South Coast Challenge – 54K

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After months of training, I finally completed The South Coast Challenge 54K from Eastbourne to Hove. This wasn’t my longest race, but given the heat and the hills, I can honestly say that this has been the toughest one so far.

I arrived in Eastbourne on Friday evening and booked in to a nice ‘cheap and cheerful’ hotel on the seafront. Although I had only booked a single room, they gave me a free upgrade to a double with a nice view of the sea.

As I arrived early, I popped down to the the race area to get myself registered. My start time wasn’t until 8:40 on Saturday morning, but I figured it would be one less thing to worry about, so I collected my race number and other bits and pieces and enjoyed a nice stroll along the seafront before heading back to the hotel.

The Start Area
The Start Area

I slept well and got myself up in plenty of time so decided to go and watch some of the other waves of runners head off. There was a safety briefing followed by a zumba warm up to get us in the mood for the hike ahead, and then we were off!

Eastbourne Seafront
Eastbourne Seafront

The weather was warm and it was only going to get warmer as the day went on, so I refrained from running along the seafront in order to preserve some energy for the hills. And boy were there hills!

The first 11k before Birling Gap involved a climb of 232 metres, but it wasn’t too bad as it meant that there was the same again in descent. Running downhill on this section was a lot of fun and helped me to get a good pace going to the first rest stop. Not that I stopped for long. Just enough time to grab some more water and an energy bar, and reapply some sun cream before heading off again.

A Long Climb
A Long Climb

The next section wasn’t so much fun though. While the cliffs of the Seven Sisters may look very pretty, the climbing was brutal at times and I was glad that I’d remembered to order a walking pole from Amazon the weekend before. I’m not sure how I would have coped otherwise!

Some of The Seven Sisters
Some of The Seven Sisters

I had hoped to have been able to enjoy some more downhill running at this point, but the gradient was just too steep and I would probably have gone arse over tit had I attempted anything other than a quick sideways shuffle down the slopes.

Needless to say, the pace slowed down quite a bit and it was 1:00 pm by the time I reached the next rest stop, but I was still feeling pretty good. I took a bit more time at this stop to have some food, check the old feet and change into a fresh pair of socks. No blisters to report, so all good for now.

The next section started with another massive climb that just seemed to go on and on. By this point my back was starting to ache a bit, so I applied a Deep Freeze patch, which helped a lot. There was a nice breeze at times, but the temperature was rising and really slowed me down. Luckily,not too far into the downhill section, we could see the next rest stop, which gave me a bit of a lift and spurred me on a bit more.

Again, I didn’t stop for too long. I ate a little, drank a little and set off again for the final stage. This, I knew, was going to be tough as we had 20K to go without a proper rest stop. There was a flattish section to start with and although the heat from the sun was getting stronger ground underfoot was not pleasant (a hard chalky surface with lots of loose stones) it wasn’t too bad.

The hill that came next, however, almost did me in. I wasn’t even that far into it when I just had to stop. It was a combination of heat and back pain, so I took a couple of pain killers and some water before pushing myself forward a few steps at a time, stopping and starting as needed. To be honest, I really thought about giving up at this point, but knowing that so many people had sponsored me to do this, there was no way I was going to let them down. That and the kind words and encouragement from others kept me going.

One of the things that I like so much about these challenges is the camaraderie. Everyone hits low points along the way, but whether walking alone or in a group, we all help each other through it, whether it’s with a bit of chat along the way, some words of encouragement, offers of help or just holding the gate open with a smile for the next person, even the smallest gesture goes a long way.

Another nice view before Brighton

Luckily there was a water station at around 44K, so again I took a few minutes to sit down and air the old feet before continuing on down to Brighton. This part of the route wasn’t bad at all but by that point I’d probably had more than enough heat as I was starting to feel a bit nauseous. Still, I was encouraged by more conversation, some bottles of ‘water for the walkers’ that some kind person had left on a wall and some ‘well dones’ from some random people on Hove seafront.

Finally, just after 9:20 pm, I reached the finish line at Hove Park, where I collected my medal, t-shirt and glass of fizz before throwing up outside the medical tent! Again, I was touched by the kindness of strangers as someone went and got me some water while another took me into the tent to make sure I was ok. Thankfully, it was just a case of too much sun as the paramedic took my blood pressure and checked my blood glucose levels (all of which were fine). The doctor gave me an energy gel and a sickness tablet and I was soon on my way home, happy to have completed the challenge in one piece.

SCC Result

So, the verdict? Well, I can honestly say that this is the toughest challenge that I have done. Even though it was the heat that finished me off in the end, the relentless ups and downs of the hills are not my thing – so I won’t be back for another go. However, if you like hills and want to take part in a brilliantly organised ultra event as either a walker or a runner, then I wouldn’t want to put anyone off. The camaraderie on route, support at the rest stops, the stunning views and the sense of accomplishment when finished make it all worth while in the end.

As for me, I think I’ll go for something a bit less hilly next time.

How’s your running going? What gets you through the low points in a race? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Oops! I Possibly Shouldn’t Have Done That

ultrachallengeboot2It has been a while since I’ve signed up for any races – partly because I have been recovering for the last couple of months, but mostly because I just can’t afford the entry fee.

At first, I kind of liked the idea of not having the pressure of a race to train for. It meant that I could just run for fun and not worry too much about getting faster or going further. It was nice. It was easy. But it also started to feel a bit pointless after a while.

So, when I heard about a little race being held in my local area next year, with an entry fee of only £15 and a free t-shirt for the first 500 entrants, I figured it would be rude not to sign up. And let’s face it, after my last post, I really do need to start working on my manners.

The race, The South Coast Challenge, follows a scenic 50K route along the South Coast of England, from Eastbourne to Brighton and, if you want to do the 100K option, you keep going after Brighton and end up  in Arundel.

Unlike last time, I’ve decided to settle for the 50K option – having to run past my street during the Brighton Marathon when I only had another 15K to go was bad enough, so I don’t think I would cope well with having another 50K to go when my bed is only a couple of miles away.

And yes, I know, that 50K is still quite far for a race, but if it’s anything like the London 2 Brighton Challenge, then it will basically be a 50K buffet with free massages, blister care and a bit of jogging in between. Not bad for £15!

How’s your training going? What races have you got coming up? How do you feel about having to run past your home during a race? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Recovery Run

I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to recover from this weekend’s 100K adventure so, now that I’m no longer walking like a cowboy, I decided to go out for a bit of a run this evening to give the old legs a good stretch.

Because most of my training for the London 2 Brighton Challenge involved walking rather than running, I was a bit concerned about how I would cope with running for a sustained period of time again, but as it turned out it wasn’t too bad.

I headed for the seafront just after 5:00 pm. The weather was a bit drizzly but it was nice and cool, and there weren’t too many people around on the promenade, which was kind of nice.

Despite the fact that I was really itching to get a run in, I didn’t have any problem keeping it nice and slow. In fact, I was surprised at how much my natural pace seemed to have dropped. I’m sure that this is partly to do with my legs still feeling a bit tired, but I also expect that I have lost a bit of pace through my lack of running over the last month or so.

This is something that I will have to work on over the next few weeks as I train for my next 10K, but today was not the day for worrying about the next race. Today was about getting the legs moving, and it worked.

The run itself was short and slow, covering no more than 3 kilometres in 2o:26. I felt pretty tired after it, but I also felt a difference in my legs. They were tired, yes, but the pain and stiffness seems to be easing up so hopefully I’ll be back to running again at the weekend.

How do you recover after a race? Do you go for a run afterwards or rest up completely? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

Mud, Sandwich Bags And The 100K Walk

London2Brighton_LogoThis weekend was the London 2 Brighton Challenge, my first ever attempt at an ultra-distance event.

When I signed up for this as a ‘jogger’ nine weeks ago, the truth is that I really didn’t have a clue about what to expect. I had originally thought that I would be able to complete the course pretty quickly with a good mix of running and walking, but as the weeks went on and the distances became greater, I realised that I would probably end up doing very little, if any, running at all. And, on Saturday morning, when I woke up to the sound of rain beating down on my tent, I realised that my goal of finishing in around 20 hours was not going to come to fruition after all.

The main problem was my shoes. I had bought a pair of trail shoes for the event and took a chance by opting for breathe-ability over waterproofing. Not a great decision as it turned out. Even with changing my socks at every other rest stop, my feet were going to get pretty wet so I decided to wear sandwich bags over my socks to keep my feet a bit drier. Not ideal, I know, but I figured sweaty feet would be better than rain soaked feet. The only problem with this was that my feet slid around my shoes a bit too much, making running a little bit tricky at first.

Still, despite the weather, I was very excited about the whole thing and after a quick breakfast at the camp site, took the shuttle bus to the start line at Richmond Old Deer Park. Registration was was pretty straight forward. We were given our race packs and then directed to the bag drop where I deposited my overnight bag and camping gear in exchange for a very flimsy paper ticket, which I photographed on my phone in case I lost it later. I then filled my camel back, added a Zero tablet to my water bottle and headed to the start line to soak up the atmosphere (and rain) at the pre-start zumba warm up.

10252045_10202881910506479_4186742407084706433_nAt 7:00, we set off on the first leg of our journey to Brighton. I adopted a good steady walking pace for the first few kilometres in the drizzle while I got used to the feeling of my feet sliding around in their sandwich bags. After a while though, I got bored with just walking and, as this part of the route was fairly flat, I decided to get some short jogs in every five minutes or so, reaching the first rest point in around two hours. I didn’t hang around for too long. Just enough time for a quick coffee, some food and a quick check of the old feet, which were fine, although I was surprised by the amount of steam coming from them when I took my shoes off!

The second leg was fairly uneventful. I walked and jogged and chatted to a few people as I passed them or as they passed me, and it was nice to see some local people out supporting us from their driveways. I chatted to a few of them but didn’t stop for too long as I wanted to make good time for this first stage as I knew that it would get tougher as the day went on.

At 11:30, I reached the 25K mark at Oaks Park, where I took a longer rest break for lunch and a bit of foot care. Luckily I didn’t have any blisters, so a quick sprinkling of talcum powder and a change of socks were all that was needed.

By the time I left Oaks Park, the rain had stopped and I was starting to wish that I had taken the opportunity to change out of my waterproofs. Luckily though, I didn’t stop to change as at around 34 kilometres the heavens opened, this time bringing much heavier rain than before. Still, my spirits were good as I was looking forward to a nice hot coffee at 37 kilometres.

40KUnfortunately though, there wasn’t another rest stop until 41 kilometres. I had been going by last year’s route and hadn’t thought to check for changes, which made this section of the route a bit of a struggle. Still, I kept myself going by jogging where I could and, as the rain stopped and the sun came out again, my spirits soon lifted and I was able to enjoy walking through the beautiful countryside that led up to the rest stop.

After another decent break, we headed out to meet our first real hill of the challenge on the North Downs. My legs were starting to feel pretty tired by this point so I decided to use the walking pole that I had borrowed from a friend. I hadn’t really planned on using it until the steep hill at the end of the course, but at this point it gave me the boost that I needed. I knew that I wasn’t going to do any more running or jogging but using the pole helped me keep a good rhythm and stopped my pace from dropping too much.

By the time I reached the half-way point at Tulley’s Farm (56 kilometres – a bit more than half-way!), I was feeling pretty low. This was a big meal stop where they were serving all sorts of hot food from hot dogs to Thai curry. Although I was feeling cold, tired and hungry, I had to force myself to eat a hot dog before taking myself off to a quiet corner to sort my feet out.

I must have looked pretty awful sitting there wrapped in the foil blanket that I had brought with me, because one of the Action Challenge team came over to chat to me. It turned out that she was an actress and had been hired for the day to simply chat to people at the rest stop. Crazy as it sounds, this gave me another much needed lift and after a nice hot coffee I was soon feeling much more like myself again and ready to take on the rest of the course.

mud_2Action Challenge had organised some Trek Leaders for the night stages of the course, so I joined the next group at 8:45 pm armed with glow sticks and a head torch. I was surprised to find my tent neighbour from the camp site the night before was in the same group as me. He had run most of the first 56K but had stopped for food, blister care and a massage as he waited for his friends to catch up. There was plenty of chat and banter from the group and before we knew it we were at the next rest stop.

Again, I took a decent break to fuel up and recharge, and chatted with some of the people in my group before heading out again. We had completed more than two thirds of the course and the next stop would be 80 kilometres, so I was starting to feel like I was on my way home. Unfortunately, however, this next part of the course proved to be much tougher than anything I could have prepared myself for.

Mud_01Despite the afternoon sunshine, most of the trails we encountered in the wooded areas had become very boggy to say the least and by midnight the mud was so churned up that it became impossible not to get soaked. Unlike earlier on the route, there was very little solid ground so I decided that the only way to do it was to walk straight through the puddles, using my pole to stop myself from sliding around too much. It was tough going and the pace had really slowed down so in the end I decided to leave my group behind and try to pick up my pace by following a couple of guys who had passed us.

By the end of the third stage, I was feeling remarkably good. Despite the mud and sludge, I managed to reach 80 kilometres just before 3:00 am. I decided to change my socks again but had to opt for a pair of regular cotton socks as I had used up my last pair of running socks. Still, I had ditched the sandwich bags by this point, so with fresh zinc oxide tape and plenty of talc, I figured I would be ok. I only had another 20 kilometres to go, so I knew I couldn’t do too much damage.

It was starting to get light again as I headed out for the final stage, a short 7 kilometre walk to Plumpton College before the 13 kilometres trek across the South Downs and into Brighton. It was a lovely morning and I was feeling pretty good so I chatted to a couple of people along the way and again at the rest stop. But when it came to eating, I just couldn’t face it. My stomach suddenly decided that it had had enough so, after a trip to the porta loo, I decided to stick with water. I still had some snacks in my pockets and in my bag, so I knew that I would be able to eat something later if I felt like it.

In my mind, I had imagined that this final leg was going to be easy compared to what I had been through already. But I was wrong. Although quite steep, the climb up the hill to the top of the South Downs wasn’t too bad and the views were amazing, but after about 4 kilometres I just needed to stop. I’m not sure why, but I just needed a moment. I sat down by the side of the path and took my shoes off for no more than a few minutes before getting up and heading off again. I wasn’t feeling great, but it did help.

plumpton collegeAnother couple of kilometres down the road, I was surprised to find small aid station so I stopped for another few minutes and decided to try to freshen up a bit. I chatted with a couple of people who had had a pretty tough night with blisters and fatigue, and I realised that I’d been pretty lucky so far. The next few kilometres were going to be tough, but we could do it.

It was hard work putting one foot in front of the other and my feet were not happy. There was something going on with the nail on my big toe, but I wasn’t going to stop and look. I had to press on. One foot in front of the other. That was all I had to do. And then, eventually, just after 9:00 am, there it was. The finish line!

As we approached, there were people cheering and clapping. Complete strangers shouting words of encouragement. I could have cried. And I did. But not before getting a hug from the announcer, collecting my medal and other goodies, and collapsing on the grass with a glass of champagne.

L2B Medal

I don’t know how I made it to the end. I don’t know how any of us did. It was a tough course, but the support, camaraderie and sheer bloody mindedness got us through. I know there were a lot of people who had to retire at 56 and 80 kilometres, and I don’t blame them. The conditions underfoot were extremely tough and I was very lucky that I didn’t get any blisters until that final stretch. Having a walking pole also made a huge difference to me, but no amount of training could have prepared me for that. It was hell at times, but it was an amazing experience and I don’t regret a second of it.

Thank you to those of you who sponsored me for this event. I haven’t quite reached my fundraising target yet but the page will be up for another month, so if you have a couple of quid to spare, please visit my JustGiving page for The British Heart Foundation. Many thanks. xx

Photographs courtesy of 2014 – The Year of 100 kms Everywhere.

Ditchling Beacon

Ditchling BeaconI haven’t done any training for a while, not since my 50K day two weeks ago. So, with only 13 days to go until the London to Brighton Challenge, I thought I ought to get out and have a bit of a walk this weekend.

Up until now, most of the running and walking has been on relatively flat terrain, which is fine apart from the fact that the London to Brighton route is mostly up and down hills. In fact, there’s one particularly nasty hill towards the end of the route that everyone keeps going on about – somewhere near Ditchling Beacon, the third highest point in the South Downs.

2014-05-11_Map

Luckily, it’s not too far from where I live, so I decided to go and check it out this morning, just to make sure I would know what to expect on the big day. Not wanting to overdo it, however, I decided to catch the bus to Falmer rather than walking all the way from Hove.

The walk itself was fairly leisurely, mostly because I kept stopping to take photographs and check Google Maps on my phone to make sure I was heading in the right direction, and the weather conditions were pretty much perfect – dry with sunshine and a good breeze. In saying that though, I wouldn’t have minded a bit of rain as I need to test out my new waterproofs at some point.

Bluebells

Although it was all up hill to Ditchling  Beacon, it wasn’t a particularly steep climb getting there from Falmer; but the walk down the other side towards Plumpton was a different story. I couldn’t remember the exact route for the Challenge, so I decided to just choose a path, walk down it and then find another path to walk up.

2014-05-11_Elevation

The path that I chose to walk down was a bit of a killer on the legs. Not only was it incredibly steep, but the surface was very hard and unforgiving; the path on the way up was much nicer by comparison as, even though it was still a steep climb, it went through the woods and much softer trails. Needless to say, when I checked the route once I got home, I discovered that the first one is the route that we will have to walk in two weeks time.

Rape Field

In saying that though, even though the hill is very steep, it isn’t as long as I thought it would be, so I’m feeling ok about it. All I need to do now is jump in the shower with my new waterproofs to make sure they’re up to the job if the weather decides to turn!

I’ve opened an Instagram account, so please feel free to follow me there if you’d like to see more photographs of my running and walking adventures. Instagram Link

VRUK Blog Hop #3

I haven’t run or been for a long walk since last weekend. Not like me, I know, but after last Sunday’s 50K it’s fair to say that I’ve been feeling more than a little bit broken.

Still, as it’s the first weekend of the month, I thought I’d better get in my post for this month’s Virtual Running UK Blog Hop.

Circle Hop

I checked my Garmin profile this morning and it turns out that, over the last month, I have run more than 56 kilometres and walked or run/walked over 162 kilometres, so I guess it’s no wonder I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather this week.

On the whole though I think the training has been going quite well. While there’s no doubt that I still prefer running over walking, I have enjoyed my long weekend walks as it’s a good excuse to just get out and have time to myself to exercise in the fresh air and I get to travel much further and for much longer than would be possible if I was running.

Unfortunately, walking these kinds of distances does take it’s toll on the feet and the legs, but I guess that’s to be expected as walking uses different muscles from running and they need time to recover just the same.

So, with just under three weeks to go until the London to Brighton Challenge, I still have some training to do but I figured that this week I just needed to take a bit of a break.

Of course, as we’ve got another nice long Bank Holiday Weekend, I may venture out again on Monday. I still need to do a bit of hill walking as part of my training and Ditchling Beacon is just up the road so it would be silly not to have a go – as long as the legs are up to it that is.

How’s your training going? Are you taking part in the Virtual Running UK Blog Hop? To find out more about it, click here. Have a great weekend!

The Day I Did 50K

It has taken me a couple of days to get around to posting about this weekend’s walk/run adventure, and with good reason. I’m exhausted!

I knew before I set out on Sunday morning that this was going to be a tough one. I was still pretty tired from last Monday’s long walk and the weather forecast wasn’t looking too good, so I decided that I would break it down into four shorter walks and come home for some rest breaks in between.

Last Monday’s walk had been pretty tough on the old feet so I’d bought some pads to put on the balls of my feet in the hope that they might relieve the pressure a little bit. I also figured that if I reduced the time I spent on my feet by introducing some short running segments into the walk, that might help too.

So, at 8:12 am I headed out for the first leg of my adventure.

1st Leg: 11.85 Kilometres

It took a while for my Garmin to find a satellite at first, so I’d walked about half a kilometre before it started tracking, but that didn’t bother me too much. What did bother me though, was that I’d forgotten to charge it up again after my last walk so I wasn’t sure if it would last the distance. Still, with 50K to get through, I wasn’t about to postpone my start by going back to charge it up again, so I decided to just get on with it.

It usually takes me just under two hours to walk 10K, so I decided to see how much time I could save by running parts of the route. The plan for the first leg was to walk for four minutes and run for one. This worked quite well and I realised that, much as I enjoy being able to cover more distance by walking, I find running much more fun!

Round about the half way point, however, the heavens opened. I hadn’t taken my waterproof jacket as the sky had looked quite clear when I left and I’d hoped that meant it would stay dry for the morning. Clearly I had been wrong on that one.

Still, it didn’t put me off too much. I just put my hood up and kept going, pausing occasionally to wipe the rain from my glasses so that I could see the path in front of me.

In fact, to be honest, I kind of enjoyed running in the rain. The second half of the route included a downhill section along a short wooded trail that runs behind some houses. Although it became pretty muddy pretty quickly, it was a lot of fun splashing through the mud and skipping over puddles and the small stream of water that ran down the middle of it.

By the time I got home, I was pretty much drenched. According to my Garmin, I had covered 11.85 kilometres in 1:47. True, I had run a bit more than intended once it started raining, but I still felt like I had enough to complete the 50K, once I’d dried off of course!

2nd Leg: 12.31 Kilometres

I took quite a lengthy break after the first leg, partly to dry off and get changed, but mostly to recharge my Garmin. By 11:12 am, the sun was out, but I wasn’t going to be fooled this time and remembered to take my waterproof jacket with me.

This second leg went pretty much the same way as the first. I walked for four, ran for one, followed the same route and, when I got to half way, the heavens opened again. This time, my waterproof jacket kept me much dryer although by the time I got home I discovered that it wasn’t quite as waterproof as I had originally thought!

Still, I had managed to complete the section in 1:55, so I was feeling pretty good and ready to take on the second half of the distance.

3rd Leg: 15.84 Kilometres

Again, I took a fairly lengthy break, this time to have some lunch as well as to dry off and get changed, and headed out again at 2:12 pm.

I was feeling really good after a decent meal so decided that I would try to make this section a bit longer than the previous two. I followed the same route as before, but this time when I reached the half way point, I decided to do three loops of the field instead of just one.

Again, it rained, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I was getting closer to my 50K target and knew that the more I did in this section, the easier it would be to complete the final one.

By this point, I wasn’t really sticking to my walk four minutes, run one minute strategy, but instead would walk on the uphill sections and run on the downhill. This seemed to be working quite well until I reached the little trail behind the houses.

All the rain had made the trail very muddy and slippery and, even though I was trying to be careful, at one point I did get a bit carried away and lost my footing – not enough to fall in the mud, but enough to pull something in my leg.

Still, it wasn’t enough to stop me, and by the end of the third section I had completed 40K!

4th Leg: 10.58 Kilometres

With only 10 kilometres to go, I was keen to get back out so, after a much shorter break this time, I headed out at 5:14 pm.

My legs were feeling pretty tired by this point but I still made an effort to keep up my walk/run ratio where possible, even if the run part had become more of a jog.

Unlike in the previous three sections, this time it didn’t rain and I got to enjoy the whole route (minus a couple of laps of the park) in the evening sunshine before returning home to a nice hot bath.

Lessons Learned

Despite the feeling of complete and utter exhaustion, Sunday’s session has given me a lot of confidence in terms of my ability to complete the London to Brighton 100K Challenge. But most importantly, I have learned some valuable lessons:

1. Get some decent waterproofs – even if it looks like it’s going to be a nice day, the weather here is fairly unpredictable and it’s better t carry a bit of extra weight than get soaked part way through the course.

2. Enjoy the rest breaks – the London to Brighton Challenge isn’t a race (not for me at least) and taking breaks to rest and recover makes a big difference both physically and psychologically.

3. Use a walk/run ratio from the start – this means less time on the old feet, at the start at least, and it’s much easier to cut down on the running later than it is to start running after hours of walking.

4. Wear pads on the balls of the feet – this made a huge difference and my feet felt much better after Sunday’s 50K than they did after last Monday’s 43K

5. Watch your step – take care when walking or running on muddy or slippery surfaces. It’s too easy to pick up an injury!

That’s probably going to be my longest walk in terms of distance before the big day and, even though it’s only half of what I need to complete, I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll be able to do it. Now I just need to practise some big hills, running at night and test out some new waterproofs!

As part of the London to Brighton Challenge, I’m raising money for The British Heart Foundation. If you have a couple of quid to spare and would like to sponsor me, please visit my JustGiving page and donate what you can – it all helps!

Thanks for reading! 🙂