Race report: Brighton Marathon

On Sunday I ran a race I’d been keen to do for a while, the Brighton Marathon. Apparently now the second largest marathon in the UK, after London, despite only running since 2010, the event actually includes a three-day running ‘festival’ incorporating children’s events, a large expo on the beach, and a 10k.

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My kit. Sort of. Though I switched out the t-shirt as I decided it was uncomfortably tight.

I have to say, this is one of these races that I probably shouldn’t have run. Going in to it I had severely under-trained due to spending the whole first part of 2018 focusing on a different type of fitness due to some things I was doing at work. On top of that (and linked to it) I had an ankle injury that even a week of near-constant icing and NSAIDs hadn’t really resolved. However, I was keen to do the run and felt that, if nothing else, I could jog round it and enjoy the run.

Of course, that being the case, I probably shouldn’t have set off at a wildly over-optimistic 8:00min/mile pace – a pace that I’d have been aiming for had I trained adequately and been at full fitness…

But let’s start at the beginning.

The Brighton Marathon Expo is unique to any other marathon I’ve run in that, instead of being in a boring convention centre, it’s literally on the beach. Walkways are laid, tents are put up, and the whole atmosphere is lovely and uniquely ‘Brighton’. Compared to London, NYC or San Fran it’s a fairly small expo – a few retailers with race branded kit and general running gear, package collection of course, and the chance to register for next year ahead of it being opened up more widely. There’s also a really nice area with street food vans and lots of picnic tables, so it made the whole affair of package pick up about as nice an experience as it can ever be.

On the day, the race starts at the fairly healthy time of 9:45 meaning I didn’t need a particularly early start. The start line is in Preston Park and, much like all marathons I’ve been to, it’s the usual chaos of a lot of people, long lines for toilets, and eventually people manoeuvring into start corals and then being led towards the start line. Signs of smart thinking were not only having portaloos in the corals but also urinals along the final pen before the start line (not sure what the ladies were supposed to do… sorry!). A minor detail but definitely useful…

After that, the race starts with a lap round Preston Park and a nice steady downhill into town, another loop around town and then essentially a big loop along the sea front – first heading East along the rolling cliff-top route that I often run along, which, while hilly, at least has as much downhill as uphill, and then back West into Hove, before looping round and finally coming back along the boardwalk to the i360, the pier, and eventually the finish line on Madeira Drive. Although there are long sections that aren’t by the sea, as much of it as humanly possibly is a genuinely ‘seaside marathon’, which is lovely. The first few miles were crowded, as most popular marathons are, and my last-minute loo break meant I was starting further back in the pen than I’d wanted, so I was doing a lot of weaving around to overtake people, but that’s hard to avoid. Once we got to the coast, the routes were wide and the runners spaced out and I didn’t have any more problems after that.

As far as my own run went, I actually maintained a fairly decent just-sub-8min pace for the first 15-16 miles, although I kind of sensed I’d bitten off more than I could chew as I was finding it an ‘ok’ pace rather than it feeling absurdly easy and me having to hold back like I normally do for the first 8-10 miles of a marathon.

By about mile 15, though, I knew I was in trouble, and started to struggle badly to hold that pace, and by the time we got into Hove I was making it my mission just to hang on to the 20-mile mark and then I could start to re-evaluate. I got there in the end, and then allowed myself to walk a bit through drink stations in the hope of loosening up my by then extremely painful ankle, and generally sore muscles.

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Obviously it didn’t really work – but the performance graph for my marathon shows pretty brutally the extent to which I maintained a steady pace and then faded badly in the last few 8 miles or so. Injuries aside, this, quite simply, is exactly what happens when you don’t train properly and specifically when you don’t do enough long runs as part of your training. Base fitness can get you to 18-20 miles, but it’s only proper training that gets you to 26.2. Learn from my mistakes, people.

Anyway, I limp/hobble/ran/walked through the last few miles, and managed a decent run at the end, before collapsing within 10 metres of the finish line and then having to slowly and painfully make my way home by the age-old method of walking for 100 metres and then sitting on the pavement for 5 minutes.

Although it was a great course and overall a nice run, it was probably one of my least satisfying marathons. Although my third-best marathon by time, all things taken into account I think it’s one of my worst marathons. San Fran was slower, but extremely hilly. London was a lot slower, but also my first ever Marathon. Portsmouth was slower but… yeah that was actually also a terrible run. The trouble with once you start to run marathons a lot is that ‘just finishing’ stops being particularly satisfying, and I want to actually have a good run and a decent time.

But then, I need to train. So that’s on me. And yes, I signed up for next year, so let’s do better then.

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