This was always going to be a hard one to write. I’ve tried to break it down into pieces you may want to read and pieces you may not On the 28th of May 2016, a good friend and I set off on the longest run of our lives (Strava link here) – the London 2 Brighton Challenge. Each armed with a few snacks and drinks in our packs, we set off from Old Deer Park in Richmond, London at 6:30am, along with about 200 other runners, and headed off south alongside the Thames river. Motivation levels were heightened because I was running for two different causes this year, NSPCC and FitforFelix. On top of that, my running partner for the day was a good friend who has spent the best part of a year returning to running after a spinal operation. The whole lead up to the event has been quite phenomenal. There’s probably loads I have left out, and people I haven’t mentioned. I haven’t written too much about my own experience end to end, but I had a mixed day. A fantastic first half, and then a final 30 – 40k which was like trying to run with the worst hangover in the world. As much as I absolutely loved this race and the scenery and seeing so much of the country, it was equally as evil to me nearer the end. The worst nausea I have ever had where I haven’t been able to just lie on the sofa and sleep. When nothing will go down, solids or liquids, and you just feel like not going near even water, it’s not a good thing. Cramps set in as well, although those on their own would have been manageable with walking hills. Later on they mostly went away anyhow. Amazing experience in so many good and bad ways. Finished in 63rd out of 1250 ish people taking part in the event, of whom about 400 were running.
- About The Race Itself
We arrived in London a day before the run. After a swift and easy train journey up from Portsmouth, we got to see a bit of the sights near Twickenham as Jason had a navigation issue, which we’ll blame on his iPhone entirely 😉 (for now!). The Mariott Hotel was the bed for the night and what a pleasant stay it was. Big room, all the essentials and plenty of space, even for my over packed bag containing so much food that I didn’t know what to do with. We soon headed for a twenty minute walk to the start arena in Old Deer Park, Richmond to register for the race. I always prefer that when it’s an option to do an early registration. It was relatively quiet there with only a few other runners hanging about and taking photos. We met a few of them and had a few photos taken on the line ourselves. It was nice to sit there and absorb that calm feeling before the storm we knew was coming the next day. Lovely crew there from Action Challenge. All friendly and all very helpful. After registration, it was back to the hotel for food, drinks and final preparation. Alarms were set for 4:40am.
The next morning, the taxi was waiting downstairs for us when we came out of the hotel lift. No last minute panicking about arriving on time which was nice. When we arrived at the start arena it was absolutely buzzing. Nervous people everywhere! Excited people everywhere!! Scared and quiet people everywhere!!! We chatted to a runner at a table we parked at inside the main tent who would be running through her home town along the route that day. Naturally, all conversation, or at least most of it, centred around running. I was with my people What struck me at the start when I had a walk around, was the feed station. MEGA food supplies. Packets and packets of different stuff to eat and drink. They had whole bags of beef jerky which I helped myself to (first mistake that day). I had a whole bag of it, and a coffee to wash it down with. Happy as Larry at the time, we headed for one final toilet trip and then to the start line as it was announced that the race would be starting in ten minutes. It was time to begin. It felt like it should have happened all in slow motion or something. All that training, all that time, all the effort and racing and preparation, fund raising – it all just hammered on quickly. 6:30 and we were off !
The run is long. Seriously long. It’s 100km’s and there’s no way I can remember all the nooks and crannies. What I can remember though which will be of useful note to other runners is that it is beautiful, from beginning to end (bar a few roads here and there), scenic with lots to take in, especially hilly in the second half, and probably the most well marked route I have ever run. For me as an ultra runner, route marking is of huge importance. I go to events to run, not to stop and check my phone to see if I have veered off route. I was a little worried that it would be near impossible to mark an entire 100km route, but the organizers did it. How on earth did you do it so well ? We were trying to work it out. Pink markers which were bright, plentiful and clear. If ever you felt you were going the wrong way, all you had to do was look 100 meters in front and you’d see the next batch. Hats off to the organizers for that. Another thing us runners really enjoy are the feed stations, and although there was a bit of a change between what some stations offered to others, the amount you could chose from was immense. There was everything from beef jerky (again!), to fresh fruit, to bags of dried fruit and boxes of sweets. One station even had an entire pick n mix stand ! Again, great choice from the race organizers. The only thing I was miffed at a bit was the 90km feed station where I was absolutely craving coke badly. Jason had picked me up a coke at the 80km station and it really helped get rid of my nausea for a few miles. When we got to the next and final station, there was no coke. In that state of mind, it was like being told I could never have coke again.
The finish was quite amazing. For those who don’t know it, after Ditchling Beacon you come over some hilly green fields heading towards Brighton and then along a main road, over some lights and finally you end up on the race track itself. I couldn’t remember how we got onto the track itself as I was so nackered. All I kept seeing was that large stand and the Action Challenge flags in the distance. The finish was just so emotional. I saw Felix Barrow and his family on the finish line, and I had Vanessa running beside me helping me along, and Jason waiting too. Jason had finished about ten minutes earlier. It was all too much. I think I got handed a glass of champagne but I gave it away. Felix handed me my medal which was just fantastic and I gave him a cuddle to thank him. There was a table full of goodies and t-shirts to take away for the finishers. I wanted to give Felix my medal for being such a superstar, and so the person at the finish line gave me a new one which was really kind. There was so much going on inside of my head and body that I didn’t really have time to process things as well as I had wanted. I was so pleased to have finished, and in 63rd position! Jason and I got a few photos taken, which I need to get off of people, and then headed into the main area where we picked up our bags. The bag transportation was all good. There was a free service to take your bag to the half way point from the start, where you could then grab what you needed before heading off to the finish. It was all free for the 100km runners and we had no issues there at all. There was all the usual food stuff there at the finish to help ourselves to, plus some hot meals and various drinks. All very well stocked up too.
2. Fit for Felix
I mentioned that one of my chosen causes that I ran this event for was Fit for Felix. I have a section in my page dedicated to Felix and his incredible team of family and friends because they were just absolutely wonderful people to have met and to have helping. I have so much I want to say. This run for me was going to be a special one and so I did some research and came across Fit for Felix. Felix’s story gripped me completely, as it very much centred around this remarkable young boy and his love for sport and fitness. You can read about it here.
I had only met the family briefly to introduce myself, and had exchanged a few emails about fundraising. It was incredible how much positive energy everyone on the team radiated. I had the pleasure of first meeting Vanessa and Stuart Barrow on their first organised event, along with some of the team members I had been in contact with over email, including Alastair Walton who was very helpful and supportive. I didn’t get the chance to meet Felix at the time because he was still in hospital then. Once everything was agreed and my race was confirmed, I managed to start my fundraising and ended up building my JustGiving crowd funding page.
The first time I got to meet to Felix was actually on race day, 90km’s into the run! I had been having a very rough time of time of it from about 60km onwards and it really was so motivational seeing the whole family there waving and cheering us on. It took my mind off of the pain for a bit. I remember getting some high fives from everyone and being so pleased to see them all. Jason was with me at that point still and had been dragging me through as best he could. I think he may have been a little relieved to get someone to help out, as Vanessa offered to run the final 10km with us! Before long, and after an unsuccessful hunt for some coca-cola at that feed station, we began to run. The three of us set off at the bottom of Ditchling Beacon. Stuart and the kids dashed off and kindly found a shop to get some coke and drinks, as I was desperately craving it to help with the sickness. He then met us at about 95km and Felix’s little sister ran through and handed Vanessa and I the drinks. Absolutely amazing!
The Barrows really helped save the end of the run for me and for that I am truly grateful! Jason was happy at that point that I was in good hands as Vanessa does fitness instruction, and he headed off ahead of us to finish his run and conquer his amazing feat. That in itself was just amazing to see and helped keep me going. Vanessa and I had loads of time to then chat and catch up. I had many questions about everything. It was great chatting in depth about everything and it took my mind off of the final few miles. Thanks to Stuart, Vanessa and the family, and to Jason for all the help there.
On the finish line I got a medal handed to me by Felix himself which was very emotional. Vanessa and Stuart then waited for us and offered to drive us all the way home to Portsmouth which was very much appreciated. I couldn’t have faced a train journey in the state I was in. I was definitely the worst and most silent passenger ever! I’m not like that at all normally. I used Felix’s younger sisters sick bucket the whole way home but managed somehow to keep myself from throwing up. I really was concentrating hard on not having to do that in someone else’s car as it would have been my worst nightmare! I am so sorry for being such poor company on the way home guys!
3. Final Run Thoughts
If long is your thing, and you’ve done a marathon and a few 50km’s and you are looking to extend it a fair bit, I’d highly recommend this event, but do not take it lightly. It is a beautiful route that is so well marked you never have to worry about getting lost at all. Pace yourself well in the first half and do not head off too fast. People were having to pull out half way. Don’t bring a lot of food as there is plenty along route (loads in fact!), but do plan your nutrition well and know what it is you need to consume during the day. Have a plan! It is a hilly event, and most of those nasty hills come in the second half of the event as you reach Brighton and the South Downs, so again, do pace yourself. Chat to people because we met some amazing people along the route. I hope to bump into these guys and girls again in the future. Most of all, enjoy it if you ever run it. What an amazing experience!
4. Thank You’s All Around !!!!
Thank you to all the volunteers and team who put this together. Thank you to everyone who donated money to my chosen causes. Thank you to all my running friends (new and old) who have trained with me and helped me out over the months/year. Thanks to parkrun for the Saturday morning 5k runs. Thank you Barrow’s and thank you to the NSPCC and Fit for Felix team for supporting me. Thank you Pete for lending me the saving GPS watch. And a very special thanks to Jason Skirrow, who has not only helped get me going with the ultra running, but who I can say saved my race on the day. The advice on the leg and the advice with the equipment have been really important and useful. I look forward to our future adventures on the trails.
And most of all, I’d like to say a HUGE thanks to my wife and children who I love very much and who have been waking up early on the weekends without me there for breakfast. They have put up with me for months training for this, and now have to deal with my moody stress fracture injury time off xxx