At 9am on Saturday 5th April the second running of the South Downs Way 50 miler starts- a race I haven’t run before and am very excited about.
Over 400 runners are signed up to start and this will be by far the biggest field I have run with in an ultra to date- testament to the growing popularity of ultra distance running in the UK and a solid reflection of how well organised and rated Centurion Running are as ultramarathon race organisers.
In addition to not having run this race, I haven’t even been to the South Downs, so all I can do is go on what people have written in reviews of last year’s inaugural race or reports from the big brother, the South Downs Way 100.
By all accounts, this is a slightly easier and more runable route than that of the North Downs Way 50. The elevation change is similar as a total, but the hills are supposed to be more gradual which means faster ups and smoother downs and therefore a faster running time with less walking breaks (in theory).
Countering that is how exposed the South Downs are compared with the North Downs. Last year the race was pouring with rain and very strong winds which made the winning time of under 7 hours even more impressive.
I am pretty happy with how my training has gone over winter to date, but it has been different to previous winters so we will see how this reflects in my performance. It is no secret I am looking for my first single digit finish and ideally I would like this to start with an 8 but I would equally be delighted with anything starting with a 9, seeing as it is my first proper ultra race since the Brecon Beacons Ultra back in November of last year.
In terms of my training, last summer I was a fully paid up member of the 5 O’Clock club. Getting up at 5am most days and running 10 miles before getting home, showering, getting the kids up and then heading to work.
So far this year, I have been getting up later and instead of driving or getting the bus to work, I have been running and have devised a five mile route which covers a lot of climbing and descending and is probably 60% cross country. Rather than jogging 10 miles, I have tried to really push myself on these 5 mile runs and typically get to work very puffed out, having worked hard for 40 minutes or so.
After work, I run the same route in reverse and again try and push myself equally hard. So I have been still doing 10 miles a day, but in two sessions and harder. As the clocks change I will probably mix these up with the 5am runs again some days so I have a mixture of interval training and cumulative time on my feet.
Whilst I don’t yet know if this will have made me a better ultra runner, it has certainly made me a faster shorter distance runner, so only the day will tell how I fare using this as my base.
The weekends have been similar to previous years, with either Saturday or Sunday with no running at all and 20-30 miles on one of these days, depending on how I have felt on the day. These runs have felt pretty comfortable and I have noticed an improvement in my stamina overall, but there are still weaknesses I want to work on before the 100 mile races start in August.
So, on a base of 60-70 miles per week, on paper I am looking good for the South Downs Way 50, but only time will tell. I can’t help but think that on Monday to Friday 5 x 10 mile runs would have stood me in better stead than 10 x 5 mile runs, but I may well be wrong. I will be fascinated to find out.
Either way, I am excited for Spring to start and the Ultra season to truly begin.
If you are running the SDW50 and have a time goal in mind, there is an excellent website called Climbers.net which has split charts based on your desired time. You can see the SDW50 link here and whilst I won’t be using these splits religiously, I will have them jotted down and close to hand to glance at throughout the day: http://climbers.net/race/SDW-50-South-Downs-Way-2013
All you have to do is drag the slider to your desired/expected time and, voila, the splits are calculated for you- and even factor in slowing down later in the race and where the hills are largest.