‘Fresh’ from a weekend of crewing and pacing for Philippe on the Autumn 100, we thought that it was time to knuckle down, get back to some hard work in preparation for next year with just the Bovington Marathon left in December.
I checked my emails last week and found the final race instructions for the Beachy Head Marathon. Having avoided running it for several years through fear of putting unnecessary pressure on my knees, I had actually entered it back in February, but had forgotten about it.
My first experience of the Beachy Head Marathon was a rainy day 7 years ago. We went biking in our lovely camper van. We saw people running up towards the 7 Sisters and I remember commenting that it was totally mental to be doing that and in such rubbish weather. At that stage we were still living in Brighton, hadn’t met up with the folk at Burgess Hill Runners and trail running was a totally alien concept.
Sadly, this weekend is remembered for the day that our camper van turned from this.
So, 7 years later and 23 marathons later, the alarm went off at 5.30am and we set off for the Beachy Head Marathon and to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t seem quite as mental any more.
The Beachy Head Marathon is famed for how tough it is. If you look at the profile of the race, it’s hardly surprising.
I was actually surprised by how runnable and fair most of it is. Yes, there are very long uphill sections, but when you are of my level, you walk up them. You accept that and move on. The issue comes when you can’t run the downhills because they are too steep. For the most part, this is not the case with Beachy. In fact, I was surprised with how much was actually runnable, either slightly uphill or pleasantly downhill.
The first km is VERY uphill. We had spent about 20 minutes queuing for the limited toilets and started at the back of the field. I think that this cost me around 5 minutes (not that it matters greatly), as it was so crowded on the way up the steep incline and the flatter sections that followed.
The next 4km undulate until you reach the highest point on the course, over 120m above where you started. This is followed by nearly 1.5km of easy downhill. The profile maps are very misleading on the Beachy Head marathon. This section really looks too steep to run, but is certainly isn’t. You’ve got to be careful though. You run through leaves on the floor, there are loose stones everywhere and tree roots that claimed a good few victims. This is the case on many sections of the race.
The next 2 climbs/walks and 2 runs that ensue are lovely. The views would have been amazing, if it wasn’t for the weather. While perfect for running, it was pretty rubbish for sightseeing.
The views looked like this,
rather than this (a photo I prepared earlier).
15km you arrive in Alfriston, a small village which typifies this part of Sussex. It is a great place to spectate and the supporters offer a nice boost.
After Alfriston there is a 3.5km climb before a very nice 7km descent into Litlington, giving a great chance to make up some time lost on the ascent.
It is after Litlington where the smaller, killer hills kick in.
This includes a section through Friston Forest. I spent a lot of time biking in Friston Forest and Cuckmere Haven when I first moved to Brighton and this is one of the reasons I fell in love with the Sussex countryside. It is always a pleasure to go back and run there, even though it involves 2 sets of stairs and because it includes one of the best views of Cuckmere Haven.
As you drop down into Cuckmere Haven, the 7 Sisters and the other related hills come into sight. I was about to become one of the those nutters I’d seen 7 years earlier, but by now, the weather had cleared and we got the views that allowed the area to show itself off in all it’s beauty.
I was still capable of running some of the uphill sections at this stage, which gave me the confidence to attack the Sisters. I was overtaking people regularly. I was even told by one of the 100 Marathon Club runners that I looked ‘as fresh as a daisy’. Not sure about that, but I’ll take it.
This is 4km of clamber/crawl/walk uphill and run down when the severity of the descent allows it.
After Birling Gap, there is a lot of slight undulation until you get to the huge hill that is gifted to you by the trail gods at 38km. That’s a 1 mile walk until you reach the top and start the descent into the finish.
I had picked Oli Jones up on the Sisters, so had the pleasure of his company for the last 90 minutes or so. He was one of the many people who choose this as their first ever marathon.
And that was it, after a slow walk down the hill we’d gone up just after 9am, the Beachy Head marathon was done and dusted.
5 hours 13 minutes. Pretty pleased with that. I had 5.15 to 5.30 in my head. I felt strong most of the way. This was more about learning for next year.
For the first time I used Tailwind. I used it diluted in a little water, so highly concentrated, as per my cheese eating ultra mentor on the A100. That seems to work. No funny stomach and easy to get down. I also ate little Nakd bites. They are so small you don’t even have to chew them.
So, thoughts on the race. I can’t think of a better, more fulfilling challenge than tackling the 7 Sisters at 19 miles of a marathon. The pure joy of knowing you’ve beaten it is fantastic. The countryside is amazing and the organisation top notch. Number collection and bag drop were very easy. I didn’t have a great experience with toilet queues. The volunteers were brilliant.
This is probably a very personal view point, but I found the course really crowded, even after several miles. This is certainly the busiest trail event I have ever done. I’m not used to that. I prefer the smaller numbers of the Sussex Trail Event, White Star and Centurion races. With these larger races, there’s also less chance of me winning my game of race number bingo, as I need 35 or 39 for a run of 4 consecutive numbers.
I was disappointed by the aid stations. Several of them only offered chocolate, biscuits and cold drinks. I don’t think that there was anything salty/savory and the only vegan offering was banana. Maybe this was in the race instructions, but it’s a good job that I carried enough food with me. For one of the more expensive events in the area, I thought that this could be improved upon.
On a similar theme, even though I’m not someone who is massive on what the medal looks like, it definitely appears that the medal has been downgraded since Nick did this race in 2014.
In short, this is an icon of an event and any trail marathon runner needs to add this to their diary at least once.
Well done to the organisers and the volunteers. What a fantastic day out.
Have fun, Neil