South Coast Challenge 2018

Thank you to everyone who supported us in the south coast challenge! It was an extremely tough “ultra” challenge and pushed us all very hard! It isn’t too late to donate if you would like to do so – please see our Just Giving pages below:

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South Coast Challenge 2018 Diary

The start

South coast challenge 2018: preparing ourselves and our bags

Ready for the off!

A cluster of people is inevitable at the start of any challenge or race – particularly when going up a single track steep hill! Once we had bypassed this group, we made excellent progress over Beachy Head, the Seven Sisters and along an interminally long river into Alfriston. After 15 miles, we were feeling spritely and sure-footed, and were confident that if we could maintain our pace, we would be ahead of our predicted time.

View from Beachy Head

One of the Sisters

The second leg

Once we had lunched in Alfriston – in the pub, of course, we felt ready to continue. Our feet and legs were bearing up well but we made sure we stretched out and changed shoes to give the muscles a break. We set off confidently, straight up yet another hill onto the south coast path! The sun was out, the temperature perfect for a walk, and spirits were still high.

Alfriston to Hove would be the longest leg of the walk, so was split into sections by two rest points. The second of these was actually just a stand by the side of the road supplying fizzy drinks! Unfortunately, Heather started to experience pains in her knees and abdominal muscles not too far into the first section of this leg, but carried determinedly on!

Collecting injuries

The next section saw us all starting to tire, but Heather had another new problem. She had started to experience sciatica – shooting pains all the way from the hip to the foot. At this point, I took her bag and Mark donated his walking pole to Heather so that we could all continue together. Heather managed to persevere through the pain, but was really struggling by the time dusk started to fall. We had slowed considerably but were all focusing on making it to Hove, the 55km stop.

Struggling on

En route, we crossed over from the eastern to the western hemisphere – a point worth capturing on camera!

Going West

The final stretch of the first half took us through Brighton along the famous promenade, then into Hove. Under usual circumstances, this might have been pretty! However, we were all tired, cold and hungry by this point, and Heather was grimacing with every elevated or depressed step. Mark’s knee had started to ache and my back was becoming very sore. It took a good deal of mental strength and physical denial to get us across the unrelenting tarmac surfaces!

Unfortunately, and with bitter regret, Heather concluded that she was unable to continue beyond Hove. She had made a valiant effort to keep going for so many hours and was in so much pain! However, her superhuman efforts were rewarded with a well deserved half challenge medal.

Moving on up – again!

Mark and I refuelled with a large quantity of hot food and a change of clothes at Hove, then pressed on. By now it was 1am and we had to follow glow sticks through the streets! Yet again, the path from the rest stop led us up a step and seemingly endless hill – a trend we had noticed earlier in the day.

The streets were deserted and the night quiet. We had to start in a group of 6 from the rest stop, but we dispersed after a relatively short time, settling into our individual paces. Our path led us beside a golf course and over undulating ground. We were walking on chalk paths with large chunks of chalk everywhere – we had to concentrate to avoid falling! Over hill and dale we trudged on, feeling progressively more tired but keen to press on as quickly as we could.

Dampening spirits

The worst section of the second half was just before dawn. We were crossing a field through a pig farm, on a very narrow path, on a steep camber, and couldn’t really see where we were going. Placing each foot without twisting an ankle was a real challenge, making it a demoralising experience. It seemed as though dawn would never come and the challenge would be insurmountable. However, dawn did break and we found ourselves descending to the 3/4 challenge rest stop shortly afterwards.

Exhaustion at dawn

The last push

A severe weather warning was issued shortly after dawn, informing us that driving rain and 40mph winds would be our companions from mid-morning on. With this in mind, we tried to increase our speed – only to find we had no reserves left to achieve this with! We managed to get to our breakfast stop, where I dressed the blisters that had now joined me.

We knew we only had 24km (16 miles) left after this stop, which to any normal person would be a long walk in itself! We were aware of the remaining miles, but having come so far were determined to focus on the positive aspect of how far we had already come instead. None of our practise walks had taken us to this area, so the terrain was new to us. We found ourselves changing from unremitting chalk paths to even more concussive flint paths – a change we could only resign ourselves to.

Soggy and suffering

The rain meet us quite suddenly a few hours later and remained our constant companion to the end. Unfortunately, it turned the paths into slippery surfaces, making it even harder to persusde our weary limbs on. With only 8km (and little energy or will) remaining, we refused to give in to tiredness! We knew the mental part of the challenge had kicked in and met it head-on.

Despite this attitude, the final 8km (5 miles) were torture to us. They seemed to go on forever! We found ourselves on low ground, sinking into a sodden muddy floor with each step. Any pressure placed by our feet on the floor was lost in sinking rather than propelling us forward.

Soon we entered woodlands, with tree roots strewn over the path. Physical exhaustion now hit me: my hips had subluxated (partially come out of their joints) some time ago and were extremely painful. I was having to lift my legs over the tree roots because of the pain, but couldn’t really see the path to put my feet down: I started to see double and hallucinate at one point! Mark was really struggling with his knee, and both of us looked like we would benefit from a Zimmer frame!

Drawing on fragile strength

The path turned back to chalk so was treacherous in the rain. We both had an incling that if we fell, we would lack both the energy and the will power to get back up again! However, we didn’t voice these thoughts, but just kept plodding on, one foot in front of the other.

For the last 2km we walked along a canal. We could hear the PA system at the finish line but couldn’t seem to get any closer to it! The rain was driving straight into our faces, and we had long since abandoned walking around the numerous puddles. Every step seemed to take us miniscule advancements. Finally, we saw the banners. We could make this!

The never ending canal

The blessed end

Our original team plan had been to finish by 1pm, but Mark and I had re-evaluated following Heather’s injuries and thought 2pm would be more likely. We were therefore (understatedly) elated when we crossed the line at 12:59:30! We had made it, albeit almost hobbling. 100km – 63 miles – over hills totalling 1 3/4 the height of Snowdon, and 2 1/2 marathons long, had finally ended!

The end of a long road