Last month, with the ‘mini-beast from the East’ spreading its frosty tendrils over the North Sea, the Met Office issued amber warnings for wind, ice, and snow across much of the UK. The same time, a detachment of hardy (foolish?) ICXCAC trail runners left London with their sights set on a very long run along the barren, wind-beaten cliff-tops of the Sussex coast. This is their story…
Those of us tackling the ultra- and marathon-distance races stayed overnight at club member Remy’s house (huge thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Shaieb!), whilst those with later start times took early trains on the Saturday morning. With all involved hunkering down for the night, the cold closed in… 05:30 AM – Good morning, this is your wake-up call! After last-minute kit checks (Leggings or shorts? Definitely leggings) and industrial quantities of porridge, the team pile into cars and head to the start line.
8:00 AM – Standing in a field waiting for the ultra race briefing, we realise it is definitely cold.
8:30 AM – Ultra-marathon start. 130 hardy endurance runners set off clad in multiple layers of fluorescent Gore-Tex. Ahead of them is 55km of challenging, but varied and beautiful terrain. It’s still really cold.
9:00 AM – Marathon start. A similar number of waterproof wardrobes on display here, although Richard ‘Paleo’ Thompson isn’t wearing any shoes. He assures us this is deliberate, and he’s got some crocs in case it gets too rocky. So this is what goes on in the Physics department? I think it’s getting colder.
10:00 AM – At 10-20km in, our ultra and marathon runners are all in good spirits, taking in local landmarks including the Litlington white horse, and the Long Man of Wilmington. Interestingly, these hill carvings aren’t half as ancient as you might imagine, being cut in the 19th and 17th centuries respectively. I digress. Is this blossom or snow?
10:30 AM – Half-marathon start. Despite a far less extensive mandatory kit list, the 370 starters are wearing a lot of clothes for a spring half marathon. The starter’s gun is fired. Meanwhile, marathoners are beginning to catch the tail end of the ultra race, providing much needed company and morale boosts. It’s definitely snowing now. The pretty fluffy kind. Still cold.
11:00 AM – This is now a real life actual blizzard. In late March. What’s going on?
11:30 AM – 10k start. 200 brave and speedy souls tear away from the start line and into the storm, wearing little more than shorts and a t-shirt. They the real MVPs. At least they’re all wearing shoes. I hope Richard Hobbitson still has all his toes.
12:00 PM – As the leading half-marathoners hit the final descent from the magnificent Beachy Head towards home (and warmth), the 10k runners approach the halfway mark and join the ultra/marathon route. Being passed after three hours of running by a stream of sprightly 10k runners (who are going twice your pace and making it look easy) brings up conflicting and fairly toxic emotions, but it’s all part of the fun. I’m told -7oC wind chill is part of the fun too.
12:30 PM – 30mph wind now driving horizontal snow into the faces of runners in all categories running up Beachy Head.
??:?? PM – To be honest, this is where things get a little hazy for me. At some point the snow stopped, but I’m pretty sure it was still cold. Meanwhile the 10k and Half marathon runners head to the pub for a free (!) pint.
After a long day of running, the key stats were as follows: 17 Imperial runners braved the elements, and made it home safely. Ultra runners climbed 1750m (Courchevel), and took home two Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc qualification points on the way. Marathoners scaled 1350m (Ben Nevis), the half marathon squad made 650m look easy (it’s not), and the 10k speed demons smashed 430m (2820 vertical pints.) As usual there was plenty of ICXCAC representation at the front of the field, with Jess Eichel and Mark Pollock taking under-20 titles in the half marathon, and trail captain Henry Hart posting a winning 10k time of 50’47”, only to be disqualified for an unlucky checkpoint ‘dibbing’ error.
Most importantly, everyone finished despite very challenging conditions (30 DNFs in the ultra alone.) Even Richard ‘Bilbo’ Thompson made it through the day without frostbite. We saw many fantastic personal performances, including first trail races, first marathons, and longest ultras. This is a side of the club that is going from strength to strength.
Finally, huge thank-yous to Remy and family for hosting us, trail captain Henry for organising the trip, Luis for supporting, and the race organisers for keeping everyone safe in spite of completely horrendous conditions.