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Beachy Head Marathon (27 Oct 2007)

Brutal but brilliant! The Beachy Head Marathon (used to be called the Seven Sisters Marathon, but presumably some people thought it was up the Victoria Line?) starts in Eastbourne and is run on an entirely off-road course that includes 3500ft of ascent, 14 stiles and c300 steps.

The course is, to say the least, demanding, with hill after hill after hill. And, at times worse, downhill after downhill after downhill. 1750 participants, all starting together but classified as "Runners" (under 5 hours), "Joggers" (5-7 hours), "Walkers" (7-9 hours). Frankly you'd have to walk fairly determinedly to do this in 7 hours. The effort of keeping the course marshalled for this length of time is remarkable. Besides the marshalls there were a fair number of tourists on the course who were generally quite supportive.

While off-road, the course is well signposted, so this does not involve any map reading. Indeed, looking at a map beforehand might be unwise as it would only emphasise just how many contours you will cover. 4 checkpoints to pass, with (I think) another 3 drinks stations.

Out of Eastbourne (straight up a steep hill, which had some walking about 2 minutes into a marathon) and on up Willingdon Hill (659'), down into a forest, and then up The Long Man / Windover Hill (702'). Although I didn't see it, I'm told that The Long Man is a chalk figure cut into the slopes of Windover Hill, like the Cerne Abbas Giant, but more realistic, although lacking genitals. (Excellent, got the word "genitals" into a race report!)

Then it is back down into Alfriston Village, then up Bostal Hill (624'). Cradle Hill next, before plunging down to Litlington / the River Cuckmere. Through a bit of forest and then up to the Seven Sisters. For those not familiar, the Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs, forming a long "WWWW" (or more accurately a sine wave). In order they are (followed by the corresponding low point) Haven Brow, (Short Bottom), Short Brow (Limekiln Bottom), Rough Brow (Rough Bottom), Brass Point (Gap Bottom), Flagstaff Point (Flagstaff Bottom), Flat Hill (Flathill Bottom), Baily's Hill (Michel Dean), Went Hill Brow. These aren't really very big hills, but 20-odd miles in, they are distinctly unwelcome. After the Seven Sisters is Birling Gap and then finally Beachy Head itself (530'), before plunging down the opening hill to the finish.

Medals and hot food at the end.

The winning time was 2.47, breaking the course record by 12 minutes and causing absolute amazement all round.

One suggestion to those contemplating this run would be to do some hill sessions. My training (running over London Bridge fairly often) did not quite cut it!

Despite (maybe because of) its difficulty, this race apparently consistently scores in the top 10 on the Runner's World website and I can see why as it combines fantastic scenery, great support and a truly unique course.

Report by: Mark Braley