This was also our first ‘proper’ instalment of our annual adventures challenge thanks to COVID lockdown easing. The event was the Ultra Challenge series London2Brighton and was really well organised and supported.
The logistics worked well too. We checked into the Old Ship hotel in the Brighton beachfront on Saturday and were bussed to the start at Tulleys Farm just South of Gatwick at 05:00 am for a Sunday morning rolling start from 06:00. The finish, back at the Brighton race course, was followed by another 2 nights chilling over the bank holiday weekend – perfect!
There was just the small matter of 50km in between. Cally has been dogged by an ITB knee injury and blisters since upping her mileage this year. Thankfully the knee has been on the mend but pushing things this far would have unknown consequences and the possibility of not being able to finish was very real.
After arriving at the start we simply collected our bib numbers and timing cards and were ready to go. COVID has meant that events tend follow a rolling start where you just cross the start line when ready and race positions are figured out at the end. The buzz of mass starts is an unfortunate casualty but on the plus side there is no hanging about.
This event has multiple sub-events. There is the full 100km for runners, joggers and walkers. There is also an overnight camping option at the 50km halfway mark and even options to do any of the 25km quarter stages independently. For us it meant that there were a few second stage starters but also the overnighters. I’d figured that all of the walkers would be done within about 24 – 28 hours and that we would be unlikely to see any of these folks. How wrong I was. We passed loads of people along the whole route who had been slugging it out all night after their 06:00 start in Richmond the previous morning. Proper grinding when you think that the full 100km was won in 9hours and 40min.
Our plan was to run very easy on the flats and downs and walk the uphills. Pretty standard practice for trail ultras. The day dawned cool and overcast with the promise of warm sunshine later in the morning. The conditions were ideal and we settled into a good rhythm. The rolling Sussex countryside was a beautiful setting.
Before we knew it we hit the first aid station (about 7mi / 13km) and miles were clicking by nicely. The early signs were pretty good and Cally’s feet and knee were manageable. We had our tunes on and the trek through the countryside was everything I’d hoped for – just a brilliant way to spend the day.
There were four aid stations along the way roughly 10km / 6mi apart. These were well stocked with an assortment of crisps, sweets, energy snacks and even hot meals at the larger ones. By the mid point it was time to take a moment, grab a munchie and check out Cally’s feet.
Hmmm, it was not a pretty sight and her blisters had come up. Nothing for it but to slather on the second skin (basically medical superglue), cover with compeed blister plasters, change socks and crack on – brave girl.
I recorded a few video snippets along the way…
As we were nearing 26 miles I said to Cally to let me know when we hit 26.2 – marathon distance – so I could record the moment of her first marathon (see image). A short while later she said “that’s odd, now it’s 26.17” (like it had gone down). I didn’t have my glasses and just figured it was some gps anomaly. It was only afterwards when looking at the photo I saw it was 26.02 – doh! Still, huge moment.
You might wonder “why go to all that extreme” just to take in the countryside? Sure, you can just go for a walk and enjoy it too. The thing is, there is a reward which comes from putting in the extra effort. You can’t really explain it nor share its value. Part of it lies in the anticipation, the butterflies, the grind. A big part comes from crossing the finish line and reflecting on it the day after. It’s about the “I did it” moment having pushed beyond that boundary which you were unsure about.
I’m super proud of Cally’s achievement. She’s just soldiered on through her injury and it’s been a real joy to be able to share this adventure with her. Having done a few of these now I know what it’s about and now she does too. I’m not sure that the bug will bite her as hard as it has me. No matter. She will find her own groove and we now have some great common ground which we know we can share.
I’m pretty sure that on several occasions during the run she was reviewing her choice of husband. I think sometimes a nudge can be a good thing but then you might hear different from Cally 🙂
There was a pleasant surprise the following morning when, over breakfast, we checked the event results. It turns out Cally placed 3rd woman for our leg and 10th overall! OK, most were walkers but still 🙂
The coming months remain fluid with COVID variants threatening our return to normality. Regardless, our 2021 adventure will continue. I think we’ve already made a few cool discoveries and I’m there are more in store for us.
The last word (from Cally)
When we booked the Brighton ultra marathon a few months back I didn’t really think too much about it as I thought if I am not feeling ready I just won’t do it but as time went by and the time was getting closer I had to take it a bit more seriously. Running with Paul a few times a week including our monthly half marathons and doing workouts with Andrew twice a week I felt stronger and it gave me the confidence to think I could really get this done. The big test was when Paul and I ran into London which was the longest I had run (18miles) and I knew I was ready-ish.
I tried not to over think it too much and felt excited packing all the kit ready for the run. I felt a bit sick with nerves the morning of the run and just wanted to get started. It was a beautiful morning and the first 11km or so to the first stop felt ok and then in the next 13km I started to feel the pain in my knee (IT band injury) and my blisters were starting to make their presence felt. At the 2nd stop we dealt with my blisters and then it was just a mind game of trying to ignore all the aches and pains… try and enjoy the surroundings of the Sussex countryside and with the encouragement from Paul… and the support and messages from family and friends I managed to get it done… I was a bit emotional at the end and would never have achieved it without Paul running beside me … I now have a very sore body and very sore feet – will I do it again …. mmmmmm