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May 26 2013

The race: London 2 Brighton

Race day started markedly earlier than I had expected. Butterflies and nerves had started the day before the race, so I did expect the night’s sleep to be disrupted.

I’d travelled to Windsor the night before the race so I was closer to the start, and could get a lift from my parents to the start. I wasn’t sure that the change in surroundings would be a comfortable transition and as I hit the sack for the night, the first plane on final approach to Heathrow roared overhead. Twenty-five years since living in Windsor, I had seemingly forgotten how to handle it. I finally got to sleep.

I first woke and checked my clock at 11:30pm and that set the scene for the next 4 hours. Eventually, having woken a half-a-dozen times, I got up at 4am and started to pack everything up. Each item carefully placed into the right bag. Breakfast of 2 x bagels and strawberry jam, a cup of tea, and a banana.

We left the house and set off for the event.

The journey at that time of the day was easy and we were there by 5:10. But still plenty of last-minute checks to complete. Was everything in the right bag? Hydration pack, half-way bag, finish bag. If I’d missed anything, it could throw my concentration in the race. It was all fine and at 5:45am we assembled at the start pen.

A mixture of fear, trepidation and forced joviality adorned the faces of all my fellow competitors. I was the same. Dread filled my emotions, but I was still forcing a smile and a laugh even though it felt unnatural. The gravity of what we were about to do, perhaps, was only just sinking in.

WiblesAndMrMotivatorThumb2Action Challenge had laid on a celebrity 10-minute warm up from Mr Motivator. He was quite entertaining and it did feel good to laugh and see others laughing. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite so serious after all.

0-25L2B_thumbFirst quarter: 0-25km

After being scanned into the starting pen, the klaxon sounded and like a heard of slow-moving wilderbeast, we trundled across Richmond Old Dear Park to the river for the first leg of the journey along a familiar stretch of the Thames Path to Kingston.

Having tapered for 2 weeks (i.e. not doing as much running) the opening 10k was pretty comfortable, too fast maybe, as everyone seemed full of running. People around me were chatting and joking, comparing training notes and summarising their expectations. One common thread was how this 10k section would be the easiest, and by the end we wouldn’t be joking quite so effervescently.

The first rest stop came at about 12km and as I was still feeling full of running I grabbed just a banana and a cup of energy drink and continued almost without stopping. My hydration pack was still relatively full and I was making sure that I kept hydrated, so I didn’t see the need to stop quite so early. I still had a few bites of bagel and a few packs of shot blox, so didn’t think I needed the stop.

The next 12.5k was relatively uneventful. The field spread more thinly and I ended up running with “Doug” for quite a lot of it, comparing training programmes, again. Doug had done a sub 3:15 marathon, which is 45 minutes faster than my PB, so I did have concerns that I was just going too fast in the early stages. The route was now taking us through the streets in the London suburbs intermingled with the occasional footpath or park.

I arrived at the first rest stop at a quarter distance, running in with Doug. The Oaks Park rest stop seemed to arrive pretty quickly at 15.5 miles or 25km. It was well organised and looked like it was catering for thousands. At this stage I was still feeling bullishly confident. It took me about 30 seconds to fill up my hydration pack, took more energy drink and peeled another banana. I moved the remaining two-thirds of my bagel supply to my easily-accessible waistband pockets and headed off again, leaving Doug, and others I had run with, behind.

25-56L2B_thumbSecond quarter: 25-56km

When I left the Oaks Park rest stop I was still feeling great. The sun was shining, a gentle tail wind and the route was clear ahead. I still had my hands full with all the rest stop cups and banana and I hadn’t done up my backpack properly.

The first disaster struck!

Three miles into the section and I had a nightmare. Having stowed away all my items again, I looked down and my race card (which was previously tethered to my hydration pack) was no longer there. I must have dropped it between the rest stop and where I was. I had no option but to retrace my steps back to the rest stop, carefully surveying the ground for the misplaced card.

I ran about 6-7 minutes, three-quarters of a mile retracing my steps when Doug appeared on the path waving a card… so thankfully tracing back any further was no longer required. [Doug, if you ever read this, HUGE THANKS!]

What an elementary mistake. I’d carefully looped the tethering strap for the card around the chest strap. When I took off my hydration pack to refill, the card simply fell off the strap. Keen not to make the same mistake again, I looped the strap around the shoulder strap, and put the card in the shoulder-strap pocket. Safe again – at least for now.

Or so I thought. I had only run about 100m after being reunited with my pass, when the next disaster struck. Not concentrating on the muddy overgrown path ahead, my foot got caught under a root and I tumbled to ground with a sore ankle. Another elementary mistake. Having trained for months on importance of maintaining concentration on the path or road ahead to avoid injury early in the race, a momentary lapse meant I was now on my back, looking up at the trees with a bumps, bruises and a sore ankle. I knew the tumble would come back to bite later on (and it did).

The rest stop at 42km again was peaceful and relaxing and despite the backtracking and the fall, I was still feeling in good shape. My bagels were now inedible and the shot blox were starting to taste ghastly. But I picked up a cereal bar at 42k and that tasted good. I was beginning to get the impression that you had to have different food all the way along the course. I certainly couldn’t survive on just one food type. [A good lesson for next time!]

All the troubles I had from 25 to 42km, was nothing compared to what happened between 42 and 56km. Put simply… I just ran out of energy. The tank was dry. I had eaten more during this run than I had for the 35 miler I had done three weeks previously, but somehow I still felt empty – completely energyless. I put it down to the bad night’s sleep and nervous energy expended before the start.

TulleysFarmThumbIt was a terrible 2h until the Tulley’s Farm half way stop. I was just over half way, as the organisers had said that this was half way in terms of “time” not distance. Despite the celebrity festooned welcome and rapturous welcome from the crowd, I headed straight for the privacy of the competitors’ feeding zone trying to disguise my beleaguered demeanor.

Mum and Dad which had turned up at the this rest stop, were duly worried as I could barely lift my head off the table.

Eating was not easy either. Nausia from the fatigue made each mouthful painful and unappetising, but each mouthful was soon washed down with bottled water. And for 30-minutes I sat in the feeding area trying to push each mouthful down, one-by-one. I gave up on a pasta, and found much solace in a plateful of cinnamon danish pastries topped with icing… a danish never tasted so good. Perfect!

So starting to feel the energy creeping back into my limbs, I swapped items between my half-way bag and the various compartments in my hydration pack, and set off again.

T56-80_L2B_thumbhird quarter: 56-80km

As the rest stop disappeared in the distance, the final 44km of the race laid ahead. I was definitely starting to feel more human now, even laughing at myself for making such an elementary mistake. I played over the situation time and time again. “Why on earth did I run straight through the 25km rest stop?” But now I started to feel better again, so the outlook was brighter; at least. More analysis would undoubtedly follow.

The hills were starting to hurt. I slowed at each slight rise in the path ahead. Until I succumbed to each ascent by walking. I wasn’t the only one. Everybody who I saw couldn’t face walking up the hills. And so it was to be for the rest of the race. Walking up all the hills (even the little ones that you would hardly notice if you were walking, or fresh!).

The route was getting more treacherous too. We were sent down winding tracks turned over by tractors. We were frog-marched across footpaths that hadn’t seen a walker for months and were overgrown with 2ft of grass. And we were lead down narrow paths which were still flooded from the terrential rain the day before.

It wasn’t an easy 24km. I seemed to be leapfrogging lots of people as we each stopped to walk at different spells. Some were floundering badly and were parked on the roadside with shoes off and first aid kits attending to nasty looking blisters. Some were suffering from muscle cramps and had fifty miles of torture etched unmistakably into their faces.

But each 10-12km there was a stop and I was grateful for the human company… and the food. Learning the lessons from the 8 hours of the reace previously, I had to:

  • Find different food – you can’t stomach the same thing over and over
  • Eat lots! Even when you’re not hungry.
  • Stuff your pockets with reserve supplies – you never know when hunger still strike.
  • Swallow it down with energy drink to make it digest more quickly.

At the 70km marker I heard the bleep from my phone that wasn’t a welcome sound. I’d been using the phone (as a phone) so much, that the battery which had previously comfortably lasted 24h was now running low. but it was OK, as I had my mobile super-charger… yes? Absolutely, I had that… but no cable. I found that I must’ve left it in the half-way bag so i didn’t have it. One final call to Julia to tell her to meet me at the 88km stop (with spare cable from the car) and i turned off all services including WiFi, mobile data, sound, screen brightness and bluetooth. 20% to last 18k… that was going to be fun.

Surprise at the 80km stop was how good two boiled eggs tasted. Real superfood was an inspriational choice from the marshals and support staff at that stop. Who’d have thought eggs would be so appetising?

Final quarter: 80-100km

And so on to the final stretch… and as we had been warned, the one almighty hill, a category 4 relentless climb over the South Downs towards Brighton. But that hill was still 7-8 miles away and there was still one final stop to go. The undulating hills and the rough terrain were never-ending. But as each km marker passed by the distance remaining seemed to give me an extra shove. The pain wasn’t really important at this point in the race. It wasn’t really pain anyway, more like a constant buzzing running through my legs that ironically got worse when I stopped to stretch it out.

I finally made it to the 88km stop. The final stop before the almighty hill. The stop was nice. Julia and Spuddie, and Mum and Dad where there to wave me in. And I finally got my cable to charge my phone which was on 7%. close!

After one final face-stuffing exercise… sweets (chocolate fudge) and danishes again this time… and I set off with a brief wave behind on the last leg. Next stop… Brighton race course :). I remember feeling elated and determined at this stage, like wild horses wouldn’t stop me making it to the finishing line. It was a good feeling. Until…

I saw the big hill. A 120m climb – snaking left and right up the hill because the gradient was so steep. I have to say that walking up it, as that was all I could do, wasn’t actually that bad. The only tell-tale sign that it was hard was my pulse hitting 150+, having been a nice steady 120-125 for almost 12 hours. This was real exertion and it was slow progress for 20 minutes. And even as I ascended the tight slope upwards, it seemed to extend even further into the dimming sky.

Just to make even the hardiest of ultramarathon runners sigh, the terrain at the top was rutted and uneven, making progress slow, and more painful than the ascent and your feet slipped left and right on the stone and unevenness. My sore ankle from the tumble was now aching persistently. But in a short time from the top of the hill, I could see the sea, glistening in the low sunlight. This really was the final stretch – the 92, 93, and 94km markers came and went.

I got a phone all from Julia saying she was standing at the 96km mark, so another 2k, that would be easy, wouldn’t it? The ground running alongside the B2123 as I approached Brighton was just treacherous. On tired legs and the flatness of the ground was non-existent.

96km approached and Spuddie suddenly jumped out shouting and cheering as much as she could manage – it was lovely having her to run with. She had run on a few hundred metres to greet me, so we ran together back to Julia.

IMG_3181_Panoramic

 

The finish

Emotional. It really was. For a previously devoted and commited fat-bloke, to run that far, for that long still seemed impossible even though I could now see the line. I was choking back the tears and as the cheers from the crowd grew louder the tears wouldn’t stop. The celebrity PA was manned by Spider from Coronation Street (as I later found out) and to give him credit, he really knew his tear-evoking one-liners.

I had to wipe away the happy stream of tears from my face about 100yards to go and man-up again. And I made the final few steps to the finish with the most amazing feeling careering through my veins. People (including myself) thought I was crazy. But I say those that do not experience this once in their life… they are the crazy ones!

IMG_3245_Thumb

Results

Simple: 46th from 1751 starters in 12h  51m. Click here for the race results (PDF, 534 KB).

 

My race conclusion

It was a few days before I got the results. 46th out of 1751 starters so I was pretty pleased with that day’s work.

The memories of completing the race are vivid and real, but my mind is drawn inexorably to the sentiment immediately after I’d crossed the finish line that I’d finished the race and a period of 6 months of training, and that I was going to miss it… really badly.

It was like the last day at school when something you’d worked so hard for so long was complete. It felt like a door had permanently closed and that I had nothing else to achieve. It was minutes, literally minutes, after finishing that I turned to Julia say “I want to do it again”.

The event was brilliantly run… every step of the way highlighted with clear markers, the rest stops were perfect, evenly spaced and comfortably better stocked and equipped than I needed. A huge thanks to Action Challenge for staging such a brilliant race.

 

And finally…

To all my many donors.. a heart-felt thank you.  The Cystic Fibrosis trust will receive £2887.50 (£2310+£577.50) to support their work in combating such a debilitating and incurable condition.

I still think running 100km is a walk in the park compared to what CF suffers have to endure on a daily basis. They are my heroes.

 

2 comments

  1. Bob

    I’m well impressed – and partially inspired for my attempt at a marathon!! If the donation page is still open let me know.

    Well done Wibbs – glad to see/hear you and Julia are together and Spuddie?!

    Cheers

    Bob

  2. Wibles

    Thanks Bob… you should get out there and fulfil that latent aspiration to get a marathon under your belt. You won’t regret it! “Spuddie” aka Charlotte, sister of Tom and Matthew – Julia’s and my three kids.

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