This again is a very late update but I am delighted to report that Gemma and I completed the London to Brighton Challenge last week-end. The event was very well organised – I was not!! And I suffered as a result and my feet are still very tender.
Gemma was much better organised with a checklist of stuff for our rucksacks and had a taxi arranged at 0515. We arrived at the start at Richmond just before 0600 and registered. It was a glorious morning and we were able to watch the first wave leave at 0630. We were under the impression that these were the “runners” but it became clear that each wave contained a mixture of abilities and targets.
A final loo stop and we joined the 0700 start group. A very enthusiastic chap in Lycra then began a warm-up and it was immediately apparent why I do not attend activities classes. I seemed to be doing a completely different routine to everyone else.
5-4-3-2-1 – we were off and we began with a jog across the field to check that our rucksacks were comfortable. We soon reached the river and for the next hour were able to complete a 10 min jog, 10 min walk session all the way through to Kingston where exactly as forecast we had a brief refreshing shower. Walk- Jog-Walk and we soon reached the first “stop” at Berrylands. My only concern was that the sole of my right foot was a little tender already. As we passed through Berrylands and Stoneleigh station we were virtually accompanied by Susie(?) who was clearly an expert power-walker. We overtook her when jogging and she overtook us when walking. After Berrylands the route began to climb through the suburbs and it was here that my lack of organisation began to make itself felt. The tenderness on my right foot was clearly already a blister – caused I believe by the fact that I was very off-road shoes and we were walking almost entirely on tarmac. I found myself unable to jog comfortably and we had to slow to a walk.
We reached the top of the first rise and made our way through Nonsuch Park where we encountered the Park runners who all wished us well and cheered us on our way. Back to tarmac and back to sore foot. We also watched as Susie disappeared into the distance. As we approached the next checkpoint at Oaks Park at 15 miles we passed through a wooded path and I managed to step on a tree root and twist my left ankle – no more jogging for me. At the checkpoint I visited the first-aid tent and Gemma kindly fixed a plaster to the blister but rather foolishly I had applied some massage oil and the plaster would not stick. At this checkpoint I also became aware of my lack or preparation. We had decided to carry rucksacks with sufficient food for an energy bar every hour and also sandwiches etc. However, the rest stop was equipped with every form of refreshment that we would have needed and it was clear that, although I had no discomfort from the rucksack, we were carrying unnecessary weight. I added to this as feeling very dehydrated I filled the bladder on my new 3L Camelbak. I had eaten an energy bar after two hours and was now feeling very queasy and bloated.
The next two sections were the longest of the Challenge and involved climbing up to the top of the North Downs – it was a very scenic area and the views were tremendous but it was also getting very hot. The weight of the water in my pack was slowing me down and I decided that I needed to shed some of the water. This made an immediate improvement and we soon crested the Downs. Time for a jog downhill – no such luck – the path was very steep and rocky and I ended up having to walk. A significant moment came as we passed under the M25 and approached the next check-point. My right foot at this stage was very painful and I was still feeling queasy. When we reached the checkpoint Gem got us a tea and we had cheese and cheese and onion crisps – very welcome. I again visited the St John’s tent were a volunteer and then a doctor tended to my foot. I can only apologise to the poor young man but when he tried to clean my foot it tickled and I could not stop giggling! We set off with fresh heart and a fresh sock on my foot and while we were walking across country I thought things had resolved. We passed a very pretty windmill although for a while we thought we were being stalked by a lady on a bike.
But then came the worst part of the Challenge as far as I was concerned. We were on narrow country lanes, tarmac with high hedges. The only view was off aircraft as they descended into Gatwick. We seemed to be going nowhere although at this stage we were still maintaining a 3.3mph pace. The tarmac undid all the good work of the volunteers and again every step on my right foot became painful. And sadly I was developing a tenderness in my right foot too. And then I ran out of of water!!
I hadn’t topped up at the previous rest-stop so that I wasn’t carrying too much weight but the heat and the tarmac were taking their toll. I eventually had to call at a house to top up and the young woman that answered the door generously topped up my Camelbak. The lanes went on and on and I apologise to Gemma but I probably went on and on too. We were gradually changing our anticipated arrival time in Brighton and although I was comfortable with the pace we were making I was disappointed.
We also had the problem of irregular marking. Some kilometres were longer than others but the most disappointing section was after we reached 55 km anticipating the rest stop and saw the “rest stop approaching” sign only to find that it was still a further km down the road. We arrived and enviously looked at those who were finishing for the day. We both agreed however that were we to stop we would never get started again and so after ten minutes we set off again resisting the temptation to take on Pizza!. We were over half-way and determined that we would make it. The pain in my feet was no better but also no worse. We passed through the beautiful grounds of Worth Abbey catching up with a chap who was putting glow sticks or flashing lights on all of the way-markers. A reminder that it would be getting dark soon.
We reached the very picturesque village of Ardingly and Gemma was able to donate to come local children who were raising funds for charity by selling jelly-babies to walkers. Shortly after this we reached another rest stop at Ardingly College – again a beautiful setting and an incredibly well-stocked rest-station. The uneaten cereal bars in my rucksack seemed to be gaining in mass as the walk went on. The next section was largely through woodlands and Gemma began to find the down-hill sections increasingly painful on her knees. We decided to start using our poles and these helped but may have slowed us down somewhat. The kilometre markers were continuing to be erratic and although delighted to arrive at the next food stop it appeared earlier that we thought.
It was now 9:30 – we had covered 50 miles in 14 ½ hours. We needed real food and although I was still not feeling right we both had a jacket potato with beans. I really don’t think that we would have completed the challenge without. We set off again at 2200 in the dark with only our head-torches for illumination and looking up the road for the dim glow of the glow-sticks. I sensed that we were slowing down particularly on the downhills and it was clear that Gemma was suffering with pain in her knees but typically was not letting on about her discomfort. There was not a lot to see – we were still walking on roads and seemingly getting nowhere. The we turned onto a gravel path (painful on my feet) and began to climb. All of a sudden we came upon the next rest-stop very much sooner than the km signs and we gratefully helped ourselves to tea. We were pleased as the event booklet suggested that the rest stop was at the top of the final climb.
This was far from the case as we discovered when we set off again and were soon climbing steeply. Other groups passed as as I toiled up the gravel path. Then we were at the top and began to slowly descend. This was torment for Gemma and we were soon trudging our way in the dark with only the occasional glow-stick and lights of groups who passed us for company. We continued to descend and reached a road and could vaguely see the lights of Sussex University at Falmer. What followed for me was a very dispiriting trudge along a long stretch of road. All my negative thoughts emerged in the dark and silence and I became convinced we were getting nowhere. We were actually still making reasonable progress (about 22 min miles) but my Garmin had for some reason spiked earlier and I was not sure I could trust it. Gemma was clearly suffering and was quiet although she told me later that she was so tired that she was dozing off while walking.
Finally we reached the final checkpoint and again were so pleased for the support and encouragement of the volunteers who were sitting up all night to help poor unfortunates like us. The next section was uphill and I became (wrongly) convinced that were were walking away from the finish to make up distance. The km signs were confusing. About half-way along this stretch I became so convinced that we were just suffering for nothing that I almost broke down and I can only thank Gemma for her positive encouragement. Then we hit three “short” kms and we were at 98km. Gemma phoned Phil who was waiting to meet us and he said that he was at the finish and could see lights as walkers approached.
Gemma then checked her watch – “not that it is important but if we can do the next mile in 20 minutes we can beat the 20 hour deadline for “Joggers””. We reached the racecourse. Grass – luxury and then we could see the furlong markers counting us down to the finish. Phil was there to cheer us and we crossed the line – 19 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds!!!!! A medal, a glass of champagne and a stick of Brighton rock!! Never again!
(To be continued)