Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Race Report - Brighton Marathon 2010

Second in my series of historic race reports (after the Paris Marathon 2009 report), I thought I'd publish my report on the Brighton Marathon from my experiences last year...

'Do not run if you have been unwell'. 'You should not engage in any strenuous exercise until your chest pain has completely subsided'. 'Running with a serious cough is extremely ill-advised'. Being as I am very sensible, I followed this advice to the letter for the two days before the Brighton Marathon. The day itself, however, I didn't entirely do as I was told...

The race's first challenge was getting to the damn thing. After the Icelandic nonsense my flight was very cancelled, so I shelled out for return train tickets instead and squeezed myself into a packed train from Edinburgh Waverley to Sevenoaks, where I met Nick and made it home to Hollycroft late on Friday night. Dad wasn't so lucky, being as he was stuck in Delhi, eventually making it back to Sevenoaks via Dubai, Cairo, Madrid, Brussels and Ebbsfleet. So sadly he missed the fun in Brighton and Nick was promoted to the 6.30am chauffeur duty on Sunday.

Saturday was a familial and friend-filled day where everyone had too much to drink, except me as my 6 week teetotalling has been very strictly observed, to do otherwise the night before the marathon probably wouldn't have been advisable. My way-hardcore triathlete buddies Liz and Chris popped in to swap race-day plans, though not at the same time... Early to bed on Saturday night, having done my race-day prep led to a light and troubled sleep.

Early to rise on Sunday for a shower (warms the muscles), bowl of porridge (slow-release energy) and my usual glass of Berocca (fizzy things are fun). After wrestling some helium balloons into the car Nick and I set off around 6.30 to head for Brighton... 

After getting slightly lost, taking a devious short-cut and hopping on one of the Park&Ride buses, Nick and I made it to the start line, where the very charming Alex Boyd showed up, much to my delight. He ran Brighton as his first marathon and did extremely well (the overachieving git - love you Alex!). Shortly after bumping into Alex I met one of my heroes, Rosie Swale Pope, who was running Brighton as part of her 26 marathons in 26 days challenge, towing behind her a trailer which she stays in every night of the challenge. See her website/blog/fb page for details. I was very unimpressively star struck and didn't manage much conversation other than to ask to shake her hand.

Alex preparing to beat me quite convincingly.
Alex and I joined the start line at a fairly random point, but as the corral was so thin and long it moved very slowly, it took us a good 15 minutes just to cross the start line where the rather uncharismatic Steve Ovett was toting his starter's pistol. (All I wanted was a high-5...) The first few miles were an absolute delight. Running around central Brighton, through the beautiful lanes, past the Pavilion and the incredible Regency buildings in the blazing sunshine with a few thousand friends was just excellent. Running with a balloon pinned to my back so as Nick could see me, I rather annoyed a few folk as I overtook in tight spots, but as a result Nick got loads of great photos. The boy really is skilled in marathon supporting... In these few miles I probably overtook about 2000 people, including people walking within the first mile, 'Mr Testicles', a pair of breasts, some army chaps carrying full packs, a fireman with a heavy cylinder on his back, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Having run a marathon in Paris the previous year, where charity and fun runners are relatively unheard of, this was a great and very cheerful experience.

After around 5 or 6 miles the course turned out of the city and onto the seafront, heading east past Roedean school and on through Ovingdean village and school. Up to mile 8 and again from 9-11 were steady hills, which slowed a lot of people down, but having trained on Edinburgh's seven hills I'm used to this kind of terrain and actually enjoy running uphill (this is Alex Gnanapragasm's fault...). An arbitrary turnaround point had us going back downhill towards the city again, a proper milestone as I knew that Nick, Mum, Tor and Erin were planning on being somewhere around the halfway point. In the event, having overtaken an Indian chief, I passed Nick again where he did his pit-stop duty impeccably and I picked up more energy gels. In the end I think I had 8 of them. Good stuff. The halfway point was very close to the eventual finish line, and the crowds were really excellent in the city centre (though just a hint of what was to come!). Just after this point I saw the eventual winner steaming past in the opposite direction at least a mile ahead of his competition; the Mongolian national champion finished in around 2:18 - not world class, but pretty damn quick.

At this point the course turns back inland and does a fairly tedious out-and-back along one residential road, with runners 2-3 miles ahead of us coming back in the opposite direction, which was a little dispiriting. But the crowds were still good and I was still overtaking people, though not at the rate I was earlier in the race. After the turnaround my blisters were starting to really cause me trouble, and just after mile 16 the inevitable happened, and the biggest one - about the size and shape of half a digestive biscuit - burst, and I ran the next 10 miles in a puddle of my own blood and pus. Nice.

Having run through the out-and-back loop, I made it back into the city centre briefly before heading out west towards Hove. As the miles add up and the day gets hotter, this is where the race starts to take its toll. Suddenly there are as many people running as walking, and by mile 18 it's as if I'm running through the set of a zombie film. Brighton seems to have been a popular race for beginners, and it's around this point that you can see who hasn't experienced this distance before... Been there! Sympathy vibes and enthusiastic words were exchanged before I got on with it and ploughed onwards.

Miles 19 - 23 were a loop through an industrial estate and power station. Novel, certainly, and elements were even picturesque. An arch formed by a huge digger was a great addition. At this point, of course, one hits the wall, but in Brighton one runs through it - yes, they really did set up a wooden wall painted as if it were brick. Witty at first, then so preposterously dispiriting as to come full circle and be funny again. By now I was in trouble. The blisters were raw and getting worse, as if I were running on a cheese grater. My tired legs were complaining and even my arms were getting tired, with pins and needles taking their toll at various points. Then the cramp. Just as in Paris last year, a huge, debilitating cramp shot up my left thigh, forcing an involuntary guttural shout and slowing me to a brisk walk for a minute or so. Once I started running again I knew it was only a matter of time before the right one did the same thing. When it did, just after mile 23, I had just about reached the seafront and the crowded area again, and my involuntary shout surprised and visibly troubled some spectators. When I shouted again and restarted running at a faster pace they cheered, though, which was charming.

By now the crowds were getting bigger with every step and they carried me over the last few miles. Having run the whole race at a deliberately conservative 9 minute/mile pace, hoping to sneak in under 4 hours without aggravating my chest problems, I was now down to around 10-11 minute miles and saw the magic 4 hour mark slip away. No matter - as I neared the city the crowd's shouts were more and more enthusing, and when I finally did see Mum, Erin, Tori and Nick around mile 25, only for Nick to sprint off ahead of me, I knew I would pick up the pace a little for the last few hundred yards. Nick's figure in the distance, weaving in and out of crowds, at least gave me something to focus on, even if I was struggling to keep up with him...

800 metres to go, 400 metres to go, 200 metres to go, Finish. Handsome medal, banana, goody-bag, t-shirt, foil wrap, hug from Nick. A brief patching up from the wonderful people at St John's Ambulance helped my ruined feet a little, and then it was all over bar a picnic on the beach and a leisurely journey home.

Just about to finish
Despite receiving a text from the organisers saying my time was 4:03:20, the results published on the Monday and my watch disagreed and put my time at 4:05:24, which I've decided to settle on. I'm happy with that, and I know I'll do better next time.

Enormous thanks to Mum, Dad (in absentia), Nick, Tori, Erin, Alex, Rosie, Mr Testicles and Linds for tolerating Sundays dominated by running.

Happy racing


2011 to date - miles: 338.8, parkruns: 4, races: 2, miles biked: 12.85

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