South Coast Challenge 100km Ultra

31 August 2016 - By James Blackshaw

On Saturday the 27th of August I took part in the South Coast Challenge, which is a 100km endurance event that starts in Eastbourne, runs along the coast from east to west, through Brighton at the halfway point, and finishes in Arundel. The event is part of the Ultra Challenge series where the aim is to walk or run the 100km cross-country route. These events are extremely well organised and supported. The routes take in some amazing scenery and are well sign posted. The races are broken down into sections, with very well-stocked and well-manned feed stations at the section rest stops.
My training for this South Coast race had gone well. I had clocked up couple of marathon-distance runs including a 52km “dress rehearsal” run at an ultra challenge event six weeks before, which I completed in just over in six hours.
When I pre-entered the South Coast route into Strava to gauge how difficult the climbs would be, I worked out there would be over 2000m of ascent over the whole course, which is like climbing Ben Nevis one and half times (!). It looked tough, but doable. However, after some reflection, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the some of the hills that featured on that course, and even more so, the fact that I would be doing the vast majority of the hard work in 26 degree heat.

On race day we set off promptly at 7:00am and the first miles were very flat and fairly pleasant, tracking along the promenade in Eastbourne, before turning off for the first major climb of the day. With only a few miles of running in the legs the initial undulations of the landscape seemed almost enjoyable, and I reached the first rest stop at 11km feeling relatively sprightly. The next phase involved the Seven Sisters, and the most surprising element of this section was the fact that the descents were so steep and difficult to navigate that it made the climbs the ‘easy’ bit. Very little actual running was done over the Sisters, but I was maintaining a good average pace, and I rolled in to the second rest stop at 23km on-schedule.

Things started to go wrong for me during the third section when I was running in the heat of the midday sun. I was having major problems staying hydrated. It didn’t seem to matter how much fluid I was putting in, even with electrolytes, I was just sweating straight out. I was drinking around a litre of fluid an hour, but I didn’t urinate for 11 hours straight. This wasn’t good.

My parents and my wife, Helen, were seriously concerned about my health.The dehydration was affecting me both physically and mentally and after struggling to complete the fourth section we were all questioning if I could or should go on when I literally had nothing left. I was having serious doubts about doing 5 or 6 more hours of running alone, yet the thought of giving up seemed just as unappealing as carrying on. All the training, preparation, and being over half way through already, meant I couldn’t stand the thought of a DNF.

It was then that Helen had an idea. She offered to run the next section with me to help me try to combat the dehydration and stay focused. Luckily she had a pair of trainers in the car, and I had spare running shorts, and so that became the new plan. 12km and two hours later we had completed the next section and I rolled into the next rest stop, still tired, but feeling buoyed, having knocked off another huge chunk of the 100km.

However, I was still struggling at the thought of another 20km to go, especially as the next section would be run in the dark with my head torch. Once again, my wife stepped up, and offered to support me for the next section. Bearing in mind, this was someone who currently doesn’t run, and had only ever run 8km non-stop once before, and now she was offering to do her second 12km run within a couple of hours.

Combatting the steep climbs in the dark and the fog was tough, but it was during this section that I started to feel more like myself and my energy levels returned. We arrived at the last rest stop to be met by friends and family ready and waiting to see me finish. With only 9km to go until the end, I was sure I could now complete and I asked Helen to join me on the final section. Having done so much of the second half together, it only seemed right that we should now finish it together. There is no doubt that if Helen not joined me in those final sections I would have not completed the race. We calculated that in total she did 44km, and it’s fair to say that doing a marathon distance run when you only expected to sit around drinking tea all day is some feat.

So together we ran across the finish line at 12:17am, completing the event in just over 17 hours. Despite my report sounding a bit negative, it was an amazing challenge, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for something to push themselves to the limit. I ended up taking around 4 hours longer than I had planned/hoped, but my finish position was 73rd from nearly 600 people who actually managed to complete the whole 100km (1 in 4 DNF’d due to the heat and the climbs). And despite my initial thoughts of ‘never again’, I’m already looking into future events of a similar distance, although I would definitely choose a flatter course next time! Even Helen (also a WRC member) is showing some vague interest in running a 52km event, so she must enjoyed some of it, but I think forming a husband and wife ultra running team may be some way off yet.


  1. Martina Byrne says:

    James this is an incredibly inspiring read so thank you for sharing. You are clearly a WRC running lunatic but made a great wife choice. Congrats! On Helen not the Ultra. Kidding. This was an awesome achievement.

  2. Heydon mizon Heydon Mizon says:

    Wow! That’s pretty heroic stuff! Well done you and your amazing wife

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