Beachy Head Marathon, By Carole Page

Carole, second from right, with her well-deserved marathon medal.

It all began in October 2019, when talking to fellow TRC members, Steve and Louise Bladen. They said they were thinking of entering the Beachy Head Marathon 2020. My husband, Stuart, and I both said we would love to be able to do a marathon, and encouraged by Steve and Louise and also, Helen Tullie, we entered.

The uncertainty of whether the event would be held continued throughout our training as we increased our distance. By August, there was a glimmer of hope when the fantastic organisers, Eastbourne Borough Council, indicated that, to the best of their knowledge at that time, the event would go ahead. It was only when our race packs arrived a few days before Saturday did we really believe it would happen.

Race day started dry but breezy. We waited in our socially distanced pen, masks on (until the run began), ready for the start in waves. By this time the wind was starting to pick up.

The first kilometre is up a very steep hill out of Eastbourne, so along with everyone else, we walked. It continues uphill on a path which seemed to me to have an adverse camber, then along the side of a golf course before coming down to Jevington where TRC members, Peter and Naomi Leigh were waiting to cheer us on. Stuart was now so far ahead of me he wasn’t in sight.

From Jevington, we went steeply uphill towards woodland before going down to pick up the South Downs Way at Windover Hill to reach Alfriston, where it was great to see Peter and Naomi again.

A very steep hill took us out of Alfriston to Bostal Hill. From this point we were looking forward to a downhill section of about 5K, but unfortunately we were running into the ever strengthening wind, so even running downhill wasn’t easy!

There was then a short muddy section which reminded us of running in the Chilterns in the winter, before nearing the village of Litlington. There were then two sections of steps to ascend (about 300 steps in total!) in Friston Forest, before emerging to a beautiful view of Cuckmere Haven, with its striking ox-bow lake (which featured in my school geography book!). Then down to Exceat before the start of the Seven Sisters hills across the cliffs.

It was at this point 31k when I saw Stuart ahead of me going downhill. I managed to catch him up (which is most unusual on a downhill section) but he was struggling with very tight legs (from our later research, possibly due to lactic acid build up). Stuart soldiered on telling me not to wait but I was concerned that at this stage he may have to pull out.

Upward from Exceat, the first of climbs to reach the cliffs of the Seven Sisters. There was a strong headwind, which nearly took me off my feet, and words fail me to describe how I was now starting to feel, but somehow I managed to walk reasonably quickly up each of the steep chalky slopes with a gentle jog down.

For a third time Peter and Naomi were there to give encouragement, which at that stage was so welcome.

As the wind grew ever stronger, the route was diverted inland after the descent to Birling Gap. There was then was a long section on a grassy footpath beside a road, a final climb up the last hill and at 40km, thankfully Eastbourne came into view and the end in sight.

A final descent which in parts was very steep, with a short set of slippery steps to negotiate, and with very tired legs, took me to the finish line, where I collected my medal. MADE IT!

Shortly afterwards I was relieved to see Stuart reaching the finish line, as thankfully, his legs had recovered just enough to complete the run.

A fantastic route, beautiful scenery, excellent organisation, friendly marshals, encouragement from walkers and a handful of locals out to watch. Not forgetting the water stops, mars bars, sausage rolls and pasties for those who wanted to indulge. Soreen Malt loaf, dates and Naked Peanut Delight bars, along with ginger fudge personally kept me going.

I would never have dreamt I could complete a marathon, and I am so happy to have done so. But I don’t think I will be putting my trail shoes back on for a few days now!

Read TRC member Helen Tullie’s Beachy Head Marathon report here.