This is the third time in a row that Mary and I have run this challenging and hilly trail marathon. To be quiet honest the first time was enough for me as I hated it! Last year, it was even worse… So you may ask why I doing the same thing again?
The reason is currently lying spread eagle across the bed snoring, wearing a hard earned medal with one contact lens stuck in her eye and a cup of coffee to keep her awake going cold next to her. Two years ago this was our first marathon and Mary loved it, so much so, that even though the joys of Snowdonia and other marathons call, she insists that we do this race again. In fact her whole recovery from her ruptured ankle ligaments was with the expressed purpose of being able to run Beachy Head again in 2016. Who would be brave enough to stop this determined woman?
Standing at the bottom of the steep slope chatting with Jason and Phyllis before the start, my mind kept wondering to my race report, would I have to declare to all that once again I had to disappear into the shrubbery for a call of nature and return without my buff? My train of though was only interrupted by a fellow runner asking for a picture with myself and Phyllis. Obviously good looks and charm played a part in their request but also the fact that we were wearing the red and white quarters of Massey. The runners was from Watford Joggers, and that club shares our colours!
A slight delay to the start wasn’t caused by the major’s speech, but by a queue for the loo!
The Massey four had decided on an opening strategy for the race – walk the first mile as a warm up. This is a very sensible idea as with the crowds of runners and an intimidatingly steep hill for the first ½ mile many runners end up walking anyway. Passing the bag pipes playing a lament for the already weary runners, Mary and I adopted our strategy, run the flat and downhill parts, walk the hills; Mary just hadn’t got enough training in since her return to running. I don’t have that excuse… I stated that I’m just not the right body shape for that type of running.
It soon became clear that with the murky weather – or possibly just running into a cloud – that Mary’s pace and mine didn’t match. So I ran off and left her! In previous years she catches me up as I spend a little time communing with nature behind a tree!
However this year was different! I passed previous comfort break points (I can think of a far more alliterative word than comfort break, but when Mary wakes she would tell me off!) with no desire to revisit them. I ran or walked briskly on and the miles ticked passed.
It was very much a race of two halves based on the weather. The low lining cloud lifted or maybe was burnt away by a sun shining down on a righteous runner. The views opened and the glorious scenery and coast was visible again. Grabbing chunks of mars bar washed down with orange squash I kept going, with no need to resort to the plethora of runners treats within my backpack.
At 18 miles the 7 Sisters, her big neighbour and small brother lay ahead for the next 4 miles. I promised myself an icy treat from the van in the carpark so a little extension of the route into the carpark and the exchange of a slightly sweaty £5 note, had me clutching my orangey prize. I set off to walk the first hill enjoying my treat, safe in the knowledge no one I knew would be around!
WRONG – I was spotted and caught on camera by Wendy who was supporting husband Chris on his run. (After dropping him off at the start I had no idea where he was and with a mouth fully of refresher lolly was in no position to ask.)
Having done this race before I knew that the next 4 miles would be make or break, my strategy continued to work – although some parts were just to hilly to even run down! The rabbits are doing a reasonable job of trying to flatten the hills but only in small burrows in which to catch your feet.
The last aid station came into sight – MILE 22 – Birling Gap. Only the previous day, Mary and I had sat admiring the views with a large cream tea (Carb loading!) and I had commented that the following day I would run in with my National Trust Passbook for a stamp. Mary replied that if I was on for my dream finish of sub 6 hours I wouldn’t!
Glancing at my watch, five hours came up, with 3 tough uphill miles and 1 mile of steep decent I was on for my dream goal but it would be very close… Mary’s comments played on my mind. However, not wanting to be proved wrong, I staggered into the shop to collect my stamp before returning to the race. Unfortunately my request for having the correct date ready on the stamp the day before had gone unheeded so precious seconds were wasted.
Passing out of the aid station Chris passed me, with a cheery greeting we ran on together but as the incline grew my strategy kicked in, and off Chris ran, for the next three miles I could see the blue and green colours of the Kenilworth 1/2 long sleeved top haunt me. Showing me where I should be and how my dream time could be a reality.
Passing the Beachy Head pub, my stomach started to make itself known… I knew from previous years that the carpark offered nice toilets for a stop but my watch told me I had 10 minutes to go for a sub 6 hour race, and only 1 mile to go… I decided to risk doing a Paula and keep on running. This would be all glory or gory!
Undoing my HRM I ran on… slowly at first, but as the gastric urges passed a little, I let the incline do the work and increase my pace. On I ran, all aches and pains forgotten in the quest for a time.
The initial hill of the race is also the final descent. Last year I missed the steps due to too much speed, no control and no brakes… this year I zig zagged over the slope trimming speed so I wouldn’t have to repeat my visit to St John’s ambulance brigade at the finish – (I am not sure I could live with dashing their hopes again this year if I hadn’t done anything serious if I fell.)
Avoiding the bollards I could see the race time was showing 5hrs… forget the Garmin or the chip time… I would go sub 6 on the gun!
Looking back now I am fully fed – Jacket potato, sausage, beans, rice pudding, fruit salad and a cup of strong tea – provided free postrace and a Toby Carvery – I can understand what Mary sees in this race. Superb views, great marshals all over – not a miserable one on route and aid stations that are gel free – great if you like; mars bars, jaffa cakes, fruit buns, sausage rolls, cake, tea, coffee, soup, squash or and water!
I know Mary will want to be back on the 28th October 2017 and this time I won’t be too upset to join her. So come on Massey let’s have a trip to the seaside for a few of us to run this challenging but beautiful race.