Finally.....we're back racing again!
It has been a long time coming but on the 29th May I finally got back to racing and it was a big one, the London2Brighton 100k ultra.
This race is part of the Ultra Challenge Series and is fantastically organised by Action Challenge (link below to website). It is also a UTMB qualifying race!
Some of these long race are pretty expensive so it's good that you get a choice of options when signing up, you can self fund the entry fee, have a charity sponsor your entrance fee or have a mix of self and charity funded entrance fee.
I chose the last option meaning I didn't have to pay the whole fee myself and I only had to raise a minimum of £299 for charity. I picked the British Heart Foundation and raised just over £800 in the end.
Action challenge do an amazing job of marking the route so you don't need to worry about a map or downloading the gpx file for your watch, this leaves you to focus on your race plan.
The route starts at Old Deer Park, Richmond and snakes it's way through Twickenham and Kingston upon Thames before leaving the London suburbs via East Ewell and Woodcote. A short stretch leads you through a tunnel under the M25 motorway and then runs along side the M23 motorway to Crawley (the half way point) before you hit the South Downs. The South Downs is where the hills kick in, and boy do they kick in, with a mixture of long and steep climbs, and, various gradiants of decents which can be pretty technical and brutal on your legs.
Under foot conditions range from tarmac, grass, hard mud trails, wet soggy mud and loose gravel and rock.
The course makes it's way past Haywards Heath and on to Wivelsfield Green before dropping down to Plumpton where you hit a rest stop (88km) and gaze at the mightest of hills in front of you. After resting you tackle the hill which strips you of any energy that you had left and upon reaching the top, feeling somewhat relieved, you find yourself staring at beatiful Brighton coast line but also another rather large hill which takes away your soul and dampens your spirits...but still you soldier on because you know the end is near with 9km to go.
The final 9km is no joke when you have already run 91km, traversing some final farmers fields and greenways which slope down towards the city where even the smallest downhill feels like your quads are going to burst, and finally onto the tarmac'd side streets on the outskirts Brighton.
The streets of Brighton are unfortunately not flat, in fact rather the opposite, they are a mixture of steep climbs and decents, but with only 3km to go you really don't care. A mixture of slow running and painful walking finally take you past the Brighton & Hove Football Stadium and up to the Brighton Race Course where you get a first glimpse of the finish line, just 1km to go.
Mustering up one last piece of energy, from somewhere, you break into a trot that you know you cannot allow to stop. With friends and relatives waiting for you at the finish line you let momentum carry your poor legs around the racing track to the finish line.
The cheering crowd you can hear as you turn the last bend onto the main straight, which perks up your spirits and makes your emotions go heywire. You feel excited, relieved, exhuasted and happy to the point of tears.
You cross the finish line and you know it has all been worthwhile, the pain in your body will last a week but that feeling of accomplishment will last a lifetime.
The course as a whole is challenging but it's not just the south downs that can turn this run into a nightmare. The course starts in London and this means there is rather a lot of tarmac, about 40-45km in total and most of it in the first half of the run, additionally the first 25-30km are pretty flat.
The two problems this poses for the runner are 1) Tarmac is tough on your legs, in particular your joints, and 2) Because the tarmac section is flat you have a tendency to go off too fast which can bite you later in the race.
These two points added together mean by the time you get to the half way point in the race (the 56km rest stop) your legs are already in pretty bashed up, it then leaves the south downs to finish you off.
It's also worth noting that footwear choice can be tricky for this race, I went with the Saucony Peregrine10 but switched at the half way point to my road shoes (mainly because my feet hurt), the Saucony Guide13. This was a mistake on my part, I should have switched those around and started with the Guide13 and moved to the Peregrine10.
Anyone thinking of taking up this challenge should consider the tarmac section carefully, either pick a trail shoe that can transition between road and trail (i.e. you don't want the lugs to be too deep), or go with 2 pairs of shoes and switch half way (you get the option of a free drop bag which is very helpful).
Which either way you do it, take the weather into consideration, the 2nd half of the race can get very muddy and you need good grip for some of the technical decents, road shoes can struggle in these sections.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Action Challenge really do a remarkable job of organising this race and the volunteers are amazing. The rest stops are every 12-15km and they are very well stocked with food and energy drinks/snacks, and the major stops have full meals available.
Whilst runners do not want too much food the walkers are able to take advantage of the goodies on offer.
My race went as well as I think it could of, it was my first go at 100km so I was pleased to get round as well as I did, the training paid off thankfully.
My chip time was 13:59:50 (this included rest stops)
My Strava time was 12:35:00 (moving time)
Overall place 68th (https://london2brighton.livetrail.run/coureur.php?rech=1029)
Mens category 56th
Definitely a race I can recommend and one I thoroughly enjoyed, even with the pain!!!!