Life as Crew at 2018 SDW 100 miler

A total first for me. Being a “Buddy runner” for my long-time friend Darren “Daz” Strachan at last weeks 2018 South Downs Way 100 miles ultra (which was brilliantly hosted by James Elson and the team at Centurion Running).


First task of the weekend was to figure out where to meet Daz and his likely runner partner Jamie Holmes plus his buddy Bruce Paterson. Sounds straight forward!


The world of ultra-endurance running is complex and geeky. There are a lot of IT nerd runners (Daz and I are two of these) who have created some Enigma like code machines to predict race finish times. So we were using Climbers.Net, Garmin, Strava Beacon as well as Centurion’s own timing system to try and come up with the time that Daz and Co. would arrive at the half-way point at Chantry Post. Whether it was their nervous energy, the glorious heat of our English summer or the frequent intake of their Peak Pinole Ultra Bites but Daz was on a total flyer for the first 50 miles and he was already a good 1 to 2 hours up on our estimations. So in a mild panic Bruce and I were escorted by Bruce’s better-half Ali through the small lanes of Sussex to try and get to the official crew point station or face another mad drive to meet them at the next one.


Thankfully we got there first. A brief waiting period allowed us to see the first two majestic ladies in the race (Sarah Cameron and Laura Swanton) as well as some of the leading men. One thing was eminently clear – quite a few had already cooked themselves. Question: what does “cooking” mean in this context? Well first you need to know that the temperature was hot – too hot for running long distances. The South Downs are also exposed. In ultra-events of this kind most runners play Russian roulette in how much they are willing to carry and what they rely upon when then reach the next aid station (typically 7-10 miles apart). So if you take in to consideration the sun beating down on your fragile palette. The fact that you are on top of the hills so that aforementioned sun has a direct target with nothing to shield you. Then you consume your liquids in the first few miles and the heat itself makes your appetite disappear. Well in summary you are “cooked” and this then leads to the next dilemma whereby your ever-decreasing energy levels aren’t being topped up because your stomach feels like a washing machine (full of soiled running gear – you get the image – it’s not pleasant at all).


Remember that I (as a Buddy runner) had only joined the race at mile 50 and the sun was now having a cheeky rest behind some gloriously unexpected clouds. I was also loaded with a selection of Peak Pinole Ultra Bites and had pre-decided to see if I could pretty much run the whole of my 50 miles just on these pocket-rockets. My favourite Ultra-bite flavour at the moment is the choc and chilli one. It’s been designed to capture some of the anti-inflammatory benefits its ingredients are known to offer and in this tough race that little super-power was coming in very useful indeed.


At mile 66.6 we cruised into Saddlescombe Farm. To be clear I am on a crusade to see some massive nutritional improvements in ultra-event food world. Having trained and fuelled on tasty and nutritional food its often a little heart-breaking to see the processed Willy-Wonka selection on offer at most stations. So imagine my total surprise when I took full view of the table at Saddlescombe. It was true oasis of taste heaven. There were homemade batches of vegan banana bread – how do I know this – because they were individually wrapped and labelled. Then there was peanut butter fudge made with Soya milk + individual pots of rice pudding and even some energy balls that looked like expensive French truffles (I hope that the ladies who put this together get the full praise that they deserve and that maybe next year the Peak Pinole ultra-bites are sat proudly on this food-table from the gods). So having sampled many of these delights and in the process having spent far too long there, it was now time to crank up the gas and crunch through the final third of the race.


Ah! Houston we had a problem. In every epic 100 miler there are emotional ups and downs and if you hang in there then there are often ups to follow the downs. Unfortunately the script wasn’t like that and the energy levels for Daz and Jamie were now hitting dangerous lows. We spent a good 6 hours doing the infamous “nurdle”. Definition of nurdling = basically a walk but every now and then you can just about detect an over-inflection of the knees and the body moves at a marginally quicker pace before resuming back to the plod. This nurdle period allowed us to meet (and be passed by) many of the great and wonderful of the ultra-running community. None more so that the legendary Ken Fancett. Ken has been running ultra’s for nearly 60 years having taken part in the Ridgeway in 1966. To see Ken nurdle past us on a dozen or so occasions was magnificent. When Ken took off and Daz and Jamie could no longer follow it was clear that the SDW100 was going to be an attritional battle all the way to the finish.


Another runner who flew passed us was the cat-like Simon Prytherch. Simon was also suffering from nausea and at the end of the race reflected like so many others that one key take-away from the race was to think about better nutrition planning. Simon is going to be heading out to this years Spartathlon as part of TeamGB and as Peak Pinole is one of key sponsors Simon shared that he’s looking forward to get them locked into his training and hopefully see them as a critical part of his improved nutrition. No doubt we will get to follow Simon and the British Sparta Teams progress and share this over the coming few months.


Whilst Daz & Co faced their demons I was merrily chomping on more and more Ultra Bites. I had now decided that the choc ‘n’ chilli were like Terry’s chocolate oranges and I love them – so the world was a happy place. I must admit that when the boys took longer and longer at the final three aid stations I was drawn to the occasional gherkin and for a laugh I did try one of the new Salted Caramel Gus (not for the Type 2 faint-hearted) but I always came back to my beloved PP.


With a final decent from the Downs into the city of Eastbourne and a few road miles (where we remembered how to run a sub 10 minute mile) we were finally running the last 400 metres around the running track. A united finish and a clock time of 21 hours 53 minutes – which all things considered we’ll take. We loved the event. We will always the love the splendour of the South Downs. We will give the ladies of Saddlescombe a life-time achievement award. I cannot recommend Peak Pinole ultra-bites more highly - #notetocoachdaz – train with more Peak Pinole!!!!. They totally rocked in this event and I cannot wait to try them in some of my longer runs and before they get fully busted at this years Tooting 24 hour champs.