Serpie Planner - event reports

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

Beachy Head Marathon (23 Oct 2021)

Race report kindly provided by John Hudspith -

Having run this marathon in all but three years since 1991, some having been in fairly horrendous conditions, I was somewhat bemused to learn the day before, that the race route had been abandoned due to the rainfall and we were instead to run two laps of the half marathon course which had been staged the week before. Running with a damaged back, it did have some upside, in as much as if the back got too painful, I could always conveniently end my run at half distance.

Conditions were near perfect for marathon running, cool but not too cold and little wind. Negotiating the first hill a mere 20 metres from the start line warmed us all up. The triangular half marathon course was something of a journey of discovery, following the marathon course for the first 3.5 miles and for the last four miles, the diagonal joining these two legs being completely new to me and after cresting a hill, predominately a gentle downhill all the way to the coastal path. I was a little dismayed to discover that on reaching the coast and picking up the marathon course, not only did we have Beachy Head to run up, but before that, 4 of the Sevem Sisters. My spirits were lifted at Birling Gap by the cheers from a band of Serpies who also seem to be there every year and relief came at the end of the first lap where we were spared the arduous descent of steps to the start line and climb back up.
I felt reasonably comfortable at half distance and started the second lap climb with little inhibition. Little did I anticipate how my lack of running over the previous 6 weeks would hit me. On traversing the long gentle downhill section for a second time, my quads went into full rebellion mode and bizarrely I found myself eager to reach the coast and the predominantly uphill climbs. Relief finally arrived in the form of a second run up the amazing Beachy Head, the last downhill mile to the finish line being close to agony and the final straw for my quads. Nearly all of the places I had gained running up Beachy Head being lost as I staggered downhill to the finish line. The stats show I did the first lap in 2 hours and the second in 2 hours 12 minutes. In retrospect, dropping my pace by just under a minute a mile on lap two was a reasonable performance given my physical condition.

Overall, I'm pleased and relieved that the event went ahead, although the half marathon course even when traversed twice lacks a little of the monstrous character of the original marathon course. And on a personal note, it was very satisfying to have run all the way around.