BEACHY HEAD MARATHON Eastbourne: 27/10/12

08:15: Mum has driving duties today as she offered her assistance as my crew for the day. We pull up the top of the hill near to where the start is and as I have 15min to get to the registrations tent just drops me off, grab my Camelbak and head down the hill while mum parks up somewhere else. She shouts from behind ‘water don’t you want this?’ I run back up for a swig and tell her anymore water I’m going to be peeing all day! 

I manage to see the starting line and a marquee tent on the green opposite the school so head over to find it pretty rammed full of runners pinning their numbers and waiting to collect. Number 47 is me and a dinner voucher and chip is in the pack too. I head out and pin my number with difficulty as the biting cold wind is making my hands numb, even though I have been wearing gloves from Brighton in the car all the way here!

As I locate the line for the toilets outside I see Andy straight away, fellow BOSH-Runner from our group. We chat about the conditions briefly and I see he has no over coat or jacket but joggers over his shorts so he must be cold! Andy is usually a running shorts man! I attempt to call mum see if she has parked up but she finds us and I introduce Andy, she jokes he’d be easy to spot with the long hair. We say our goodbyes and wish each other good luck.

I’m in my usual trusty running tights, compression long sleeve, an over weather layer, gloves, my Vivo Trails with socks, buff and cap. Yet I’m still cold to the bone! Mum has lent me her big weather coat to throw over but I’m still shaking like a leaf... 

After a few last minute pics, tweets and FB update (with great difficulty) I head into the start pen area and wait around the front by the less than 5hr finish, not many runner’s have got into the area yet and I figure why as the strong bitter wind is sweeping down from the steep hill in front of us.
Just a few minutes left for gun fire, everyone huddles into the starting area and lots of jumping, shaking about and movements as we all try to keep warm somehow!

09:00: After countdown from ten we start with the loud horn sound and I start my Runkeeper and Garmin watch, head straight towards the first hill just 30 metres or so from us.
We climb up the few steps and grass at a steep, sharp ascent and fairly quick, it’s very cold still and I’m excited but want to just warm up. I can feel my heartrate elevate quickly so slow to a climbing pace, concentrate on my breathing to a steady rate but with the biting wind against me it takes a while. 

As the hill levels out to a slow gradient I realise if I have just struggled there it is going to be a real tough race! I’m really not sure if the just six hours sleep and finishing my night shift only yesterday will help me in feeling good to race. I keep my pace to around 8:00min/mile until I feel my heartrate has steadied some.  Is it the excitement and cold? I normally feel lots stronger than this...

After a few minutes I can hear bag pipe music drifting with the wind into our earshot, I look up to see a player in all his kilt and colours playing for us! His head is turned so he can see the runners coming over the hill. Nice touch I thought :-) We head over the road where a marshal has stopped traffic to allow us to cross, we head over the other side of the field which is part of Beachy Head and leads onto the South Downs Way trail.

09:25: Mile 3 after the first water stop is another rather steep climb into the Trail.  The path leads under shady trees and I am grateful for the wind block so lower my buff from my mouth and nose a little. There are hard slab stones that are rather uneven beneath our feet, which become hard to run down as the slope gets steeper as we descend. 

I see a lady approach from the side of me in a baby blue top and shorts (cross between mini skirt and running shorts) big shades and dark curly hair, she looks Spanish perhaps? She smoothly glides past me like a ballerina, wonderful watching how light and at ease she runs. Another sharp hill and rock gravel underneath so I take it carefully and slowly pass the lady in blue: “""u hang with us we descend downWill hang with you again, see u soon!” I say. She laughs with a big smile.

09:55: At 6.79 miles my Garmin stopped and I did not realise at the time.  We go up yet another steep gradient, I slow to a 10:00min/mile pace. Eventually down again we head through a small village which gets quite muddy and slippery, so glad my trail shoes have the grip! After what I think is about two miles we reach another water stop and I then notice the watch stopped so restart again cursing how I didn’t notice and then how did I manage to stop it? 

High up into the South Downs and I take in the breathtaking views for miles around us.  The sunshine really does make this area look stunning and I think this is so much better than hard rain so learn to deal with the bitter strong winds. A very enjoyable flat moment is ahead on the SDW trail high   up and it gives me time to absorb this great view! I quicken my pace into a comfortable 7:20min/mile pace and swiftly fly along...

10:20: Nine miles in or so the trail has led downhill a fair amount towards the south and I can see the sea in the distance ahead .I can't hold any longer and stop for a comfort break. We are deep into a wooded area under many trees and climb over a stile and then steps lead us high up again. I can hear bagpipes again from above and can see another chap playing in all his get up! Nobody around me talks a word and I climb the large big steps slowly. I’m walking these along with everyone else and enjoy the peaceful sounds of the bag pipe player as we pass him. 

I look back to see how steep it is. I wish I counted how many steps as there was more than a fair few... The top of the forest opens up to a big field and cheers from spectators at both sides say: “Well done, keep going not long to go!” I thumbs up and thank them but know deep down we have awhile left to go and plenty more hills to come! My quads are starting to burn and ache from the steep ascents but it is a nice familiar discomfort I’ve come to expect from this year of many marathons.  It makes me feel like I have worked at something, without this pain I know I’m going too easy and slow... 

10:55: 12.70 miles we reach a water stop, I see half mars bars, hot cross buns, biscuits and squash on offer, tempting but no not yet for me, just some water. The fields lead down to yet another steep descent past a river and over a bridge.  The route leads out onto a small private road then out left into a village.  I try to look around for key places or signs to see if I recognise anywhere, I eventually spot Friston and the local pub has a huge crowd cheering and clapping us as we pass down the road. We slow to some marshal’s blocking the A259 from passing traffic to let us cross and enter the Seven Sister’s park.

The view from here is stunning and I remember walks here years back. I think to myself I’m so glad I get to experience some of this today during a marathon, I now see why this is such a popular race to run and grasp some of the most scenic sights East Sussex has to offer. Many more walkers, spectators and marshals on the way cheer and clap as we pass by. I take in the views and plod on checking my pacing which is around 7:00-7:15min/mile.  I start to feel fatigued and rather hungry all of a sudden so tuck into a pack of berry Cliff shots leaving only one cube left - the pack contained six! It doesn’t last long as by mile 14 I’m ready for another SIS gel and use the caffeine berry as I am still feeling rather sluggish and tired. Killer hills and no tapering this week are probably catching up on me now...

11:28: 16 miles or so on the cliff side and I am now facing Seven Sisters which means seven cliff top hills to go... I take a look back at the famous cottage on the cliff edge you see on postcards so take the moment to snap a photo for myself. I see up above the hill I’m not the only one snapping away. I climb the hill rather slow and figure I can speed up going down to make some time up here.  I only just manage crawling up at a 14:00-16:00min/mile pace! 

The ground is a combination of soft grass and chalk gravel so the climbing up becomes tricky, not knowing where to place your feet as it is so uneven. The wind is so strong here and each climb at the top I’m greeted with a huge cold blast that feels like ice thrown on my face! These hills are repeated for another six and the view of the lighthouse at Beachy Head looks very small from back here. My aching quads and tired cold head just want this to be over now and I start to hit a low...

11:55: Reaching the climb just after mile 20 I can see a drinks station ahead and it’s actually a relief to just stop a minute and catch my breath. I can see the lighthouse closer up front on the cliff edge and figure still so close but so far left to the finish. I drink two cups water and decide to take half a mars bar for the chocolate, just a moment of bliss to try to distract the last few hills to go.  I thank the volunteers and speed down the hill with my mouthful. The speed doesn’t last very long, as quick as I get to the bottom I only slow to a marching effort back up the next steep slope.   

A few small slopes that feel a breeze for the time being so I have a moment to feel some recovering, only to see another two big sister hills left. I decide to keep my head down on the climbs and enjoy the speedy drops which seem to lift my spirits more - or is that the sugar rush from the mars bar that I would never have in my diet usually?!

12:30: Approaching about 24 miles the last of the sisters are behind me, all seven of them.  I have a proud moment knowing I’ve managed to conquer those and got the worst over with, well almost…I can see a huge steady incline of a hill which leads up to the lighthouse that is Beachy Head up next. I take it slowly but try to keep a 10:00-12:00min/mile max going on here when possible. 

The climb feels like forever and the cheers from passing hikers and walkers helps but I can’t help thinking have they ever tried running on Beachy? It is brutal and horrific in places. Not one for a beginner this. As the hill gradually becomes steeper still, as if it couldn’t already it still climbs up reaching 300ft to the top. Finally as if I would never see what is over the hill I eventually get a sneak peek as I creep up nearer to the summit.

Then there it is…the light house and a nice bit of flat, just a short part but it is flat! This is where I can see everyone who is upfront in the lead. I try to count some of the runners ahead but I soon give up and know with my time that I will be around the first 100. I cruise along here feeling so much better already.  Then a small climb, which is over quickly enough, then through past the pub restaurant car park at the top of Beachy Head and around to the main road following it up across the grass verge. I notice it looks familiar and realise we passed this but on the other side of the road earlier on. I suddenly have a clear idea that means the finish is only about one mile or so away! I up to my race pace (or the closest I can) with my burning exhausted sore legs and hope please for no cramping!

12:43: Less than one mile to go and no cramping yet. I remember back to Liverpool how this is when it started, I’m quite grateful that today has been mainly off road and the road we did run on was very brief. We make our way around the cliff top passing walkers and spectators strolling to see the runners come in. Over the small mound and past some trees, I can see a glimpse of Eastbourne and then, as I approach nearer the finish, I can see the Pier. 

Then I notice a half rainbow peeping from the thick clouds over the seafront, it’s the most amazing moment to see and such a nice welcome for the end of a race that has been stunning with scenery on the way.  I think of my partner Sunday and how he would really like it up here - to see what all us runner’s have seen. As the route seems to slope downwards I sense this must be it - finally the sharp hill that we climbed all those hours ago. I literally fly down but have to steady myself as the steps approach and land two at a time.  I whizz past the cheers and crowds and there it is the end....I sprint the best I can and thumbs up the spectators with a sign of relief and a big smile as I pass through the finish line. 

 I clock my time to be 3:50:39 
which is 70th place,  
not bad for my first Beachy Head Marathon! 

That’s 47 minutes slower than Liverpool two weeks ago and 25 minutes quicker than my Three Forts Marathon ‘The Tough One’ in May which has a similar 3,400ft elevation gain too. The Eastbourne website claims you need to add 30-40 minutes onto your road time so I am very happy with my result today.
I gain my 17th medal from racing and my 10th Marathon to date since 2010.
Thanks for reading and Run Free!


RUN LIVERPOOL: 14/10/2012

My partner Sunday is running his first ever marathon today. I’m really excited for him as it takes me back to my first marathon back in 2010.

My very close friend Helen is running her fifth Marathon so far this year in aid of the Olympic rings so it is an extra special race for her too. Joining us are friends Darren and Tanya from our BOSH-Run group on Facebook. This marathon will be Darren’s second and both he and Tanya are hoping for a Personal Best!

08:40: After a short train ride to Birkenhead with the guys, we reach the park entrance and drop our bags on the lorry, it is sunny but a brisk northern 5c chill. My Inov-8 Wrag will be my wind proof today.

Pictures taken from Run247 and for our run group.

Heading over to the start, Helen already with soggy feet in her Vibram Five Fingers. I am wearing New Balance MT10 today, I favour my VFF on shorter distances.

We walk the start pen staying in the sunshine to keep warm. Wishing Sunday and the guys good luck, I head further down to the front as it is getting crowded.

I can see elites up front and the Mayor of Liverpool on the balcony.

09:30: The countdown begins 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. A loud horn sounds and we are off! everyone is tearing through the park at lightning speed...

I steady myself and get my pacing to a 7:15-30 min/miles but find it a struggle with runners flying past.

Heading onto the main high street of Birkenhead, with lots of spectator cheers from both sides of the road.

At the first water stop I have just a few gulps as I'm only a touch thirsty. I find my pace and take in the sights of the Wirral. Over bridges, industrial works following signs to New Brighton.

10:10:  Six miles in and I can see the sea. I'm just about warming up now. Runners head up the sea road, passing more spectators. I thumbs up and smile at the crowd. The route switches back on ourselves with the view of Liverpool over the Mersey in sight.

Nine miles in and onto the promenade of New Brighton. I see a lighthouse out at sea and the buildings of the city. As I have an SIS energy gel. I am running 6:15-30 min/mile pace.

10:50:  Eleven miles or so and back over the bridge from the other direction and then towards the Birkenhead Tunnel. The toll is closed off.  I head towards the huge dark opening, it feels strange with empty roads. 

An eerie feeling it is to be running in a dark tunnel that usually occupies three car lanes.  As I approach the bottom of the tunnel, I see other runners ahead and we meet the half way marker. 

I cannot see any end close by. I start to feel rather low and try to keep focused. Alredy half way through the race.

After over 15 minutes in the tunnel I can hear live music playing from the exit.... 

Then finally, light at the end of the tunnel. I start to speed up to the exit. I have no idea how fast, my phone and Garmin have lost all service in here.

11:18:  At 13.5 miles I reach the opening of bright outside air. Greeted with almighty cheers. I see dancers and cheerleaders. I notice our Hotel just across the road.

I carry on the road, away from the docks for a few miles before another switch back down the other side of the road. I check my pace, still around 6:20 and I'm feeling muscle soreness from the road beneath me but still feel strong and confident I can finish this at my 3:10 goal time. 

Passing another water stop I gulp down a bottle of water and take a High5 gel with caffeine. I also have some Cliff shot cubes I'm carrying on me.

11:45:  At 18 miles I pass the Albert Dock and cut through the city past the town hall. The road then appears to be going up. I thought being a city marathon this would be more flat. Oh well, what goes up must come down...

My pace drops here as I start to feel the ache in my feet, swollen from the ‘tarmac pounding’.  Once the road flattens out, into a park, the path is gravel, which is a relief break from the roads. 

Lots of walkers in the park and see 2 hours 30 minutes have passed, so it is about midday.  This means I have less than 30 minutes to get a sub 3 hour finish.  I still have 4 miles to go....

I spot Sunday, so run closer to the right to shout over to him. He gives me a thumbs up and says he is ok. I feel proud knowing how far he has come with his running.

Big day for my partner Sunday: his first marathon!
Leading downhill at last, I see the 24 mile marker, so I am very close to the finish! I start to feel my glutes getting tight with the chance of cramping. I have some more Cliff Shots, followed by water at the next stop.

12:25:  With just one mile left, I check my Garmin and see that I may gain a PB for a Marathon. The glutes start to tighten more. I feel the pain approaching. 

The crowds towards the finish at Mann Island are screaming at the runners, clapping and cheering.  The support is truly intense and I feel a lump in my throat. Suddenly a muscle cramp hits my glute and I have to slow to rub the area. Luckily it fades and I head for the finish.

The road bends and I see the big archway finish. I try with all my energy and power I have left to sprint. It’s the best I can do without another cramp stopping me. 

I hear over speaker ‘Luke Ashton is just finishing’ and look up to see the time of 03:02:55 BOSHED!

That’s a PB and six minutes slashed off Brighton Marathon time from April.

I have a good stretch as I take in the moment and the memories of the race....My first Liverpool marathon!

I have time for a cold shower and change before the others from the BOSH-Run Group are due to finish.  I head back to see Darren gain his PB of 4:09, Tanya then Sunday finishes his first marathon in 4:21. Sunday has time for a cold bath before we head back for Helen to finish....

Luke’s Top Tips for completing a road marathon:

1.  After finishing the marathon drink plenty of water.  I also recommend a high carb protein shake. I currently use a Vegan mix of pea and hemp protein as its plant based, lighter than whey and dairy free. I put a teaspoon of super green powder and Chai seeds in for added antioxidant boost post race.

2.  Run a cold – or if you can brave it an ice bath - to cool the muscles in your legs.  Sit in shallow water for 10 minutes.  Uncomfortable as it maybe, after a few minutes you will already feel less inflammation or aches. The next day your legs will thank you!

3.  Wear the right shoe for the terrain. With road races I use a minimalist shoe.  Today I wore my New Balance MT10 as they have just that bit more protection on the sole over my barefoot shoes.

4.  Remember to grease up your feet and toes.  Cover toenails with plasters if they suffer from bruising and wear a good running sock.  I have to tape up all my toes when wearing my New Balance trainers. With any marathon you will get the odd small blister but by greasing and using plasters you will prevent the worst that could stop you completing a race.

5.  After an hour to 1.5 hours after the race have a very well balanced meal to aid your recovery and start to replace all those calories burnt. You would have burnt between 3,000 to 4,500 calories in a marathon.

Run free!