Tag Archives: Endurancelife

Resetting race goals

It’s 6:30 on a Saturday morning and I’m making porridge.

Daddy, how do you make Porridge?

I explain the simple recipe.

Yuk… sounds horrible!

There’s little point in arguing with an eight year old boy.

Daddy…. Mummy says you’re stupid.

She says you’ve not done enough training and shouldn’t do this race.

I can’t argue with this viewpoint either. This year has started with injuries. Achilles tendonitis and bursitis in my left ankle have limited my training. I was due to run the Endurance Life CTS Sussex ultra, but all I have managed in training since mid January is a few 6-8 mile runs and a single 13 miler. However the CTS series have shorter races so I decided to be sensible and swap to a shorter race. I swapped to the marathon. So, not very sensible.

I ran this race two years ago, and enjoyed it, but the organisation could have been better. An easy drive to Birling Gap and well managed parking was a good start to the day. However things soon deteriorated.


Registration hell!

There was a 50 minute queue to register, and subsequently the race start had to be delayed by 20 minutes. Quite why we had to queue in single file I have no idea. There were race officials standing idle waiting while runners were snaking round the tent in a roped off funnel.

After a thorough and lengthy race briefing we walked the couple of hundred meters to the start and were sent on our way. It was chilly, dry and breezy at the start, but as I ran up to the first summit of the Seven Sisters I caught the full force of the wind coming off the sea. It was blowing a gale. Seven hard climbs to hike up, seven blasts from the wind as I tried to find shelter behind taller runners, and seven steep descents to batter my toes. It was a relief to reach the Cuckmere Haven and turn inland to escape the wind.

The first five miles took 51 minutes – slower than I’d hoped for, but aware of my limited fitness, I was trying to keep to an easy effort and still have some strength in my legs for the final third.  The route heads up the river valley through the first checkpoint at Litlington to Alfriston and then uphill, following the South Downs Way for a short stretch, before turning left, to run around the hillside and under the Long Man of Wilmington. After a short steep climb back up to the hill top, the path heads south and back towards Westdean and CP2. I paused briefly to get some water. The checkpoints are very basic: water, bananas and biscuits, but I knew what to expect, so had my own snacks and gels.

From Westdean it’s back through Friston forest towards East Dean before turning south and back to Birling Gap. The wind was still blowing strongly, but at least it was at my back as I started the long climb up past Belle Tout and then up to Beachy Head itself.Long_climb_up_Beachy_Head.jpg

In the Beachy Head Marathon the path takes the inland route before dropping down to the finish, but the CTS race turns right and drops down a ridiculously steep path before taking the coastal path to Dukes Drive. CP3 is here by the kiosk, and another biscuit and more water and I was on my way for the last five miles. From here the route heads back to the west, and after the slow climb up the hill, at the road crossing I was fully exposed to the winds again. A long straight, and rather uninspiring mile and a half battling the wind, but at least I was still running, and not being overtaken.

At this point you come depressingly close to the finish, and can clearly see the Endurance Life feather flags, but my garmin told me I’d only run 23.8 miles, and sure enough the route turned away from the finish and back up another long slow climb. After crossing the Beachy Head Rd a final time I was at last on the home straight. However I was now running into the wind again, and almost forced to stop by its ferocity.

I finished in 4:32:00, setting a new marathon PW (personal worst) in the progress.

Despite the whinging tone of this blog, I enjoyed much of the running. It was great to be out in the countryside on a long run again. I walked the steep climbs, and even a couple of the steep descents, but after 26 miles I was running comfortably, with no pain. More to the point, two days after the event there is no Achilles pain. There is more muscle soreness than usual, but after so little training, that’s to be expected. I’m now looking forward to the South Downs Way 50 and Grand Union Canal race with more optimism than I could manage a couple of weeks ago.

The SDW50 is only three weeks away, so my fitness will not have improved massively, and I’ll have to start with a similar race plan – slow and steady- and try and enjoy it, but it should be great fun to run a Centurion race again, and good training for GUCR.



CTS Sussex Ultra

I entered this Endurancelife event as another training race in my build up to both Thames Path and TDS later in the year. As a ‘training‘ race there would be no taper, and I would aim to run hard, but not at 100%, as my plan is to be back out and training again only 2 days later.

There are 4 races at each of the Coastal Trail Series (CTS) events: 10k, half marathon, marathon and ultra, with staggered starts times. As a result the ultra race was scheduled to start at 8:30, so it was a rather anti-social start to the weekend, creeping out of bed and trying (and failing) not to wake the family. However when I arrived at Birling Gap it was beautiful, with the sun shining, little wind and the promise of a great morning for running.

Registration and the race briefing all went smoothly, but after looking at the complex route map I made sure to concentrate. The Ultra route was effectively the marathon course (a long figure of eight going through Birling Gap twice), followed by the 10k course (a much shorter figure of 8, but still going through the Birling Gap car park twice).

After registration we all walked down the trail to the start line, where after a very short delay we were sent on our way. I was targeting a 5:30 finish, so went off fairly slowly initially, but it was really difficult to judge pace as miles 2 and 3 were up and down the seven sisters. I’ve run the Beachy Head marathon a couple of times, so covered this stretch before, but this time was running the route in reverse, through the first CP at Litlington. However it wasn’t all familiar ground. After running out of Alfriston the route headed up on the South Downs Way, but then forked left and ran beneath the famous Longman, before cutting back on itself and up a very steep climb. We then ran on to CP2 in West Dean, where I filled up my flasks and enjoyed one of the custard creams they were offering – a good choice!

After 15 miles the field was well spread out, so I ran through Friston alone, but then saw dozens of runners heading towards me – these were all doing the half marathon. A marshall directed us all through a gate and down the hill into East Dean. There was plenty of friendly banter and encouragement, and I was really tempted to increase the pace and stick with them, but forced myself to stick to the plan. They had only run 3 miles and had 10 still to do, while I still had 19 more.

We now headed back towards the coast and down into Birling Gap before running up the path to Belle Tout lighthouse and Beachy Head. The route continued toward Eastbourne, but then dropped down what must be the steepest path I’ve ever run to the coastal path and CP3. By this point I was catching a number of other runners doing the ultra race, but also being passed by marathon and half marathon runners, so it was hard to tell who was who.

The route turned back towards Birling Gap, but although I could see the finish area, we suddenly looped round to run away from it again, before crossing the road and joining the route the 10k race was using. I was now running with a real mix of half marathon and 10k runners, who all started accelerating as we passed the ‘1 mile to go sign’. They sprinted off, while i followed behind before seeing the only ‘Ultra’ race marking on the route, directing me away from the finish and back to the start line for lap 2.

This was my favourite part of the race. I was now running alone again, and without the constant distraction of others racing passed all the time, I finally managed to reach that state where my mind seems to detach from my body. While my body gets on with the hard work of putting one foot in front of the other, up and down every hill, my mind drifts off, just keeping enough awareness to make sure i don’t get lost, or stop eating and drinking. In this state I feel I can run all day and night if need be.

I caught a passed a couple of other runner as i arrived at CP4, then shortly after found myself at the path where I had seen the half marathon runners for the first time. So down the hill to East Dean, back to Birling Gap, then back up to Beachy Head for the second time. At CP5 the marshalls had kindly walked up from their checkpoint to the junction. This meant they could make sure no-one would run passed to Eastbourne for a second time. I could turn back here for a steady downhill mile and half run into the finish.

My garmin reported 34.1miles in 5:25:25. The official results are not out yet, but the print out at the finish said 8th place.

It looked complicated but was well marked on the ground

It looked complicated but was well marked on the ground