One of the oft-repeated bits of advice for inexperienced marathon runners is not to do anything on race day that you haven’t done in training.
This includes things like wearing shoes that you bought ten days ago, using a race belt that you bought at the expo two days ago, using Clif Shot Blocks when you’ve only ever used GU Gels and wearing a short sleeved, wide-necked t-shirt when all your training runs have been done in a long-sleeved, high-necked base layer.
So which of those did muppet-features here do?
Every single one.
Coz I’m a fool.
The day started promisingly enough. Saturday’s heavy rain and high winds (I felt for the SDW50 runners who were out in those conditions) were replaced with cloud cover and the occasional gust*. My plan to catch the train into Brighton and walk up from there was vindicated within minutes of leaving the house when I crossed paths with James, who was planning the same journey. The train itself was heaving with marathon runners, and my vague research into walking routes from Brighton to Preston Park proved entirely unnecessary as the route, in true parkrun fashion, turned out to be ‘follow the person in front’.
My last-minute nerves were calmed by Paul, an experienced (and fast) marathon runner looking to go sub 3:15 to win a good-for-age place in London 2014 and before I knew it I was wading through the muddy goo of Preston Park to join the veeeeeeeeeeery loooooooooong queeeeeeeeeeeeeue for the loos.
Round and round the garden
The first mile is slooooooow. Hoards of runners weaving their way around the outside of the park before joining the main Road. If you’re aiming for a PB you might find this frustrating, but if you are in the habit of setting off too fast then it might prove to be a blessing in disguise.
A nice bit of culture
After leaving the park you run down towards the sea, but peel off to your right before you get there for a short tour of Brighton’s theatre district, the Brighton Pavilion**, St Peter’s Church and a small park, before you double back on yourself and head back towards the sea.
The hills, the hills
Of course, this is the Brighton Marathon, and nothing is straightforward, so you don’t actually make it to the sea. Instead you peel off to your left to run up a hill before finally turning down onto the coast road. The coast road that climbs up towards Rottingdean, leaving the sea far below.
The climb up to Rottingdean does come with some benefits for the middle of the pack runner. As you run away from Brighton, you meet the fast bods coming back (Go Becky!), get your first chance to see the people just behind you (Go Alma! Go Giselle! Go Lorraine!) pass the Vuvuzela crew (Yay Lesley!) and then have a chance to see the back of the pack (Go Tiger! Go Donkeys! Go Nuns!) on your way back towards Brighton. Which brings you to…
I was going well up to this point. I’d stopped briefly at mile 12 to take a stone out of my shoe (where do they come from) and backtracked briefly to pick up one of the three gels that had made a bid for freedom from my gel belt (goodness only knows what happened to the other two), and I felt relatively fresh as I ran through the halfway point.
I also heard someone calling my name (Yay Run or Go Crazy’s family) and started believing that a serious PB might be on the cards. But then we turned up into…
and the road narrowed, and the runners bunched up and the pace fell and I wobbled. The two miles out into Hove were slower but steady and I managed to hang on to a run. Then came the return section and the knowledge that I could, at any point, pass Alma, Giselle and Lorraine coming in the other direction. And it wouldn’t do to be seen walking, so I carried on running. But then I passed them (Go y’all!) and I decided to take a walking gel break.
Run walk run walk run!
The next section was hard. I just about managed to keep running, but only by walking the water stations. Fortunately for my grit, I knew that at the far end of the harbour lurked family, so I plodded on. Sure enough at the end of the harbour service road came the welcome sight of support, albeit on the other side of the route. I waved, ran on, turned the corner, waited until I was out of sight and then walked another water station***. Which brought me back to my posse.
I had to stop for a photo and a chat. I would have been rude not to!
The last leg!
And then it was just a matter of running back to Brighton for my medal!
*there is some debate about this. I didn’t register the wind at all but then I’m used to running along that section of the coast, and know quite how windy it can get.
**I know this because I have looked at the map and know the area. On the day, I didn’t notice the pavilion. How I could miss such a gaudy monstrosity, I will never know.
***A very generous description of the whole of the turnaround loop!