The Eastbourne Half Marathon – part 1:

I looked through my training plan a month ago and saw this:

Sun 1st March – Half marathon race. Good effort + warm-up and cool-down

Unless I wanted to be racing against my girlfriend I’d have to book into an event sharpish. It wasn’t absolutely imperative that it had to be a race but the training guide I’ve been following has been really useful and until now I’d really had no reason to push too hard. I’ve been clocking up the hours and miles alright but I’d not really gone that extra mile (literally in this case as the most I’ve run so far is 12 miles).

I went straight on to Runner’s World, typed in the date, distance and my postcode and the first official event that came up was the Eastbourne Half Marathon. Done. Two weeks later my running number arrived in the post. It had a wire loop on the back with a timing chip attached to it. Fancy. It also came with a 16-point sheet with the details of the day and a map of the course. The course details were as follows:

“The route is mainly flat with a hill between 2 – 3 miles…
…as you pass through the harbour, there are several tight turns and three pedestrian swing bridges…
…there is a small gravel slope which may be slippery.”

Sounds simple enough.

Yesterday, we arrived at a sunny Eastbourne, dropped off our bags and headed straight for the legendary Beachy Head. My girlfriend had foolishly told me prior to our trip that Beachy Head is a notorious suicide spot and at every opportunity I got I would walk up to the cliff edge, test the cusp with a few good stamps of my feet and peer over. This is what I saw.

Taken tentatively from the edge

Gulp! After dicing with death a few more times (and one hair-raising gust of wind) I’d seen enough and we made our way back down the hill in my girlfriend’s car. However, as we came back down we noticed yellow arrow markers stapled to trees and road signs and quickly realised that this was the hill between 2 – 3 miles! To say the gradient was steep was an understatement. In our car it looked like we were in a roller-coaster (I felt like raising my hands above my head)! Now, I do occasionally exaggerate to make a story more interesting but you’ll see later on just how steep this hill was.

Dinner that night consisted of pasta at Zizzi’s, 2 diet-cokes and an early night so I could lie there, not sleeping, thinking about the race the next day. I’d already decided that I was going to try and aim for marathon pace. If I’m aiming to finish the London marathon in under 4 hours then I’d need to do the Eastbourne half in under 2. This meant an average of just over 9 minutes per mile. With this hill throwing me a curve-ball I was a little concerned but Sally (my girlfriend) had some good advice and I calmed down. “Just pace yourself and don’t even look at your watch in the first few miles. Focus on getting up that hill comfortably and you can push in the later stages.”

Nom nom nom... 7am and an early rise at our beach-view hotel (courtesy of lastminute.com and a shrewd girlfriend), a quick shower and a healthy, carb-fuelled breakfast (fruit salad, bran flakes and 2 slices of brown toast). The waitress, looking at my order, said, “Are you running today? I don’t know why all these people do it, especially on a Sunday!”. Thanks for the confidence boost love, now go and get my breakfast.

Back up to the room for some lashings of Bodyglide. I was wearing my MS Society vest to try it out in preparation for marathon day. A buddy of mine had told me to use the Bodyglide around the armpits where the vest would rub as he hadn’t done it on his marathon run and the chafing was unbelievable. I duly obeyed.

We set off for the start line, about a mile away (a nice warm up walk) and could already see my competitors, some of whom were warming up by running in the opposite direction. This got my nerves going and my legs started feeling like jelly. There were around a thousand runners when we got there, from all ages, shapes and sizes. The previous day my Mam text me and asked me how many people were running. “1000”, I said. “So you might win then?!”, she said. What had happened to the ‘it’s the taking part that counts‘? I found it a couple of minutes later as a man dressed in a Spiderman outfit and a lady dressed as a dalmatian joined me at the start line. After a quick warm up from three cheer leaders on a stage (which I didn’t take part in as I’m self-conscious as hell) it was 10am and we were off…

It was cold and really sunny...what?!

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