Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beachy Head Marathon (and how a grumpy young man made this old biddy smile!)

My it was cold when I was getting ready to head off to Eastbourne for the Beachy Head marathon on Saturday.  When I got up first thing to tend to the horses I was wearing 3/4 length running tights and a long-sleeved top with my ARUK vest on top.  That experience persuaded me that I actually needed 2 long sleeved tops, my ARUK vest, my Fetch buff and a jacket (so that I could peel a layer off easily if I got too hot) plus full length tights and of course some fingerless gloves and a hat!  

For anyone who's never tried a buff I can thoroughly recommend them.   They are a fantastic extra layer around your neck and really keep you warm plus you can use them on your head to keep your ears warm.

Although it was 2 degrees it felt a lot colder because of the biting wind whistling down from the Arctic at around 20 mph or more up on the hills.  


But the sky was bright and I hoped the wind had dried out some of the muddy sections a bit.  I arrived nice and early in order to park up and collect my race number and timing chip.

A silvery sheen in the sea

I managed to park about 1/2 a mile from the start.  I like a shortish walk to the start and then I find it stretches my legs out after the finish.

The registration area

The start line and area for speedy people!

My start area - for once I didn't mind being called a 'jogger'!

Ultra Kazaaah and Plodding Hippo (aka Kaz, 88 marathons to date, and Ruth, 216 marathons to date)
Oh my it was cold standing waiting at the start!  I had to swap my marathon baseball cap emblazoned with 'redhead' for a thermal cap as it was so windy that the baseball cap kept blowing off.  So for once I was incognito except for the long red ponytail dangling behind me and my Alzheimer's vest.  Throughout the race I'd hear people coming from behind me asking "Is that you, Redhead?"

At 9am we were off and a stream of runners set off, mostly walking, up the first hill.

 It's a tough old climb for about 400 metres  but the view back towards Eastbourne is worth it.

Eastbourne from above
At around the half mile mark you start to hear the sound of bagpipes.

Somehow it doesn't seem out of place up there on the hills.

Once the first few miles are done everyone settles into their own pattern of walking the steep inclines and running the downhills or just walking all the way.  There aren't any flat bits in the first half and very few in the whole marathon actually.  Only the front runners will run most of the way and even they will often walk some of the really steep inclines to conserve their energy for the really tough hills - the Seven Sisters which come towards the end of the marathon.

I was especially apprehensive about this last marathon of the year because of all the problems I've had with my breathing as these hills are bad enough without asthma and I did struggle during the South Downs marathon.  But I think that at last we might have found a combination of medication that suits me (so far anyway, touch wood!) and I felt fine the whole way.

For us slower runners and the walkers it is a very sociable affair and you can chat to lots of different people on the way round, some you may know and others you didn't until that moment.

As I ran past Ruth in the first few miles I noticed that she had a muddy handprint on her bum.  She was taking my photo when I turned to make a comment.  Look at that lovely blue sky then check out the bush just above my head and see how it's leaning over.  I think you can guess the direction of the prevailing wind!

Running sideways whilst chatting

At one point I was joined by JJFlash (Tess) from Fetch who I hadn't met before and we had a jolly good chat which passed a few miles.  As we were running up a hill I heard a shout "Is that you Susie, Redhead?".

It was the lovely Ant, my favourite race photographer, who pops up all over the place.  I'm usually easy to identify by having my name emblazoned everywhere but not that day.  I took my cap off to reveal my hair which promptly blew all over my face and I looked like Cousin It from the Addams family.

There is such a lot to see up there and visibility was mostly good.

A skein of sheep!

A trail of runners

A Fat Buddha (aka Dick) marshalling at Litlington

A white horse carved into the chalky hillside

Tiny dots of runners high up on a ridge

Rolling hills

Far-reaching views
Churning out the miles

Patterns, shapes and shadows all caught my attention.

A plantation of Christmas trees which looks like a maze

Drills of crops in a v-shaped trough

Shadows and patterns

Shapes and contrasts

Lots of flooding in the low-lying areas.

There are lots of things that are special about this marathon but one of the highlights is the feed stations.  They are all manned by lovely marshalls who hand out water, squash, biscuits, bits of Mars bars and even cups of tea, soup, hot cross buns, sausage rolls and cake at the 2 stations in the latter stages. 

There were quite a few dogs taking part with their owners, some big, some small (both the owners and the dogs!).  One that caught my eye was a pretty little Jack Russell terrier named Milly whose owner was feeding her bits of sausage roll.  Her little legs were muddy up to her armpits but her tail was wagging and she was obviously enjoying her adventure.  

Unfortunately I was eating a hot cross bun at the time and didn't have a hand free to take her photo.

The next photo shows one part of the dreaded steps - 286, or thereabouts, in total!  This section only had 64 steps to lull you into a false sense of security.  The next section, about 1/2 mile away, was much steeper and had 222!

A swollen and very fast moving river.

Spectacular views from the first climb at the start of the Seven Sisters.  The first photo shows part of Cuckmere Haven, an area of flood plain.

Towards the East
A bit further along the Sisters
This next photo was taken at around halfway over the 7 Sisters.  The tiny blob atop the last hill, Beachy Head itself, is the Belletoute lighthouse.  The marathon route doesn't actually go up towards it but skirts around the edge and climbs (and climbs, and climbs!!!)  towards the Visitor Centre.  In that last link you see the infamous Beachy Head lighthouse with its red and white stripes.  It's in the local News a lot at the moment because the local Council has said it will not repaint the stripes and locals are up in arms about it.

Around that point I was running with Ultra Kazaaah (Kaz) who was telling me about her plans for her 100th marathon which will be next year!  Earlier this year she ran 10 marathons in 10 days and is going to do it again in 2013.  What a staggering achievement.

About this time it started to rain with a bit of hail thrown in for good measure!  It lasted about 10 minutes or so then the sun came out again and the wind dried us off.  It was great to chat whilst we picked our way carefully up the slopes as it took my mind off just how steep they were.  Then she went on ahead whilst I stopped to take some photos.

Looking towards the West
The people in the orange jackets are part of a group of 30 ladies from New York.  They were walking all the way and were shocked at how hilly the route was. 

Shortly after that I encountered the 'grumpy young man'.  He was striding out ahead of me and as I ran past him I remarked that his jacket was blowing around so much that he looked as if he was about to take off.  He gave me a grumpy look and carried on walking in a determined manner.  As I started walking up the next hill he drew alongside me so I asked if he was OK and I got a torrent of swearing and grumbling about how he hated this marathon and all the people involved in it.  Nice!

I let him rant on for a bit and it transpired that he'd gone over on his ankle at mile 8 and had been walking ever since.  Apparently, well-meaning people, including his wife when he phoned her to say what had happened, had suggested he should retire from the race.  This had really annoyed him as he didn't want to be "a quitter", hence the ranting.  To add to his annoyance the Marshalls, who were concerned that he would injure himself further, had also told him gently that perhaps he should withdraw from the race.  He got more and more angry.  Then his poor Mother in Law and Father in Law were so concerned that they drove to one of the checkpoints and offered him a lift home.  Apparently, they too were given short shrift and told to mind their own business.

Well, that was it, I could hold my tongue no longer!  I told him that whilst I understood exactly how he felt (having been injured in my first ever marathon at Loch Ness and forced to walk from mile 12 onwards ignoring all offers to transport me to the finish line in an ambulance) I said he was being very ungracious to the people who were only acting out of kindness and concern for his wellbeing.  I told him that he was just being a very grumpy man and that he had a lot of apologising to do when he got home!

I waited for the torrent of abuse but instead he said that he'd got tears in his eyes because the reason he had to complete it was that he'd promised to bring back the medal for his young daughter.  He'd done the Berlin marathon 4 weeks before but she didn't want that medal; she wanted the Beachy Head medal because her school is at the start and finish of the route.  Awwwh, not such a monster after all!

He mellowed a bit then and told me how his friend had run Beachy last year in 6.5 hours and he'd laughed and said that as a 31 year old he'd easily beat that time.  So his pride had taken a bit of battering as well as his body.  We chatted a while longer and I spoke about the marathons and ultras I'd done.

When I told him that I'd run the Kent 50 mile challenge as part of my 50th birthday challenge he looked incredulous.  Not, as it turned out because he thought I couldn't do it - he turned to look and me and said "I hope you don't mind me asking, but how old are you now?" to which I replied "55".  He looked askance then said "I'm shocked; you certainly don't look your age!"  Yay for not looking too decrepit!  I smiled.

As we hit the final 2 miles I left him walking whilst I ran the final section.

He shook my hand, thanked me and wished me good luck.

A partial rainbow
The rainbow, about 1.5 miles from the finish line made me smile and encouraged me to run up the last incline and then down towards the finish.  One final hug from Fat Buddha (Dick again) and a wave to Petal (Claire, his wife) at the top of the hill and I was picking my way carefully down the hill to the finish line to collect my medal.

Lovely medal
My time was 6:16 - two minutes slower than the time I was trying to beat!  Not bad considering how anxious I'd been about my asthma.

As I walked back to the car I spotted the grumpy young man on the other side of the road phoning home and I heard him say "hello, it's the grumpy man here........."  I smiled and waved goodbye.

I phoned Mike as I knew he'd be worrying about me and he was very pleased that I'd finished in one piece without incident.  Mike had been very kind and tended the horses so I didn't have to do it when I got home.  He also lit our first fire of the season and it wasn't just me who appreciated it.

Welcome home!

All in all it was a grand day out on my 29th marathon and the last of my 5 marathons in 2012.

Bring on 2013 and a new challenge to raise money for Alzheimers Research UK.......................!!!


Shan said...

I loved this post! A great day you had, and you certainly DON'T look your age as I have remarked before. It's quite shocking and makes me think I should probably take up running.

XO and congratulations!

Susie Hewer said...

Thanks Shan!