The amazing London 2 Brighton 100 km Challenge: a novel
I have been delving deeply into my mind palace to remember as much as I can of this gloriously long run. Naturally this has made for a hideously long report, and all I can do is apologise to anyone who manages to read through to the end!
Richmond upon Thames: Awakened as I was at 4:30, with a jolt from a deep sleep, I was glad of the hour I had spent packing the night before! Breakfast biscuits and Earl Grey, shower, then sun cream everywhere. Checking out, the staff member on reception was intrigued by the prospect of a 100km run! I then walked over to the start with a chap who'd done it the previous year, and he was telling me about how difficult it is to get lost with all the pink arrows marking the route. I had seen a few pink arrows around the start and marvelled at the amazing organisation of the thing.
At the start, I dropped my bag and then headed straight into a porta-potty to remove the long sleeved base layer - at that point the sky was overcast, but the air so warm and humid even at 6am! So I was just in my shorts and Alzheimer's Society top for the next many hours. I was fundraising for the Society because they were on the list, and because it's a very important issue as dementia becomes more and more prevalent among the population. Ultimately I just think it's such a terribly sad thing. Luckily for me I haven't had any sufferers in my family so far, but I have met people who are affected.
I met lovely Caoimhe from the Facebook Couch to 5k group and we chatted a bit, then she waved me off as she wasn't due to start til 7 (I got 6:30). Had the first swipe of my bar code (on a lanyard around my neck) and then a jolly warm-up with a nice chap whose name I'm afraid I forget (not the last name I forgot either, unfortunately). But he was great - I love taking part in the little workout at the start of a race And then we were off!
Richmond to Green Lane Rec (12km)
Running nice and steadily along, not out of breath at all, but I could feel this is going to get harder to do since it was going to get CONSIDERABLY warmer! The route took us along the Thames for the first 10k or so, and was already showing us some beautiful views. I was sticking to my usual plan of a couple of mouthfuls of snacks every half an hour, and was happily sipping water from my back-pack bladder. My pack felt comfortable and was not bouncing at all, so all was good. We left the river bank, and I found myself looking forward very very much to the first stopping point, as I needed the loo! I had decided to forgo the loperamide for this run because I figured it could cause problems what with all the food I would be eating. So I was very happy to see the flags at Green Lane Rec!
Green Lane Rec to Oaks Park (25km)
Got there just before 8am, which I was happy with. Just a quick stop for a couple of cupfuls of High5 electrolyte drink, and to fill my pockets from the generous snack table. Then without ceremony I was off again. Through residential streets for a while we went - following the pink arrows was really easy as they were really numerous. I looked up and saw the 17km marker and was amazed! "Does that say 17km?" I asked a fellow runner - "I seem to have lost 5k somewhere..." The L2B experience is already starting to seem like a dream to me, I have to type faster to catch it... We ran into a area of heath near Epsom, called Nonsuch Park, where we came upon the local parkrun in full swing, and what a beautiful place to run 5k! After that we hit some vert, and I had the time of my life hurtling through a wood far too fast (as it turned out).
Oaks Park to New Henhaw Farm (40km)
Oaks Park is the first proper stop on the route (Green Lane is classed as a "mid-point", and so has fewer services) so there was more razzmatazz there - an MC in a shiny suit, and loud music playing (not my bag I'm afraid! I did very much enjoy the peace and quiet of most of this event...). It was quarter to ten, and I was feeling a "hot spot" on my right foot, and thinking about sitting down to do some socks-off maintenance. Then a someone said "Hello!" and there was Linda from the Health Unlocked website! We had a little chat and a gathering of photographic evidence. How lovely it is to meet these internet people in person! We parted company and I patched my foot and took off again.
After that, things started to get more rugged and hilly, and the sun burned the clouds away. Running became harder, limited to shady stretches, and walk breaks more frequent. I started to feel a niggle in my left hip/bum, and it started to get worse... I had been dealing for weeks with a problem in my left calf, which had really limited the amount of running I could do. I struggled with it through the Brighton and London marathons, and in the five weeks since London I had not run at all, relying upon swimming, weight-lifting, and long walks, to keep me fit. In the end the calf didn't give me much trouble, but this new bum problem proved to be a game-changer!
We spent a lot of time running on long grass, which I always find rather tricky going. And at one point we came upon a small group of cows who had gathered directly on our path. They gazed at us insolently as we found an alternative route to avoid them. I'm always wary of cows and horses, but I loved seeing them, and all the wildlife I glimpsed along the way. At one point I thought about hijacking a horse, and later a van that a delivery guy had left running while he delivered a parcel :)
New Henhaw Farm to Tulley's Farm (56km)
After a super-duper-steep downhill bit (where a man was kind enough to hand me down some steps that my bum was baulking at) and a tunnel under the M25, I came upon the mid-point at New Henhaw Farm at 12:51, feeling more than a little perturbed at how much my pace had slowed. Can't remember a thing about this rest stop! I know I didn't need to top up my water bladder, and I must have had had some High5, but that's about it. Oops - I'm sure it was a lovely place though We passed through farmland, and lightly populated areas where I marvelled at the abundance and beauty of the rhododendrons in the hedges. We came to the halfway point which was just behind a pub I had been eyeing up thirstily. There were a couple of Action Challenge chaps there, offering cups of water for us to toast the 50km sign. After I left I witnessed a girl dumping her empty cup into the back of someone's pickup truck as she marched along. Disgusted, I went to retrieve it, only to find another one in there!! I did find myself throughout the day picking up quite a few sweet and crisp packets dropped by fellow challengers, and I am not impressed [angry face]
The sun continued to beat down on us, and my hip hurt more and more. I stopped to admire the view, where the wind was making the wheat ears wave, and to try and stretch my sore muscles a bit. A lovely young Irish chap stopped to ask if I was OK so I told him my woes and then changed the subject to that of the view. I met that bloke a couple more times, but I've lost his name, sadly.
Things started to feel even worse, and I decided that I would have to withdraw, DNF, throw in the towel! I phoned my husband to tell him I would only be going as far as Tulley's Farm, and he offered to come and rescue me. There was still a long way to walk, I was limping and I started to feel very depressed. A group of three people caught up with me and starting chatting - Lucy and Tom were Challengers, and Tim was Lucy's husband and there in a supporting role. I told them about my plan to drop out, and Lucy gave me such a stern talking-to!! It turned out she had had a problem with her ankle that she thought would have her retiring early, but after resting for a while at the 40k stop she'd been able to carry on, and she urged me to do the same from Tulley's. "But it'll take so long!" I whined. "I've been going since 6:30!!". "So have we!", Lucy bristled. I remained somewhat sullen (though still polite of course!) and insisted they carry on without me. So off they marched (super fast!) leaving me to my thoughts.
Tulley's Farm to Ardingly College (67km)
And after a while the pain eased a bit and I thought and I thought. Maybe that woman was right? I'd become resigned to the idea of giving up, but I was not looking forward to telling all my sponsors about it. And I definitely didn't like the idea of quitting!!
I arrived at Tulley's Farm at just before 5pm. This was the first major stop, and as such had hot food, masseurs, and DIY foot care facilities. I grabbed some High5 and hit the food tent, where I had to wait for some fresh pasta with tomato sauce to come out. While I waited I went for a large slice of Victoria sandwich cake, which I wasn't even sure I wanted - but it was delicious! The pasta appeared, so I ended up with that and the cake together on my plate, and this seemed heavenly to me Next I went for a massage, and the young physio who did the deed cemented my decision to carry on by telling me he thought I would be fine, if jolly sore the next day! After that I spend some considerable time patching up my feet (and changing socks), because, to add further to my woes, the heat and the steep downhill running had given me blisters around some of my toenails, and they were pretty painful already.
I must have been at that stop for at least an hour. I contacted my husband again, and was just about to leave when I heard my name called, and there was Caoimhe and all her family! After a quick exchange of woes I was off. By the way, the signs pointing us out of the rest stops all read "BRIGHTON THIS WAY" :D
The sky filled with clouds, and I was treated to a panorama of thunderstorms so distant that I couldn't hear them at all, yet the light show was magnificent! I pondered what I would do if I walked into a storm, then soldiered on. There was quite a long stretch of road walking, which I did find slightly alarming, but luckily it wasn't too busy. After setting off at a reasonable pace, I eventually slowed down as the hip started to bother me more. I had been popping painkillers regularly throughout the day. I stopped to admire Ardingly Reservoir, and to lean on a fence and lift up my left lower leg to stretch the hip. A woman came striding by: "Shin splints?!" she barked. "No..." I replied. "Yeah, me too!!" she announced. And off she marched, leaving me to scratch my head alone. Surely she couldn't be proceeding at such a pace if she really had shin splints? But then I saw her again at a later rest stop looking very unhappy, so perhaps it was shin splints A bit later on a man (possibly Adam. I saw him again too, more than once) wondered if I had cramp in a calf. No, it's a pain in my bum I'm afraid! I met my Irish friend again, and he told me about his Grandpa who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, so sad. The lad went on his way, I didn't want to slow him down. People came and went throughout the Challenge, and I enjoyed meeting them, but I relished the time alone. Possibly-Adam passed me not long before the next stop and confused me mightily by talking on his phone, and to me, simultaneously
Ardingly College to Wivelsfield Primary School (80km)
I reached the amazing Ardingly College (it looks like a huge mansion!) at 20:15, and was greeted by a rather stern volunteer who informed me that we would not be allowed to leave alone, but would have to wait and leave in groups because it was getting dark. We were each given a glow stick, and reminded to switch on our head torches. I had to take a little rest there, and missed the next group but managed to get away with a promise to catch them up I walked alone for a while, enjoying the sight of the moon peeping through clouds against the dusk blue sky, listening to an owl hooting away. I caught up with a young bloke called Praneet who was very happy to have a companion, and was very good company too. He was struggling with a sore knee, but I know he went on to finish well ahead of me in the end. We plunged into some woodland and hit the first of the seriously muddy trails. I wondered a bit how we were going to manage when it got properly dark! It was tiring work to pick out the least muddy way through trees and spiky undergrowth. Happily though, trails, and alternative trails even, were well marked with the pink arrows (which turned out to be also luminous), and plenty of glow sticks hanging from the trees. Eventually we emerged, and found two people who had managed to miss the trail and had had an unfortunate detour to make. They were Possibly-Adam (again), and a woman called Kelly who was doing her second L2B as part of a celebration of her 40th birthday. She was a very cool lady, and led us along at a brisk march. She said she had got to Brighton Racecourse at around 4am last year and was expecting an earlier finish this time around. For the first time I confronted the reality that my Challenge was going to take around 24 hours to complete, and that I wouldn't be getting home until tomorrow! I had originally hoped to finish in daylight (more or less) - and my dreams would be coming true :). But I'd seen a fox's eyes shining in our head lamps, and bats hurtling about. A mouse and a toad had crossed my path. I felt alive in the cooler, dark air; and I was happy.
After a while we'd lost Possibly-Adam, and I began to flag again and dropped back. Kelly and Praneet called to me, but I convinced them to go on - I didn't want to slow them down. I walked on alone, and the rain came. It was refreshing, but after a while a little cold so I put on my waterproof jacket. I was walking in long grass when the rain became heavy, and I started to feel soggy in the socks which worried me a bit. I went into woodland again and through more mud and thick undergrowth which was rather tricky in the circumstances!
Wivelsfield Primary School to Plumptons College (88km)
It stopped raining eventually, and after a long slog I got to Wivelsfield, where I was happy to be able to switch off my head torch for a bit as I walked under street lights. I hit the rest stop at exactly midnight, according to the tracking website! This was the other major stop, where there were fajitas and pizza on offer - my third pizza that week, hmm... To my concern I saw that Lucy of my earlier acquantaince was there, and looking very unwell indeed. She was wrapped in a blanket and shaking badly - her husband looked so worried. The sports massage people tried to help her, but she and her running partner withdrew at that stage. I really hope she's ok!
I gave myself more plasters, some dry socks, and a fresh t-shirt. I put on my long-sleeved top under that too. I had another massage and then found a group of people outside ready to go. Must have been another hour at that rest stop. We set off and I was quickly left behind I realise this is perhaps irresponsible behaviour, but I promise you I walked alone very very carefully! I walked for a long while along a narrow lane, where traffic was no problem. After that I think there was more grass, but it wasn't too difficult. The next stop was a mere 8km away, and it seemed that before I knew it I was walking towards the flags at Plumptons College.
Plumptons College to Falmer Farm Shop (94km)
Here it was very quiet. I didn't feel a need to stay long, but I did take the time to have a double-spoonful coffee, washed down with High5, and followed by a packet of Haribo Tangfastics. I felt ready for anything after that lot! There were just me and a couple I later knew as Neil and Dawn who were ready to go. I had already been talking to Neil in the sports hall (there was a tricky echo in there!) about his half-Ironman, and I knew he'd picked up a problem with his leg during the day which was slowing him down a lot. Quite a common theme! So we hobbled off together as best we could. They were a really lovely pair, and complete endurance sports nuts! The sky started to brighten as we began to climb a steep and sticky path up the South Downs. We met an Action Challenge bloke coming the other way, and he assured us that it would not be so steep coming down the other side (was really glad of that - downhill hurt!). On the way down I parted company with Neil and Dawn and marched on as best I could. I felt like going home!
Falmer Farm Shop to Brighton Racecourse (100km)
This last stop was a sort of just-in-case, with no barcode swiping. There were quite a few people resting on the chairs, but I decided to keep going. I climbed a hill and came to Falmer Road, starting to find familiar territory. It was by now fully light, and there was a little rainbow in the sky that seemed to be pointing to Brighton Racecourse :). At just after 5am I got a message from my husband wondering where I was, and he said he'd come and pick me up from the racecourse, which made me very happy. I had about two and a half km left to go, and it was pretty hard work. The last kilometer was along the racecourse itself - more tricky grass to walk on! But it was lovely, and the sun was shining. It is really beautiful up there, with views of the South Downs on one side, and the sea on the other. The finish line looked small and far away, but eventually I got there. And would you know it, my finishing time on Sunday May 27th is recorded as 6am exactly! I got my medal, a t-shirt, and a funny little paper cone of Prosecco. Wine not, at 6am? I grabbed a sausage-and-hash-brown bap, and my bag, and went to find my husband in the car park.
What a completely amazing experience! My ego took a big punch in the teeth earlier on, but now I wouldn't want to change that feeling of making it all through the night and seeing the sun come up - unforgettable!! Thank goodness for Lucy. My finishing time is recorded as 23:30:52, roughly in the middle of the pack, as ever :)
When I got home I felt kind of jet lagged. I had a couple of short naps, then made it out for a half of lager at the Lagoon Watersports bar (read: not very far from where I live!). Back home again I almost fell asleep during a Planet of the Apes film I could not follow properly What's next? That's another story...