Beachy Head Marathon

On Saturday, I ran the Beachy Head Marathon. This was my third marathon of the year, just 6 weeks after the Nottingham Marathon. While the two other marathons were road races, this was a cross-country marathon, featuring an appalling number of hills.

It was perhaps a little ambitious to attempt such a gruelling marathon so soon after my last one. In addition, my preparations were shambolic. To reach Eastbourne in time to register required me to get up at 6:15. I forgot to prepare any breakfast and the pasties at Brighton station looked particularly unattractive, so I started the race on an empty stomach. To add to the stress, I was relying on my phone and Google maps to find the starting line, since I don’t know Eastbourne. I found myself in a deserted Saturday morning town with no 3G and little idea of where to go. But things went all right. I registered, dealt with the slightly shambolic toilet facilities and was ready to race at 9am.

The Beachy Head Marathon is a tough race, with the organisers suggesting that it adds about 40 minutes to a runner’s usual marathon time. It starts with a steep hill, which makes a fairly serious statement of purpose (while providing a great view of the runners up ahead starting). I was less mentally prepared than for my previous two marathons, so I took things as they came.  The route is a constant series of ups and downs (you can view the course map and profile), with some amazing views of the coast, although I unable to enjoy them as much as I would have liked. The hills were incredibly hard work, made worse because I’d neglected to do any hill training. There were even a couple of woodland step sections late on, which were particularly tough.

By 6 or 7 miles in, my hunger was starting to bite. I don’t normally eat when running but decided to break the rule about not changing strategy during a marathon. Each of the rest stops had a supply of Mars Bars – in fact, some had cake, tea and coffee, sausage rolls, all an improvement from the sickly sports drinks handed out in Brighton and Nottingham. I started eating the Mars Bars at the stops, glad of sustenance, even though I was nervous about eating so much – I’ve heard stories of people ‘doing a Radcliffe’ after eating unfamiliar food in a long race. I’m happy to report no untoward effects.

Even as I was running, I knew that few of the sections would stick in my memory, rather that it would blur into an overall impression. A sunny day, wide views of the coastline, and the line of runners in the distance, pointing out the route. The course was surprisingly busy, considering how remote much of it was. I was very grateful to the supporters although I’m not sure that I put on a good show. I was in a fair amount of discomfort in the last third of the race and it was hard to smile or even acknowledge people. I was also a little grumpy about the event photographers – I don’t really want graphic evidence of me trudging my way up another bloody hill! I ended up hiding behind other runners as I passed, even when that meant having to run for a bit.

I’ve blogged before about how a marathon doesn’t start for me until about mile 18. This is the place where the trouble began for me in Brighton and Nottingham. It’s difficult to train for this stage of a race, since it takes 3 hours to reach. I found an interesting quote on Mr. Spratt’s weblog by Robert de Castella: “The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.” I guess I am going to need to do some research on training for the marathon’s later stages.

I put in a decent pace for the first 18 miles, with a few 9’30s ,so that it looked as if I might even beat my Brighton marathon time. Sadly the wheels fell off as I climbed out of Cuckmere Haven. My pace was falling and I had little energy left. My legs hurt and I wondered if I would finish at all. By the time I reached the Seven Sisters my spirit was broken and I wanted nothing more than for the race to end. I wanted to lie down and had to pause a few times on the upwards slopes. For a mile or so on the Seven Sisters I found it hard to run at all and had horrible flashbacks to slow school cross-country runs.

When I reached the final checkpoint, I stopped for some of the very tasty cake and set off again feeling a little better. I dragged myself up Beachy Head, the final hill of the course, and managed to run the final stage. The race ends with the same steep slope as it started, and it was good to have gravity on my side, helping me towards the finish line.

I was delighted with my final result of 5 hours and 3 minutes, which had seemed impossible at one point. And, despite the difficulty of the course, one good thing was that my feet were in better condition at the end of this race than in the Nottingham marathon. I don’t think I would do the race again, as it was incredibly hard work (I can’t imagine it in bad weather conditions), but I’m glad I’ve done it once. The medal I’ve received was the hardest won yet, and I was very grateful for it.

The Beachy Head marathon is a small race, with about 1,500 entries, and it was a lovely, friendly event. The marshaling stations were friendly and well-stocked, and the cake was a delight. Thanks to the  supporters and the organisers for a fantastic race!

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2 thoughts on “Beachy Head Marathon”

  1. Bravo, James! Beachy Head is hard enough, but six weeks after another! It is the best catered marathon I’ve run, too. They used to serve hot soup at the Flagstaff Point drinks station, though I never worked out how to eat soup and run.

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