Oh how I love the Brighton Marathon. And oh how I hate it, too. This year, I grew overtly sick and tired of the dozens of commercial and useless emails sent in advance of the event. For such an expensive event (early bird entry for 2015 is only £55!), you get next to nothing to show for it. They won’t even post your race number to you, instead following London’s lead and making you go to an expo to collect it. They will cite all sorts of logistical reasons for this, but the truth is that they do it because they make money from it – they can charge exhibitors and provide a captive audience. That might not necessarily be a bad thing, but when the expo is as sparse as Brighton’s, there really is no point. The first 3,000 attendees at the expo got some sort of goodie bag, but given that there were 14,000 registered runners, that leaves just a number to collect for the rest of us. I also got annoyed with their lack of interaction with the general public on social media. They were very quick to retweet and re post positive comments and excitement and celebrity endorsements, but very slow to use social to answer queries, issues and constructive criticism. I’d also like to see them present year-round instead of just becoming active in the run up to the event itself.
So after all that moaning, how I can I say I also love the event? Well… It helps that it’s my home city marathon, and that I have run every one of them since the first in 2010. I’m an ever present who struggles not to remain loyal to things. But you can also clearly see that the organisers have invested at least some of their mammoth entry fees in infrastructure for race day. The road closures work well, they have thought long and hard about the route (and inevitable hills) and have clever road crossings to make it as easy as possible for spectators to get around. It’s not perfect, but then nothing ever is. The thing I love the most, though, is taking part – and the Brighton crowd in particular. Here’s my account of the day…
I’d all but given up hope of a sub 3 hour marathon before the event itself. A baby at home unwilling to assist my need for sleep, along with a couple of longish layoffs and training that was far from ideal, meant that it would take a minor miracle to get anywhere close – but I decided I’d give it hell and see how far my mind could take me.
I got the early train from Littlehampton and was delighted to hear the conductor announce that they wanted to help runners and would therefore make an additional stop at Preston Park – near the race start. Bonus! Being a sub 3.15 runner, I was given the privilege of starting with the ‘elite’ runners. I am not elite. And neither was the start. It was a small marquee, five portaloos and about a hundred and fifty miserable people who were less about the fun and more about the run. Not my style. I felt out of place, but gave up trying to make conversation with people. I think I missed out on the fanfare of the mass start and high-fiving my hero, Paula Radcliffe. But I did get to miss out on a steepish incline and the congestion that comes with a mass start.
The first few miles ticked over nicely and I was running steady 4.15kilometers – 6.50miles – 3hour pace, dead on. As usual, Brighton fully embraced the marathon and excited kids wanted high-fives (I obliged), people held up witty signs and drunks shouted indecipherable babble. The leaders flew off, us quickish people plodded on and the masses knuckled down for some heavy, heavy miles. As we hit the seafront at mile 6, we thinned out (the crowds didn’t!) and headed towards Rottingdean, where we were welcomed in from the opposite direction by a procession of Vespas and Minis – welcome to Brighton!
At eight miles, as I was starting to get my race face on, someone tapped me on the shoulder. “’scuse me mate”, he said. “Is Harvey your son?” I was wearing a vest for the neonatal and stillbirth charity SANDS – and had ‘Running For Harvey’ printed on the back. I explained to him that Harvey wasn’t mine, but is the son of my good friends Martin and Gemma, and that they sadly lost him shortly before his birth. “I lost my son at birth”, he said. “Thank you for running for SANDS – they helped us”. I couldn’t help what came out of my mouth next. “You cunt. You’ve made me cry. I was saving that for later”. I don’t know what made me say it – especially the C word, but I meant it – I was going to use my Harvey tears later in the race to get me through the hard bits. He laughed and told me he was crying, too. And then we had a bit of a cry together. Bittersweet, to say the least. I said goodbye and headed for half way. I felt OK but wondered if I could keep it up.
I was due to see my wife and friends (including Gemma and Martin) at mile 12 or thereabouts. Shortly before seeing them, I entered my favourite part of the entire race, where you run past the pier, through thousands of people who are five deep and screaming and cheering. It was impossible not to run fast, stand proud and smile. Yes, it’s egotistical, but yes, it’s deserved – each and every runner was grinning as they were hit by a wall of sound and a support that IS Brighton.
I asked Amy after the race how I looked at half way. Her response was “Like you were going to die. I thought you were going to stop”. My mum wasn’t any more supportive. She told my brother that she heard an ambulance and expected them to be going to fetch me! It wasn’t going to plan. I was still on pace, but I felt like I was running the marathon at half marathon pace – I was trying too hard and working too hard. It couldn’t be sustained. I saw my friends Cathy (she’s mental!), Isobel and Mark at 14. Apparently I gave them a face that said ‘fuck off’. I don’t remember it. I also don’t remember looking at the poster signs that Cathy had spent the best part of three minutes making.
At 16 miles I felt like I wanted to stop for a rest. This happens to me a lot. I have to play mind games with myself. I told myself to reassess it at 17 miles. I got to 17 – you can’t walk here, there are far too many people watching. Get to a quiet bit. Save face. I knew what I was doing, though, as I knew my mate Howard would be waiting for me at about mile 18, and that he would run with me for a few miles through the hardest part of the course. By this time my knee injury was hurting and my hips were tightening. I really wanted to hang in there and kept on pace – just. I popped a couple of painkillers that were caffeine laced.
Sure enough, Howard was there. If there was one thing I’d change about him at that point of the race, it’d be his giant smile. As we ran on he quickly ascertained that I didn’t care much for talking. He blocked the wind from me and kept going. He’s a bloody brilliant bloke, Howard, and has always said yes (at very short notice) to Sunday long runs and silly challenges. He reassured me and kept me plodding on. I can safely say that as mile 21 approached, I would have walked were he not there. I had to slow down because my calves cramped gently but surely. There’s nothing I can do but stretch and/or slow down when this happens. I expected it earlier and my lack of endurance training was starting to show. My heart and lungs and my head were telling me I could speed up. My quads, glutes and hamstrings were asking me to go faster, but my calves were threatening me with death should I even attempt to accelerate.
As the three hour pacers disappeared slowly into the distance, Howard encouraged me as much as he could and told me I could catch them. I ignored him – I knew it had gone and that three hours was for another day. Now I needed to just keep moving. I shifted from 4.15kms to 4.50kms and just kept going. By this point my thoughts of stopping had long since disappeared. It didn’t cross my mind to stop and I just kept moving. As the pain intensified, I talked to myself. ‘lift your knee. Don’t shuffle. Engage the glutes. Shoulders back’. Over and over and over. It was working. Every few hundred yards I’d be shot by an imaginary bullet and a calf would let me know not to get ahead of myself. My thoughts turned to Harvey – my reason for running. There was no way I would let him down. I promised myself that I would do my utmost and try harder than I’d ever tried before. I talked to Harvey a little as I progressed along the prom and did a little cry. The emotional attachments you make in life can inspire you during your hardest physical feats. How could I not keep running in my marathon given what Harvey, Martin and Gemma had to endure? This was easy!
Howard peeled off at 24 – his job was done. There weren’t many other runners around me as I carried on and I felt slightly annoyed that I felt fresh. Or at least parts of me felt fresh. I felt better at 24 than I did at 14 – I guess that’s what slowing down can do for you. I saw my friend Siobhan at 24 and a half and exclaimed that “I fucking hate running” (I don’t really, but the crowed enjoyed it).
24 turned to 25, where I saw Amy and co again. 25 turned to 26 and as my watch ticked over the 3 hours and 3 minutes mark, I crossed the finish line. The many, many thousands of people who watched the race were quite literally behind me. In front of me was the aftermath of the war. Bodies everywhere, patches of vomit at the sides and people lay strewn across the grass. I had a sit down, I had another cry – I cry a lot. Then I realised I couldn’t stand up, so needed to shout for help.
I went and collected a medal and was given an empty carrier bag. They needn’t have bothered – they gave me a tee shirt, a banana, a Gatorade (opened) and a small packet of breakfast biscuits. It’s a good job I’m not a fan of freebies! I made my way to the exit to meet my brother and immediately thought about how congested this area would come as people started to finish en mass. It was already packed and I came inside the top 110. This was going to be carnage – it’s definitely not fit for purpose!
Once I’d pulled myself together I gave Gemma the medal – that’s Harvey’s medal and told her the story of mile 8. I had a cuddle with my little boy, Jesse and I had a chat with him (I apologised for not going sub 3), and he gurgled, cried and burped. I was pleased with his response. Then I went on to what is genuinely a highlight of the event, for me. I went to the barriers and cheered people on as loud and as enthusiastically as I could. I’m blessed to be able to run quite quickly – I can’t fathom being out there for as long as the 5-, 6- or 7- hour runners. They’re amazing. I love to be able to watch them come in, see what they’ve been through and quite literally how far they’ve come. I also like seeing which men have the most blood around their nipples. Rookie mistake, that.
And so off home we went, with fish and chips in one hand and a carrier bag with a banana and biscuits in the other.
Particular mentions go to the other runners who worked so hard this weekend. My mate Gaz absolutely wrecked himself and was stopped by an ambulance with just half a mile to go. He wondered why they wouldn’t let him carry it. Perhaps it was because he thought his name was Danny and didn’t know where he was.
My PT client Paul beat his PB by 20 minutes and last year’s time by 40 minutes. I’m incredibly proud of Paul’s fortitude and resolve. He’s worked hard in our training sessions and has improved an awful lot. He’s an example of what determination can do. Another Paul – Young, this time (no not that one) managed to smash his target time and when I saw him was smiling far too much.
Danny C (Fat Danny to you and me) worked really hard – for other people. Not only did he volunteer at the race expo before the event, he then paced some people (including Gaz) at 3.15 pace. The bugger grinned the whole way, talked and encouraged. He fetched drinks, gave advice and was a generally great bloke. The world needs more of him. But less of his beard.
And the rest of you – all of you – because there are so many! WELL DONE!
I love my city, I love my marathon and I love my supporters. Maybe I need to accept the corporate side of the race and embrace its commercialism but I struggle to. This is Brighton, after all.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the race – whether you’re a runner, a watcher or an organiser. Comment below.
I’d also like some mini reviews for the website, if possible – contact me if you’d be willing to do this (and submit and photos you have)
NB – I found out after the race that my timing chip did not function. So my entry fee of three million pounds didn’t even allow for a working chip – lots of people had the same problem. That definitely needs addressing as for many people, that could determine whether or not they qualify for a championship or a good for age race.
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