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London to Brighton

Article from a local newspaper
about my first ultra.

I can reasonably claim to have done my first ultramarathon at the age of 15.  A year earlier, my family had moved to London where my father had a three-year posting, and I joined a unit of the Boys Brigade at our local church.  There, I learned of an annual charity walk from London to Brighton, a distance of 52 miles, and quickly volunteered along with a friend.  My recollection is that the event started in the evening and we walked through the night.  My friend stopped after 33 miles while I finished the journey in 18½ hours.  I don't remember too much about it, other than lying on my back with my legs up against a tree to ease the pain in my feet on multiple occasions in the last twenty miles, and being very short-tempered in the final stages.  Nevertheless, I finished and it reinforced my growing perception that I could do well in endurance events.

The London to Brighton race started beneath Big Ben
and across Westminster Bridge.

It also fostered my interest in the journey from London to Brighton which has an iconic place in English folklore dating back to the early 1800s when people first walked it.  Since then, there have been all kinds of events over the route involving pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles, but the one that first captured my interest in the early 1970s was the running race.  Although the amateur running race began in 1951, it wasn't really until the 1970s that some highly-credentialled marathon runners, amongst them Cavin Woodward and Don Ritchie, began racing and six minute mile average pace was beaten.  This was also the time I was starting to race marathons at better than six minute mile pace, and I imagined myself (very optimistically) mixing it with them.

The climb over Ditchling Beacon with seven miles to go.

In the mid-1970s I returned to live in the UK for a year or two, but didn't get to run the race for some reason (can't remember why).  It wasn't until 1991, when I was again living in the UK, that I finally ran the race, at the age of 40.  I was no longer training twice a day, had a young family, and was spending a large part of my life on planes.  Hopes of running six minute miles for the distance were gone, but that didn't stop me heading out at a good pace from beneath Big Ben at the 7:00am start.  It was a race of two distinct halves for me.

The race finishes on the Brighton promenade.

I reached the halfway mark, 27.5 miles (this was the first year of an altered, longer, course that finished over Ditchling Beacon for safety reasons), in almost exactly three hours and going strong.  After a cool start, it had become a clear and warm day, and I began to suffer soon after.  I remember making a very brief pit-stop at about 40 miles and being almost overcome by a desperate desire to lie down on the road and sleep.  I continued on, with the daunting climb over Ditchling Beacon constantly on my mind.  It was every bit as hard as I feared, but I kept running, despite being overtaken by the first woman (it still mattered to me in those days).  The last few kilometres, though mostly downhill, seemed to take forever and I was totally spent when I finally crossed the line in 7:20.  Disappointment at my performance over the latter half (it took 4:20), was quickly replaced with satisfaction at finally realising a long-term goal, and I still cherish the memory.

I ran an easy 5km for training today, feeling in reasonable shape and looking forward to tomorrow morning's run with Terrigal Trotters.