London to Brighton 2015

This is a long blog post – but I promise you it’s worth it if you want to know what happened on our little Bank Holiday stroll. So settle down with a cup of tea, put your feet up and invest 5 minutes of your life in reading the first ever guest blog post from Caralyn!  (She took the photos too).

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So this feels slightly strange now as I am not used to documenting my thoughts on anything really. This weekend I have had lots of thoughts and emotions and I have decided to try and describe what has happened.

My challenge year started this weekend. Sally and I decided to attempt three 100K walks this year – London2Brighton, Race to the Stones and the Thames Path Challenge. We both did L2B last year in horrific weather conditions : it took us 21 hours 23 minutes and it floored us physically and mentally. I went on to do the TPC with my brother last September which was very different. Race to the Stones is new to both of us.

We have trained well over the past few months. It is hard with us living 150 miles apart from each other, but we have met up every month and pounded the trails, clocking up miles and then more miles. We have both had challenges with footwear – Sally likes waterproof shoes, which have their own limitations and I prefer Hoka shoes for the thick padding but I need to carry several pairs of socks as dry feet are essential over long distances.

This year the London2Brighton was set for the weekend of the 23/24 May. On the Friday I travelled down to London and met Sally at Euston and we set off for Kew Bridge. All was going so well until we got on the slow overground train that took twice as long as we expected but we arrived at the Premier Inn late afternoon. Sally had been suffering for 5 weeks with foot pain that moved around both feet and so she had been extremely worried about the effect this would have on the event. She had taping advice from her chiropodist and we both had the contents of a commercial pharmacy with us in terms of painkillers and anti inflammatory drugs. We checked in and then took a taxi to get our registration done early to save a few minutes the next morning. A bus ride back (to save £16 on a taxi) and then we spent ages packing and repacking our backpacks before a supper of steak and chips.

I had made two rookie errors – I had left behind the sealing plastic bar for my camelbak and I had also forgotten my head torch. I texted Michael about the head torch so he could bring it down for the rendez-vous at a later rest-stop. The water situation would have to be contained by only carrying a litre at a time to avoid the contents of the backpack spilling over into my dry sock store – which it did spectacularly within the first 10 minutes on Saturday morning.

Anyway, a peaceful night and a good 6 hours sleep and then we were up and getting ready, porridge slipped down well along with fruit. The taxi was on time and then we were there. Our kick off time was 7am. We did a half-hearted warm up, found ourselves at the front of the bunch and off we went.

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The first stage is mainly alongside the Thames so we had flat paths. Already we started comparing the current walk to last year (temperature, rainfall, floods, mud) and this actually helped us considerably during the later hours. So at the start everything was plain sailing until kilometre 2 where we met a man who said he was just diverting the route. We could follow the diversion if we wanted to but there was no further information. So we carried on. A few hundred yards later we found ourselves in a river flood situation, not serious to those with waterproof shoes, but my first wet foot of the walk as the Thames had flooded into the road. One wet foot I could deal with so on we went.

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The first section to the 12k rest stop is flat – along the river and through Kingston streets. This was plain sailing for both of us. Sally reported that her feet felt fine and we strode out with our usual rhythm and arms swinging. We had the delights of two herons flying low and slow alongside us and several bright yellow parakeets skipped along through the trees squawking at us as we passed by. We made a brief stop at the designated area and I had my second breakfast of pastries.

The next section took us through more of south west London – streets, hills and Nonsuch Park. This is a lovely green area after all the roads and we saw lots of normal people out with dogs and children, whilst we sped through the foliage. It didn’t seem too long before we had arrived at the first major stop of Oaks Park. We had hugs from the Walk the Walk team, who recognised us from last year even though this year we were walking for different charities. We checked into the rest area for food and an opportunity to sit/lie down. It was a relief to lie flat with shoes off and feet up in the air for several minutes. I have found that this tactic works well to drain inevitable swelling from my ankles so try and do it as much as possible. Lunch was mainly bananas, tea and coffee. Sally and I both sorted out a couple of hot spots on our feet and downed more painkillers but we were generally feeling good and it wasn’t long before we set off for the next long stage of 15k to New Henhaw Farm.

This section involves a long descent into South Coulsden and then a long pull up onto the North Downs, before dropping through a beautiful bluebell wood and along into Happy Valley. We do uphills well – heads down and an identical rhythm and arm movement and the hills melt away. Another long drop down, which was painful on our knees and then some of our favourite “undulating” countryside. Again as we approached the M25, we reminisced about the torrential downpours of last year. This time the sun was up and we were sweating quite heavily, but the vibrant greens of foliage and red, white and blue flowers kept us busy and smiling.

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Shortly after going under the M25, we had a long flight of steps up to the railway line. A train powered through just as we arrived and then we crossed the line gingerly as the footpath over it was completely open access. Another kilometre and we arrived at the 40k mid point stop at New Henhaw Farm.  Last year we had been met here by Michael and Lorraine, with huge banners, and it felt a little weird just arriving and getting coffee and tea made. Hunger was starting up and a variety of snacks were needed, along with feet airing and sock changing (sweaty socks this year and not wet, muddy ones). It wasn’t long before we decided to head on as the next section was very long at over 16k to the half way point at Tulleys Farm.

The majority of this section was easy walking – no huge climbs or descents, but not terribly inspiring.  We did the necessary selfie at 50k and just after that Sally requested a sit down stop, which made sense as we had another 6k to do and she was getting pain and stiffness in one of her legs.  However, if I am honest, I thought that this unscheduled rest was a bit strange and an uneasy feeling sat with me from this point onwards. At the time I couldn’t really work out what it was I was feeling and why I was feeling like this.

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So we arrived at the half way stop (56.5k).  Sally was able to order a gluten free pasta meal which was good news. She certainly did better than my option which was tepid, dry pasta which had absorbed any sign of a sauce and was tasteless. This was disappointing and I certainly didn’t feel fuelled up and ready for the next stage. I had to fill up with pitta bread and cucumber – not ideal. But fresh tea and coffee helped. We set off at about 5.45pm, 45 minutes ahead of our times last year and the light was still good.

The next section was a small one of 11k to Ardingley. We had strong memories of slipping and sliding last year down slopes with running mud towards the reservoir, but this time we found we were re-routed and we pounded the roads instead. Even so the edges of the roads were worn away on some of the lanes and there was thick mud at the sides of the roads.  We stood still at one point to let a Tesco van go past us and then watched as he was forced off the road into a ditch by an oncoming taxi driver, busy talking on this phone.  There wasn’t much we could do except bend down and make sympathetic tutting noises to the young driver who kept trying and failing to rev it out of the ditch.  The van was far too heavy for us to push but finally, with one enormous burst of revving and the smell of burning clutch fluid, the van lurched out of the mud and disappeared down the lane.  We saw him again later, and he merrily tooted us, which was nice.

Ardingley College – and at just after 7.30pm, we were met by Michael and the welcome banner, and my head torch!! It was fantastic to have some support at this stage and we pottered around doing our usual stuff, whilst resting.  Sally wanted more gluten free “proper” food but all the porridge, noodle and soup pots contained gluten so she had a banana and some sweets and then seemed in a rush to move on. I was tired and so spent too long faffing around getting sorted but eventually we set off, looking forward to this section as it was still light and we had only done it in the dark before. But there was another 13k to go to get to the major stop at 80k and so we strode out.  The first half an hour was great and then we slowed. We planned a sit down stop at 71 and 75k  to break the distance – again something was niggling at me. We talked a bit about pain, where it was and how we were feeling. Sally started to go very quiet at around 70k and we sat down for a couple of minutes at 71k, although we didn’t gain much benefit. On the approach to the small hamlet of Lindfield, Sally seemed jittery – talking about needing something to eat but not feeling the love for bananas or Snickers anymore.

We stood still for a couple of minutes and she decided that Marmite cashews were the way forward and then everything went into slow motion.  I turned and saw her eyes roll upwards and she slowly started to fall backwards. I remember leaping at her, grabbing her head and neck and somehow managed to break her fall as she collapsed into a faint. Natural instincts took over, recovery position, soft bag under her head, jacket over her and she was out for just about two minutes. During this time a car pulled into a driveway and although I shouted out, a man disappeared into one of the only two houses around. Sally wanted to sit up so we did that carefully and by then the female driver was coming over to see what was happening. To cut a long story short, Sally stood up and within a couple of minutes fainted again, he was a GP and she was a nurse and everything was under control. He was happy for me to call Paul and didn’t think that a 999 call was necessary at that moment. We got blankets and sweet tea sorted out, as Sally couldn’t move at that point.  One group of walkers went through and checked we were OK and Sally and I had the conversation about whether I should continue or not.  We had already spoken about this earlier in the week as well as the previous evening and, as Paul was on his way and the GP and his wife were offering their support, the decision was made.

I said my goodbyes as another pair of head torches appeared and I asked if I could tag along.  Wow, this was hard, and I hated walking away from the situation, not knowing what was going to happen and how I was going to cope – at least Sally was safe. (see Sally’s footnote for what happened to her next).

My new walking friends turned out to be not so friendly after all. They didn’t want to engage in conversation and physically speeded up to avoid me.  In hindsight, I am really cross about this as I was a lone female walker now and my personal code would be to help out. We then drew level with the group who had walked past and checked what was going on and so I asked them if I could walk with them instead. So Rob, his wife, Wayne and I walked together and chatted and laughed and I told the story about the guy getting stuck up to his knees in mud last year when we approached that part of the woods. And eventually we arrived at Wivelsfield School and 80k, where they wished me well and I gave them a load of painkillers as they had eaten all of their supplies and they were struggling. I unregistered Sally from the event and hobbled inside.

And what happens to Caralyn at 80k? She becomes a dribbling, crying, emotional wreck whilst eating beans, tuna and salad. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to carry on or whether I was capable of carrying on. Everything seemed just too much. Michael and the Action Challenge team were great and hugs and kind words were lovely although didn’t stop the tears.  And then I knew I had to carry on. The next bit was only 5k on roads and 2k over fields and I could rest again.

The Action Challenge staff asked who I was now walking with as after dark you can’t walk alone. So I said I would catch up with the 3 I came in with. I knew my plan and I overtook them, wishing them all the best, and set off along the roads in the pitch dark. This was majorly scary, more tears, and I made plans in case a car approached (which involved turning off my head torch and jumping behind a tree, although my glow sticks on my backpack would have probably given the game away!!) and got on with the job in hand.  Everything went well and I came up behind another couple with the 2k off-road to go.  They were happy for me to join them as my head torch was better than theirs and another 20 minutes of conversation happened.

A rest at Plumpton College and then I knew what was coming and I left. I said goodbye to Michael who was off for a sleep, did the ascent up Ditchling Beacon and up to the top of the South Downs. A long gradual descent and then a sharp drop on loose chippings on tarmac, followed by a long slow uphill section again, which drained me properly. At Falmer I grabbed a cuppa in a makeshift rest station and then pushed on – a slow climb until I could see over Brighton. Feeling nauseous and wobbly I ate a small packet of Haribo. They lasted about 2 minutes before my stomach decided that they really shouldn’t be there and expelled them quickly and efficiently. I realised the racecourse was approaching and texted Michael. The rest was a blur really; I powered through the long grass and found myself running over the finish line, grabbing champagne, t-shirt, having a photo taken and then dissolving into a heap of tears. And a finish time of 02.59, with an event time of 19.58

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After that? Luggage retrieval, car, hotel, water, tea, hot, cold, sweaty, managed 3 hours sleep, pain, restless, 2 blisters. The next day I checked in with Sally and we all went out together for dinner, which was a fantastic end to an eventful event.

And now? I’ve recovered physically apart from the blisters. Emotionally flat as a pancake. Will I do L2B again? Probably not. Will I attempt the Race to the Stones in just over 6 weeks time? Probably yes. Am I bonkers? Most definitely.

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Footnote from Sally: The GP and his wife were absolutely wonderful – I could not have collapsed in a better place. A few minutes later and we’d have been in the middle of dark woodland. After resting on their sofa for an hour or so, I was joined by Paul and they advised us to go to the local A and E department to be on the safe side. Unfortunately this was an awful experience and a sad reflection of the state of the NHS at the moment. After being triaged and having blood taken, I was effectively left in a waiting room (to wait for blood results) and was ignored, despite fainting twice more and vomiting three times. There were two other runners from the event there but, as they had arrived in ambulances rather than under their own steam, they were treated straightaway and I could see them, reclining in their beds while I slumped in a hard chair for hours. Eventually, the staff were alarmed enough by my fainting/vomiting to give me a bed, a drip and an anti-emetic. I was then released to go to the hotel at 6am.  Paul was a star through all of this – not only did he take great care of me but also, after a sleepless night, he managed to park the car in the tiny hotel car park – an act that involved about a hundred incredibly complicated manoeuvres.  After a day of complete rest, dinner with Caralyn and Michael restored my spirits, as did all the lovely messages of concern I got via Facebook that day. 

I feel back to normal now, apart from ongoing joint pain, but I’m still not sure whether the fainting was due to problems with pain, hydration, nutrition or something else. I’m getting myself checked over by my GP in early June and will wait to see how that goes. I’ll keep you posted. 

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7 thoughts on “London to Brighton 2015

  1. Hi Sally and Carolyn,

    I’m quite exhausted just reading this. Your energy and determination and mental grit are in another league – both of you. Admittedly the first 60K or so sounded great. Well done doesn’t even come close.

    Having never done a major physical challenge I feel untouched by the challenge drug that has clearly hooked you both in – it must be unbelievably powerful to make you put your bodies through what ultimately sounds like some form of torture! 60k say sounds like a challenge, something to train for, but still within the realms of pleasurable. I’m intrigued to know what it is you’re getting from pushing through the final hours of hell that makes it all feel so great. Is it pushing yourselves beyond what you think you can do? Conquering extreme adversity – making you feel that you can take on anything? A massive adrenalin hit? An enormous sense of achievement? Is it mental or physical? I can see the appeal of a goal to aim for, train for, structure the months around but the real thing sounds pretty gruelling. Tell me what it is that you have discovered that I haven’t.

    Sally, I think your whole body is trying to tell you something. How about a piano challenge next?

    Hats off to both of you.

    Love Julia xx

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    • Hi Julia! Great questions. I have a psychotherapist colleague who, at times, looks at me over his glasses quizzically and says “Why do you do it to yourself???”. I think I should write a blog post about this but for now here are my answers to your suggested reasons:
      – Pushing beyond what I think I can do : maybe – though if I really didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t try. We had trained a lot so that it seemed doable.
      – Conquering extreme adversity: definitely. I get a buzz out of achieving something difficult – the sense of overcoming.
      – A massive adrenalin hit: maybe…
      – Enormous sense of achievement: definitely – as above. Especially as I was pretty rubbish at sports at school and it was probably my weakest area (except for needlework)

      In addition:

      – The camaraderie of walking together, training for a goal, sharing the challenge with Caralyn. It is a lot of fun when done together! It would be really, really hard alone and a lot less fun.
      – The joy of really putting my body through a challenge when I spend so much of my life being cerebral. My job is all about the mind and, as you know, I love to analyse and think. I get a buzz out of forgetting my mind and just being in the moment – far removed from all the stresses and strains of work etc. Doing an endurance event really focuses everything on the body and in that way, it’s a form of escape.

      I don’t know if that helps? I should emphasise that I don’t enjoy being in pain (!) and that has put quite a damper on things this year.Last year was really enjoyable whereas I found this year much less so because of the pain and the extra struggle.

      Great to hear from you – hope we can meet up before too long! xx

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