Beachy Head Marathon 2016 is the 15th year of the popular East Sussex trail marathon. More than 1,700 runners and walkers have arrived to take part today.
This famous spot attracts many to Eastbourne from all over the world to for the Beachy Head Marathon and 10K race, set within the stunning South Downs National Park and taking in the sights of the UK’s highest chalk sea cliff.
This is my third attempt at Beachy after a two year absence. I have always been a part of the experience whether I am supporting friends or taking part myself.
This year my better half Sunday is running for the first time. It will be his first go at a trail marathon event.
Like me Sunday is calm but excited at what lies ahead. As this is a local and less congested event than the over populated road marathons of the South East, the mood is happy and cheery with a real friendly vibe.
We arrive in good time to park and then register at the marquee, on the green, by Beads School, Dukes Road.
Within minutes of collecting race bibs we see familiar faces and friends. Marathon legend Mark Johnson running marathon number 140! Nick, Lucy, Ann-Marie, Julie, Steve and Tina are just some of the usual friends here.
I am running without a water pack today as it leaked in the car, so I will make do with the water cups around the route instead today...
The time flies by taking pictures and catching up with each other. The crowds make there way to the start with the runners at the front and the walkers and those running with dogs further behind.
I wish everyone all the best before weaving through the waiting crowds and settling near the start... but not too far to the very front...
Six miles in
I can see Tracy taking pictures after the climb up, then further along Sharon is marshalling at four miles.
It is always good to see friends out supporting when they are not on the running side for a change!
Once meeting the South Downs Way near Jevington the air becomes thick with damp and poor visibility. The wind has picked up the higher we climb and the fog is making me feel cold.
I am finding it difficult to warm up and feel comfortable.... I keep my head down and follow the other runners.
At Bo Peep around nine miles in, I can see a photographer up ahead, but then realise once closer it is my good friend ultra Nick hidden in the fog. He hi fives me once I pass him and calls out 'you Lakeland legend'
When you need perking up it's always a boost to see a friendly face...
Endless leafy trails
The fog feels like it is hugging the downs without lifting. Although just as quickly as it started it disperses and a break brings some hazy sunshine.
Those damn steps...
Once over the wall and heading across the road to Seven Sisters Country Park. I enjoy all the spectators cheering everyone along and the scenic views across Cuckmere Valley.
Making my way across Seven Sisters
At mile 18, just over 2hrs 33min, I take some 'Pip Nut' peanut butter fuel and a walking break to start the cliff-top climbs.
I try my best to keep an average pace of 9:30min/mile but it is slowed with the rolling terrain.
Rolling cliff tops
By mile 24, 3hrs 46min on the Garmin, and reaching the top of one the seven sister cliffs is a checkpoint. I take on some water and a mars bar piece. There is nothing else on offer, which is a surprise as a few years ago I remember a full table spread of homemade goodies...
I thank the team and make my way down the hill and then back up the next climb. They become less steep but with a long gradient so I can start to run again...
The last few miles to go
Heading to Birling gap I can see by my watch I am doing good on time and look close to reaching my PB from 2012.
I feel I have held back just enough to save the energy in my legs to be able to finish strong!
I wonder to myself if I can beat my Beachy PB of 3hrs 50min...
Checking the Garmin
Passing another water stop and many cheering spectators we keep following the cliff top path until the very last half mile, which is the same as the beginning.
Carefully placing my footing so I don't slip or trip in the potholes or the steps leading downhill to the cafe and then back to the School.
I sprint for the finishing stretch, I check the clock and can see that I am just a few minutes off my personal best time of four years ago....
Finishing in 111th Position 3:52:29
I finish in 3hr 52min.
Considering I didn't get the chance to train as much summer/autumn, I still managed a good time for this hilly trail Marathon. Good to know my endurance fitness levels haven't dropped since Chiltern Wonderland 50 last month, which was some tough elevation.
I collect my medal and some water then check my official time at the timing tent. I head back up the road where the car is parked to change into warmer clothes.
I see Steve coming back down the road. Puzzled by this he then explains how his flu has caught him out of breath and struggling, so decided it wise to not continue after 16 miles...
I head back to the school with Steve to have the lunch that is offered to all runners and a hot coffee.
We watch everyone else coming in for the finish and have a great spectating spot at the cafe. Sunday makes it in without any troubles and much less cramping than the usual road marathons he has run.
He is beaming and enjoyed every moment of the event. He says he will be back again next year it had that much of an impression on him!
We stay around for the remaining runners and walkers so to cheer on Tina for her finish.
Another Beachy Head Marathon complete.
58 Marathons (including ultra)
The Centurion Autumn 100, previously the Winter 100 (the year I finished), has always been quite a special event with the four different out and back spurs, feels like each one of the Centurion events thrown together.
Luckily the past three years I have had some part of the experience.
Last year I supported and paced Shawn for his Grand Slam victory. This will be my 2nd attempt at the A100.
I finished in 2014 in 8th Place in 18:17.
Plan A is to PB that time and try for a top ten position. Plan B is to just PB and finish.
Shawn has been training well with Ronnie Staton and has a target of a sub 19 or 20hour finish today.
Hands up for first time trying a 100?
After catching up with friendly faces, Jess, Tim, Helen, Dan and wishing Tinu a very happy birthday today, we listen to James give the briefing just before we set off...
With Shawn, Helen and Dan
The line of runners is very tight and grouped together so I gave up trying to reach the front. Some 300 of us charge down the path to meet the Thames Path heading West up the river.
We bottle neck the gates until at least a few miles for the field to start spreading out evenly...
Wallingford. Leg One along the Thames Path
52 minutes on the clock, in the village of Wallingford at Mile 6.5 we meet the first checkpoint. Runners are in and out quickly and some without stopping...
I drink a cup of water.
Louise takes my number down, Lindley Chambers is here supporting. I thank the team before crossing the road and carrying along the river.
The miles tick by quickly and I stay to my own pace trying to not pair with anyone else.
I am running approx 8:30min/mile.
The Thames Path soon reaches Little Wittenham for the next checkpoint and the switch back. I drink a few cups of water and a jelly baby. I am feeling slightly hungry now that it's been awhile since my Bulletproof Coffee, so grab a few squares of cheese to take with me.
Shillingford. Returning on Thames Path-Leg One
Thanking the team I head back the way I came from.
So far I have counted 20 or more runners infront of me.
I shortly pass Shawn, Helen and then later Dan. All looking fresh and in good spirits still. It's a good way to catch everyone else you know and familiar faces, but come Legs two and three the field will have spread further apart with much longer gaps.
Benson Lock. Leg One returning back to Goring
Once back over the Thames River at Benson lock and along to Wallingford for number check and some water.
The sun is now shining and the cooler damp air has lifted making it feel much warmer and spring like conditions.
By 18 miles my body starts to feel fatigued already and my legs are heavy. This is very early on and usually I can feel strong much longer. I sip on some olive oil for the time being as it's not too far until I reach Goring after completing leg one...
Leg Two at Grims Ditch
At 13:40 and running for 3hr 40min I reach Goring. Kevin and Sarah are in control of number recording and pleased to see me. My drop bag is ready for me as I walk into the hall.
I refill my water pack. Have some diluted coke, then some cherry tomatoes and olives I packed in the cool bag. I have a few sips of coconut water also before thanking the team and heading back out for leg two.
This section heads along the Thames River again but the other side before meeting the Ridgeway path a few miles along.
It is sheltered and shaded at the moment.
By North Stoke I catch up with lovely Alma who is crewing here. I nibble on chocolate, cheese and cherry tomatoes before having some water.
Refuelling has helped but I am still feeling very fatigued and lack of energy.
Once at the wooded track heading to Nuffield, it is rolling climbs so I start to walk. I was doing great with time and just feel so tired all a sudden...
I soon manage to jog slowly and pass the time by counting the returning front runners.
Returning from Swyncombe on Leg Two
Endless tree roots and fallen leaves scatter the trails until the path meets Swyncombe checkpoint at mile 36 for the switchback.
It is good to reach as I see the stove set up for hot drinks. I refill my backpack water, take a salt capsule, whilst the team make a black coffee. I nibble on nuts and cherry tomatoes again whilst taking a few jelly babies with me.
I walk back out along the path with my coffee in my handy carry cup. Everyone is impressed, commenting on the cup!
Soon enough, after the sharp climbs in the woods... I can start to feel the coffee and salt kicking in.
My mood is lifted and I feel much lighter than I have since starting today..
After catching Helen looking so fresh at Grims Ditch, I start seeing the other runners approaching in small groups and then closer together. I catch Dan and see Shawn, who isn't looking his cheery best, but still moving forward.
Slowly the runners approaching me becomes less and then I am running alone again.
The dark clouds come in and just as predicted, the rain starts. Not just a little... but heavy...
After North Stoke and a quick hi and goodbye to Alma and the team. I want to get back to Goring to change clothes and have some fuel.
Route not complete this time but a good training exercise under the belt...
Still feeling good but my insoles are starting to slip, so at Goring I change the shoes, get out of the damp tee and put on a base layer. Change my cap to a skull cap and add the headtorch.
I eat some of my olives, energy butter and have some diluted coke. Back pack refilled I am set to carry on up the Ridgeway...
The rain is starting to slow and soon once I am away from Goring and out into the open darkness it stops.
The Ridgeway is dry and very stoned and rutted just like I remember.
The temperature is dropping fast and the cold air feels thick with damp as the wind blows. I put my music on to distract my mind of the cold. My legs are starting to fade and I can only power walk the climbs, jogging the flat.
It seems forever to reach Bury Down checkpoint. I am pleased to get a hot coffee and nibble on some cheese and nuts. My pace has really dropped now the cold has tired me out. I can feel the damp getting through my gloves and buff already...
By Chain Hill, three miles later, the wind is more harsh up here. I am ok for food so just have a jelly baby and some diluted coke. I thank the team and head back down the hill the way I came.
I can see all the moving headlights dotted for miles ahead of me. Some far apart and others all grouped together.
On my return I make calls to my sister and then Sunday, explaining how so cold it is getting. I start to wonder if I packed another dry base layer.
My gloves and buff are now wet, but it isn't raining anymore.... I soon reach Bury Down and it is much busier now with all the other runners heading up the hill.
I have a hot coffee again and refill my water. Running friend Max is here waiting for Dan and Helen. She says they are doing well and for me to get warm back at Goring.
It has been good to see a friendly face I know, just popping up along the route. Always helpful when I do not have a crew or pacer as company...
I turn my music up and head down the track, trying my best to keep a quicker pace so to get to Goring as soon as... it isn't helping my feet are now damp and numb...
Elevation changes at Leg Two and Three...
I pass so many runners who are just starting up for leg three. I try to look out for some I know but can't remember all their numbers...
I spot Dan but only as he stopped to grab my hand, I couldn't hear him calling me. My mood is really low and I can feel the cold reaching my neck and arms. My jacket is waterproof though my arms are damp to the bone. Dan is looking good and really buzzing.
Once I get nearer to the street lights the runners have spread out again and it is just me and the odd car that drives by.
Soon enough it is over the Streatley bridge and into the village hall. Number recorded and my bag is handed to me.
My mind is made up. I am stopping.
I had those hours in the cold damp wind which went right through to my skin and as I thought, I have no other dry layers to change into. I only have the emergency layer which must be carried at all times and not worn.
The team are really attentative and help me gather my thoughts.
My running friend Sharon is here helping in the kitchen. She is so gutted for me but sympathises as to why I cannot carry on today...
I just want out of the damp cold clothes and get warm and dry again...
In warm clothes and refuelled with coffee and the wonderful homemade chilli. I am glad I decided to stay put and not carry on further.
The night is turning much colder and rain is due in the early hours, so my condition could have got much worse.
Note to self: I don't think being in 26-28C sunshine on holiday just two days ago helped my body prepare for this.
I just wish I thought it through asking for crew help, packed more clothes and my trusty winter waterproof jacket!
Before I start to get too comfortable I phone Sunday and my sister, say goodbye to the Centurion team, then head back over the bridge to the car.
The drive home was harder than some of the running today! I had to make plenty of stops for fresh air and coffee just to keep awake.
Note to self: Crew can always drive you home!
I do eventually and safely reach home at 3am.
After some bad cramping attacks getting into bed, I finally get warmed up again by the morning.
The DNF looms over me like a dark cloud for some of the next day, but I soon switch my thoughts as to why it was for the best, how you cannot always have that A race or complete your goals.
Ultra endurance is not an easy sport!
Looking back I am not sure how I managed to do a 74 mile training exercise, when I wasn't exactly feeling my best with troubles to deal with.
I have been using the past few events as training aids as my mileage hasn't been to where it should be, so considering what I dealt with, I am happy with the outcome.
My recovery was a few days and I was out running again with no real deep fatigue or low mood that I usually experience after running ultra.
Maybe my high wasn't as big this time so less of a come down afterwards.
I am looking forward to eventually reaching a 100 again and getting another buckle, but it wasn't to be this year...
The London to Brighton off road race was originally created by Extreme Running Ltd back in 2008.
I was fortunate to run the route back in 2013, with some practice help before the event from Mark Dean, one of the organisers.
Since then the event has not taken place. With the Ultra scene flourishing, runners like to run fast, hard and to follow markers without worry of map reading.
This is one route that needs practice and cannot be run without a map, unless you have accurate GPS on your watch!
Waiting to register and start
This year Sussex Trail Events have tried the logistics of a revamp to the original keeping of the off road route, as close as possible. With the help from Mark and Dennis (Extreme Running Ltd) they tweaked the route slightly and trailed the checkpoint areas.
Jay and Danny check everyone off the list
This is where I come in...
I was one of the lucky thirty or so ultra runners invited to try the route again, like it would be an actual race.
The plan is that STE can look to making it their own event for 2017.
Lucky number, my birthday, so a good luck charm
The start is officially on the green by Hare and Billet Road, heading down the hill to Lewisham Station, then along the cycle path.
Instructions for the day ahead
After catching up with Mark, Lucy, and all the runners, 18 of us in total, we set off at 06:05 for the journey back home!
06:05 The Start
Map book at the ready on page one. I won't be letting it go until I finish in Brighton.
Keep running to the sea...
We run together in small groups at a steady 8:00min/mile pace, chatting training and events we have been doing.
I catch up with Katherine Ganly who is picking her training back up again for the autumn season. She is doing Dragons Back race next year.
Running the streets
The route is very much exactly the same as last time I run it in 2013.
We pass through Catford, Rabourne, and Beckenhan Park before the long stretch of road heading up to Keston Common for the first checkpoint.
Approaching Checkpoint One
Making our way to the Team at Keston Common
Heading towards Biggin Hill
The long stretch around woodlands and the ridges of Biggin Hill are peaceful and flat with plenty of scenic views miles in front. Through gates and over styles, Caitlin has a fall on some rock, smacking her elbow. She knocked her knee but nothing serious just a dull pain in her arm.
Even the most quietest spots, always someone watching...
We walk a short while until we know she is ok and it is not serious. I hope we can get some ice or gel for it at the next checkpoint...
Coming into Swayesland
After 20 miles we reach the next checkpoint. The past downhill tracks and open fields have been covered in pot holes and rutted stones. Already I can feel my ankles and quads working overtime to compensate for it...
The Team at Checkpoint Two
This section I can remember from previous practice, it is challenging and technical in places.
Although not overly warm it feels to be now the sky is clear...
We manage to keep to the route and look out for markings and stickers on posts as we go by.
My memory serves me well, as I stay to the route that feels so familiar from last time I was here. The others are close in tow enjoying every turn we make.
Myself and Cailtlin have been running as a group the entire route so far...
Catching up with the folks just after Checkpoint Three
The markings on styles and finger posts are so clear and thorough along this leg, it really hasnt been so hard to go wrong.
I packed babybel cheese and olives for between checkpoints, as there is about 10-11 miles for each, this has been so helpful.
We reach the next checkpoint which is about 32 miles in now. The area STE have used is a touch further along the route on a road bend. Danny is here to top up our water and supply some snacks, coke, sweets and nuts. we all nibble on everything and take some jelly babies with us.
we set off quickly and I remember my folks will be up ahead at the A264 road crossing.
Next stop Horsted Keynes. Mal, James, Myself and Caitlin
Katherine is now running with us after picking her pace back up again.
After coming out of some wooded parts the track leads up to a field where I can already spot my Mum, Dad, Mark and Lucy supporting and taking pictures.
I catch up with the folks briefly and nibble on some nuts with a hot coffee and cream, that Mum has kindly carried along for the day.
Mark aids me across the road and sees me off until I catch up woth the group again.
Following the stickers
All five of us run together for the time being without any wrong turns or diversions.
The gap in the trees at Chailey Common, which I remember from before and reading the map notes is easy to find, yet very overgrown as we pass through. We follow the track best to the map as we can but still come out on the road slightly off.
The Hooke near Chailey
We easily keep to the road then the next track off road through the common. Chailey is still very technical as before and I keep clued to the map until we reach an open footpath again.
Katherine has dropped in pace and slowed behind us again.
We make our way through Lower and Upper Burrow before coming to the next stop...
Almost at the last checkpoint
The sun is lower but still bright with a strong breeze picking up across the downs. Already the air temperature is cooling quickly.
It is now after 4pm when we reach the final checkpoint at Chiltington on the railway bridge.
John is helping out here with Danny and helps us restock our fuel and water for the last 10 miles left to go...
James up ahead climbing Blackcap
Blackcap... that little hill...
After we are fed and watered, we head down the long track together. The route is quite straight forward here and I no longer need to refer to the map.
The L2B stickers are still easy to find on the way...
The route is diverted just before Blackcap, which differs to the original route I have already run. It is fairly easy enough, but has climbs, is rutted and cuts through farmland and electric fences.
The cows at Warningore Farm pay little interest in us coming through, they hardly budge to allow us out the gate...
Mum and Sunday greeting everyone at Race Hill, Woodingdean
Quick wave as we pass...
I can see the sea!
After the electric fench and across the next field we head over the road and onto the footpath trail that leads up Blackcap along from the east instead of south. We hike up the chalky pathway as James trots on up infront.
Once we reach the top and meet the South Downs Way footpath I can enjoy the smoother flat and home turf to Falmer...
It is a wonderful feeling after making it all this way from Blackheath this morning.
I lead the way at an average 7:30min/mile pace until coming out at Ridge Road. We walk some to cath a breath and recgroup before making it over the bridge at the A27.
Just three more miles to go now!
The last few miles to the finish... (Photo by Sunday)
Reaching the finish at last
The wind is sweeping over the downs already and I can smell the fresh sea air.
Shawn Mark and Lucy are at Woodingdean cheering us on and Mark keeps Caitlin company until we cross over to Drove Road around the back of Woodingdean.
Once out at Race Hill we follow the arrows to the small carpark where Sunday, Mum and Dad are waiting to catch us. After high fives and waves we speed onto the track around Sheepcote Valley, parallel to the East Brighton Golf Course.
Sunday joins us but has trouble keeping up with our 8:00min/mile pacing, so takes to filming from behind us...
We soon meet the road at the Club House and cross over to Black Rock for a finish at the promenade by Asda! This wasnt the first choice of the finish, but the road to Madeira Drive is blocked for a car show event, so last minute decison from the team to finish here.
It worked out great as we ran down the zig zag slope cycle path for a sprint finish!
We reach in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th position in all in 11hrs 34min
Myself and Caitlin
Sunday and the new finishers tech T-shirt
Many thanks to the guys at Sussex Trail Events for the opportunity and experience of the original London to Brighton off-road event.
Looking forward to the official event from next year!
Thank you to Mum, Dad, Sunday, John, Shawn, Mark, Lucy and the STE team for making this a successful practice session...
Caitlin, Mal and James