The CTS Sussex race is the closest of the Coastal Trail Series to my home, so rather than having to drive off to the Scottish borders as before I only had a 90 minute drive down to the Sussex coast at Birling Gap.
Now I've figured-out a strategy for getting to the events, namely driving there to arrive at around midnight and getting a solid kip in the back of the motor, which has its benefits of not having to worry about fighting for a parking space when I get there or having to get up stupidly early to drive to the event and run after a long time behind the wheel, so I left around 10:30pm in the battering freezing cold rain with its accompanying howling wind and arrived uneventfully at Birling Gap and parked-up.
After hitting snooze on my alarm one too many times I realised the time was later than I thought so sprung in to action getting changed and availing myself of the public toilets next to where I had parked. It turned-out that I had pulled-up in the National Trust cafe car-park the night before, across the road from where I was supposed to be parked which at the time I thought was just a field with a log blocking the entrance, so for the risk of a parking ticket which I would get knowing my luck I drove across the way and re-parked.
The base for the run was a bit of a trek away from the car park in the pouring rain and wind. Fortunately they had turned-off the electric fence that I tripped over en-route as I was too busy trying to hold my hood over my head in the wind to be paying proper attention to my surroundings. Doh!
The marquee for registration was the normal affair of the half-alive competitors up out of bed too early to get there on time milling around and the very perky event staff trying to herd the cats, with most people huddling around in the briefing area after registering to stay out of the rain and to keep warm.
I had decided to go out with the ultra runners again through being slow and also wanting to get the run over and done with in the harsh conditions. I had in my mind that the run will be closer to the South Devon marathon than the others through looking at the GPS data of the track and the fact they had graded this as a 3/5 difficulty.
The safety briefing was the normal affair about the route signage and to be wary of the conditions. As an addendum this time we were warned that last year someone had turned their ankle quite badly and had to be airlifted to safety because of the remote nature of the trails in relation to roads in some parts. Endurancelife are very keen for all runners to keep an eye out for each other so if you need to stay with an injured person or help them to a check-point then they will give you free entry in to another race as a thank-you.
During the briefing I bumped in to someone I recognised from the South Devon race, Daisie Rolfe. At South Devon, Daisie's mother had accosted me and asked to look out for her as she was running the marathon but going with the ultra runners and in her eyes 'those ultra runners look a scary lot'. During the race Daisie had steamed past me about 3/4 the way through and finished a good 30 minutes in front of me, but not without having a chat first. It transpired Daisie, like me, had challenged herself to run 12 marathons in a year last year also endured the misfortune of injury curtailing her plans, with her it was a broken foot. Sussex for her was 11/12 with her last being Brighton in a few weeks time, so the best of luck to her!
With the crap conditions the grass around the marquee was churning-up already and under foot it looked like this:
|The Flag flapping in the breeze.|
|Milling round closely to conserve heat!|
|The Seven Sisters before us.|
|The novelty's wearing off now!|
Up on the summits the wind was at our backs (and the rain also) so it was not too bad as a starter, cresting and descending. At this point I was able to run with Daisie for a bit and took a few photos of her so her mum could see her in action.
|Daisie in action|
|Daisie trying not to fall over on the slope!|
The field began to stretch out as the serious runners out for the win steamed-off in front, a long drawn-out line snaking along the Seven sisters and then we turned inland and on to the South Downs Way.
Once well in land we started the ascent to the highest part of the course and with the change in direction we were now broad-side to the wind. I was making a good pace on this and as such I felt I needed to take-off my hat and gloves to try to cool down. This had the desired affect but as soon as we hit the wind I could feel my ears begin to freeze in no time and my hands begin to stiffen, so back they went on and did so for the majority of the rest of the run. Leaning in to the hill and the wind as I trudged up one hill as fast as I could I was passed on the other side of a fence by a group of walkers on their way down the hill in full waterproof gear with their hiking poles in their hands. One of them shouted to me 'When are you next seeing your psychologist?' to which I turned and said that LSS 'thinks I should be sectioned for going out and doing this, and at moments like this I can see where she's coming from'!
As we rounded the Long Man of Wilmington we were pretty much at the most northerly and highest part of the course.
|Hey big fella, you should see the doctor about that foot-fungus!|
From Checkpoint 2 we headed across countryside and woodland towards East Dean before making a turn for the coast to complete this first loop of the figure 8 of the course. As we ran through one field going through the village, I noticed that all of a sudden there were a lot of people now overtaking me at a pace getting on for twice mine. Whilst this unnerved me at first I noticed that all of them were just running in very light-weight clothing and with no camelback's or water bottles and the realisation dawned on me that we must have been caught by the first of the 10k runners on their race. Those of us doing the marathon and ultra marathon just smiled at each other and commented about them being a bit too keen for our liking and blasting out a 10k is no challenge, whereas we are challenging ourselves with finishing, something that is a feat of endurance.
Trying to resist speeding-up with all these others steaming by, the path was back on to the short grass of the cliff-tops again, this time heading east over Beachy Head to Eastbourne. You know that the weather is particularly bad when the hairy cows and the sheep that live up here all year round are huddling together in the few thickets of trees to escape the elements, unlike us mugs who went and tackled them head-on.
|Trekking over Beachy Head|
Eventually we made it in to some shelter as we hit the edge of Eastbourne and the final check-point. The turn for home was made and inland we ran across a fairly flat stretch of fields making good time. The previous two weeks had seen Sussex and Kent in the news because of the dump of snow over them. Up till now there had been no sign of this, but up against the foot of north facing walls and slopes there were still mounds of snow waiting to melt away through not having been blown away! I could feel that my pace was good and I opened-up my legs, especially when I could see from a couple of miles away the appearance of the marquee and the flags billowing in the wind. Great I thought, and kicked for home, only when about 1/2 a mile from there to be directed away from the finish for a final stretch of 2 miles, with the first part being another hill. A little demoralised I soldiered on, walking to the top and then jogging the rest of the way. At this point I could feel my stomach eating itself, screaming out to be fed something, anything. Knowing I was less than half an hour from being able to tuck in to my post race scotch-egg and recovery shake I decided to fight through this to the finish line, to use it as a form of motivation to finish that little bit quicker.
Stomach growling I crossed the finish line, collecting my wristband and dog-tag. My time was my best so far and considering the elements and the terrain it was a far stronger time than the one I had posted at Northumberland. As I composed myself and grabbed my stuff to walk back to the car I bumped into Daisie who had just finished herself about 20 minutes behind me and her mother had been there to clap her across the finish line.
With the wind still blowing a hoolie I stomped back to the car, chatting to a fellow finisher along the way who was just taking-in the fact that he had just finished his first marathon. He had stopped playing footy now he was in his forties and was looking for a new challenge and road-running a marathon did not appeal as much as the scenic cross-country, so here he was… cold, wet and very pleased with himself. Will he be back for more? I know I've got the bug for these runs!
After my post-race feed and a change I decided I'd drive back in a oner seeing as I was not too far from home. It was surreal driving back as when I approached Gatwick I noticed that there was snow all over the surrounding countryside… It turned out that soon after I drove away the previous night the rain had turned to snow and had left a good few inches. It seems the wind down where we were was just too strong to allow the rain to turn to snow and settle.