Right lets get the excuses out of the way to start with shall we, this was probably my worst run up to a race ever. I had problems with a knee injury, which meant I had to cut back on training runs; contracted campylobacter from some badly cooked duck, which wiped me out for 10 days; and suffered from a lack of confidence in my chosen training plan (more on that another time). However despite all this I arrived at the start line still fairly confident for the Brighton marathon. I’d run pretty well at the Surrey Half in March, and my last two long training runs had gone well.
We’d decided to drive down and park at Haywards Heath station, then take the 15 min train journey into Brighton. I’d tried this out on the Friday, when going down to pick up my number from the expo (why they can’t be sent out is beyond me) and it had seemed pretty straightforward. A nice early start, leaving the house at 6.30am, and we were in Brighton by 8.00am. As my support crew headed off to the nearest Costa to keep warm, I made the walk up to the start point in Preston Park. It was a crisp morning, but with little or no wind, and the blue skies suggested temperatures would start to warm up as the race kicked in. I’d paid for my entry on my Amex card, which (unknown to me at the time) allowed me access to the pre-race hospitality tent, with somewhere warm to sit, drinks, snacks and most importantly their own toilets! Just after 9.00am I duly lined up in the red start area, all set for the 9.15am start.
My plan before the race had been to run with a 3:15 pace group, however it took me a while to locate them (no big flags, just times on the bibs made them difficult to spot), they then positioned themselves on the start line and set off at a pace which I wasn’t going to catch, so I would have to go it alone. Despite being fairly hilly in and around Brighton, the course itself is pretty flat, with most of the undulations coming within the first 10k, and even those are nothing that really troubles you. Fuelled on by the impressive crowds I started strongly, heading through the first 5k in 22:38, just within the target pace. Seeing Ruth, the kids and my sister twice within the first 10k, spured me on, and I felt comfortable as the course turned and headed away from the town towards the Marina, clocking through 10k at 45:42.
Another slight incline up and over before looping back towards town, running along the front, the weather gods had really smiled today. I’d taken my first gel at 5 miles, and reached for the second just after the 10 mile mark (the first of my planned 2 caffeine gels). Just before the halfway mark, I caught another glimpse of my support crew (who were doing a sterling job), as a ran past. Checking the pacing bands I was still 30 secs or so within the 3:15 target, however I knew things were not going as well.
The last gel hadn’t sat well in my stomach, I felt nauseous, and my movement wasn’t as smooth as it had been. Sticking to the plan, I forced down another gel at the 15 mile mark hoping it would give me a much needed boost. No such luck. As we looped back along Church Road, hitting the 17 mile mark I knew I was in trouble. My pace was slowing and my legs screaming. I developed a pain at the top of my left leg and feared I’d have to stop (mercifully I managed to run it off). Miles 20-23 of the course head you out towards the power station. It’s bleak, unattractive and lack of support, not what you need at this point of the race. I passed on final planned gel, as just couldn’t face it, but tried to take on water and electrolytes at the drink stops. Hydration was provided in paper cups. Whilst I understand the environmental benefit of this, and indeed safety aspect (discarded bottles in the road are a running nightmare), I’ve found I take on less liquid as I stop, take a sip, then carry on. Looking back I’m sure I was slightly dehydrated at this point, having passed on earlier stations in order to try and keep up my pace. At mile 20 I finally slipped over the 3:15 pace.
It was now just a case of finishing. I’ve hit the wall in races before, but never to this extent. I really wasn’t sure if I could make it to the finish, I no longer cared about the 3:15 (I was never running a marathon again) and I just wanted it to be over. But something inside kept it going, just keep ticking those legs over, another mile closer, you can still get a PB. Mile 23 to 24 along the promenade was perhaps the longest mile of my life.
Finally we turned back onto the road at mile 25. I knew Ruth, Nicky and the kids had mentioned trying to see me again along this section (as we ran back past the halfway mark, were I’d seen them before), and luckily there were there again. Bolstered by their shouts (but by this stage shaking my head in defeat) I pushed on. Checking the watch I knew a sub 3:20 was still on. As we passed the pier and dropped back down to the front, I finally caught sight of the finish line, with the clock ticking over to 3:19. I wasn’t going to be beaten now, one final push and I stopped it at 3:19:37.
Not the 3:15, I’d aimed for, but in my heart I’d known that was a tough ask. I’d given it all I had and left nothing out there. A 15 min PB, top 5% overall and in my age group; and if you’d said to me a year ago I’d be running a sub 3:20 marathon I’d have bitten your hand off.
My thoughts on Brighton marathon as a whole? A lovely course (with a few exceptions), pretty flat, incredibly well supported. Experience helped by the weather, I imagine windy conditions along the front could make a big difference. It’s a pain having to pick up your number, and the expo isn’t worth the trip. The finish line is also chaotic, as you’re pushed back through the ‘Beach Village’. Fine for those hanging around afterwards, but it was a long walk back to the station to meet my family at the end (not what you want after running 26.2 miles). Overall though I would recommend it, but probably won’t be back for a second attempt.