Feather flags flapping gently in the wind, the sea mist making way for the hot sun, Zumba beats blasting out at full volume.... The August Bank Holiday saw me and thousands of other crazy athletes take on the South Coast Challenge.
It's an event I have been working towards since the turn of the year, battling through minor injuries, work commitments, bringing up two young children and honestly, a lack of motivation most of the time! Training had been difficult and in the run up I felt very concerned that I had grossly underprepared and wouldn't know what had hit me when I climbed that first hill. The route takes you from Eastbourne seafront, up and across Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters cliffs and then through the very serene lowlands to Alfriston. It's a wonderful way to explore the south coast of England, but it's very physically and mentally challenging.
Standing at the start line, with a heavy bag carrying all my 'just in case' supplies, multiple litres of water and the kitchen sink, I felt strangely confident that I could finish this challenge. This is despite seeing the first hill the night before and wondering whether it was possible that I might actually end up rolling all the way back down if I lost my footing! A short warm up later and we were off. I'm not going to lie, the heat hit me straight away. Running along the seafront on one of the hottest days of the year was not a good idea but being just 1k in I couldn't give up now! A carefully selected playlist and endless views of the turquoise sea did absolute wonders for my motivation and mental attitude and I actually found that I had a smile on my face most of the way around. My aim had always been to run as much as I could of the 23k course (which continues to 50 and then 100k) but realistically I knew that I'd probably walk the majority of it. Most of the route is very hilly - this was no standard half marathon.
To my surprise I actually felt strong, fit and motivated enough to run approximately half of it! If you've ever been to the Seven Sisters you'll probably be aware that running up/down some of those hills is not for the faint hearted! I honestly don't know how I did it, I guess pure adrenaline because it certainly wasn't months of dedicated training! Most of the participants walk the challenge as it can take up to two days to complete the 100k but wanting to make life difficult for myself, I wasn't happy doing that. All those evenings spent reading up on hill running, blister prevention, carbo loading do pay off as I managed to get through the course with no immediate injuries. I couldn't train for two months due to a knee injury earlier in the year so I was very pleased that I'd managed to get through this ok.
Approaching the 23k rest stop and my final kilometre, my legs were heavy, my brow was sweating and my back was pleading for no more midday sun beating down on it. As we all know, running in the heat can be quite uncomfortable. After having to walk most of the flat part of the route due to congestion I found the last particles of energy and jogged to the finishing line.
Completing this with something left in the tank left me very happy. The free glass of champagne helped too! I'd never run a 5k without stopping until December last year and my first 10k race came in May so completing a half marathon, on very tricky terrain, gave me such a positive outlook on life in general. I really can achieve anything I set my mind to. It's amazing how a run can give you those kind of thoughts. I always dismissed such claims as nonsense. It was a wonderful event and was well organised. I would definitely recommend it and I don't believe you have to be a strong runner to participate - so much of it is down to what's going on in your head. There are many of these kind of events popping up around the country so sign yourself up, it's a bucket list contender. It taught me that running can bring many positive things to your life - health, fitness, friends, experiences, travelling and perhaps the most surprising but important one - a positive outlook. In today's mad, fast paced world a few minutes with nothing but your thoughts and a scenic route is a luxury. Runners don't know how lucky they are.
By Caroline Delin