Two Sunday’s ago myself and two friends Albi & Carl ran from London to Brighton, 85kms.
There was rain.
There were ups and downs.
There was coffee.
There was traffic.
There were terse words.
There were fall outs.
There was making up.
There was adventure.
The night before we dined well on plant based pasta and banana bread while hastily talking route options and pawing over google maps. We were, however, dealt a cruel blow over dinner as all our support crew pulled out due to lack of commitment, weak character, the prospect of a head wind and a distinct lack of being “awesome”. Just as our spirits started to sink Carl’s sister in law Megan and his wife Dom announced that they would drive down to Brighton to meet us and safely motor us home after our day’s efforts.
They’re angels of the highest order and we’re forever grateful to them both.
So, being a Saturday night we all went to be by 9:30pm to get some much needed sleep.
I woke up to Alt-J’s new album This is all Yours (I highly recommend the first track Intro as an alarm) at 2:30 to eat some breakfast, or a late night snack?!?!
Then I loaded up my Camalbak with:
- spare socks
- Garmin 800
- credit card
- toilet paper
Then I set off in the mild but wet morning to walk to Albi’s to meet the lads for our 4am departure. I ignored the temptation to run the 1.5 km distance as I knew I had all day to run (literally) but couldn’t help but notice the anticipation and tingling in my legs from not having run in 2 weeks. They felt strong, springy and ready.
Albi and Carl were up and sorting out the homemade protein bars Albi had made, wrapping them up in bite sized morsels for easy consumption while running. More coffee was drunk, not just for the alertness but also to aid the likelihood of a bowel movement before we set off. These are the things distance runners need to think about!
”We set off at 4:10am and made our way through the quiet streets of South West London”
We set off at 4:10am and made our way through the quiet streets of South West London, the odd wrong turn easily corrected and the rain setting in. Once dry and warm, now feeling soggier by the mile and the feet wetter and wetter… Nice!
Two hours of running and we were yet to break outside the M25 circular road, in fact, just a couple of kms short of crossing it we stumbled upon what we would normally give a very wide birth to in deed, a Starbucks! Too cold, tired and wet to care where the warmth, dryness and caffeine came from we dashed inside and spent the next 10 minutes going through the endless stream of questions fired at us from the unwavering Eastern European teenager serving us.
- Large, Extra-large, Massive and just plain freaking stupid size?
- Take away or “dine in”? (“Dine”… seriously?!?!?)
We went with:
- Small (which is a “large”)
- No Syrup
- No milk
- and we most certainly enjoyed our “dining in” experience.
We ate apples, Albi’s homemade protein bars, dried mango and dodged the strange looking muffins, sandwiches and cakes Starbucks had to offer.
I have to admit that as much as we enjoy ridiculing Starbuck’s, we were sincerely grateful for being inside somewhere warm, smelling “coffee” and with clean toilets as our previous effort resulted in a stop at a pretty strange Premier Inn where a really overweight dude eating a Doughnut at 6am let us in and gave us a weird (yet polite) look before wishing us a nice day.
So it was onwards towards the M25 and in our minds “out of London” finally.
Another hour went by without too much to report before Albi hit the dreaded wall. We’ve all felt that awful sick, exhausted, slightly delirious feeling of just wanting everything to go away. It was a first for Albi and he was appropriately concerned about his ability to go on. Thankfully Carl was able to report a Premier Inn was only “about a km away” and we should just keep going. Which we did albeit rather slowly.
One km came and went.
No Premier Inn.
It was at this point that the only words Able could muster were “Orange Juice”. Thankfully in spite of there being absolutely no sign of an Inn, Premier or otherwise, there was indeed a minimart attached to a petrol station and we piled in. Juices, dark chocolate, water, bananas etc were eaten on the way to the checkout with the wrappers being left to scan and be paid for. We then took stock of ourselves outside and tried to convince ourselves that it was’t really that cold standing in the sun.
It was pretty cold.
It was at this point that one of the major highlights of the day happened. We put on dry socks. Holy crap! They felt amazing and certainly will become a regular feature of future runs.
The next 3-4 hours were a blur of small roads, oncoming traffic, beautiful views, disjointed conversations and at times running together but mostly running slightly apart. We would often slow down together to walk up a hill and eat something, passing comment on how we’re feeling, what we’ve been thinking about for the past hour and what we’re looking forward to the most when we arrive in Brighton. Beer was the answer. Followed by champagne when we made it back to London.
We’d stop for the odd photo and post it on a social media app. We were also grateful not to be running in the rain any more after the morning’s wet start.
The hours and miles rolled by.
From my experience running for more than 3 hours hurts. Running for more than 4 hours really hurts. Beyond that we’re talking about varying degrees of considerable pain. Feet, ankles, knees are the obviously parts to feel most painful, but the surprise one for me was my shoulders. I was carrying a Camel-bak, itself not heavy but just having the straps across my shoulders really tightened my shoulder muscles and they became incredibly painful. I’ll certainly look at trying a different fitting pack for the next run.
As much as I expected my ankles to hurt I was really hurting for the last 5 hours. I’ve been running in very thin soled shoes which offer next to no cushioning support and with most of the running happening on the hard surface of a road or footpath they were, in hindsight, unsuitable.
We finally reached Ditchling Beacon. It’s a road over the Sound Downs and is an iconic climb for cyclists… and now us.
There was no doubt that we were going to stick to our plan of walking up any hill because this was a steep one! To be fair, we were all so tired that walking up was hard enough. The road was really narrow too, so much so that we had to step up and off the road when an oncoming car came along, this made our progress even slower. I estimate it took us 45mins to walk up to the summit (yes, I’m calling it a summit!) where we were met with gale force head wind that cut through our flimsy running attire ruthlessly.
We were now relived to be at the top but didn’t enjoy what turned out to be another hour of walking across the exposed plateau in the wind and still dodging cars as they came towards us. Oh, and we were probably still 2 hours away from Brighton. Having cycled the route a few times I had in my head the expectation that once you get to to the top it’s all downhill into town. I soon realised how distorted my recollection of being on a bike transferred to running. What took 30 mins on a bike took a lot longer on foot and was considerably more uncomfortable. We plodded on.
Eventually we navigated our way to the outskirts of Brighton and the downhill roads to the beach. We all agreed that it hurt too much to run downhill so we walked along the footpaths until we happened upon a wine store that (thankfully) also sold beer. Cold beer. It was at this point that we decided the running part of this run was officially over (11 hrs 50 mins) and we enjoyed a beer as we continued into town.
Meg and Dom (Carl’s Sister in Law and Wife respectively) collected us from outside the cathedral where we were sprawled on the grass taking photos and saying how we weren’t in that much pain. (It become pretty obvious how much pain we were actually in when it came time to get up off the ground and pile into the car!)
Meg was kind enough to drive the remaining 500m to the beach where we stood and looked out to sea, standing on the pebbles that make up the so called beach. Albi, to his credit, was brave enough to stand in the icy healing waters while Carl and I watched in awe. Photos were taken, high fives slapped and talk of food was plenty. We were ready to go home.
Meg and Dom further earned our eternal gratitude for putting up with the blabbering of 3 stinking guys in the back of their car due to us not being able to find showers on the beach front or in the gym that was closed (it looked open enough to us) and us reliving our favourite bits of the run.
We got back to London, opened a bottle of Moet and drank deeply before piling into the jacuzzi…
Another great adventure had and shared with two amazing and inspirational men. Albi resurrected himself from down and out to barely stopping for another 9 hours. Simply incredible and something that I doubt I’ll ever forget. Carl set a steady and honest pace for the most part of the day. He was the picture of form and strength the entire day.
I know we all had our weak moments. Some we shared verbally, most we kept in our heads. I think we all shed a tear at some point. It’s hard not to get lost in thought at some point and when your body is screaming at you to stop and you choose to ignore it some dark places are likely to surface. Knowing that there were two other guys going through the same thing made it all the more tolerable and I know that’s what helped me finish the most.
Thank you Albi & Carl.
We were fuelled on plants and plant based food.
I drank water (but not enough) & apple juice at various times.
We didn’t listen to music, yet I imagined my deceased cousin’s new album being played often.
All our Garmin devices failed.
Our iPhones lasted due to us turning them off regularly.
Car drivers are often hostile to runners in the country, more than I was expecting.
I should have done some training.