Extreme Running events are the minds behind the original, London to Brighton off road race every year in September. A total elevation gain of over 4,200ft and approx 59 miles in distance. 

Starting in Blackheath, Lewisham. The trail heads through south London then into north Kent and through small lanes and fields of beautifully preserved England. Then heading over the Bluebell Railway in Horsted Keynes it is through the deep West Sussex woodlands and onto the South Downs. A steep last climb up Black Cap and then finally through Falmer and finishing in Black Rock on Brighton seafront.

A short uphill walk on Black Heath Road, feeling good fueled by avocado, coconut water and Bulletproof coffee. It is 4:30am, very dark, and very mild already. The weather has been unusually warm this week and today is already 95% humidity with temperatures expected to reach 21C.

Craig, Shawn and myself ready to Bosh

Arriving at The Territorial Army sports hall on Blackheath Common at 5am for registration. I see ultra runner Shawn, who I met on a training run a few weeks prior. I meet his friends and Bosh group members Craig and Jonathan. We discuss the route and training. I spot Stuart Mills, the 2008 winner and record holder. I thank him for sharing his blog update of the newer route directions and wish him all the best for today. 

Discussing the route

55 ultra runners arrived to complete the cross country challenge today. The lowest level of entrants for the event. Close to 100 had entered. So it felt very low key already.

6:00 for the start on the heath

Today will be my 10th ultra marathon race so far, in the last 14 months. I am trying not to think about my previous race, last month at the North Downs Way. Which was my first DNF and I am keeping my fingers crossed the same ankle injury doesn't stop me today...

Miles 1-10
Best pace/mile 7:27
Slowest pace/mile 8:54

Garmin at the ready we all speed off into the dark onto Lewisham Hill over to Lewisham Road towards the station. Stuart has already left a trail of dust behind. I am not familiar with the route in the first stages, so head under the railway and towards the cycle track, like the map advises. I see most the front pack without the map book, looking across to me for guidance. Probably not the best idea...

Once on the cycle track the route leads along the railway line, through small parks, passing Ladywell and then over Catford Station. Already a few runners go off track and I shout back at them to follow. Some of the route is tricky and checking the map regularly is key. At Lower Sydenham I turn too soon by the river, running an extra loop meeting the oncoming runners in the other direction. 

Back on the route I keep at a steady pace with the mid pack group, through the woods and onto Beckenham Golf course where I catch up with Shawn. We chat some while I stay with him until out of the woods, he has practice on this section already. He is feeling strong and confident. 

Towards Bromley park and then onto Hayes. The route is now pavement along the B2212 until reaching the first check point at 10 miles. I may have started off rather quick but am feeling good at the moment, running on feel and how I can manage.

This stretch is pleasant towards Hayes Common, then at Keston Common I can see the check point and marshals. Mark asks how I am feeling and that we have run this leg at 7min/mile pace. I have two cups of water, and already using Nuun in my Ultraspire Spry vest which has been sufficient so far. Still no need to eat yet. I thank the team and then run towards the trail heading to Biggin Hill. 

It is almost 7:30

Miles 11-20
Best pace/mile 8:23
Slowest pace/mile 13:47

I use my notes to navigate through the wooded areas, over fields and Furze Bottom, then south towards Biggin Hill airport. I come out onto a busy road and can see I went too far reaching Saltbox hill. I then just miss the trail head turning, so head back on myself. 

Down a steep stoney path then out onto Biggin Hill. The hills are big, green and rolling. I start to feel the humidity and warmth increase into the mid-morning. So I take an SCaps salt capsule. 

Already my legs feel fatigued and the climbs seem very difficult. My pace has dropped and I really am going to have to dig deep to pull through this today... 

Feeling slight hunger I have a few nuts and coconut flakes to give me a slight boost. 

Cutting across farm lands, over styles then over the north downs way trail, there is a yellow marker sign to the left but I stay with the current group not realising it was for us. Reaching a field it is very difficult to navigate exact whereabouts but we all scramble through the woods and I manage to head on through a field. I can see a gate by a road which will lead to Titsey Wood. The gate has barbed wire so we realise this is private land, the route was changed today to NOT cross. Whoops! 

The route is rather straight forward on trail to the next stop, although I stayed on the footpath a bit too far, it still reaches Swaynesland for checkpoint two. I refill my bladder and drink two cups of water. Mark tells us that the lead is about 45 minutes ahead. Thanking him I move forward. 

Miles 21-30
Best pace/mile 8:52
Slowest pace/mile 13:11

Heading down the lane, which looks very familiar from the practice run we did. I am more at ease with the map and know what to expect on the route. 

Heading over the railway at Troy Town staying on the footpath, then across the golf course, remembering our mistake last time I head on to the back of the trees to pick up the trail. The runners that were behind me have slowed or gone off route. It is only myself out here on this section.

Lots of turns west then east before heading south east to Eden Valley Walk. Through the same field with all the cows, I have to skirt the edges to approach the gate which is behind them.  

Heading across to Skitts Farm then over the B2028 road, smiling and thanking a waiting supporter. It is down a long trail following the hedgerows. 

Following the trail signs and trying to stick to the map as we went slightly off the route during practice. Eventually I make it to the Two Houses which is near the next stop at Blockfield Wood near Stonequarry. 

Miles 31-40
Best pace/mile 9:26
Slowest pace/mile 16:09

I am feeling slightly better on this leg and at the third checkpoint, chat with the team a moment whilst drinking some water. They ask if I am running the entire distance in the Luna sandals, which I reply I will be changing into another pair shortly when I meet my parents. Thanking them I head on down the track and into the woods. 

Tricky to navigate through the over grown nettles, I manage to find the right track and then up the hill to the gate where I can see my parents waiting and waving. 

I am pleased to see them and gulp down some coconut water along with some avocado mixed with grapes. Odd combination but it tastes great. In the rush leaving they forgot to pack the sandals so said will meet me at the next stop with them. Luckily home is only 20 minutes drive away. I hug them both and head down the footpath towards Ashurst Wood. 

My navigation seems to get rubbish on this leg and I end up missing the track around Weir Wood Reservoir heading onto a cycle track instead. I soon realise my mistake but then head down a long road and different footpath to pick up the route again. I have wasted a good 30 minutes veering off route. 

Once back on the right trail it looks familiar again as I cycled this leg in practice. I catch up with a small group and exchange chat on how they are doing. Once at Twyford Farm, I remember how I got lost before and look out for the footpath but without any luck. Half the group split onto another track whilst myself and another runner stick to the map around Twyford Lodge, before meeting a gate and another footpath. Shortly after the other group come down the path we met. We are on the right track it seems.  

Recognising the route passing The Old Rectory we head into the village of Horsted Keynes and onto the playing field where checkpoint four is held. 

I meet the parents again and eat some more avocado, a boiled egg, packing one with me and some coconut water. I change into the fresh pair of Lunas then fill up my bladder pack. I take one more salt capsule as a precaution. The time is just after 12pm. I say goodbye to my parents and thank them for their support. 

Again I am familiar with the next leg from practice. It is rather simple this section and over the famous Bluebell Railway. Through Hammer Wood and Lindfield, more rolling hills before skirting round Chailey Common. 

Corn fields at Chilington

Miles 41-53
Best pace/mile 9:38
Slowest pace/mile 18:00

I start to feel rather energised and my legs are running on auto-pilot with little discomfort. However my ankle injury has started a dull ache but no pain. I hope it holds out...

Across the road and through the small gap in the woods, it seems straight forward and my memory is good with the direction. Later I still manage to veer off track and end up trekking over a muddy field through a farm. The farm hand directs me back onto the footpath, and soon enough I see some spectators waving across by the trees. This is a difficult cross section on the route, so they show me the correct path. I have now added a good 2 bonus miles..

Back on track and then reaching checkpoint five. I have a few negative thoughts and undecided whether to carry on to the finish. My ankle is nagging now and wants me to stop. I chat with the team and they seem in awe at my feet, taking pictures of my sandals. They tell me nobody has finished in sandals before. I can see the hunger in their eyes for me to keep going. I check my phone and see a message from my partner that a big group of running friends are waiting for me at the finish, but no pressure! 

Well 9 miles left to go and my mind is made up... I cannot let down my waiting friends. 

Let's finish this!

54 miles on the route. Cimbing Black Cap-slowly

View from Black Cap

Miles 54-63
Best pace/mile 8:39
Slowest pace/mile 14:49

I munch on some pine nuts mixed in with pumpkin seeds, then some olives for the salts. Before jogging, then a slow run through the fields of Chiltington. I pass a few runners few and far between. Along the long downhill chalky track of Warningore Wood, before reaching the private land which we have access today. The deep ploughed field is very awkward to run across, so a steady hike seems to work best. 

I can see spectators by the roadside at the top of the field where the big Black Cap awaits. Just that one big climb, then it is flatter and downhill all the way home...

Reaching the top I scramble up to the road, words of encouragement and clapping from the group of waiting spectators. Over the road and through the gate, it is the tough uphill climb over the downs. 

Luckily I am local to the south downs and Blackcap is an area I have seen from both directions. However this side up is the steepest and longest. My plod slows to a marching hike and I need plenty of water to reach the top. I just notice I hadn't restarted my Garmin or my Runkeeper, so have lost 3 miles tracking.

After what feels like forever and burning in my quads, the track slowly flattens and I can see the view across the downs from afar. Realising that I am almost home and the sight in front of me gives me a warm feeling and sense of achievement I've reached this far. The ankle is not happy but I have no pain, so I will be able to finish today.

After a warm and humid day it is finally cooling off into the late afternoon and a brisk breeze is coming in. I reach Falmer feeling stronger but hungry. I eat a boiled egg and some more seeds and nuts to keep me going until the finish. I run the long pathway onto Falmer Road, that leads to Woodingdean then eventually over to Drove Road before heading across the racecourse for the downhill to the seafront. 

The steep trail seems sore on my feet and I am looking forward to reaching the finish. I cannot feel any blisters but the straps from my Lunas are starting to nag at my swollen feet with the downhill pull. 

Passing Blackrock Valley and the park, the route meets Roedean road before navigating around Marine Court and across Marine Drive for the finish at Blackrock. I head on through the underpass for the home stretch and can see a fair few spectators and people watching by the promenade already. I pass the Volks Railway and can hear 'come on Luke, you can do it'. Sunday then shouts 'you call that running' which at the time I thought was Bosh runner Steve. I can see Lucy clapping and shouting 'go Luke'. Down a couple of painful steps, onto the Brighton pebbles and under the finish line on the beach....

Happy to finally reach Brighton beach

I did it. My first London to Brighton off road race. 

The time is 18:43. I completed in 11:43:20 and came in 9th position overall. Not too bad considering I nearly quit and went off track on four occasions, adding another hour and 6 miles to the route. Had I known the course I could have made it in second place. There is always next year!

Food time

Steve B, Karen, Lesley L, Andy, Nick, Lesley B, Steve A, Gary, Tina, Jeanette, Anne, Domingo, Katja and Kelly

Lucy asks if I need anything, so I eat some pineapple and drink some water for now. I am not that hungry but sure I will be later. I hug Sunday and thank him for all the supportive messages throughout the day. He knew the last message would get me to keep on running home.

Lucy tells me to turn around and see who has come to see me finish. I am so overwhelmed at the turn out from Bosh friends and the Brighton running gang, I feel slightly embarrassed but very grateful the turn out.

Trusty Luna Mono sandals, with only one small blister

First bare runner to ever complete the course

I am awarded the barefoot runner trophy as I am the first runner to complete the whole course in Luna running sandals. I am so chuffed and cannot wait to start training the complete route for next year. 

Considering this is my first ultra race on a No Sugar No Grain lifestyle, I feel it went very well without any of the usual GI troubles I sometimes suffer. I eat when I needed to and drank to my thirst. Over the last few months I have become fat adapted and I found it worked really well for me today. No big lull or crash to worry about...

I catch up with Craig, who sadly had to drop at the second checkpoint with an injury. He will be back next year to try again. I congratulate Steve Mills, who of course came in first place again, five years after his course record. 

We all cheer and hoot the runners to the finish until dark and the cut-off time. 

Shawn and Jonathan make it to the finish strong but exhausted.

Denis Rice finally can give the barefoot trophy award, just waited six years to do so!

I would like to thank Extreme Running for a fantastic organised event. Mark Dean, Denis Rice, Lucy Dean for keeping the original off road London to Brighton spirit and race alive. 

I really look forward to this event being part of my race calendar yearly and many more ultra runners crossing the line in our home Brighton.

I would like to thank my family and friends for all their continued support and love of my running lifestyle. Without them many of my races probably wouldn't have happened or be inspired to push on to the finish...

This is a link to my Garmin route (few wrong turns)

Shawn made it to the finish, his longest running achievement 

Brave Matt Rimmington (20 years old) photo (Shawn Timmons)

Matt finished the event in 14:21:47 and really pushed on through, inspired by a charity close to his heart and family. Matt had troubles through Sunday night whilst staying at a hostel in Brighton and was sent to hospital on a kidney dialysis machine for two days. He has since recovered well and been staying strong. Bosh runners Shawn, Jonathan and Lucy paid Matt a visit to cheer him up. 

Matt would still like to run again and hopes to race the event next year. He is such a strong, determined young individual and I wish him all the best with his running future and really hope this one off rare experienced has not created any negative thoughts with the love of ultra running...



  1. Great blog! you are totally amazing

  2. Loved this account, Luke. Great recap. I ran the 100km, my first, five days ago with Sussex Trails, and I ran a chunk with Mark and Denis. Great chaps. I loved the photo of the corn cobs. It started to rain when we reached that point, and the clay surface was like an ice rink. The rain and wind made the miles on top of Black Cap and on to the racecourse very interesting, but with hand-held maps and no previous reconnaissance after checkpoint 2 I finished in 13 hours. I think Mark and Denis finished no more than 10 minutes behind me. I have not taken off my finish-medal dog tags since.

    1. Brilliant well done Terence! I'm gutted I missed out as was invited along after the trial version last year through STE. It is a great off road route and so glad that STE have given the event the boost it needs for future success!


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