A little back story here. I initially took up running (as far as the bench on the Downslink) purely as a health measure in 2007, and joined the Joggers as a reluctant member in early 2008 – I say reluctant as I never considered myself a ‘Club’ person of any degree. And I certainly never joined to take part in EVENTS! No way……..I recall being very clear on that point! By April I had been persuaded to run the Lewes 10k, being promised that it was an ‘ideal’ first event (yeah, right!) and for the first time in my life I pinned a number to my chest, fretted about whether I would live to see the end, and ran further than I’d ever run in my life! From then to 2015 I swore that Marathons were NOT my thing….they didn’t float my boat, too much training, suck up too much time, don’t need them in my life – etc. You get the picture.
Then I sort of accidentally entered the Stinger – lured by being able to change my mind and ‘just’ do the Half if I didn’t feel right. I thought I ought to do a marathon to ‘see what it was like’ and before I was too old! Dani encouraged me a lot as it was her first marathon too, Mark ran with me and dragged me along and somehow I sort of completed my first marathon. That was it. Done. Over. Tick box. Retire.
Then it ‘seemed’ a good idea to enter what everyone said was ‘probably the best trail marathon in the UK’. Beachy. 6 months away, done one, do another. It seemed almost sensible.
Until of course a few weeks before, and I wondered why on earth I’d ‘just thought it was ok’ to enter. Fretted, in fact. Put on a brave face, but……..
Saturday morning dawned – I’d been to a loud rock gig in Brighton the night before and my ears were still ringing when I joined Hugh, Mark, Daren, Terry, Fabian and Danielle to convoy over to Eastbourne, meeting Mark Furth there. Mark had just decided a few days before to take up Robs sons place. Daren, after his recent accident, only decided to run HIS first marathon the night before, still having a sore chest. So there were a few nerves on this one, next to Hughs 25th Beachy, Marks 15 or so, and Terrys ‘I dunno, just do it’ calmness. Having got there at 7.30 we had tea and got a good look at the legendary hill that you start off up, deciding that as ‘we were walking it!’ there wasn’t anything to be worried about. Tea turned into bladders needing emptying, all the traditional pre-race nerves being present. Then we were off – walking due to the crush at first – about 14-1500 starters in a narrow road. Mark F just rocked up that hill and disappeared, eventually finishing in the first 100 home and sub 4 hours which is pretty damn good! Hugh, Fabian and Danielle ran their own personal races and had terrific runs, including Fabs first ‘official’ marathon (because you can’t count his ‘training’ marathon can you!) and Mark, Daren, Terry and myself stayed as a group, yakking on and on about nothing really. I clearly was too excited in that first 10 miles as I was loud and rambling on about anything. As we chatted we realised that Daren knows an immense lot of trivia and is far too aware of old TV shows and films that he is really too young to know about – a good resource to the Joggers quiz teams we thought! We picked up another runner who recognised the shirts and may well come along to join in with us one Wed or Sat, very similar in attitude to us.
Several times we dropped to a walk on hills that we were ‘happily’ running, as a newbie with no idea (nope, I didn’t check it out so as not to scare myself!) of the course profile I didn’t know what was ahead other than the ‘dreaded Seven Sisters’ so ought to hold something back!
Alfriston marked the start of a LONG climb which went on forever, that certainly sapped the energy and suddenly I wasn’t being quite so talkative! It was a long grind and that’s when the doubts crept in – ‘not even halfway yet’ etc. But the marshals were fabulous and encouraging, and the checkpoints were tremendous, with soft drinks, biscuits, mars bars and, as we reached around the mid point, TEA!!! At Litlington we had SAUSAGE ROLLS!! Mark drank a vat of tea on his own, stopping at EVERY tea stop and having a cuppa (or two!) – it was all very civilised.
After Litlington we had two sets of steps up into the hills, the second was labelled ‘The stairway to heaven’ – I tried to sing the obvious but realised I know very few words to any Led Zeppelin song! At this point came the heartwarming moment I wish I’d grabbed a photo of – one female runner wished for a pull up, so Daren turned around and pulled her up…..not just a few feet, the whole staircase! She cried out ‘don’t let me go…’ so he didn’t! In fact he kept looking so fit and raring to go that Mark and I kept saying ‘go on, bugger off and run on!!’. But, and I know the feeling, Daren wanted to hold back as it was his first marathon and he didn’t know what would happen later!
After the steps came the first view of Cuckmere Haven, and it was stunning, the ox-bows glinting in the sun. We’d stashed some drinks and mars bars just by the road so we grabbed what we needed and carried on up the hill. And just up there, right next to the photographer, is when I got cramp in first one, then both, calfs. In fact the photographer seems to have captured my initial moment of agony! I was stunned, 8 miles to go, the infamous Seven Sisters ahead, and I felt crippled. I could walk, but breaking into a run was hard. So I joggled and wobbled and knew that every step forward was one less to go. I’d dropped behind at this point but found Mark waiting for me – I wanted him to go on as I felt I was holding him back now, but ever faithful to his flock, he stayed with me. Daren had gone on at this point, making his own journey. Up above Cuckmere we saw our first view of Belle Tout and the knowledge that journeys end was in sight was uplifting. And the view along the Seven Sisters was, well, stunning! The sun had come out not long before and, well, I wanted to take a photo since I was going slowly anyway, but it felt wrong to make Mark wait while I did this as he was so held up anyway! Onward we went, and I found that I had good periods and could jog happily, but if I pushed it too much I would cramp up again. The worst thing was that I didn’t find these last miles as hard as earlier sections. I would have relished a trot the whole way, and the drop down back to the Finish line would normally have been nirvana to me, I love downhill. But I couldn’t, not until the last few hundred metres (Mark put that down to ‘Finish Line Frenzy’!) which were delirious with happiness. Truly!
What did I think? I loved it, absolutely loved it. Fantastic course, very very scenic. Great marshals, great support everywhere, terrific atmosphere, great camaraderie, and wonderful check points with tea, coffee, biscuits, cakes, sausage rolls, live music. I’ve become a bit of a convert. I can’t wait until next year ‘cos I want to do it all again. This time without cramp!
The journey back to the White Hart and a couple of restorative pints was happy – everyone had run their own respective adventure and come away happy, I’ve dwelled on my own, as thats what I know best, but everyone was really happy with their day and had personal successes and stories to make the whole weekend a happy one!