It’s around 5am on a cool Saturday morning and I’m gliding along Victoria Embankment like I am part of a car commercial.
The Prius makes no sound and the streets are deserted aside from goods vehicles darting around to make their deliveries.
“So are you playing a sport?” the driver ask referring to the rucksack beside me, the racing vest in my lap and my body clad in sporting lycra and polyester.
“Erm no, I’m actually going for a run,” I say trying to avoid a conversation. I’d much rather focus on my music and the task in front of me.
“Where to?” the driver asks before I have time to put in my earphones.
“God that’s a long way”.
Start at the Beginning
The journey to Old Deer Park in Richmond was quick and hassle free.
The driver, without realising it, was actually doing a very good job at keeping me calm and reassuring me that if I’d done the training, I’d be alright.
He also couldn’t believe that a race of this distance wasn’t on TV.
It’s not a great spectator sport I assured him.
The start enclosure was active with determined faces and Lycra-clad bodies making final checks and chewing on energy bars.
Had their training gone well? Had they been injured? Were they actually walking the event? Why has that guy got a huge backpack?
To stop psyching myself out, I tried to spot any of the people who I had “met” through the wonders of social media.
And there, standing taller than expected but underneath the tent, with the unmistakeable facial hair and pony tail was Brian off of Instagram.
It was very surreal to meet a man with whom I’d traded training pics and good will messages.
Luckily in real life he was just as cool as his online presence suggested and I felt more at ease.
We compared race vests, packing techniques and kit lists to make sure we had everything and then went our own ways to prepare further.
I’d like to have run with him but having seen his training (350 miles in March!!), knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up.
It was now 5.55am and I was fussing over things when I noticed that one of my headphone buds had gone – I would have to run 100k with only the one.
At which point, I spotted another familiar face – Andy off of Facebook.
During the ABP Southampton Half last month, his wife had got talking to my mum and both mentioned we were running this race. Small world eh!
Again it was lovely to meet both Andy and Cerri (his wife) and chat during the final countdown.
Then we strapped up our racing vests and moved into the runner’s pen.
After the awkward Zumba warm-up had finished, the announcer counted down and we were off…for about three yards before the fencing created a bottleneck and everyone stopped, seconds after we had started.
Once through the funnel and over the timing mats though, we were off towards the Thames Path and South past the big, mocking “This way to Brighton” signs.
Stuck in the Middle
For anyone who has not run in the Richmond/Kingston area of London, I massively recommend it.
The only problem at that particular time of the morning were midges and mosquitos buzzing around and the pace Andy was setting.
Already the runners were spread out and I wondered how much of the race would be completed alone.
It was already beginning to warm up and I was kept amused watching the early-waking, dressing-gown wearing patrons of suburbia picking up newspapers as runners filtered by.
The whole course is very marked by luminous arrows and ribbons but at the top of inviting looking descent, I made the cardinal sin of following the guy in front of me.
“Hey GUYS,” we heard from behind us, “I think it’s this way”.
As we turned, you could clearly see the arrow pointing left as we went right – the downhill Sirens had almost ensnared two more explorers.
I fell roughly into step with our saviour to thank him, while the other runner took off again, keen to make up the small amount of time lost.
The houses all looked like Privet Drive from Harry Potter and it was hard to get any real sense of where we were in South London. Somewhere between Richmond and the M25 I guessed unhelpfully.
By now I was 20k in, over 20% done and feeling pretty good.
My running partner’s name was Theo and we rocked into the 2nd checkpoint for a quick refresh and then straight out.
Everything post-CP2 is a bit of a blur. In hindsight it feels a lot more positive than I remember at the time. It is a cliché but it was a real physical and emotional rollercoaster and can be summed up thus:
- Arriving at halfway point to see a big red “Finish” sign and toastmaster
- Leaving halfway point and legs not being able to function correctly
- Stiles. What is the f***ing point??
- Uphills. Any incline was an invitation to stop
- Downhills. They look easy and inviting but hurt your knees and your spirit
- Being unable to gain any momentum due to stiles/gates, bridges etc.
- THAT hill
- Arriving at the halfway point at 56km
- Falling in love with running through fields and woods
- “Swerving” down hills to try to lessen the gradient. Must have looked absolutely mental
- Running with someone. Even though we didn’t speak a great deal, the company was invaluable
- The comradery and spirit of others; both runners and supporters was life-affirming
- The weather
In the End
That hill. It had haunted my training from the very first day.
We had made it to our last major psychological hurdle, kilometre 80, in relatively good time with a policy of walking up hills and running as much of the rest as possible.
There was less than 20% to go and we now knew we would make it.
With renewed optimism, we started out, taking less time at checkpoints and deliberately running more.
As we crested a small incline, there were a number of runners and walkers looking to their right.
“Don’t look right,” one of them said. So of course I did.
Field upon green field in the foreground turned into a monstrous alpine ridge in the far. I swore under my breath.
This is what everyone had talked about; Ditchling Beacon.
At the base, there was another point for supporters to wish well and fair passage to the top of the mountain that lay in wait.
It was so close to the end that it seemed cruel to make us climb the literal and metaphorical heights but a challenge wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy.
My brother decided to join us for the climb but I doubt he was expecting the silent, moody air that accompanied the ascent but the further company was appreciated.
The slow, steps up the continually steep gradient were truly horrible and despite how close to the finish we were, it felt like we couldn’t have been further away.
Instead we walked which just increased the amount of time we were taking.
We trudged on around corner after corner and hill after hill looking for the final straight but it never came.
After what seemed like an age, we passed under a dual carriageway and saw our families again.
This WAS the final hill they assured us.
But there wasn’t. We walked up yet another hill and then, with a simple “let’s go”, we started running.
We couldn’t see the racetrack but we were at the top of the hill and could see the sea.
In silence we picked up the pace and picked off other runners like we were sprinting.
The final miles along the gravel path to Brighton racecourse were run quicker than any of those before including a 9 minute mile (at mile 61!!) as the thought of finishing made us go quicker and quicker.
And then there it was, looming in grey, a grandstand with flags fluttering in front.
I’d written earlier about how I was going to complete the run and thought about it nearly all the way throughout but in the final few yards, my mind went blank.
I began to aeroplane, arms wide with happiness, whilst simultaneously letting out some “whooping” and trying to high five the crowd.
I love finishing line sprints but the feeling of that final 50 yards after nearly 14 hours and 100 kilometres is something else.
My mum, brothers, aunty, uncle, cousins, friends (thank you Mark!) and even off of Instagram was there at the end and as I crossed the line, I was so caught up in the elation of the moment that I forgot how to function, unable to co-ordinate holding a glass of champagne and picking up my medal.
In true gentlemanly style, Theo and I celebrated by shaking each other’s hands, no words were needed and parted ways – the unspoken word that we both got through the ordeal thanks to each other.
That’s all folks
And just like that it was over. I didn’t feel better or worse that having run a “normal” marathon.
It was mentally tough but already after finishing, those hard moment disappeared and I remembered it all fondly.
The fields, the spirit, the volunteers, the cheers, the sunshine, the open air, the woods, the mud, the endeavour and fight.
It was the toughest thing I have ever done, but I’d done it and I felt brilliant.
London2Brighton 100 kilometres
Number starting : 1712
Number of finishers : 1226
Total number of withdrawals : 486 (28.4%)
My official position: 70 (I am not convinced about the accuracy)
Amount raised for Great Ormond Street Hospital: £1,754.79