Back in October (2020) I ran the inaugural Run To The Sea for Ultraviolet running. a 50Km trail run from Ringwood in the New Forest to Hengistbury Head, on the eastern edge of Bournemouth. (Read the review here). This was an ace little race. Great organisation etc, clear route, mix of terrain, ended by the sea and flat.
I think it’s wise to start this review with a disclaimer. Run To The Sea, Brighton is not particularly that similar to the Bournemouth event. Yes, OK the same organisers, it’s 50Km, its a trail run and yes you still finish by the coast. But there the similarities start to fade.
The Brighton event starts in Horsham, Christ’s Hospital school grounds to be specific. and Wow, that’s a place and a half to start anything, let alone a trail race. An amazing set of grounds and buildings that provides a very grand back-drop to a bunch of men and women choosing to get up early (some very early hours of the morning) to then travel to almost the coast and almost one of the UK’s favourite seaside destinations, to then choose to run the final 50Km. We trail Ultra runners really are an odd bunch!. Anyway, back to the point of this review, the event.
One excellent standard of these events is the shuttle bus service. An optional extra to take you from the finish line to the start. So nice and easy. park near the finish, no hassle bus to the start. Car is then ready by the sea for when you finish.
I was staying in the Best Western hotel in Hove, which by luck happened to be about 25 metres from the finish line. So, pack the night before, sleep and then stroll over the road to the bus pickup at 6:15am and all was easy. Buses are always spacious, COVID safe and comfy. A little late this time, but all in good time!
As an added bonus, a follower of my Facebook page, Steven, happened to be not he same bus as me, so we ‘found’ each other pre-bus and enjoyed a good chat on the journey. It was great to see Steven and chat. It was even better to see that he had a great race, catching up with his friends during the event and finishing together. Great work Steven, and hope to see you again at another event.
The Course of two halves:
The course on this race is quite different to the Bournemouth event. This one uses the Downs Link route and the South Downs for about 90% of the route before hitting the Hove area of Brighton and the sea front. This makes for a beautiful route using footpaths, trails, access roads (with no real traffic to speak of) and gravel/grass tracks and fields. And, oh yes, did I mention the hills?
So the Bournemouth event is flat, like a pancake, or a sheet of ice, or Stanley. But the Brighton event is nothing but. There is a lulling into a false sense of security when you start as the first 14/15 miles is on the relatively flat (if in fact slightly down hill overall) Downs Link. That’s really nice and a good start. Can get a good pace and rhythm going. Then you run out of Downs Link. Quite abruptly. And the result of that … a mountain of immense proportion. Of course, they forget to mention on the mandatory kit list the need for ropes and crampons, but when I got to the first ‘hill’ I had to take a double check.
Sorry, I’m being over dramatic, but if you are not familiar with the South Downs, then it is fair to say, you might not be expecting it. In reality the first hill, in my opinion, is the worst. It goes forever, but when you reach the top the views are great. And a hill in an Ultra is the perfect time to drink and refuel, check everything is still in tact and generally take a moment’s rest – whilst all the time still making forward progress.
Once up that first hill you reach the utter beauty of the South Downs Way.
The South Downs is a trail runners dream. Rolling hills, a good few being walking only when going any sort of distance, stunning views, mix of terrain (but most of it track/grass/trail etc) and an opportunity in an event like this to make new running buddies.
Over the final 15 miles there are plenty of hills. If hills are your thing then great, if they aren’t then, relax, no worries. Take the tie to enjoy the views which cannot be done justice in words. The downhills are plentiful and really good fun, and remember, its the second half, the distance to go is less than the distance covered, and when you get to the end the sea is waiting as is a medal, a rest and a free ice cream p what more could you want?
4 checkpoints/aid stations are along the route. Plentiful for a 50Km trail run.
The stock is fine, water/Active Root (which I love), some wrapped snacks etc. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s not a royal banquet. My advice is always take what you know works for you with you. You don’t really want GI issues on a 50Km race when you are in the middle of nowhere. The added bonus of these events (and now a growing option at events I have seen) is you can bring your own nutrition to have taken to the checkpoints. This applies to the later checkpoints (to give time to get the race started and then ship your food/drink out the checkpoints). A great idea if you like travelling light, but really want to rely on having the stuff you know and need waiting for you at the checkpoints later on.
At Aid station 3 (I think) I also got to bump into Jonathan ‘Taff’. another Facebook connection. Looking strong and making short work of those hills. Another person that was great to check on after the event and see that he made great time over the course. Nice one!
So my journey from Horsham started just before 8am (got an early start as there was space in the staggered start). And I just let things roll. Im targeting a 100 mile A-race this year in September (you might have read my blog – link here!), so this event was an opportunity to sea how things are, experience an event day (a rare occasion in recent years) and just get some different training terrain. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t taking it seriously – just maybe not putting the final 10% in I might otherwise have done!
Starting off along the Downs Link is pretty easy. It really is flat with an occasional bump (nothing more than a speed bump really), and its a great way to get the rhythm going. Scenery is also great, some mixed terrain through tree lined footpaths, edges of villages, farm roads etc. The sort of terrain my normal long runs include. Loved it, had good pace and was feeling comfortable. The temperature was building though and it was looking like we were in for a warm one. I had assumed this and was a waling advert for P20 suncream, so I wasn’t;t concerned. Though not having done much hot weather running so far this year (it’s the UK after all!!!) I thought this was a good chance to see how hydration needs would change and how I could manage the fluids.
Reaching the half way point and the hills wasn’t;t a surprise, though the scale of that first one was a little ‘WOW’. I do a lot of hills, but rarely anything like that. But all good training. Slow to a walk, food out, check all is OK and power hike.
Once at the top and I had stopped staring at how amazing the view was I powered on. The Downs offers some gentle rolling sections where running is fine. The downhills are as frequent as the ups (not surprising) and are runnable. Some are pretty steep so you can really pick up pace, but need to take it carefully. Iw as running in road shoes (Nike Pegasus 37) which were fine, but in damper conditions a grippier trail shoe might have been wise – simply due to the damp downhills as much as anything else (Inov8 Terraultra G270 would be perfect).
Quite quickly I bumped into a fellow runner who was somebody I enjoyed most of the second half of the event with. And for both of us running together really helped keep us moving forward at good pace, we encouraged and drove each other forward and I know it got me moving quicker on some of the inclines, and the declines.
Simon met his wife a little before checkpoint 4 and I headed on. I managed to catch up with him after the finish to thank him for the encouragement and company, having clearly benefitted from the time running together. The feeling was mutual and we both really helped each other get a fab finish time.
As with any event, not eventually ends. Some just sort of end with a small pop and fizz and that’s it. This event finishes inches from the beach, next to a beach cafe that happened to offer all the event participants a free ice cream – everyone’s a winner!!
So medal grabbed, a drink and snack if needed helped by the great volunteers at the finish line, and I stumbled bye to the cafe, grab an ice cream and hit the beach to rest and just reflect on the fact that 2021 might still be a COVID affected challenge for events, and things aren’t what they used to be, but 2021 has still got a lot to offer and if the Run To The Sea, Brighton is anything to go by, 2021 will still be an epic year!
The event was great, the course a challenge, the company brilliant and the organisers fabulous. This team know how to put on an event that runners of all abilities can enjoy.
I’m already thinking that I could maybe do the event again in 2022, need to think about my calendar for next year. If you are interested though there is a super early bird price until July 2021. Check out their page:RTTS Brighton 2022