After 18 weeks of training and 1,500 miles of running, it was time to see what all that work would produce at the Brighton Marathon 2017. I had trained harder and more consistently than any previous marathon buildup, only missing a few runs when I smashed my toe up by dropping a computer on it. The experiment with high milage had gone well, and amazingly in the ten weeks before the taper started I ran seven 100+ mile weeks. I was feeling stronger than ever, and had smashed my 10K and half-marathon PBs, so my confidence was high I could produce a good result in Brighton.
Aside from a slightly disappointing 5K performance, the taper had gone well. Thanks to the imminent move to a new flat I had plenty to keep my mind occupied, meaning I avoided the paranoia and overthinking I usually put myself through in the final few weeks before a marathon. I knew I had to be careful not to overdo moving-related activities during the final week, so gradually eased off the packing and moving of boxes as Sunday approached. I was well rested and my legs were feeling fresh and niggle free. I also seemed to be successfully avoiding any illness, despite the best attempts of my young, disease-ridden nephews.
We arrived at midday on Saturday to a gloriously sunny Brighton, although a cool breeze stopped it from feeling like full-on summer. I immediately headed down to the race village to collect my number, aware that the queues can get quite long later in the day and eager to put my feet up as soon as possible. Number safely collected I spent the rest of the afternoon chilling at our AirBnB and stuffing myself full of jelly babies and Soreen banana loaf. After a massive bowl of pasta and a few alcohol-free Brewdogs, it was off to bed for an early night. Oh how times have changed from weekends in Brighton a decade ago!
I slept relatively well although did wake a little earlier than originally planned. I felt pretty bright though and after my now usual pre-marathon breakfast of bagels and jam, plus a few cups of strong coffee, I was raring to go. The forecast was for a very sunny day, so having learned my lesson last year I ensured I smothered myself in suncream. My dad gave me a lift up to Withdean Park, picking up my friend Gary on the way. We wandered down through the park and soon found the small race village that makes up the “elite” start reserved for the faster runners.
This was my third Brighton marathon, and my second starting at Withdean Park so I knew what to expect. It’s slightly odd starting from this location, as you’re a mile away from the buzz of the mass start, and it almost feels like the start of a small club race. However, I much prefer the relaxed atmosphere and the shorter toilet queues! After making my way through those queues I relaxed a little in the shade of the trees, aware that it already felt warmer than it usually does on race morning. I sipped a little water and finished off my large bag of wine gums – part of the nutrition strategy that I was repeating from Frankfurt as it seemed to work well. We were soon called to the start line, and I lined up about 1/3 of the way back. The horn sounded, and we were off!
Although quieter than the mass start, the first mile or so is always a little hectic as everyone zooms off down the same single lane of the road. My main priority was to stay upright and not overdo things on the slight downhill that makes up the first two miles down in to Brighton town centre. My “A” goal was 2:55, or 6:40/mi pace, but I didn’t want to obsess too much about pace and instead planned to run more by feel as I knew I didn’t want to force 6:40 pace in the first half only to suffer later on if that was a bit too fast for me. This seemed even more important given the forecast suggested it could get quite hot, so priority number one was keeping things feeling easy.
As expected the first mile was a little hot at 6:29, but given the downhill this wasn’t anything to worry about and I was feeling very relaxed. My pace seemed to fluctuate a little between 6:20/mi and 6:50/mi as I tried to settle in to a rhythm, and attempted to work out if anyone around me was running the sort of pace I wanted to be running. I stuck with a group of three women for a short time who seemed to be running around 6:40/mi, but after one nearly took me out cutting across to high-five someone in the crowd I decided it might be safer to move ahead of them.
At the first water point I took two cups, sipping from one and dumping the other over my head for cooling, something I did at every other station too. Although I wasn’t too hot at that moment, I was conscious the forecast suggested it would get quite warm later on, so I wanted to stay as cool as possible early on to avoid overheating later. While I still prefer drinking out of bottles, I have slowly gotten better at drinking from cups and managed to get a few good sips while still chugging along at a good pace. The water stations are very regular at Brighton, so I hoped if I could get a few sips in at each station that should be enough water to keep me going.
The miles ticked by nicely as we worked our way through the town centre, and miles 2 and 3 went by just under target in 6:37 and 6:38. We then turned back towards the seafront and in to the wind, followed by the gradual climb up Marine Parade, so I concentrated on just keeping the effort steady, and tried not to worry too much about pace. For some reason the Brighton organisers don’t give out a proper energy drink on the course, so I had my parents ready with some bottles of Lucozade at certain points on the course. The first bottle was successfully grabbed, and I tried to take a few good sips before dumping the bottle.
A remarkably consistent three miles in 6:44 each mile were followed by a 6:48 as we reached the top of the hill by the marina, but I didn’t panic as I knew we now had a few easier downhill miles. So far my average pace was right on the 2:55 target, and I was feeling nicely controlled with the legs ticking along effortlessly. As I had hoped the pace sped up a little as we dropped down in to Ovingdean, with the good weather bringing out the best support around there I can remember. 6:37, 6:43, 6:37, 6:39, and before I knew it we were passing the marina and heading back in to Brighton.
These next few miles are always fun as they are downhill, and the crowds grow and grow as you get towards the pier and the halfway mark. I passed my parents and grabbed my second bottle of Lucozade while being almost deafened by my mother’s enthusiastic shouting. I was feeling great at this point, putting in a speedy 6:31 and 6:29, but I was keenly aware as I passed the finish line below me that I still had a long way to go yet. Nonetheless, the legs were feeling strong as we passed halfway and my confidence was growing that if I could dig in and stay mentally strong my target of 2:55 might just be achievable. However with the wind behind us the temperature was starting to rise, and the water I dumped over my head was now becoming a welcome respite from the heat rather than the preemptive measure it was earlier.
We headed out along the seafront where I had my first dose of support from Joe, a fellow Pete Pfitzinger fan, which was much appreciated. There is a bit of undulation as you head along the out and back through Hove and Portslade so I again concentrated on keeping the effort steady. This seemed to work well as I ticked through the miles in a nicely consistent 6:36, 6:39, 6:40, 6:44, 6:49, 6:37. This is the point where in previous Brighton marathons I’ve started to suffer, but I was still feeling pretty strong and most importantly the quads weren’t complaining at all. I was actually able to appreciate the bands and crowd support along the route, whereas previously by now I was too busy worrying about my legs, stomach, or general mental wellbeing!
I saw Joe again as we rejoined seafront, and I was pleased to be able to tell him I was still feeling good. I hit mile 20 with a 6:38 mile, and I knew I was now getting to the business end of the race. These next few miles as you head out towards Shoreham Power Station can be a little soul destroying, but I was reaching this point feeling better than ever had before which gave me a mental boost that helped me keep the effort up and try to hold it together. I was definitely starting to tire but was still holding pace well, with mile 21 covered in 6:43. Just five more miles to go… could I do this…?
However, what I hadn’t anticipated was that as we turned around at the power station the wind would once again be against us. What had felt like a gentle breeze 15 miles earlier now felt considerably tougher, and the knowledge that the final five miles was basically a straight line along the seafront in to this wind was a little dispiriting. I tried my best to battle on, but unfortunately my legs just didn’t have the energy to respond and I slowed to around 7:00/mi. My Garmin tells me my heart rate raised 5 BPM at this point, and stayed higher for the rest of the race, so at least that shows I was trying my hardest to keep the pace up!
This wasn’t a disaster though, and while 2:55 was now probably slipping away I knew that as long as I didn’t totally crash and burn a solid sub-3 time was still achievable. I slowed to a walk very briefly at the next water station to ensure I took some fluids on and then tried to knuckle down and grind out these final miles as fast as possible. Mile 22 slowed to 6:55, and mile 23, the first that was totally against the wind, slowed further to 7:10, although it felt like I was running along that road for half an hour! I had at least reached the end of the industrial park now though, and was back out along the seafront. However, the pier seemed an awfully long way away as I made my way along the promenade at what felt like a snails pace.
I was now really having to work hard and I battled against my brain which was telling me I should just slow down or walk a little. Mile 24 passed in 7:08 which was a small victory as I hadn’t slowed any further despite it definitely feeling like I had. I passed Joe for the final time somewhere around this point, and he gave me a much needed pep talk as he briefly jogged alongside me. He reckoned I was still looking strong, although I wasn’t feeling strong! It definitely raised my spirits though, and helped remind me of all the hard work I’d put in to get to this point, and how I just needed to hold things together for a few more miles.
Mile 25 passed in 7:20, my slowest of the race, as I had another brief walk at the water station, before I dug in for the final surge. I was determined to get as close to 7:00/mi as I could and with the help of the growing crowd support managed to raise the pace to 7:04 for mile 26. I was now passing the pier and pleading for the finish line to appear. The finish line did eventually come in to sight, and I tried my best to muster as much of a sprint finish as possible. The crowd support was overwhelming at this point but despite the noise I still managed to hear my mum’s shouts of support, although my eyes were firmly fixed on the finish line. I managed to hit an average of 6:22 pace for the final few hundred meters, and as I crossed the finish line and glanced at my watch I could feel the emotion overcoming me. 2:57:18!
I had totally smashed my original sub-3 goal, and despite a tough final few miles I hadn’t slowed too much. I was very happy with my performance, and only grew happier as the day went on and I heard more and more stories about how people struggled in the heat. I’ve heard reports it hit 20ºC+ out on the course, apparently the sub-3 pacer dropped out at halfway due to the heat, and all the top 10 finishers also slowed in the final five miles like I did. This makes me confident that without that wind in the final miles, and with slightly cooler conditions, my original 2:55 goal might have been doable.
I’m still massively happy with the result though, and enjoyed a bottle of Champagne on the beach with my parents and my friend Gary who had unfortunately had a tougher time than me out in the heat. My legs felt better than they have ever done after a marathon – presumably a result of all the miles I put in them in during training. While normally my quads are destroyed I was walking around pretty normally, and I hopped out of bed on Monday morning without any problems at all, whereas usually that would be very hard work!
Overall then job done, a solid sub-3 time secured, and a week off running very much earned. I’m really happy with my training this time around and don’t think there is much I will do differently next time, save for avoiding carrying computers around! I’m going to skip an autumn marathon this year and instead concentrate on my 10K, 10M and half-marathon times. I think a bit of a break from marathoning will be good mentally, as these 18 week training programs are heavy going and I’d have to start again surprisingly soon if I was going to do an autumn marathon. I can instead work on the shorter distances and then hopefully be ready to hit training for London 2018 all guns blazing now I have a “good for age” place guaranteed.
Before all that though, I’m going to enjoy a few easy weeks, and some of the alcohol and other vices I deprived myself of in the run up to Brighton…
|1||6:29 min/mi||168||-35 ft|
|2||6:36 min/mi||177||-35 ft|
|3||6:37 min/mi||179||-16 ft|
|4||6:44 min/mi||182||24 ft|
|5||6:43 min/mi||181||-28 ft|
|6||6:44 min/mi||187||35 ft|
|7||6:47 min/mi||186||37 ft|
|8||6:37 min/mi||184||-13 ft|
|9||6:43 min/mi||181||6 ft|
|10||6:36 min/mi||182||-9 ft|
|11||6:39 min/mi||183||9 ft|
|12||6:31 min/mi||181||-30 ft|
|13||6:29 min/mi||181||-30 ft|
|14||6:36 min/mi||181||-9 ft|
|15||6:38 min/mi||184||10 ft|
|16||6:39 min/mi||181||12 ft|
|17||6:44 min/mi||181||-18 ft|
|18||6:49 min/mi||183||7 ft|
|19||6:36 min/mi||181||-15 ft|
|20||6:38 min/mi||182||-1 ft|
|21||6:42 min/mi||185||2 ft|
|22||6:55 min/mi||187||-3 ft|
|23||7:10 min/mi||186||-7 ft|
|24||7:07 min/mi||186||9 ft|
|25||7:19 min/mi||185||-2 ft|
|26||7:04 min/mi||188||7 ft|
|0.3||6:21 min/mi||191||0 ft|
|Total||2:57:19||26.2 mi||6:45 min/mi||183|
|1||6:30||1.00 mi||6:29 min/mi||168|
|2||6:38||1.00 mi||6:36 min/mi||177|
|3||20:09||3.01 mi||6:41 min/mi||181|
|4||6:43||1.00 mi||6:43 min/mi||187|
|5||:01||0.00 mi||3:24 min/mi||188|
|6||6:58||1.03 mi||6:47 min/mi||186|
|7||6:29||0.98 mi||6:36 min/mi||184|
|8||6:40||0.99 mi||6:43 min/mi||181|
|9||6:40||1.01 mi||6:35 min/mi||182|
|10||6:38||1.00 mi||6:38 min/mi||183|
|11||6:35||1.01 mi||6:30 min/mi||181|
|12||6:28||1.00 mi||6:27 min/mi||181|
|13||13:09||1.99 mi||6:37 min/mi||183|
|14||:01||0.01 mi||3:13 min/mi||181|
|15||6:44||1.01 mi||6:39 min/mi||181|
|16||6:44||1.00 mi||6:44 min/mi||181|
|17||6:49||1.00 mi||6:48 min/mi||184|
|18||13:26||2.03 mi||6:37 min/mi||182|
|19||6:44||1.00 mi||6:42 min/mi||185|
|20||6:56||1.00 mi||6:55 min/mi||187|
|21||7:10||1.00 mi||7:09 min/mi||185|
|22||:02||0.01 mi||4:44 min/mi||186|
|23||7:07||1.00 mi||7:08 min/mi||186|
|24||7:21||1.00 mi||7:19 min/mi||185|
|25||8:25||1.23 mi||6:51 min/mi||189|