Brighton Marathon 2017

So, Brighton Marathon 09/04/2017. This was to be my second Marathon attempt, and indeed my second go at the Brighton course (creature of habit?!). I thought i’d try and give a rundown of how the race went. Its my usual longwinded approach, so if you don’t have much time, i’d probably leave now! Anyway ……

The morning came, and i was awake about an hour before my alarm was set. This is the norm for me on race day, bloody race nerves! We were staying at The Grand Hotel, which has one of the best breakfast buffets i’ve ever seen, and for the second year running(we stayed there last year too)  my wife made the most of it, whereas due to the combination of race nerves and gingerbreadmanophobia, i had a single solitary plain crossaint and a glass of apple juice…. exactly the same as last year (creature of habit?).

We intended to leave the hotel at 8-8:15, its a 30 minute walk from the hotel to the start, and i wanted plenty time to get to the front of the red corral to find the sub 3:15 bus. But me being me, ended up faffing about and we didnt leave till 8:30. We marched as quick as we could to Preston park whilst i nibbled jelly babies and sipped lucozade to top the carbs up. The other half was getting very worried about lack of sun cream, and against my wishes found someone who was applying some and asked if she could use a bit for me. I huffed and puffed but in the long run she was right, i would have absolutely frazzled in that heat, especially with a completely black arm!

With 10 mins till official race start, a run up the hill to the nearest bush for a jimmy riddle, and kiss goodbye to the wife, and off i went to fight my way to the front to find the 3:15 pacer. I think in hindsight it was kind of rude to nudge to the front like that, but the way i saw it, was if you were trying to get to a certain pacer, you’re within your rights to do so? Either way, i found the 3:15 pacer with about 3 minutes to spare. The TV camera was rolling and the presenter was doing the usual waffle about what an achievement a marathon is. I was stood right behind so i shouted “Go Felixstowe Road Runners” at the top of my voice, and jumped up and down like a lunatic to try and get the club a little airtime. Only time will tell if this strategy worked!

Now the race was about to start, but before i go on, i need to clarify. I had seeked out the 3:15 bus as this was my best case scenario target. I had been quite vocal about this, and written all about it in my runner profile a couple of weeks earlier, so had put quite a lot of pressure on myself to try and hit this target. However, i was NOT confident at all i was capable of this. A conversation with John Reynolds 2 nights earlier had put me in the frame of mind that i was going to go for it regardless, and if i crashed and burned i’d have known i’d have given it my all (unlike the year before where i played it safe and didnt come away feeling i’d given 100%). With that in mind the start horn beeped and off we went!

It was already pretty bloody hot by now. But as we were within the town centre, there was plenty shade to find. Still, you knew as soon as you were out in the open, it was going to be quite testing! Hydration was to be the key to unlocking a decent time today. We left the park and turned left up the horrible big hill, i remembered this shocking me last year, but i knew it was coming this time, so it was fine. I was fairly sure there were no other notable hills anyway, so get this out of the way and its plain sailing.

We got to the 3 mile point, and the first water station. I had intended to take a gel every 3 – 4 miles (water station permitting) and this was the first one. There was a massive group following the 3:15 pacer, and i didn’t want to A) slow down for water or B) miss water altogether, so i put the power down and sprinted ahead of the group, only to find the water station was both sides of the road and this little sprint was not needed at all. This one move changed my race strategy completely! Rather than hang on to the 3:15 bus, i decided i was going to make him catch me. I don’t know if this was stupid or not (ok ok i do) but i put the hammer down and off i went. Now as said earlier, i was fairly sure the only notable hill at Brighton, was at the start. But i was wrong! The first 9 miles are actually a mixed bag on short sharp inclines up and down town. I don’t know how i had forgotten this from last year, but there are quite a few nasties! Nonetheless i felt good and the pace stayed where i wanted it. All signs were good! Pre race i had told myself if i could get to the halfway point at target pace, that was the minimum requirement. I was going to hold on for as long as i could, and if i started feeling even the slightest twinge of tiredness i was going to lift off a bit and go for plan B (which was sub 3:20). I had my virtual partner set on my watch to reflect this. So i knew if plan A slipped away, i could see how far ahead of plan B i was. The heat was noticeable by this point, but every water station i was taking 2 cups… sipping one, and tipping the other over my head. This was working pretty well, as although i could feel the heat around me, it didn’t feel like it was affecting performance too much (at this point). All was going swimmingly til mile 17. This was the first mile i felt myself struggling a little. Not a lot, but enough to make me start thinking about the latter stages of the race. Mile 18 was worse, and i started looking at my virtual partner to see how much time i hand in the bank in case i started falling away. I had plenty time in the bank and this felt pretty good. It must have made me feel really good as mile 19 was like a second wind. I was back at 3:15 pace! But this was short lived, and  ended up being the beginning of the end for Plan A. Mile 20 came, and with it came the 3:15 pacer, and all his followers. (So basically i had made it 20 miles at TMP which i’m actually quite happy with in the conditions!)Not only had the bugger finally caught me, but he and all his followers sailed by me like i was stood still, which was kind of soul destroying, and kind of confusing, as i was actually only 11 seconds a mile off pace on this mile (i’m guessing they were negative splitting). My pace was lifting at this point, and it was a trend that would continue to the end. I flicked my watch over to VR and saw i had 4 minutes and 38 seconds to spare on top of the additional time allowance for plan B. So was in quite a good place time wise, but physically suffering. Had just reached the infamous Power Station section, well known for destoying more competent runners than myself, and even though i knew it was coming this year, and exactly what to expect, i still struggled through there! It is like a war zone, people on the floor surrounded by nothing by concrete and warehouses.  I also found myself struggling to take any fluid in, almost like i’d overhydrated? And had to avoid taking my final planned gel as i didnt think i had any chance of holding it down. At mile 21 something happened to me that has never happened before at any distance, in both training and race scenarios…. Cramp! I habitually lift my knees up for 4-6 steps once or twice a mile to keep my quads limber when running. I don’t lift my legs high enough when running at slower paces, and my legs tend to lock up after a while unless i do this to keep them fresh. I attempted to do this at mile 21 ready for the push back along the seafront, and i got a twang in my left hamstring. I thought nothing of this at this point and just took it as a warning sign, but should be ok. I did some quick maths based on distance left, plus time in the bank, and worked out that i should be able to limp over the line at around 8:30mm pace, and still have a little time in the bank to play with to stay under the 3:20 mark. Even with this information, i still chose to battle on as fast as the body would take me, as i was unsure what would happen in the next 5 miles. So effort stayed at 100%, but pace dropped, then it dropped again. Mile 23 was the first mile that saw me drop into the 8s, and there was nothing i could do to stop it now. I again tried to lift my knees up to loosen the legs off, and i got the hamstring cramp once more, only this time worse. Thankfully i managed to shake it loose and not have to stop, but i could feel it from thereon just waiting to attack again. I was desperate not to stop at any point , even if i had no knock the pace right off. I’m too stubborn to allow this. So the pace dropped back once more. Mile 24 and 25 were both at 8:15mm. I was in complete agony by this point. I was holding back tears and running with a bit of a limp. My quads were getting so so tight, yet i couldn’t loosen them up as the hamstring was waiting to twang at any point. Still refusing to walk knowing there was just one and a bit miles left i powered on. The last mile or so is a gentle descent, and the crowd are in maximum overdrive here. Literally heard my name shouted about 100 times on this final straight, and it really gave me a lift. Not wanting to let the crowd down i attempted to pick the pace up, but despite my best efforts i really didnt have anything to give (although at 7:48mm it was a slight improvement).

The last quarter-ish mile nearly killed me. I really wanted to sprint over the line as i did last year, and the adrenaline kicked in as if to give the body permission, but the legs had other ideas. I tried and tried to pick it up, but the more i tried, the more i hurt. As i approached the finish i could see 3:19:XX up ahead. WHAT THE HELL!? I thought i had bags of time in the bank. I could not let plan B go, not this close! F**K it! Ignoring the pain in the legs i went for it. I’ve never felt pain like this running before.But the pace just didnt come. 3:19:56, 57, 58, 59, 3:20:00 …. Bollocks! It was too late. I limped over the line at 3:20:11, gutted! Plan B was so close, how could this happen? My watch says i did it in 3:17:25!?
I was frozen in pain for a few seconds over the finish line, but was ushered out of the way for the long torturous walk through medal collection, goody bag collection, water, protein bar, foil blanket, recovery shake and  kit bag collection. This walk is horrendous! Especially if (like me) you don’t actually have a kit bag to collect! Brighton Organisers, if you can read this…. please set up an early exit line for folk like me!?

I finally got to the designated meeting point to see my wife, and told her i’d missed both plan A and plan B, but she looked at me and said “what are you talking about, your chip time was 3:18:11” ….. Holy S**T! I forgot there was a discrepenacy between Gun and Chip time! Plan B was a success! I was elated! I could not believe i’d managed it to be honest, both with the heat, and with the hamstring/cramp issue (which i believe was a product of the heat). A near 13 minute PB from last years time, and this time absoutely nothing left in the tank whatsoever. I can honestly and wholeheartedly say i did not have a single ounce of energy/effort left inside, and this was a good feeling. I’m still unsure as to how there was a 2 minute differential between Gun and Chip time when i was 3 rows back from the start line, but i’m not gonna argue!

I’ll never know if on a different day sub 3:15 was possible. If i’m honest, i don’t really care. You can only battle with yourself, the course, and the conditions on the day. Its not worth thinking about other scenarios. I will say its given me confidence for the next one though thats for sure! I’m chuffed to be that one step closer to my ultimate goal of a sub 3hr marathon, on what i’ve realised is actually a fairly tough course and in undoubtably tough conditions. Brighton 2017, it was a pleasure ….. I may well see you again next year!

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1 Response

  1. Ali says:

    Great race report, and so different from my experience of the same race. Well done Jon, a huge PB and one to be proud of (until next time when you’ll get sub 3:15).

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