London to Brighton 2022

I haven’t written in this blog in nearly a year and I’m so sorry! I’m still having issues with tiredness and motivation (which I now know is chronic fatigue syndrome) and haven’t had the concentration to write much even though I’ve actually got lots to write about as I’m just finishing DBT and am trying a different approach to eating disorder recovery which I’ll write about in future posts. BUT I absolutely have to write about the run I did last week from London to Brighton which was AMAZING!

I was really, really nervous about the run for lots of reasons especially since I hadn’t run at all in eight months until I started to slowly introduce running again a couple of months ago. I’m calling it ‘running’ but it’s not really- I’m making the running movements and it feels like I’m running but my pace averages 15-16 minute miles which is fast walking pace really and I often get overtaken by walkers. But I physically can’t go any faster; I’ve tried but it’s like forcing my body through sludge and I can’t do it. I also need to have a nap after any attempt at running, and I’m exhausted for the next day so the only day I can realistically go for a run is on a Saturday when I can nap for the rest of the day and most of Sunday too. It’s worth it though just to be able to run.

I was also nervous for a few other reasons- the last couple of ultras I tried last year were HORRIBLE and I had no energy or motivation at all so it was so hard to keep moving and obsessive thoughts kept taking over. When I did London to Brighton last year, I felt horrible throughout the whole run and I was forcing my body to move, and all I could think about was negative and paranoid thoughts and fixations. I had really horrible associations with Brighton because of how low I’d felt when I was there last year but that was one of the reasons I really wanted to attempt London to Brighton again- it’s my second favourite run (after Hope24) because it’s so scenic and magical, and Brighton is one of my favourite places in the world because of the alternative vibe, being by the sea, hippie-type shops (Black Pearl is my second favourite clothes shop after Eurasia Crafts in Glasgow) and vegan cafes including one which uses an air fryer so no oil. So I wanted to really enjoy the run and being in Brighton so I could create new memories and positive associations again.

I got the train down to Brighton the night before the run and got the train up to London at 5.55am on the morning of the run. I was really anxious about the logistics and actually getting to the startline in Richmond but it went a lot more smoothly than I thought and I got there with lots of time before the 8.30am start. The first part of the run went along the Thames Path and it was really nice to run by the river. I was a bit worried about getting tired before reaching the first checkpoint (which was at 12k- longer than I’d run in nearly a year) but I’d made the decision not to take lurasidone or pregabalin the weekend of the run to minimise tiredness so I felt ok and weirdly a bit hyped. I think the nerves and excitement for the challenge mixed with the lack of medication and I started to get hypomanic which I used to get a lot when I did ultras years ago without taking medication but haven’t felt properly in years. It felt amazing and I started to really enjoy running by the river listening to David Bowie.

It didn’t seem long before I got to the first checkpoint and I was definitely ready for a rest by then. I had some coffee first then decided to get some food. There were some vegan protein bars (Tribe bars) at the aid station so I took one and ate it…without any anxiety!! It was AMAZING- I needed food so I took what looked good and didn’t look at the calories or even want to. And it tasted really nice! It’s amazing how you can actually appreciate the taste of food when you’re not overwhelmed with anxiety about it or obsessing over the calories. One of the things I had totally forgotten about being hypomanic is that my brain shuts up and it’s as though I don’t have an eating disorder. I used to get like that a lot years ago when I wasn’t on lurasidone or pregabalin and I’d forgotten how amazing it was (although longer term, it comes with a lot more paranoia and extreme mood swings so I’m not suggesting that anyone comes off their medication! I only didn’t take mine for the weekend of the run and I’m back on it now). It was 13k till the next checkpoint at 25k so I took a mini Toffee Crisp to eat at 18k and carried on with the run.

The next bit was mixed- partly trail and partly roads and it started to get a bit hilly so I had plenty of walk breaks up the hills which was nice. I’d worked through a few Bowie albums so I decided to switch to Pink Floyd for a change. At 18k, I ate the Toffee Crisp without even thinking about it until I realised it’s the first chocolate bar I’ve eaten in probably over ten years (I honestly can’t remember the last time I even contemplated eating ‘real’ chocolate) and instead of feeling overwhelmingly guilty or anxious like I usually would, I felt proud and actually good about myself. It was such a weird feeling and the brain space was incredible- usually my brain would be shouting at me and making me feel horrible but instead I could just enjoy the run and the amazing scenery. Seeing that as a massive win!

25k was the next checkpoint and again, it seemed to come round a lot more quickly than I thought and I couldn’t believe I was already at a quarter distance. There were sandwiches at the checkpoint and they even had gluten free! So I had a gluten free roll with vegan cheese which was definitely needed and a diet Coke for caffeine. Again, I wasn’t worried about what was in the food or eating foods I would never normally eat and it didn’t even bother me that the roll probably had spread on it! I honestly didn’t think about the food at all- I just needed it so I ate it. It was another 15k till the next check point at 40k so I took a Tribe bar with me to eat at 33km.

The next section was really scenic- across fields and through woods, and there were some really interestingly shaped trees. It started to get a bit more hilly but there were some amazing views at the top of a hill just south of Croydon (I think- my geography’s a bit rubbish!). It was also getting really hot and I was really thankful for my buff which kept the sun off my head and for my water backpack. There was a really interesting field with lots of horses in it and a couple of very cute pigs in the shade, and LOTS of stiles which were starting to get a bit painful!

At 33k, I ate the Tribe bar which helped a bit with the tiredness which was starting to creep in and carried on along more footpaths. I was still on Pink Floyd and after listening to three different versions of Dark Side of the Moon (the original, David Gilmour from the Pulse tour and Roger Waters from his Us + Them tour), I can definitively say that Roger Waters does it best! I switched back to Bowie and started listening to the Reality tour album which is one of my favourites. It was so nice running through the greenness listening to Bowie and I started to really connect with the trees around me and gain energy through the Force. Which sounds nuts I know but that’s honestly how it felt and I felt calmer and more ‘one’ than I have done in a really long time.

40k and the next checkpoint, and they had pick ‘n’ mix! I hadn’t had sweets in SO LONG and definitely not unmeasured, real sugar sweets and I got a bag of foam mushrooms, jelly snakes and mini cables to eat on the section before the next checkpoint which was 16k away (the longest stretch). I know I keep saying this but it was genuinely incredible to be able to take some sweets without feeling anxious or guilty about it, and my brain was pretty much silent which NEVER happens. I had a Tribe bar with a coffee before carrying on, still listening to Bowie.

Not much to say about the next section- it was still really scenic, across fields and through woodland and the shade of the trees was really nice. I was starting to get tired though especially as I passed the 50k mark and it was eveningish time (I wasn’t keeping track of the time). I ate the sweets on and off and even though when I picked them, I never thought I’d eat even half of them the bag was empty by 52k! I didn’t feel too guilty though and the energy boost they gave me was amazing. The light was starting to get to that magical ‘golden syrup’ stage and I was still feeling pretty good.

The ‘halfway’ checkpoint was at 56k and they were giving out meal tickets which did make me a bit anxious because I wasn’t sure if I could eat a ‘real’ meal. The choice was bolognese (meat or veggie) or balti (chicken or vegetarian). This was the first time my eating disorder made a reappearance and I found myself automatically trying to work out what the lowest calorie option was. I went for veg balti without rice and didn’t take any bread even though they had gluten free but as soon as I sat down, I realised I was likely to get hungry or run out of energy. I had a few minutes of brain argument then the sensible side won for once and I got a Tribe bar to take with me to eat before the next checkpoint at 67k. When I started to eat the balti, I realised how much oil it had been cooked with which freaked me out to start off with but then my brain went ‘fuck it’ and I ate it anyway! It was SO WEIRD but I think I’ve been watching so many Tabitha Farrar videos on YouTube (an eating disorder recovery account who has a very ‘fuck it’ attitude) that her approach seems to actually be rubbing off on me!

The next section was so pretty with amazing light and sunset, and I was lucky enough to see the sun set behind a field of lambs which was pretty magical. It was starting to get cooler so I put a long sleeved top on and got my headtorch ready for the night section. The sky was amazing- proper sunset with oranges, pinks and liquid sunlight and I kept stopping to take photos. Eventually the sun set and it started to get darker which is usually the part of runs that I hate but weirdly I wasn’t feeling too scared. I switched to Alanis Morissette for a change and started working my way through all of her albums.

Not much to write really about the next bit- it started to get dark so I put my headtorch on and got to the next checkpoint at 67k. I had yet another Tribe bar and two coffees (because it was too cold to rest much at the checkpoints by then) and took another Toffee Crisp bar to eat at 74k before the next checkpoint at 81k. It got fully dark and the sky was totally clear so it was pretty amazing running across open fields under the stars. I turned my headtorch off at times just to get a better view for stargazing which was INCREDIBLE. I saw the Plough and Cassiopoeia then got really, really confused because I am CONVINCED I could see Scorpius near the horizon but I didn’t know you could see Scorpius from the UK in May? I’m sure it’s a July constellation? But it really, really did look like it… Any astronomy gurus, please let me know!!

I can’t remember much about the night section except that time seemed to have leapt to hyperspeed and suddenly it was 1.30am at the 81k checkpoint. Everything seemed to be merging together by this point and it didn’t even seem surprising that there was breakfast food at the checkpoint. I had veggie sausages and baked beans and it didn’t even bother me that the sausages were cooked in oil! The beans especially tasted amazing and it felt a bit weird to be eating a cooked breakfast in the middle of the night but also strangely exciting. I put on my waterproof because I was starting to feel a bit cold then headed back out for the next section.

It was only 8k till the next checkpoint at 89k so I put on a playlist of ‘songs I like’ which range from rock music to Disney and zoned out a bit in the nightrunning. It didn’t seem long till the next checkpoint which I knew was right before the massive hill so I had two coffees and ate another Tribe bar. When I left the checkpoint, I put on David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ and started the trek up the hill. It was nearly 4am by this point and there was a hint of pink and orange on the eastward horizon which, after a night of running, is one of the most amazing and hopeful feelings ever. Going up the hill was painful and very slow but the view from the top was INCREDIBLE and honestly felt magical, like the creation of Narnia. ‘Blackstar’ was an amazing soudtrack and I felt really connected to Bowie’s spirit in the early dawn air.

The incline leveled off and I started running again along a ledge and across some fields. It felt so calm and connected running in the magical semi-light, and it gradually got lighter as I ran until I could turn my headtorch off. I could breathe in the Force and really connect with the world around me in a way I haven’t been able to in years. I decided not to stop at the last mini-checkpoint as I actually felt really good so I carried on towards Brighton.

Watching the sun rise is one of the most incredible feelings ever, especially when you watched it set the night before and haven’t been to sleep since. The feeling of hope and connection physically fills your chest and seeps through your body, and you feel amazing. I changed music to the ‘songs I like’ playlist again and genuinely enjoyed running along the path towards Brighton until suddenly you could see it and you realised that you were actually going to make it.

The run finished at Brighton racecourse and it felt so surreal and amazing to actually finish it. I honestly hadn’t thought I’d be able to, and I couldn’t believe I was actually in Brighton. It felt INCREDIBLE and I felt more proud than I did when I ran my first ultra- after being diagnosed with sleep apnoea and chronic fatigue syndrome, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to run distances again let alone 100k and even though ‘chronic fatigue running’ is very different to the running I used to be able to do (it’s a lot slower and needs a lot more rest breaks), I think it still counts. And I am so bloody proud I did it!

There was food at the end and I had some veggie sausages, mushrooms and baked beans although I didn’t eat all of it as I wasn’t really that hungry. Now I’d stopped, the tiredness really started to hit me and I called a taxi to go back to the B+B. I got there about 7am and set an alarm for 3pm (so I wouldn’t get too out of sync with time and so I could catch up with the F1), took my medication including lurasidone and pregabalin and fell asleep pretty much straight away. When my alarm went off, I REALLY didn’t want to move but I forced myself to get up, have a shower and get dressed. I had some coffee then walked down to the beach to read for a while which is one of my absolute favourite things to do- I love being by the sea so much.

I walked up into town to get a takeaway salad from one of my favourite vegetarian cafes for tea which also happens to be on the same road as Black Pearl so I went in there first! I restrained myself from buying half the shop but I did buy a gorgeous long purple skirt with a feather pattern on it and an irregular hemline and a lilac hoodie with a silvery tree of life on it. Both of which I have worn several times since and had a lot of compliments on! Then I went to Iydea (the vegetarian cafe) and bought a mix of salads including cauliflower, edamame, a veggie curry-style with aubergines and a chickpea salad. I knew they would have used oil in the dressings but I was still feeling hyped and it didn’t matter- the salads were colourful and looked amazing. I took it back to the B+B to eat while watching F1 and it tasted AMAZING- so many different textures and flavours, and I honestly enjoyed it. It felt SO GOOD to be able to choose food I wanted without stressing about amounts, calories or fat content and my brain was calm the whole time.

I went to bed again about 7.30pm and slept straight through till 10am the next morning. I needed to be out of the B+B by 10.30am so I packed my stuff and walked into town to go to my all-time favourite cafe Foodilic for breakfast. Foodilic isn’t technically vegan but serves a lot of vegan food, and you can ask them to use an air fryer so they don’t need to use oil. I ordered a full vegan breakfast because it was what I genuinely wanted (I was still a bit hyped and my brain hadn’t started up again yet) and when it came it looked amazing- veggie sausage, tomato, mushrooms, aubergine bacon, scrambled tofu and homemade baked butter beans. It tasted really good too- I’ve never had aubergine bacon but it was incredible and I want to make it at home, the scrambled tofu wasn’t too dry and the beans had lots of herbs cooked with them. There were so many different flavours on the plate and I ate it all. Which I think was my biggest achievement of the whole weekend!

After breakfast, I walked to the station to get the train home. On the way home, I finally started to come down and my mood crashed a bit (I think the medication had finally kicked in), and I started to feel really anxious and guilty about everything I’d eaten. But I did my DBT skills- I checked the facts (according to my watch, I had burned 6500 calories on the run and even with rounding up, I hadn’t eaten anywhere near that amount; objectively I had just done some pretty massive achievements; most of the food I ate was healthy), paced breathing to bring my heartrate down, radical acceptance that I had eaten the food but it wasn’t going to kill me. I’d also had bad news that my cat had had an accident and had to have her leg amputated so I was really worried about her and guilty that I hadn’t been there, and had to do a lot of radical acceptance that it had happened and I couldn’t have done anything about it. So the end of the weekend was a bit rubbish and but looking back at the whole experience, I’m seeing it as a MASSIVE positive and I really, really want to be able to get into that ‘freedom’ state without having to come off my medication and run 100km to get there! So that’s my next challenge…

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