Back in the Game: Brighton Marathon

I’ve never really been interested in running the Brighton Marathon.  I always thought London was the only marathon worth running in the UK.  But, last April I found myself signing up for the 2015 race after failing to run a London GFA and realising my ballot chances were incredibly slim.  I knew my jealousy would know no bounds if I was the only one not training for a spring marathon.

Yesterday I realised how foolish and short sighted I had been because the Brighton Marathon is a well organised, high profile, worthy event in a vibrant seaside city with incredible crowd support.  It’s an all round bloody brilliant race and I’m sorry I ever thought otherwise!

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On the drive down to Brighton on Saturday the rain came down thick and fast and I was a bit concerned how the weather would pan out the next day. Heavy rain and inevitable wind on the coast would be challenging to say the least!  It seemed to clear by the time I arrived and I headed to the Brighton Centre to pick up my number.

The expo wasn’t too busy, it was quick and painless so I found myself doing the usual fossicking through the various stands. I came away with a bright pair of coral shorts, 3 pairs of socks, 5 protein bars and 3 bags of Honey Stingers. What are Honey Stingers? Well, they look like little jellies…

‘Are these like Shot Bloks?’, ‘Yes, but better’, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll have 3 packs then please’

I then made a swift exit before I bought anything else…

My Mum and Dad were coming to support and my Aunt and Uncle, who live in a nearby village, had kindly agreed to let us stay for a couple of nights.  I had my usual plain pasta for dinner and got an early night (despite my uncle trying to convince me to get on the wine!)

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The alarm went of at a painful 5.40am but I had already been awake a while, it was marathon day! Again!!! I forced down my porridge (and chia seed, new addition to mara day brekkie) and banana and hurried out the door. Because I’m so clever I didn’t read any of the emails I was sent in the lead up to the run (well, none of the boring bits anyway) so by the time it came to planning the journey to the start I realised that you were supposed to book parking 2 weeks ago. And I hadn’t.  Luckily my cousin lives not far from Madeira Drive and offered me a parking space for her awesomely located house.  Perfect, thanks Carol!

It was a short walk to Preston Park where the race started and the sun was starting to feel warm in a nearly cloudless sky…I guess I didn’t need to worry about driving rain!

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Marathon runners were milling around and there was the usual long queue for the toilets, but there was plenty of time to chow down some Honey Stingers and drop my bag off.  I hadn’t seen anyone I knew so was delighted to bump into my friend Jasmine who was doing a wonderful thing and pacing her (super) mum round all 26.2 miles, a friendly face was just what was needed.

I was in the red start which seemed to be the first wave (the sub 3.15 runners were starting somewhere else) so I was over the start line in a couple of minutes.  I was nervous.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a PB, and I was fine with that, but I desperately hoped I would be able to finish in a strong time and shake off the Amsterdam demons.  I didn’t know what was going to happen, what if I fell apart at mile 9 again?

The race was started by Jo Pavey and there was a fabulous atmosphere.  I made a really conscious effort NOT to start too fast so was pretty pleased not to be running my 10k pace which I often seem to do in all the excitement.  I tend to panic at the start and worry that the crowd will hold me back, but of course they don’t, I just go tearing off like a lunatic wasting a lot of energy stressing and weaving in and out.

Not today.  Today I felt like a marathon grown up, totally in control and calm.

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The pace felt comfortable.  It felt easy and quite slow so I was surprised that I was averaging under 8.30 which was faster than PB pace.  I tried to slow down as I knew there were a few hills on the way and wanted to hold the pace.  The hills are in the first half as it takes you round Preston Park, past the Pavilion, and away from the sea for a couple of miles before running past Kemp Town and the Marina.  There’s an almost continuous incline between mile 5.5 and 9 but there is a welcome decline for about half a mile or so.  A turnaround at mile 9 brings the course back to the seafront along a fast stretch.

The crowds were truly awesome.  I made a last minute decision to get my name printed on my Chaser top at the expo and was very glad I did because I’ve never had so many people cheering my name!  I wasn’t expecting such strong crowd support so it was a real lift.  I saw Mum and Dad at miles 3, 5 and 13 and I definitely heard some Chaser support along the route as well.

image The water stations were frequent and well marshalled, the organisers made the decision to use cups this year which I know some people weren’t keen on but I didn’t mind.  I think this change meant they could increase the frequency of the stations (which were almost every mile), I appreciated this on such a warm day.

At mile 16 the sun was getting to me and by mile 18 I had noticeably slowed…it was getting tough.  By mile 20 I was adamant I was pulling out of London later this month, I didn’t want to do it again.  Mile 20 to 23 were pretty dead miles as we ran towards Shoreham and past the power station, there weren’t many crowds around, just us runners focusing on the road.  Why was I doing this?

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The last 3 miles were thick with screaming crowds.  They lined either side of us as we trudged along the sea front to the finish line and it was the only thing holding me together as I desperately tried to keep jogging.  I saw Alex with the Chaser flag at mile 24 which gave me a boost and Mum and Dad saw me again at around 25 but I didn’t see them.  I tried to smile at everyone cheering me but it was getting harder…and harder.

Finally, with the finish line in sight, I tried to calculate if I could finish in under 4 hours. It would be close.  As I approached the mile 26 marker I picked up the pace, my god it hurt, why was it 100 degrees?  The clock was ticking and I wasn’t going to make it, I couldn’t run any faster.

I crossed the line in a happy 4:00:12, certainly not a PB but definitely a time I could be proud of.  I’d worked hard to get back here and it was a huge improvement on my performance 6 months ago, I was pleased.

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Shuffling along, I picked up my medal and goody bag and headed to the Beach Village to meet my parents. It hurt. Everything hurt.  I really wanted to sit down, to lie down, maybe to cry.  That means I worked hard right??

Mum and Dad dragged me through the crowds and we made it to the pub with my cousin for a cold cider and a little sit down.  Marathon number 8 was done!  I didn’t want to do another one.  I really didn’t.

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But in the car on the way back to my aunt and uncles house I thought it might be silly not to do London…I could just jog round and enjoy the experience, I didn’t have to race did I?  Yes, maybe I would do London if I recovered well.

That evening my Auntie Mareline cooked up a a delicious roast chicken with all the trimmings and Uncle Ken made sure my glass was always topped up with some kind of booze.  Perfect recovery 🙂

It was an all round brilliant weekend seeing family, jogging round Brighton and collecting some more race bling.

Brighton Marathon. 4 hours dead. What did I learn? I’m baaacccccckkkk!

The Brighton Marathon 2106 is open for entries. I kinda want to sign up. SOMEBODY STOP ME. Please. Please?

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The Road to Brighton

With just 10 sleeps left until the Brighton Marathon I’m starting to get that familiar nervous, sickening, slightly uncontrollable panic that only the taper can bring.

How do you ever know if you’ve done enough?  People ask how you’re feeling, if you’re ready, whether you’ll hit your target…I genuinely don’t know what to say.  However, what I do know for sure is that the way I’m feeling now is worlds apart from how I was feeling this close to Amsterdam.

It’s fair to say my injury set me back more than I thought in October, foolishly I don’t think I ever really believed I was injured but, given it hurt to walk a lot of the time, I think it’s safe to say I was!  My runs were slow and laboured, my legs didn’t work and I just didn’t enjoy running.  Whilst Marathon day was nothing short of a disaster, it was a lesson well learned.

Coming out of Amsterdam my resolution was to remember why I love running and the most obvious way I could think of was to start running with my friends again.  Training for the last marathon involved a lot of long, slow, solo miles, I wasn’t going to track, I wasn’t going to tempo, I wasn’t having fun, and it clearly showed.

I went back to basics. My PB still stands in Frankfurt 2013 and that was the marathon I went into with no expectations.  It was the first time I had run 2 marathons in a year so I promised myself if I was going to do it I would only commit to 4 runs a week and I wouldn’t be a slave to the plan.

My approach to training for Brighton has followed these rules.  Of course there is a plan, it’s actually a very carefully structured and beautifully colour-coded spreadsheet (I love a good spreadsheet me) but it’s pretty fluid and flexible.

Sometimes, you really, really don’t feel like going for a run after back to back meetings, and other times you love nothing more than a stress busting 10 miler after work.  The body doesn’t always follow a plan, you have to roll with it.

Step 1: Get some speed back

The first thing I did was reinstate club track and tempo sessions into my training. I had become painfully slow, for me, and these sessions really work to improve your pace.

Hard, sweaty, lung busting speed sessions are tough, but meeting the club at track on a freezing night to chase them round a set of 800s, or having a gossip with Ruth and Laura before knocking out a few tempo laps of Battersea Park in the rain, is infinitely easier and more rewarding than plodding the dark streets of SW London on my own.

An Inviting Battersea Park: The Stomping Ground

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Step 2: Cross-Training

The next thing I did was commit to a yoga and spinning session each week.

I had forgotten how much I love spinning with it’s loud music and high energy.  Combining intervals and hills, spinning is great for some additional low impact training, and I’ve used this as a substitute for a 5th run.

Yoga has also become an important part of my plan to improve core stability, posture and muscle tone.  60 minutes of sun salutations, lunges, cobras, triangles, back bends, and even head stands, yoga has been more challenging than I thought it would be but I’m really starting to enjoy it.

I’m now one of those people that gets up at 5.50am on a Tuesday to get bendy on a mat in Waterloo. I don’t recognise myself.

Me: Being a Tree

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Step 3: Enjoying the LSR

Finally I wanted to start (sort of) enjoying the long runs again so, wherever possible, I’ve joined forces with some of the Chaser girls to tick off the miles together.  That’s what friends are for right?!

I genuinely have no idea how race day will go. I feel so much stronger than I did 6 months ago but I have an ongoing cramp in my calf and I’m still running slower than before Frankfurt…I don’t know.

To Brighton…

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