SDW50

We were expecting a cold northerly wind on Saturday 4th and I had warned Simon to pack his warmest short shorts. After a grey and drizzly drive we arrived to a car park brimming with people who looked like they knew what they were doing. Compression gear, complex hydration systems, you name it. Calmly accepting my fate I made it through gear check and out to the start line.

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And we’re off!

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After about an hour we reached the part of course I was familiar with, from this point I knew roughly where I was and how far I had left to go. I had mentally checked in for the day and was looking forward to seeing my crew.

Alex (of Kingston Wheelies fame) and Simon (of Magnificent Beard fame) had agreed to come down and help me out, driving between checkpoints and standing out in the freezing cold for 11 hours is a pretty big ask and these guys were absolutely amazing. Having them there and knowing when I would see them next was a massive boost.  Lots of people wanted to stroke Simon’s beard, but he tells me this is just a hazard of the trade.

My early-on pal Duncan, you make a lot of friends over 50 miles.

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I was running with a girl and remember asking her if she had any family or friends coming to see her on the course. She didn’t but was going to meet her boyfriend at the end. “Do you?” she asked me as we ran over Ditchling Beacon.

It was around this point I realised not everyone had a huge cheering squad with them…

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As we approached the gate I could see my Mum, Rosie, Grace, Alex, Simon, Rich and his lovely family shouting and cheering and it was pretty much the greatest thing ever. Stopping for hugs from everyone was the highlight of the entire day. It was a shame there was still another 30 miles to go as it felt a bit like a glorious finale.

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Sadly the glorious finale was not to be (here at least) but I now only had 20-something (29) miles to go. I started with 50 miles to go and now I only had 20-something miles to go. I could do that. Plus it was only 11 miles before I got to see everyone again at Southease. This is the joy of breaking things into manageable chunks.

Crews need naps too, Alex sleeping off an early start

Big Roz at the top of a big hill

The hills were relentless and for the most part I walked up them and ran the downhill and the flats. I felt so good I wondered whether I was taking it too easy. I really wanted to finish though and if taking it steady meant I would get to the end and live to run another race then that was ok with me.

Simon running me into the aid station.

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Southease – 33.9 miles. Cradling a jam sandwich like my newborn child.

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As I left Southease Simon shouted ‘YOU CAN STILL WIN IT’. Rosie, Grace and my Mum then chased me up the hill. I’m glad I brought them all along.

The section between Southease and Alfriston (41) was my favourite. The sun came out, I put my music on and as every mile passed I felt stronger and stronger. I couldn’t believe I had run 40 miles and didn’t feel like I was going to die. I’ve gone on and on about how gorgeous the SDW trail is, but it really truly is. Even on a cloudy, chilly day it’s a joy to run on. Get on a train and go down there, you wont regret it.

Despite (naming no names) someone forgetting to bring the crisps. I left Simon and Alex at Alfriston feeling great and ready to reach the end. This was the last point I’d see them before Eastbourne.

No crisps?!?

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At 43 miles and just over 9 hours I went to get something out my pack and noticed my hand felt a bit weird, I clenched my fist, definitely weird. I looked down at my hands and genuinely thought it was the end.

Both hands had swollen up to twice their normal size. My fingers looked like giant sausages. I was on my own and there was another 3 miles to the final aid station. I called Simon. He reckoned I probably wasn’t going to die but had I been taking my electrolytes? (I hadn’t, they had gotten too hard to break in half). It was really windy on the trail and I was having trouble hearing so I hung up, put three nuun tablets in my bottle and planned what I would say to the helicopter pilot they would inevitably have to call to rescue me.

Panicky, tired and cold I approached the final aid station giving off the opposite of composed, confident ultra runner vibes. I think I probably looked like I was going to cry. Two very kind volunteers took me in to see the aid station medic and the first thing she said after checking me over was “Your hands and arms are like ice. Why aren’t you wearing gloves?”. Looking around I noticed how wrapped up everyone was, gloves, leggings, jackets, hats. I was still in shorts and a top, no jacket, no gloves, not even a buff. In all the excitement I had neglected some ultra 101:

– Don’t get cold.

– Keep eating.

– Electrolytes.

The volunteers at Jevington were incredible. I was given cups of tea and chunks of lemon drizzle cake and had all my extra clothes put on for me. When the team were satisfied I could head off safely another volunteer put his hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes “I’ll see you at the end. I’ll come and find you to make sure”. I later found out this was Gary (volunteer extraordinaire).

With just 4 miles to go, this was it. I could do it, one more hill. At the crest you can see over all of Eastbourne. I struggled following the streamers put up to mark the final couple of miles. I think my brain had just stopped working entirely and I waited for some people behind me to catch up so I could follow them.

The final 400m of the race was on a local sports track and as I came round the last bend I couldn’t believe it was over. 50 miles. 11 hours.

This is the couple I followed, they were French and wearing matching jackets! I am sneakily behind.

You know when there is something you really don’t know if you can do. Something you’re genuinely not sure you can do because it would be exactly 24 miles further than you have ever done before and that is a pretty long way to run by itself. That is how I felt in the days leading up to the SDW50.

Luckily Alex, Simon, Cat and my family were totally un-wavering in their belief. I can’t thank them enough. The whole race was a fantastic experience, from the course to the volunteers and I feel like I learnt an awful lot. It’s now been nearly two weeks and I can’t wait to do it again

On my way to changing room, I bumped into Gary. He gripped me by the shoulders “There you are! I knew you could do it”.

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16 thoughts on “SDW50

  1. Ah this is brilliant! Got a proper lump in my throat reading that. Hope your sausage fingers are back to normal now. Sounds like there were some ace volunteers there. Fantastic running, well done!

    1. Thanks Autumn! There were some truly ace volunteers, I’ve signed up to volunteer at the NDW100 in August. Hopefully I can help someone else as much as they helped me. Good luck for London! I’ll see you there

  2. I may have had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. It’s a pretty special achievement right there Polly, really well done! (It’s all a bit inspiring).

  3. There may have been a little tear in my eye and a lump in my throat reading that, Polly! Well done – it’s a really special (massive) achievement and properly inspiring, thanks for sharing it.

  4. Polly, this is just amazing – I got goosebumps reading it! I’m just gutted I couldn’t share it with you (being selfish, I know!). I really cannot wait to hear all about it tomorrow!

  5. The ‘no crisps’ picture tells such a great story of how it feels, in that moment when you’ve been dreaming of the next stop/meeting point for mile after mile to find yourself thrown into disarray by something so apparently trivial to the non-runner. At least you got your own back with the tent pegs on the WHW.

    Found your blog via Strava Influencers and realised we have mutual (digital) acquaintances in Gem A, Simon & Jon Bromley. Virtual hand wave 🙂

    1. Those are some excellent mutual digital acquaintances! Lovely to meet you. You are completely right about the crisps, I’m not sure anyone won with the tent pegs though unfortunately…

  6. Hi Polly, I have just read this….only about a year late!! I have signed up for my first ultra this year – Race to The Stones – so I am stalking ultra runners blogs. This is a great write up and a great achievement. I can so relate to the feeling of not being sure if I can run that far. My race, in July, is 60 miles and I have never gone further than 26.2. Well done again.

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