• Barry Gerhold

London to Brighton 100km

Running from London to Brighton

My most recent act of craziness...

Back in 2009 I took part in the London to Brighton bike ride and managed to finish 5th fastest out of around 20,000 people. The year after I improved on that and was 4th. Now I faced a fresh challenge to try and run a 100km trail route from Old deer park, Richmond to Brighton Race course.

The route profile made it obvious that this event was going to be a tough one, with a fair amount of climbing throughout. My pacing plan was to use that of my recent 100miler as a rough guide, that day I got the first 63 miles completed in around 13hours, so I thought I would be able to go a little faster on this event due to the shorter distance.

This target was a bloody stupid one. I did not consider that the 100miler was in March and therefore much cooler and the fact that the 100 mile course was mostly flat. These contrasting differences meant that 13hours was very ambitious, too ambitious.

I was part of the first wave of competitors who set off at 6:30am and headed towards the Thames which we would run besides for about 5 miles. I took things relatively easy for the Thames section and seemed to have a lot of runners overtaking me throughout. I worried that I may be going a little too slow, but then reminded myself that I am not racing anyone and just trying to get to the finish.

Just prior to the 6 mile mark a pink arrow pointed us away from the Thames and in the direction of Sutton, where we’d navigate residential streets for a while. The first aid station greeted us at the 12km mark where my plan was to pick up some food, crisps, flapjacks etc and top up my drinks. Somehow I managed to completely forget to grab some food and headed off out of the aid station. I think I was aware that a number of people were taking a break here, so I wanted to take advantage of that and gain a few places.

It didn’t appear to be much of an issue as I knew that at the 25km there would be another aid station where I could pick up some supplies. We then continued navigating through the streets taking us into Old Malden, Stonleigh and Belmont. The signage was of a very high standard. There was little chance that anyone was going to get lost. Distance markers every KM and pink arrows pointing you in the correct direction every few hundred metres or so.

At Oaks Park, near Woodmansterne I headed into the aid station. I had covered 15.5 miles at this stage and was still feeling good. I picked up some food, topped up my drinks and then headed straight out. I tried not to hang around too long, maybe a few minutes. The route then took me towards familiar terrain. Farthing Downs and Happy Valley near Coulsdon where I have trained many times.

Today I barely ran these sections at all. It isn’t the easiest terrain to run along anyway. It is off road and quite bumpy with a few hills which will drain any energy you may have. I took these walking sections as an opportunity to recover and enjoy the surroundings. I kept up a good pace considering, which was somewhere in the region of 12min/mile

It was at the end of this section (mile 20) that the sun then came out and this changed things very quickly. Up until that point it was a bit sticky, but was just about comfortable. Once the sun came out it was not in the slightest bit comfortable anymore. I was still amongst one of the hilliest sections of the course which took us through Chaldon and then onto one of the highest points of the course before we headed down towards the m25. Although the trails taking us down to the m25 crossing is close to where I live, I have never actually ran them before and was hoping that I would be able to make up some time on the downhills. How wrong was I?. These downhills were either very steep which made them dangerous, or they were so narrow that you had to take extra precautions so that not to break your ankle and other sections were quitemuddy which slowed you down. So no time was gained here really.

It was nice heading through the tunnel under the m25, not just because it was a few seconds of shade, but because it was a landmark where you can put the London section behind you. Although this was a welcome sight, it didn’t make things any easier. I was getting quite tired and struggling in the heat. I was walking much more than I was running and looking forward to topping up my drinks. Every step felt like I was moving into a bubble of hot air.

I was carrying a litre of water which I thought would be sufficient, especially that I can top them up every 10-15km or so, however I seemed to find myself holding back from drinking every now and again to ensure that the drink lasted. Today was not a day that I wanted to be rationing my drink and am sure that dehydration hit me early on. I should have opted for a drinks bladder really, but this was a lesson learnt.

After 40km the next aid station presented itself in front of me. It could be seen from some way off and was quite pleasing to see. One of the volunteers offered to spray me down with the hose and I of course said yes and that was amazing. Although I didn’t stay cool for long, this cheered me right up and then I was off to Outwood and Turners Hill which would take me towards Tulley’s Farm. The midpoint (56km) aid station where Natalie and the kids, my mum and Ken would be waiting.

Up until this point I was gradually moving up through the field. I am not quite sure how. Moving up nearly 70 positions throughout the first half. I would imagine this was due to not sticking around at the aid stations for long.

The section towards Tulley’s was taking its toll, I was finding it so very tough. I was walking more and more and the walking was getting slower and slower. I was wishing that the aid station would pop up around the next corner, but it never seemed to come. It didn’t help that the distance on my GPS watch did not match the KM markers. I ended up “running” over a mile more than I thought I would. My mum came down to greet me and we walked what felt like a mile together into the aid station. I think it was in fact just about 200 metres. Trying to walk was barely possible and I am fairly sure some of the officials at the aid station were a little concerned. Considering I could barely walk and still had 44km to go, they had a right to be concerned. I was concerned and I very much felt like quitting.

Hot food was available here and I sat down and stuffed my face. Chicken casserole, pasta, potato & leek soup, crusty rolls and I finished that off with some Carrot Cake. Seems I needed some calories and these calories made me feel human again. I think I sat down here for about 35-45 minutes which is crazy. I have never ever considered stopping during an event for this long, fearing that my body would seize up, but today it enabled me to reset and I was able to continue. I took a flask of tea out this time along with a litre of water and I enjoyed every sip.

I didn’t run for the next hour, not because I couldn’t but more because my belly was so full. I feared that I’d throw it up everywhere. The bizarre thing was that during this past hour and half where I had sat down and then had a post dinner stroll I was only passed by about 25 other runners. Considering there was over a thousand people out on the course it showed that everyone else was having a tough day too.

Five of those runners passed me when I made a navigational error. This was not the fault of the race organisers. Whilst transferring drink from one bottle to another I managed to miss a direction sign and carried on in the wrong direction for a few hundred metres. This added somewhere around ¼ - ½ mile to my day which was annoying.

After this things became a bit of a blur really. I do know that I did do some running, but it was all rather slow going. It was taking me 1hr 5mins – 1hr 15mins to cover 5miles. I was enjoying walking so much more than the running. I had told my mum and Ken who would be greeting me at the 80km mark that I will most likely be walking the remainder and this meant there was less pressure on me. This enabled me to enjoy my surroundings so much more. Heading up the hill near Ardingly reservoir was one of the moments that I remember enjoying the walking and the views.

As I approached the 80km mark I saw my mum and Ken up ahead , Ken enjoying a nice ice-cream. I dove immediately into the nearby store and purchased a calippo ice lolly, I re-supplied at the aid station, got hosed down once more and then headed back out with my mind solely on my Ice lolly. The disaster struck! Somehow whilst faffing about organising my bag I managed to spill the contents of my lolly all over the road. This was one of the most disappointing moments of the day! I hoped that I’d pass another shop en route, but no shop emerged :-(

Around the 88km aid station Nausea was starting to affect me. Not drastically but it was noticeable and slowly getting worse. A guy exited the 88km aid station with me and we chatted briefly and discussed the tough day that we had endured and the likely route we will be taking to cross the South Downs. He was unaware that we’d shortly be taking on a tough uphill section close to Ditchlin Beacon. A climb that I am very aware of from my cycling days and I warned him that it was going to be tough and I wasn’t wrong. This guy seemed nice enough but as we started going uphill nausea was affecting me more and more and I just wanted to be alone so told him to go ahead, which he did.

I continued to plod along, taking the odd photo and got to the top expecting the rest of the route to be downhill. This was not the case. Yes there was a little bit of downhill just after the ascent, but I was struggling. I couldn’t now be arsed to run, nausea was getting worse. So I walked.

With 3 miles to go the best thing happened... I was sick, yeah it is never nice actually being sick but this is what my body needed. I felt rejuvenated and able to run again. I pretty much ran the remainder of the course, yes there was the odd walking section and my running was now most likely similar to my walking pace, but what the hell. It felt great to be running again and now catching and over taking people. On entering the grounds of the race course I caught up with two guys; Ilkka and Steven where we decided to run in to the finish together. Although Steven decided to sprint ahead!

My mum and Ken were there cheering me on and I have never been so happy to finish an event. This one pushed me to my limits.

I finished in 15hrs and 1min

My Garmin says I covered 65.6 miles (105km) and climbed 4,990ft (1520m)

The official distance was 100km (62.1 miles) climbing of 4,600ft (1420m)

I assume the official stats are correct, but I know which stats I will be using :-)

#LondontoBrighton #100km #UltraMarathon #ActionChallenge #Dehydration #DitchlinBeacon #TulleysFarm

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