The silly 177 mile run – the route we took and the support from our club

The Runners

Three Ultrarunners – Phil Bradburn, (39, from Pluckley) and two friends (Keith Dean 51, Michael Nowicki (36) both from Maidstone) ran together around the Kent Coast last weekend. They ran 177 miles in around 46 hours of running, starting Friday 13 March in Dartford and finishing on Monday 16 March in Hythe. They were joined for sections of the run by friends from Maidstone Harriers and Egerton Running clubs.

 

Support from the club – Maidstone Harriers 

All three runners are members of Maidstone Harriers. It is a really friendly club, and has an amazing range of runners with a membership of around 200. The club gets involved in cross-country, road races, triathlon – and those interested in ultra and trail running are growing in number. There is something going on almost every day of the week, including speed training at a local track, swimming training for triathletes. On club nights, the club encourages new or inexperienced runners to get started with a short run before the main club run. The club was also invited to do a “Parkrun Takeover”. Maidstone Harriers directed the whole event one weekend in March covering all roles from Race Director to barcode scanning and marshalling.

The club have been very supportive of the three runners who ran the Kent Coast. This included helping to raise money for charity by coming along to a very challenging running based quiz night, sharing social media posts with friends, and providing supporting runners and checkpoint support during the event. The event took lots of planning and the logistics were key. A member of Maidstone Harriers stepped forward to organise logistics so that the runners could focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Sophie Ravenscroft organised drop bags for the runners and placed them at some of the places on the kent coast that are inaccessible by car.

Sophie also arranged for other Maidstone Harriers to turn up at the right place and time to run a few miles with the three runners to keep motivated and push through the run of epic proportions. Sophie also arranged for checkpoint aid stations run out of the back of her car. Providing homemade sandwiches, crisps and all kinds of wonderful goodies and hot drinks. It wasn’t just the big things like the checkpoints, but also the smaller points of detail like a basic mobile phone, fully charged, with call credit, and the telephone number taped to the back. Without a doubt, it was this feeling that every detail had been taken care of by Sophie and other members of the club that made the epic Kent Coastal Challenge possible.

Maidstone Harriers members provided much needed overnight accommodation on two nights. First, in Rochester at the end of day 1, providing bowls of pasta, cheesecake and beer and comfortable beds, breakfast and a drive back to the start point for the next day. At the end of day two, members provided great hospitality in Sittingbourne with chilli con carne, tortilla chips, a celebratory prosecco, comfortable armchairs, breakfast, and help with getting nutritional supplements, hydration and getting back to the route for day 3. The runners were grateful for the many club members who turned up to run a few miles with the trio – keeping them focused on clocking up the miles.

There was also a great welcome for the trio just before the half-way point on day 3 – when the club’s tri-athletes came out to track down the runners and help with checkpoint food, charging GPS watch batteries and other demands from the trio. At the end of the run on club night, there was amazement and respect for the runners who had run the kent coast challenge – and the supporters along the way. None of this would have been possible without the support of the Maidstone Harriers. Proof that there is room for all types of runners in the club and that everyone can make a contribution.

The Kent Coastal Challenge

The idea for an epic run around the Kent Coast was planned to take 4 days – with overnight rest stops at equal intervals. None of the runners are really sure where the idea originally came from, whether it was possible to complete, nevertheless a date was planned, a route mapped out, and holiday from work booked. The route would take them from Dartford to Hythe – with the route as close to the kent coast as possible. They would run it for charity – since the challenge seemed particularly epic to get enough people interested in parting with a few pounds.

The first day of the challenge came around quickly and began with an excited and slightly nervous train journey from Maidstone to Dartford. The first section would take the three runners from Dartford station to Chatham Dockyard. While the trio were on the train, calamity struck – one of the supporting runners had got the wrong train – and plans for meeting had to be quickly revised to meet a few miles into the run instead. Once at the start, they met up with Graeme Kelly – another Maidstone Harrier – who had agreed to run on day one with the trio. The four of them set off. In the wrong direction. Quickly rectified, they were soon running up the creek towards the Thames and the iconic Dartford Crossing. After posing for selfies, they met up with another Maidstone Harrier club runner – Graham Perkins. He was recovering from injury – but still managed to push the pace of the other runners along. The group spent the morning getting used to running with each other, settling into a good pace, and getting fuelling right, and making regular stops to rest briefly. After a few detours due to navigation errors, the group were closing on what felt like the final stretch for the day – although there was still over 30 miles to go with a run around the Isle of Grain. There was a drop bag, but incredibly, the runners missed it and it turned out that it had in fact been stolen or removed. A few points during the next section, it felt quite repetitive, staring at mounded flood defences and no glimpse of the thames estuary available for miles. Eventually, after a checkpoint provided by Club member Sophie, they met up with two fresh runners – Liam Gibson and Zoe Norman to accompany the runners for the final 20+ miles of the day. After bumping into another Maidstone Harrier – Andrew Burgess near the power station – they ran for a few miles together. The scenery was picturesque and the runners saw horses and ponies during their first day, ending in the dark with the final stretch of 5 miles through the towns of Medway – accompanied by Sophie Ravenscroft.

The second day  covered the section between Chatham Dockyard and Sittingbourne. This was a day of contrasts, with a combination of perfect trails and road until the Sheppey crossing. They were joined by Sophie, Sarah Cox and Michael Nicolaides all from Maidstone Harriers. The run through Riverside country park was beautiful and they took opportunities to take regular, but brief, stops.They reached Sheppey as they neared noon and Michael Nicolaides and Sarah Cox left the runners to continue. They were shortly joined by Simon Roberts from Maidstone Harriers. This was expected to be the most challenging section. While flat, it was windy, exposed, and a challenge to navigate around, with very little of interest to distract the attention from any developing pains and tiredness. Car boot checkpoints were provided on the island by Sophie’s husband, and the family of one of the runners – Michael Nowicki. Despite the wind, it was a sunny day, and the temperature on the border of being tolerable for running. The day ended beautifully, running from the mouth of the creek to the head in Sittingbourne with a varied combination of lumpy off-road conditions and beautifully manicured gravel path to the end and the two leading pair – Phil Bradburn and Sophie Ravenscroft left some cub-scout signs made from twigs to guide Michael Nowicki and Keith Dean.

The third day was the trip to the seaside section. This covered many of the seaside resorts of the Kent Coast. They accidentally left the GPS tracker in the car and once retrieved they began their third day of running – joined by Sarah Doughty of Egerton Running Club. The day started with a run from Sittingbourne through Faversham. They, dispiritingly had to run two hairpin sections to navigate around the creeks in Faversham in lumpy, but dry conditions on flood defence mounds. They were greeted at Faversham by another runner – Paul Thompson – who had heard about the challenge on social media – this gave the runners some new source of conversation. At the 20 mile point, they were treated by the sight of four of the Maidstone Harriers Tri-athletes who came out to support and stand in the cold and light rain. They gave the required words of motivation, noting how strong the runners looked, helped with adjusting running packs, food, and even offering a sit down on their bikes to rest some weary legs. After another car-book aid station, there was a long, and fast run into Whitstable to meet up with other runners – including from Egerton Running Club and Phil’s wife Susie Bradburn, and fellow Maidstone Harrier – James Lampert. Next up was easy promenade sections all the way through Herne Bay, and the off-road trail section of Reculver, before the seaside resorts of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. These resorts offered many distractions including slush puppies, chips and ice-cream. This section was pretty familiar, as many of the local Kent races are run along the coast. One of the running trio – Phil, took the opportunity to run ahead and write (mostly) motivational messages on the path for the other runners. One of the trio of runners – Michael Nowicki sadly had to finish his attempt at the challenge after 140 miles because of an ankle injury and sickness. This was a big blow to all three runners – and perhaps made it both more challenging to get on with completing day 4 and at the same time, made the remaining runners – Phil Bradburn and Keith Dean ever more determined to complete the challenge. The day ended with rain and wind and a head-torch lit run into Ramsgate and the hotel. Carb heavy food, beer and wine all round, chat about the next day and the opportunity to meet the founder of the charity that the trio were raising money for. Sarah Doughty’s family – Stuart Doughty and two children – Amelie and Max turned up at the end to offer support. The highlight was a great motivational quip from Max that was left ringing in their ears “I hope you both survive the final day and that you don’t die!” – what a way with words!

The final day – Monday 16 March, the two remaining runners – Phil Bradburn and Keith Dean were joined by another experienced ultrarunner from Maidstone Harriers – Michael White. Keith and Phil wondered how they would keep up with Michael White – who was running on relatively fresh legs (though he had completed the Dartford Half Marathon the previous day), especially with the almost 4,000ft of elevation gain, and the extensive off-road sections around the White Cliffs. They were lucky that the Michael White kept their pace true – but motivated them on through some dark thoughts, increasing pain, and tiredness – providing much needed snickers bars and jokes. This final day was particularly difficult for Keith and Phil. Tiredness, absent on the previous three days, hit like a blast of wind. It was only the help of Michael White with pacing, fuel, chitchat, and the out of the car boot checkpoints provided by Sophie and the Maidstone Harriers – including Injured challenger Michael Nowicki at Deal, Dover, and Folkestone that kept the guys going. Finally, with Hythe in sight, they spotted Sophie and the others in the distance, and Keith Dean, Phil Bradburn, plus pacer Michael White put on a sprint for the final mile, joined by Sophie and Phil’s wife who did her best to keep up while capturing some special video footage. Quite where Phil and Keith got the final reserves of energy from – on top of painful and weary legs, may never be known for sure. Towards the end they hit sub-8 minute mile pace according to the GPS data. This amazing run ended with a big group hug with some of the Maidstone Harriers, and fish and chips at a local restaurant. They were able to bask in glory by telling anyone who would listen about the epic run. A lovely couple, on hearing the amazing achievement of 177 miles, 46 hours, 7700ft ascent over 4 days for charity, donated more money and gave the runners some extra source of pride. We were awarded with a love certificate by Sophie – detailing our achievement. A lovely surprise and something to treasure.

The Charity and fundraising

They were raising funds for Emilie’s Charities http://emiliescharities.org . The charity aims to give children and young adults in poorer areas of the world a better start in life and hope for the future. The Kent Coastal Challenge has raised over £1,600 for the charity so far – with donations from family and friends, local running clubs including Maidstone Harriers and Egerton Running Club, and a lovely couple at the fish and chip shop near the end who on hearing about their endeavours from the runners, gave a donation to swell the funds.

Social media – and other support

During the weekend, the team had lots of support on social media – including from Mimi Anderson @Marvellousmimi. The runner’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were in overdrive with messages of support, good wishes and motivation. Supporters were able to track the progress of the runners using live GPS www.racedrone.net tracking generously provided by Richard Weremiuk of Beyond Marathon.

Particular thanks

They were particularly grateful for amazing hospitality from Sophie and David Ravenscroft, Nic Tierney and Martin McCullough of Maidstone Harriers who offered bed and lots of food for overnight rests along the way. The runners are also particularly grateful to Sophie Ravenscroft “Race Director extraordinaire” who organised logistics and provided checkpoint support along the whole route. Lots of other people gave help and support over the four days, without which, the run would have been impossible.

 

What next? 

The runners are now fancying completing the whole coast of the UK – several counties at a time! But before that – the 77 mile London Capital Ring in August 2015.

Links

Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/CaminoDeSantiagoandKentCoastalCharityChallenges

Fundraising page – https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/michaelnowicki1

Video highlights – https://youtu.be/378OjpsazsA

Twitter – Phil Bradburn (@Donealready), Michael Nowicki (@michaellikes2run) and non-twitter Keith Dean.

Phil’s blog – www.pluckleyvillager.wordpress.com

Link to a small selection of photos – https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B7EDyW4T8kY2fmxlQzZDNmhtb0pjUndqRDZYdWpUamNZN2FnbHVFQ0Raam0xRGtQeTIwSWc&usp=sharing 

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