Completing My First Ever 100K Ultramarathon – The London 2 Brighton Challenge 2014
On the Friday before the London 2 Brighton 100k Challenge I was shitting myself. The more I thought about what lay ahead of me the more I wanted to go screaming like a little girl into the night.
What the fuck had I done? 100k? Was I totally fucking mad?
I spent that day boring my colleagues with talk of how scared I was. Their response ranged from “you’re right to be nervous!” to “you’ll be alright! just take it easy!”.
Before I knew it work was over for the day and I had to get the train from London Waterloo to Teddington so I could find my tent at the London 2 Brighton campsite.
Finding my tent outside Teddington
The walk from Teddington train station to the camp site by the Thames was beautiful by night.
I walked through the town centre which was full of revellers and I thought about how nice it would be to not be running the race tomorrow and to be inside a bar getting pissed out of my mind instead.
The trouble is that this attitude was responsible for me becoming a drunken slob in 2008-09. Comfort might begin when you sit your ass down on a bar stool but it soon ends when you’re shitfaced and trying to blame anyone but yourself for the predicament you find yourself in.
At least as a runner I accept responsibility now for my life.
I found my tent quite quickly after that.
And I knew I’d made a mistake in not bringing any camping shit with me.
Not even a sleeping bag.
I had to make do with using my man bag as a pillow and my suit jacket as a blanket.
I was tossing and turning all night as I kept hearing badgers, planes, foxes and fuck knows what else outside my tent.
I caught zero fucking sleep.
Soon morning arrived too with serious fucking rain (and pain).
At this point I was seriously thinking of just not running and pretending to be injured or something.
To compound matters I’d left all of my running fuel outside my tent. It was totally fucking saturated.
I tried to salvage what was edible and chowed on a few saturated Percy Pig.
Hardly the ideal breakfast.
I didn’t want to think about what lay ahead of me so I just got on the fucking minibus to the start with everyone else, arrived at registration and took my place at the start line.
Off to a walking start.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run the entire distance of the race so I started slowly at a walk and quickly formulated the plan to try to get well past 20 miles by mid day as part my greater plan to finish it by midnight.
This would leave 42.2 miles to do in 12 hours. It took me 8:23 to do the 36.5 miles I ran in the Titanic Quarter 50k.
Surely I’d be OK?
For the first 25k I just focused on running very slowly and walking a little too.
I hit 25k at about 10:30am knowing I was well on track to achieve my goal. I sat for 20 minutes at the rest point eating crisps, chocolate bars and drinking coffee. It felt amazing……
Until I glanced down at my top and noticed my left nipple was crying blood again.
I didn’t want to have to retire from weeping titties this early so I went immediately to the first aid point.
The doctor asked me what was wrong. I pointed to the blood stain on my jersey.
“I’m gonna have to tape that up” were her words.
“Ok. Can I see some certificates before you wrap it up love? I’m not normally this suspicious but when it comes to my tits, I don’t want them ripped to shit by an angry intern!”
Those were the words in my head. In reality I just said “OK.” and winced like the big puss that I am.
Running through the valley in the North Downs
The next stage after 25k was undoubtedly the high point of the run for me. I ran up the hill with a cyclist who was asking me about the challenge. I didn’t catch his name but talking with for 20 minutes took my mind off what was ahead of me.
For the next 5 miles I ran through countryside and it was heavenly. The sun even came out for the first time.
The only low point was encountering a woman walking 3 dogs on a very steep and narrow stretch of footpath. I let her and her hounds pass me but one of them wouldn’t budge.
The lone dog barked at me and ran backwards.
I started slipping down the hill.
The dog barked more and ran even further back.
I slipped down the hill even faster.
The dog barked louder and ran further and further back.
This fucking cherade carried on for what felt like 12 fucking hours at the time. I tried reasoning with the dog but it couldn’t understand me through my broad Ulster dialect.
I’m very fortunate that I didn’t get bitten.
My first fall and heavy rain and hypothermia at Crawley.
The run turned nasty at 40k. I was only a mile short of the rest break when I fell hard after tripping up over my own legs. Loads of people saw me go down so I pretended to laugh but it was actually really fucking sore.
Fortunately I wasn’t hurt and sprinted on to the rest point where I made sure I downed as much food and water as I could to keep my energy levels up.
It was here that the weather turned really nasty for half an hour and I began to shiver like fuck. I was taken into the first aid tent again and given a foil blanket and binliner to run in.
The sun came back out again quickly and the rest of the run up until 56k was beautiful.
The main rest stop at Tully’s Farm was fucking amazing too!
I made most of the BBQ and had a few hot dogs, 2 plates of pasta and lots of coconut milk.
The sun came out and the atmosphere was great.
I maybe spent a little bit too much time here as when I tried to move from 56k I was stiff as hell and lost my footing running on the grass. I didn’t go down but it was fucking worrying.
The run from here was actually quite nice. We ran through lots of wooded areas and I found my rhythm again.
Hopelessly lost in Ardingly.
I came out of the penultimate rest stop full of hope and energy. Sure, I had 20 miles ahead of me but I knew that if I focused on moving forward I’d get there and likely not long after midnight.
All I needed was a clear stretch of footpath or road to help me maintain the rhythm I’d built since Tully’s.
It wasn’t to be.
Half a kilometer down the road I came across another muddy path that I slipped on almost instantly. It wasn’t any sort of fall either. I did the splits and then fell backwards onto my hole.
My head dropped a little and I became very fucking angry.
Once I crossed over the mud I took a wrong turn and ended up in the private gardens of a country club. I had a mental image of me buzzing on their bell totally covered in grim and shit only to see them pointing a shotgun through their door at my balls.
I found the exit after 20 minutes of wondering around hopelessly and suddenly I was on a main road.
Totally fucking lost.
At that point I just broke down in tears. I was weeping like I hadn’t wept since once night in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen out of grief in 2011.
I must have walked for about half a mile just sobbing out of exhaustion/dissapointment/frustration/anger and fuck knows what else.
Luckily a kind lady stopped and asked what was wrong with me. I told her that I was hopelessly fucking lost and was concerned that I was walking back towards Gatwick and the start line.
She pointed the way to Lindfield where I could get back on track. Hope immediately returned and I started sprinting like fuck down the road. I forgot all about the last 70k and just concerned myself with finishing the rest of the challenge.
Running without any hope and little light.
I wish I could say that the race picked up from here, but it didn’t.
I found the path again but by this time it was night and I didn’t have a head lamp. I only had one shitty glowsick to light the way.
My first calamity involved running head first into a steel post. I was long past the point of restraining my frustration so I screamed “YOU MOTHERFUCKING CUNT!”.
The guys I was running with at the time were quickly losing patience with me and erratic behaviour.
They ran on.
So I stopped again and waited again until I saw the light shining from another head torch. I must have met and lost about 30 separate running groups on my way through those painful few kilometers.
The conversations started and ended with statements like.
“Whatcha doing fella? You hurt?”
“Why are you standing there?!?”
“Well what do we have here Mister? Aren’t you meant to be heading this way!?! ”
“I think you’re hurt. You obviously can’t go on. Wait on the bus!”
It was humilating being out there on my own and my mind was an absolute mess at the time. I was so far from the next rest station that I couldn’t quit without someone coming out to rescue me. I didn’t want that. But at 72km I realised it was the only option.
The ‘rescue’ bus came and my heart sank.
Was I really gonna give up this easily? I’d been talking about the challenge for many months. I owed it to the Northern Ireland Hospice to put in my best effort. Still, I just couldn’t see how I could go on at all after this.
It just seemed absolutely hopeless without any light. And I was tired of asking strangers for help. I was slowing everyone up.
I talked with the rescue guy and said that I’d try to continue. All I could do was focus on babysteps through the mud and the rain.
The neverending battle to 80k.
The lowest point came when I hit a swamp at about 78 or 79k. I had no energy left. I was on the verge of mental collapse. I hadn’t seen anyone else for what seemed like an age. I took one wrong step and slid into the mud again, lost my mind, wore my shoe as a glove and started punching the ground screaming “OM NOM FUCKING NOM. HAVE IT THEN IF YOU WANT IT SO FUCKING BAD YOU FUCKING CUNT”.
This didn’t help my cause. I ran until 80k with a face of full of what looked like shit.
Once again I was ready for quitting. So I just lay there on the ground for about 20 minutes. No one was in danger of seeing me as my one solitary glowstick had burned out with my hope by this point.
Out of nowhere I heard music. I recognised it from the distant past. As the figures in the distance came closer I realised that they were listening to ‘Champagne Supernova’ by Oasis on a mobile phone.
The music stirred some dead hope in my soul. I got up, asked them if I could tag along to 80k and just talked with them for a while.
I got to 80k
It was 1am at this point. I was beyond exhausted. The first aid staff asked if I wanted to quit. I told them that I wouldn’t be making any decisions until I had a bacon butty.
I sat on my own in the food tent trying to continue to down liquids and to eat what I could.
Pure survival mode.
I waited for around an hour before making my start again outside.
I tried my best to begin jogging again but my body forgot how to make the movements. For some reason I was kneeing the air. It just looked all wrong.
The next 7k was so much easier than the last section. No mud and just pure road. I walked and hit 88 as the sun rose and suddenly I knew I was gonna complete the challenge after all.
The next great challenge involved walking up the South Downs, a steep ascent that reminded me of the hills I used to run back up back home. My training helped me out here and I was able to pick up some speed on the uphill stretch and even overtake some people (which hadn’t happened since at least 70k!)
I started running again on and off between 88k and 91 but I had to stop as the blisters on my feet were sore as hell.
From 92k onwards I entered a dream like state. I hadn’t slept in 48 hours and was worried I was gonna totally fucking freak out Barcelona style and the last thing the volunteers needed was a wan Irishman yelling about the dead claiming Sussex as their own.
I finished in 25 hours 58 minutes.
As we crossed the finish line we each were handed a glass of champagne and it was just a lovely reception on a lovely day at Brighton racecourse.
The best bit of the story is that the lady who stopped to ask if I was OK at Ardingly was waiting for me at the finish line.
The whole race was such a formative experience and it’s something that I will look back at with fond memories for a long time – even though most of it was worse than rape.
And you know what? I’m gonna try to make it back next year. The rest stops are the best I have ever encountered and made completion the distance so much easier!
For the rest of the year I’m ‘only’ back to marathon training.