I realise I’ve missed a few months since my last blog, but I’ll do a summer update in due course, I thought I’d post something about this race first though.
Beachy Head…in short – brutal but beautiful!
This was a race that I’d wanted to do for a long time. The reason that I’d not done it before was that it usually clashed with half term week and I was picking up my daughter to stay with me. She’s 17 now though and doesn’t stay over quite so often as understandably she has her own friends and social life, so it left me free to finally tick this one off my list.
With a 9am race start on the Saturday I decided to travel down on the Friday afternoon and stay over for a couple of nights. I ended up taking the train as I’ve been having some problems with my car (more on that in my summer update) but as it turns out it was easier than I thought to get from Maidstone to Eastbourne by train and less stressful than the drive which takes almost as long as the train did as there’s no real direct route by road.
I was checked into my B&B by teatime and after walking up to race HQ to pick up my number and timing chip I had a quiet relaxing evening with some carb loading at Prezzo’s and the now traditional pre-marathon pint (a lovely pint of the local brew) at a pub on the way back to the B&B.
Race morning dawned misty but dry, although the forecast wasn’t promising for later on. There were plenty of other runner staying where I was so the owners kindly laid on breakfast earlier than normal. With that out of the way I grabbed my kit and headed off to the start. Unsurprisingly given the coastal location it was windy, more surprisingly the sun was out and it was turning into quite a nice day. That’ll teach me to poke fun at the sign at the station!!
I had a good idea about what lay ahead on the course as this has been a popular race with club mates for a few years now, and this year was no different with a good turnout of Harriers and a few other running friends, although I managed to miss all of them at the start. This race starts as it means to go on….up! You cross the start line and are faced with a steep climb that you have to walk up, and I loved the piper half way up!
After that you carry on climbing for around the first three miles or so, although after the initial walking the course (which is virtually all off road) levels out a little meaning I could start to run and get into a rhythm. At around 4 miles there was the first long descent and from there on it was a steady diet of long climbs and long descents for the next few miles. The climbs were hard and at the top the wind was very strong, although fortuitously it was never directly into our faces, it was more of a cross wind or behind us, but the hard effort was worth it for the views at the top. It was a clear day and they were amazing. I’ve never really been up on the South Downs properly, they are a series of huge rolling open hills with views on one side across the Sussex countryside and on the other towards the coast.
At 10 miles we hit the picture post card village of Alfriston, where by a coincidence my partner and her Dad had been exactly one week earlier. Another long climb was followed by another long descent and it was around then that the real business end of the race began, the serious climbs! There were steps, there was real steep ascents and a whole lot of walking, but also some more fabulous views over the flooded Cuckmere valley, which looked amazing with the sunshine reflecting off the water. I’d actually been running pretty well up to this point, but the longer the race went on I could definitely feel myself getting more and more tired.
All this was leading the grand finale of the race, the infamous Seven Sisters, a series of hills on the coast with sheer cliffs dropping away to the sea below to our right (we didn’t get close to the edge though!). By now my legs definitely were feeling all the climbing and the uphills were a trudge, although it was the same for everyone by that stage. Those last 6 miles were brutal, the ups and downs of the Seven Sisters were so hard, with even the downhill bits so steep it was hard to run them. By the time we reached the last long climb at around 23 miles the worst of the steep bits were behind us but my legs were gone and so it was a long slow two mile march for me from there to the top at the Beachy Head pub.
Much as I would have loved a beer at that point my old nemesis of stomach issues had made an unwelcome reappearance and I was feeling a little sick by the time we reached the top of the climb. However I was greeted by the very welcoming sight of Eastbourne laid out beneath me and I was able to break out into a run (of sorts!) on the final descent, finishing by coming down that same hill we had climbed at the start.
I was happy to finish in 5 hours 29 minutes, which was my longest ever run my some 40 minutes, but they say you should add an hour onto your usual marathon time so having run 4 hours 25 minutes at the New Forest Marathon a few weeks earlier (that’s a spoiler for my next blog) my time was about right.
Having addressed my stomach issues (I’ll spare you the details) I was able to take advantage of the bar at the finish and enjoy another pint of the local brew while I waited for various friends and club mates to finish, and it was great to see them cross the line and catch up with them. Unfortunately by now it had started to rain so those still out on the course did have that to contend with over the last few miles as well.
I was glad I was staying over the extra night as I was pretty tired and quite happy to shower and relax in my room after the race. That evening my friend Dawn kindly invited me to join her and her parents for dinner, and it was lovely to chat about our race experience and then I met up with a few more club mates in a nearby pub, so it was fun way to end the day, with a few drinks which were well deserved!
I loved the race, despite the tough nature of the course, it lived up to my expectations and I’ll definitely be doing it again. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the event, and to mark it they’re adding a half marathon option to the current marathon and 10k, so something for everyone if you fancy a weekend by the seaside next October.
In the meantime I decided there was time this year for one more marathon, so the Sunday before Christmas I’ll be running the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon, another one that’s been on my to-do list. Before that I’ll be back with my summer update.
Happy running everyone!