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Home - Running - Ultra Races - Endurance Life CTS Sussex or I CAN Cross the Road by Myself
Endurance Life CTS Sussex

Endurance Life CTS Sussex or I CAN Cross the Road by Myself

This was my first experience of an Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series event. The Endurance Life CTS Sussex consisted of a 10k race, a half marathon, a marathon and an ultra. Richard and I obviously decided to kill ourselves and run the ultra. Around 6000ft of climbing through the Seven Sisters Country Park from Birling Gap, to the Cuckmere Valley, through Friston Forest, back to Beachy Head, to the edge of Eastbourne and back out over the Seven Sisters again. It was going to be one heck of a run.

Birling Gap, Sussex

We arrived at Birling Gap in good time on a rather cloudy, cold, dank day. Unfortunately parking was a good way from race HQ. If I had had my National Trust membership card we would have been able to use the car parks closer to HQ free of charge. As it was we had a bit of a walk to get to race registration. Having not raced the Endurance Life CTS Sussex event before Richard and I were struck by a few things. It immediately felt very corporate.

On arrival at race registration we were herded through a gangway, conveyor belt-like to various staff who did various things to us. So one looked up my name on a list and wrote my race number on my hand. The next person read the race number on my hand and gave me an envelope. The next person checked my number and attached a timing chip to my wrist. The next lady handed me a free Cliff Bar and the final staff member in the line gave me a t-shirt. Bear in mind you can’t escape any of this because you’re in a pen being syphoned through! All very organised but somewhat impersonal.

“Please Don’t Smile”

The race briefing was also a little odd. It was delivered by a chap who honestly sounded like he was nervously delivering a conference speech. He read from a list of preprepared notes, was upbeat in an Apple employee kind of way and pointed to way signs like a flight attendant. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get the idea. We were then informed that the race would be filmed by a drone and, to fit in with their marketing of the event as ‘tough’, could we please not smile at the camera but rather, could we grimace and look tired!! Really?

Race start was a short walk from HQ and we got there just a few seconds before the hooter sent everyone on their way. The ultra started at 8:30am with the other races following on at half hour intervals. I know this area very well as I lived in Eastbourne for over 20 years. The route also follows much of the Beachy Head Marathon route, although in the opposite direction. We started by running past the Birling Gap visitor centre and up over the undulating Seven Sisters to the Cuckmere Valley.

Stunning Scenery

The route then took us inland through West Dean, Littlington and Alfriston. The first aid station was at Littlington, some 6 miles in to the run. This is where the organisation of the Endurance Life CTS Sussex seemed a little lacking. No cups, at all, for water. The table had a few crisps and jelly babies and a water dispenser, but no cups. Odd. I had my race vest on with the hydration bladder filled with a mixture of Tailwind and Coke! So I was ok for the moment and I carried on.

Next came some of the most stunning scenery and the steepest ascent. It was such a shame that the weather was urrrgh, because in the sunshine, this would have looked even more amazing. We ran right past the Long Man of Wilmington. Why doesn’t the Beachy Head Marathon do this????! The Long Man to the right and panoramic countryside views to the left. The route then took us up, up and up in a shortish, but very steep climb to the highest point in the race; 217m above sea level in the Lullington Heath National Nature Reserve.

No Cups for Water

I had decided that I would try again, as I have done in the last two marathons, to run up all the hills. However, this particular hill, at only 15 km in to the race, was simply too steep. I was also mindful of the fact that there was plenty more elevation to come! So I walked. From the top though, it was a good run through Friston Forest to checkpoint 2 at 21 kilometres. I had my timing chip logged but again, no cups for water. This time I put my hand under the tap and drank that way, as you will see on the video.

We then arrived at a busy junction of the A259 just outside the village of East Dean. I was somewhat surprised that there were no marshals on duty here at all. It was the busiest road crossing in the race and there were marshals at some of the other road crossings but not this one. Still there we are. I’ll go in to this in more details towards the end. The run route returns to Birling Gap and heads up past Beachy Head and follows the coastal path all the way to Eastbourne, with a very steep descent down from Beachy Head. Again, amazing scenery.

42+10=52

Checkpoint 3 was at the foot Downs almost exactly where the Beachy Head Marathon starts and finishes. This time there were some plastic cups, although no one had thought to fill any up in preparation. I filled a cup myself, threw some water over my face and headed back up the hill and travelled the 10k or so back to the finish line. This is where the marathon runners could breathe a sigh of relief and stop their Garmins. For me and the other ultra runners it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to have to run a few yards from the finish and then back out again!

Having done one lap of the marathon route we were now to run one lap of the 10k route. In my head this meant that the full distance should be 52 kilometres. 42+10=52. I was sadly mistaken! I crossed the marathon distance at the finish line in 4 hours 27 minutes and, at this point, I was very hopeful of getting in at around 5 hours 40 minutes. However, I was becoming particularly fatigued and there was plenty more climbing to do back over the Seven Sisters and then back up to Belle Tout lighthouse and Beachy Head via East Dean and Checkpoint 4. I got to the final checkpoint, checkpoint 5, after the final climb at 5 hours 49 minutes and by now I had completed 52 kilometres.

Endurance Life CTS Sussex

Where the extra kilometres came from I don’t know. Was the 10k race actually 12k? I knew I was going to miss getting in under 6 hours which was a bit of a shame, but I was so tired and of course, stopping to film, does take up a chunk of time. I finally crossed the finish line in 6 hours and 4 minutes in 33rd position and as 2nd Male Vet 45 (for which I got a £5 voucher to spend in the Endurance Life on line shop!). I had covered 54.8kms. Richard, who I didn’t see again after the first mile, finished 10th in 5 hours 27 minutes, which is really good going on that course.

Returning to this rather odd corporate feel that we noticed at the Endurance Life CTS Sussex, this continued at the finish line. I was greeted with some definite Apple employee style whooping as I crossed the line and then funnelled through the finish chute. I had my timing chip logged, then someone else removed the timing chip which was handed to someone else who diligently printed out my finish slip. I moved through the gangway and was handed my medal and then offered another Clif Bar. Again, very ‘organised’ but…well it just felt weird, ok?!!

Corporate Team Building Day

So, here’s what’s odd about the Endurance Life CTS Sussex. In some ways it feels like you’re on a team building day out with your office. It’s very well organised in many respects, but it feels very impersonal and definitely corporate. Chatting to various runners and over-hearing people, it sounded like there were a lot of foreign competitors. I heard German and I spoke to a French group and an Italian couple and heard numerous US accents on the course. So they are marketing through tour operators and I’m guessing they are attracting a lot of new runners too, which is great. But I didn’t see anyone I know from any other races and I only spotted one 100 Club vest.

The route was adequately signposted, but the aid stations were sparse and poorly managed and the busy roads were poorly marshalled. I’m not criticising any individual marshals, but it was odd to leave that A259 crossing completely unmanned. Also, the medal is pretty basic. It’s a standard ‘Endurance Life CTS’ round medal with the word ‘Sussex’ added on. I’ll bet that every other Coastal Trail Series medal is the same but with ‘Exmoor’ or ‘Dorset’ or whatever area, in place of ‘Sussex’. It doesn’t distinguish that I ran the Ultra either. Is the 10k medal exactly the same as mine?

So Don’t Charge £60

NOW, I am well aware that we can get pampered at events these days, what with aid stations that look like fully functioning cafes and hand-holding signage the entire way round the course and ridiculous sized bespoke medals. I am also not afraid of races that are self-supporting. I CAN cross a road by myself, I am able to manage my own race nutrition and I can load the course map on to my watch. BUT, if you are not going to offer anything over the basics of water and jelly babies at an aid station AND you’re going to make me fill the cup myself; if you want me to cross busy roads by myself and if you are going to hand me the same medal as a 10k runner, don’t then charge £60 to enter. Fine, if the entry fee was £20-25 then I’ll run 54km self-supported and be happy with a cup of tea at the end. Currently, if you want to enter the Dorset CTS Ultra+, it’ll cost you £70.

Am I being harsh? Are there expenses I hadn’t considered? Are the landowners charging huge sums? Were the marshals paid staff rather than volunteers?…..and if they were, why didn’t they earn their money and fill cups of water in advance of my arrival at the aid station?!!! I might have made it in under 6 hours then!

Aaah well, look, I’m not annoyed about this at all. I’m just making a point. I love running and I loved running the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Ultra. The scenery was fantastic, the course was a real challenge, in a good way and I’m glad I did it. Would I do it again? I’m not sure. I would be interested to see what the Devon and Dorset events are like but I’m not sure I can justify the price. If you have enjoyed reading this Endurance Life CTS Sussex race report and watching the video, do be sure to share it, comment and give it a ‘like’. With that…thanks for reading!

Footnote: I feel a bit bad about this review because I just had a really lovely email from one of the organisers saying how much they enjoyed watching my film of the race.

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5 comments

  1. I’ve run a few of the Endurancelife races over the last 3 years. Yes they are expensive, but I feel that the reason behind this is the locations for the runs: Pretty much all are exclusive runs on National Trust land. They do offer a 20% discount if you are booking 4+ events at a time. Distances for the CTS courses seem to be ‘notional’, always the length stated as a minimum, for example the marathons (my races of choice) sometimes go on for 28 miles, as it all depends on the terrain allowing the course to get back to the start/finish point, the trade-off being you get a ‘little more’ for your money and I suppose if you are looking for an ‘exact’ of the distance then you would be doing it on tarmac in a town-centre as you chase a time goal, something that these courses do not allow you to do as pb’s aren’t achievable with all those lovely hills & mud!

    They have always stated that you are to be self-sufficient and there will not be cups at aid stations (except on the one for the 10k course)… From what I gather, they used to have them all the time but began to have issues with people just throwing the cups on the path at random points rather than putting them in the provided bins at the aid stations and as such I believe there were complaints from the National Trust about the litter this caused, plus there was the ball-ache of collecting the littered cups especially when in windy conditions. Consequently because some people could not be trusted everyone was affected 🙁 The 10k is the only race where you are not expected to take your own drink, so cups are still provided on the aid station for these races… They should still have filled them though!

    The self-sufficiency notion I believe is a good one – as it teaches everyone to carry what they like to eat and need rather than there being complaints of “you did not have gluten-free vegan quinoa porridge with soya milk at the aid stations, this is all I ever eat on a run so I nearly died of starvation on the course”, plus there is always wastage and people unprepared for the day over-relying on the aid stations rather than learning to fend for themselves – do we race for the challenge of the course or do we use these events as a competitive eating contest? I certainly agree that there should be more than just jelly babies – it would not be prohibitive on costs to have some crates of bananas and Lidl’s own mars bars cut in to slices, plenty of biscuits (as what is not needed can move to the next event) and slices of Battenburg or something of that ilk for a broader selection. Other races by different organisers I have undertaken have had things like gels – but again they tend to be not to everyone’s taste… There’s also the issue of the wastage in the form of money and the food – As an example, at the Peak Skyrunner, there was so much uneaten cake etc. everyone in the race could have taken a whole one back with them afterwards and still there would have been plenty left, but there was no physical wastage as they donate all excess food to the homeless shelters nearby, although it would have cost the organisers a considerable amount more than they needed to in buying it all in.

    The registration process is certainly slick. Yes you are funnelled through like a theme-park, but it means that people are ‘processed’ rapidly in an efficient use of space… I’ve been to plenty of races elsewhere where its been a couple of desks at the back of a hall where everyone is crowding and queuing and not sure where they should be or where to stand and confusion reigns. This method means there is one point and everyone passes through at a decent speed. It can feel a bit impersonal and for some overwhelming with the conveyor-belt nature, but it does work well in getting everyone sorted in a compact space in quick time. The organisers have been doing these events since before the boom in trail-running so are one of the most experienced outfits out there so I guess they found their solution that works for them and have stuck with it.

    The guy giving the race briefing at Sussex has just taken-on the duty and is learning as he goes – normally it has been the race director who has given the briefings, but with the events increasing in size, I think he is letting a deputy learn to do them and as such he has briefed the last few races. I think he is still to find his confidence as a public speaker and he uses a crib-sheet so as not to miss any important points which is the most important thing so it does sound a bit stilted at times.

    When I crossed the road in question there were marshals at that time and in previous runnings there it has always been manned as like you say it is the busiest stretch of road on the course. The marshals as a whole, the same with all races can be hit & miss, as some are more actively responsible in their roles, experienced in judging what condition runners really are in and some people are better with people than others!

    There certainly seem to be people who run in groups on the courses, either from overseas or just chums from Britain – all attracted by the challenging courses, but if the organisation seems ‘corporate’, once the horn goes and we start running, everyone seems to be very friendly and willing to talk and share the burden of the loneliness of the long distance runner, I’ve had plenty of chats with interesting folks I’ve bumped in to on the courses, but once the race is over then everyone just wants to disappear and recover. There are a few events where there are pubs at the finish and they are heaving afterwards, as is the Tiger at the Sussex race, but you have to drive a couple of miles back inland to get there!

    So yes, the aid stations are pants compared to some other organiser’s out there, the races aren’t cheap but to be fair I find the set-up to be efficient and it certainly has not put me off them, if anything there are plenty of race directors out there who could do with shadowing them to see how an event can be run.

    Just my tuppence-worth on the whole CTS thing!.. Keep up with the vids they’re great to watch, Oh and I like the use of Eugina for the soundtrack, a personal fave piece of music!

    • Hi Shoey, great response, thanks. It was my first CTS event and I hadn’t seen/read anywhere about it being self supported as such so I guess that was a bit of a surprise. I think they need to make that a bit more clear. I did enjoy it very much and I am now doing the CTS event in Dorset in December! I will be better prepared practically and mentally for the 45 miles over the Jurassic Coast! You make some great points all of which I totally get and perhaps I was a bit harsh about the race briefing!! And the music….I love Cafe del Mar. I should definitely use more stuff from those albums. Thanks again for a great comment.

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