Brighton marathon post race report
Right then, as promised (to those that bothered to read my pre Brighton ramblings) here is my post Brighton Marathon 2018 report.
For those that didn’t read that, or are unfamiliar with the tale thus far. This was my third attempt at the marathon distance, and indeed my third attempt at conquering the Brighton course. I had set myself a target of Sub 3:05, this (at the time) would have been a GFA time and had seemed a more than realistic target at the time it was set, but the nearer to race day we got, the less confident I was finding myself.
There is quite a long winded lead up to actual race reporting here, so if you wish to, you can bypass the intro…
The weekend started the same as last time.We arrived in Brighton nice and early to make the most of our time there (as we always make a sharp exit post race to avoid traffic and get back to the kids at a decent time). Dumped our baggage at the hotel and shot straight down to the (dissapointing) expo to pick up my race number. This year I was fortunate enough to have been offered a place at the “Fast” start (ode to my Half Marathon PB from last year). For those not in the know, this is seperate from the “Mass” start. The mass start is located at Preston Park, whereas the fast start is located a mile up the road at Withdean park.There are pros and cons to both scenarios I’ll delve into soon. Anyway, I picked up my special orange race number (and felt slightly smug if I’m totally honest) and headed onto the beach for a smoothie (hydration hydration hydration!) and a mooch about. We got to the hotel for check in, and just as the wife and I had settled down, I recieved a message from Shabba, that literally just said “Beer” and I was sold. I was determined to keep the race nerves at bay and a little socialising seemed like the perfect way of going about this. The intel was shared with a couple more FRR folk and off we went. So a quick one at the East Tap (fine establishment may I add) followed by one more on the Beach before saying our goodbyes/good lucks and I headed back to my hotel to get into my running gear and head for my pre race ritual of 2 easy miles with race paced strides. I guess the adrenaline was kicking in early, as I ended up just below target race pace without putting in any effort whatsoever, naughty but satisfying! A meal with the wife at a little Tex Mex place we discovered last time out (called Smokeys) and back to the Hotel for an early night. Everything was going well thus far.
I managed to get to sleep fairly easily (which was a suprise) but sadly it didnt last long. At approx 2:30am I must have rolled over in my sleep, I had been strapped with some Kinesio tape on my right quad, and this seemingly attached itself to the bed… as I rolled over this basically tried to rip all the hairs off my leg and I let out a little yelp as I was rudely awoken. I didn’t really settle back after that. Not the perfect start to race day! But, I had invested far too much time into this race to let a trivial thing such as bad nights sleep ruin it.
We went down for Breakfast and once again it looked amazing! Sadly, pre race nerves meant I wouldn’t be eating much of it at all (two thirds of a Pain du Chocolat and a glass of Apple juice, hurrah!) I topped up this amazing breakfast with half a bag of Tangfastic Haribo (the choice of champions) whilst getting into the race gear.
The race wasn’t due to start until 9:45, but we had a taxi booked as early as 8:30 (due to imminent road closures) to take us up to Withdean Park. Ordinarily I walk from the Hotel to Preston park (1.8 miles), but as Withdean Park was an extra 1.1 miles away from the hotel, I thought it wise to conserve the legs a bit. At 8:45 and with no answer from the taxi company we realised they weren’t coming! I had just about made the decision to walk to Preston Park for the mass start instead when by luck, an empty cab drove by us which my wife managed to call over and the Withdean Park start was back on!
The report proper
The Withdean Park start has its pro’s and its cons. Its actually a flatter faster start than you’ll find at Preston park (where there is an initial climb and descent that I guess can make or break your race right from the beginning if you aren’t careful. There is hardly anyone about, its much calmer, the queue for the toilets is much less daunting, and you are surrounded by athletes of a similar ability. The drawback to this is you lose the “Major Marathon” feel. There isn’t that same buzz in the air, no celeb send off (although the celebrity this year was just some guy that created something called “parkrun”, whatever the hell that is!?) and not much in the way of crowd suppoirt either. However, having now experienced both starts, I would choose the Withdean Park start every time if I could. The first mile is a breeze. There is no ducking and weaving through hoards of people to find your groove. It just seemed a lot smoother to me. Although I’ll admit it wouldn’t be for everyone, and I certainly would recommend using the conventional “mass” start if its your first time, so you can fully enjoy the build up and atmosphere that comes with it.
Anyhow, we were off. As you know the target was 3:04:59, this equates to roughly 7:04 pace throughout. As warned in my pre race ramble. I intended to go against all popular advice and stick a little time in the bank. Not much, but just enough for a cushion at the end should I start to fall apart. Unfortunately for me, the night before the race started, a naughty little birdy planted a seed in my head that I should try for a sub 3, and despite the fact I had severe doubts in my mind a sub 3:05 was even doable at this point, I decided I might as well give it a go and see what happened (cheers Solly!)
So to give myself the best chance at the sub 3 I knew I couldn’t get, I had to put even more time in the bank. Cue a first mile at 6:30 pace. Oops, I knew this was a little over zealous, but it actually felt alright, so I just rolled with it. The pace stayed near enough there through the first 5k and I crossed the mat at 20:21. Mile 4 has a short sharp incline, and this brought me back to reality a bit. A 6:51 mile was the slowest of the race so far, but actually was the pace I was looking for if I was to hold for a sub 3 attempt, so thats where I decided to stay for the next few miles. Just as I was exiting the first town section, a massive seagull shit landed in front of me, I felt a plop hit my head, but thankfully just a little one, plus this is meant to be good luck isn’t it? So I took this as a good omen and carried on about my business.
Now I remember there being a rather persistant climb as you exit town and head along the marina, but I don’t remember it being 2 miles long. But it is! Don’t get me wrong, its not offensive as such, but you do find yourself willing it to be over so the legs can recover slightly. Still, I was through the 10k mark in 41:27 and in good shape. At this point I felt I could probably get to at least the half way point without re-evaluating, but there was about to be a little spanner in the works. At around the 9 mile mark, there was a new addition to the course due to some slight changes the organisers had made to the route to try and reduce some of the road closures around the shops. I was aware of this change well in advance, however, I wasn’t aware it was an up and down! This took it out of me a little bit, especially after the long (but more subtle) climb to get there. This was the first mile I went over sub 3 pace, but at 6:58 I was still roughly there, plus has a bit of time banked as we know, so no drama at this stage. But I did still feel slightly laboured. I had an inkling things weren’t going to get better, so this was the point I knew sub 3 was not likely and a challenge to be saved for another day. I calculated I could 7 minute mile my way to the halfway point, hopefully recover a bit, come through the half way mark in under 90 minutes and hopefully have enough left in the tank to hold on for that sub 3:05. So thats what I did. The crowds at this point are literally amazing, and it gave me a massive lift to cross the half way mat in a respectable and almost comfortable 1:29:12. So far so good indeed.
As I still felt ok at this point I just opted to hold that pace for as long as possible before I started to feel laboured. Sadly this wasn’t very long at all. Miles 14 and 15 were on pace, but mile 16 was the slowest yet at 7:04 (which was the original target pace). I now had to take off my bird poop covered trail running cap and put on my thinking cap. Mile 17 was slightly slower still (7:11), and although I felt ok in myself, the pace was lifting slightly and having experienced this before I kind of knew it wasn’t going to get better.
I made the decision to slow myself right down at this point to see if I could hold off the fatigue. I still had plenty time banked (which was quite clearly the reason I was in this situation, but hey ho) which gave me a couple of miles to try and regroup before the infamous power station section would arrive. Unfortunately I could not keep the fatigue at bay. Mile 18 was 7:25 pace, and although there was slight improvement at mile 19 (7:19 pace) I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it. The good news was I had hit the 20 mile mark in a touch under 2hrs 19, which meant at this point I had over 45 mins to hit the last 10k and sneak that oh so important Good for Age time. The bad news was, a 45 minute 10k is approx 7:15 pace, and I hadn’t hit that since mile 17. Oh bugger!
I tried to fight for it, I really did. I kept saying in my head that anyone can hurt for 45 minutes, just push, push!, PUSH!!! But no matter how hard I pushed, the pace just wasn’t there. This lack of ability landed just in time for me to arrive at the power station, great! I’ve decided this place isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be (please read that last sentance again in a sarcastic tone), what doesn’t help it is the fact you hit it as you enter the last 10k of the course, and its common knowledge that realistically this is where your race “should” start (unless you cock it up like me and find yourself with zero in the tank by then). So just as you start feeling the full force of the marathon distance, you also hit the bleakest and most soul destroying section in global marathon history (this hasn’t been scientifically confirmed but I’m fairly sure its accurate) and find yourself asking why you ever contemplated running, and what other sport/hobby you are going to take up at the finish so you never have to run again, ever!
I was done for. Honestly. Mile 21 – 7:37, Mile 22 – 7:41, Mile 23 – 7:48. This was not good at all. I didn’t feel like I’d hit the wall, I felt like I had energy still, but the legs were non compliant. At mile 24 I had to do something I’d told myself I would never allow to happen …. I stopped! I did this for 2 reasons. 1, was to stretch the legs out and see if I could ease a little life into them, and 2, was to give myself the best chance of looking strong along the finish straight. The last 3 miles of the Brighton course are the most packed with spectators, and I didn’t want to dent my pride by stopping in front of them. I allowed myself 30 seconds to regroup. There were 10 or so other runners willing me to go again as they ran past, telling me how close I was. I knew they were right, it was time to push on. My unofficial plan B (which was now technically plan C?) was to try for a Sub 3:10, this gives me the right to apply for Boston Marathon which as well as London, is my major bucket list event. I would like it to be the last Marathon I ever run, and it to be my reward to myself if I ever make the Sub 3 club. So anyway, I still had time in the bank to achieve this modest consolation, and thats what I used to pull me through to the finish.
The last 3 miles were spent pretty much looking at the floor and just willing the finish line to appear. I was on cruise control really. Mile 25 – 7:54, Mile 26 – 7:46. The slight consolation being I did manage a sprint finish at the end (unlike last year where I was cramped up and limped over the line), the last 0.3 miles (brighton is a slightly long course) were at (you guessed it) 7:04 pace, irritatingly the exact pace I needed throughout, how does that even happen!!!
Anyway, the ridiculous dream of a miracle Sub 3 was long gone, The more achievable (but unsuccessful) target of Sub 3:05 was gone, but had I made plan C? …… Thankfully the answer was YES! I finished with an official time of 3:08:08. This was a PB of 10 minutes and 3 seconds. Now I know in reality I should be ecstatic with this result. I’ve gone from 3:30, to 3:18, to 3:08 in a relatively short amount of time. But I’m not. And if you care to find out why, take yourself to the postscript.
Still, thats another chunk of time taken off towards my dream/quest/suicide mission of joining that elusive sub 3 club. I’ve learnt a little more, both about myself and the marathon distance. Overall I’d definitely claim it as a success, albeit a dissapointing one.
Anyhow. That was Brighton Marathon #3 out of the way. I can’t make next years race as have a holiday booked that week. Which means finding an alternative marathon next spring. I was hoping it was going to be london but evidentally its not. And its a bloody good thing I did not make “good for age” time. As it now transpires that the day after Brighton, it was announced the cut off is now Sub 3 for a runner my age! Yowser!! How heartbreaking would that have been if I’d have thought I’d made the cut then been rejected afterall! Perhaps this happened for a reason eh!!!
I’m unsure whether I will run the Brighton course again. I’m a natural avoider of inclines, and I’ve just been reminded how many there are along the coastline of Brighton. Mind you I’ve said that twice before now and here I am writing race report #3 ….. See you all for report #4. TBC!!!
Thanks for reading.
OK, so I am going to lay it all out for you here. The reason I am not satisfied with this result isn’t the time. It isn’t that I missed GFA, I don’t think it was anything performance related to be frank. The marathon distance is a harsh old mistress, and as we all know pushing even just 5 seconds a mile too hard somewhere can cost you dearly. No, the reason I feel I have let myself down lays with the bathroom scales. At my peak last year I was weighing in at 150lbs, I weighed myself the morning I left for Brighton and I was 156lbs. Now that 6lbs difference might not seem a lot. But at an estimated 2 seconds per pound per mile, could have theoretically cost me 12 seconds a mile overall. Lets round that down to 10 seconds x 26 miles and we have 260 seconds, yes 4 minutes and 20 seconds potentially down the pan through lack of discipline. 3:08:08 less 4 mins 20 = 3:03:48!
I can’t help but wonder what would have been if I’d not let myself slip like that. Its always going to be a “what if” result now, and the only way to rectify this is to get back into shape (and then some) and have another attack at the distance later this year. So thats exactly what I’m aiming to do. This result may actually have been the best thing for me as its the kick in the bum I think I needed to whip myself into racing form as such and see what I can do with no excuses! Lets be honest, going sub 3 is going to be difficult at the best of times and for someone like myself who is going to struggle with the challenge I need every marginal gain I can take. I am going to add much more distance work to my routine (to try and minimise the fade towards the end of the race), and continue working on core and strength also to see if this keeps the legs fresher for longer. Tie this in with shedding the excess timber, and obviously continuing training as normal, and I’m hoping I can give myself a chance at seeing a 2:59:59 or less next to my name in the not too distant future. I know I’ve said that in the past, but I am more determined than ever now as I am getting closer and closer, and also with the London goalposts changing, there is even more incentive there. I know this may read like I am taking this far too seriously, its just a hobby afterall. But I promise I am getting just as much enjoyment out of the sport as I always have. I still love getting out on the trails, or bouncing around at club nights etc etc. I really am relishing the challenge of this Sub 3 target, so if it seems like I am sapping the fun out of the sport for myself, I assure you I am not. I’m just a man on a mission, and I’m not going to rest until its complete.