The Brighton Marathon was the first race I entered for 2016 and at the time I wasn’t sure if I’d do it just for fun, or if I’d attempt a PB there. I hadn’t even run the London Marathon at this point. Though months later I entered the ballot again for the London Marathon having enjoyed that one so much. I then started to question whether two marathons in two weekends for 2016 would be a stupid idea, but I eventually decided it’d be a good challenge.
More months passed and I found I hadn’t been successful with the ballot, and decided to replace it with the Greater Manchester Marathon which became my PB-chasing race for the year. Around this time I also entered The Canalathon 2016 for the 50K distance – this meant I’d be running an ultra marathon and two marathons in the space of 4 weekends. With this then planned I decided Brighton wouldn’t be about times, it’d be just about having fun… and trying my best to still get around the course with tired legs.
So with the first two parts of the challenge behind me “all” I needed to do was to focus on active recovery after Manchester and to not worry about Brighton. Seemed easy enough – get there, run around, don’t bother checking pace, and enjoy the inevitable #ukrunchat meet-ups. Simples.
Driving to Brighton from Leicester takes a long time so I decided for the second weekend running to take the train. Brighton does things similar to London though and hands out the race numbers at an expo on the days leading up to the event – meaning you have to be there at least the day before the race. The difference to London though is that you don’t tell them which starting pen you want to be in until you’re at the Expo so you have no idea what your race number will be beforehand. Due to this I had to take a reasonably early train in so I wouldn’t arrive at the expo too late.
This did not go entirely according to plan though – when I got to London Victoria for the start of the last leg of my journey I found my train had been cancelled due to a fatality near East Croyden meaning a lot of trains weren’t going through. With a bit of figuring things out I realised I could get around it by taking a couple of different trains. I did however arrive in Brighton about 40 minutes later than I’d planned, and was welcomed by the pouring rain.
The rain though, I think may have been an advantage – it had kept people away from the Brighton Centre which meant I’d been able to go straight in and collect my race number. When asked what starting corral I wanted I was a little tempted to see if I could push again this weekend to get close to last weekend’s PB but decided I should “behave” and stick with the 3:30 – 3:40 I’d planned. I would still have been happy with any time but this was a rough guideline of where I thought I’d be.
I then spent the next 3o minutes wandering around the expo and caught the end of one of the talks. I didn’t think it was as good as the London expo, but I guess that’s because it was considerably smaller. One useful bit of information from this though was how to handle the paper cups – if you pinch the top of the cup as you take it then you can avoid splashing it everywhere and drink form it easier. I then headed over to the corner of the room to meet-up with quite a few from the #ukrunchat community.
After a quick group photo we dispersed and went out own ways. I started by taking another quick look around at the bits I hadn’t yet seen, and was actually quite tempted by a flipbelt. Instead though I left and headed down to the beach to take some photographs. I was amazed though that as I left the queue had grown to go out the building along it’s front, passed the cinema, and around the corner and the next corner! To think only an hour before I hadn’t needed to queue just shows what a difference it makes once the rain stops.
It wasn’t quite time to check into my hotel so had one more #ukrunchat meet-up at a beach cafe before heading to where I’d be staying the night. It was time off my feet and a chance to have another cup of tea – something I later found I wouldn’t be able to have at the hotel due to lack of tea bags. The hotel wasn’t an amazing place, but it didn’t have to be. I had two hours to waste, so I wandered around with my phone taking photographs (I wish I’d had one of my DSLRs with me!). I must have covered about 4-5 miles in this time, starting off with the waterfront and the pier before wandering into town.
As I picked up a few bits for breakfast whilst out I then had to make a diversion back to the hotel to drop them off, and took the opportunity to get my race number attached to my tee ready. This left me just enough time to wander over to the Brighton Royal Observatory for a few more photos before reaching the Bella Italia we’d all be meeting up at for the last #ukrunchat meet-up of the day.
Although my usual carb-loading fuel would be Spaghetti Bolognese I’ve occasionally deviated from this – one training 26.2 mile run was done fuelled by a roast dinner for example, so I decided having a lasagna wouldn’t be too bad an idea. The evening was fun and it was good to catch-up with those I’d met before, and get to know those that I hadn’t previously. We were all going to go for some small desserts however it turned out they were out of the majority of flavours so most of us decided not to bother.
By the time I got back to my hotel (with some diversions for more photographs) it was just before 22:00 so made sure I was completely ready for the race and finally got some sleep.
I woke up at 03:00 and never really went back to sleep. Slightly earlier than planned I had breakfast at 06:00 and took my time getting ready – thinking the pre-race prep for Manchester worked well so would try the same here. It seemed relatively warm but decided I’d wear a compression layer underneath my tee just in case I’d misjudged it.
At 08:00 I set off in the direction of Preston Park, having left my backpack at the hotel. My only option was to leave my backpack behind, as to many people’s dismay the kit bags provided were too small to fit my backpack into. There were two stories going about here – one that it was a mix-up when ordering, and then later another message saying it was done in the interest of safety and security. Not entirely sure how that helps to be honest.
It was only a 30 minute walk so was effectively like doing a warmup. I couldn’t leave out any earlier either though as no staff were about before 08:00. The closer I got to the park the busier it got and the slower my progress was. Eventually though I got there and noticed they only had a handful of portaloos for the thousands of people in the park so immediately joined a queue with 45 minutes until the start time.
Whilst in the queue, two ladies behind me, both with bibs indicating an expected time of 5+ hours were belittling another runner who was larger than them and how unrealistic they thought it was about him running, and that he was in the corral ahead of them. It’s completely the wrong behaviour in my opinion – they either run because they enjoy it, or because they want to lose weight, or both. And who’s to say he wasn’t going to finish ahead of them! They didn’t know him, so they shouldn’t have judged him.
Time passed and I’d barely moved in the queue and the red corral started. When the blue corral started I thought maybe I’d stick around and wait as I wasn’t that far from the front, and could start with the next corral instead. However the next corral started just before I got to the front of the queue so ran after them and joined the back of the group. The path to the start line was incredibly muddy from when the mini marathon had been run on it in the rain the day before. Either they’d not thought about it, or hadn’t had time – but they should really have put some boards down.
Before crossing the line I actually decided to join a queue to “high five” Zoë Ball, a presenter from BBC Radio 1. The mud was then left behind though tried to clear it from my shoe a little as I ran. The first few miles were hard work – everyone around me was running at around a 9-10 minute/mile pace, but even though I was taking it easy I did really want to be running a 8min/mile pace so found myself weaving around a lot, and slowing, and speeding up. In trying to overtake I even tripped on a traffic cone and at that point decided what I was doing was silly and I’ll just hold back and overtake as and when I can. Other (male) runners who had not been able to get through the queues earlier were also dashing to the side of the park to “relieve” themselves.
The first water station passed, and then at the second I thought I was getting quite warm so grabbed a cup and tried the “pinching” method as I grabbed it. Sure enough it worked! As I passed the third water station though I did slip on cup, but regained by balance pretty quickly and carried on going. Up to this point the route had included a couple of hills, one of which was fairly steep, and had been winding around gradually getting closer to the sea front – it had even passed the top end of the road the hotel I’d stayed in was on! My legs were feeling good and was confident I could hold this pace, despite the hills, for a long time yet so continued on, not looking at my watch but trying to take everything in instead.
Not worrying about time made this a very different race for me and I actually took notice of the masses of people that were out in force to support the runners and the various bits of music being played as we went. I paid more attention to the other runners too – in part because there were more of them about than I was used to, and noticed so many different charities being represented, and a lot of costumes too. My overtaking at this point had become fairly consistent as I was running out of “yellows” to overtake – by mile 6 I was amongst the blues I’d intended on being amongst to start with.
Once the route reached the seafront it turned East and headed out into the countryside, with a long steady incline before heading back down amongst the hills. I started to look out for other runners that I might recognise but to start with couldn’t see any – though the crowds had thinned out enough now for me to mostly be settled into a rhythm. Somewhere around mile 8 I was ready for more water as the station approached – though due to the block of people that had been through a moment before there were only two cups of water ready – unfortunately the runner at the side of me grabbed both so I realised I’d have to wait until the next. Unfortunate, but nothing I could do about it.
Just before mile 9 the course then turned back on itself to go back towards Brighton. Around this point I spotted @AdamPrav but didn’t get to say “hi”. Again there were parts of miles 9, 10 and 11 where forward movement was slowed, but I didn’t worry about it – I just stepped around when it was safe and sensible to do so. By mile 11 I realised I’d not looked at my watch since before the first mile marker and then realised I should have looked at mile 8 to see which side of the 1 hour time I was. I looked and found my pace was around the 07:30 – 07:45 point so was going faster than intended, but had no idea how long I’d been doing that for.
Sometime around mile 12 I saw @amy_everett in the opposite direction heading out of Brighton. It was great to see her as this would be her first marathon and had been working so hard. It was good to see her to know she was doing okay.
Finally the half way point was reached and around mile 14 headed away from the seafront. At mile 15 I checked my watch for the third time and realised that at around 1hr50 I was going to hit 16 miles ahead of 2 hours so was on target for a better time than I’d intended. I didn’t give it much thought really, but found myself needing to stop at mile 16.5 (approximately) to finally use one of the portaloos I’d not been able to get to before the race.
Starting back after this stop was a real struggle and just before the mile 18 marker I stopped, just to be grabbed on the should by another runner pulling me into motion again and saying:
you’ve been pulling me around for the last 5 miles, I’m not going to let you stop now!
I thought that was an incredibly kind thing to do, so spoke to Martin (I think that was his name) for the next few miles. This part of the route was boring as it went into an industrial estate that led towards the power station. I kept going though as he’d asked me to help pace him to 3hr30 – a time which would have put me sub-3hr20 though, but found I needed the portaloo again just after mile 20 so told him to keep on going.
I think this second stop ruined the remainder of the race for me. It was a longer stop, to make sure I wouldn’t need to stop again, but then found myself struggling to keep on running. Over the course of the next 5 miles (just as with Manchester!) I’d spend more and more time walking. It was getting incredibly warm by this point though and I’d stopped using jelly babies for fuel some miles back. I was now taking on water at not quite each water station, but certainly quite a few of them – it was also an excuse to walk, even though I knew I could now run okay with a cup in hand. I just didn’t feel like it.
After mile 22 I needed to cool down more so took off my compression layer and tied it to my media belt that held my phone. It was obvious how the heat was affecting other runners – I was coming across more and more flat out on the side of the road, some being attended to by paramedics – some being rehydrated, and some stretching out calf pains.
Each mile was heading back to the Brighton Pier and the finish line now, but I really didn’t feel like running even though spectators were yelling at me to. Even as I got close to mile 26 I was still walking, but then started running again to sprint the last bit towards the finish.
Once across the line I was handed a medal, a foil blanket over my shoulders, and then a bottle of water, finisher’s tee, protein bar, graze box, and a packet of Jacobs salt & vinegar crisps. The protein bar wasn’t too nice, but the crisps were just what I needed and tasted great! I then quickly got my photo taken with my medal and headed out of the finishers area.
I had finished with a time of 03:35:02 with an overall position of 1959 out of 10948 (first 18%). Taking it easy had made a reasonable difference in terms of position, but time-wise I don’t think it was too bad – and was exactly (well okay, almost) half-way between the two times I’d predicted. In my age category, Mens 18-34, I ranked 663 out of 3658 so was in the first 18% for that too. Due to me starting in the wrong wave it meant I’d ended up with a 23 minute difference between gun time and chip time – something unheard of in my other races!
I’d had fun though, and it’d been a good weekend, and also quite different to what I was used to. The support in Twitter was incredibly though – so a massive thank you to #ukrunchat for making it a good one. The crazy period of racing was now over and I could look forward to a week off racing before doing a 5K and a 10K race over the next four weeks.