For my record equalling 14th marathon or ultra of the year I was, once more, on familiar ground. Although, even though it was my 3rd running of the Beachy Head Marathon, the course itself would be different. But I will come to that. Familiar ground has been a theme for the COVID era race calendars. In 2020 I ran 7 races (a DNF at Green Man, a SVN at Gravesend, a Phoenix at Walton on Thames, Round Reading, Run to the Sea Bournemouth, Chiltern 50, and Beachy) four of which I have done before, and this year, so far I have run 14 since April (Hurtwood 50, NDR 50, London 2 Brighton, RTTK, Race to the Sea Brighton, RTTS, Serpent Trail, Green Man, Round Reading, Tring, South Coast Challenge, Loch Ness, Manchester and Beachy) with a whopping 11 of those being repeats. And this coming from the man who said he wouldn’t ever run the same race twice because there are so many out there? The coronavirus put paid to that philosophy and I ended up running anything I could. 14 marathons and ultras in 27 weeks. Not ‘arf bad, even if 11 I’d run before.
I ran the Beachy Head marathon back in 2016, my first full year of running marathons. It was tough, I was in the depths of my Plantar Fasciitis, training for Athens and it’s near constant uphill course, and Beachy was a perfect prep race. I ran it in what I thought was a bad time back when times mattered. After all it was my 5th marathon and the others, Berlin (my first), Manchester (my PB) and Copenhagen (not bad) were over an hour, and nearer to an hour and a half, faster. I felt bad about how I did, regardless of the race email stating you should add 40-50 minutes on top of your normal marathon time. Still, I would go on thinking that it sucked donkey balls.
I would feel a lot worse, if that is possible, when running it again in 2020, after 5 comfy, slow trail ultras, the lack of speed work, and gym, and a lot of COVID pudge, translated to adding an extra 40 minutes to my 2016 effort. That killed any confidence I had at the time, finishing the year on a low. Or should I say half a year? 2020, 6 races between 30th July and 24th October. 6 races in 12 weeks. Again, not ‘arf bad, guv’nor. That is keeping the averages healthy. Finally something to be proud of.
It would be a team weekend, with the crew staying at adjacent hotels (Shore View and Riviera), team drinks both days, 4 times, team Italian meal before and Greek after organized by team captain and manager Keith Miller, joining Me, Lew, Kyla, Jimbo Abrahams and Rachel for all the fun, and… the uncertainty.
I say uncertainty because on the day before the race the organisers sent out an email stating that the course was waterlogged and that, rather than cancelling the event, something many other race organisers would do, they’d made 11th hour changes to the route, swapping from the normal chunky monkey of a route to two laps of the half route. It would have less elevation, avoiding the Old Man of Wilmington and the goddamn steps BUT it would mean running the 7 sisters twice. So? 14 sisters! It wouldn’t be as tough, but it still wouldn’t be easy.
It was once we realised this, and knowing that after a single lap we would know what we had coming, we relaxed and enjoyed a wonderful weekend where Lew’s latest obsession came to the forefront.
Yeah, adding to the later admission of a love for the work of David Essex, Lew tried to cram the Benny and Bjorn penned earworm from the musical Chess into our collective aural orifices. Dry. It seemed to work, Jimbo found it on the jukebox at the watering hole we ensconced ourselves within for both days, and several of us added it to our running playlists. I did, but I admit that I never got played when I ran. Thank Zombie Jesus!
The morning of the race Keith ferried us to the start. Lew hadn’t received his number and therefore had to get a replacement from race HQ. And it would be the normal race HQ and the normal start, rather than the COVID queuing system at the school from the year before. And we were all pretty relaxed.
I was at least. It wouldn’t be as bad as last time. The course would be easier, and with Portland binned, this could well have been my last race of the year, my 14th, as I said, and the 65th in a little over 6 years of running marathons. Bosh. Bosh and bosh!
I walked that first up. There was no reason not to. Anyone that runs it, other than the elites, would blow out their legs if their did. Oh yeah, the elites. One thing about running a lap race is that the elites could lap you, though, I am happy to admit that only 5 did that to me, and 4 of those were close to the end of my first lap. So to the race.
It looked like this…
But it reads like this…
Two laps, as I said. It started with the up from the school, a hill only second to the first hill of Portland, then right and country paths, country lanes and farmland including the famous sausage roll stop. A few cheeky rolling hills taking us west before turning back toward the sea. Here you run through Friston and hit this downhill that goes on for about a mile. You can really make up the time here that you lost on the hill and then you are out and onto the seven sisters, up and down and up and down, the Beachy Head pub appearing on the horizon at the apex of the final up before the downhill that leads to the finish and the turnaround point.
I had noticed that there were no timing mats on the first half of the route and plenty of opportunity the closer you got to half way to cheat. You could at any point on the seven sisters head over the heather and sit and wait for a while then pretend you are on the second lap, you could head into the Beachy Head pub, have a full pub lunch, several pints, warm up, thaw out then hop back on the course a few hours later and waltz down the hill to the finish. Or so it seemed.
As I made the turn onto the second lap (there was no way on God’s green Earth I was going to cheat) I saw this group of 3 runners deciding exactly that. They were muttering, huddled away from the course, looking sheepish. My arrival prompted them into action and two ran off the course and back towards the finish, the third looked very guilty and then ran by me, around the corner and there, to her horror, and my joy, was the half way timing mat. The girl looked back to where her friends were disappearing into the distance. And later, when home I messaged the race organisers to say anyone without a half way split cheated and should be disqualified, and shame on them.
Cheats aside, the second biggest annoyance came twice, and between Friston and the start of the Seven Sisters as we crossed open farmland. The wind had gotten up and I felt a spider web on my arm despite being nowhere near trees or bushes. I bushed it off and kept running then noticed the spider on my wrist. I brushed that off too. A little way along same thing, but the other arm, then my face and neck. I was brushing away invisible webs and must have looked madder than someone who believes keto is good for you. A spider then lowered itself into my field of vision from the peak of my cap. That one was also brushed off. Kyla was also mention the spiders, as would a couple of marshals. Given nothing else was around I am guessing they let out a thread of web and then launched themselves into the wind to find a new lair. SHUDDERS!
And then, after starring in a miniature sequel to Arachnophobia, I was back on the Seven Sisters, up and down and up and down, as Rach finished first, beating Lew by 10 mins, before Jimbo and then Kyla came through before me. Still, I am not in competition with them. I am in competition with the course, the distance, spiders, the cheats and myself. Oh, and my time? I managed to beat my 2020 finish time, which was my only real time goal, by 13 minutes. Not brilliant but, with my waning levels of fitness, I will take it. And then to the pub in time for beer and medals.
And even though I wore new unproven Hoka One One Speedgoats for the race, and a regular t-shirt from Razor Storm the only injury I ended up with was the standard mild chafing on my…
I remember commenting back in 2016 that the medal was tiny, and it was. Last year was the 40th running and was a big number 40, this year it is more traditional and has already been chucked with the others in the boxes.
I actually preferred this running of the Beachy Head marathon to last year. 2016 is too far back for me to remember it fully, but I do recall it all being new and fun. Last year was a shambles, bad weather, the tough old course, I was slow to a point of insulting, so I feel like I put some demons to bed. Closure if you like. I got closure on GMU at my 4th running this year and now closure on Beachy, and we had a cracking team weekend too.
As far as the race goes I would be tempted to go back if they used this course again next year but I feel that is unlikely.
WOULD I RUN THE BEACHY HEAD MARATHON AGAIN? No
WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BEACHY HEAD MARATHON? If you like a challenge.
The Scores on the Doors
Scored worse than last year because of technicalities but I preferred it.