If God exists, I can only assume he is a big fan of half marathon running and of the Sussex Beacon charity in particular. Yesterday’s Brighton Half Marathon came at a time when half the country is under water and had been battered by 100mph winds for the best part of a month. It was enough to put off even the most hardened of runners and I must admit that I wasn’t looking forward to running along the coast in those sorts of conditions – I’d done it before at the Brighton Half and there is quite literally nowhere to hide.
As it turns out, we needn’t have worried. Because the weather was perfect for running. Literally perfect! The sun was in a cloudless sky, the temperature was a skin-heatingly 9 degrees centigrade and the winds had died down to manageable levels. There were no excuses not to run your heart out – which is what myself and 6,995 other runners did.
My day started early as I was traveling from Littlehampton. I only had the choice of two trains – the first of the day would have got me in to Brighton about 7am, which was far too early. The next would have got me into Brighton at 8.10am – which was pushing it. I opted for the latter and hoped there would be no problems. Mistake! Southern announced a very delayed train from Hove to Brighton, resulting in hundreds of runners grumbling (they’re a grumpy lot!) and heading out of the station to find buses and taxis. Being a veteran of both running and rail related problems, I was one of the first out of the station and straight into a taxi with a few other runners – smug that we didn’t have to queue for the bus (which I later learned had been far too slow and made quite a few runners late). This wasn’t the race organiser’s fault, though; it was just unlucky that lines were flooded.
The race area was buzzing. Which was both fun and frustrating. Madeira drive was cram packed with runners stretching, queuing for the loo, running to the bag drop and generally preparing for the run. But it was also cram packed with people on bicycles, supporters and spectators, children and other sorts of obstacles. Whilst these events are exciting, a spectator really can’t see anything worthwhile from behind the start line and I would always recommend that they leave the running area to the runners – to make it quicker, easier and more productive for everyone involved.
The race started dead on 9am and I started close to the front as I had suggested I’d run between 1.20 and 1.30. I watched as other runners steamed off at top speed. I half admired their speed and half wondered if they would actually keep it up. Needless to say most of them did. I started at a slightly more leisurely 4 minutes per kilometre (6.25 per mile for the imperial fans) with a plan of holding in there and speeding up rather than slowing down. I have run Brighton a number of times before and was well aware of the progressive and definite ‘elevations’ in the first five miles. I’ve run this race in all sorts of conditions before and without doubt, people will show up to lend their support no matter the weather. However, on a day like yesterday, with the sun being very welcome and a surprise to many, they were out in their masses. There is a uniqueness to the city of Brighton that I have never witnessed anywhere else. A friendliness and mentality of togetherness that makes me adore the city. Team that up with a mass participation event in support of a charity such as the Sussex Beacon – a cause very close to many of Brighton’s population – and you’ll witness something very special. There were people all over the course offering their support and sometimes advice (“hey mate, you want to watch – it’s much easier than actually doing it!”) and made every runner feel very special indeed. If you’re new to running, stick your name on your vest – it’s as close to celebrity that you’ll ever get (or want to get). The event doesn’t just support the Sussex Beacon – there’s a big showing from Scope, WaterAid and Rise, for example. It’s testament to the event that it grows year on year and is now one of the country’s biggest and best half marathons.
Three miles in, and I was cruising and feeling good. My pace had improved and mile km pace had improved to 3.55. I worked with a group of other runners to combat the slight headwind as we headed toward Hove. Water and Lucozade stations were plentiful and staffed with volunteers who were more than helpful. Being a local, I knew that turning at Hove Lagoon meant a fast and flat seafront 5k to the finish – with crowds of supporters getting denser and denser. There was no way I could slow down and I started to pick people off one by one. A very small climb at the Peace Statue indicated just over a mile to go and with quads raging, it couldn’t come soon enough. The lovely surprise in this half marathon is the downhill race to the line – nothing is any more welcome than a hill pointing downwards! Especially when the crowds are roaring and you want a quick finish.
My final kilometre was my fastest – 3.35. It was a guts-out, wretch-when-you-cross-the-line kind of final kilometre. Runners are a great bunch (generally) and there was great camaraderie over the line as runners swapped stories and opinions. I hung around and chatted – trying to gauge whether I had my rose tinted glasses on when trying to be objective about the race. But no – people loved it. The whole thing. There were some very pleased runners who commented on the following, in particular:
• The baggage area was very efficient in the morning with lots of help available. It’s understandable that it’s quite far from the line, and is perfect for keeping stuff dry
• Support was incredible – the whole way round
• Runners were communicated with very well in the lead up to the event
• The route map online is brilliant and very clear
• The Park and Ride worked really well
• The volunteers were very helpful and on the whole very friendly. They provided just the right amount of friendliness mixed with the requirement for them to be professional throughout
• It was congested in places – around the 1 hour 40 expected finish mark. Could it be time to start in waves to ease the issue?
• The goody bags were a marked improvement on last year
• The guy who was pushing someone around in a wheelchair was/is not only a hero, but bloody quick, too!
The event has definitely grown but unlike many events, has also improved. There has never been anything wrong with the Brighton Half Marathon, but nowadays it’s much slicker, more professional and more of a spectacle. You can see where the money has been invested and why. It also explains why the quality of the field has improved dramatically. A couple of years ago, my time would have brought me home in the top 40. This year I scraped into the top 100. That’s great news and I really hope the event becomes a major event for elite athletes from all over the country and hopefully the world. Get it in your diary early, though – it will be a guaranteed sell-out!
Well done, Brighton Half. As runners would say, you smashed it!