the diversity in ages that they attract. Our youngest compeitors in the Under 5 category - some taking advantage of the opportunity to ride or scoot their 5km, all the way up to Vet 80s at the upper end. Runners from 17 countries took part in the event.
We had a total of 945 people finish the event and in the process, £1000 was raised for each of two charities from the entry fees: MIND and NHS Charities Together. £650 went to the Re-Run Shoe Bank thanks to their Wheel of Fortune add-on and 215 trees will be planted through Trees not Tees via runners who switched receiving a medal to plant a tree instead.
Thank you to everyone involved, this event definitely provided some light at an otherwise incredibly difficult time as we emerge out of a long winter with this pandemic.
Photo: Andrew Smith (@cactusruns)