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London to Brighton 1996
by David SillOctober 1996
The stage was set for the big clash! Would the sling shot work? Would the gods look after little David? What about the hare and the tortoise?
It was Strider against Strider. Big Carl Barker is one of the Striders' best runners who has represented Australia in the ultramarathon. He'd had a great running year. A good London Marathon, 6th in the Crete Marathon, an excellent Snowdonia Marathon in Wales, first in the Townley 12 Hour Race and many other great performances. Little Dave Sill on the other hand had an ordinary year finishing 57th in the Wiggington 10k (don't worry - you're not the only person who hasn't heard of it!), 35th in the 54k Grantham Canal Run and culminating in a 997th placing in the Great North Run.
The time and place for the great encounter was 7 am on 6th October in London. It was cold, overcast and drizzling. It was actually rather a nice day for London in October! I stood in front of Big Carl at the start line to get the message across that that was the correct order for the whole race. Big Ben went "bong". Within 10 seconds it was apparent that the plan was not working so I moved to plan B! This was to make Big Carl feel over-confident. I was going to say something to him but his distant heels weren't listening. Oh well, there were 88.5ks for me to teach him a lesson before we reached Brighton..
I could imagine him running scared looking over his shoulder all the time for me to appear. I was waiting to pounce, conserving my energy for the big tussle later on. The first 20 k of the race is along fairly ordinary looking, flat roads none of which were closed for the race. I was running just behind a rather nice German lady at this time and for some reason I only reached the 24k marker 5 minutes before the cut-off. There are strict time limits to be met at each check point of the race or you get "retired". This check point was in a place called Farthing Downs which was a beautiful area of open ground. The fraulein failed to reach a later check point and wasn't allowed to finish the race. I could have helped her along but, no, today's challenge was Big Carl. It was cold and drizzling for the first 30k, which was good because this would make Big Carl despondent.
At 35k there was a long steep hill. I walked most of this but knew Big Carl would run it. Good, this would make him tired! At the top of the hill I was surprised not to see Big Carl at the side of the road gasping for breath. We were now going along smaller roads often with no pavement. This was playing into my hand because a fast runner like Big Carl could jump away from traffic in the gutter and twist an ankle! There were gentle undulations for the next 30k through scenic countryside. But where was Big Carl? I was running better now and at the 56k mark was told I was 25 minutes within the cut-off. The time-keeper then said "just because you're safe by 25 minutes doesn't mean you should indulge yourself". "Indulge myself!!". Couldn't this pom see that this miserable looking, frozen, sodden little Aussie was beyond indulging himself?
At the 72k mark an eerie feeling came over me. Something significant had happened at this spot. Was it a murder? The scene of a bloody battle? Had the Striders agreed on STaR start times? After a few more kilometres the runners had to go to "Ditchling Beacon". Now let me explain something. They don't put beacons in valleys or flat areas! I dragged myself up the road to the beacon which is 227 metres up. At this point I was absolutely and completely.(censored). I was sure I would find Big Carl's body at the top of this one! But no. After a while I recovered a bit and eventually dragged myself to the last checkpoint at 80.5ks in 8 hours and 4 minutes.
The last 8ks were mostly down hill and runners could pick up a lot of time here. It was a nice way to the finishing line after that (you can tell the race director where to stick his) beacon, and a good place to catch Big Carl! I overtook someone a 100 metres from the finishing line and there was nobody else in front of me. At this point I gave up hope of catching Carl!
I saw Carl shortly afterwards. He looked completely fresh and recovered. I should have known I couldn't catch him. We chatted over a bite to eat and I asked how he went. At the 72k mark he was running third with a long lead over the next runner. But he had serious stomach pains from a sports drink that didn't agree with him and was forced to withdraw from the race. He was a mere two hours in front of me at the time! He got so close to the finish in what would have been a superb time and a certain trophy.
Carl lives in Lancashire but is thinking of returning to Oz in about 18 months. But first he is thinking of entering a race around Africa which will take six months! That makes the London to Brighton sound like a light training run! Any Striders who come to the UK should contact one of us - we need a third runner for team entries.
Well, ......the hare and the tortoise? Never give up hope. Penguins unite!