On July 2011 my very close friend Gary Pope passed away suddenly from Sudden Cardiac Death. After a couple of months, I and a group of friends began to look for something that we could do in his memory, to raise money for CRY and, just as importantly, to show his family how much Gary had meant to us.
Eventually we found the ‘London to Brighton Challenge’, which was to take place on 12-13th May 2012. The Challenge is to walk 100k non-stop, from Richmond Park in London all the way down through Surrey and Sussex, finishing in Brighton on the south coast.
The idea of taking on the challenge captured our imaginations very quickly, and soon we had a team of ten willing to take on this insane task – Gary’s younger brother Rob Pope, his girlfriend Jess Furlong, and 8 very close friends (John Aitken, Stefan Porter, David Broadley, Gavin Davies, Andrea Cleverly, Craig Harrison, David Simmons and Craig Nichol). I don’t think we fully appreciated what we had agreed to do.
After many weeks of varying levels of training, Saturday 12th May 2012 arrived, and it was an early start – we had to be at the start point in Richmond Park by 6:15am, an hour before our allotted start time, so it meant a 4am awakening which was a tough enough challenge already.
Then we had the inspirational sight of Mr Motivator (right) working up the entrants to get the adrenaline going. After 10 minutes or so of comical/embarrassing jigging about, we set off.
The first positive sign was the weather – it was absolutely beautiful with not a cloud in the sky. This was nothing short of a miracle after the 6 weeks of solid rain we had endured leading up to the walk!
The first 12k or so were largely a picturesque wander along the banks of the Thames, and the first rest stop was reached without too much trouble.
As we made our way to the next rest stop, at 25k (near Coulsdon), the first signs of blisters were beginning to appear in the group, but the sun was out and spirits were still high amongst our team of ten.
Over the next 13k to the next rest stop (near Godstone) was when legs and shoulders (from heavy backpacks) really began to ache.
The next stage was 16k long, the longest without a break, and this was where things really started to get tough.
My legs were beginning to hurt rather a lot and the first signs of fatigue were making themselves felt. Others were beginning to suffer very badly from blisters, and it seemed no amount of plasters or Vaseline could help.
The pain we could deal with through the various painkillers we had taken with us, but the tiredness could only be postponed so long by the various energy bars and tablets (all of which are pretty unpleasant by the way). This stage took us through to the 53k stop (Felbridge), where hot food was served. This proved a lifesaver for a few of us and seemed to replenish energy levels.
Unfortunately though, it was the point at which many walkers dropped out and this included 2 of our own group, who were suffering from severe blisters and fatigue.
After an emotional goodbye to the guys who had stopped, the 8 of us remaining ploughed on – and by this point it was 10:30pm so out came the head torches. It was surreal to be walking through the countryside in the dead of night but it didn’t make the distances seem any shorter.
It was 11k to the next stop (West Hoathley) and I still felt OK at this point, although I had a running battle with my left knee to keep it working. However, the blisters, aching legs and extreme tiredness were to account for another 2 members of our group at around the 65k mark and we were then down to 6 remaining.
By this point it was around 1am, and those of us who remained had now been walking for about 18 hours. It seemed surreal to think about that, but even worse when we considered we still had over 30k to go!
We were all extremely tired by this point, and the next stage, whilst it was ‘only’ 8.5k, proved very difficult. There were many narrow, muddy paths and seemingly endless stiles to negotiate.
It was energy sapping, and took around 4 hours to get to the next stop at 74k (Scaynes Hill). Sadly this was where I had to drop out through extreme tiredness and fatigue, but the 5 remaining walkers were to plough on through the pain barrier.
Craig Nichol and David Simmons, who had set the pace for our group for most of the walk, went on to complete the full 100k in a little over 26 hours, which was an incredible achievement.
Behind them, Gavin Davies, Craig Harrison and Jess Furlong dragged themselves through the last 25k, ignoring the agony of blisters and damaged feet, to finish the course in around 33 hours – an awesome example of the power of the mind over matter!
Through taking this on, we have so far raised over £6,500 for CRY, which is absolutely fantastic. Each and every one of us thought that the Challenge was an amazing experience, and something which we are sure Gary would have been proud of – and he was probably chuckling somewhere too, thinking how crazy we were to do this for him.