10/12 Beachy Head Marathon

When I first started training for marathons, I would turn up to races not knowing anyone, feeling completely out of place, I was amazed by how everyone knew each other, the buzz and chatter was electrifying. I was (and still am) constantly inspired by the people I saw on social media and at these events doing amazing things, a little intimidated to say hello. The crazy thing is I know them now, and I get to hug them and be surrounded by their awesome. Turning up at Beachy Head Marathon really felt like all my friends from near and far had shown up for me (I know they’d really shown up for themselves, but ya know what I mean). It was my 10th (11th) marathon this year as part of the 12in12 challenge and it was also my birthday. The big Three-O.

I was pretty much milking my birthday for all that it was worth and a marathon on the actual day seemed too good to pass up. It was so much better because a whole bunch of above mentioned awesome people. The start line felt perfect as we chatted and laughed and made friendships that will now last a lifetime. I’m always surprised how amazing it is to meet these incredible people you only know through a selection of insta squares in real life. You can feel like you know so much and so little about them, but within those first moments friendships, real proper friendships are formed and it’s one the most beautiful parts about social media and the running community.

It was a cold morning but I knew the climbs would make it feel warm, and although we shivered on start lines, we’d soon be covered in a nice layer of salty sweat. The start line is at the bottom of a rather steep looking hill. It’s intimidating and exciting all at once, anyone who ran up it is an instant hero. We ran up to it, and then quickly stopped in the mass of people realising this was not going to be an easy day.

Our marathon group of Katie, Jon, Kirsty and Jess, started a bit too far back, which meant for the first 4 miles we were in heavy stop start congestion with some of the walkers, as we tried to make our way to the right pace group. I’d been told over and over again to not push it on the early hills as this race is hard right till the end, if you go too hard too soon, you’ll regret it. We stuck with the walk any big hills, jog any small ones, and run on the flats and downs approach. It is ever so tempting though when you’re fresh in the legs to just go. I also didn’t want to do any damage, I want to race in Valencia in 3 weeks and more importantly I wanted to have the best day out. I didn’t want to panic about pace and time, or put any pressure on myself.

The route takes you up and over the downs and sisters, through local villages and farm land. Some of the toughest climbs are saved for last. It’s unrelenting and unforgiving. If you underestimate it I’m almost certain you’ll pay in one way or another. The clarity at the top of the climbs is truly sensational though, you can see for miles and it’s a reward that just keeps on coming.

At the aid stations we’d stop and re group, taking on some fuel and in some views. The marshals were the best, and the food options were endless. This is the most insanely beautiful run. I fell in love with Sussex a lot throughout this race. The views were stupid, the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down on us. Mother Nature had been kind and delivered just about the perfect conditions for this race.

Be warned though this is not an easy race, the terrain is hard as you move from mud to rutted ground, rocky paths and slippery leaves. I’m used to this so it didn’t feel too bad but I’d hate to downplay it, and on a different day it could have been a lot worse. You’re up and down and up and down and up and down and up for some 4000ft. There are about 300 steps to climb, a wall to jump, gates and stiles, and everything you’d expect from trails. We saw cows and sheep and horses and dogs. And headwind you can never discount the headwind.

As you make your climb up to the sisters the truly spectacular view is hidden from you right until the very top. There was something so poetic about the struggle you had to go through to get those stunning views. We’d raced it right though and when we got to the sisters we had energy to run on them, up and down them.  I can’t claim to have had quite as much energy as Jon and Katie who I think ran all of them pretty much, but I ran more than I thought I would. The downhills here being as hard as the up with the steep gradients dropping off to cliff edges and crashing waves. It was dramatic in all the right ways.

I’d opted for the subtle approach as I didn’t want to make a big deal out of my birthday and covered myself in shiny birthday badges. As I ran the runners sang to me and cheered me on and it was like having your own little cheer squad follow you for the better part of 6 hours. My favourite birthday sing along came at around mile 24 when my legs had stopped working all that well and I was on the last climb. Thank you kind man, your voice powered me up and over.

I talk about flow a lot when people ask how you keep going in a marathon. It’s that moment where everything melts away and you just move forward, it feels effortless (although tiring), it’s the most beautiful space to be in, it’s why I love to run, and I was in it for almost all 26 miles. This was just one of those perfect race days when it all comes together. There was no pressure, no sub whatever to beat, just good people and good vibes. The whole way round I kept saying to myself I must purposefully schedule in races like this, races for the love of running and just stick to that. I can’t tell you how good it made me feel, and it reminded me of so many things I think we forget about as runners chasing down dreams.

As I came to the very steep hill we had climbed up first thing that morning, Jon said ‘go on birthday girl it’s all yours’ he was the stronger runner by far but let me have my moment like the totally selfless gent he is. I ran down, which may have actually been harder than running up, to my family and friends screaming happy birthday. I felt like an actual super hero; I may be a way off that wonder woman bod, but hey super heros come in all different shapes and sizes. Over the finish line and straight in to a hug from Charlie, a hug that seriously made me know she will just be one of those people I have to make sure is in my life for a long time. Flowers and champagne at the ready, my favourites new and old, we did a cheers and headed to pub.

This could quite easily be my favourite marathon, and most definitely my favourite day. Thank you insanely to every single person who was a part of it.

I’ve always wondered how people go back and run the same marathon year after year, but I now know this one will be firmly on my race calendar.

And yes I’ve teared up a lot writing this, because once upon a time I was very very lost, and although it’s taken me 30 years, I am so certain that now I’m found.

c-x

##clareruns12in12 charity #10

Sport has transformed my life; running has given me a sense of being, a confidence, a purpose, a new lease of life, and the best friends in the world. It’s hard for girls growing up to understand what their place is in an often male dominated society, and this is even more present in sport and especially in team sports. Is running a team sport? well heck yeah it is when you get to run with incredible people spurring you on, your coaches who work with you to unlock your potential, your club who train with you and run with you, and your supporters who follow you round the country/world on race days.

If what I say or do can get one person out doing something active, then job done, but there are proper charities doing great things to make this so much easier and less intimidating for girls and women up and down the country, and it is needed. Women in sport say “Sport has the potential to transform the lives of women and girls for the better, yet the opportunities are not always there for them. We need your help to create a future where everyone can benefit from sport – regardless of gender.” I couldn’t agree with them more, so my donation this month goes to them and you can find out how to donate, or support them by visiting their website.

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