Monday, 21 September 2009

London to Brighton - Race Report

The day started at 3.45am when I dragged myself from my bed to get dressed in my race day kit downstairs in the living room; I planned to wear my favourite kit, a short sleeved tech top, my high cut shorts, peaked cap and my trusty Union Flag Buff. After a cup of coffee and a scrumptious yum-yum I collected my other kit together to meet Mike and George outside the house to take a cab to the start at Blackheath, London. I still remember the cab drivers face when we told him we were racing and then his look of absolute amazement where we were ending up.

The School


We arrived in Blackheath and went down to the school to register and prepare for our ordeal. All around us were very nervous looking people staring into the middle distance as Mike, George and I chatted and joked nervously, I was the butt of the joke for part of it as there was great amusement as I stood in the middle of the room gr
easing my nuts and arse crack with Vaseline. We were soon stewarded out of the building as more and more runners arrived and the queue got longer and it was time to catch up with old race friends and buddies we had chatted to online.

The Start


On Blackheath we found the wind was up and even at that early hours the humidity was high which did not bode well for later on that day so at 0600 hours we were told to start our journey and with a cheer we started our journey of 57.4 miles with the George’s words still circling my mind “To think that 50% of these people won’t make it to the end” I was not going to be one of that 50%.

To Che
ck Point 1 (Keston - 9.25 miles)

The first part of the cou
rse takes you through the suburbs of South East London and for the first 43 minutes of the run was a very dull, shallow and undulating run until the sun rose above the horizon. Conversation was about the challenge ahead, food intake and what drinks we had. Soon enough we went through Bromley High Street, not a person in sight apart from a string of runners being my main shopping area I felt comfy to be on home turf. We left the town centre to soon be in the outskirts of suburbia and the promise of trails about 3 miles ahead. The next 2.5 miles to checkpoint 1 was a steady up hill climb and we took the foot off the gas to let the legs fit the hill. Checkpoint 1 was within our grasp and we were met by my sister (with my CP1 snack bag), Michael’s family and a whole bunch of runners from our club all cheering and shouting out our names. Fed, watered the cheers and excitement slowly getting quieter we embarked onto the first trails ahead of shedule

To Check Point 2 (Limpsfield Chart – 18.5 miles )

At last the trails began and we stepped on to the first path and to our relief found them to be dry with a slight give underfoot. At this point we passed the Wilberforce Oak a famous landmark where William Wilberforce first discussed the abolition of the slave trade which became law in 1807 and then descended down and into the valley between Biggin Hill Airport and Downe, both famous, the former in its defence of Britain during the Second World War and the latter for the home of Charles Darwin. It was around here we saw our first casualty of the race as a runner stumbled and fell hard when he tripped on a stump; this was to one of many injuries and falls we saw throughout the race. A few miles down the road we were met by Michael’s family who provided us with more sweets and biscuits I declined as I was still feeling good after the previous checkpoint. We knew this route like the back of our hands and we had an easy run to the Tatsfield when we realised that the 10 runners ahead of us were no longer in sight which means they had gone wrong! Running through Tatsfield we saw another group of runners from our left, they were the group ahead of the last and had lost a good 15 minutes and added about 1 mile to their journey, poor people, 2 of them were to drop out later. Just ahead was another impromptu stop where we were given homemade chocolate brownies and a cup of tea by my sister…..thanks Katherine (my niece) for making them although I did hear one brownie went missing last night ;-) After 15 miles of climbing ( ~350 feet) we had our first serious descent of about 120 feet to take us to the road and then the first major milestone the M25 ring road motorway around London, from here it really feels as though you have left the city behind you and you are in the countryside, a few miles and some leg sapping long ascents we reached Limpsfield Chart where my sister and Michael’s family awaited us. Here I had a pint of banana milkshake and replenished my bum bag with carb gels and chew bars, we then left to descend to checkpoint 2 to be met by the organisers, some calling us by name and attending our needs!

To Checkpoint 3 ( Forest Row – 30 miles)

Up to this point we did not need a map as we knew the route and it was only after we left CP2 that we brought the maps out, experience so far had taught us not to rely on other runners, some who had never used maps and others who seemed to be willing to follow whoever had a map in their hand. I did not know the first few miles of this section but we soon worked out that some runners had arranged to get support teams to meet them at major route deviations and supports were happy to point you in the right direction. On arrival at Marsh Green the clouds were slowly dissipating to show blue sky and the sun to beat down on us unperturbed we ran on feeling strong and our hearts lifted as once again this year we beat the distance we ultrarunners aspire to push past, the marathon mark at 26.2 miles. This section was probably one of the toughest spiritually as it was the longest, hottest and with two major milestones the second being the halfway mark, from now I had another Georgism to remember “We can start counting down now” So we approached CP3 to be met by my sister and more importantly my Mother & Father. This check point was great and I was seen to tuck into 5 orange quarters, 4 potato wedges, a pint of diarolyte (electrolyte mix) and a handful of Custard Cream biscuits, fed, watered and a big hug for my parents the 3 of use traipsed off for the last 2 sections. “Come on you two we only have a marathon to run”

To Checkpoint 4 (Horsted Keynes - 38 miles)


To me this is the point where the race began, this section although shorter than the others was actually one of the toughest with numerous ascents, this was classic South Downs landscape, undulating is the best word but with this our pace dramatically dropped as we had to walk more and more ascents, the mood within the trio had become somewhat sombre as the last 30-38 miles were beginning to pay its toil on our bodies. A new comment stuck when Michael said “This Ashdown Forest area, it is a hard one” so true Michael, so true. Moral was lowering by now as we saw more people drop out with injuries and tiredness, we had been told that we were slowly moving up the field, not because of our speed but I believe we were taking people out at the checkpoints and others were dropping out. Up ahead all we could see was Black Cap the 250 foot ascent looming and so tantalisingly close.

To Checkpoint 5 ( Chitlington – 46 miles)


More of the same the last section but this time the paths became permissive therefore less trod upon and therefore more dangerous on tired legs. The mood was definitely tense within the group, I for one became more snappy and my patience was very short, this was me at my worst something that would surface in a later incident. So at last check point 5 was in our sights, my sister had our last bag of drinks and we set to have a feeding and drinking frenzy as I yet again demolished the oranges, potato wedges and some more water.

To the Finish ( Brighton - 57.4 miles)


This by far was the toughest, most stressful piece of exercise I have undertaken in my life, feeling nervous about the coming hill climb at Black Cap we ran off up the country road to see a car driving at speed towards us and narrowly missing me and Michael, it my temper I smacked his wing mirror, not hard, but enough to make the driver stop. It was apparent that the days efforts and my obvious reaction was not the normal me but my dark side, I can’t remember what exact language I used but I think my sister who was following us learnt a little more middle English that day. Crossing over a railway bridge into farmland and woods we could see Black Cap beckoning us, then it was upon us, no turning back now, in a matter of 1 kilometre we rose from 35 metres to 190 metres! If there was any time I wanted to give up, sit down to cry or curse to anyone was then. Any fit person would find it hard just walking up this hill normally but after 48 miles of downland running this was the worst I had felt all day, a seemingly endless drag of pain, exhaustion and thirst ensued and it was only until we got to the top did we see yet more undulating down land. So after physical torture we entered the mental one and the longest 9 miles of my life, one that saw me nearly get run over, see me trip on a protruding flint nodule and the blister on my heel finally burst. Michael and George were fantastic, Mike often reminding us “To do lots of little steps” and complying we went forward, little steps at a time until, in the distance you could see Brighton sea front, all things forgotten all we could think of was the end, the rest and a finishing medal. We saw the sea, the crowd of spectators, the cheers and at last the Finish…..bliss the end measured at 57.4 miles of tough cross country running completed in 12 hours 47 minutes and 10 seconds. At the time I write this it is believed over 50% of those starting did not complete the task or were timed out.

One tough, rugged race one I will do again at the drop of a hat.

4 comments:

  1. Wicked report

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  2. Nice report. I am running London to Brighton this year, but will not have a vehicle support. Can you recall what kind of food/drinks they had at the aid stations?

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  3. Of the 6 aid stations there will be fruit, jaffa cakes, potato wedges water. At 30 miles there will substantially more food including, biscuits fruit, cake and tons of potato wedges. take your own salt tablets/hydration supplements and all your favourite chew bars and snacks. Email me at jezza@magicforest.co.uk if you need to know more.

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