Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Event Review : Brighton Marathon 2015

Brighton. Home to brightly coloured sticks of rock, The Lanes and the pier. Also host to one of the most popular marathons in the UK and my "A" race for the year. I was inspired to enter after cheering Alex on at last year's event and I would recommend it to just about anybody. My parents and I made a weekend of it, heading down on Friday night and staying until Monday morning. This was partly influenced by the minimum nights rule put in place by the hotel I wanted to stay at but we'll overlook that. It made for a very relaxed weekend and the race was all the more enjoyable for that.

It's amazing what you can convince yourself is acceptable to eat in the days before a marathon. I'd been quite good until I hit Brighton. Smokey's and the Hobgoblin had a fine line in Mexican food and burgers respectively and there may have been a little over indulgence. But it's ok! I dozed it off on the beach before a restorative spritzer and some nachos... Hmmm.
Might have over-ordered...
Scaring away the gulls with my reflective legs.
We stayed at The Granville, conveniently located staggering distance from the finish line, around the halfway mark and close to the Brighton Center where the expo was held, which we visited on Saturday morning, shortly after it opened. There was no issue at all with collecting my race pack but the expo started to get crowded quite quickly. We managed to have a good look round, to record a message to be played at mile 23 and buy some kit before it all got too much, but only just. 
Because I don't have enough kit...
The morning of the marathon was a bit of a stunner and after a hearty breakfast of porridge and toast the stroll to the start area in Preston Park was most enjoyable. I'd packed my race vest with gels, nuun and a photo of me and my Aunt at the finish of the London Marathon. I'd penned some inspiring words on my hands and felt collected. The sense of calm was almost unnerving.
I don't think one person was certain of the way to the start and I now understand how sheep and fish feel... purposeful but with a hint of confusion and bewilderment. We arrived at the park just as the Brighton 10k started, which was great to watch. There was a fantastic atmosphere and every one was in good spirits, chatty and friendly. Baggage drop was a breeze but I did end up queueing for ages to use a loo. In the end I used the "mens cubicle" only to discover that loos nearer the start had no queue. Hey ho, new experiences and all that...
Three girls, one poncho
Ready for the off!
My "designated stuff holders"
As predicted, although the official race start was at 9:15 am, my wave didn't cross the line until around 9:30. I high-fived Jo Pavey as I crossed the line and settled in to the pack for a while as we looped the park before rolling down into the city centre. Sticking in the pack meant I didn't set off too quickly but it did get a little frustrating when I wanted to make use of gravity on the down hills. 

The route involves quite a few out-and-backs and on occasion I felt cheated when a turn around point actually turned out to be a turn but I didn't mind the double backs at all. I enjoyed seeing people running the other way, trying to pick out friends or familiar faces/vests. It also provided spectators plenty of opportunities to see their runners. The first half of the race is certainly the more enjoyable and scenic part, taking in the Pavilion and the Banksy.
All too soon I seemed to hit the half way mark, having seen my parents on the sidelines a few times. Now the hard work started. I tried very hard to maintain positive mental thoughts so although I knew it was just going to get harder from here on out, I tried to distract myself with the bands, the spectators, mental arithmetic around my pacing and milestones such as the 18 mile mark when we'd emerge from the sweltering town centre out onto the seafront again. A few messages and texts arrived from twitter and friends which lifted me no end. 
Photo by Crawley News
My hands are in the air like I just do not care...
And there were plenty of distractions on the route. Drum bands, rock bands, people playing music on stereos from bedroom windows, camper vans and tables loaded with cakes and drinks as spectators made a proper day of things, a guy blowing a conch and even the Queen and Prince Philip (looking slightly more cardboard-like around the face) handing out high-fives. Even on the stretch from miles 15 to 18, that I'd expected to be fairly bleak, there were plenty of enthusiastic spectators and with water stations roughly every 2 miles there was always something going on. Before the race I'm reliably informed there were processions of Harleys and Minis. I saw them lined up but I'd have loved to have seen them in procession.
I was ahead of my target pace by around 30 seconds per mile for a large portion of the race but I felt pretty strong so decided to keep it up as long as I could. Plus it felt good to have some minutes in the bank for later, just in case I unravelled. Mile 20 was an odd one. We were heading out towards the most remote part of the course and fatigue was starting to set in but I knew I only had six miles to go. I can run six miles. Another strategy... I know I can run one mile so whenever it felt as though it was getting hard I just thought about running the next mile, then the next one. Just one mile at a time. At mile 23 I met the big screen and the message my dad recorded for me played out. Cue flapping of the hands about the face as I fought back emotions. Head in the game Roberts, head in the game... just a parkrun to go!

Running along the seafront back towards the finish line was wonderful. I stopped to walk once or twice but quickly discovered it hurt less to run but even so my pace dropped and I was glad to have minutes in the bank. By mile 24 I knew that whatever happened I'd hit my time and that was a huge boost. The question was, how close would it be? Although I felt as though I had a big grin on my face the entire time, the official race photos tell a slightly different story. You'll notice none of them appear here...

It's downhill to the finish, pure bliss, but as soon as I crossed the line all the emotion came out. I'd come in 4 minutes under my target time in 4:41:19. I'd had the strongest race I can remember, raised a considerable amount of money for Hospiscare and run in memory of my Aunt. I pushed myself but still enjoyed it so much. The sunshine, the support both on the course and from afar... it was all just wonderful. And I learnt how to drink from a paper cup whilst running!
There's another, far more emotional photo in existence but I won't scare you with it.
Words of inspiration and strength
After a minute or two I managed to collect myself enough to gather up the contents of my goody bag (chocolate, bananas, protein drink, cotton finishers shirt, water) and find the baggage lorries. Collecting my belongings was easy as pie but fighting my way out of the Beach Village was another matter. I had to sit down a while (not knowing if I would actually be able to get up again) and fortify myself with a recovery shake before that battle. About half an hour later and I was reunited with my mum and a cheese sandwich (thanks mum), another 20 minutes and I'd shuffled my way back to the hotel and my dad who had champagne on ice. Dads are brill. 
And that was that. Celebratory drinks continued into the evening (bars will not give you a free drink on production of a medal, I tried), along with more Mexican food and great company. Aching legs made for a disturbed nights sleep and a rather painful Monday but I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
I won't be back to run Brighton Marathon next year, purely because I have other races on my wish list, but I'd highly recommend it. Far easier to get into than London, a mostly flat course, well organised and tremendous fun. The half marathon sounds attractive too!

I'd like to extend a huge THANK YOU to everyone who supported me in the run up to the marathon, and on the day, in particular my parents, Team Bear and my coach.

If you raced on Sunday I hope you had a great one, be it in Brighton or Paris or somewhere else. If you've got a race coming up... GOOD LUCK!

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