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Why do a marathon? 26.2 miles is a long way… why torture yourself so? I answered this question in a previous post but can now also see it from the other side of the finish line!
For me, running is the the perfect metaphor for life; there’s a direct relationship between what you put in and what you get back in return. Skip training and don’t take the distance seriously and you’ll not do very well (unless you’re supremely talented). But put in the effort and you will be rewarded.
It’s not just training though. A good marathon appears to have many components; abstaining from other races, not going out the night before long runs, using up half your Sunday on long runs, eating well, sleeping well, recovering well, tapering properly, carb loading, getting your race pacing and fuelling right. The list goes on. Then there are the things that you CAN’T control like the weather on the day (will it be too hot? Too windy?) I’ve never checked the weather forecast more frequently than that week before the Brighton Marathon, tracking every microscopic meteorological shift in wind speed and direction.
Based on my half marathon times, various pace calculators told me that I should, theoretically be able to run a sub 3 hour marathon! So I had set 2:59:59 as my target and trained accordingly, never really knowing if this was completely unrealistic or achievable. I figured that if I at least did the training for a sub 3 marathon, then that could only help me run it as fast as possible, whether that turned out to be 3:15 or even 3:30 – both times that I would have been extremely happy with for my first marathon. Several people frowned when I suggested that I was going for a sub 3 at my first attempt but no-one managed to dissuade me.
I’d managed to gain entry to the Elite start as I ran the Bournemouth Half in 1:23:30, so unfortunately can’t regale you with tales of start line atmosphere and inspirational warm ups. The elite start was amazing in its own way and really helped calm my nerves. There was a small grassy hill, parallel to the road on which we were to start. This had two or three small changing tents, around 12 portaloos and of course the start line on the road. There were probably around 200-300 of us at this start, the sun was shining (although it was still about 5 degrees c) and runners were quietly stretching or just sitting on walls sipping energy drinks and chatting. If the mass start is the Rio Carnival then the elite start was a village fete by comparison. I really liked it.
At around 8:50 I joined the growing queue for the toilets (still only about 10 people long) and then at 9am chucked my kit bag onto the lorry that would take our belongings to the finish line. Started to warm up and serendipitously bumped in to two other local runners, Steve and James and we ran a quick warm up together before moving into the start coral.
After a quick introduction over the microphone of the various international elite runners at the very front – we were off!
It was a very strange, almost surreal experience starting the race. I’d entered it almost 6 months previously, with a ‘here goes nothing’ and a click of the ‘enter race’ button. I began training on December 21st, 18 weeks before race day. The marathon became all consuming, an added context to every I decision made so to actually be here, now starting it was very strange.
And at the same time it was ok. I’ve run a LOT of races so that part was like just going through the motions, on autopilot. My friends Steve and James were there too so I wasn’t alone, and the small scale of the start made it feel like just another race, rather than the MASSIVE EVENT that it was. Somewhere inside me, deep, deep down though, there must have been a part of me that was very emotional about what I was doing as I kept on getting the urge to cry. I know, weird huh? Walking to the start line.. welling up. Seeing some kids cheering me… welling up. Crossing the finish line…ok, crying. All very emotional!
After around a mile we joined up with the mass start runners and that’s when the party really began! The streets were lined with people, waving banners, clapping those blow up plastic things together, cheering and shouting out encouragement. Having never done a big city marathon before, this was all very new to me!
First mile run, from Withdean to Preston Park in 6:43. Felt fine, almost too slow but we were on a slight downhill.
Once we’d joined up with the rest of the race the route took us through the town of Brighton, looping back and around yet more streets filled with people, passing the Brighton Pavilion twice (I think, it’s all a bit of a blur).
At mile 6 we hit the overcliff road, above the promenade and ran out to the Ovingdean area of Brighton. 7 miles was when I took my first gel – I took 4 in total at miles 7, 13, 17 and 22 and I took a few sips of water at every station. This felt fine and exchanging the occasional word with the other guys helped the miles pass quite quickly, by the time we’d followed the overcliff road back towards Brighton pier I noticed that we’d hit 12.5 miles and I was still maintaining a steady 6:40-6:50 pace – great. I hadn’t even thought about how I was feeling and it was only at this point that I noticed that my legs were feeling something. Not exactly tired, but the feeling that they had been used to run for 12 miles!
Then it was time to run the 5 miles out and back to Portslade by Sea. The 3 hour pacers that we’d run with between miles 8-12 suddenly shot off doing around 6:30/mi so Steve and I decided to let them go and stick doggedly to our 6:45/50s/ min miles.
At 18 miles ish we popped back out on to the promenade and began the part of the race that several people had told me was the most difficult – the power station loop. Looking back at my stats, this part of the race is only 3 miles but OH MY GOD it felt like half the marathon. Not only do you hit the 20 mile mark during it (“the marathon doesn’t start until 20 miles kids!”), but half of it is slightly uphill, just enough to tire you out but not quite enough for you to mentally prepare yourself for a hill. so you just start thinking, why am I so knackered all of a sudden?! Also, this was where there was what felt like a hurricane in our faces, but to the casual observer was probably more of a light breeze.
By mile 24 we were back on the promenade. I remember mile 24-35 being difficult and my stats show that I slowed to a 6:52 and then a 6:59/mi pace. However, I soon entered the final mile and a bit and with crowds screaming either side I saw the finish line and at that point looked at the actual race time on my watch for the first time (I’d only looked at the pace of each mile), to see that I was going to do it in under 3 hours! Yey! In my head I remember sprinting majestically towards the finish line, however I’ve since seen the video and I look more like an astronaut might do when walking for the first time after months in space.
I’m never doing a marathon again…
Hang on, that gets me good for age for London 2017.
I’m entering the London Marathon.
Or more visual: