London to Brighton 1991 - Fen Tunley remembers

I have been asked to write about this race ("the Race") as part of the "those were the days" feature on the Club web site - flattering but to which of our many talents or vices does this refer? Casting aside the former, this is how it was in those days.

From the very early days of the Harriers revival, the common interest was running a long way. At that time (1970's), the Sunday morning pre-pub run was the Club's only combined training effort. The length and duration depended upon random matters; viz effect of hangovers from Saturday night; where we ran etc. Brian Leith (where the h*** are you now?) usulally led these rambles, which included the occasional river crossing - Tom (Glare) went first to see how deep it was...with a "fartlek" style finish to get back to the pub.

However, between these weekly outings, individual members "did their own thing". I guess the common factors were enthusiasm, bloody minded competitiveness and talent - the latter was not for me; the weekly routine became something like:-

Monday - hill session circuit. 8 - 12 x 800m + steady 2-3 miles
Tuesday - steady 8 miles @ 7 mins per mile
Wednesday - track intervals. 12 x 400m in 75/80 secs with 200m jog recovery + steady 2-3 miles
Thursday - race pace 10-12 miles @ 6 mins per mile
Friday - steady 6-7 miles
Saturday - optional steady 5-6 miles/Race
Sunday - 20+ miles/2 to 3 hours off road/Race

Time passed. It seemed that either the training, the beer or perhaps both, produced results - three Harriers gained British vests. This is only a very brief resume of how and why it was - hopefully, the really talented "old b*******" will be prepared to recount some of their exploits on and off the racing scene. Without them my efforts would have been of little consequence.

The Race

The training and lead up races had been, thankfully, injury free. Over the preceeding six months, I ran five Marathons (two off road), the SLH 30 and various distances ranging from 10 to 20 miles. The road Marathons were run in around 3 hours. The SLH at the end of August was a useful guage of fitness and pace - 3 hours 45 (7.30 min miles), which was my aim for the Race. Long training runs (never more than 30 miles) were an integral part of the build-up. These were fairly crazy such as Oxford to Swindon along back roads; Oxford to Banbury on the Canal etc. and the Sunday morning bash with the Harriers.

On Race day (my 50th birthday) the weather was perfect - dry with a cool start. The day became warm and clear. I had organised drinks (water, Leppin and protein mix) for each feed station - a total of 3 litres with additional water from handlers if required. Paul (Taylor), Robin (Gardner) and Andy (Battye) were the other Harriers running. I was sincerely hoping that there would be no involvement on my part in the Team Race.

At 7.00 am the field (141) started from Westminster Bridge. The route, the A23 initially, is pretty grim down through Brixton, Streatham and Croydon, the 10 mile mark. My time (1.13.46) placed me 68 but then it begins to be more scenic through Purley, Coulsdon and Farthing Down (15 miles). At 20 miles (2.28.39) I placed 43 - running easily at just under 7.30 mins per mile; onwards back onto the A23 through Redhill to Horley. At 30 miles (3.40.35) placed 34, felt good with drinks going down well - had never attempted to have solid food in any of my races. On this occasion, I had eaten breakfast (porridge plus tea) at about 4.30 am, travelling up to London on the day by car.

Progressed along the B2036 through Balcombe to Cuckfield - then to the 40 mile mark (4.54.45) placed 22 still under schedule but then - disaster. In my sights appeared a stationary Andy. His recurring back problem had flared up - the reason for his eventual retirement from racing. Andy reckoned the Harriers could still win the Team Race if I kept going; s***, this was not what I wanted to hear having relaxed into a steady, enjoyable, "birthday" run! Panic and the resulting adrenalin kicked in; my pace increased and I overtook the Crawley A.C. third team counter Wally Hill and just ran for it. After Anstey, Burgess Hill and Hassocks, the route turned along the B2116 into Ditchling. Then the Ditchling Beacon; at this stage about 47 miles my running form was becoming a soft shoe shuffle, and Bob Emmerson caught up (I had passed him between 30 and 40 miles) - a great guy and setter of World Records. His relaxed approach to distance running had a calming effect and we ran/walked/talked up the one mile Beacon Hill to be met by my family supporters at the top. The Team Race news was good; just had to finish now.

At 50 miles (6.21.36), placed 20, I had lost my time cushion and was over schedule by 6 minutes - the last 10 miles had taken 87 minutes to include the Beacon. Five more miles to go, all down hill apart from the slight rise to Hollingbury Golf Course (52 miles). A sharp descent down the Ditchling Road, I passed one more racer and going through Five Ways saw the familiar face of John Doherty (Doc), formerly a Harrier but now living in Brighton. He welcomed me with the usual friendly greeting, "don't bl***y believe it" but I was too weak to signal a suitable reply.

At the Levels a runner came past me - this was a guy from Botswana DCV Club, Elias Marope. I had passed him between 30 and 40 miles but, fortunately, his Club did not figure in the Team race - his club-mate had finished second.

So I reached the finish at 55 miles (6.59.59) placed 19th.Paul was 5th and Robin 15th. We had scraped the Team race by one point from Crawley A.C.

I downed the beer, picked up the Len Hurst Belt (see footnote) and went home - that is how it was in those days.


The Len Hurst Belt is the trophy awarded to the first team home. It is named after a former World 20-Mile record holder.