Race Review: Brighton Marathon

So, this was my first marathon, you can check out all my marathon training posts here, tracking my progress and what my training plan was having me run, week after week.  I was pretty proud that I ran 100% of my training plan.  I did substitute a few of the intervals sessions for different ones, but I always hit the mileage, week after week.

So, after a pretty successful final 20 mile long run, and a nice taper, I felt ready to do this.  Everyone said, I’d done all the hard work, now was just to go out and do what I trained to do.  Run 26.2 miles.  I also told all my friends and family to download the Active Experience app to be able to track me on the day, which was pretty neat, I’ve never been to a race that has had this!

Pre-Race

As you have to go to Brighton in advance of the marathon to collect your race pack, I had to make arrangements to go down the night before the race on my own.  So I booked a one-way train ticket, and an AirBnb. And of course, there were Southern Rail Engineering works 🙄, but I was able to divert my route and get there without an issue, but I am glad I checked and didn’t try to go via Clapham Junction.

I have arrived

First port of call was the expo to get my race number.  I knew it was going to be about a 20 minute walk from the train station and used it as a good way to warm up my legs after all that sitting down for 2 hours on the train.  Once at the waterfront, the Brighton Pier came into view, and shortly afterwards I was following signs for the expo.  It felt like I was walking for a long time, and I saw lots of things I wanted to stop and look at, but my priority was to get my number.

Finally at the number queue, I knew I’d have to choose Blue for 3:30-4:00 finishers or Yellow for 4:00-4:30 finishers.  I plumped for the blue queue, feeling optimistic.  The queue took about 10 minutes, and I was surprised how quick it was.  The organisers said that those collecting their race number between 2-7pm on Saturday were to expect long queues, but maybe everyone got that message and avoided that specific time.

We then turned the corner and got into another queue for the race t-shirts.  I love that they gave these out before, and I was able to choose an extra small, which was the perfect size.  Plus, it’s such a nice t-shirt, I love the quote on the back.

“Only those who will risk going too far can find out how far one can go.” T.S. Elliot

Now I had everything, my clear baggage bag, race number, safety pins, t-shirt, I was done.  I started to amble back through the expo, and there was a talk happening at the 2XU stand, so I took a seat and enjoyed listening to the advice.  Plus I was able to pick up the 4 hour pace band.

–What’s a pace band?  It’s a paper that has the time elapsed mile by mile for your desired race finish time.  So if you are running and your strava or running watch goes haywire, or if you are more low-tech and have just a normal watch (gasp), you can simply check the amount of time you have been running against the time on the pace band for the mile you are in.–

Got my number

So, I was temped to loiter around a bit more, and I did poke my nose into the Macmillan Cancer Support stand.  But it was a little bit awkward, the girl just wished me luck, and there did not seem to be much more to do or say with them. So, I had a little bit of time to kill, as the whole process at the expo was so speedy.  In the end, I wandered back through the lanes, peeking into galleries and sipping on a hot chocolate I got from Cafe Nero.

My AirBnb host was in Hove, and recommended that I could catch a bus to their house.  Her directions were on point, and I hopped on a bus and arrived at her house shortly afterwards. So, my hosts were very nice, but part of me did wish I was staying in an anonymous hotel.  Small talk can be draining, but in the end it was fine, and I was glad I did not stump up the extra £100 on top of the £40 I’d spent on my AirBnb for a crappy hotel.

I went out to the local pub, which did great pizzas 🍕🍕🍕 (as recommended by my host), and then popped into the Co-op to pick up some hot cross buns to have for brekkie.  Back at the house, I had a bath, and tried to plan my journey to the start tomorrow.  With so many road closures, it was proving to be tricky to catch a bus, in the end I decided to book an Uber, except I couldn’t schedule it in advance.

In the morning the prices for the uber went from £8 to £28 for the trip – but I didn’t have another option so I just paid the money.

Getting Ready

The obligatory flat lay

So, after many What’s App messages to various friends asking for advice, I decided to wear my long sleeve top under my Macmillan Cancer Support vest, my 3/4 running tights, and my hydration pack. Still I knew it was going to be just 5 degrees celsius in the morning, so I came prepared with one of Brian’s hideous Christmas jumpers that he didn’t mind me chucking away after the start.  Even with the extra jumper, I was still so cold.  Eventually I found a sunny side of a building, which provided some relief from the chilly breeze.  I also got a nice coffee, to keep me warm.  I used the loos twice (there were loads and the it didn’t take too long), and then before I knew it, it was time to get our bags in the baggage trucks.

The baggage truck queue was a shambles and some of us ended up going around the side of the barriers to drop our bags and I am glad we did, otherwise we would have been there for ever. I wanted to make sure I was near the middle of my blue starting coral, so I could be near the 4 hour pacer.

The Xmas Jumper

Inside the starting corals, we all packed in, past the loos (I love that they put loos inside the starting corals too), and set off just like they said, 9:50 (the first group, the Red starting coral, set off 9:45).  We walked along and I dropped Brian’s Christmas jumper, and passed over the starting mat.  I just kept thinking, this is it, this is what I have been waiting for, lets do it.

The race – the Brighton Bit

I knew the first mile was up a hill, and it wasn’t that bad (I guess to be forewarned is to be forearmed).  The crowds were cheering us on at the start, and with all the other runners and the crowds cheering I felt a little uncomfortable and overwhelmed.  So despite thinking I wouldn’t use my earphones until a bit later on, I plugged into some tunes about .5 miles into the marathon, so just give myself a little headspace and settle my nerves.

In the starting Coral

I wanted to run the first half, between 9:10-9:30 mile pace, and for the bit winding around Brighton, I was pretty much on target, although I did start to speed up a little bit, and was buoyed by checking my pace band and seeing I was on target for a 4 hour marathon.  The only tiny niggle at this point, was my feet. I was surprised how sore they felt, already.  In my training I had some trouble with my left foot, but only after 15+ miles, not this early.

I was very glad to have my hydration pack on as the water stations looked shambolic, with people frantically cutting over to them, stopping to drink , and a cacophony of cups littering the floor creating an almighty trip hazard.  I had my first Science in Sport (SIS) isotonic gel at this point around 5 miles in, and I planned to take them roughly every 5 miles.

The race – To the East – Rottingdean

This part of the route was undulating, but on the way out it felt all ‘up’, but as I came back, I realised it wasn’t all ‘down’, like I thought it would be.  I felt great during this part of the race, and was definitely running faster than intended, with a few sub 9 miles chucked in there.  My music was really buoying me on, and I thought maybe my taper had made my legs so fresh, and all my training was paying off, and this pace was the result. Ha, how wrong I was, but more on that later.

Around mile 8-10 I noticed that I had a small rock in my left shoe, but it was just jiggling around my toes and not causing me any issues, so I just kept on running.  I took my second gel around mile 10, and it made me feel quite full, and I felt thirsty, but didn’t feel like I could drink without getting a stitch and making myself feel even more full.  As we started to come back into Brighton, it that stupid rock had wiggled it’s way under the ball of my left foot 😧.  By the half way point it was quite sore, but there were so many crowds I didn’t really want to stop.

The race – New Church Road

The rock had to go

I knew I would see Brian around mile 15, so I just had to make it to him and my boys, and I would get this rock out by then.  I maintained my pace, despite the rock, and my increasingly sore feet.

The great thing about the AirBnb I stayed in the night before was it was practically on the course route, and my host let Brian park in their driveway for the day.  I spotted them at the bottom of their road, and had some high fives, cuddles, and then I swiftly dropped to the pavement to get the rock out my my shoe.  A few more cuddles and off I went.

Except, now I was slower.  The rock was gone, but I just couldn’t get the pace back.  As we looped back down the road, I saw my cheer squad again 👋, and had a quick cuddle and high five, and I panicky told Brian I was slowing down.  He told me that there were people walking ahead of me, and that I could do it.  Just after I left him, around mile 16, I took another gel, despite not wanting it, I thought I better.  I was now feeling very full, and a bit nauseous, and suffering from stitches, and thirst.

The race – The the West – Out to the Power Station and Back – or the land of lost souls

My cheer squad

So, as the my goal A slipped away from me, I just wanted to keep going, but I kept going slower and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back. I saw my cheer squad along the beach for the 3rd time, and even more panicky than last time, said to Brian I was struggling.  He just said you can do it, and that they would see me at the finish ♥️.

As I reached the 20 mile mark, we were still heading away, and had not reached the turn around point.  I decided to not take my final gel, I was still feeling queasy 🤢 from the last gel, and didn’t think I would be able to swallow it.

I passed two steel stockists (that both subscriber to our Kallanish Steel Daily news publication, Parker Steel and the Arcelor Mittal), I contemplated taking a picture for my colleagues, but I was starting to feel very weary and couldn’t be bothered to get my phone out and do it.

Miles 22-24 were hell

I saw the 21 mile marker on the other side of the road and just wanted to get to that point.  I struggled on (slower and slower) to the 22 mile marker, and then I walked, for 1 minute. That minute walking flew by so fast and it was so hard to restart running, the pain was immense.  I agreed that I would make it to the 23 mile marker and walk again for a minute.

Now heading back into Brighton, the wind was relentless 💨, and I felt like everyone around me was stopping, walking, shuffling, and we were all on this big struggle bus together. Brian called me to ask me where I was, and I told him.  He was on his way to the finish with the boys, and I told him again, that I was really struggling, and he said, but you are so close, you are going to do it, no matter what.  That last conversation spurred me on to keep going.

The race – finishing

I walked again at the 24 mile marker for 1 minute, and thankfully at this point the crowds had thickened up, and I knew I could do it.  I ran to the end, my legs were on fire.  I managed to regain a bit of pace at the very end, and felt amazing crossing the line.

As soon as I crossed the mat, I walked a few steps, and I stopped and put my hands on my knees, and looked down.  My legs were dead, so totally and completely dead.  I started to feel dizzy, and then I started to hyperventilate as I thought I was going to pass out. Then a nice medic came over, put his arm around me, and told me to stand up, and helped me shuffle over to the medal ladies 🏅.

The lady put my medal around me, and I burst into tears and then she enveloped me in a huge hug, and I really needed it.  I kept shuffling down the finishers lane, picking up my plastic kit baggage bag, and then putting all the goodies inside it, including a cool reusable water bottle.  Brian called me, and he was at the top, by the road, and I was down the bottom by the beach.  He missed me crossing the finish, despite being there and watching, but there were just so many people, and he was looking down from up high.

We kept walking, him at the top and me down the bottom unsure how we were going to reunite, and then a lady said, to keep going and take the stairs up ahead.  I got to the bottom step, put my foot on it, my leg crumpled instantly and I cried out in pain 😬.  A lovely guy ahead of me, took my bag, and told me to grab the banister, and he helped me get to the top and then, blissfully, I was reunited with my little family.  So happy!!!!

After the race

Right after the race we walked to a nearby pub, and Brian tried to talk me into a beer, but I just wanted a diet coke, I was craving it.  I guess in the lead up to the race, I’d cut down my diet coke consumption to drink more water, and I missed it.  So a gorgeous diet coke and packets of crisps and all my favourite men at the table with me, it was the best.

Cat and Medal

We then drove home, and sitting I felt okay, but any time I moved my legs were in a world of agony.  I lost my appetite after the race.  So I managed a few crisps in the pub, and later that night, I did manage to eat a pizza.  But I was forcing myself to eat it.  I know I’d missed the golden hour to consume protein after the race, and even at dinner, my pizza was carb heavy.  Being a vegetarian, I struggle to get protein in sometimes.

My quads (the big muscle at the front of your legs) were the culprit of all my pain. This would last until Wednesday, which was the first day I didn’t look at stairs and shudder in fear, and by Thursday the ole leggos feel back to themselves.

Results

So I finished with a chip time of 4 hours 15 minutes, and my gun time was 4 hours 22 minutes.  I originally wanted sub 3:45 and Good For Age (GFA) for the London Marathon.  At the start of my journey, I really thought, if you put in all the work, you would get the result you wanted.  But as training progressed I realised that these longer distances were new to me, and I had to dial back my expectations a bit.  I didn’t want to get injured, and I read Hal Higdon’s Marathon book last year, and I knew I wanted to make it to the start line healthy and ready to run.

Next goal was 4 hours, and this goal now became my A-goal, some days in training, I didn’t think it was possible, and other training days, I thought I would smash it.  So many people set this as their goal, in fact I even had one dad at the school run say, “you can’t call yourself a marathoner if you don’t go sub-4”, to which I laughed off, but internally thought, prick!

Other days, I just wanted to finish it and not hate it, to feel good and enjoy the day, whatever time that may be.  That being said, ideally for this Feel-Good B-goal, I still wanted around 4:30 time.

The problem is that I fell somewhere in between my goals, just missing A but not completely fulfilling B – I was in so much pain during the race, either the gels, the too fast start, the stupid rock, or all the pavement – I was suffering, and not enjoying the later parts. I still feel pretty proud, I’m a marathoner! I’m a busy mum of 2 boys, running a company, and training to run a marathon was another ball to juggle and I did it!

I have a newfound respect for the marathon distance, and I definitely want to try again. I oscillate between frantically googling October races, and telling myself to chill out and do another Spring 2020.  I think the later is the better plan.  I want to get stronger 💪, be a better runner, improve my kids running, maybe do a challenging Obstacle Course Race (OCR) with some friends, and maybe a 10 mile or half marathon race in the autumn.

Did you run Brighton Marathon 2019?  Are you running Brighton 2020?  Any advice, experiences, anything all welcome!

7 comments

  1. Brilliant level of detail – I ran the Brighton last Sun and it was my first time too – I had a similar experience to you with regards to feeling nauseous, having a stitch, and struggling in the last few miles – but you were quicker than me (I was 4:26). It WAS cold hanging around waiting for the start, wasn’t it, and baggage drop was stressful too 🙂

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    • Congratulations on your first marathon – we did it, we are marathoners now!!! Funny with the feeling nauseous and the stitch isn’t it. I definitely put my problem down to the isotonic gels, what do you think caused it for you? OMG the start was so cold, my teeth were chattering, and the baggage drop a shambles, when I got my bag in, I kept telling people to go around the way I did. I’m not usually a queue jumper, but it was mayhem.

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  2. Great review. Really enjoyed reading this. 2019 was my third Brighton Marathon and a PB but I’m still half an hour behind you 🙂 I love this event and enjoy the reviews, as it brings all the sensations and emotions flooding back. Glad you enjoyed your day in the end. That head wind at 22-24 really wasn’t called for.

    I’ll be amazed if you don’t end up running more marathons. It’s addictive and the crowds make all the training worthwhile. I’ve already booked my 4th and 5th 26 milers.

    I shall look out for you on the circuit, as I also photograph events (I was one of the snappers at Hampton Court in February).

    Hope you stay happy in running for many years to come.

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    • Hi Jim, I’m missing the marathon so much already, it’s a real mourning process for me right now. I’ve booked some more races, but I’ll save another marathon for next Spring. I don’t know if I would do Brighton again, I’m tempted by Edinburgh (or of course London if I get a ballot spot – every hopeful). I ran Hampton Court – the Feb one. I bet being a race photographer is really fun!

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      • It’s great! It’s just so nice being around events and all the goodwill and stories that come with them. I consider myself very lucky to be able to do it.

        I’ll be shooting the Fox Ultra and Sevenoaks Tri this weekend and then it’s the Southampton Marathon the next.

        Best of luck for your next races.

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