This Easter weekend kicks off the start of the Centurion Ultra running season with the South Downs Way 50 miler. 

'The footrace takes in the stunning South Downs Way National trail footpath, starting in Worthing and finishing in Eastbourne. Runners begin by climbing chalking bridle ways and track for 6 miles until reaching Chanctonbury Ring and joining the SDW. Then for the remaining 44 miles until detouring off the route to finish at the Eastbourne Sports Track'

Now on the 3rd year and I finally can run this time. It has always clashed so close to Brighton Marathon, but this year it is the week before so I just had to make it. 

With the CTS Sussex Ultra two weeks ago I feel I have enough climbing practice and miles in my legs already. I'm fortunate to be able to train often along the South Downs as it is right on my doorstep.

Dinner Friday night. Chorizo, Lamb, Bacon (cooked in dripping) on Cauliflower mash and Spanish greens.

Two days before any ultra event or mileage I add a little more starchy carbohydrates to my meals. This can be butternut squash, lentils, sweet potato, fibourous vegetables and added fruits.

Then the day before I eat as I normally do, no sugars and no grains. I find I'm not bloated or heavy on race day and still have the benefit from the extra carbohydrates for the longer activity. 

I follow a real food, high fat diet, similar to a Ketogenic diet. Approx 60% fat, 20% protein and 20% carbohydrates. The carbohydrates will vary on activity levels and upcoming races. I do not stay in a Ketosis state all the time, but it does help me during endurance if I do.

This lifestyle choice has helped hugely with my athletic performance and energy levels when running the past few years, but has been a slow gradual process. 

My recovery is super fast these days and with little swelling or inflammation in my muscles anymore, even after a big event or long run. 

I have that gym soreness feel to my muscles the day after a race.

It took me a full 9 months to become fully fat adapted and learn to run on fat. Most individuals cannot just switch this on and expect to adapt over night. It requires work, discipline, patience and training to transition this way.

My nutritional journey has been a two-three year process and only now have I really tapped into listening to my body. Understanding my hunger and how certain types of food and nutrients effect my overall body and mind for performance. 

I can often run many hours and miles on my fat stores alone before needing to refuel. 

So my fuel of choice is higher fats to start race day, then slowly introduce some carbohydrates in small amounts in the later stages...

Race prep the night before. (Pine nuts, pistachios, macadamia, salt) Espresso with splash maple syrup, half tsp raw cacao, salt (for race vest) Clear broth for the morning. (heaped tsp beef dripping, tsp goose fat, half tsp turmeric, salt and pepper) Just add 1/2 cup hot water then let cool. Add hot water to serve in the morning.

It's an early start come race day and I am not so hungry after quite a full dinner last night. So I prepare my clear broth (that I made earlier) whilst getting ready. 

Then I brew strong arabica coffee ready for a half measure of bulletproof coffee for the road. 

Broth finished with half an avocado and plenty of water, coffee in flask and everything packed. 

I'm ready to go! 

John is right on time waiting downstairs in the car and I join him, his wife and daughter Lucy for the 20 minute journey to Worthing College on Hill Barn Lane.

Those magic numbers

We arrive whilst parking is still available and the race registration is not overly crowded. 

There were 400 entrants this year, although naturally some become injured, sickness or lifestyle requirements reduces the number that actually will start...

Kit check is quick, as is number collection. My number is missing but lovely Nici (Cenrurion head admin) is on hand to find it for me. 

Soon enough all the runners fill up the college and then we spot many familiar faces. I chat to ultra runners Kevin and Sheila and their plans for the year ahead.

Darren arrives then we see Jacqui join the kit check line. I chat with Kirsty Reade (Run247) then Jason (Sussex Trail Events) about his Sparta news and our plans for completing the full Sussex Border Path route sometime this year. 

Jason is on sweeper duties today. 

The vibe is of good spirits, friendly banter and calmness. This seems to ease our nerves and pass the time very quickly.

Soon enough it is just 10 minutes until we start so we all mingle over to the field outside for the briefing by race director James Elson. 

We catch up with other running friends then wish each other all the best before taking our places ready for the go...

Centurion Photographer Stuart March

334 runners arrive to toe the start line

Myself, Kevin, Sheila and John

The Go! (photo Jon Lavis)

The last few group pictures and then we are off. We all speed away in anticipation to meet the downs and start our long journey out to Eastbourne. 

The skies are dull and dark with that thick mist and damp lingering. The ground has got more muddy because of this and makes the climb up to Chanctonbury technical. 

I stay to a steady 8:30-9:00min/mile pace on the first incline, until the route flattens out some.

It takes a good 4 miles for the front pack runners to spread out and then by 5 miles we meet the South Downs way footpath leading to Chanctonbury Ring. 

(photo Jon Lavis)

Just past Chanctonbury 

Reaching the first aid station I am already prepared to take a SaltStick capsule. My number is recorded and I spot ultra runner Dan Skrobak (Stinger Champ 2015) who is part of the team here. Dan helps me get a salt capsule out to take and some water. 

I don't need to stay for any fuel so thank him and head over the road with help from the marshal. 

Supporters are dotted along the track up the climb towards Devils Dyke, cheering and encouraging us as we pass. 

I see a few runners up ahead a few minutes at a guess. I try to power jog/hike the steepest climbs at around 12:00-13:00min/mile before picking up to a 11:00min/mile jog once the incline is less so.

Many hikers and walkers are along the downs today in big groups. MTB riders zoom past at lightning speeds on the downhills. Nothing unusual over a weekend up here on the trails...

The road crossing at Devils Dyke pub is packed with supporters greetings us with a warm welcome, both gates are held open as I pass through which is much appreciated. 

I head on down the track, fast and carefully catching up with the other runners that were ahead. Then soon enough it is the next aid station in the mud at Saddlescombe.

I am greeted by Bosh runners Jane and Trefor who are part of the team today. It is great to see them and know the faces along the way. I grab a cup of water and I am good to keep on the move. 

I thank them and head back up the climb to Newtimber Hill before a steep descent to Pyecombe. 

I find the next five mile section really quite straight forward and can get into my zone and pace at ease. I regularly train in both directions along this track and it feels very homely and humble like I am back on a training run. 

I catch up then pass other front runners down the track, then once heading towards the Devils Dyke parking area I can see running friend Lucy cheering me along. Lucy is like the mother to the Bosh Run group. It is such a lift and great to see a friend up here supporting!

Over the road and a helping hand from Robbie Britton through the next gate onto the Beacon.

All smiles at 22 Miles. Ditchling Beacon (photo Lucy Dean)

The track takes to the left and through another gate for a nice stretch of flat and downhill towards Housedean. 

Lambs are skipping and jumping as I whizz past them. I chuckle to myself but then just hope they don't decide to skip into my path! 

I take another salt capsule here and feel ready to sip some olive oil. I am only just now feeling the need to top up my fat burning engine!

I can spot a runner in the distance coming up Balmer Down Hill towards me, his form and blue jacket look familiar. Once I reach the next gate I can see it is ultra running friend Shawn. He is happily taken pictures and tells me well done. It's good to see him out as he didn't sleep so good last night and sadly couldn't make the race today...

At 26 Miles. Housedean Farm (photo Nick Jones)

He shouts out that I am doing really well and keep it up.

The track leads down, then right, through another gate until reaching a sharp climb into a wooded area. I pass few walkers down here and one chap asks how far I am running. I just manage to shout out 'Eastbourne' as I pass them. 

Once out on the top of the climb it is the steep track downhill to Housedean Farm. I over take a runner that was in front here. He is being very careful in his steps. 

I like my downhill running and always enjoy picking up the pace on these sections...

I can see running friend and volunteer Nick up ahead taking photos, before I turn into the aid station and shout out my number. I have managed to cover the distance in 3hr 42min and seem to be pacing very well so far, picking up to 6th position. 

Nick has some Kalamata olives ready for me, which I am now feeling will work a treat. The team help me refill my water bladder, although it probably would of been best I removed the vest from my shoulders first. I have the map and waterproof bulking up the space to fill. 

I know for next time and maybe best I refill myself as it was quite time consuming, or get a bigger race vest!

By now the first lady Sarah has already been in and checked out again.

I grab a jelly baby sweet to suck out the sugar before thanking the team and Nick. I head over the A27 bridge then under the railway line catching up with Sarah. We start to play cat and mouse along the next steady, but steep incline up towards Juggs Road.

The clouds start to feel heavy and dark, with the strong wind really starting to bite. Within minutes the rain starts and it is that drizzle misty rain that makes everything wet!

We reach the top and take it in turns holding the gates open for each other. It is rather like having a pacer buddy along the way. Once taking the route east and towards Rodmell the wind is pushing from behind which is some shelter from the wind now. 

Luckily the rain doesn't last long and for a brief moment the sun peeks through the clouds...

Heading to Rodmell looking north east to Lewes

I plug in my beats to help with the slight fatigue and quiet spell up out here.

I run close to Sarah until we reach the 'yellow brick road' section to Rodmell, where I pass and put my foot down into a 7:00min/mile pace average. I am feeling strong and light on my feet and enjoy the long flat then downhill running. 

Again this is a very familiar track.... which I remember discovering when I first ventured out into the South Downs all those years ago. Getting lost used to be my forte and I was often laughed at for getting into pickles on private land and asking for help to navigate out again. 

Much has changed since then and I rarely get 'lost' anymore. I just find new and exciting footpaths along the trails, which now are a library of memorable routes on these Downs...

Looking to Lewes and Firle

Once flying down Mill Hill then along the dirt track to the crossing over to the River Ouse, up the steps over the Station and then running into the sound of people cheering and clapping up ahead...

At an average pace of 8:34min/mile and 4hrs 50min of running I reach the Southease aid station. This is the only crew access area along the route today. 

Here I meet Mum and Dad with a crowd of cheering support from other crews and  friends waiting for the runners. The lovely Alma is here with some cheese and olives I requested. 

Alma has become my amazing aid station mum, as she has been a very faithful and dedicated supporter who has followed my running antics for the past few years now.

It is always great to see her at Centurion events and be greeted with such a warm welcome and a hug.... 

At 33 Miles. Southease 

I catch up briefly with the folks and have some coffee with cream they had prepared already. I have enough water still from Housedean, so thank everyone and make my way back up the track to climb the steep hill up on the downs...

It's hard to not stay long at the wonderful aid stations and catch up with my crew and friends, but I'm in the mind set to not stop and let my knees ache by doing so. 

Keep moving forward and rest at the finish...

Heading towards Firle Beacon at Beddingham Hill (photo Jon Lavis)

I take to the steep, chalky and windy climb up over Ilford Hill that leads to Beddingham Hill. I keep this steady and power walk this section as it goes up very steep and long. 

Sarah is hot on my toes creeping up behind me quickly...

Once out along the long stretch towards Firle Beacon, it is still a steady climb but is battled with a strong headwind. Some parts are undulating but on a whole it is an ascent for a good 4 miles. Rather lonely and baron which is testing on the mind and also as the legs start to fatigue. I shelter my face with my buff and do what I know best, to knuckle down and zone out until I can start to enjoy a flat or downhill section...

I am so glad I have the tough climbs from my last ultra event two weeks ago in my legs. I also have been making the most of the better weather and power walking out along the South Downs on rest days. I have found this is good for conditioning my legs and still time on my feet. 

Touch wood I have had no real injuries or niggles over the winter...

Speeding downhill at last and the chalky track that leads into Alfriston Village. A few supporters ask which way the check point is and then once at the main high street, passing public call out the direction to turn for the next stop...

Down the narrow alley and into the aid station to the sound of cheering, greeted by another warm welcome and help from the team. A familiar face, yet I forget her name, helps me remove a salt capsule to take and then asks how I am feeling and if I need anything else. I am told the runner in front only left 30 seconds ago!

I have a cherry tomato and some almonds, then another chew of a jelly baby before removing it and having some water. 

At 6 hours on the clock I am on target for a 7+hour finish. 

I thank everyone and follow the diversion that now takes the route over the river and across to the bridle path track instead of the main SDW path. 

Looking south west to Friston Forest

The route looks so different in the day light and it paints a picture of the epic scale of the South Downs and climb out to Jevington. The last time I ran on this exact stretch (CTS skims some of the climb) over to Jevington was back in June for the 100 miler event.

The climb up Windover Hill is gradual but steep and then once up at the top its a long open field stretch across Holt Brow to Jevington. Friston Forest can be seen over to the south.

My legs are fatigued but it is so close to the finish now I have that second wind of power wanting to reach as quick as possible.

Finally the route leads down into woods and I have fond memories of running here in the dark.

Following the finger posts and Centurion arrows the track navigates out onto a road. 

MILE 45 
Once across Jevington Road and through the Church the aid station is right in front of me. The team outside record my number and ask if I need anything inside. I hesitate before deciding I would like some water and just a little sugar. 

I nibble on couple of pecan nuts and then chew the sugar from a jelly baby. this is my 'sugar trickle' that just helps my brain and body enough to pull through, but without any crash or low. 

It is a technique I have perfected over some time and works very well for my fat adapted body.

I head on back out to the small lane and Sarah has just passed through and is now in front of me. We power jog up the next climb to Willingdon Hill, with some walking breaks, still playing cat and mouse with each other. 

It feels forever to reach the top, but when we do, it is a very nice sight up high and we are greeted with friendly familiar faces from the Centurion team. The guys seem a little surprised to see me already and congratulate us both for doing so well. 

Tim Lambert is by the trig point to show us the turn down the track. I remember this section very well and it is much easier in daylight! 

I am pleased and grateful to see him and we high five when I pass.

The orange spray paint arrow is clear in the grass and I follow this through the gap and downhill along the tree lined gorge.

The tweet roots, ruts and stones are huge down this track and it gets very steep quickly. Although I'm racing down fast I keep my eyes glued to the terrain and where to place my feet...

The track goes on and on before finally getting narrow and then muddy once reaching a road in suburbia territory...

This is it now, the last few miles to the sports track. A sharp turn down a muddy alley that leads eventually to the road, I cross over where I see the red and white tape and turn right.

It feels familiar but then when I reach the lights I see no arrow or tape, I switch back on myself quickly thinking 'oh crap'....

Once back at the tape I look on the floor and see the orange arrow left then quick right!

Cursing myself for speeding and not concentrating enough, I run fast down Park Lane and realise it is right at the next junction for the last stretch...

I saved a jelly baby for this last section so chew into it squeezing out the sugar to give me a kick and some zoom. I am running a 7:15-7:30min/mile pace.

I can see Sarah ahead of me now and crossing at the lights. I make a move across when it is safe and the cars are stopped on red. 

The Finish

I look out for the next left turning as know it is coming up soon by the round about and remember the signs for the hospital. 

There it is, then down the winding cycle path, catching up with Sarah just by the car park. 

She asks what had happened to me! I can hear all the cheering screams and support from the track as I run through the gates. This is the last moment and a lap on the track for the finish. 

I get my phone out ready to stop my Runkeeper, James is shouting 'put ya phone away' it feels good on the soft track but I am ready for the finish now!  

I see Mum and Dad waiting with big grins on their faces.

I really do not know how.... but my legs flew around the 400m track in a 6:30min/mile pace and I reach the finish line in 7:18:46.

I kept and held onto 6th place from Southease. Although I was in danger of missing that when I wrong turned just a few miles back...


Happy smiles at the finish with Mum

A 50 mile PB for 2015

Proud Dad at the finish

Congratulation hugs from James, Nici and Stuart, then medal collection from the marvelous Mimi Anderson...

The perfect ending to a perfect running day

6th Place in 7:18:46

Nici impressed too!

Just some climbing today

I would like to thank all the fantastic Centurion Crew, volunteers and team for another great show and successful day on the downs. 

Thank you to all the amazing supporters, running friends and family who took the time to come along and cheer everybody along. 

Thank you for all the kind well wishes

Finally a 50 Miler tee and medal

Ultra Luke

1 comment:

  1. Well done Luke! Another amazing run.. always a pleasure to see you and had a lovely natter to your mom and dad :) glad to bring along anything you may need when volunteering - may draw the line at lillies, drinking water at exactly 14 degrees or scented candles (as per Madonna) LOL


Please add your comments here. I would like to encourage discussion on running, training and nutrition. Luke