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A guide to the Petzl SDW100 ultra distance 100 mile trail running race

10:17 5th July 2013 By Fi Spotswood

Running 100 miles is never going to be easy, and this iconic distance becomes a feather in any endurance athlete’s cap. The Centurion South Downs Way 100 tackles one of the oldest most historical and beautiful routes in England, but if you have a picture of gentle grassy slopes and figure this is the easy option, think again. The SDW100 offers 4000m of climb and it is tackling the course in under 24 hours is a true achievement.

Photo: www.centurionrunning.com

Photo: www.centurionrunning.com

The SDW100 travels along the beautiful iconic English chalk ridgeway, starting just outside Winchester, the ancient Saxon capital of England, and heading due East until the trail ends at Eastbourne. On a clear day, runners will be rewarded with inspiring views to the north and south, and may even glimpse sight of the sea. With 15 well stocked feed stations and support crews allowed and encouraged, the race is far from the lonely affair of many ultras.

Given the toughness of the event, you have to have completed an official 30 mile race within the cut off time for that race in the three years leading up to your SDW100. This allows for a competitive field but also keeps people safe. 100 miles is a long way! In any case, runners have a cut off time of 30 hours to complete the distance.

Navigation for runners should never be a problem on the South Downs Way, given that for its duration the route follows the official SDW footpath, which is clearly marked, and at major junctions the organizers put out red and white tape. However, it is sensible to keep alert and familiarize yourself with the signage you are looking for, as backtracking is common when brains are pickled with tiredness. There are plenty of walkers’ maps available for the SDW and if you are going for the record, it is worth getting out and recce-ing the route!

The elevation profile of the event is below:


Although just completing the event will be enough for most who attempt it, there is a good prize fund for those who make the podium. Thanks to the title sponsor, Petzl, the first place overall for each gender will receive £500, followed by £250 and £150 for second and third. Every finisher will receive a buckle & race shirt, and for runners finishing the course in under 24 hours there will be a special ’100 miles – One Day’ buckle to commemorate their achievement.

Although the 15 aid stations are stacked full of sweet and savoury food, runners can have their own supply bags deposited at miles 54 and 69 along the route. For most, their support crews will handle these logistics, but the race is open to those without. It is the banter at the feed stations that keeps racers plodding onwards, and many tell of how they would not have continued were it not for the solid if understated support of the crews milling around the bolognaise sauce and cheese and pickle sandwiches.

Photo: www.centurionrunning.com

Photo: www.centurionrunning.com

Let’s not forget that this race attracts some of the most accomplished ultra racers in the UK and even from abroad. Completing it means you accrue entry points for the Western States Endurance Run and also the Tour de Mont Blanc, both highlights in the ultra runner’s calendar. Therefore it comes as no surprise that pacers are common on the trail, although only allowed from the 54 mile point onwards. In fact, most pacers will only tackle a short stint, sharing the role with others. The race notes point out, however, that although only one pacer is allowed at a time, “the exception is on the finishing lap of the track where a runner may be joined by as many friends and family as he or she wishes”.

The Facts:

Name: The Centurion Running Petzl South Downs Way 100 mile ultra

Distance: 100 miles

Ascent: 12700 feet, 4000m

Record time: The 2013 record breaking time by Robbie Britton has yet to be officially published, but is thought to be between 15 and 16 hours. 2012 records were 17.04:26 (male, Ryan Brown) and 19:43:03 (female, Claire Shelley). It is known that the first five finishers in 2013 broke the course record, including the first woman, Jean Beaumont, who was third overall.

Typical/average time: 20-25 hours (cut off is 30 hours)

Terrain: 85% off road/trail, 15% road

Number of aid stations: 15

Entry fee: £115

Navigation required: minimal. Course is marked.

How Hard: 9.5/10


The SDW 100 is tough, but accessible for those living in the South and if the weather is decent, can provide a beautiful and exhilarating day out. Never to be undertaken without the required training, 100 miles is a major achievement for anyone who tackles it and finishers can justifiably wear their ‘100 miles- One day’ buckle with pride. For those wanting bigger and better things, the SDW 100 can be used as a stepping stone for the Tour de Mont Blanc or the Western States Endurance Run.

When to go:

The event is run in the second week of June

What do I need?

Comfortable, grippy and well-worn-in off road trail shoes, clothing that does not chafe, a light weight running pack, the mandatory kit (which includes a head torch and survival blanket plus mobile phone), a support crew (recommended, not required), a sense of humour and a lot of miles in your legs.

How to prepare:

The training you need to run 100 miles goes without saying. What is less easy to prepare for without practicing is coping with the feelings of isolation, emotional and mental stress and the need to remain positive throughout the darkest hours (which come at any time of day or night). Running at night is also essential to practice, as is being self sufficient on long runs, getting yourself through the hard times and dealing with pain and discomfort as they arise. It is mental toughness which makes the good ultra runner, not just a pair of iron thighs. Therefore, building up to 100 miles using other, shorter, ultra marathons is highly recommended.

Similar Events:

  • SDW 50A slightly more appealing distance over a similar course.
  • Might Contain Nuts ultra series: A series of ultras in the welsh principality.
  • NAV4 ultra runs: Nav4 run a few different mountain ultra like the Tour de Helvellyn.
  • London to Brighton 100k challenge: A route that’s normally associated with bikes, this time on foot. Check out our race report from this year.

Further info:

  • www.centurionrunning.com: The official site for the race.
  • Ultra Running gear: A guide to what to take with you on a mammoth run.
  • The SDW100: Aguide to the kind of suffering involved in running for 100 miles non-stop across the South of England.

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