100 miles of rolling countryside made up the course for this invitation only event. From glorious Beachy Head in East Sussex following the South Downs Way from point to point, ending up in Chilcombe near Winchester.
One of only 15 National Trails in England, the South Downs Way spans 3 counties. It follows ancient routes along the ridges and chalk escarpments of the Downs. It takes in the famous Long Man of Wilmingham, the Chanctonbury Ring and Devils Dyke the view from which artist Constable described as “the grandest in the world”
As if negotiating the terrain isn’t challenge enough, it is completely self navigated with only tiny signs to follow.
Our team of 6, accompanied by their trusty support crew and after a night’s fuelling with Toby, they made their way to the early start at Beachy Head. Warm already despite the early hour, the breeze was minimal and the temperature in the mid teens already.
Ben Douglas set out first from Beachy Head, starting the bidding for team IWRR on this epic journey. A nice downhill start put our dynamo Douglas in the lead on his way on his undulating 6 mile leg to Exceat. It was here that Sean Williams took the baton as he embarked on his way to Bo-Peep passing the famous Long Man of Wilmington on the way.
“The massive hill upto Bo Peep was nasty. Just when you think you’re at the top, you realise it isn’t the top at all”
He smashed it though handing over to last minute signing Harry Rann. Luckily he escaped the attack of a horse fly before receiving the baton. Our very own “worlds oldest junior” set out on his 5 mile journey to Itford Farm where team captain Darren Cole was waiting for him.
Darren had a reasonably flat, (well in a South Downs context), to his leg, but it wasn’t long before the elevation started. Once it started it went on and on and on on this, the second longest leg of the entire event. The end came at last as Darren made it to the Newmarket layby where experienced trail runner Stu Backhouse was patiently waiting.
Stu conquered the 5 miles to Ditchling Beacon with ease as he passed onto Bill Goozee having run a speedy 6.20 average, (yep even on those hills!)
Bill banged out a similar performance as he made his way to Saddlescombe passing Devils Dyke. One leg each and 34 miles behind them, the boys were going great guns. They’d lost a few minutes here and there due to traffic at road crossings and some hard to navigate sections. They’d lost their initial lead but were still having some great tussles with the other teams as the day rolled on.
Ben continued onward to Adur, comparatively one of the kinder legs. Handing over to Harry, our rocket Rann had a hard task as he pretty much has 5 miles (out of 6.5) of continuous elevation gain. Passing the prehistoric hill fort of Chanctonbury Ring, he finally found a bit of downhill relief in the last half mile as he descended toward Washington.
Sean took the baton from a rather hot and bothered Harry who was feeling the pressure and the heat. The next leg wasn’t any easier either. Sean had a whopper of a hill, (650ft within a mile) taking him up onto the high ground where Stu was waiting.
The downhills weren’t any easier either. Peppered with large stones and boulders, roots and loose gravel, they were trecherous. Nevertheless the boys were smashing it.
Stu battered the next leg. The 4 miles from Springhead Hill to Houghton Lane were devoured up in lightning time passing over to Bill who continued on the momentum as he made his way up Bignor Hill to Littleton Farm.
Darren took on the next part of the journey. No whoppers on this leg, but constant undulation took Darren across the high ground before dropping down to Hill Barn Farm in the Valley. 2 legs each now. 64 miles and still some of the biggest climbs where still to come. The heat taking its toll now, and the difficulties of stopping and starting after running so hard on the hills were starting to set in as stiffness and fatigue began to appear. The clock was ticking as they had to make it to the end of Leg 15 before the cut off time, otherwise it was all over. They would be pulled from the race and It would have been all for nothing.
Ben had a rude awakening to his final leg as he was sent immediately up Cocking Hill. It proved no problem for this speedster as he motored up it along to Harting Down where Sean was waiting. He took the team onward, up and down the relentless undulation to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
Getting there now, they were 75% of the way to their destination. The next leg was crucial. Only 4 miles, but it contained the infamous Butser Hill. Not only that, the cut off point was at the next changeover point and they couldn’t afford to lose any time. A last minute switch in the running order saw Darren taking on this beast, despite having only run 3 legs ago.
Off he went, giving it everything. Desperate to catch sight of the changeover point at the Sustainability Centre before time ran out. Keep going, keep going. Before he knew it he was there with Harry waiting for his teammate. They made it in the nick of time and they continued, buoyed on by the surviving the tight cut off time which allows for an average of just 7.20 minute per mile over this brutal course.
“My heart never stopped trying to escape out of my chest” puffed Darren
Harry, rested now, took the bull by the horns and annihilated his final leg. The youngster determined to have a good leg and run his team proud. Plenty of downhill on this section as he pushed on and then finally up Old Winchester Hill.
Just 2 legs left as Harry handed over to his running mentor Stu. The longest leg of the entire relay was second to last on the list, cruel on tired legs for many, but Stu’s extensive experience and endless determination saw him spank through some technical downhills before his last climb took him upto Bill at Holden Farm for that final exchange of that metal tube that had travelled with them for 90 odd miles.
Bill kept it moving, still running at a phenomenal pace. Knowing that the end was just a couple of miles away. One more hill. The last of what must have been hundreds by now. Up he went, running as hard as he could.
“Despite it being one of the easier legs, terrainwise, you are running as hard as you possibly can because you’ve seen all the blood, sweat and effort that the rest of the boys have put in. It’s a fantastic feeling to cross that line for the team”
They’d done it! They’d finished! 100 miles covered and some quad crippling 3800m of ascent (12 600ft in old money) That’s almost halfway up Mount Everest or two thirds of the way up Kilimanjaro! Beers and burgers in hand they were tired, drained and dehydrated, but jubilant. Not all teams make it back to Winchester, in fact these guys know that disappointment firsthand, but not this time. The heroes returned.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done” said Harry
“Top day with the best in the biz, but god they make me feel old!” said Stu
Big respect also to the support crew of Abi and Michael for timekeeping, navigating and keeping the boys fed and watered.
Scores on the doors –
Finish Position – 9th Overall – 12 hours 2 minutes and 45 seconds
Last word from team captain Darren
“Everyone ran amazingly! It was an awesome day as always and we took a big chunk off our previous best time. I’m super proud of our “road” runners giving it some on some tough trails”