OF reader Emma Brien set herself the challenge of walking the London to Brighton Trek this summer, taking on 100K of differing terrain….

London to Brighton

The British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton Trek is a hardcore 100K (62.1 miles) challenge event, that sees participants walking day and night through the dark woods, paths and dimly lit lanes, all within a 30 hour limit. Emma, a civil servant from Washington, Tyne & Wear, was looking for a challenge for 2015 and chose this huge test of endurance…

When I signed up to take on the London to Brighton Trek, my exact thought was “its only walking, how hard can it be?” The truth, it’s ridiculously hard. I thought my extensive training would prepare me for the distance that lay ahead and the toll on my body, but this trek was the biggest challenge of my life.

The day of reckoning…

The trek itself started with an early morning start at Kempton Park Racecourse to collect a trek t-shirt, head torch and first aid pack. The race course feels electric with excitement and nervous energy. As we move to the race course itself for the safety briefing, the organisers inform us that they failed to complete the course on their first attempt. As a wave of doubt washes over me, we are told to remember to love our feet and are sent to the start line. No turning back now, here we go.

After 9.6miles we arrive at checkpoint 1 at 11am. With the temperature already in the 20s I fill my Camelbak with water, change into shorts and a fresh pair of socks and rejoin the trail to the next checkpoint. Feeling good so far, no aches and pains, just a little bit sweaty. 10.4 miles later and we are approaching checkpoint 2 where we hear that people have already dropped out of the trek due to the heat. As we arrive at the checkpoint, relief turns to pure joy as I see an angel handing out free ice lollies. With my feet burning and being more than ready for the break, this was the best ice lolly I have ever tasted. Walking through the midday sun was tough going and slowed the pace a little but we are still making good time.

London to Brighton

Checkpoint 3, a total of 23.4miles. Heading into unknown walking distances. I’m not sure how my body will react from this point on but so far things are okay. My left knee is starting to hurt so on goes the knee support and its time for my first pain killers of the trek. After some welcomed sandwiches and the restocking of supplies, it’s time to move on to the next checkpoint. We all start off well on this next 5.2 miles but then the group starts to break up as people begin to suffer from blisters and slow their pace. Although my feet are fine, pain starts to surge through my back. I move my rucksack around so I am carrying the weight on my front which eases it a little.

Walking with my brother at the back of the pack, he starts to feel unwell. I stick with him as we make slow progress to the next checkpoint. He takes a turn for the worse as dehydration kicks in. We get fluids inside him and call the emergency number and get a Marshall to us as soon as possible. Our fellow Trekkers and Marshall Paul could not have helped us more, and I’m so grateful for their help and kindness. As my brother is driven to checkpoint 4, I continue to walk, the worry taking my mind off the pain. When I reach checkpoint 4, I am informed that my brother is suffering from dehydration and heat stroke and will have to be taken to hospital as a precaution. What a massive blow. I offer to quit the trek and stay with him but he tells me to go on. Reluctantly, I continue but with the realisation of just how important it is to keep safe and well.

Another injury hits us between checkpoint 4 and 5 as a friend badly pulls his groin. We slow right down to be able to ensure he gets to the next checkpoint – after 34.9miles, he is advised to stop by paramedics. The remaining five set off from checkpoint 5 at 12.30am; it’s on with the torches and out into the darkness. This was, without doubt, the toughest part of the trek, walking in single file through overgrown trails, trying to avoid thorns and nettles. I felt so relieved to reach checkpoint 6 as for the last mile leading up to it, the urge I had to break into tears was overwhelming. I felt at my limit with exhaustion and pain, all I wanted to do was to take the pressure off my back and get some sleep.

London to Brighton

As five became four, I also came close to quitting. The rain had started to pour and I was so cold, I couldn’t stop shivering. I borrowed layers of clothes to try to keep warm and closed my eyes for 5 minutes. During those 5 minutes, I was trying to decide what to do. I didn’t want to, but everything in my body was telling me to stop. From somewhere I found some strength as I announced “I’m going on”, taking everyone by surprise. I changed my socks and changed into waterproofs but there was no way I could carry my backpack for the next 7.1 miles, two bottles of water would be enough. I left my pack with our support driver and continued walking, waiting for the sun to rise.

As the sun came up, we approached 43 miles and stopped for a 10 minute break and that was when my body gave up. The pain in my back was unbearable, my right knee was starting to give up on me and nausea had set in due to lack of food and exhaustion. I was slowing my team down and I knew it. So after 43 miles and 21 and a half hours, I made the decision to stop. My team called our support driver and had me picked up as they continued on to the next checkpoint without me. I was devastated to stop and that feeling, mixed with pure exhaustion, meant I broke down into an emotional wreck. Not only was I disappointed in myself for not being able to finish, I felt like I had let down all of the people who had sponsored me. The dropout rate for the trek is around 50%, I managed to complete 70% of it and I knew in my heart that I couldn’t have carried on but that doesn’t make the feeling of failure any easier to take.

The L2B casualties 

  • David (Emma’s brother) – 28.6 miles – heat stroke and dehydration
  • Kevin – 34.9 miles – pulled groin
  • Allan – 40.1 miles – blisters and sore feet
  • Emma – 43 miles – back and knee pain
  • Chris – 48 miles – burst blister
  • Gary and David – 53 miles – sore feet and time restraints*

*Once they reached checkpoint 8 it was officially closed, meaning they would not make the finish line in the 30 hour limit.

London to Brighton

Out of the seven of my group that started the trek, none of us managed to complete it, with the three I left on the track stopping between checkpoints 7 and 8. This is without doubt the toughest thing I have ever attempted to do and no amount of training can prepare you for it. Although, I must say that I feel a lot closer to the friends who went through this experience with me.

For the two days following the trek, the words “I am never doing that again” left my mouth a fair few times. However, a week later, as I sit with taped up feet and a support around my knee, I am seriously thinking, maybe. Maybe I should try it one more time…

 WORDS & PICTURES: Emma Brien

You can read all about Emma’s training for the London to Brighton Trek 2015 and the gear that kept her going…