Seven Sisters Marathon Brian Daugherty (1999)
I have just run this for the second time - to give you a clue as to how hard it is, my times are about half an hour slower than the Snowdonia Marathon. Total ascent is claimed to be over 1000 meters.
The Seven Sisters are seven "hills" direct on the coast which you hit at about 20 miles, and make for a scenic but hard run-in to the finish (after the Seven Sisters, you also have to climb over two higher peaks over Beachy Head).
The start is on the edge of Eastbourne, and almost immediately you have to run uphill, serenaded by a lone bagpiper, and head inland, away from the coast. At least the weather was OK this year, last year it rained practically all the way. There is practically no road-running and it is truly multi-terrain, mostly fairly conventional grass and mud but often chalky which is very "dicey" and slippery with fell shoes, particularly downhill.
The event originated as a rambling event, and even today, there are only four refreshment stations, offering, in general, fare probably more appropriate for walkers - cakes, cups of tea etc.. The first station is at about eight miles, where runners can get either water or juice - last year the drinks were marked "Water - Juice - Viagra", which spawned predictable comments like : " I didn't realise it was such a hard race".
There are no mile markers (apart from a "halfway" sign), so these these checkpoints are the most obvious way of checking the distance run.
(Following on from above, officially the field is composed of 500 "Runners", 500 "Joggers" and 500 walkers.)
The initial climb within the first mile (actually within the first kilometer) is 100 meters, you then stay at that level, more or less, for about 3 and a half miles, and then "undulate" down to your original level at 6 miles.
From there you climb 125 meters within a mile and a half, and then coast down to sea level within 2 miles (passing the first checkpoint on the way).
From 10 miles you climb almost 200 meters within 2 miles
About 12 miles : in the middle of nowhere, pass a sign that says "Croeso i Gymru".
From here, you go dowhill (generally) for about 4 and a half miles, reaching almost sea level and the village of Litlington at 16.5 miles.
You now have a couple of "small" climbs before you hit the Seven Sisters themselves.
About 18 miles : go up a flight of steps which is only wide enough for single file. Very hard going even when walking, but some young whippersnapper (about 18 years old) still manages to keep running and forcibly squeezes past everyone.
About 19 miles : another (wider) flight of steps which is just as hard going. The lone bagpiper has now positioned himself at the top. This type of music is not what you want to hear at this point.
About 20 miles : hit the Seven Sisters which ironically gives me a chance to have a rest as I have to walk uphill. Decent views along the coast as I look behind me. Get passed by a runner using a walkers' stick.
For the rest of the way, you run along the cliff edges for most of the time. I remember a new experience last year - a wind-assisted run. The wind at the time was so strong you almost had the feeling you could lean back without falling over (although I also remember I was a bit apprehensive at the time, being so close to the cliff edge) . Unfortunately there is no repeat this year. A particular landmark in the distance is the lighthouse at Beachy Head that was moved about 25 meters backwards recently - rockfalls and erosion had left it almost on the cliff edge.
About 25 miles : going up the penultimate hill, get passed by a runner in a Les Croupiers shirt - none other than Gil John. After stating how tired I am feeling, Gil says he also feels a bit tired because he had run a marathon last weekend. He runs off into the distance.
Finish : The finish is down the slope you had to run up at the beginning. This gives you a spectacular run-in with a view right over Eastbourne. Get a wave from Gil as I pass the Finish.
Food is laid on afterwards, although again probably more appropriate for walkers - e.g. hot dogs. I am holding myself up by leaning against the wall, listening to someone behind me in the queue talking about his mate who is traveling up to Llanberis for the Snowdonia Marathon the next day. I had heard about people like that but never, until then , realised what pillocks they are.
(Apparently, the course record is 2.45, and only 24 runners have run less than three hours in the last 12 years.)
I experienced quite weird "after-effects" last year. One week after, I ran Cross-Country , which I remember as one of the harder races I have run. Two weeks after, I got up and ran in the Gosport Half-Marathon and achieved my second-best time, only 15 seconds slower than in Cardiff six years earlier ( I am due to do Gosport again at the weekend ).
While I am at it, I could recommend another cross-country Marathon that I have taken part in recently - the Clarendon Way Marathon, from Winchester to Salisbury (Sept/ Oct). It's not as hilly as the Seven Sisters but it is practically all off-road. There are also no mile markers, but you can get a bit of a clue of the distance from the (human) markers. I did have one kind person who told me that it was about a mile to go, when , in reality, it was more like two miles, but otherwise it's been a good experience.