Adventure Australia Travel/holiday

Lord Howe Island and the trek of doom

After our amazing weekend in Sydney we swapped city life for 5 nights on world heritage listed Lord Howe Island. We flew in on a tiny plane and were immediately greeted with blue skies and bright sunshine – a welcome change from the chilliness of Melbourne and Sydney. Fun facts! Lord Howe is located 600km east of the Australian mainland in the South Pacific. The island is just 11km long and 2km wide at the widest point. And there are just 350 permanent residents, with tourists restricted to 400 at any one time.

Our studio at Beachcomber Lodge had everything we needed for our stay, and was just a short walk from some of the island’s shops and restaurants, as well as their much loved Ned’s Beach (where we later squeezed in a scuba dive).

Mount Gower
Mount Gower

One of the first things we did was sign up to the Mount Gower trek taking place on Wednesday. I perhaps foolishly decided to read lots of TripAdvisor reviews about the trek, so I pretty much knew what to expect:

  • a tough trek/climb, not suitable for anyone with a fear of heights (and only suitable for moderately fit/very fit people)
  • very steep sections which would require the use of ropes (ropes??!!)
  • an 8 hour return trip at the very least (starting at 7am).

I was not happy about any of this (especially the bits in brackets above) and by the time I woke up on the morning of the trek I was actually just hoping it would be cancelled due to the rain we’d had during the night! But unfortunately for me the trek went ahead, and before I could say ‘maybe I should stay behind and have a massage instead’ we were starting out.

Pretty early on we were already using the aforementioned ropes. But it wasn’t the sort of climbing seen in survival drama movie 127 Hours; rather than each person being attached to their own climbing ropes and doing all sorts of things with carabiners, these ropes were permanently fixed to the rocks and we just grabbed onto them when needed to pull ourselves up.

The next section was interesting though – we had to don helmets and then edge sideways along a very narrow path (holding onto a rope of course!), with the mountain towering above us and a 100m drop below us. The only redeeming feature was the incredible view of the entire island in front of us. I began to wonder if there was any point carrying on – how could the view from the top possibly beat this?!

Ball's Pyramid
Ball’s Pyramid

Next our guide Jack Shick showed us how to shimmy up a palm tree with just a foot strap thing (as you do), and then we ditched our helmets and did some normal, surprisingly flat walking. Jack provided some interesting commentary about the vegetation on the mountain along the way (but only when he wasn’t talking to his friend, who had joined the trek sporting a flowing grey beard and flip flops!), and then we had a lovely little morning tea break by a creek. After that there were some more steep sections, including a couple of really tricky ones, but we also got an amazing view of Ball’s Pyramid (the world’s tallest sea stack).

View from the top - just before the rain!
View from the top – just before the rain!

Before we knew it we were at the summit, enjoying our lunches with a breath-taking view of the island below us. The plan was to start our descent at about 12.30pm, but as if on cue the sky completely clouded over and it started pouring with rain just as we got up to go! This made the journey down very difficult – not only were we negotiating the usual rocks, tree roots and ropes, but we were also trying to avoid slipping and tumbling to our deaths. And the really tricky sections going up were 10 times harder on the way down. At one point Alex told me to ‘hold onto the rope and lean back as if you’re abseiling’ – interesting advice given we’ve been together for 9 years and have never been abseiling once! But he redeemed himself by grabbing my arm, Indiana Jones style, when I accidentally lost my grip on the rope and so nearly fell a long way onto a very hard surface!

Needless to say, I was really hating the trek by this point. It was just so slippery and scary, and the group had separated out quite a bit due to the one-at-a-time rope sections. Then Alex slid into me and knocked me over – leaving me with a big bruise on my thigh and a HUGE bruise on the left cheek of my bottom (still there over a week later!). Although plenty of other people were struggling too (I was relieved to hear I wasn’t the only one swearing from time to time!), a man who was probably in his late 70s and had had both knees replaced was as agile as a mountain goat!

Finally, finally we got to the bottom, a mere 9.5 hours after we started out. I was damp, sore, covered in mud and bruises and totally exhausted, but I’d done it!

View of Mount Gower
View of Mount Gower (the mountain on the right!)
Adventure Australia Travel/holiday

Surfin’ V.I.C

Last weekend Alex and I went surfing! Why we chose to go just as Melbourne’s weather was turning decidedly wintery, as opposed to during the 30-40 degree summer, will forever be a mystery, but we figured better late than never!

We went with Great Ocean Road Surf Tours thanks to a leaflet I’d picked up in the Official Neighbours Tour office last month. We were promised two days of surfing, plus some scenic lunches and a trip to Victoria’s famous Bells Beach. Due to the location of said leaflet I had a slight sense of trepidation that we’d be in a group with a gaggle of 18 year old backpackers (having been one myself once, I could think of nothing worse!), but in fact it was just us – wahey!

Before we knew it we were in lovely Torquay, changing into our wetsuits, rash vests and booties in a beach car park with our surf coach, Al. And then we were learning the techniques of how to stand up on a surf board – first of all under a pouring rain shower on the beach, and then in the actual ocean (still under a pouring rain shower)! Somehow it wasn’t actually that cold in the water, and soon I was managing to stand up the cheat knees-first way, while Alex was managing to stand up the real surfer way (for anyone in the know about these things!). Although we both managed to fall off a lot, we feeling pretty pleased with our progress.

This is how we do it
This is how we do it

After quite a few rounds of standing up/almost standing up/falling off/falling over, we then disembarked the sea, hopped in the van, and drove off to another beach. This time the waves were bigger so we had to paddle out quite a bit to get in the best position for the surf. Some of the waves were so big I was knocked right of the board and swirled around under the water for a bit before re-surfacing, but being no stranger to life underwater I remained mostly unperturbed. Around this time a search and rescue helicopter was busy practicing searching for and rescuing someone in the sea nearby. I’m pretty sure the team had one eye on me, just in case!

Soon the waves were getting bigger and bigger, and it was getting harder and harder to paddle back out in order to catch more waves. And then a particularly rough ‘n tumble moment caused my leash to be ripped from my leg so my surfboard and I were no longer attached! Luckily my board washed ashore (or perhaps that always happens?), but it seemed like a good time to end the lesson and have some lunch!

That evening we were exhausted, so we chilled out in our cabin, ate lots of pizza, watched Jerry Maguire and had an early night. Thanks to these simple steps we actually felt pretty energised the next day, and even the rain did nothing to dampen our spirits. We went to the only beach that was suitable for beginners given the conditions, and in fact most of Torquay’s surfers seemed to have the same idea. For some reason I kept doing lots of things wrong, so for every time I managed to stand up, there were a dozen times when I totally failed. It was soooo frustrating, especially as I had so much help from our expert coach, so there really wasn’t any excuse for being so rubbish. The only consolation was that two of the times I did stand up, I also managed to almost turn!

After changing out of our wetsuits in the beach car park (not an easy task for a woman I can tell you!) we paid a visit to Bells Beach, which features in the greatest surfing movie of all time, Point Break! Of course, a cursory glance at Wikipedia will tell you that the well-known final scene of Point Break was actually filmed in Oregon, America, not Victoria, Australia – but nevertheless it was top to see one of the world’s greatest surf beaches in the flesh!

We got back to Melbourne feeling salty, sandy and sleepy, but already starting to plan our next surfing adventure – maybe Lord Howe Island in July? Watch this space…!

Adventure Travel/holiday

South Africa Part 2: Camps Bay and Cape Town

After a night in Swellendam, 7 nights in Plett and 2 nights in Twee Riviere, Alex and I headed to Cape Town for the final instalment of our holiday.

We had two nights at Ocean View House guest house – situated a short jaunt from Camps Bay proper and just down the hill from Table Mountain. The first evening we had a very tasty dinner at Hussar Grill – chateaubriand for me and a game kebab thing for Alex.

The next morning we got a taxi up to the Table Mountain cable car, but instead of hopping aboard we walked right past it and began hiking to the top instead. (The hike was of course Alex’s idea, but agreeing to it meant I could have a day of guilt-free shopping in Cape Town the next day!)

Me hiking up Table Mountain
Me hiking up Table Mountain

I’m not going to lie to you, I didn’t love the experience of hiking to the top of Table Mountain at the time. It was hot, steep and tiring, and I found myself looking something like this:

But once we got to the top everything seemed ok again. I realised that the hike hadn’t been too long after all (just over an hour and a half), and the view over Cape Town – including Robben Island – made it all worthwhile.

That evening we had an amazing dinner at The Codfather in Camps Bay. All they serve is sushi and seafood, and we created a delicious platter of grilled butterfish, calamari, crayfish and dorado – with chips, rice and garlic butter. It was sooooooo good. One of the best meals I’ve ever had ever.

The next day we headed into Cape Town for the piece de resistance of our trip – a night in an airstream trailer on the roof of the Grand Daddy Hotel. Our trailer had been decorated in a Goldilocks & the Three Bears theme and was totally awesome inside and out.

Our trailer on the roof
Our trailer on the roof

I’d highly recommend staying in one of these beauties, but one night is plenty as they are quite small inside! Plus there’s a bar on the roof, so you might find drinkers/tourists trying to peak in the windows!

Adventure Travel/holiday

South Africa Part 1: Swellendam + Plett + Twee Riviere

On 8 February Alex and I embarked on a 24 hour journey to South Africa for a family holiday with the Hyphers! We arrived in Cape Town the following day, and in no time at all found ourselves in stunning Franschhoek, enjoying a delicious lunch at Ruben’s with parents, my sister and Alex C – the first time the six of us had been together since October.

After lunch Nicola and Alex C went west to Cape Town for a night, while the rest of us headed east to Swellendam. We stayed at the beautiful Schoone Oordt Country House hotel and were looked after magnificently by the very friendly and helpful Fidney. The whole experience was nothing short of wonderful – from the luxurious room and impeccable service to the sumptuous breakfast and picturesque gardens. It was a shame to only stay one night but we had an itinerary to stick to, and the next stop was Plettenberg Bay!

Adorable baby giraffe
Adorable baby giraffe

Our accommodation in Plett was a villa on a secure estate that can only be described as ‘show-home-esque’ (if such a word existed). We stayed for a week and loved every minute of it. It was the first time in years I’ve managed to sit down and read a novel in under a week! And the indoor braai proved very handy for grilling the fish that Alex, Alex and I managed to catch on a 6am fishing trip!

Handily we were just down the road from the small but perfectly formed Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve. We trundled along on a drizzly Friday morning, and our expert guide made sure we saw hippos, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, buffalo, impala, lions, rare wild dogs and a cheetah! The only exciting animal we didn’t manage to spot was a rhino, but we were so pleased to have seen all the other wildlife. Surely no visit to Africa is complete without lions. And look at this adorable baby giraffe!

After Plett Nicola and Alex had to head back to Ethiopia, but the four of us travelled further east – to a small town called Twee Riviere. We were there to see some family friends who had recently moved down from Jo’burg. Jaco had incredibly built most of their new house with his own bare hands and Alet was now teaching at the local school. We stayed in a tiny cottage at The Belfry – the town’s only accommodation and eatery, as well as the post office!

Alet and Jaco's house
Alet and Jaco’s house

Driving uphill from the 250 year old town took us into the mountains, with wild tortoises and proteas at every turn, as well as houses so remote the local children couldn’t go to school and instead played in the dirt roads. This seemed a million miles away from the touristy glamour of Franschhoek and Plett. 

For Alex and me it was then time to head back west to George – for a short flight to Cape Town before our final three nights in South Africa.

Adventure Australia Review

White sharks are great

Last night Alex and I went to a brilliant talk about great white sharks at Melbourne Aquarium.

The talk was part of Melbourne Aquarium’s Marine Discovery Lecture Series 2013, and was given by Barry Bruce, marine researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).


The backdrop to the talk was Melbourne Aquarium’s 2.2 million litre Oceanarium – so every time Bruce mentioned sharks, a real life one was right there behind him (albeit a grey nurse or blacktip reef shark, rather than a great white!)

Barry Bruce is an expert when it comes to tagging white sharks, and is known as the Aussie authority on these sharks, no less. Not only that, but the great white shark in Finding Nemo was actually named after him! If that isn’t a claim to fame, I don’t know what is.

Bruce started his talk by saying that despite over 20 years of research, there is still much that is not known about these creatures. He added that he and his scientific colleagues prefer to call them ‘white sharks’ rather than ‘great white sharks’ because they are really no greater than any other shark!

He also mentioned that the media is responsible for the common image of white sharks (below) – launching out of the water looking scary and murderous – and urged us not to believe everything we read (as this news story proves).

Great white shark
Great white shark – as perpetuated by the media

Bruce went on to cover some facts that are known about white sharks, for example:

  1. They can grow to at least 6 metres (2000-3000kg)
  2. They possibly live for 50-60 years (although this isn’t known for sure – it might be longer)
  3. Females don’t mature until they are 5 metres
  4. They are warm-bodied (25-27 degrees) – so are more like mammals
  5. They produce few young and there is no parental care
  6. They eat fish and other sharks/rays when young (< 3 metres)
  7. They do not live at seal colonies – most of their time is spent elsewhere
  8. Some may not feed on seals at all.

The majority of the talk then focussed on understanding movement patterns – the first step in answering questions about whether numbers are going up or down – and that is where tagging comes in. In the words of Jennifer Aniston in a shampoo advert, here comes the science bit…

Acoustic tag
Acoustic tag

The main types of tagging Bruce and his team use are:

  • Acoustic tagging – a unique code is sent to a receiver whenever a tagged shark swims past;
  • Satellite tagging – the tagged shark links to a satellite whenever it comes to the surface (as long as a satellite is in range).

The first white shark ever tagged was in Victoria, and Bruce’s three tagging areas are the Neptune Islands (SA), Corner Inlet (VIC) and Port Stephens (NSW). From his team’s research he has been able to tell that white sharks travel large coastal distances and to tropical waters (eg Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef). It has even been known for a shark to travel from South Africa all the way to Ningaloo! The open ocean is an important habitat for white sharks, and some have been known to spend up to 2 years in open ocean before returning to land.

Bruce also discovered that, on the whole, a shark tagged in South Australia stays south and west, whereas a shark tagged in eastern Australia stays east. This means there are two distinct populations that don’t seem to cross the Bass Straight (the water between Tasmania and Victoria) – and they need to be looked at separately.

At the moment more is known about the eastern population of white sharks, and Port Stephens has emerged as a particularly interesting area. It’s hugely popular for swimmers, surfers and divers, but it’s also here that white sharks are often found in the surf zone just off the beach (compared to further north or south, where the sharks tend to stay away from the shore). So Bruce and his team locate juveniles here for tagging.

Juvenile great white shark
Juvenile great white shark

Port Stephens is known as a ‘nursery area’ for white sharks – mostly the sharks are 2 years old. (It is not a breeding area, as there are no new-borns – which also means there are no big adults around either!) Corner Inlet is another nursery area, and sharks have been tracked moving directly and rapidly between the two nursery areas.

Hawks Nest Surf Club in Port Stephens closed the beach 44 times one summer due to white sharks swimming between the flags. In fact if you type ‘Hawks Nest NSW’ into Google Earth and zoom in, you can see a white shark close to the shore – with a load of people just a little further up the beach.

But while white sharks meet people at these beaches every day, there has never been an attack there. So the answer to the question ‘what normally happens when sharks and people meet?’ is just ‘nothing’.

It was then time for some questions from the audience, and someone asked what Bruce thought about culling. This is a very topical issue, given there have been a handful of attacks in Australia recently, and many mentions of shark culling in the media as a result. Bruce responded that there have been very few cases when the shark responsible for an attack has been caught – so that sort of approach is just a waste of time and resources. He also said that there is no evidence that a shark that has bitten once will bite again. And the Port Stephens situation proves that more sharks does not mean more attacks. Given the audience was made up of shark enthusiasts, I think we were all please to hear from Australia’s authority on white sharks that culling is not the answer.

I then plucked up the courage to ask a question about cage diving. I’ve always wanted to do it, but was worried about whether it’s the right thing to do for the shark. And does chumming make sharks associate people with food? Bruce answered that cage diving is highly regulated in Australia. It takes place in the Neptune Islands, and there are always two days per week with no dives – which is for the benefit of the sharks, not the safety of the people. He mentioned that sharks sometimes stick around for a bit longer than usual at cage diving sites, but there is no evidence that cage diving leads the shark to associate people with food. In fact there’s so much going on, what with the noise from the boat and the smells, that the diver in the middle of it all is really no big deal. Plus there’s not much reward for the shark – they might get a bit of tuna off the tether, but mostly it’s berley (chum) to attract them, rather than real food.

After a couple more questions the talk came to an end. I left the aquarium feeling inspired and still can’t believe I had the opportunity to hear about these sharks from the country’s top white shark researcher. There is one thing I disagree with Bruce about though – to me they will always be great white sharks.

Adventure Australia

The adventure begins!

On Tuesday at midday Alex and I hopped on a plane at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 to start our 365 day adventure in Australia!

I was feeling slightly anxious about being 3kg over the luggage weight limit, but the nice man at the Malaysia Airlines check-in desk either couldn’t add up or decided to turn a blind eye, so I didn’t have to fork out the £30 excess baggage fee after all – result!

Just 24 hours later, after watching The Internship, The Heat, A Perfect Getaway (I hadn’t heard of it before either!), World War Z and several episodes of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, we arrived in Melbourne. And just two hours after that we arrived at 1 Acland Street in St Kilda – our Airbnb accommodation for our first 8 days in the southern hemisphere.

Our first day (Thursday possibly? It’s hard to know!) started with a yummy brunch across the road, and then went by in a blur of jet-lag and shock at the cost of pretty much everything here compared to the UK! I had an afternoon nap, then we meandered along the beach at St Kilda and through Albert Park, where the cloudy weather made for chilly walking but beautiful photos!

Rainbow over Melbourne
Rainbow over Melbourne

The afternoon nap I had so craved at the time proved to be a terrible decision as I lay wide awake at 3am. And again at 6am! Luckily enough, Alex got tangled in the sheets at 3am and woke up, so I took the opportunity to provide him with a detailed account of the nightmare I’d just had, to help pass the time. Then when I woke up at 6am I managed to keep quiet for about an hour, but then I thought ‘screw this, I’m really bored’ – and in no time at all I’d woken Alex up too so I had someone to talk to. Plus what’s the point of sleeping when there’s a whole new country out there to explore!

Adventure Travel/holiday

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

We’re currently in Cornwall on a family holiday and I’m loving it here! My sister Nicola and her boyfriend Alex (yes another Alex – confusing I know!) were here until Monday morning, so now it’s my mum, dad, dog Tasha, and Alex, plus my unofficial godmother, Rosie.

So far we’ve been on walks along the cliffs and beach in Porthleven where we’re staying, visited St Ives, Land’s End, Penzance, Padstow and Truro, and been to Falmouth twice to get contact lenses for Alex in preparation for a certain water-based activity!

Surfin' Cornwall
Surfin’ Cornwall

Now that we’re moving to Aus in less than a month I decided a surf lesson was definitely in order, and there just happened to be the Dan Joel Surf School in Poldhu, right along the coast from where we’re staying. (It was only later that we found out that Dan Joel used to be the UK champion – he was far too laid-back, friendly and modest to admit that to us in person!)

In my mind I’ve always been an excellent surfer who just doesn’t yet know how to surf. But in reality I was just like any other beginner (if not worse!) – I spent most of the time floundering in the sea with water up my nose. Alex and the other guy in our lesson were better – I reckon partly because they were stronger and so found it easier to get into position to catch a wave and then stand up quickly. By the end of the lesson they could stand up pretty easily and were even starting to turn!

But alas I have no upper body strength, so when it came to trying to stand up on the board I really struggled to hoist myself up onto my feet. The few times I nearly managed it, the wave died and I had no choice but to fall off! Until the last wave of the lesson, when I actually did stand up, and basically surfed all the way into the beach like a total pro (as I assume I must have appeared to on-lookers).

I found the lesson completely exhausting, and was slightly disappointed not to be a complete natural at this sport I’m so desperate to be good at, but I still massively enjoyed it. Dan was a fantastic instructor and I can’t wait to make surfing a regular part of my new life in Aus!

Adventure Australia

How to quit your job and move to Australia

The stages:

  1. Decide you want to leave your job and move to Australia
  2. Make it seem more real by telling your friends and family
  3. Sort out your visa
  4. Quit your job
  5. Book your flights.

The slightly longer version:

Way back in January I realised it was time to leave my job. I looked around for other, similar roles in London, but then Alex and I started to think seriously about leaving the UK altogether and moving to Australia for a year. It had to be now or never, as Alex was going to turn 31 in a couple of months, and after that he’d be too old for a working holiday visa. So pretty shortly we began to set the wheels in motion!

It took a while to sort out my working holiday visa as I had to renew my passport first, but then there was nothing stopping us. My mum and dad also thought it seemed like a good idea, so when I was granted my visa in June the only obstacle left was the business of handing in my notice…

By this time, my lovely manager knew that I wasn’t enjoying my job and that I wanted more from my career than the organisation was able to offer, but it still wasn’t going to be easy to break the news to her! In the end our oft postponed 1-2-1 meeting finally came around, and in answer to her opening statement: ‘Is there anything big you’d like to talk about first?’ I answered: ‘Um…. I’m planning to leave here so I can move to Australia for a year’. After getting over the initial shock my manager said she was really pleased for me and that it was a great thing to do!

Next we decided we wanted to live in Melbourne first of all, and then we booked our flights. And that was it really!

Adventure Review

A free trip to Alton Towers for work (yes really!)

On 1st June I got to go to Alton Towers for free – for work!

Alex and I went up the day before and stayed at the Splash Landings Hotel. My cousin Abby was right – it looks and smells like a giant swimming pool – but the smell of chlorine aside, it was a very fun and cheery place. There were ducks waddling around on the patio! And cocktails! And a free all-you-can-eat breakfast!

On Saturday morning, after my free all-you-can-eat breakfast, I headed over to the conference centre for some presentations about Merlin partnerships and their hospitality areas (the work part of this trip) and my second free breakfast! Alex grabbed his free ticket and went straight to the park, then started texting me about all the amazing rides he was going on (with no queue time because the park wasn’t even open to the public yet!). The Merlin team were kind enough to keep their presentations short, so before long I was standing under the Sonic Spinball ride, waiting for Alex to finish spinning so we could explore the park together!

First of all we hit the brand new ride, The Smiler. It was supposed to have opened a few days before but was broken (eeek!), so we were among the first people to try it out. The queue was enormous – about 3 hours long – but we opted for the single rider queue and walked straight on with no wait at all! I screamed my way around all 14 loops, and then went on again straight afterwards like some crazy loon. I ended up sitting next to a teenage boy who worked at Alton Towers and had come in on his day off specially to ride The Smiler. When I spoke to him he was on his 6th go!

Having fun at Alton Towers
Having fun at Alton Towers

We then went on a multitude of other rides, including Oblivion, Air, Hex, Ripsaw, Nemesis and Nemesis Sub-Terra. Even though it was a Saturday we were very lucky with the queue times. We even got front row seats on the Runaway Mine Train, but were kind enough to give them up to a small child and his dad – making the little boy’s day and ensuring good karma for the rest of our lives I would think.

By the end of the day I was exhausted (and dreading the long drive home) but very happy that my first trip to Alton Towers had been such a blast – and free of course!

Adventure Running

Marathon (Wo)Man

Sunday 14 April was a momentous day for me. It was the day I ran a real life actual marathon. All 26.2 miles of it!

I was lucky enough to be running with my very own personal trainer, nutritionist and cheer-squad – in the form of Alex! Although he hadn’t done much running training (whereas I had done LOTS) he had decided to run too and would be there by my side the whole time. Phew! (And bless!)

Royal Pavilion
Elite runners at the Royal Pavilion

Alex and I had stayed in Brighton the night before, so on the big day we got up, ate some porridge, put on our charity running vests (Fight for Sight for me; Prostate Cancer UK for Alex),  and walked over to Preston Park for the start of the race. Almost as soon as we got there we bumped into my sister’s friend Jon who was also running – a massive coincidence when you consider there were 10,000 runners milling around!

We managed to time everything to perfection so that even after Alex checked our bag and I had a final toilet stop, we still got to the front of our corral. This meant we started right behind the 4:30 pacers, which was to prove critical for the rest of the run!

At 9.10am on the dot the moment I had been waiting for with a mixture of dread and excitement for months on end was finally here – we were crossing the start line and I was running a marathon!

For ages we stayed really close to the 4:30 pacers. It felt like I was running much faster than usual (which is a scary feeling when you have so many miles to cover!), but I went with it, spurred on by the thought that a finish time under my initial goal of 4:45 might actually be possible…

Sheila and Clive
Sheila and Clive running in 2011

We looped around the centre of Brighton for a bit, before heading down to the seafront and running east towards Ovingdean – up hill most of the way! At this point some of the elite athletes were passing us going in the opposite direction. Frustrating though it was knowing that they were so much further ahead, it was also very inspiring.

Around mile 9 we finally turned around and starting heading back west along the seafront. I don’t remember much about miles 9 to 12, except that we saw the oldest pair running together, Clive and Sheila Harburn, who were 70 and 74 years old! And we also saw some fire fighters who were running together carrying a ridiculously heavy ladder. Amazing stuff.

Mile 13 was a special one for many reasons. Not only did it mark the half way point of the run, but it was also the place where I saw (and heard!) my friends Kelly, Sian, Emily and Lucy, who had come down to cheer me on! And I also saw the Fight for Sight cheering station, which provided a helpful reminder as to why I was running at all. Unfortunately I didn’t see my parents, who were cheering me on somewhere near the Hilton, but knowing they were nearby still had a very positive effect on me! And amazingly, it was also around this time that the elite men were passing us on their way to the finish line (already!)

Me at mile 13
Me at mile 13

Next we left the seafront and veered inland a bit. It felt very bustly here, and even though we lost the 4:30 pacers, I was helped along by the sound of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 blasting from some speakers! There were loads of people lining the streets here, with little children handing out jelly babies and high fives to every passing runner. But next we were entering the part of the race we’d been warned to dread – the Portslade industrial estate section around mile 20, also known as the Saucony Road to Hell! Everyone had said this was the worst part of the race, because it’s out on a limb so there aren’t many spectators, plus it’s around this point that many runners start to hit The Wall…

But miraculously it wasn’t too bad! The organisers had made a real effort to get some crowds there, plus there were loads of Scope supporters cheering everyone on, and a steel band! In no time at all we were leaving industrial zone for the seafront again (sounds a bit like the Crystal Maze!). The sun was out, the end was almost in sight, and this time I did see my parents, which was brilliant!

Emma in Brighton
Emma – Brighton Marathon finisher!

The final couple of miles went by in a blur. I remember having a realisation as we passed some brightly coloured beach huts that I had run over 23 miles and hadn’t actually hit The Wall! This had to be down to Alex, who had kept me hydrated, energized and motivated the whole time. Without him, it would have been a very different experience!

By now the finish line was visible and the crowds were going wild! I attempted a little sprint for the last few hundred metres, but in reality I don’t think I actually moved any faster at all! Crossing the finish line was one of the best moments of my whole life. I felt so happy and emotional, and so grateful to Alex for keeping me going and helping me reach a time I never thought I’d achieve – 4 hours and 35 minutes.

Now I can sit back and relax knowing I’ve achieved a massive ambition – I ran a marathon before my 30th birthday in a time I feel proud of. And I actually enjoyed the experience!

(Never again though!)