Bright and early on Saturday 25 May Harry’s sister Rosie’s godmother Hillary lined up in Old Deer Park in Richmond at the start of the London-Brighton 100km Ultra Challenge which she had decided to complete to raise money for the Harry Lownds Memorial Fund. Here’s her account of Day 1:
For those who don’t know me, I am not a morning person so getting up at 6am for a 7am registration was challenge enough let alone the 100km route across Surrey and Sussex that lay ahead! The start should have been a picturesque stroll along the Thames path to Kingston but instead we had to dodge the local park runners heading straight into us and then the numerous rowing clubs carrying their boats across the path! But it was good to see so many people out enjoying the Thames path.
The path then turned south-east through Surbiton and New Malden towards the M25 and parallel to the M23 and for the next 35km we walked mostly through suburban streets. Once we reached open fields our tired and aching feet were given some respite, however, the countryside brought the challenge of what seemed like endless stiles instead! We reached the “midway” point of day one at 40km – rumours of the 37km marker appearing more than once might explain why 40km was thought to be midway on a 56km stretch!
The next 16km took about 4 hours and whilst the ground underfoot became softer, as night began to draw in, we were walking through woodland where the tree roots became harder to spot even with the aid of a torch! 14.37 hours after leaving the Old Deer Park the 56km marker came into view. But the longest walk of the day was from the check in point to my tent – never have I been so happy to crawl into my sleeping bag!
I awoke the next morning amazed to find my legs still worked and thrilled to see Becky and Abi waiting for me in the food tent! I needed a friendly face to get me through the next 46km and can only apologise for making them take 14 hours to walk that distance but my poor little legs could not go any faster!
The story of day two is taken up by Becky’s friend Abi Johnson:
In April this year, while out walking around Castleton, Becky and Abi started to talk about taking on a major challenge as a way of bringing awareness to the Fund that Becky and Matt had set up in memory of Harry. Matt’s friend Hillary had already decided to take on the London-Brighton 100km Ultra Challenge for the Fund, so Becky and Abi swiftly decided that they should join her for the second half of the route.
With only a few weeks to go the intrepid pair set about attempting some long walks as a means of preparation. Abi tramped around the byways of South Derbyshire, sometimes with dogs in tow. Meanwhile Becky enlisted Matt to her cause in exploring the delights of Moscow on foot. They compared notes regularly, not of course because either of them was competitive in any way, to see how each was getting on. Finally, on Sunday 26 May they left Becky’s house in South Oxfordshire at 3:30 am and made their way to join Hillary at the start line for Day 2 of the Ultra-Challenge at Tulley’s Farm to the east of Crawley.
The walk was divided into four stages with rest stops positioned at suitable points along the way. The first 12 km did not throw any curve balls and after taking fresh water on board the doughty team carried on. The next 14 km proved a little more challenging. It involved a pretty steep and very long ascent followed by a sharp descent. Who knew that on-road walking down a hill could be so painful? What with this and assorted tangled tree roots to stumble over and stub toe ends, numerous stiles and steps, the dauntless Ultra-Walkers made it to Wivelsfield just after 2:30 pm.
Up to this point the walk had been taken at a gentle amble. The party were brought up sharp by the realisation that the ‘lunch’ stop was being closed up and they were in danger of not making the cut-off times for completing the remaining legs of the Challenge. So they hastily grabbed what they could carry away with them for lunch and had a hurried picnic by the roadside. This was far from the restful break they had envisaged after eight hours on the trail and Becky even had to go without a cup of tea!
After a swift change of socks and general inspection of aching limbs the route-march resumed at a quickened pace that saw them cover 8km in barely an hour and a half. This left them feeling good, having pulled hard enough to take time out at Plumpton College for a proper rest. That proved well needed, as the final 10km turned out particularly tough. The first 2km was a very steep climb up the South Downs. This looks fairly innocuous at a distance, but requires mental fortitude after 30+ km (never mind the 90+ that Hillary had under her belt) with aching feet and calf muscles tightening by the second. Becky somehow managed the hill without stopping, while Abi confesses to stopping more than once and reached the top puffing like a small tank engine.
At this point the weather also decided to take a decided turn for the worse, becoming first misty and then properly foggy. Visibility dropped to as little as twenty metres for the final 5 km and this proved quite disorientating. Battling on, this final stretch felt interminable until at last they reached Brighton Racecourse. The rails provided a much-need source of route-guiding and support over the final few metres as they came in to the finish to a fabulous welcome given by the Challenge Crew, alongside friends who had waited patiently in the drenching sea-mist. The glass of bubbly that accompanied their finishers’ medals was a Godsend!
Becky and Matt would like to express their heartfelt gratitude to Hillary for undertaking this gruelling challenge – and all those who made donations to support her efforts, which at the time of writing have contributed the better part of another £1,500 to the Harry Lownds Memorial Fund and boosted its overall total to nearly £8,500. Their thanks too to Abi for her companionship and good humour, not least as the soaking sea mist came down over the South Downs.
A photo gallery from the walk can be found here