I'm freestyling my race entries for now, but in order for that to work I do of course have to be training appropriately, and have my beady eye on something!
Sorry, this is a long report! Relive it here for the cartoon version
My training plan
I've been re-attempting the 50-miler ultramarathon plan I found on Runner's World, that I had been previously doing for the London 2 Brighton (L2B) run, but had had to largely give up on due to injury. I've been aiming to finish the plan in time for the Beachy Head Marathon (Beachy) at the end of October, which is a good excuse for a lot of long hilly runs. But I was aware of the South Coast Challenge (SCC, run by Action Challenge, who also do the L2B), which starts at Eastbourne and ends 100k later at Arundel. But there was also the opportunity to do the "first half" (actually 55k) and finish at Hove Park, which is about 2.5k up the road from where I live! So I can get a train to Eastbourne in the morning, and run home - I likes that idea
NB there were also second half, quarter, and two-day options available.
I was probably not quite ready at that point to run 55k on August 25th. Although I had increased my previous two long runs from 29k to 35, 55k was still a bit of a leap - so I had to accept that I would be taking things at an easy pace, particularly the uphill bits, of which there are many! I waited until the last possible moment (the Monday before) to sign up, body-scanning and checking the weather. Both Achilles tendons were feeling a bit stiff but OK, and the weather was looking breezy but fine - so I was in!!
Up at 6am on Saturday, despite having been given a 10am (the very last wave) start time, I checked the train times website to see that all the trains had been cancelled!! A little further investigation suggested that there were in fact trains, and with a little delay getting from Hove to Brighton, I was soon on my planned train and leaving Brighton on time. I had two litres of water in my back pack (as per the shouty last-minute instructions from Action Challenge), plus jelly babies, mini-Mars bars, and Clif gels, head torch (hoped I wouldn't need that), extra clothes, waterproof jacket, and dry socks (or so I thought...). It's amazing how much can fit in a teeny-weeny back pack! I munched some breakfast bikkies on the train, washed down with a large Americano which I came to regret later.
I arrived at the start at Eastbourne Sports Park, far too early (it took all of two minutes to register), but I didn't really mind sitting in the sun watching the preceding two waves do their warm-up and then disappear off across the park. The theme from Rocky is played, which I sort of think of as "my" tune - Abi-GAIL, AbI-gail... etc* I squeezed my long-sleeved top into the very top of my pack, got my barcode swiped (no posh timing chips at these events!), got my Zumba on, posed for the group photo, and then I was off!!
The first HILL!
Jogging across the grass, I quickly became aware that I had forgotten to start Strava, so I stopped and fished out my phone (in its high-tech freezer bag). A man marching past said "I did that, too!". There were only a handful of other runners/joggers starting at 10am, and they left me behind at this point, which I didn't mind as I am a bit of a loner I kept them in my sights though, as we wound our way through the steep streets of suburban Eastbourne. At least until I went through a hole in a hedge and suddenly was confronted with the first HILL!! A softly-dried-mud path with treacherous tree-roots and branches wound away steeply upwards through woodland. I didn't see the runners again after that, and was soon power-walking and then just regular-walking. I passed a couple of walkers from the 9:30 wave, one of them was sitting down and said "well done!" as I passed, jogging again by then as the path had levelled out a bit. Woodland became heath, became cliff-top, and I began to catch up with and pass more Challengers, which was quite gratifying at that point, although in truth the majority of the people taking part (1212 finishers in total) were walking - I heard the announcer at the start say there were only a couple of hundred runners accross the whole Challenge.
Well, I did my best to keep running, but the Achilles said "no!" to the steepest uphill bits. I paused every now and then to revel in the stupendous view back across the cliffs and sea over Eastbourne. It was a beautiful day on Saturday! Although we sometimes struggled against the Westerly breeze, we had been lucky to escape the high winds of the previous day, and the winds and torrential rain that happened on Sunday! The sun shone for most of the day, and the views were far-reaching and constantly stunning.
Hard going from the start
From first hitting the heath above Eastbourne, along to cliff to Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters, and then along the river Cuckmere to Alfriston - all was familiar to me as part of the Beachy route, albeit going in the opposite direction. SCC set a tough early first task in making us deal with the Seven Sisters so early in the run. Although not the highest point en route, they are almost terrifyingly steep, both up and down, and the path gets pretty crumbly in places. I encountered the first of several walkers taking an exaggerated zig-zag route downhill; seeming not to care that there might be someone behind them trying to run straight down, they careered alarmingly to and fro across the path, walking-poles a-flail! "I was told this was the best way!" a woman said to me, helplessly. The first rest stop was at Birling Gap (11km), just at the beginning of the Seven Sisters. At that point I was suffering from my earlier Americano indiscretion, and I'm afraid I didn't quite make it in time. Never mind, that's what Tena's for (tmi) I had already been going for an hour and a half, and was thinking I ought to get on with it, so I didn't hang around at the rest stop. After the loo I had some citrus High5 drink from the big barrel, grabbed some choccy bars, and I was off again.
After the 'Sisters, we descended to sea-level, and had a long flat run along the river. It was a good chance to make up time, but there wasn't always possible because the path was often too narrow to pass anyone. I occasionally took the opportunity gratefully to catch my breath, but most of the time I was bobbing and weaving and "excuse me"-ing past the walkers and their treacherous poles I have the utmost respect for people walking 100k along such a route (heck, I pretty much did it myself at L2B earlier this year!!), but it was good when the path widened out again. I occasionally was asked by members of the public (lots of those about - beautiful day for it!) how far we were going, so I would explain that I was "only" running 55k, but most people were going all the way to Arundel! I passed a walking group of Challengers who struck me as having just met each other that day (I remember that from the L2B, it was lovely in a way), and heard one of them say "Only 2k to go til lunch!!".
Alfriston Village and the "midway" rest stop
Just outside the pretty village of Alfriston I came upon the next rest stop (23k). Since this was still well under halfway I was feeling a bit concerned to note that I had been going for a bit more than 3 hours! I tried to push away the thought, but I didn't stay long and this rest stop either. Feet were fine, I restocked my pockets with food. I delayed a little to have a bit of flapjack and then some cheese and onion crisps to, as my Grandma used to say, "take the sweetness away". And High5, always High5. Man, I love that stuff!! I was somewhat annoyed to note that in the shouty email from AC we were being told to bring rehydration sachets with us. I couldn't understand this - were they not going to be giving us High5 at the rest stops this time? And how am I supposed to use rehydration sachets without a cup to mix them into?? Anyway, I didn't get around to buying any in the end
The next BIG HILL, and I begin to struggle...
After leaving Alfriston it was pretty soon time for the next BIG HILL!! Up up we went, along a grassy path. I have to say, I heartily recommend the paths along the majority of this route. A lot of lovely short, soft grass, and quite a few nicely maintained gravel paths - all pretty easy on the feet! I was wearing my new Rosé Inov-8 trail shoes, and didn't suffer too many foot troubles, couple of blisters near the end. I'll tape up those areas before I start next time, and be done with it. What I am most happy about is the lack of toenail damage despite EXTENSIVE downhill running
We passed ponies and cows and sheep - oh my! I kept seeing our offshore wind farm from different angles all along the route. Sometimes it looked so close I thought I must have gone a lot further than I thought I had. And then sometimes it would recede. At one point I saw a town I recognised as Newhaven and realised just how far I had to go! And then I hit my struggle...
The wind was much stronger at the top of the moorland, and even started to feel a bit chilly. I was OK because I kept running, but it was getting harder to do that, even on flat or downhill stretches. For a while I had been having difficulty with food. I usually eat a little every half an hour on long runs, which works for me. But it became harder and harder to eat, and I couldn't believe how fast the time was going - what? I time to eat again?? Oh noes And I was getting tired, so I needed the food. I started to think that I would end up walking again, and it would take forever. But this time at least I didn't consider giving up - actually I thought the logistics wouldn't make sense! And, I had my secret weapon da da daaaa! The other "Expresso" gel, with the 100mg of caffeine. I forced it down, and then I started to perk up a bit. I hadn't seen a km marker for ages, and then I spotted one: 34 km!! I was a LOT further on than I'd thought, and I could see the cute little tents near the next rest stop up ahead. The path started a steep descent and I was as happy as a clam
Sock bother, and the LAST BIG HILL!!
I did hang around for a bit longer at the rest stop at Southease Village Farm (35km). I thought I'd have my dry socks at that point, took off the sweaty ones, rummaged in my bag to find... no dry socks! What happened to them? I guess I'll never know. Damn, they were really expensive!! Oh well, back on with the sweaty ones then, grrr. I'd reached the stop at just after 3pm, so I figured I'd be lucky to get back to Hove before 6 - but I was going to try!!
Pretty much straight after Southease we were heading up the final (for me anyway!) BIG HILL!! But it was pretty nice going, and once at the top I could start to see the familiar landmarks of home. It was good to go past the 42km (marathon) mark. My legs were starting to feel a bit sore by this time, and I had adopted a new strategy of having just a mouthful of food when I could - this seemed to work pretty well at least. I carried on plodding along, and found myself following another Challenge runner! I passed him eventually, and we exchanged "hellos". This was not a very conversational run I followed undulating paths for a while, received some nice, encouraging comments from a member of the public, then began to descend towards Brighton, having spotted the welcome sight of the AMEX stadium. There was a mini-rest-stop at Falmer (44.5km), with a delightful view across Brighton, and some cans of Coke, one of which I couldn't resist, although I also couldn't have more than a few sips - too fizzy! Straight off after a quick "thank-you" to the volunteers, I then hit the BEST RUNNING PATH IN THE WORLD!! It seems to be made of recycled tyres, and it's just so lovely and bouncy!!! I'd just ran along it a few days before
Home to Hove
I carried on downhill on a new-to-me path along the Racecourse, through an estate, and into Kemptown down a VERY steep street, with views of interesting-looking buildings I'd not seen before! And then to the sea front, where I found the Mods! Going was pretty slow and treacherous, I usually tend to avoid the sea front of a Saturday in August, but needs must
I plodded on, calculating how much further I had to go, and my dwindling chances of getting to the finish before 6pm. At one point I told a skateboarder that I "didn't like" him! I didn't mean it personally though, I just wanted him to pass me so he wasn't following behind my quaking heels We turned up Grand Avenue, where there's a bit of uphill. I passed a couple of challengers, which made me a little disproportionately proud. Then the last little bit was downhill, which was excellent, and I was running alone when I came to the finish line where a lovely group of volunteers were all cheering for me!!!
Got my medal, t-shirt, cone of prosecco, and a little bit of pasta and salad. I felt very contented, especially when I phoned my husband and he said he would come and pick me up in the car I actually got back at 4 minutes past 6 (curses!), and my finishing time was 08:07:52. I uploaded to Strava, complaining about being slow, but in the end I was actually in 20th place out of 315 first half challengers, and 10th female. Not bad really, and you can bet I'll be back for more of this ultramarathon caper!
*Don't any of you even think of calling me "Abigail", I will hunt you down...