Seaford Striders take on the Beachy Head Marathon

Paul Heywood, first Strider to finish
Paul Heywood, first Strider to finish

One of the country’s biggest and arguably toughest off road events, the Beachy Head Marathon (BHM) took place at the weekend. The countryside of the South Downs National Park hosted nearly 1500 runners, joggers and walkers. 

For most of the participants this is not so much a race but more an experience and with 4900 feet to ascend along the way this is not a course for marathon PBs. Commencing, as it does, with a ridiculous hill right at the start by Bede’s School, where crampons would appear more appropriate than trainers. The route then follows a continuous 20 minute climb before heading inland, crossing the A259 and after negotiating a treacherous flint and chalk descent, drops into Jevington where a welcome drinks/food station awaits. 

Claire Keith who has just completed a heptathlon of races in support of charity

Claire Keith who has just completed a heptathlon of races in support of charity

After climbing out of Jevington it’s into the lovely Friston Forest, past the Long Man of Wilmington and on to Alfriston village. Then comes a long drag up to Bo Peep, which can really sap the energy but spirits are lifted by the spectacular views along this exposed section.  Here the route turns reassuringly towards the sea and perhaps for the first time thoughts of the finish but it’s only half way and there follows a deceptively long stretch to High & Over, where there is extra cheer for home runners in the form of a road crossing and water station manned by the Seaford Striders. 

Then on to another stunning view, this time across the Cuckmere on the exhilarating plunge into Littlington and another lifesaving drinks/food station. Back into Friston Forest and two sets of wickedly steep wooden steps whereupon your quadriceps start screaming in protest. All of a sudden Cuckmere Haven appears in all its glory but caution must be exercised on a steep descent before crossing the A259 once again. 

The Seven Sisters are reached after 20 miles. It’s said that you can train for 20, but the last 6.2 are in your head. There is no marathon in the country with a tougher final 6.2. Seven Sisters? The general consensus is at least nine.  You run out of superlatives describing this final stretch of coastline exemplified by the iconic Belle Tout lighthouse and Beachy Head, about the same time as energy levels begin to plummet and leg muscles suddenly start doing strange things. 

Whilst you may be forgiven for thinking this is mass torture the sense of achievement on finishing the event is overwhelming and we are privileged to have such a stunning route on our doorstep. In perfect running conditions winner Stuart Mills (Uckfield Runners) took an early lead and stayed there, coming home in 3hrs 08mins 05secs, with first lady Sarah Swinhoe (London Heathside) finishing in 3:23:44.

Eight Seaford Striders took on the challenge and Paul Heywood was once again first for the club in a very speedy time of 3:56:16. He was followed by Daniel Wittenberg in 4:28:37. First female Strider was Lisa Skinner in 4:31:51 and hot on her heels were with Claire Keith 4:32:41; Matt Eade 4:33:07 and Beth Ruddock 4:38:58. Sadly Kallum Wright took a tumble and after first aid came recorded 4:56:17, much slower than he would otherwise have expected.

Sadly Jacob Miles also picked up an injury and was unable to finish and Chris Wrathall had to pull out prior to the race due to a recent illness – club members really sympathise with these last three runners who had all put in hours of training and had been looking forward to achieving fast times at this event.

What is exceptional about the above race is that for Claire Keith, in completing the BHM, she completed a Runner’s heptathlon, in that she ran seven races on seven consecutive weekends. Her heptathlon began with the New Forest Marathon (3:52:58), Hove Prom 10km (45:01), Barns Green Half Marathon (1:44:53 – Course Personal Best), Bournemouth Marathon (3:41:52 - CPB), Chichester Half Marathon (1:46:04), Warren Hill XC (37:03 - CPB) and finally Beachy Head Marathon (4:32:41 - CPB). These seven races totalled 116 miles and were completed in 17 hours at an average pace of just under 7mph.

Claire is raising funds for the Chartwell Cancer Trust, in memory of Lily Mae, the three year old granddaughter of club member John, who sadly lost her 10 month battle against a very rare liver and lung cancer. The Chartwell Cancer Trust supported Lily-Mae’s family throughout her illness.

With work sponsorship, Claire is now close to raising £1000 and if you would like to donate to this very worthwhile charity, please go to: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=CRKeith

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