Archive for October, 2012


The night before and chips for all the family – honest!!

After over a year of anticipation, the day finally dawned – although I should say the alarm went off at 4:30am, 2 hours before dawn! Registration at the TA Centre in Blackheath closed at 5:30 and I had a DIY breakfast of potato farls in the hotel room (ever smuggled a toaster into a Hilton before?).

Dave drove me there and waited to see me start. There was quite a buzz about the place and good facilities. They do a bag transfer to the Finish, but we didn’t use it. Dave picked up his own Route Book, which was handier than the photocopies I’d made. Road support is quite tricky when you don’t know the area and have children who won’t navigate for you!

I later learnt that there were 196 of us at the Start and I soon found myself at the back of the leading pack of 5, bearing left down hill across the grass. The bit through Lewisham and Catford is fiddly – through a mixture of back streets and urban parks. A torch was necessary for the first half hour or so.


6am start at Blackheath TA Centre

There’s an unlikely bit where you go through a retail park after Catford Station, then you run alongside the Pool River to the first hill at Bellingham. People were starting to overtake me here and I made an error coming out of a wood on the golf course which meant I ran extra distance round a field.

I got to Bromley Station at about 6:55, you then stay on a B road for 5 km to the first checkpoint at Keston. I arrived there at 7:38, 3 mins behind my 12hr schedule time but still pleased. There was plenty of water so I filled my empty bottle (hadn’t carried any for the first 10 miles to save weight) but only bananas so I had some food I’d carried.

Suddenly the route is in the countryside and the navigation is very tricky. I lead whatever pack I was now with to Furze Bottom, from which you can see a column of runners walking up towards Biggin Hill RAF Station.

After that it’s up the nose of Biggin Hill itself and over some flinty ploughed field to Tatsfield, where there’s a nice village green for supporters to hang out – but mine were still emerging from the hotel!

A kilometre later was the first of the day’s permitted detours across private land. These two places are the only bits where the route is signed. A stile had apparently been put up across a barbed wire fence but had been removed so we climbed over some wobbly tree branches.

limpsfield chart

9:20am – up the hill to Limpsfield Chart at about 18 miles

After that you cross a bridge over the M25 just west of Clacket Wood Services and climb up to another nice village, Limpsfield Chart. Dave and the girls met me here at about 9:30. Had some food and water but didn’t hang around for the coffee. This race is so long that every minute counts! The organisers even warn you not to start walking just coming up to any stiles!!

Had a navigational wobble and went wrong way to Checkpoint 2 but only minimal extra distance but 5 mins hesitation error. Got to checkpoint at 9:40, 25 mins behind 12 hour schedule, which was worrying but I was running well and not feeling too tired. They had the legendary cold roast potatoes here and they went down very well!

3km along farm tracks then you cross Edenbridge Golf Course then some paths on the Eden Valley Walk where you need a compass. Dave met me just east of Dormansland and did 4 miles with me, which he then had to reverse to get back to the car! The route is hilly but very pretty as you approach Checkpoint 3 at 28 miles. Got there at 11:35, again 25 mins behind schedule, but no increase in slippage time which was good.

Coming into Ashurst Wood, I’d got lost on my reckie and still did it sub-optimally – but at least I didn’t have to resort to navigating with my i-phone! You then go east round Weir Wood Reservoir on more farm tracks and up into Lavender Platt wood where there’s a car park where spectators can meet you. Mine missed me, but everyone else’s supporters give you a good cheer! Then it was a nice run into Checkpoint 4 at Horsted Keynes past some very secluded farms and forestry.

Picked up a phone call while having some potatoes and biscuits at the checkpoint and met Dave 2km after. Then saw him again at Freshfield before he went to park at Chailey Common and came out with our youngest to run with me while the eldest got the coffee ready! (Wow, did I really run 34 miles before I got my coffee??)

Exiting Pound Common I went the wrong side of a farmhouse and had to run 3 sides of a square and cross 2 barbed wire fences in thorns. After this I can’t remember much until Checkpoint 5 at Chiltington, 48 miles, where I arrived at exactly 4pm.

black cap better

Walking up Black Cap with the family

That the 10 mile section to the Finish took 3 hours 7 mins shows how slowly I was going, but I was still running. There’s about 1000 ft of climb over the South Downs and Dave and the girls did the main ascent up Black Cap with me. On this section you are on walkers’ footpaths so the navigation is easy.

You take a bridge over the A27 at Falmer and go parallel with the very fast Falmer Road but in the fields, just on the verge for about 300m. Then you run along the seemingly endless north edge of Woodingdean and turn south onto Brighton Race Course which is very nice running with great views. It was dark by now and I had a black cagoule on so although Dave had reversed the route from the Finish, he missed me and Zoe had to phone him from the Finish.

It’s bizarre but great running down into Brighton on a Sunday night and then onto the beach. It’s a shame I didn’t make it in the 13 hour cut off, but the Finish was still there and I got my medal and T-shirt but was disappointed not to be listed in the Results as just 88 of the 196 starters ran under the time limit.

We’d arranged to have tea and a shower at a friend’s house in Saltdean, which was lovely. She had put me in touch with a friend who’d done it 2 years ago and who told me to reckie – which was excellent advice, without which I’m sure I wouldn’t have finished.

We got back home to Derbyshire just before 1am and I had the next day off work but was in for a 12 hour shift on the Tuesday, still stiff! Much better on Wed. lots of good memories – and better still, Dave wants to do it next year!

brighton beach

On Brighton beach with Sarah 🙂

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The London to Brighton is a 56 mile largely off-road race and the main focus of my training this year.

Three and a half weeks to race day and we finally got our map books in the post. I’d heard this is what normally happens, so had put out email tentacles and was sent a write-up by a friend of a friend who did the race in 2010. Because he’d seen nobody between 25 and 40 miles, and also my experience of getting lost in the Long Eaton race, I thought I’d better recce!

Our youngest child going to Guide camp offered a perfect opportunity a fortnight before the race, so I booked my train tickets, planning to walk the whole thing over 3 days. Even tho the 1:25000 OS maps in the route book looked nice and clear, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

In London, I caught the DLR to Lewisham, nearest station to the Start. This is in a TA Centre and I got quizzed by the security man as to why I’d taken a photo of the sign on the gate! The streets of Lewisham, Catford and then Bromley are quite fiddly and it’s easy to make what orienteers call a ‘parallel error’ where you mistake one junction for another and everything goes pear-shaped!

The route followed a couple of urban nature reserves alongside the Ravensbourne and PoolRivers. It would still be dark while running this section on race day so it was a good confidence boost!

After Catford Station there was an unlikely looking exit from a retail park and I annotated my book ‘Go past Halfords and Wickes’. Then at Bell Green I somehow ended up marshalling traffic as a lorry had to reverse to avoid a low railway bridge!

I had my packed lunch at Beckenham Place Golf Club where I saw a fox and several squirrels. After Bromley and Hayes you get to Keston where I had a coffee in the pub and found the location of Checkpoint 1 at 10 miles. My friend-of-a-friend’s write-up said that the 300 year-old Wilberforce seat is here where William Wilberforce proposed to William Pitt that they should introduce a bill to abolish slavery, so I kept an eye open for it. Later I showed my map book to some walkers who told me the location but it was off the 2012 route so I never saw it!

I got quite lost in some orchards shortly after and had to get my i-phone out to navigate, eventually finding the route again but backtracking so I could annotate my book. The mistake cost me 30 mins but better now than race day!

After this there was a climb up to Biggin Hill where the route emerged for 400m onto the A233 at the Air Base. I was lucky to get a look round the very moving RAF Chapel which closed at 4pm.

The next page of map takes you to Tatsfield where there’s a Post Office and store. It’s handy to know where there are shops just in case you need extra food or water (a £10 note is much lighter than a bottle of water you may not need)!

Late Friday afternoon, so somewhere near the M25

I had to detour here round some private land that was only crossable on race day, then it was over the M25 just west of Clacket Wood Services. I’d earmarked the pub at Limpsfield Chart as the place to knock off for the day and call a taxi and got there at 6:30 after 8 hours of walking and 18 miles into the route.


Having stayed at a friend’s house in Caterham, the same taxi picked me up at 8am and dropped me back at Limpsfield Chart. There was a nice descent of the North Downs here and I soon reached Checkpoint 2 on a minor road where spectators were not allowed on race day.

Edenbridge Golf Course was tricky to navigate so I put more biro on my map and searched for somewhere to have coffee. Didn’t find anywhere until Ashurst Wood at 2pm but the Three Crowns was worth the wait. A sign told me that when it opened in 1743 the rent was 12p a year, now it’s 12p a minute!

There was a nice section past Weir Wood Reservoir but this day was 10 hours and it was still two and a half pages until I could knock off. Had another coffee in a pub at Horsted Keynes, location of Checkpoint 4 and generally pretty village.

I was getting quite tired of the constant faff of navigating and today was a bit boring compared with the excitement of London yesterday. Got to the Sloop Inn at Freshfield Bridges just after 6 and borrowed the pub phone as I had no signal. Took my pint outside to wait for the taxi to my B&B. I’d completed 25 miles in 10 hours and was now 43 miles into the race!


Yet another taxi brought me back for the last leg which started with a 3 sides of a square detour but at least it went past a nice campsite with some toilets. Chailey Common was very pretty and I could hear the tannoy from Plumpton Race Course for several miles.

It was here near Checkpoint 5 (again no spectator access) that I got the first welcome views of Black Cap where the route crosses the South Downs. The classic road race crossed the Downs via Ditchling Beacon, 3 miles to the west but hasn’t been run since 2005.

Here I saw another pair of runners with the telltale A5 spiral-bound route book and we had a quick chat and wished each other good luck for on the day. I thought I wouldn’t see him on the big day but I did!

There was a large ploughed field crossable only on race day to go round, then it was up Black Cap which was great after the monotony of the middle third of the route. It got cold though as you picked up the breeze from the Channel. There’s some straightforward easy running past Falmer and Woodingdean and then the stunning descent into Brighton crossing the hill-top racecourse and following a big spur to East Brighton Golf Club. Then its just 400m to the beach and the Finish at Blackcap Volks Railway Station.

Me at the pier

The last 16 miles had taken 6 hours bringing the total walking time to 24 hours, minus an hour over the 3 days for food stops and probably 2 hours for navigational errors = 21 hours. As a result of the recce I upped my 11hr schedule to 12hrs and wished it was 10 years ago and I’d entered the road race! Never mind – I felt confident of not getting majorly lost on the day as I fought the seagulls off my well-earned fish and chips at a beach-side café.

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