The Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Sussex Ultra. 

'With the world famous Seven Sisters, and far reaching views out over the English Channel, these courses are already attracting international recognition. 

The routes shoulder the coastal towns of Eastbourne and Seaford, which lie to the eastern section of the South Downs National Park. Where the land meets the sea, the results have produced one of the most iconic coastal landscapes of Britain - vast cliffs of brilliant white chalk'

The Sussex event is the seventh in a series of ten across the country. The Ultra route has a scale of 3-Strenuous, with an ascent of 5,800ft. 

Today is my second CTS event in Sussex. The sun is shining and with a light breeze it looks to be a promising day for all the runners attempting the 10k, Half, Full and Ultra Marathon. 

 Clear and sunny start

Winds are due to pick up later with some cloud coverage. the wind will probably be much stronger during the cliff side sections.

A fantastic clear morning greets me in East Sussex. The breeze is still cold but the sun is warm on my skin already. 

Typical I forgot my sunglasses...

Race HQ

Parking is straight forward again this year, just a little further up the road and behind race registration. 

After parking and a short walk I join the short line of runners to collect my chip, bib and sign the waiver. 

I spot Luke and Bryan, some running friends of Nick Morris. Nick is a big fan of the CTS Sussex event but Sadly cannot make it this year. He is nursing a ligament tear in his foot. 

Looks colourful, but quite complicated for some with the different races to register for.

Dipping Chip

10k, Half, Full and Ultra bibs

Waiver signed, chip attached around my wrist, (dip stick chip) number attached to my shorts and tech tee selected. 

I make my way back to the car to drop off the tee as I am required to carry my water, first aid kit, fuel and a waterproof jacket for the ultra event and have nowhere left for this. Or would I want to carry anymore items in my race vest...

I am wearing my usual Salomon S-lab Hydro 5 race vest that holds 2Litres of water and the jacket snugly. 

I have Inov8 Talon-X Trail shoes on my feet. A very good choice for wet muddy terrain but also great hold on the steep lumpy descents and chalky stoned footpaths along the South Downs.

The race briefing is held by the race director and team for the 100 or so ultra runners, I just make it back from the car in time. 

It seems that there is a slight delay from some of the marshals further along the route, but just a few minutes later we are ready to start. 

The 'Lookout' and Ultra start in the distance

I cannot spot any familiar faces at the start this year. Usually I see one or two runners I know from other ultra events. 

Today seems to be a tourist crowd and I can hear some guys at the front talking about Beachy Head marathon, which they have only just heard about....


These guys sprint off at a faster than normal pace than you would expect for a longer distance event. We have the full marathon route to follow then the 10k course, once passing through the finish.

Hopefully they know what to expect along the course today, as it gets very tough during the later stages. 

 Those Huskies are going to wear out this runner tugging him along...

Miles 0-12
The track leads up west and over to the Seven Sister Cliff tops, rather like running Beachy Head in reverse as this is the last leg for that race. It brings back good memories but I am very conscious of keeping my climbing to a strong marching hike and running the descents.

I can see the front pack runners tearing up the cliff ahead and soon they are just a speck in the distance. 

One very built stocky runner is being dragged down quite quickly with his two huskies, then up again just as fast...

It looks painful already for him...

The course markings are very clear and it would be hard to go off the route. The sun is still bright and strong with the breeze chilly. The conditions are pretty perfect this morning. 

The route takes the track down to the footpath along the winding River. 

I catch up with some runners here and enjoy some quicker flat pathways...

Once reaching the main road near Westdean, where the marshal guides us across, through the gate, straight up the hill and over the wall. 

Seven Sisters Park

I hike up this section and take in the scenery I just left behind...

Once through some of the woods and many steps, I reach the first aid station in Litlington. I scan my chip with the team and then carry along the road and back on the footpath, then the South Downs Way through Alfriston. 

I can still see the front pack up ahead, about six maybe eight runners. The first few speedy runners are nowhere in sight...

I check my phone and have a few good luck messages. As usual, my family and friends are able to track my progress on Runkeeper Live. A very handy feature, although it does drain the juice, so I always carry and ANKER battery back up pack.

Once looping back onto the South Downs Way, after a short divert along another footpath. The route heads onto dirt tracks through Lullington Heath Nature Reserve. lots of tree roots, ruts and mud, making the terrain tricky to navigate.

I still manage to pick up my pace for some downhill stretches, catching up with some of the other runners in front. 

After 11 miles the tracks lead into Friston Forest where the climb is a long and gradual gradient, then a steep descent until reaching check point two t Westdean. I sip some water then dip my chip into the scanner. A few supporters are here to cheer along the runners. 

Thanking the team I head on up the road we just came, before tacking the right track out towards Eastdean. 

Looking to Firle Beacon

Rain clouds heading to Eastdean

Miles 13-24
After two hours of running I take a SaltStick capsule. I sometimes dissolve a Nuun tablet into my water but I've just been ok with the salt capsules and plain water lately. 

To be honest there is far more electrolytes and benefits in a salt capsule when running ultra and I sprinkle Himalayan salts into my bladder pack first anyway.

Once the route takes in the cliff tops again we follow the edge up and down to Beachy Head then the track that leads steep, vertical down to the very edge of the cliffs. 

Half marathon runners start to overtake me here and are racing down the hill so fast... I like downhill running but I remember from last year how this is like a ski slope! I zig zag my way to slow my speed and watch my footing...

Birling Gap 'The Lookout'

Once the track leads around flat again and towards the South Downs footpath I can steady my pace. 

Where possible I have been running a 7:30/8:00min/mile then power hiking up the climbs at 11:30-13:00min/mile.

At 20 miles in and just before the next check point in Eastbourne I feel slight fatigue and a lull. I take another Saltstick with a gulp of some olive oil and then nibble on salted macadamia nuts. 

I reach the check point and dip my chip, have some water and take a few jelly teddies for my sugar lift. 

Thanking the team I head on the path across from the Cafe by the road bend, then follow the other half marathon runners back up the hill on the South Downs Way...

I chew into the jelly teddy for a sugar trickle and within a few minutes my fatigue and lull is lifted and I feel strong enough to pick the pace up again.

I enjoy some flat and downhill tracks, feeling good and light on my feet again, running at a 7:30min/mile pace...

So tempting to turn right after the marathon finished

Coming into the last half mile for the finish

Miles 25-34
The last mile before reaching the marathon finish takes a loop up and around the field where my car is parked. Which then leads back over the road and then into the finish area. 

I check my Garmin and see I have reached 4hrs at 26 miles. Now I just need to see if my legs are strong enough to pick up the pace for the last 10k. 

This is all off road trails which is further than a 10k loop usually, so I should add some more time to what I expect to finish. 

Hopefully my 5hr target shouldn't be too far off this year, but I still have plenty of climbs left to do!

I pass the finishing area and follow the 'Ultra' sign leading back along to Birling Gap where we started the race all them hours ago. 

I stop by a table which has a huge water tank to refill my pack. 

Lots of supporters are cheering on the half and marathon runners into the finish. I'd imagine some who are struggling with the ultra distance will drop at the marathon distance instead.

The thought has not even popped into my head and I throw my pack back across my shoulders, making my way down the 10k route.

It starts with the same climb up to the Seven Sister cliffs, before going through a few gates and styles, then leading off away from the sea and north towards East Dean on another footpath. 

I can see a few of the front runners in the distance. Their pace is slowing down. I'm feeling strong enough to pick up quicker and soon enough they get within easy reach of me...

At Crowlink, the next check point which is the route coming back in the other direction from the marathon route. I scan my chip and just have a cup of water before heading back down the steep hill to catch up with the other runners in front.

I reach one, then two as I approach the downhill back towards Birling Gap again. 

I can see one of the faster runners from the start who sprinted away. 

He is still a small speck away but I can tell from his body movements he is struggling, especially with the steep cliff side. 

There are still a fair few runners dotted all along the route heading out towards Beachy Head and others on their way back towards the finish, passing on the inner footpath.

The wind is still very strong but it has eased off a little and moved in direction. 

Once the lighthouse is in view again and the other runner ahead, I feel a second wind to fast hike then jog up the hill. The runner in front is now walking and I manage to make it to him then overtake. 

We congratulate each other for reaching this far. 

I wonder how many others are ahead of him? 

The sign ahead is for the 10k route and I can see an Endurance Life flag on the corner of the bend. Once I approach to scan my chip the team ask if I am running the marathon... I tell them 'no' the ultra. They both reply well done and scan me in... 

My Garmin says 33 miles so I must be close to the finish by now! This is... as I thought further than 10k...

I recognise the track ahead and it is where the marathon route meets up again but coming from the east this time.

I meet other runners on their final victory mile and then pass others until I reach the last stretch into the finish...

The Finish
The sound of cheering and clapping greets me this time, as a larger group of runners have now finished their races.

At 13:52 I make it into the finishing area and scan my chip for the last time. I receive my medal by one of the team then am asked if I have all the mandatory kit on the list. 

Still a little confused with my judgement and taken by surprise, I comply and empty the items from my race vest and waist pack. 

 Very pleased with my 19 min PB today

I am very pleased, yet surprised to find I came in 4th overall on the Ultra 34 today, which is a 19 minute improvement to last years 7th position! 

The trails and hills I have been using as my training have most certainly helped...

Today I was helping raise awareness for the signs of Stroke as I have watched so many friends and family suffer. Recently one of our running friends was a victim to the early stages but luckily acted fast enough to prevent any serious long term damage. She is still recovering and is now on medication. 

This campaign is to show awareness to everyone about Stroke and that also runners are not invincible! 

If you or anyone experience any of these signs you need to act now and act FAST! dial 999...

Out Run Stroke. Today was my day to run and raise awareness for Stroke.

Another year and another well earned CTS medal

4th Place and a PB by 19min. The hill training paid off today!

Ultra Luke 

1 comment:

Please add your comments here. I would like to encourage discussion on running, training and nutrition. Luke