Brighton Marathon: the pain and the glory!

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You may have heard that some runners had a very bad experience at the Brighton Marathon 2017. It was a very hot day, and in fact two people I “know” from another online forum ended up in hospital having collapsed (one of them reached the finish before he went down, the other sadly did not). You also will probably have heard that some of the water stations ran out of the good stuff for a while, which was not right at all in that heat, and the race organisers have not apologised very graciously. I was not affected by this, luckily, and had a drink whenever I wanted one. I do also always carry my own drinks since my first half marathon, where they ran out of cups! My main recommendation would be always to carry some liquid – my water belt is not very sexy, but it might have helped keep me upright on Sunday :-) It was a hard day, but ultimately a good experience for me, and I will be returning next year. Here is my (belated, and extremely long!) report.

After months of training, it was finally the day! Husband dropped me off at Hove Park, and I walked the extra 2k (ish) to Preston Park in the delightful sunshine, joined by 10k-ers and other marathoners along the way. Said hello briefly to some folk from the internet in the Amex area (i.e. special treatment for those of us who had booked with an American Express card, including, drinks, pastries, benches to sit and quaff, and “luxury” loos to visit afterwards) but had a bit of a rush to get out of my cover-ups (I’m usually cold at the start of races, but actually didn’t need the extra clothes this time!), get the bag dropped, visit the loo, do my hair and makeup ;-) despite having got there early. Chatted a bit to a lovely volunteer at the Amex entrance. Got in the corral, I was in the Blue wave, 3:30 – 4:00 – optimistic, but turned out to be a particularly excellent idea due to the heat of the day, and how much earlier I got to finish. I noticed later that folk in the Green wave had been passing the start line some 50 minutes after the gun, meaning that they were running in the hottest part of the day for that much longer. Waiting in the corral, a man flicked a wasp off my arm, and another (upon hearing it was my first go at the Brighton Marathon) dispensed information about the difficulty of the “Power Station” part of the course (more on that later). I was enjoying the announcing, and even the dodgy pop music, jigging along to it in a semblance of warm-up.

We were soon underway, about 15 minutes after the gun. People were popping into the portaloos that were dotted along the tunnel; I felt very glad of my Amex card. After passing under the starting arch, leaving the park, and doubling back North, I was surprised to notice some used gels on the road, were they someone’s breakfast? It was nice to come to the first mile marker while we were still at Preston Park (having circled it), but I was quickly realising that the “Brighton Town” section of the race was going to be quite a trial because we were inland and therefore sheltered from the Southeasterly breeze, at the mercy of the sun’s heat. That said, the crowds were marvellous, and a big grin was on my face as I passed the first of several drumming bands. I got very confused about where I was, looking down a lot is necessary, but still it was to my shame that I actually did not see the Pavilion – even though we passed it twice! The first half of the course has some undulations, which suit me better than the complete flatness to come later, and I took off pretty quickly, although feeling comfortable with pace despite the heat. That said, I was sipping on my Lucozade Sport (I had a half litre with me in the two bottles on my running belt) from the beginning, and I was starting to wonder when we would be getting to the first water station which I seemed to remember was at the 3 mile mark. Ah, finally! My first go at grabbing a cup of water on the go (yes, I hadn’t bothered to practice this) – water went straight up my nose! I got the giggles and carried on. We went into the studenty Hanover area, and the only hill of any real steepness, but it was short, and of course followed by a lovely downhill section to relax on.

Finally, we came to what I thought of as the next section “Ovingdean and Back”, via Kemp Town, where the crowd were particularly cheerful, it seemed to me. I cracked open the first of my gels (Gu, salted caramel, serviceable), and nipped at it as I headed up the coast road. As I was at around Mile 7 I saw the front runners coming back the other way! I gave them a big cheer, and felt glad because everything was going well. I liked the run up to Ovingdean, I haven’t run on the top of the cliff before – I go that way occasionally, but always along the “Undercliff Walk”, a nice flat path along the shore which goes a bit further than Rottingdean. But at the cliff top the view is lovely, and on the day we had the breeze in our faces as we undulated eastwards. Having said that, by the time we passed the Roedean School, I was starting to look up and see a seemingly everlasting river of runners up ahead, and wonder when we would get to Ovingdean and turn back for Brighton. At a roundabout we headed inland, and at that point abdominal cramp descended upon me. I get this sometimes, I’m not quite sure what it actually is, but this time it started to feel like a brick had been thrust into my ribs! I slowed my pace, and thought about stopping to stretch and walk a bit, but I just decided I should keep running – so I just did! At the turnaround in the village (bless all the high-fiving children of Ovingdean!) the pain eased, and the boost of starting to head back for Brighton was tremendous! I enjoyed some downhill running, but I could feel the force of the sun strongly, with the wind behind me, and I started to worry about how much sun exposure I would continue to get. If figured that, at least in Hove, we would probably get some shade after the turnaround… I came to the first water station where they weren’t holding out the water to us, and made a quick decision to grab a cup from the table and walk while I drank it. This became my strategy for most of the rest of the race – I realised that with the heat I would have to rest more, and reduce my pace. I ate my Mars Bar Bites at that point – I’d felt very good on Mars Bars at the Beachy Head Marathon and was determined to have some with me for this one. Turns out that Mars Bars are indeed The Bomb when running a marathon! And they only melted a little bit :-)

Onwards to the section we will call “Deepest Hove”. Apparently my husband was there and saw me turning up Grand Avenue, and I was smiling. I didn’t see him, but I remember I was smiling at some girls dancing on a stage. However, at that point I was actually thinking I might quit – it was only my massive Ego that drove me on. I was feeling ground down by the heat, so I turned to Jelly Baby power – chased down with some Lucozade Sport, I received a hit of citrus zing that picked me up and powered me forward. For a while anyway. The crowd in Hove were VERY noisy, and were out in force with Jelly Babies (I wonder if Brighton supplies of Babies ran dry that weekend?), sliced oranges, and hosepipes. But I struggled on New Church Road, yearning to double back and run in the shade I could see on the other side of the road. I was grabbing the High 5 drinks gratefully (I like that stuff, it turns out – hadn’t tried it before). At Portslade I stopped to walk, and have a gel. I felt a bit sorry to be walking, because I run to Portslade often, and normally enjoy the slight downhill incline which makes the run feel almost effortless. However, I needed the break. And after the rest and food, the run back along to Grand Avenue was something of a joy. I ran through hosepipes, I bopped past the steel band playing ‘Dancing Queen’. I was restored.

But, then we had to turn back into the sun, and head towards the infamous “Power Station” section. This was my first passing of my own abode (between miles 19 and 20, and later on between 23 and 24), and I had considered the possibility that I might just decide to go home and get in the bath at that point. But on the day the sight of our flat actually gave my spirits quite a lift – despite the fact that we seemed to be sharing the road with actual cars at that point (don’t you love getting to run along roads that have been closed for you? I’d got pretty used to it by then!). I had my last gel – I’d grabbed a High-5 gel somewhere along New Church Road for emergency backup, but it stayed in my pocket. And then, there it was, past Fatboy Slim’s house, into the depths of Southwick’s industrial area. I had a clear strategy for this part – I was going to love it! Actually, I go for runs up to the power station sometimes, and it’s fun because the marina there is pretty (I love me a marina, and that one happens to be called Lady Bee :-), and I get to cross the lock, which is fun. Obviously I couldn’t cross the lock this time (although I did admire the marina), but I did get to run around the power station, which was new. What really struck me about this section was how many people seemed so defeated by it. Of course, that is the time when people “hit the wall” (or “bonk” as the Americans say – luckily there wasn’t any British bonking going on as far as I could see, although some people outside a yoga studio were doing some pretty strange things!), some of them must have been suffering from dehydration/exhaustion, and the ambulances were certainly in evidence there. But I felt as though many had just given up, and I passed lots of people walking, as I continued to jog at my rather reduced pace. But there were fun things going on there – the LOUDEST drumming band of the day, they were making an incredible noise and I gave them my thanks – there were proper sprinklers set up, the water so cold it made us gasp, but so welcome! There were people at the turnaround to cheer us, and there was shade by the power station (where I did walk for a bit), and more shade along the return to the lagoon. I polished off my jelly babies somewhere along there, I think (memory is clouding over!).

And then we came to the final 5k. Two men were singing “The final parkrun!!” to the tune of the Europe classic “The Final Countdown”, so I joined in with that. And then I struggled mightily!! My thoughts about the last 5k have always been that, as my main stomping-ground, it should be a breeze. But of course it wasn’t. And in fact the breeze blowing against us seemed so strong! It was difficult to filter past the crowds by The View (a horrid pub with a lovely sea view :-). I did enjoy Hove Lawns, where a sort of tunnel had been made with barriers, lined with cheering Hoveites. I ran past the last few water stations because I had enough Luco left in my bottles, but when I came to the (tiny) incline by the Peace Statue (and the start of the final mile), I had to walk – it seemed so steep! After that, I managed to carry on jogging to the end, but it was hard going! My shoes had been irritating my toes for some time, and it had got to the point of proper soreness. The second toe of my left foot is looking distinctly unattractive today (tmi) – I will have to find some better shoes for the next marathon I think, Altras possibly. I felt as though I was right at the back of all the runners. I was running near a man called John, and everyone was cheering him on. I did not have my name displayed on my person so I stole a bit of “John” power from him, and managed a feeble extra kick towards the finish line. And then, there, I crossed it! I managed to smile and raise my fists, and then I just had a grin at the sky, and thought “Yeah!” :-)

After some time spent collecting medal, goodies, baggage, and sorting out my cover-up top and sunglasses, I eventually found my husband in the “reunion area” on the beach (letter A, the furthest away!). We sat for a while on the pebbles, and I came to realise just how incredibly hot a day it was. It was a little after 2pm by then, and, well, phew! The space blanket they handed me was not needed, although our cats enjoyed playing with it later. Sick of eating sweet stuff all day (nb 3 gels, 6 Mars Bites, 6 Babies, 500ml Luco Sport, ftw), I grabbed the packet of crisps on offer greedily, but I couldn’t eat them because my mouth was too dry. Luckily I’d put a bottle of choccy milk in my bagdrop bag, which really hit the spot and I recommend it thoroughly. Perhaps not so commendable was the pint of lager I had after escaping from the race village (very tricky, with so many people there!), but I enjoyed it very much 😀

The day after I was feeling fine, apart from some light all-over muscle soreness, a bit of a knee twinge, and the aforementioned toe. I used a MyAsics plan, hard level, three runs per week, and I do recommend it! I finished with a chip time of 4:16:53, and I feel bloody proud of myself.

Forms of this post have appeared elsewhere 🙂

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