This is no ordinary marathon: it includes over 1000 metres of climbing, including three summits of the South Downs, the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head itself. So why did I pick it as my first marathon? I’d tried and failed to make the start at more sensible courses, thanks to injury (overtraining), Covid and feeling unmotivated to run a virtual marathon. The thing that attracted me to this one was that the tough course would take all the pressure off – I would no longer be aiming for a particular time, but just to finish.
The first hill starts immediately after the start: 100 metres climb in 800 metres. A kilted piper plays as you walk up and there is an atmosphere of dark humour amongst the competitors. However, it soon levels off as you head inland over grassy downland, with distant vistas in all directions, lit by the autumnal morning sun. We repeatedly dipped down into tiny villages where you feel that everyone has come out to cheer you on, only to encounter another hill with a path too steep and narrow to run.
The pace means that it is a very sociable event; rather than being rivals, the other runners are cheery company to keep you going. At one point a fellow runner admitted that he was looking forward to the next hill, so he could walk. It’s all off-road, with a few muddy bits. This phased some people, but last year’s cross-country season taught me to run straight through puddles. Mostly though, it was hard packed paths and grassland and the weather stayed dry and largely sunny throughout.
Water stops included fun-size Mars bars, bananas and, famously, home-made sausage rolls. My stomach couldn’t face the latter; instead, I discovered that Bourbon chocolate biscuits suck your mouth dry, when eaten on the run without a mug of tea.
Eventually, we returned to the coast, with 10 km to go, including those Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. Each of those ups includes a down, most of which were too steep to run with aching legs, but the scenery is spectacular. My family were waiting for me with 1 km to go and as I finished with a huge grin, I got cheers at the finish line from a couple of our friendly Sudbury Court rivals (who had come to do the 10 km race).
Our own Ziggy Brennan also ran the marathon, with Sophia Ali (running in Sudbury Court colours) running the 10 km. Chetan Khatry bravely endured the half-marathon on the following day in driving rain – I think he had a tougher time that those of us doing twice the distance.
All in all, this is a fantastic event and I would recommend it to anyone who loves trail running in great scenery. And my time? It doesn’t matter, except that when I enter a flatter marathon, it will surely be a massive Personal Best.