Monday, 2 July 2012

SDW 100 - Not a Race Report

The elusive Centurion 100 Mile Belt buckle is not always there for everybody but the beautiful sport allows everyone to try.

This is a story of not the people at the front of the pack but the people at the back, these are not necessarily the weak ones but the ones who are injured or that last ounce of energy has eluded them or simply got a blister at the wrong time due to the conditions around them. This Not a Race Report is for these people, the hardened, and not so hardened long distance runner, the tryer, the mentally tough nut at the back. I have learnt last night that the following saying holds true:

“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

The job of a Sweeper

Here is an email exert from James Elson (Race Director):

"...It is all fairly straight forward. Sweeping involves leaving behind the final runner, collecting all of our markings (tape and floppy arrows) and making sure that all runners are accounted for and ok out on the course. A sweeper needs to stay just behind the cut offs to ensure everyone is accounted for ideally. It then gives that person a chance to hand all rubbish/ course markings in to the aid stations they pass through and get food and water from them..."

So clearly this is not running at full out pace but being mindful of the last person in the group, call me the Guardian Angel or Grim Reaper, for I am the person a runner does not want to see or speak to. The Sweeper is preferably an experienced runner and a diplomat but mostly thick skinned as you do get abused, even though you have the person's health in the forefront of your mind. I have learnt a little bit more about myself today than any other run.

My story
After accepting the role last Tuesday evening I realised that I had little time to prepare for the role but was heartened to find that Steve, a very experienced ultrarunner, was also interested in Sweeping and I was more than happy for us to team up primarily for safety but also because we knew of each other from previous runs, we were agemate and similarly paced, a perfect team.

Steve was to arrive at 7.28pm, I at 7.38pm in Worthing station and as I pulled in to the platform there he was, at the exit, bedecked in finest ultra kit. Greetings done we went to find our taxi for the night which would take us to Washingthon Village Hall...let us just say the taxi was an unusual one (clue to the right) and our driver a great escort and saved us a 6 mile run after a late cancellation from the organisers after the supply line elongated.

The Start (for us)
 First let us look at the timings:

Aid Stn Location Miles Time Out
7 Washington 54.0 22:10
8 Botolphs 61.2 00:20
9 Saddlescombe Farm 66.6 02:00
10 Clayton Mills 69.8 02:55
11 Housedeen Farm 76.6 04:55
12 Southease 83.3 07:00

Arriving at Washington Village Hall, we introduced ourselves and went about our final prep, Union Flag shorts on, hotdog in my belly, kit stowed and some very light-heartened banter out front. We were aware that this checkpoint being halfway and at sundown was the one people dropped out more often than not and we were to be proved right as the last few weary travellers sat down, pulled their running numbers off, some close to tears. These are the heroes that feel that thay have failed but have to realise that they have actually done some amazing things.

The run
Steve and I set off at about 9.20 pm when the final people dropped out and gave the back markers about 15 minutes head start. We were not in a rush as he were going to try and pace at the above timetable or be close on the heels of the runner so that we could push on. Our train to London was not until 8.08 am and was 32 miles away. In these events we have to aware that whilst looking after the welfare of the runners it is also important to remember yours as well.

The moon was bright and cloud cover light but on the tops of the hills the wind was high and it was easy to cool down if sweaty. So a little technique I have learnt is to take the windproof jacket off and then wear a long and short-sleeved shirt when in the valleys. I know this goes against all logic but when in the lower areas, you are protected and sweat will evaporate quicker of a wicked shirt that off a windproof jacket that retains it inside and therefore cool off quicker in the do you get my logic :-)

Even travelling light we still had to carry all our dry kit, tools, plastic bags (rubbish collection) and food, my reckoning was my pack and extra kit weighed about 4-5 kg but had taken some time on the train journey down to place it in priority order and get it moulded to my body shape and it was now part of me.

The first grumbles
We were very mindful of the back markers and made attempts to keep back at least 400-600 metres but this was getting increasingly more difficult as their pace dropped down, there were plenty of stopping to take bearings. Then up ahead we saw a headtorch shining towards us and fearing we had a drop out injury were surprised to have a very disgruntled runner having a go at us as we "Were putting him off" we knew this was the tired, carb depleted  brain becoming fraught that things were not going well. 

We retreated and because we were on the top of a hill, ran back to find a dry gully and settled down for a rest out of the wind. We had 10 minutes of satellite spotting and then I said "Steve, there are moments that make these events special and it is about to happen" and then we watched the clouds skit across the sky causing a light halo around a massive cloud and then to pop out and create a beautiful sight.

Refreshed and desperate to move we trotted on but were finding it difficult not to catch up as "Mr Grumbles" was limping badly, he didn't last the Aid Station and was pulled out. However we then saw a new problem that we passed on our way to the next station, a delirious, limping, sorrowful character who was being advised not to continue, he refused the advice even after strong warnings by the Aid Station Crew, this one had to be watched.

To me, this was the worst part of the Sweeper's job, we likened it to watching your favourite goldfish dying, you didn't want to but you were drawn to the suffering. We had to hand back for the next 8 miles watching this guy stumble, trip, stop for a little and then move off. We chose to sit down in a gause bush to shelter and look over one of the many twinkling towns in the distance to listen to beat of an illegal rave booming up through the valleys and then to watch the early dawn and look at Venus and Jupiter dancing brightly on the horizon.

We jogged off to see the problem runner take a wrong turning and now realised he had been joined by a friend. He took a wrong turning and started to run down a path to which we pleaded for him to come back as we did not want to follow him off course as we were low on water and food ourselves. His helper came back to us but he refused.....

We had a conundrum, save the confused runner or continue on to the Aid Station and report it for we feared they will have moved off leaving us behind. We received a call and we had water left at the remains of the station but were further hampered when we found the runner's friend had run off ahead of us, presumably to sweet talk the Aid staff, we were not happy as we now had to look after a supported runner!

The end game
Leaving the runner 100 metres up the hill we called to his "friends" to come to his assistance for we had just over an hour to travel 13 kilometres, we were tired now, the terrain extremely hilly (a 300 m ascent between us an d the end of our run) and the weather was coming in. We zoomed off at pace, ran the hills, ripped off the last few bits of tape and then saw in the distance the next back marker but he had a new set of sails and was doing really well. The final descent was hampered by horizontal rain and strong gusts and then we came across a very poorly runner so helped him through to the Aid Station just out of time but in the view that he was safe and was getting a lift back to the end.

Stuffing our faces with coffee and sandwiches we said our farewells and trotted off to si at the station to await our train and to London.

A BRILLIANT night's running, wonderful company in the form of Steve and a really satisfying feeling that I have for once put something back into the running community


  1. Jerry. Thank you so much for stepping in short notice and for looking after our back markers so diligently. We'd welcome you back any time you like. James (RD)

  2. this is brilliant. Better than any race report. Thanks. Zoltan

  3. excellent report Jezza. Sorry I missed you at Washington....well not that sorry, as it would have meant a poor performance by me! You are a credit to every ultra runner.......amazing stuff

    1. UB, if I had seen you at Washington at that time I would have either hugged you or kicked your, I would have just kicked your arse :-)
      Awesome run bugger off and get married.

  4. Really great Not a Race Report Jerry. I had never considered the trials and tribulations of the sweeper. Thanks for helping to make he weekend so fantastic, and I'm sure that in hindsight those grumbling runners were very thankful for your assistance!

  5. Jerry, glad you had a fun night out! I swept at the TP100 and enjoyed every minute of really get the sense that you are helping runners get through this thing. Thanks for being one of the many volunteers who made this race such a cracker!

  6. Great blog. I spent a few lovely hours pacing a pal on this event, definitely gave me a positive taste of what going longer might be like.............