I didn't really know what to expect before the race - all I really knew was that it was hilly, the finish along the coast was REALLY hilly, and Dan had run it in just over 4 hours the year before. My vague plan was to not do anything that could write me out of the double marathon I was running the following Saturday, aim for around 4:30:00-ish, but be ok with easing off towards the end if the hills got the better of me. Dan felt a little less prepared than he was the year before, so we agreed to start together, run something like 5:30/kms on the flat and downhill bits, take it easy on the ups, and then part if one of us felt like we needed to slow down or speed up.
The start was interesting - straight up the hill in the background of the photo above. The potential to ruin your day in the first 10 minutes of the race is huge, but we plodded up, and started the series of long ups and downs that made up the first 20 miles or so. The conditions were really good for October, it was dry, the trails weren't too muddy or slippy, it was unseasonably warm, but it was really windy, especially on the tops of the hills. The course was on a loop, so we got a good mix of head, tail and side winds along the way, and the tougher bits weren't too hard to take as we knew we were in for a bit of a tailwind in the final section along the coast.
The first few hours were largely uneventful, we were just plodding along, chatting about other races we'd run, Dan giving me an occasional heads up about the next sections of the course, and enjoying the incredible scenery along the South Downs. Around half way I started to struggle a bit, not being as used to the hills as Dan, but we kept a steady pace together, and despite me telling him a few times to just kick on if he wanted to, we stuck together for the whole race which was really cool.
At around 20 miles, after a particularly steep climb, Dan said we'd just climbed the first of the Seven Sisters, the short sharp hills along the coast, and we could see all along the cliff edge towards Beachy Head, which was a fantastic and moderately terrifying sight. The pace dropped quite a bit here as we were marching up the steep climbs, and tentatively shuffling back down the other sides, me on my trashed quads and Dan on an increasingly painful knee. If we'd been racing hard for places or a time it would have been insanely hard, but as we weren't, it was just tough, and we stuck it out until we reached the finishing stretch which was a couple of km of gentle downhill, followed by a steep descent back down the hill we'd run up at the start.
We crossed the line together with 4:14:something on the clock, got our medals, and a few minutes later both realised we hadn't stopped our Garmins. As it turns out, although we crossed the line together, Dan actually beat me by 0.45 of a second, finishing with a chip time of 4:13:45.20 - which is the most accurate marathon timing I've ever seen. At most of the trail marathons and ultras I've run it's been a bloke with a clipboard, but good to know someone was taking things seriously! Position-wise that put us 214 and 215 out of 1,557 finishers which wasn't a bad return for the effort we put in. Overall I was happy with the time, quite a bit quicker than I expected, especially as the course was way tougher than I thought it would be. Beforehand I thought it had about 2,500ft of ascent, about the same as The Yorkshireman and Lakeland Trails, but in the end my Garmin was showing 4,822!
The best part for me was running the whole race with Dan. If he hadn't run the Great South Run a few years ago and suggested I do it the following year, I might still be a fat, lazy, pizza disposal machine (instead of a thin slow one), so it was great to be able to share such a scenic and challenging race with him, both of us having come so far in our running since then. Next time we toe the line together will be the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon in December, and as things stand it's 1-all, so depending what shape we're both in that one could be a little bit more competitive. If nothing else it should be quicker - it's flat, it's the south coast in December so it'll be cold, wet and windy, and I suspect we'll be looking to spend as little time out there as possible!