Beachy Head Marathon, By Helen Tullie

24 October 2020 

It was so windy that even the camera was blown around, hence a blurry photo of Helen and Lynda!

It seemed too good an opportunity to miss when Beachy Head marathon reopened their entries in September. Although not “race-fit” I had managed a fairly consistent amount of running during lockdown including various trail half marathons, encouraged by a certain Mr. Nigel Kippax! Well, “Shouldn’t take much then to be able to get round Beachy,” I thought. You know, Beachy Head, that awesome, beautiful but brutal trail marathon, 26 miles of off road running, including 3500ft climb… 

Beachy Head Marathon used to be called “The Seven Sisters Marathon” and started the same year as The London marathon in 1981 so was celebrating its 40thanniversary this year. It was first organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association, familiar to many TRC members and walkers have always been part of the event.

There have been various changes over the years but the essence of the event,  friendly, welcoming walkers as well as runners seems to have been kept. Anyone interested in the history can read it here. There is a real tradition in TRC of running here and unlike London marathon this year, it was ON!

This year, various COVID controls were in place, including a wave start. We assembled on St. Andrew’s Prep School field, standing on our socially distanced dots and wearing our face masks. There was a big screen showing various highlights, including a great shot of TRC’s very own Luke Delderfield after he won last year. “He’s in our club” I proudly boasted to the lady on the dot in front of me, breaking the rules of not speaking to fellow runners, oops. 

We were soon off and walking up the first steep hill to the sound of the bagpipes (another Beachy tradition). This was it, it was actually happening!

“Easy pace,” I told myself, “Just do easy pace and try to keep going as long as you can”. Seemed like a good tactic and the first few miles were fantastic. I felt fresh, the easy pace felt easy and I was loving every aspect, the trails, the views, the other runners, even the rather strong wind.

At mile 2.5 a friendly face caught up with me. Lynda had started in a later wave. “Just take it easy,” she said as she ran off. Yep, easy, that was me this Beachy-no need to fight, no need to struggle. This was going to be great. I felt like I’d unlocked a secret: who needs to race when you can take it easy and enjoy yourself!  

Only Beachy isn’t quite like that, and Beachy with a very strong wind becomes an even bigger challenge. The “taking it easy” becomes relative as the miles tick along and the hills start to take their toll. “Keep going” might be a better mantra. At times we were running straight into the bellowing wind and it seemed quite remarkable that we were moving forward at all!  

The last ten miles are stunning as you reach the cliffs near Cuckmere haven and then onto the seven sisters and Birling Gap. They are also the most challenging. I remembered this from 2017, my only other time at the event. The wind had got even stronger, and although not dangerous, you did need to take care.

My pace up the Seven Sisters was not much different from members of the public not part of the event, however, they had not already run 20 miles…I started to miss the extra feed stations (cut back due to COVID restrictions). I had plenty of food/drink with me, but I missed the psychological boost of “permission to stop, mental regroup, eat and drink”.

The Wager-Leigh family from TRC and Tring parkrun were spectating (largely discouraged due to COVID but great to have some local support). I was pleasantly surprised when I first heard “Yay, go Helen,” I think in Alfriston, and worked out they were talking to me! Then they kept popping up at various points, which was lovely. Although I could have killed Peter Leigh at Birling Gap when he looked at my face (he saw me first) and offered me a lift in his car! 

“See that building?” said the male runner in front of me to his mate, pointing to a building at the top of a hill at about mile 24, “once you get there it’s downhill all the way”. I think this was the Beachy Head pub that Celine had told me about; “from the pub it’s all downhill”.

All good, apart from the building was far too far away and the hill was mahoosive.  We eventually got there by means of good old walk/run with the emphasis on the walk and then I told my legs to get going, come on! And they did. Hooray, a running gait! Where had that gone?! Nothing like some downhill and a finish line to get the body moving again. 

They announce your name as you run over the finish line, even in 2020 when no one is there to watch (well a few marshals). I picked up my pasty and smiled to myself, job done! The winner had got round in 2 hours 40! I think a course record, although the course was slightly different due to erosion, longer if anything though. Walkers were coming in up till near to the cut-off time of 9 hours. I was somewhere between the two. It had indeed been a grand day out! 

Little aside: although we didn’t have the TRC crowd we had in 2017 and other years, we did have 7 TRC members at Beachy Head 2020 Marathon. Well done to all: Andy Neill, Lynda Hembury, Steve Bladen, Louise Bladen, Stuart Page, Carole Page (you can read Carole’s Beachy report here). The Pages chose Beachy as their first marathon in time-honoured TRC tradition, so particularly well done to them and congrats to Lynda on her 1st V55! 

Full results can be found here.