April 14th 2013 – after all the training, all the preparation, the big day arrived. I awoke at 6am after a good night’s sleep, feeling well fueled, properly hydrated, and in a good shape to run the 26.2 mile course around Brighton.
2013 marks the fourth edition of what’s become the second largest marathon in the UK and twelfth largest in Europe, with this year’s event being bigger and better than ever. Channel 4’s TV crew were in town to capture the 9,000 strong field of runners, including a well-known elite presence from Kenya and the UK. The cold, wet weather had finally broken, bringing warmer climes and even some sunshine (!), which we’d all been desperately hoping for throughout the long winter months of training.
The race started in Preston Park, with music and motion in full swing when I arrived at 8am. The scent of deep-heat hung heavy in the air, and smiles were wide with nervous anticipation as people awaited the 9am start.
8.30am rolled around and runners were encouraged to begin filtering into the start corrals. I wandered into the first (red) corral and joined the bands of people hoping for a finishing time of 3:15-4:00 hours. As the minutes ticked slowly by, I reviewed my target for the race ahead. I’d decided to play things differently to last year, when I’d hoped for a finishing time of 3:30, but achieved 3:42 due to starting too quickly. My aim this year was to run the first half slightly slower (1:47) and the second half more quickly (1:43), again finishing in 3:30, or a few seconds less. I’d memorised my mile times and planned my race nutrition, feeling positive that this was an achievable goal. Only 3 weeks beforehand I’d achieved a time of 2:59 across 22 miles, and felt an additional 4.2 miles in 31 minutes was well within my capability.
3-2-1 – blast!
The traditional race countdown happened and the race began – we were off! First a loop uphill around Preston Park; keep the pace steady Tim, build up slowly (it’s easy to get caught up with adrenalin, and start way too quickly).
The crowds were out in full force as we ran down London Road, under the railway arch and into the North Laines…
Things went to plan for the entirety of the first 13.1 miles, covering the first 4 miles at 8:30 pace and 9.1 miles at 8:00 pace, crossing halfway in 1:47. Great, all on target.
In the 2012 Brighton Marathon the out ‘n back stretch of Church Road induced a mental low. People talk of ‘dark points’ during marathons, and Church Road brought such for me, the point where your legs are willing but your mind becomes weak and shouts at you to stop. This year was a little different. I felt mentally and aerobically strong, but at circa mile 15 I started getting twinges of cramp in my upper calves. I’ve always been taught to stop if cramp strikes, stretch and walk for a while to ease. I did just that – stretched and walked for 1 minute to help it ease. I then started running again, making mental calculations to ascertain how the walking had affected the per-minute splits necessary to achieve my 3:30 finishing target.
I also did not want to be seen walking by family and friends, eagerly awaiting my fly-by along Church Road, ready to cheer me on.
Unfortunately the cramps got worse, spreading from calves to quads, bringing agony and anxiety to each step.
And it didn’t ease
I spent the next 11 miles ‘running’ on my heals, sidling to the side of the road each time cramping took hold, in order to walk and stretch. My target quickly moved from finishing in 3:30 to finishing full-stop. I felt aerobically strong, but was permanently thwarted by cramps over which I had no control. In honesty it was a humbling experience, but not helped by certain spectators shouting “you’re meant to run, not walk” and “come on, get going”. If only they knew…
That said, the majority of the crowd were truly amazing, spurring me on despite the pain.
I eventually crossed the finish line in 4:12.
Two days have passed since race end. Whilst I’m still disappointed, enduring memories are of the (mostly) positive spurring of the crowds, coupled with the personal, moving causes that many runners were willing to endure the pain of 26.2 miles for. Inspirational.
Hey, you can’t appreciate the pain and triumph of a marathon, until you’ve run one yourself!
Will I do it again? I don’t know. Maybe. I actually enjoy — and feel I’m better suited to — the speed and competitive edge of shorter races, like 10Ks and half marathons. The full marathon is a different affair, demanding a different mindset – it goes beyond ‘competitiveness’ into the realms of sheer endurance and a rugged refusal to give in or give up.
You can read more on the Brighton Marathon here, and don’t forget to watch Channel 4’s coverage at 7am on Saturday 20th April.
Finally, the training schedule I followed is here. Thank goodness it’s over.
Now, I’m off for a rest.