About 18 months ago, I announced I was going to run an Ultra. And then I didn’t. Well, I did and I didn’t.
Run to the Sea
The Run to the Sea Ultra is a 50 km route that starts at Christ’s Hospital near Horsham and travels down the Downs Link to the South Downs. Then it’s up and over the Downs and into Hove for a seafront finish.
What went wrong?
I won’t bore you with the details, but Covid, injuries, and a jolly jaunt to Morocco to walk across the desert all got in the way. I did train but not enough. That said, I don’t like quitting so I pitched up to the start line last May with a backpack full of jam sandwiches (first mistake) and a pocket full of jelly beans. And off I set.
The first half of the Run to Sea Sussex Ultra is pretty flat as you make your way along the Downs Link via Henfield and Small Dole until you reach Upper Beeding. My companion pulled up injured at the first checkpoint which is about 10 km in, but so far so good for me, so I carried on alone.
Checkpoint two was at the foot of the Downs and to be honest, I hadn’t expected to get this far. My hips hurt and I had realized that jam sandwiches were probably not going to meet my nutritional needs. I think it’s about 20 km in at this stage and I was happy with this in light of my lack of training. But then an annoying little voice in my head said, “kick on”. So I did.
Truleigh Hill is truly hard work
The next leg of this little run goes vertically up Truleigh Hill and the South Downs. I’m not going to lie, as I emerged above the tree line to the fantastic views, I may have shed a tear. The views are incredible at the best of times but this was special. I’d come much further than I ever thought I’d get. Unfortunately, and not for the first time, I then underestimated the South Downs. They are relentless. Up, down, up, down. It was hot by now and I felt a little hysterical.
My other half had made me promise to recognise when and if it was time to stop for fear of doing myself permanent damage. Taking his advice is not one of my strengths but I was beginning to suspect the time was nigh. Crying on some of the descents because you hurt so much is never a good sign. Feeling you’re going to vomit is also probably another red flag. And I more or less crawled to the third checkpoint at Saddlescombe at 32 km. The sea felt like it was almost in sight … 20 km in sight. It was time to go home and I called for my rescue party and went home to bed.
Failure doesn’t sit well with me
I’ve spent the last 10 months getting my head around the fact that I did not succeed. To be honest, I was never going to without proper training but that hasn’t helped me reconcile myself with what I perceive as failure. But I’ve taken a few valuable lessons from this adventure. Jam sandwiches will not see you through was lesson one. Walking poles are your knees’ best friend when crossing the Downs (I did not take mine with me). You can go a long way on blood, sweat, tears, and ignorance but at some point, they will eventually fail you. I’m too gung ho is another lesson I’m always quick to forget.
Of course, I know it wasn’t really a failure. It was an adventure! Or perhaps a misadventure that was very much about the amazing journey and a unique way to see Sussex. But because I am still a little cross with myself, I’ve signed up to do it again this May. How’s the training going? I hear you ask. Well not as well as it should be if the truth be told but this time I’ll take curry with me, not jam. What could go wrong? Watch this space.
If you like this Sussex Ultra adventure, you may also like: