Right so I promised you some non-automotive posts and here is the first…a slightly cryptic one at first glance but all will make sense in due course.
I should really start by saying that yesterday (May 16th) was my 25th birthday, and now officially being a quarter century old/in my mid-20’s I need to start making some memories in life and steps towards a future as opposed to merely drifting aimlessly around like a pensioner on an empty motorway. Arguably this train of thought began last year when I applied (and immediately got a space) for the 2015 Brighton marathon; initially I tried to document my progress in training and speak a little about what I was doing to increase my fitness but my last real update on my running was well over 2 months ago now and I thought it appropriate to fill you all in on how it went.
So by now you may have realised that 3:52.21 was how long it took me to complete the 26.2 mile marathon course, a time I am reasonably pleased with and comfortably under the 4 hour barrier that I was targeting in the lead up to my run. For a little more background on my training I’d advise looking at that last update, but on the whole I’d say I felt a little under prepared on the actual day despite my time.
Speaking to people who had previously done marathons, I found that they tended to be training a fair bit more than I had done; I was not one for running 4-5 days a week and although I did ‘peak’ at the correct time (with a 20 mile run a month before the race), two painful ankles and various aches had me worried to the extent I thought it better to rest as much as I could rather than forcing myself to run through the pain/disguising it with medication. Still it’s not like I didn’t run at all in that last month, and although I don’t think it did my ankle much good I found myself going back to enjoying my runs as opposed to it being a struggle to aim for ever increasing distances.
My race was on Sunday 12th April but I had to go down to collect my race pack and number in the preceding 2 days. To beat the crowds we decided to go down on the Friday morning and thankfully missed much of the traffic on our M25/M23 route – but when we got to the outskirts of Brighton, the combination of the marathon, nice weather and various roadworks meant that traffic was at a near gridlock and it took us nearly an hour to get from the A23/A27 interchange at Patcham down to the car park…to put that into perspective it took around 1hr 20mins to get to travel the first 90 miles, and 50 minutes to travel the last 4!
Once parked up and I had ran to the nearest set of toilets (believe me I needed it!), we set about going to the Brighton Centre where the Marathon organisers hand out the packs and various sponsors/companies try to convince you to buy their wares at the last minute before race day. In all honesty it took little shy of 10 minutes to collect my number, kit bag and free goodies and although I did need to sort out a problem with the prepaid park and ride (a pain if I am honest as after being redirected to several people I had to make a phone call and was simply told I didn’t have to do anything!), unless you really want a mooch around overpriced running gear and supplements you are better off taking in some of the sights of Brighton whilst you are there.
Runners who turn up on the Saturday are probably going to find the Marathon Exhibition a lot busier than I did, but if you can swing going down there the day before I’d really recommend it – although maybe by train would be a more sensible idea unless you are willing to try and wiggle through a few of Brighton’s side streets to beat the traffic. Although I know the city by the sea quite well, we instead took the opportunity to catch up with some family who still live in the nearby area before heading back to London.
I took the decision to travel down on the race day itself and moreover drive myself and family (and neighbour) down. As an early riser for work it was no trouble to get up and the drive kept my mind occupied, but I can totally understand anyone who would rather stay the night before and make the most of a Travelodge – although bear in mind that prices will be extortionate! That said, it was again a pain to get around that A23/A27 junction and get to the Park and Ride, where we ended up waiting around 45 minutes for a bus…not fantastic at 8am on an April morning whilst dressed in running gear (and yet again I needed a wee badly!). Still the journey to the starting grid at Preston Park was relatively quick, and as long as you don’t need to wait in the 50 person long queue for the portaloos then you will be just fine!
Around 30 minutes before the race start you are advised to make your way to your starting areas, which are divided according to colour; I’d definitely advise getting there early and relatively near the front as otherwise you will get caught in the back and get stuck behind the masses and anyone a little slower. Thankfully I was not too far back and after much waiting I started the race in the second group of runners (the professionals though start at a separate point further up the road and do not loop Preston Park). The Park bit especially allows spectators to get in the way a lot, so it can be a little overwhelming, but as long as you are not too far back in the scrum you should be able to manouvere around other runners like I did, although of course don’t push things this early on!
The course itself is relatively straight forward and thankfully there are plenty of drinks stations along the way, as well as some portaloos for those who needed to stop on the way…if this is the case then I’d advise waiting until you see one without a queue outside as otherwise you may end up wasting a lot of time. The route takes you down into central Brighton and past the iconic Pavilion and impressive St Peter’s church, not that you’ll have much time to pay attention to landmarks! You then travel up around the back before heading to Kemptown and out to Rottingdean; by this time the weather was starting to warm up and the route is uphill for quite a way, plus seeing the fastest runners passing you in the opposite direction can feel a little demotivating for some, but for me I was still feeling quite good and was well into the next group of runners (who wear a different colour race number).
Coming back to the city along the coastal road, you pass the pier for the first time and pass under a massive set of stairs for pedestrians which marks the half way point – in some ways it’s a bit of a relief but then you realise you have to run the same distance over again! The route here is pretty packed with spectators and everyone loves to shout out your name, and little kids love to get high fives from the runners which can give you a real boost too – some runners started off by wearing headphones but to be honest it is nicer to hear the crowd supports and not stress over listening to a crappy song. I did however keep my phone on my arm in order to look at my pace afterward, but more usefully it helped me find those who had come to watch me after the race had finished (and meant I didn’t have to entrust it to a kit bag!).
As the run headed into Hove my supporters caught a good glimpse of me, and because the route is quite closely compacted they were able to see me 4 times in total, a number which would have been higher if the tracker which was inside my running number were a little more accurate – you can follow runners on an app but it is better for a general idea of things rather than a pinpoint locator. I found the Hove part of the run a little bit of a struggle as you have runners on the other side passing you and the knowledge that there is a massive chunk to do before you are in that position can be a little disheartening/overwhelming…however as the streets turn more residential you will find that plenty of people are out of the streets with sweets and things to keep the runners going, including renewed cries of support!
Just before mile 20 you head out to an area called Portslade and along a narrow strip of land in Shoreham Port – I heard the announcer on the tannoy say that this part of the race was nicknamed ‘the road to hell’, and for me I really found it a struggle to push past the increasing pain barrier and into the home stretch of the race. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the furthest I had run in my training was 20 miles, and so I was entering the great unknown. Also I had heard stories of people losing toenails and having bleeding nipples at this stage in the race, and so of course I convinced myself that the pain I felt in my shoe was a toenail which had detached itself from my being…something which turned out to be untrue, although I did have sore nipples despite taking advantage of the vaseline St John’s Ambulance were offering out along the route.
I saw plenty of people stop along this narrow stretch of road, which is 1.5 miles out and back, and although I didn’t collapse like some runners I saw, I did end up walking for a fair chunk of the way out before finding renewed strength at the other end and powering through it – up until then I had ran for the whole time and was properly exhausted despite taking an energy gel not long beforehand! By the time I reached mile 23 I was ready to finish the race, but larger crowds running up to the finish line and the fact that you are not far away at all means that it feels a little easier to hop over that ‘wall’ and try to push yourself to achieve a better time. Admittedly I did not sprint like some people I saw finishing but I ran as fast as my tired legs would carry me to the finish line.
Post race I immediately picked up a bottle of water and proceeded to demolish that whilst collecting bits like a t-shirt, protein shake and a banana…then I took off my shoes and poured the rest of the water over them! It was then a bit of a mission to meet the people who had come to visit me, but after a little while I merely felt tired and could really have driven home – I was certainly well enough to walk around Asda in search of much needed food! The next day I was very achey in the legs but I could walk with not too much effort, and the following day I was back to work!
As I said originally I am reasonably pleased with my time of under 4 hours, but I can’t help feeling that if I had not faltered along that last stretch of road then I could be looking at a time a good 10 minutes less…but as a first marathon it is not half bad and is something to improve on.
If anyone is serious about committing to a marathon then I would wholeheartedly recommend the Brighton Marathon as a serious option – it is well organised and located close enough to London to be convenient for getting to/from, plus the route itself is interesting and for spectators there is ample opportunity to see runners several times (versus usually just the once in London)…perhaps more importantly though entry is pretty much guaranteed if you enter early enough, whereas with the London one you have to enter a ballot and spend the next 6 months or so waiting to hear back!
I would definitely run the Brighton Marathon again and although I am not applying for the 2016 one, I will certainly complete it in 2017 if I have not been successful in this year’s ballot for the 2016 London Marathon. Hopefully some of you reading this will be looking at running the Brighton Marathon next year and my advice, although a little muddled, may have helped a little in playing down some pre race nerves or pushing you to apply for it and raise some money for a worthy cause. In total I will have raised around £1750 for Pancreatic Cancer UK, which makes all the cold mornings and blisters worth it! 🙂