After months of training, I finally completed The South Coast Challenge 54K from Eastbourne to Hove. This wasn’t my longest race, but given the heat and the hills, I can honestly say that this has been the toughest one so far.
I arrived in Eastbourne on Friday evening and booked in to a nice ‘cheap and cheerful’ hotel on the seafront. Although I had only booked a single room, they gave me a free upgrade to a double with a nice view of the sea.
As I arrived early, I popped down to the the race area to get myself registered. My start time wasn’t until 8:40 on Saturday morning, but I figured it would be one less thing to worry about, so I collected my race number and other bits and pieces and enjoyed a nice stroll along the seafront before heading back to the hotel.
I slept well and got myself up in plenty of time so decided to go and watch some of the other waves of runners head off. There was a safety briefing followed by a zumba warm up to get us in the mood for the hike ahead, and then we were off!
The weather was warm and it was only going to get warmer as the day went on, so I refrained from running along the seafront in order to preserve some energy for the hills. And boy were there hills!
The first 11k before Birling Gap involved a climb of 232 metres, but it wasn’t too bad as it meant that there was the same again in descent. Running downhill on this section was a lot of fun and helped me to get a good pace going to the first rest stop. Not that I stopped for long. Just enough time to grab some more water and an energy bar, and reapply some sun cream before heading off again.
The next section wasn’t so much fun though. While the cliffs of the Seven Sisters may look very pretty, the climbing was brutal at times and I was glad that I’d remembered to order a walking pole from Amazon the weekend before. I’m not sure how I would have coped otherwise!
I had hoped to have been able to enjoy some more downhill running at this point, but the gradient was just too steep and I would probably have gone arse over tit had I attempted anything other than a quick sideways shuffle down the slopes.
Needless to say, the pace slowed down quite a bit and it was 1:00 pm by the time I reached the next rest stop, but I was still feeling pretty good. I took a bit more time at this stop to have some food, check the old feet and change into a fresh pair of socks. No blisters to report, so all good for now.
The next section started with another massive climb that just seemed to go on and on. By this point my back was starting to ache a bit, so I applied a Deep Freeze patch, which helped a lot. There was a nice breeze at times, but the temperature was rising and really slowed me down. Luckily,not too far into the downhill section, we could see the next rest stop, which gave me a bit of a lift and spurred me on a bit more.
Again, I didn’t stop for too long. I ate a little, drank a little and set off again for the final stage. This, I knew, was going to be tough as we had 20K to go without a proper rest stop. There was a flattish section to start with and although the heat from the sun was getting stronger ground underfoot was not pleasant (a hard chalky surface with lots of loose stones) it wasn’t too bad.
The hill that came next, however, almost did me in. I wasn’t even that far into it when I just had to stop. It was a combination of heat and back pain, so I took a couple of pain killers and some water before pushing myself forward a few steps at a time, stopping and starting as needed. To be honest, I really thought about giving up at this point, but knowing that so many people had sponsored me to do this, there was no way I was going to let them down. That and the kind words and encouragement from others kept me going.
One of the things that I like so much about these challenges is the camaraderie. Everyone hits low points along the way, but whether walking alone or in a group, we all help each other through it, whether it’s with a bit of chat along the way, some words of encouragement, offers of help or just holding the gate open with a smile for the next person, even the smallest gesture goes a long way.
Luckily there was a water station at around 44K, so again I took a few minutes to sit down and air the old feet before continuing on down to Brighton. This part of the route wasn’t bad at all but by that point I’d probably had more than enough heat as I was starting to feel a bit nauseous. Still, I was encouraged by more conversation, some bottles of ‘water for the walkers’ that some kind person had left on a wall and some ‘well dones’ from some random people on Hove seafront.
Finally, just after 9:20 pm, I reached the finish line at Hove Park, where I collected my medal, t-shirt and glass of fizz before throwing up outside the medical tent! Again, I was touched by the kindness of strangers as someone went and got me some water while another took me into the tent to make sure I was ok. Thankfully, it was just a case of too much sun as the paramedic took my blood pressure and checked my blood glucose levels (all of which were fine). The doctor gave me an energy gel and a sickness tablet and I was soon on my way home, happy to have completed the challenge in one piece.
So, the verdict? Well, I can honestly say that this is the toughest challenge that I have done. Even though it was the heat that finished me off in the end, the relentless ups and downs of the hills are not my thing – so I won’t be back for another go. However, if you like hills and want to take part in a brilliantly organised ultra event as either a walker or a runner, then I wouldn’t want to put anyone off. The camaraderie on route, support at the rest stops, the stunning views and the sense of accomplishment when finished make it all worth while in the end.
As for me, I think I’ll go for something a bit less hilly next time.
How’s your running going? What gets you through the low points in a race? Please share your thoughts in the comments.