A Tale of Two Marathons Part 2: The Brighton Marathon
15 April 2018
It was the best of races, it was the worst of races. It was the age of hope, it was the age of foolishness. It was the season of drizzle, it was the season of fog. They were races of challenges, they were races of triumph.
When one runs two marathons in an eight-day period, one never knows what to expect. Especially when the first run felt great, and it resulted in a faster than expected time. That usually means that run #2 won’t be as great, at least time-wise.
That was the not the case with the Brighton Marathon 2018.
I honestly thought the solid run in Bungay the Sunday prior had put a crimp in the plans and sabotaged chances for a solid run in Brighton. With a 4:18 – my fastest time in more than 6-months – I didn’t think I had enough to push for a great run on the 15th of April. I could not have been more wrong.
This was another gray and drizzly forecast for race day. When you are in the UK, you just expect it. The weather.com app had shown varying degrees of sunny, party sunny and rainy for race day in the two weeks leading up to this run, so I really didn’t know what to expect when the day arrived.
I am not a rainy weather runner. I just don’t do rain, and that is mostly given the situation with where I live; rain means puddles and puddles mean dangerous driving. So, on rainy days, I find myself on the treadmill, where I have run up to 19 miles to ensure I get my workout in.
Some balk at 19 miles on a tread mill. I am ok with it. I will only do that run in the most extreme circumstances. It means I live to run another day, rather than risk a day in unsafe conditions.
Which leads me down the road of ‘how do I run if the weather is completely terrible?’ I honestly don’t know. I have never had to run in cold, rainy, windy weather, as was the case for those in the Boston Marathon 2018. I have had bits and pieces of that weather, but nothing like that all at once. I’m OK with not ever having that all at once.
With all that in mind, I set off for Brighton for the 15 April 2018 Marathon, a race of more than 12,000 participants (plus several thousand who ran the 10K run), with a less than desirable weather forecast on my phone, anticipating a rough run.
Before the race
I arrived in Brighton after a week of down time in the New Forest with my work colleague. No running during my week; I was out walking every day, stretching my legs and trying to keep them loose for another 26.2 mi run. I had one night in London before taking the train to the seaside town of Brighton, a town I had visited in 1998 on a school trip to Britain.
A lot had changed in 20 years, namely the amount of traffic! Holy smokes! In fairness, it was looking to be a gorgeous Saturday, albeit a cold one, and if I know anything about Brits it is that they take advantage of being outside whenever they can. Sun’s out? Let’s go to the beach! It was not surprising that Brighton was heaving with people who were enjoying a beautiful spring day on top of all the runners who descended on the town for the race. I actually arrived on the Friday, heading straight to packet pick up (or for my British friends, ‘race number pick up’) to avoid the crowds that were sure to come as the day and weekend went on.
Packet pick up was a large area on the pebble beach. The organisers had a nice little event village going on, where participants and visitors had access to a wide range of food trucks and running related tents (including a Ragnar event that takes place in the UK). I noticed the Bubbles Booth almost immediately – as did Sarah when she arrived on Saturday. It was a booth where you could buy sparkling wine and enjoy a bit of bubbly on the beach. Coupled with the massage tent a few meters away, and you could have one heck of a visit to the event village.
After meandering through the booths, you arrive at a very organized queuing area. Almost no one was in line there, so I walked up and received my bib, show chip and gear bag. The next stop was to collect the shirt, which cleverly had ‘Run to the sea; bathe in the glory’ printed on the back.
I headed out of the area, which was getting busier as time went on, and found my hotel on the Marine Parade, essentially just up the steps and across the road from the event village and finish area. Wisely, I had booked a hotel right near the finish line. I guess I have been taking notes of what works best for my race day experience – hotel that is close to the finish so I can clean up and crash after the race.
Sarah arrived on a Saturday train, as did another of my MegsMiles friends was also arriving from London. We met up for lunch then on to packet pick up to ensure everyone was ready for the race.
Race morning arrives, and with it, gray and drizzle. And a little fog. Amazingly, it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, and I was actually warm by the time we walked to the start line (a good 30 min walk from our hotel). We left a bit late to avoid standing outside in the cold, which actually wasn’t an issue.
At packet pick up, I wasn’t thinking. Call it marathon brain from Bungay or a blond moment – when they asked me what time I was likely to finish, I looked at the times (and the corresponding colours) and said ‘pink!’ (This was a 4:30-5:00 finish time.) Not my smartest move in life, as what dawned on my later was that I would be starting with runners who were much slower than me, and I would be weaving in and out of people to try and find a space to run at my pace. Too late, though! Once I said pink, and that was strictly because the 4:00-4:30 corral was yellow (not one of my favourite colours!), they scanned a pink bib, handed me a pink bag and sent me on my way. Oops.
Sarah also got a pink bib in a moment of solidarity with me.
However when we arrived to the starting corrals, Sarah and I both walked into the more appropriate yellow corrals, simply concealing our bibs so the marshals wouldn’t kick us out. I honestly felt bad for doing that, but I am a legit 4:00-4:30 runner, and I was prepared to prove it if questioned.
During the waiting, we watched the big screen which showed the start of the race. Lots of fun music was all around and we chatted with other runners in our area. Before we knew it, we were walking to the start (it was a long walk actually), passing the last minute port-a-loos that were available to runners, enjoying the energy of the crowd as we finally crossed the start for our marathons to begin.
During the race
Welcome to the Brighton Marathon, complete with the hardest hill of the course right when you get out of the start gate. You run around Preston Park and up a hill that is definitely one to take at a slower pace. In fact, my slowest mile of the whole race was that first mile – thanks to the hill.
On the flip side, the downhill that was part of mile 2 contributed to my fastest mile of the marathon.
Sarah decided to not sabotage her training with doing too much at this event; she decided to run with my for the first almost 10K then peel off the course. Coincidentally that was right by our hotel. We enjoyed running through some of the local neighborhoods together, chatting about a number of things, and then when we made our way back to the Marine Parade where Sarah was going to leave the course, she pulled off to the amusement of the spectators. I think part of that was because she kept running on the sidewalk parallel to the course. I’m sure it was confusing for many people. But Sarah wished me luck and yelled that she would see me around mile 12.
I continued on what felt pretty flat at first but then started slanting uphill as we made our way east. Actually, you could see how much it was slanting uphill. Not always what you want to see. Especially when you also then see the first runners zipping along the other side of the course already on mile 11 – when you have just reached the 7 mi mark.
I kept trudging on, feeling pretty good and holding a good pace when I started feeling a tightening in my lower left calf/Achilles area. I drank some pickle juice (yes, I have purchased small bottles of pickle juice to bring with me – have pickle juice will travel!) in case it was a cramp. I knew in my head it wasn’t, and I simply hoped that it wasn’t anything big that would derail my day – or put me on the IR for an extended period of time. I kept pushing along, and at this point, my legs had a section where they felt like lead. I’m pretty sure it was a very subtle uphill that just felt strange because as I got to the turn around (complete with a water mist station to cool runners off!), the heaviness mostly went away.
I ran into a guy named Sam. He is a local guy, and this was his first marathon. We shared the course for a while chatting about running and what it was like to grow up in Brighton, a favourite seaside escape for Londoners. He was content to set back a bit, and when we got into some traffic, I wanted to get ahead – while he chose to stay with them. I told him that I would see him at the finish line and continued on at a nice clip.
As we ran back towards the finish line area on the Marine Parade, I was able to see the folks on the other side of the out and back (this race is full of them, by the way, but in all truth, only one was tortuous. The final one. Of course.); they were the end of the field, some walking, some doing a walk/run interval trying to make it through. And my favourite part were the many who were in ‘fancy dress.’
Brits take fancy dress seriously. And not all runners who donned a costume were at the end; I was able to pass the storm trooper at the half way point, but I’m sure some costumed runners finished ahead of me. Most races have costumed runners, but in my experience now, the Brits have taken it to a whole new level. A green telephone. The storm trooper. Two people running side by side dressed as inflatable breasts (you could tell by the nipples) – they were running for a breast cancer charity. Three guys in lime green briefs. A float of Hawaiian hula girls. So much more. It’s rather impressive, to be honest. I would be afraid of the horrors of chaffing that would result. But these folks. They are brave. Or crazy. Or perhaps a little of both. Kudos to them on a job well done.
I saw Sarah who was able to snap a nice photo of me looking human around the 12 mil mark, and I was able to grab some jelly babies that the many, many spectators were handing out along the way.
Note to everyone: this race by far had the highest number of spectators offering you food: mostly jelly babies and other gummies, but also chips (crisps), oranges, bananas, jelly beans and more. I could not go more than a couple steps through many of the neighborhoods without seeing a child or an adult holding a bowl of snacks for runners to grab. I partook in some, and I think jelly babies are my new favourite race candy of all.
Back to the running. I crossed the half way point around 2:02, and was feeling pretty good. I knew that we had several more out-and-back type stretches (which I hate) but it was not an unknown going into this race. As I ran along this long stretch, we eventually saw the lead runners heading toward the finish line (around 2:20 I think). Thankfully, our section took a sharp right and headed into the neighborhoods, which far and away was a huge highlight, if not reason to run this again.
When you get into the smaller neighborhoods, people come out. The road was all but packed on a chilly (for spectators), gray and eventually rainy day. But that did not deter the young or the old from being there to cheer on runners as they raced in and around the off-the-beaten-paths of Brighton and Hove. In talking with our host for dinner the night before, it was obvious just how community minded this city is. Running through it, it was very obvious. This event is a community supported effort, one that people look forward to all year to be able to cheer on their friends, neighbors and complete strangers as they take to the streets.
After coming out of the neighborhood section, we headed back along the waterfront toward the power station. This section was soul destroying. Not only was it an out and back stretch from about miles 19-23, but it was just boring. No spectators really, my calf/Achilles was very sore at this point, and just when I thought we were turning around to head back, they make you go right and around a large area before you then finally point in the direction of the finish line. Ugh. I’m not the only one who felt that way, either.
Thankfully, water stops were frequent and medical assistance was readily available along the course. I did see an ambulance take someone to the hospital in this stretch. Knowing there was a great support of ambulance volunteers was comforting as a runner. You never know when you may need help.
When I made that final turn toward the finish line, I still had about 3 miles to go and the rain was light, but coming down steadily. I was tired, my hip and lower back were sore and my left leg was killing me. But I was determined. I was on pace for a 4:10 run, maybe even a little less. I had started making ‘kills’ around mile 16 – or at least noticing them – so I tried to focus on passing even more people in that final stretch. And I did. No one had anything on me. I was determined to keep that second fastest marathon time in reach. And while I slowed down just a little towards the end, I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace throughout the race.
I stopped briefly to take a photo of the Brighton beach houses that line the promenade here. People who lease the sheds were out in force, enjoying spectating and handing candy to the runners. I kept going, eager to add to my kills and really wanting that 4:10 run. By mile 25, I thought I could finish with a 4:09 so I kicked up the pace a little bit and focused on making it to the end.
The crowds were thick along the final ¾ mile stretch, and I had a moment of ‘how on earth am I going to find Sarah with all these people?’ However, as I went down the final ramp towards the finish line, I heard my name as I ran by; I knew where Sarah was. I pushed a little harder (this was a long stretch toward the finish, made longer by the extremely long distance from which you can see the finish line as you approach it) and crossed the line, remembering to turn off my Garmin this time.
My time: 4:09:29
Good enough for my second fastest marathon time.
After the race
The finisher’s chute was nicely done – they give you your medal, wa
ter, a bag (thank you!) which has some food items in it, and you can take an alcohol-free beer. (What is up with alcohol free beers and these European races? I mean come on!) I hobbled down a very long chute until I could get out, then realized I had a bunch of steps to walk up to get up to my hotel. My Achilles area was very tight and ended up swollen and a little bruised (thankfully, I don’t think it was anything more than a bit of overuse that has subsided after rest, ice and wrapping it up), so I gingerly made my way to the hotel to meet Sarah, shower and go out for my post-race beer and fries.
We did go back to the finish line to cheer on my MegsMiles friend and seeing those runners who persevere for 6+ hours on a marathon course, well they are amazing. Sarah and I had a beer each at that point, and we were having fun. We were also the only people around the finish area that were yelling and screaming at every runner that came in. Reserved Brits really appreciate our American-ness, I’m sure! We finally saw Jen approaching the finish; I snapped some pix, took a video and headed around to meet her and congratulate her on her finish line.
Closing thoughts on my UK marathon adventures
Part of the reason I continue to run these races is my desire and interest in visiting new places. Running has given me a reason to go to places that I may have otherwise overlooked; running makes me slow down and really immerse myself in the place – getting to know the character of the people who live there and the communities that host these races.
In both of these events, traditional headphones/earbuds were prohibited. (In Bungay, they said you would be DQ if they saw you with them, as it was a serious safety issue.) Apparently in the UK, this is the rule, and only the bone conducting headphones are allowed. They are not cheap, so I do not own them (I did try them and they are fantastic, so I may be investing in a pair at some point), which meant that I ran both these races without music – GASP! I wasn’t thrilled to say the least. However, I gave it a go, and to my surprise, it wasn’t as awful as I envisioned. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. Maybe my success was due to the fact that I could listen to my own breathing and run at a pace that wasn’t influenced by the beat of my music or the drone of a reader on one of my audiobooks. Maybe, just maybe, I will ditch the earbuds again and see if I have the same result. I’m not saying that I will never use earbuds again; I’m just saying it’s not nearly as bad as so many runners think it is. Give it a try. You may find you like it.
After running the Baltimore, Richmond, Kiawah and Houston Marathons in 2107-2018, fighting to finish in around a 4:30 time for each of those with everything I had in me, dealing with the pain from a developing neuroma in my foot, I genuinely thought I was finished with my ‘fast’ marathon times. That my once attainable goal of a 4-hour run was well out of reach. After back to back weekend runs that were both very strong, including my second fastest marathon time, I now feel like that goal is not only back on the table, but well within reach. Hmmm, maybe I am back to chasing that 4-hour run a bit sooner than anticipated. I’m excited to see where it takes me.