London to Brighton – 20 September 2009
Craig Dixon reports from
this 56 mile multi-terrain challenge.
When I joined Wimborne AC
in September 2005 I heard about two mad people called Jerry and Andy who
were planning to do a road race from London to Brighton. I was new to
running and having struggled to get around the four mile time trial it
was clear these people were a bit crazy to be taking on a 55 mile run!
A couple of weeks later
once they had completed their race and I had a few more runs under my
belt I told myself that one day I was going to do this run. Due to
safety issues 2005 was to be the last running of the road race and the
event disappeared for a couple of years until 2008 when it was
re-incarnated as a 56 mile trail run.
I had been planning the
race for a few months and after a couple of 30+ mile training runs, 32
mile Dorset Doddle and back to back 26 mile runs on a recce of the route
I was ready. The race is self-navigational and a month before the
event all runners are sent a booklet with copies of the Ordnance Survey
map and route. On my recce of the route I managed to turn 21 miles of
the course into 26.5miles on my GPS but having got lost in training I
was confident for the main event.
Talk about last minute,
but with three weeks to go I got a phone call from Pete Lemon asking
about the race as he was tempted to join me. He didn’t take much
persuasion and two days later he was entered. As far as I know his
training was fairly minimal for an event like this, he had also done the
Dorset Doddle a few weeks back but that was about it. However knowing
Pete’s attitude and determination I knew he would be ‘good to go’ come
So at 1.30am Sunday
morning Claire and I set off to pick up Pete and switch cars at Andy’s
house as they were going to be our support crew for the day. We drove
down to London and arrived at a dark Blackheath at 4.30am to register.
Eventually the race started at 6am and 244 runners set off on a 56 mile
journey to find the beach!
Me and one
half of the support crew.
Asleep on the
start line - not a good start!
The plan was to take it
steady throughout and aim for 10 min. miles which, with stops for drinks
and checkpoints, would easily bring us in under the 13 hour cut-off. We
were slightly above this pace for the first 9 mile section which was on
the road, but we knew that once we hit the trails this would soon slow
down. After the initial long road section the course was a mixture of
trails, fields, farm roads and even someone’s garden.
We were doing well and
used each checkpoint as starts and finishes for mini races within the
big race. This meant all we needed to do was six 9-ish mile races. As
the race progressed the steady stream of runners started to thin out,
but when there were a few runners close we tended to stick together and
work as a team for motivation and to navigate. The camaraderie in these
ultra races is what I have heard so much about and it was a real help
throughout the race.
We hit a big psychological
milestone at Checkpoint 3 which was the 30 mile point. Knowing we were
past half way and with only marathon distance to go was strangely
uplifting. Pete and I both took on some food and electrolyte drinks and
headed off again.
Shortly after this
checkpoint we caught up with a group of nine or so runners that had been
working together and we stuck with these for while as we were all on the
same strategy by this point of running the flats and downhill’s, and
walk anything that resembles an upward slope.
Eventually the group broke
in two and Pete was with the group at the back, my legs by this point
were on auto-pilot and had only one speed. I decided to carry on with
the first group as I knew Pete had Claire and Andy waiting for him a
mile up the road if there were any problems.
This little group of us
stayed together as we headed towards Black Cap on the South Downs and
then with eight miles to go, and the end in sight, people in the group
started to break away or in my case fall behind. The last time I saw
Andy and Claire before the finish was at 51 miles when I wasn’t looking
my best but they gave me the encouragement to keep going for the last
five miles in the run down to Brighton beach. By this point Pete had
dropped back a bit but he was moving and doing well and I knew there was
no chance he wasn’t going to finish.
The last five miles were a
combination of walk, run, and with two miles to go the view of the sea
was a welcome sight. Down the hill onto the beach, a 15 metre run to
the finish on the pebbles of Brighton Beach and I was done. Shortly
behind me was Pete who finished looking good but then collapsed onto the
pebbles and didn’t move for a while.
I finished in 10 hours 52
minutes in 34th position and Pete in 11 hours 21 minutes in
57th position. Of the 244 starters 157 finished within the strict 13
hour cut-off and a further 25 or so finished afterwards.
This was a brilliant race
and something I have wanted to do for years since joining Wimborne AC.
Thanks to Andy and Claire for all your support!
If you like the sound of
this then check out the website below or even as a step up from marathon
distance have a look at the ‘Doyen of the Downs’, a 30 mile marked
cross-country run in December. Sounds brilliant!