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.

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! 🙂

Making Plans

It has been a very relaxing weekend so far. Apart from yesterday’s parkrun, I haven’t really done anything in the way of exercise, but now that I am upping my mileage for the London to Brighton Challenge, rest days are becoming increasingly important, especially if I want to avoid injury as the training itself becomes more and more challenging.

My main goal for the challenge has changed since I first signed up for it a few weeks ago. Having done a couple of long(-ish) walks, I realise that simply completing the course is going to be tough, never mind running it, or jogging it, or even finishing within a particular time frame. This year, I just want to be able to do it. Get from the start line to the finish in the best shape possible. And that means I need to start looking after my body during and between training sessions.

With only five weeks to go and having only walked about a third of the distance in one session, I’m starting to get a little bit nervous. So, today I planned a route which, although a lot flatter than the course itself, will take my distance up to between 45 and 50 kilometres.

I plan to start out by walking pretty much the same route as I walked on Friday, from Hove to Shoreham, and then take the path from Shoreham along the River Adur. The idea is to basically follow the path northwards until I get to about 15 miles and then turn around and head for home.

45K Plan

Although the route is far from hilly, the distance will be a challenge in itself. Unlike the actual event where we will be provided with meals or snacks every 12 kilometres or so, when it comes to training, I need to take enough food and drink in my backpack to keep myself fuelled and hydrated along the way. This does make the whole thing a little bit cumbersome, but I guess carrying a bit of extra weight in training won’t do any harm.

At the moment, I am still using my old back pack which tends to jiggle around a bit, especially if I attempt to jog, but hopefully that will be replaced next week when I get paid. There’s a lot of kit that I still need to get and try out before the big day, but I guess I’ll deal with that next week.

For now, I’m having an early night to get myself ready for tomorrow’s long walk. Here’s hoping for some fair weather and a fine day!

New Shoes and A very Long Walk

With only six weeks to go until the London to Brighton 100K Challenge, I figured it was time to get some more Ks under my belt and trail test my new running shoes!

Brooks Cascadia
Brooks Cascadia Trail Shoes

Now, to be fair, pink would not normally be my colour of choice but as these were the only trail shoes that Sweatshop had available in my size (and the fact that I had a £15 Sweatshop voucher from Parkrun to use), I decided to get them anyway.

I had tried going cross country in my regular trainers a few weeks ago and, while they are great for running on the roads and evenly laid paths, they weren’t so good for walking over bumpy trails and left me with a few hot spots and small blisters. So, I didn’t really mind too much about what my new shoes looked like, as long as they did the job.

I set out just after 8:00 am for what was to be my longest walk so far. I’d decided to go East along the seafront, taking the trail along the top of the cliffs towards Newhaven instead of the Under Cliff Walk that I had taken for my half-marathon earlier in the week.

Down to Under Cliff
Path Leading Down To The Under Cliff Walk

The new shoes felt a bit strange to begin with. For the first few kilometres, I was walking on the promenade (apart from a small stretch of grass on Hove Lawns) so I was concerned about how the trail shoes would feel on the hard surface. But they felt ok.

By the time I reached Brighton Marina and headed up towards the path along the top of the cliffs, I had pretty much stopped thinking about my shoes. I had been worried about blisters before heading out so had put a compeed plaster over the most vulnerable part of my foot but it seemed to be ok. No rubbing at all, which was reassuring.

My plan was to walk for 15K and then turn around and jog/walk back. Despite the hills along the route, I was feeling pretty good. I had packed plenty of water and a couple of bananas to keep me going and took some money with me to get a snack if I needed something more.

Over The Cliffs
A Long Way To Go

However, once I reached 15K, I decided that I might as well keep going a bit further and see if I could do 20K before turning back. Most of the trail runs along the coast road and there were plenty of buses that would take me back to Brighton if I decided that I’d gone too far and didn’t feel like walking back home.

As it turned out though, the path came to an end at around 18K when I reached Newhaven. It was around 12:00 pm by this point, so I decided to head off the trail and down into the town itself to see if I could find a public toilet and somewhere to get some lunch.

There was a small cafe by the harbour, so I stopped to buy a couple of bacon rolls and a coke. The woman in the cafe wrapped the rolls in foil for me, so I put one in my backpack and munched on the other one as I headed back up to the trail.

I was a bit worried about how my stomach would cope with the food, but it was fine, so on the way back I decided that I would try jogging some of the downhill sections. This wasn’t easy with my backpack as it bounced around a lot, but I was enjoying being able to run on roots and rocks and stones without feeling any discomfort in my feet.

To be honest though, I didn’t do as much running as I would have liked on the way back as my legs were starting to ache and I could feel the beginnings of cramps in my calves. I did, however, find that if I drank water as soon as the cramps started, they would go away for a while.

In the end, I managed to make it all the way back to Hove without stopping (apart from a toilet stop) or using public transport and clocked up a very satisfying 37K in 7:05. I was very happy with this and, even though the uphill parts of the route slowed me down a fair bit, I was happy with the pace.

2014-12-04-Summary

When I got home, I was pretty exhausted and my feet ached like crazy, but no more than they did when I used to spend all day on my feet at work. And, when I finally took the shoes off, I was happy to discover that I hadn’t picked up any blisters either.

The biggest lesson that I learned today though, is that at this stage I’m not even close to being able to walk 100K from London to Brighton. However, I feel confident that, as long as I keep up the training for the next six weeks, I should be able to just about cope with it. It won’t be easy, but it is doable.

The Impromptu Half Marathon

With less than seven weeks to go until the London to Brighton 100K Challenge, I figured it was about time I started to get some decent miles on my legs. So, last night after work I decided to run an impromptu half-marathon.

2014-09-04-SummaryIt was still light when I headed out, so I thought I would take a slow jog from Hove, along the seafront and along the undercliff path to Saltdean and then back again. I knew that it would be dark by the time I finished and, as the route is pretty much unlit beyond Madeira Drive, I decided to limit my walk breaks to one every 5K for the first three quarters of the run to ensure that I wouldn’t be running in the dark for too long.

It was fairly quiet along the seafront, with just a few of the usual joggers, dog walkers and after work drinkers having a well earned beer on the beach after a hard day at the office, but once I reached the undercliff path, the place was pretty much deserted.

While it was nice to have the path to myself, I did find it a little bit unnerving as I approached my turning point. My legs were feeling pretty tired and sore and my pace had dropped considerably by this point, but I decided to keep jogging for as long as possible so that I could get back to the better lit part of the route a bit sooner.

Apart from a couple of boy racers speeding along the otherwise deserted Madeira Drive in the distance, however, the darker part of the run was fairly uneventful and I emerged unscathed, other than the aching limbs that is.

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea to go out for an evening run on that particular route, but it was good to finally get a half marathon under my belt.

The pace itself was very slow for me, averaging out at 7:16 mins per kilometre, but if I’m going to complete the London to Brighton Challenge, I’m going to have to learn to go even slower than that. So, with less than two months to go, my goal is now to run as slowly as possible so that I can keep going for longer and, hopefully, build up my endurance levels for the challenge by the end of May.

What’s the furthest distance you have ever run? What precautions do you take when going for a run in the dark? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Walking The Walk

Now that I’ve taken my first tentative steps into training for the London to Brighton Challenge, I realise that from here on my training is going to have to involve a fair bit of walking as well as running. Not just walk/run intervals to help improve stamina, but actual non-stop walking so that I can learn to get used to moving on my feet for hours at a time.

I’m generally pretty motivated when it comes to walking and prefer it to using public transport when it comes to getting around the city. So much so, that over the last couple of years, my daily commute to work has become a 25-30 minute, 1.6 mile walk each way. That being said though, I’m going to have to start walking a lot more than 5K a day if I’m going to cope with getting myself from London to Brighton in one piece.

My first training walk should have been yesterday. I’d planned to take a 2 hour walk after dinner, but unfortunately I managed to pick up a head cold and was feeling fairly rubbish by the end of the day, so I decided to have an early night and go for a good long walk today.

I still wasn’t feeling great this morning, but decided that I was going to go out anyway. I had scheduled a 4 hour walk with the aim of exploring some off road running routes. I wasn’t really sure about where would be the best place to go, but I mapped myself out a route of sorts and headed out with my backpack.

The weather was warm and sunny, and by the first few kilometres I was down to short sleeves as I made my way along a small woodland path that I’d found. I tried to stay in the shade as much as possible, although the ground was muddier there, and I soon realised that I was going to have to get myself some trail shoes before attempting to do any running on it.

On the whole, the walk was pretty good. I enjoyed the changes of scenery from wide open fields to narrow wooded trails with steep drops, but navigation wasn’t easy.

I got lost a number of times and even found myself in the middle of a golf course trying to find my way back to the path, but I didn’t mind too much. I had four hours of walking to do and it didn’t really matter where I did it.

Walk 2014-03-29

The only downside was that, when I eventually did find my way to a road that would lead somewhere, I realised that it was impossible to walk on – the verges were just too steep and overgrown and the traffic was far too fast and frequent. At that point I ended up walking in a field with some sheep, who I’m pleased to say were too busy grazing on brambles to be bothered by me.

In the end, my search for some off road running routes wasn’t very successful, but it did get the legs working and, with all the hills and the mud and the uneven ground, it has opened my eyes to just how different it’s going to be running cross country compared with the nice flat even paths along the seafront.

Walk Elevation 2014-03-29

Where is your favourite place to run? Do you have good running routes on your doorstep or do you have to travel further afield before you can really get going? Please share your thoughts in the comments.