London2Brighton 2022: After the beginning

Previously on London2Brighton: Part 1 (read this first if you haven’t)

It was always going to happen, but maybe it happened a little quicker than I’d expected.

There was something about suddenly being away from people and traffic which left you thinking. And thinking is never a good thing in ultrarunning.

Still given that this section crossed the North Downs and the highest point of the race (not the toughest hill as I kept reminding everyone), we’d only dropped a couple of minutes per mile (around 12 minutes).

We seemed to be going well and didn’t have any major gripes. We were still chatting and trotting along, occasionally picking up a random runner for a stretch. Some would overtake us, and we would overtake some. It was a natural act of everyone running their own races but remaining friendly and supportive throughout.

That is except for one guy.

I’m not going to describe him as it might give his identity away but every time we would pick up speed we would overtake him. Then just as soon as we slowed or went uphill, he would overtake us.

And the galling thing…he was just walking.

Not powerhiking as we call it in the trailrunning world. If it wasn’t for the red tag I would’ve just guessed he was out for a Saturday stroll. He had a big backpack and hiking boots. He wasn’t wearing athletic gear. And he was beating us.

Probably as a group we weren’t the most competitive bunch but something about this guy gave us the hurry up. We created a persona for him and we had to get to halfway before him.

With renewed vigour and a target to aim at, we pushed on.

Tulley’s Farm, just over half of the distance, had become a byword for our first big goals. It was the place that our friends and family could meet us, the spot where we could pick up fresh supplies from our drop bag and also get a hot meal if we wanted.

The first time I did the L2B in 2015, it was also the spot where I lost sooooooo much time eating, chatting, mainly faffing. I was determined not to do the same thing again but life likes to play its funny little games…

I still have incredibly fond memories of my dad bringing me salt covered new potatoes (an ultra fave) at Tulley’s Farm while I sat on the long wooden benches like I hadn’t a care in the world – or another marathon and a bit to go.

Perhaps that’s why I felt so emotional this time. Perhaps it was just getting to that point relatively unscathed when all of preparation and mental health leading up to the event had suggested otherwise. Maybe it was just the running of 56 kilometres on a hot and then humid day at the end of May. Whatever it was, I felt elated to see our team but couldn’t go near them in case I burst out crying.

(Sorry for not being more friendly to Vic, Charls, Amelie, Sully, Zoe, Deb and Chris. It honestly means the world when people turn up to support)

So I chose instead to focus on the pain of others. Ian was having issues with his feet which turned out to be a huge blister that had then popped. Noice. Del was tucking into a plate of pasta like it was the last one on earth and Toby… well actually he seemed to be doing alright. Certainly better than I’d seen him this far into other races.

My biggest downfall with ultras is ALWAYS food and drink related. Not eating enough when you’re burning 700 calories an hour or not drinking when you’re sweating away seem easily remedied – just eat and drink more? But forcing yourself to eat isn’t as fun as it should be. Add in to that the fact that I had used the gents at all four aid stations so far and it wasn’t looking particularly good.

I tentatively picked at some plain spaghetti and salad dressing (no idea why I chose those two but usually best to go with it at this point) and smashed back a full fat Fanta. My body was clearly craving calories and hydration but it wasn’t sure whether it would accept them, let alone keep them in.

Slowly but surely we mobilised and thought about heading off. Tulley’s Farm is the finish line for those doing the half distance or two day options and just as in 2015, I felt envy creeping up every time the announcer mentioned another name finishing. Well done and all that but piss off 😉

Anyway, we said goodbye and made our way between the various novelties that the farm held – ghost buses, circus stalls and abandoned cars – lining the way to the final half of the race.

Psychologically it was getting easier to picture the end. Physically it was deteriorating.

The distances between aid stations were smaller now (even if we’d been lied to about the Tulleys to Ardinlgy leg by the well-meaning volunteers) and it was cooler.

My watch registered a peak of 30 degrees Celsius but I’m fairly sure that this was my body giving off pure heat as my cold threatened to strike once again. My voice was going and my throat was getting tighter, in part due to the lack of hydration.

Ian was also struggling again, this time with his left ITB as he subconsciously overcompensated for the blistering right foot. I think, and he is welcome to correct me here, but if he had been on his own he might have stopped at the next aid station.

(Turns out he has corrected me and there was NO WAY he was going to quit. Good lad)

It is so difficult to manage your own mental self-doubt even if you are in peak condition and a burning motivation to continue. But with injuries piling on top of one another and no end in sight, the temptation to drop is immense.

He’d been there before. I’d been there. Toby had been there. Del in blissful ignorance had that to look forward to! So there was never a chance of letting him quit because I knew he had the toughness to keep going.

There’s a phrase that I like about running ultras: “If you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but always keep moving forward.”

It was either MLK or Dean Karnazes who said it but either way, we were going to get to the end together.

At Ardingley (67k), a super posh school as they all seemed to be around that neck of the woods, Ian visited the amazing medical staff while we pottered around trying to have some more food and drink. Even my go to Colin the Caterpillars weren’t doing it for me. Things were clearly getting desperate.

It was also the first point that reminded you that headtorches might be needed. I had hoped not to use ours but the slower we got, the more likely it became.

While still light, we got to enjoy the English countryside in all its glory. If the first 20k had been Middle England in all its suburban mundanity, this was the green and pleasant land that Blake was talking about.

We were in the dip between North and South Downs, with every shade of nature on either side of our slow plod towards Brighton. Again you could’ve spun me round and I would’ve had no idea where I was but I would have been happy.

Even when we did brush past civilisation, it was postcard perfect villages and quaint churches with bunting up for our arrival (possibly for the Jubilee as well).

We turned up Wivelsfield (80k) and were greeted by fajitas, pizzas and more. If I didn’t still have a half marathon to run then it would have been a great place to chill out and enjoy a pleasant evening.

I like to think that there was a collective silent realisation as we sat in the playground of the primary school – we were going to make it. 20k is practically smelling the barn, another fun running phrase. Perhaps it wasn’t going to be easy but we’d get there. Del was beginning to get cold now but Ian had perked up and Toby still seemed in good shape.

Mentally I was loving being in this part of the world again, meeting new people and physically, I’d got that point of no return, almost a zen-like state of pain. Basically most things hurt. But there wasn’t really much you could do about it. You just have to accept that for the next few hours you will be in pain and with that understanding, you move on and forwards, just one more step.

Stay tuned for Ditchling Beacon and the finish.

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