I'm really sorry but this post is super long! In case you don't fancy reading it all, here is a summary:
★ I had an amazing year! I've run five marathons this year (two of them ultramarathons) 😊
★ Coming to a Beachy Head: I trained for Beachy using an ultramarathon plan, and I wasn't feeling too great in the week leading up to it.
★ Race Day! I drove myself to Eastbourne (a first for a marathon), and it was really really really cold at the start! I wore a lot of clothes and ended up shedding most of them during the race 😜
★ Off we go! Beachy Head is a lovely trail marathon with a lot of hills - the second part is the hardest. The weather was really lovely once we got going, and the views were astonishing! The support from the volunteers and locals was magnificent. I fell over at 16k, was annoyed but OK. I was a bit shocked to finish with my slowest marathon time ever: 5:19:51. But the medal is groovy (it's the one with the lighthouse) and I had a fun day out!
★ What happened? I ponder why I couldn't get the sub-5 hour time I wanted, and conclude that I need to work harder next time!
★ My plan: I'll be back!! I want to make a strong return to Beachy Head in 2020 😊
And here's the report
I booked the Beachy Head Marathon when they still had the early bird prices, so must have been the best part of a year ago. I thought that it would be nice to go back there two years after running it as my first marathon, and then tucked it away in my back pocket.
I had an amazing year!
I got on with the business of running the delayed MK Winter Half in Feb, then in April the Brighton and London Marathons in quick succession, followed by the London 2 Brighton 100k in May, the lovely July Brighton 5.30k, and then the marvellous South Coast Challenge 55k in August. With the Beachy Head Marathon that makes 5 marathons, two of them ultramarathons!!
I suppose I’ve pushed myself! 😊
Coming to a Beachy Head
By the time October was winding down I had gone through eager anticipation of Beachy to feeling pretty apprehensive about it. I had been following an ultramarathon training plan from Runner’s World, which was fun, but I started to wonder if it was appropriate for a marathon - even a gnarly trail one like Beachy. I had been through my physio exercises for the dodgy calf that had plagued my first two marathons of the year, and that was much better. Both Achilles tendons had tightened up a lot, but in the circumstances this wasn't really surprising!
During the last week I lacked sleep and came down with a cold. I viewed the forecast of 'Arctic winds’, and reports of a huge crack in the cliff, with a baleful eye. I'd always said I wouldn't show up for the marathon if the conditions weren't ideal - but there was no way I was going to miss it now!!
I got to Eastbourne about two hours before the start so I could get a good parking space. It was pretty windy and oh so cold! I left my running backpack in the car and went with a jumper and coat on to collect my race pack (I got another awesome number!) and hang out in the warm canteen for a bit. Beachy starts from a little prep school (for boys I think) called Bedes, and marathoners have the use of the grounds and school buildings (including the swimming pool usually, although sadly not this time as it was closed for refurb). After collecting my gear from the car and a bit more time in the canteen I nudged my way to fairly near the starting line (a narrow road filled with brightly dressed people stamping their feet), about five minutes before the off. The only concrete strategy I had was to start near the front in order to try and avoid getting stuck behind walkers (the marathon encourages walkers with a generous cut off of 9 hours, which I applaud, but that doesn’t mean I want to be slowed down on narrow parts of the course!). It was freeeeezing!!! I had already decided to wear shorts under capris and maybe shed a layer later, but the wooly-hat-on-baseball-cap-on-buff arrangement was a last minute call 😄
Off we go!
It's always a slow start - check out the picture on Beachy's website home page to see why! After the first insanely steep path onto the nice undulating grassy trail it quickly became clear that it was an absolutely perfect day for running! Crisp cool air, sunshine, blue skies, views for miles across moorland, cliffs, and the sea. Now and then throughout the day we faced a pretty stiff breeze, but mostly it was just lovely! I got pretty warm and gradually discarded my arm warmers, my wooly hat, and finally those damn capris (I hate capris).
Beachy Head Marathon takes runners along mainly grassy (there are a few rubbly bits) paths, through woodland areas, villages (lovely support from the villagers - small crowds can make a big noise in a valley, it was so exciting to hear them!), across the odd road, and of course atop hills and cliffs! There are a couple of stiles to climb, and a few kissing gates to negotiate. The first two major climbs after the first checkpoint (7k) are high, but reasonably gentle. Beachy upped their game this year by changing to a more high-tech timing chip company (the same one that Brighton and London use) and were able to provide us with live halfway results and instant finishing times texted to our phones. The lovely checkpoints with their Mars Bars, bananas, squash, and cheery marshals were the same as in 2016 😊 (NB there are a few extra food and drink stations not mentioned on the map - Beachy looks after us very well!).
My first low point came just as we were leaving the village of Alfriston at around 16k. There's a steep climb on a concrete track, and my mind was wandering back to the South Coast Challenge, which shared this part of the route. All of a sudden I was down on hands and knees, having tripped up on a join in the path. I jumped up quickly and rubbed the affected parts. Nothing serious - bruises to both hands, and my right knee was skinned and bled for a while afterwards. The people around me were kind, but I was so cross with myself! After a while I calmed down, considering that the last time I'd fallen was the last time I'd run Beachy, so I was probably overdue a tumble 😊. I lost 10 minutes at Checkpoint 3 (at about 20km) though, cleaning up my knee and putting on a plaster.
After the halfway point there's a fun downhill stampede to the fourth checkpoint at Litlington, with sausage rolls, buns, a band playing “Wonderwall”, and some loos I was very glad of! After that come the infamous steps, where I was pleased to find myself not unduly hindered by walkers. Time seemed to be flying by!
The second half of Beachy is the hard part, with stiff climbs up from Litlington and also from the Cuckmere River to the cliffs; followed by the extreme ups and downs of the Seven Sisters, and the excruciating final push up Beachy Head itself. When I first arrived on the cliff tops at about 32k I knew I had a lot left to do. But the wind was behind us, and the scene was so beautiful I decided I would stop checking the time and just enjoy the run, and the lovely weather and views. The Seven Sisters are hard work but also mighty fun. I find it mostly impossible to run up them, and it's frequently tricky to run down them at any speed because they are THAT STEEP! But those sharp ups and downs are delightful nonetheless! For the South Coast Challenge we had to tackle them early in the run which was, well, challenging!
But I was getting really tired, and hit my second low point. The hardest part of all is after the fifth and final checkpoint, where we follow a path inland, and up Beachy Head. The views are less exciting, the path is steep, and seems to go on forever. I could not run any of it. I remembered running all the way up during the 10k last year and thinking “pah!”, but it's another story when you've already been going for about 38k!
Finally the path starts to level off. I think that's where the second of those race photos was taken - hence the wry smile I suppose! I decided to try and jog or run the rest of the way, and I did. The last part is supremely lovely, downhill on soft grass (being wary of rabbit holes!). I could start to hear cheers and announcements, and finally I saw again the steepest of steep descents to the finishing arch. I picked my way down (scared, so scared of falling!), and then on the road at the bottom hit my final sprint to finish.
The announcer said I looked “laid back” but inside my head I was deeply shocked by the time on the clock!! I got my medal (VERY glam - Beachy upped their game there too!), and stopped Strava, which said a very different time (moving time!!! Auto pause!!!). But then my phone buzzed with the text confirming my finishing time as 5:19:51 - officially my slowest marathon EVER!! My feelings were mixed, but the sun still shone, the atmosphere was great, and my legs felt fine, so I was fairly happy. I was getting pretty cold though, so I headed off back to the car and my warm clothes (it was my first time driving myself to a marathon, and it worked out pretty well!). I drove home to an extremely late lunch followed later by celebrations in the pub 😊
It nags me. I recognise it as a good achievement, and it was a fabulous day out I enjoyed very much! But I didn't expect it to take longer than my first attempt, in fact I thought I would finish in under 5 hours, and I feel I'm capable of that. I think maybe my training should have had more speed work, more hills, and more trails. I am bad at making myself keep going uphill, and I am nervous about running downhill on technical terrain. I did have some issues this time with getting to the trails for training; I'm a bit sick of the run through Hove to get up to the hills - it takes up time and is highly uninspiring. Another problem I keep getting is cramp in my abs, and this did occur during the marathon (by the Cuckmere, at about 30k). I can keep moving with this cramp, but it slows me down and makes moving fast downhill very difficult. Sometimes it lasts for the rest of the run! I also got cramp in my feet when I was at the Sisters, which is very unusual for me during runs. I put this down to being extra tired due to lack of sleep (that's the pattern I've noticed).
My plan: I'll be back!!
I'm going back in 2020!! (if possible) I would like to do a fast, flat marathon in the Spring, and then Beachy in the Autumn. I'll drive up to the South Downs and practice trail running more often. I'll make use of Brighton's hilly roads, and I've already turned off Strava's auto-pause so I can get a truer picture of my performance. And in the meantime I'll be working on my Achilles tendons and my abdominal strength - yay 😂