This race is billed as a challenging self-navigated off road run from London to Brighton, facts which I am not sure I really understood when I entered. The more people I spoke to, the more horror stories I heard about checkpoints being abandoned and bags just left at the end, and the more concerned I became.
The fact that the map book only arrived 3 weeks before the race was not terribly helpful either, especially since I had begun to recce the course as per previous years and there had been significant changes. In fact I was more worried about getting lost than running the distance.
However, I did manage to run the course south of the M25 in bits and pieces prior to race day, which calmed my nerves somewhat.
Race day was a 6am start in Blackheath with registration in a TA hanger full of fit looking people and the discussions of previous races began. It is pretty difficult not to doubt yourself when surrounded by multistage desert racers and people using the race as training for the 400 mile Arctic Yukon race, but too late to back out now..
I have to say the run was scenic, even through London. The course ran through Lewisham, Bromley and to the west of Biggin Hill, crossing the M25 just north of Limpsfield Chart, then east of Edenbridge and East Grinstead. The run then goes via Wych Cross to Horsted Keynes and then through Chailey Common heading south to cross the Downs at Black Cap, then through Falmer to Brighton.
The 5 checkpoints were well stocked with water, bananas and in the latter stages cakes, biscuits and also cold roast salted potatoes dipped in tomato sauce which have to be one of the most delicious things known to mankind when running this distance.
I managed to go off course 3 times (once was in Ashurstwood which is a part of the course I had run in training) but nothing too terminal, adding 1 or 2 km at the most and was never running alone. The people were friendly and happy to chat as we ran which was encouraging and also useful as many of them had a great deal of ultradistance running experience. I did meet 2 other people who were also doing their first ultra and both finished just ahead of me. I was pretty amazed at the number of experienced runners who were happy not to look at their maps and just follow inexperienced people like me, especially when I was joined by Rob and Jamie, acting as tour guides for the latter stages of the run.
Overall, the run went pretty much as expected for me. I was comfortable until about 35 miles and then began to tighten up as we climbed from Weir Wood reservoir and it was then that Rob and Jamie's support was invaluable. Rob ran with me for about 15 miles from mile 31 and Jamie joined us in Horsted Keynes at about mile 40 and ran to the finish.
I enjoyed the day, despite the pain. Interestingly I learnt that it is possible to run through pain and out the other side to a stage where running is actually more comfortable than walking (although up hills are still very difficult after 50 miles with weak legs). I was pleasantly surprised that, even when we were within a mile or so of our house, I was not tempted to crawl into bed with a cup of tea!
The low point was leaving checkpoint 5 knowing that I had the walk up Black Cap ahead, but thehigh pointwas reaching the top with Jamie and seeing not only the sea, but also Steve and Kay, which was a real boost. I knew then I could get to the finish and promptly ran past 3 other runners, one of whom tagged onto Jamie and I and then finished with me. He was a French guy called Sebastian and a mutual thumbs up was our signal to each other of a job well done.
As I look back I am not sure I would do it again, although as my legs recover I could change my mind..
All I know is that I could not have done this without all the encouragement from everyone I know. It is fantastic to belong to a club where people don't tell you that you're mad when you suggest something like this. Claire Cresswell deserves special mention for getting me to start running on the Downs and Rob for training and company on the day.
I will be forever grateful to my amazing husband Jamie for putting up with my training and for his help on the day. Not only did he run about 20 miles with me, he kept my spirits up and force fed me jelly snakes on a regular basis to keep me going. He always knows just what I need and that is just one of the reasons I love him.
- 3 runs a week in training
- Longest run 35 miles
- Time to finish 12.24 (cut off 13 hours).
- Not sure how far I actually ran (Garmin packed up after 65km)
- Number entered 290+, 196 started and 88 finished
I finished 58th (7th female)