Sunday, 8 September 2013

London to Brighton Off-Road Ultra Race - Recce Details


Yes, it's been a wee while since my last post on my Montane Lakeland 100 experiences.  Since then I have been pretty busy setting up my new run coaching service, simply titled "Stuart Mills Run Coaching".  After announcing the new coaching service (which I will most likely limit to around ten runners) at the end of my last blog post, I have had SIX new runners sign up, which has been really exciting.  The six runners have a range of experiences, and a range of immediate goals from achieving a PB in next April's Virgin London Marathon, to completing the Montane Spine Race that covers 268 miles in the cold and snow of the Pennines next January.  It is really great getting to know these runners over the phone and via e-mail, which does take some time in order to be able to personalise their specific needs.  However, the time I spend considering what is needed for them to improve their running performances, I think will also be beneficial to my running, as I get a greater understanding of the many, many factors that influence endurance running.  So, things are really good at the moment, as I am not only looking forward to my upcoming races, but also the upcoming races of my six athletes.

So now feeling that I have fully recovered from the Montane Lakeland 100, I have my next race which is the Extreme Running London to Brighton Off-Road Ultra.  The race is a bit over 60 miles, which starts at Blackheath and finishes on the coast at Brighton.  I raced the inaugural event, back in 2008, winning in a time of 7 hours 59 minutes.  Click HERE to access my GPS data on GarminConnect.  Note the 5:57 first mile!!!  Definitely a good example of "Run as fast as you can, while you can!" Back then the race distance was 56 miles.  Below are some photos from the 2008 London to Brighton Off-Road Ultra race.

Race Start - At the Front Checking my GPS Watch Has Started

Running along the Scenic Trails in Torrential Rain

At the Finish in Brighton - Still Raining!

However, when I received the race Map Book around two weeks ago I was surprised to see that the course had significantly changed since 2008, with around two thirds of the route being different, and now totalling around 61 miles.  So over the last two weeks I have completed a recce of the entire route, during three long runs. The changes the race organisers have made are excellent, with the course being even more enjoyable, and now passes through even more great countryside. 

This post is therefore slightly different to my usual blog posts, in that the post's aim is specifically to provide information to those runners racing the event in two weeks time, on the 22nd September, who may have not had the opportunity to recce the route.  So for those readers who are not running the London to Brighton Off-Road Ultra I will sign off now, but without a signing off quote as one hasn't come to mind, as it usually does during the process of typing my post.

Enjoy your running,


PS  A massive thanks for all of the positive feedback I received following my win in the Montane Lakeland 100, and the positive comments on my two race reports on UltraStu and the Montane website, and also on the extensive interview with Ian Corless on the Talk Ultra podcast show.  Well, if you are keen to hear a little bit more about my ideas on trail running, I expand upon a number of aspects within the one hour interview with Tim Bateson from the latest episode of the British Trail Running Podcast show.  Click this link to listen to just my interview, or click this link to listen to the entire episode eight.  .

London to Brighton Off-Road Ultra Recce Details

Yes, as mentioned above, during the last two weeks I have had three fantastic runs along the London to Brighton Off-Road Ultra route.  I did the recce runs in race order.  So I first ran legs 1 and 2, then legs 3 and 4, and finished the course, running legs 5 and 6 yesterday on Saturday.  Those of you running the event on the 22nd September should hopefully have the 2013 Map Book.  Within the following Recce Details I will frequently refer to this Map Book, so probably best you have this at hand as you read my details.

For each of my three recce runs I was running the course at a relaxed training pace,  really focussing on my surroundings, to hopefully enable me to remember the route come race day.  Having run the race back in 2008, I was amazed at how much of the course that was the same (probably only around a third) immediately came back to me.  Therefore within the following notes I make below, where I highlight parts of the course that I found a bit tricky in terms of navigation, there may in fact be some more demanding navigational bits to newcomers on the previous old route sections, which because it was familiar to me I had no problems.  I will try to mention below which parts of the course are on the old 2008 route.

I wore a Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS watch.  All six legs are available on Garmin Connect.  It is therefore possible for you to export the file for each leg and view the route on Google Earth.  On a number of occasions I went off course.  There were also two sections where it was not possible to follow the exact route as it goes over private property, so access is only available on race day.  For these detours, I have attempted to estimate how much extra distance I covered.  The distances for each leg, and the total overall distance have these extra detours removed, so hopefully the distances I state are pretty close to the exact race distance!


Leg 1 Blackheath to Keston Common – 10.9 miles - GPS Trace on GarminConnect
From the start the route is clear as it descends downhill before crossing the road at the lights and then crossing a second busy road (although at 6:00am I doubt it will be busy!) before going under the railway bridge as stated on page 3.  The immediate left turn onto pavement is reasonably obvious.  The cycle paths signs/arrows assist in indicating the route. 

The route passes through road/pavement works just before the sharp left turn to cross over the railway line.  The gap in the fence needs to be located after crossing the road, to enter the park.  THE FIRST POSSIBLE PLACE TO GO OFF COURSE, which I did, is just after immediately seeing the athletics track.  NOTE:  The arrow on page 3 locating the athletics track is NOT pointing to the athletics track.  ALSO DO NOT keep the athletics track to your left as stated on page 3.  On seeing the track, immediately look for the cycle path sign and run up the spiral ramp to cross the railway line on the overpass.  DO NOT RUN STRAIGHT AHEAD WITH ATHLETICS TRACK ON LEFT.  Entering the park there are a number of possible paths, best to stick to the main path.  If you look at my GPS trace, I kept to the left path which came to an end at a big fence, so slower!
As the route leaves the park, again there are a number of possible options which don’t make much difference.  I don’t think the actual route is correctly indicated in the map book, although not totally clear.  The key thing is to look out for the cycle path by the river, as stated on page 4.

The next possible tricky bit is near the end of page 4 as you run through the woods to the east of the golf club.  There are a number of possible paths to follow, so easy to head on the wrong path.  Be cautious here.  Then on page 5 after running through the Recn Gd on my recce I got lost and ended up doing a complete loop of a small lake.  The key point is to run along the quiet road to the right of the lake, and then look for the path down between fences, rather than continue running along the next road.  The reason I went astray here was due to not appreciating the scale of the map, and I had gone to far before I had realised.  This is probably the most difficult aspect in navigating to Brighton, calculating how far it is until you need to look for the next turn, woods, lake, etc.  The rest of leg 1 is pretty straight forward, simply follow the correct road, which at some road junctions, do take a moment to check which direction/road is correct.
Getting Lost During Leg 1 After the Recn Gd
Note:  From the different starting point, the course is different to 2008 until the road junction on page 5 near the Traffic warning at 47 metres elevation.  The course then follows the 2008 route until just after the start of leg 2.

Leg 2 Keston Common to Guildable Lane – 10.7 miles - GPS Trace on GarminConnect
Upon leaving the checkpoint, the route is new to me after it turns right at the first road junction.  The route is reasonably easy to follow.  The key thing is to make sure you are aware of where you are on the map so you don’t miss the sharp left turn to leave the tree covered bridleway and head across grass fields to head up a steady climb.  Near the top of the climb, turn right and head in a straight line, with the trees/bushes on the left over styles, through gates.  As you run through the woods, ANOTHER POTENTIAL ERROR POINT.  Look for a big board with a map of the woods, and turn left here, off the main track and run though the gap around the wooden fence.  Turn right on reaching the road and another right then run past a Spitfire?

As you cross the B road as it meets the A road, look for the path labelled “This hill is a bit Stony” near the bottom of page 7.  It is rather rough, but the key thing to focus on is the footpath that goes straight ahead after the steep rough descent.  It is confusing here, as there are two footpaths.  I missed the straight ahead and ended up gently turning right and following the main track down to the road.  IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU ARE AWARE OF WHETHER YOU STAYED ON THE MAIN PATH OR TOOK THE FOOTPATH ACROSS THE GRASS FIELD.  This is because it would be very easy to head up the wrong track (a Byway) directly opposite where you meet the road if you missed the correct route like I did.  Luckily I realised I had, so turned left and ran along the road for 100 – 150 metres before locating the much less obvious correct footpath.
Getting Lost on Leg 2 - Stayed on the Main Path!
For the next mile or so the exact route isn’t totally obvious, and gets a bit tricky as you near the back of the houses.  It is also reasonably easy to head up the wrong path near the tiny lake visible on page 8 directly beneath the words Biggin Hill, which I did for around 30 metres before realising!  For the next bit, it is important that you keep track of where you are on the map so you don’t miss the sharp left turn to shortly enter Round Wood.  The next 300 metres is tricky as the exact path isn’t obvious as it is very overgrown with stingy nettles.  That is assuming I took the correct path.  Have a look at my GPS trace, a bit of running around in circles and back tracking.  After being stung a wee bit, the route became obvious again as I run past the edge of Tatsfield across the small park and past the friendly looking pub and shop.
Look for the footpath sign near the school and stay alert as there are many footpath junctions, before reaching the B road near the top of page 9 where it states “Private property Cross on race day only”.  The next section across the private property I have been informed will be clearly marked on race day.

The route then crosses over the top of the M25, crosses a busy A road, before reaching a possible tricky bit as you first need to locate the correct footpath as you enter the woods at the very bottom of page 9 at Watts Hill.  Running up the hill simply stick to the main path within the woods and you will reach the road which you go straight across.  Shortly after running pass the village hall, crossing a busy B road, which road is the actual lane and not a private drive isn’t totally clear, so careful here.  Then keep an eye out for the footpath off to the right, and as you drop downhill with a bit of care to navigate, you should reach checkpoint 2 okay.
Note:  After the private property section, the end of leg 2 was the same as 2008 so for me it was familiar, so easy to follow.  It may be a bit more difficult to others.

Leg 3 Guildables Lane to Blockfield Wood/Farm – 8.8 miles - GPS Trace on GarminConnect
The route is easy to follow for the next mile or so.  The first tricky bit is as you enter Edenbridge Golf Club on page 11, where it states “Look for signs and use your compass.  It starts of reasonable easy as there are footpath arrows on posts, but then they disappear and you really need a good sense of direction.  If you look at my GPS trace you will see I went slightly off course up a driveway, before realising my mistake and finding the narrow track to leave the golf course.  Then again, after turning sharp right across the fields of Crouch House Green, I headed in the wrong direction and actually went to the left of the two lakes instead of to the right of the east lake.  I realised that I had gone wrong so I kept my eye out for the footpath/bridleway to re-join, at the very bottom of page 11.

The next section after crossing the B road labelled Traffic also requires a good sense of direction as the path isn’t totally clear, but look out for the Eden Valley Walk arrows and then the Vanguard Way arrows, to reassure you that you are on the right path.  Eventually you should reach the bottom of page 12 at the crossroads.

Follow the obvious bridleway to Home Farm, then keep to the main track, then turn left along a sealed road/drive way before turning right at Old Lodge Farm to head downhill to reach another narrow road/driveway.  Go over the stile, but don’t go straight up the hill which seems the obvious path, but veer more to the right around the edge of the trees and you will then see the sharp left turn you need to take at the footpath finger post.  Again look at my GPS trace to see where I went wrong.  It is then pretty straight forward down to checkpoint three.

Leg 4 Blockfield Wood/Farm to Horsted Keynes – 10.2 miles - GPS Trace on GarminConnect
The route is again at first easy to follow.  You need to ensure that you do not follow the bridleway turnoff near Larches Farm as this takes you to a dangerous crossing of the busy A road.  Reach the safer road crossing by turning slightly to the right at the bridleway fingerpost and then shortly later look for the footpath fingerpost and turn sharp left to head up to the A road.

The next section, as long as you keep aware of where you are on the map, you should reach the busy A road crossing fine.  If you go directly across the road you will see the path to take, not very obvious as I didn’t first see it so I wandered along the road for a while before returning to find it.  On page 15 it states “Use your compass” at various points.  I didn’t find the route that difficult to follow here as there was a pretty obvious track to follow, however, any slight loss of concentration and one would easily go off route.  Probably the most tricky section is when you enter the woods towards the bottom of page 15. I also found that I didn’t come out of the woods directly at the cross roads, but around 100 metres to the west, so I then had to turn left and run along the quiet lane to reach the cross roads.
The route then heads down a newly sealed driveway through a woods, before joining a quiet road near Suttons Farm.  Head along the road, and then just as the road begins to very slightly veer to the left and go downhill, look for the slightly hidden fingerpost and path to the right of the trees/bushes and head down this clear track.  From this possible error point, it is pretty straight forward to checkpoint four in the centre of the pleasant village of Horsted Keynes.  An excellent place to meet your supporters, with there being a pub, although I think the village shop will be closed on Sunday afternoon.  Please note;: Leg 4 was new to me, i.e. different to the 2008 route until it re-joined the old route at the middle of page 15 at the third arrow, after Weir Wood.  It then was the same as 2008 through checkpoint four until midway into leg 5.

Leg 5 Horsted Keynes to Chiltington – 10.0 miles - GPS Trace on GarminConnect
Leave the village across the field to the opposite corner, then careful as you follow the route as there are a few turns.  I actually missed one of them, however, I re-joined the route around 200 metres later so no problems.  Check out my GPS trace.  Shortly after I left the quiet country lane near Stoaches Farm (page 17), you will see on my GPS trace, that I went off route for around 200 metres before realising my mistake.  It wasn’t a tricky bit, for some reason I had in my head to turn left, not right, at the next junction.  One simple moment of lacking concentration, or a simple bit of incorrect map reading like this, can so easily get you off route.

The route is reasonably clear as you approach, and then a tiny bit of searching to find the path, to go over the Bluebell Railway.  After you pass The Sloop Pub (middle of page 18) the route turns a sharp left and from there on as it enters Hanmer Wood it is totally different from 2008 until the end at Brighton at a different finish point.  It is pretty easy to stick to the route though the woods, and then upon coming out into the open you can see the footpath fingerpost where a sharp right turn is required.  After turning you pass through the campsite and then at the road, turn right to run along the quiet lane, keeping an eye out for the footpath on the left.
There should be no problems until you meet a farm track, on page 19 where it states “Route goes over the black gates”.  On the map it looks like the route goes straight ahead, but you need to turn left along the farm track for about 30 metres, before you see the two black metal gates.  It gets a bit tricky for the next three quarters of a mile before you reach the busy A road.

Upon reaching the A road, on the map it looks like you go directly across the road and head down an unmarked track.  Straight across the road, next to a fence line it does look like that could be the route, however, turn right and run carefully along the road for about 20 metres and if you look carefully you will see a more obvious, but still difficult to find unmarked path.  Turn left and here down this clear path, once you have found it. 
Go directly across the road into Pound Common to another potentially tricky bit.  I followed the obvious path, which without realising, I think was slightly different to the route marked on the map.  This then caused me to go off route shortly after, when I turned left, thinking I was at the left turn, instead of actually veering slightly to the right, to  correctly run down the track to the right hand side of the house.  Check out my GPS trace, as this is a VERY LIKELY PLACE TO GO OFF ROUTE.  The next mile is also very tricky and hard to follow.  There are faint tracks visible within the grass as you cross the fields, however, these don’t always seem to match the route marked on the map.  It is really important that you keep your sense of direction here, and constantly be aware where you are on the map.  Which isn’t that easy, as there are no really clearly obvious landmarks.

After you head south from Bineham Wood (middle of page 19), staying on the route GETS EVEN HARDER.  Out of the entire 61 mile course, this next half mile or so is PROBABLY THE MOST DIFFICULT, as I found it really hard to locate my exact position on the map.  Somehow I managed to find the barely visible footpath fingerpost at the bottom left of Cottage Wood, where there is a 45 degree kink to the right.  The following sharp left turn is more obvious, and from here I was able to relax as the route was clear again off the bottom of page19, which is also the top of page 20.  Where it states on page 20 “Use your compass”, I actually found the route pretty obvious, simply following the path / four wheel drive track.  There is then a good relaxing stretch that takes you all the way to checkpoint five.

Leg 6 Chiltington to Brighton Beach – 10.3 miles - GPS Trace on GarminConnect
Leave checkpoint five and head across the field to the opposite corner and the route follows the quiet country lane.  The turn off the road to the right doesn’t have a fingerpost indicating the bridleway, but it is reasonably obvious as the bridge over the railway is visible.  The route is straight forward to the arrow on the map (page 21) indicating “Private – race day only”.  This next section should be clearly marked on race day.

The path from the B road, gently, (well actually not that gently, and at the fifty plus mile mark it will mostly likely feel really steep), is easy to follow.  At the top, the route joins the South Downs Way, at the top of page 22, for around half a mile.  The route is clear all the way down to Falmer village and then after the village along the newly laid cycle path, adjacent to the busy B road.
The route then crosses the road and is clear until just before you reach the next road, where a sharp turn to the left is required.  Run along next to the busy B road before crossing at the traffic island next to the car park and through the gap in the fence to cross the horse racing track.  The route turns left and there are a number of possible tracks, which pretty well run parallel to each other so it doesn’t really matter which one you take, as long as you head south and stay up high over the crest of the next hill.

You will then eventually run through the golf course car park and join the side of the road.  On the day of my recce run, without realising, I ran the wrong way.  I have since spoken to the race organisers and they have highlighted where I went wrong, which I will clarify now.  So DO NOT do what I did, where upon joining the side of the road after the golf course car park, I ran down to the traffic lights!  On the photo below the red line is the GPS trace of where I run.  I have marked on a yellow dashed line, where the actual course goes.  So shortly after reaching the road, carefully cross the quiet road and head down a no exit road.  At the end of this short road, look for the narrow track which passes down to the left side of a big tower block.  This track then meets the main A road that runs along the coast.  Turn right and then cross the road at the traffic island. Continue along the pavement on the left of the road.  Then around 150 - 200 metres later look for the cycle path tunnel on the left.  Run though the tunnel and you should then see the finish!  So do not run where I ran on my recce run, (red line), where I ended up running though the car tunnel, which was a bit dodgy, especially likely to be even more dangerous on race day, if a wee bit tired after running 61 miles!    

The Final 500 Metres - Time for a Sprint!

I hope the above recce notes have been useful to those runners racing in two week's time.  It definitely has been beneficial to me, so hopefully come race day I won't go off course, which can be so frustrating and can be the start of the dreaded 'downward spiral', with the RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) to RFE (Race Focus Energy)arrow rotating upwards!  Refer to my Race Focus Energy Fatigue Model Article for explanation, and my 2011 Ultra Trail Mont Blanc race report to see the 'devastating' effects of a downward spiral!

Here's hoping for a hot, sunny and dry day, not like the persistent torrential rain of 2008!

See you on the start line.



  1. Hi, you make mind blowing ideas and a spectacular article wheel services

  2. Thanks Stu, a good report and a tricky route, I did 41 miles of it last year but then got injured, so back for revenge this year.

  3. An impressive post, I just gave this to a colleague who is doing a little analysis on this topic. And he is very happy and thanking me for finding it.
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  4. Great right up! I enjoyed your notes. This is my first L2B and am very excited if not some nerves to not go off route. I have recce from CP2 onwards so hoping for the best!
    See you there! I've heard lots about you from Mark ;-)

  5. Thanks! This should have been extremely helpful. I read it beforehand, but then I made exactly the mistake you warn for in leg 2: "it would be very easy to head up the wrong track (a Byway) directly opposite where you meet the road if you missed the correct route"
    I ended up quite a bit west, gaining distance and losing time...

    Congratulations to your fantastic race. I was very proud to be just four hours behind you.

    1. Hi Bengt, Well done on your 12:50 finish. When I recced leg 2 I nearly went up the bridleway and saw the potential for others to do the same. Good that you managed to get back on the route and finish. Stuart

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