Ok, let’s get the main point out of the way: I didn’t make my target time of sub 3:30. In fact, I didn’t even quite get a PB, missing out on that by just under a minute. I’ll come back to my feelings about the result at the end, but for now, on with the report.
The Brighton Marathon experience starts, like most big city events, with a visit to the ‘Expo’ or ‘Race Village’ to pick up your race number. That has to be done on the Friday or Saturday, and there’s always a certain amount of moaning about this as it means that people coming from outside Brighton need to allow an extra day in town simply to pick up a number that honestly could quite easily be posted out, or perhaps made available in Preston Park at the start. While when I’ve gone to out-of-town marathons, I’ve always enjoyed getting their a day or two early and soaking up the atmosphere, I do understand this frustration especially for people coming from not that far away (London being the key example) who could quite easily just get a train in for the start on Sunday, if it weren’t for having to collect their number the day before.
For me, of course, the pick up was easy as I live a matter of a few minutes walk from the race village’s location on the beach. It has to be said, compared to the fairly anonymous expo centres of New York, London, Paris and to a slightly lesser extent San Francisco, the open-air on-beach race village of Brighton is a real joy. It is a lot smaller than all of those mentioned above though, with just a handful of shops and half a dozen street food vans. Regardless, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of strolling to the beach, collecting my number, and then sitting in the sunshine eating a pork bun and listening to the music and pre-race waffle over the tannoy.
On Sunday, I got to the Preston Park start area just under an hour before the race. The luxury of living nearby made me fairly relaxed about timings as I didn’t even plan to drop off a bag, so all I really needed to do was walk to my start coral, and frankly I could have easily given myself a lot less time. Preston Park makes for a nice spacious start area, and non-runners are free to mill around everywhere except the start corals themselves, which makes for a nice atmosphere. On a small point, I liked the effort they’d made to actually thinking through the whole ‘queuing for a portaloo’ experience, with portaloos clearly clustered into groups and a single long queue for each group, and plenty of staff directing people and topping up toilet roll. Plus, the urinal areas for men, easing pressure on the longer queues. There are more portaloos in the start corals, and even urinal areas you can nip into as you move towards the start-line, for that all-important last-minute stop. It may all seem like minor stuff, but every runner knows that the portaloo situation at start lines can be pretty irritating, and add to the pressure of the race, so kudos to Brighton for actually making an effort.
The weather for the run was pretty much ideal – cool but not freezing, sunny but not aggressively so, and with patches of cloud, and a little breeze to keep us cool. The pre-race announcer kept warning of a stiff headwind along the sea-front, but I didn’t particularly find that on the first loop out East, instead it was a lot more noticeable on the final run into the finish.
I had, slightly optimistically, elected to be in the sub-3:30 coral, which is the fastest of those starting in Preston Park. The really fast runners start further up the road, and have a straight run to start with rather than a lap around the park. My thinking was that I’ve often been frustrated in the past with having to spend the first few miles of the race running around people, and if I started in the 3:30-4:00 coral I’d want to force my way right to the front, which would be a) a lot of effort and stress and b) not conducive to the aforementioned last minute toilet stop. Being in the faster coral meant I could happily let myself wait right at the back, and then not need to pass too many people. This tactic actually worked out nicely, and I was able to settle into my intended pace much earlier than in previous races.
I held that pace, just a little under 8min/mile, for almost the next 20 miles. Starting with a wind around Preston Park and Old Steine, then the exhilarating run into Kemptown’s St James Street, with it’s huge and noisy crowds, and then the beautiful (but slightly hilly) run out along the cliffs towards Rottingdean and back into Brighton. I still felt pretty good at the half way mark, and for most of the dull and draining run along Church road in Hove, but as the 17 and 18 mile marks ticked over, I finally began to struggle a little. Even then, it wasn’t really until we came back out of the residential part of Hove and made our way down into the grim industrial out-and-back of Basin Road, that I was really in trouble.
I’m always cautious about blaming ‘injuries’ for a less-than-satisfactory performance. It always seems like a cop-out. However, the pain in my knee that’s been bothering me in the last few miles of my long runs came back at almost exactly it’s usual point, between miles 18 and 20, except that this time I had another 6 miles to run on it. I accept that I may have slightly over-cooked the first part of the race, and I was always going to fade a bit, but I also sincerely believe that, if it hadn’t been for my knee, which reduced me to hobbling at points, I would not have suffered the crippling drop in pace that gradually and demoralisingly knocked my average pace from the 7:50s to the 8:10s over the course of just a few miles.
That last few miles back from the final turnaround, and along the sea-front, was as brutal as any race I’ve done in the past, and it was really only in the last mile that I was finally able to pick up my pace again and force myself over the line in something approaching decent shape.
So that was the run. And how do I feel? Objectively, I think, it’s fair to say this is my most disappointing marathon performance. That’s not to say I’m devastated by it, I’m not, it was my second-best marathon time. However I know it is the race where I trained the hardest, yet I did not see the performance I had hoped to. I’ve had much, much worse races but they were always ones when I knew I’d not trained enough.
This is overlaid with the concern about my knee which, on the one hand, perhaps should allow me to excuse myself slightly and not blame my training. However it also means I can’t just throw myself into an attitude of ‘well, sign up for another one and train harder next time’ because I know I’m going to have to resolve the knee problem if I’m ever going to run long-distance again. And that is a very depressing thought.
On a slightly more positive note, if my knee injury turns out to be something easily sorted, then I suspect I’m not too far away from being able to run a sub-3:30 marathon. So there’s that.