October 21, 2015
This Saturday is the Beachy Head Marathon day! For those of you running either the marathon or the 10K held on the same morning, we have some great advice to help you on raceday.
Here in Eastbourne we have the Chelsea School of Sport at Brighton University which means that a few hundred metres up the hill from The Tri Store there are a number of members of the teaching staff who are keen athletes. Over the years we've become friendly with a few of the lecturers and three of them have kindly offered their thoughts on some questions we posed.
I'll introduce them first - Stuart Mills is a local legend. 7-time (yes, seven) winner of the Beachy Head Marathon and winner of various ultra races over the last few years, by day he is a principal lecturer in biomechanics at the University. Outside of this he writes a blog http://ultrastu.blogspot.co.uk on his ultra race exploits and more recently a return to long distance triathlon. He also runs his own series of trail races http://www.trailrunningsussex.co.uk
Rob Harley is a principal lecturer in physiology and has also won Beachy Head Marathon - do we get the impression that it's a pretty competitive environment amongst the staff up there?! Rob has shopped with us from our very early days and we've seen him add cycling to running and also long distance triathlon in the time we've been here.
Dr James Wallis is a principal lecturer in sports psychology, a sub-3 hour marathoner and over the years has been a sage word and ear on various conversations in the store regarding all sports.
So, the first question we posed was:
What do you think is the most important element for a good Beachy Head Marathon experience?
Stuart Mills: To ensure that one enjoys the experience, and not be 'daunted' by the challenging 26 mile course.
Rob Harley: Enjoyment from the sense of achievement. That is why we do it. What you need to work out is what do you have to do to enjoy it? What do you want to achieve to make yourself proud. This might relate to the story you want to tell your family and friends in the pub afterwards. Did you achieve you goal? what was your goal? This needs to be realistic and ideally based upon how well your training has gone and recent performances. It might also be based upon how you kept pushing yourself hard, not giving up and let the course get the better of you. You will slow down, especially over the last 8 undulating miles!! What you can control is your effort.
Jim Wallis: Clear skies to appreciate the magnificence of where we are privileged to run. Get a bit spiritual!
Question 2 - How do you think runners should approach pacing for Beachy Head Marathon?
Stuart Mills: The key thing about pacing for a marathon, especially an undulating challenging marathon like Beachy Head Marathon, is to realise that regardless of the pace you start out at, one will tire during the event and will slow down. Therefore one shouldn't expect to maintain the same running pace throughout the 26 miles. Trying to save energy for later in the marathon is probably unwise. Simply run the pace that feels right at that moment in time, and not 'worry about' how far one has to go. Dealing with worry, doubt, anxiety, is what often tends to be the main influence on how one performs on the day in relation to their current state of preparation.
Rob Harley: I always saw the BHM as a personal challenge. Me versus the course. Like any long physical challenge there will be times when you feel good and times when you feel less good. Stay in the moment, focus on working through the low times and going with the flow on the good times. Run on feel. How you feel at the moment in the race. There are times when I may have started too fast and times when I started too conservatively. You will slow down and you will hurt especially during the last 8 miles over the Sisters but enjoy the hurt don't be afraid of it. This is why we do it.
Jim Wallis: Leave the Garmin and even the watch at home, run on how you feel and see where you end up. Don't get hung up on mile times and don't get perturbed by people flying past you in the first half - you will see most of them again before the finish if you listen to your body. Also, stay in the moment - don't cast your mind forward to what is still to come as this will create negative affect. Deal with what is right in front of you.
Question 3: What's your best and worst BHM experience?
Stuart Mills: I have run the Beachy Head Marathon 13 consecutive years in a row. Hard to single out my best performance. Winning the race seven times has been satisfying, but my quickest time for the event, 2 hours 57 minutes, was back in 2007 when I finished in second place that year. My worst performance? There isn't one. It is such a great event, over such an awesome route, shared with amazing people, how can there be anything negative to reflect on!
Rob Harley: This is an easy one for me. There was a year when I get lost!! There was thick fog and I took a wrong turn follow a group in front of me when we were heading to Bopeep car park. I ended up running 30 minutes longer than I had before due to the detour!! The race is really well marshalled and I am sure this won't happened to you. In my early races I also used to suffer from cramp. I remember my legs locking and having to lie down and ask some people who were walking by to shake my legs for me! At that time in the race I was about 1 mile from Birling gap, so 4 miles from the finish and I thought I won't be able to continue. The cramp did subside and I did finish. I think the time was about 3 hrs 40 mins.
My best experience was in 2012. Inspired by the Olympics and the Brownlee brothers (who are a couple of years younger than me). I had never expected to win but as I trained more over the years my running kept improving. To be honest it was the only time I have started to race other people rather than just the course because as I went through Alfriston I found my self in the lead! By the start of the Sisters I was in 3rd place and remember thinking to myself that is still a great story to tell friends and family in the pub. How good is third place in such a large marathon, I was over the moon (sorry, I used to play football). But I still wanted to be the best I could be on the day and in a way I went back to racing the course rather than the other competitors. I just kept pushing on. I never expected the 2 runners ahead of me to come back to me or me to catch them but as I came up the final slope towards the Beachy Head pub I went into second place and remember thinking this is amazing and then the chap who was in first (that would be Stuart Mills - Rob was too nice to mention it so this is an edit from The Tri Store) was only 200 metres ahead and I was catching him every step I took. From that point on the rest is history. I flew down the last mile in a state of disbelief. In that race I ended up taking quite a few minutes off my PB so I was going to be proud wherever I finished in the race.
Arthritis in my right hip has meant making a decision not to race any more (as I can't do the training I would want to) so I am cycling more and getting fit to take on the hills of the French Alps and watching the Tour de France next summer.
Huge thanks to Stuart, Rob and Jim for taking the time to answer our questions and we hope that their answers help runners prepare for Saturday. Good luck to everyone taking part.