After my low in Summer I had to set myself a target to end my 2014 season. It did not take long until I was sure I would like to do the Beachy Head Marathon with start and finish in Eastbourne. It is regarded as one of the most scenic Marathons of the UK and is quite demanding with about 1300 meters of ascent/descent and it is all on trails which should suite my abilities. My goal was to win the race but then again every Marathon is a long way and anything can happen. You can feel great one minute and then find yourself in great trouble just after but that is what Marathon running is all about :)
The start of the race is quite famous as you run directly into the steepest part of the course: the East side of the Beachy Head which would make a natural selection of all the different speeds including some false positives who go off to quick. Before the start I was looking around if I would spot some familiar faces (apart from all the mighty Harriers). The only person I could identify was wearing bib 1 which was Jeff Pyrah, the winner of last years edition.
After the start you have to get through a relatively narrow gate and then climb the hill. To my surprise I was setting the pace of the pack and soon I would even lose my last companion, Jeff Pyrah. I felt a little twinge in my left calf but it was not bothering me and I started to focus to have an effortless and effective stride. Just as I approached the third kilometer mark this little twinge got more and more aggressive and forced me to stop as my left calf cramped up completely. BOOM! that was it I thought. I sat down, digged my thumb into the triggerpoints in my calf and started to stretch it. At the same time the first competitors passed me and asked me very kindly if they could help. Find that on a road Marathon I thought! And they must have thought - how typical; overestimating himself and that's what he get - serves him right!
In the meantime I managed to get up again but there was now way I could run so I sat back down again. Luckily I have the best methods how to handle such a situation in my repertoire as a prospective Osteopath and applied some Muscle Energy Technique. After about two minutes I was standing again, trying to do a few steps. It was hard, very hard as anyone must know how it feels when you have cramps. But only 3 kilometers into a Marathon? That was just not right.
I then told myself I either stop right now or I try to get on with it and see how it goes. As we all know sportsmen are stupid and they carry on. A decision had to be made so I got up and headed towards the next town we crossed after 7 kilometers. I was hobbling along one and a half legged. As soon as it went downwards to Jevington the trail was rocky with wet chalk which was extremely slippery in places - not the best thing if you got cramps! I made it somehow to the bottom of the hill and was happy it would go up again because then I would not feel my calf as much. I have worked myself through the runners and was back in about 5th position.
The discomfort got slightly less by time as I went on to Alfriston which was after 10 miles and a couple of hills later. I had some great supporters waiting for me there to supply me with drinks. They told me after the race I certainly did not look good. But I thought for myself the worst was over and its still a long way to catch up. I believe the maximum gap I had to the leader (Pere Capdevila) was about 4 to 5 minutes. My supporters say it was 8 in Alfriston but I can't quite believe that.
I saw the next two guys already for some time and I knew I was getting closer. At the time I thought I was third and did not realize Pere was leading with such a big gap. On the way to Borstal Hill I saw him far away and clocked a good 4 minute gap. Despite whatever trouble I had I needed to shift a gear up and my fighting spirit was there. During the next descent to Littlington (kilometer 26) I passed Luke and Jeff and clocked now 3 minutes to Pere. Right after the aid station in Littlington a sign went missing. I had to wait for Jeff who pointed me towards the right direction. Soon after, I found Pere in front of me who was also confused and lost nearly all of his advantage. The following passage to Exceat (km 30) included two stairs where I was able to close the gap on Pere. After we crossed the road towards the coast it was "only" the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head which seperated us from the finish. Pere pushed the first uphill to hard as he tried to get away from me. I overtook him over the top and was able to drop him.
As he was losing ground quickly I thought the seven sisters would be a stroll in the park now. Think again.. With less than 10 kilometers to go and after I was pacing myself I realized Jeff Pyrah was just about a minute down. I did not feel like I wanted to push any harder but that is what I had to do now. It got to a hard fight where I knew I had to dig deep to get out on top. I knew many psychological factors were on his side so it was time I remembered mine. I took my second PowerBar Gel which prevented my sugar levels from dropping when I needed them the most. Even though it was relatively cold I was boiling and I had to make sure I could lose some heat. Every cell was now focused and I had to retain my composure. I could not believe that I went through all this pain and trouble and losing all those minutes at the beginning of the race only to lose it at the end?
When you feel a competitor is closing in from behind it forms like a bond between the two of you which gets tighter and tighter. I had to break this chain in my head and I could feel like I was more confident immediately. And then again I told myself, if he could close the gap he would have done it already. So it was all up to me to make it first to the finish line.
At Birling Gap (km 36) it was down to 50 seconds (its hard to monitor this if you're in front!). I was almost able to maintain the gap to the top of Beachy Head (km 40) and from there it was all downhill to the finish. It was only when I actually saw the finish line that I could ease off and knew that I would win. It was a relieve to cross the finish line after 2:55:38 and just 21 seconds in front of Jeff.
Looking back on this race I am chuffed to bits that I was still able to win this race. It could have been a lot easier. But it makes me proud I was able to respond to every problem I faced and to get through it. All pieces of the puzzle had to fit and they did. This includes the support on site but also all the amazing material I can count on from my sponsors. The Race Rocker from Scott was super comfortable at all times and because a lot of the course was on grass cushioning was not really required. The lightweight running shorts had two pockets for gels but they never bothered me. Not to forget the supply from PowerBar which all together made this possible.
I would like the give a massive thank you to all the Harriers who supported me in any way. The warm response after the event was incredible and I am really happy to be part of this club.
The toll on the body was big because my training was very limited recently. I need to recover now so I will not be able to compete within the next few weeks. The priority is now on my undergraduate dissertation and I have to think of all the work that has to be done for my final exams next spring/summer.
Thanks for reading and please leave a comment!