The South Downs PLOD is a 40 mile night/day trek along The South Downs Way between Devil’s Dyke and Beachy Head (Eastbourne). Action Research for Children describe it as ‘the ultimate team endurance walking challenge’, adding ‘many a good marathon runner and endurance cyclist throws in the towel, so do not make any assumptions that walking is easy’.
After varying degrees of training (me, none!), on 25th July a team of 12 of us arrived at Devil’s Dyke for a midnight start. The check-in restaurant had run low on complimentary drinks, meaning the choice was a stiff G&T or plain old Tonic Water. Needless to say the majority of us kick-started the event with G&T.
Here we all are, raring to go, just a few moments after Adrian’s feigned drunken collapse in front of an ambulance (note, I said feigned)…
Midnight to 4.30am
Shortly after our briefing (and Nina stepping on a dog’s foot) 160 of us plodded off into the darkness, glow-sticks and head-torches creating a pleasing light parade. The first leg to Pyecombe was relatively straight-forward, the only challenge being locating one-another in the checkpoint car park where Steve and James* were patiently waiting.
We plodded on a further 8 miles, towards checkpoint number 2 off the A27 near Lewes. After a bunch of walkers took a wrong turn, Jo J and I ended up ahead of the pack. This resulted in us heading down the A27 alone, in the virtual pitch darkness with an eery absence of cars. Well, except one. Parked up in a lay-by, the solitary vehicle was old, with all windows seemingly smashed. I assumed it was abandoned, so shone my ultra-bright torch in as we plodded past. I won’t be making that mistake again.
There were obviously some experienced plodders out with us, as their support cars were equipped with gas stoves, drink making facilities, baskets of food and other assorted goodies. Gordon unknowingly sat in another team’s only fold-up chair, which didn’t go down too well with the owner. He apologised profusely in the pre-dawn darkness.
*Our awesome support drivers
4.30am to 7am
The darkness started to fade as we pressed on a further 7 miles to breakfast in Southease. A fresh brew was most welcome, as were bacon/sausage baps and a chance to change clothes, tape sore feet and stretch. Unfortunately Nina hurt her back making the descent to Southease, forcing her and Gordon to retire at this point. The people doing the shorter ‘PLOD-Lite’ also collected their medals and hung up their boots.
After everyone had finished applying various creams and sprays (including an anti-wrinkle caffeinated eye roll-on) it was onto the tougher second half.
7am to 10am
Conversation throughout the PLOD was always forthcoming, including an exchange between Dave and I about films and actors. Trouble is, neither of us could remember any film titles or actors’ names, making our confab feel rather inane. That’s what happens when you plod all night. We also repeatedly saw a lady with two dogs pass us in the opposite direction, about five times in total. After the second or third time we began questioning reality. Still, we kept going.
The checkpoint in Alfriston was lovely, but by now the temperature was nudging 28 degrees. More creams and sprays were applied, socks and shoes were changed and handfuls of mixed nuts consumed. We also engaged in a heart-to-heart about the unwelcome ‘combination effect’ on one’s stomach of too much electrolyte drink, caffeine, ibuprofen and energy bars/gels. After 29 miles of walking, there was no longer room for politeness.
After watching Adrian perform an expressive dance under a tree, and Sarah A try to overturn a telephone box, we pressed on. The sun was hot, but so was our determination to finish.
10am to 12 noon
By the time we’d walked through Friston Forest we were starting to feel the pain. We’d been going for almost 12 hours and tired legs and feet were beginning to rebel. Still, our spirits were high and the end was only a few miles away. Trouble is, the last few miles consisted of The Seven Sisters, which ain’t no walk in the park at the best of times. With gritted teeth we dug in and powered on, over the seven cliff faces and down into Burlington Gap, our final checkpoint before the finish line.
BTW – there’s a really nice beach-side cafe at Burlington Gap, according to Steve, James, Nina and Gordon :)
12 noon to 1.57pm
Dave P, Jo J and I knuckled-down for the final 3 miles, which seemed to go on forever. By this time it was actually less painful to run, so we sprinted across the finish line together in a total time of 13 hrs 57 mins. The others followed shortly after.
Everybody did themselves proud – it was a truly great team achievement, one I’d say felt as tough as running a marathon. It’s made me realise just how challenging the Beachy Head Marathon in October is going to be!
Big respect to my CG Kineo colleagues…
- Adrian D
- Chris D
- Nina B
- Sarah C
- Sarah A
- Sally B
- Dave P
- Jo J
- Tim J
…and a special thank you to our awesome support drivers James P and Steve F!
Last but not least, after CG Kineo’s company contribution we’ll have so far raised ~£7,000 for great charity Action Research for Children – a brilliant achievement and thank you to everyone who supported all the fund raising events.
“Think I’m gonna need an energy drink, massage and a few ibuprofen to get me downstairs tomorrow morning”
~ My favourite quote of the walk, courtesy of Dave P
I know the feeling, Dave.
Sorry for the lack of finish line photos – I could hardly keep my eyes open after we finally stopped.
Very important final notes…
The word ‘awesome’ was deliberately used multiple times in this post to describe our support drivers (because they were, even though I really dislike the word)
Banner image sourced from www.action.org.uk