It’s funny the things that go through your mind when you’re running, especially long distance. Four and a bit miles into the 26.2 that made up the Brighton Marathon and I’m having a debate with myself.
Is it good luck or bad luck when a bird poos on you?
For that’s what had just happened. On my arm rather than my head, which is something to be grateful for I guess. I was also grateful for the earlier decision to wear a sweatband on my wrist, which doubled up as a makeshift towel and cleared away the worst of the evidence until I could get to the next water station.
Of course I was hoping the luck coming my way was going to be good. This was marathon number nine and another attempt at the thus far elusive four hour finishing time. I was on pace, feeling strong, loving the atmosphere, less so the seagulls.
Let’s get that part out of the way now. Four hours didn’t happen at Brighton. Four hours and 26 minutes did, and I’m OK with that. It was a decent effort, but in the latter stages of the run I simply wasn’t at my best and had a few issues to contend with. There will be other chances given time I’m sure. More details will follow for those who are interested, but at least you know early doors where I’m at.
Now let’s go back a bit further and talk a bit about marathon weekend. Brighton is far from being a local event, me being a Midlander, and so for the first time since Snowdon I was doing an ‘away’ run with overnight stays.
I travelled down on the Friday with brother James (also running, in his third marathon and first on roads rather than trails). We had accommodation booked in Hove, which meant about a 25-30 minute walk to reach central Brighton and the race village. Our combined step counts across the weekend would end up reaching a pretty impressive total!
We collected race packs late Friday afternoon and stayed for some of the talks, including one with Chris Thompson. And don’t tell anyone, but we may have indulged in a beer or two before stopping for dinner on the way home. There must be carbs in there somewhere and it’s a form of hydration. Of a sort.
Saturday morning was an early start so we could enjoy some parkrun tourism at Hove Lawns. It’s an out and back course on the promenade, so totally flat with definite PB potential. I was, however, sensible and conserved energy by offering to pace James to a 25-ish minute time.
That was great in theory, but I’m also a bit impatient and the lure of flat tarmac eventually got the better of me. I broke away for the final mile, running it in a frankly ridiculous (but great fun!) six minutes. I have since been christened the world’s worst pacer and you can see the evidence in James’s vlog. Guilty as charged.
Saturday afternoon was largely about killing time and finding somewhere good to eat. The weather took a turn for the worse, with heavy rain showers and a biting wind. Fortunately I’d arranged to meet a running friend for coffee and a catch up. She was gearing up for her first marathon and hoping to clock a time around the 3hr45 mark, while her boyfriend was bravely pursuing sub-3.
Into the evening and I relaxed at the house we were staying in by catching up on the US Masters. What a shame we would miss the excitement of that final day and Tiger’s astonishing victory, but obviously we had a prior engagement…
Race day started with yet more walking, this time two miles to Preston Park for the marathon start. Brighton is a big event, second only to London I believe for UK marathons, with around 16,000 entrants. The earlier-starting 10k race only added to the numbers, but the park and various starting pens seemed to accommodate everyone pretty well.
The only hiccup was the baggage drop, which was chaotic and something of a free for all. I was stressing about missing my start time, despite the fact that chip timing means you can actually get going whenever you’re good and ready. Anyway, it didn’t matter in the end as I made it and with a few minutes to spare for a toilet stop.
Top tip regarding toilets if you ever plan to run Brighton – don’t panic about finding one before going into your starting pen. There’s a good 400 or so metre walk once you exit the pen and head for the actual start line, and that area has lots of extra toilets with much shorter queues. I wish I’d known this myself as it would have saved unnecessary stressing following the bag drop shenanigans.
And so to the race. I won’t give you a blow by blow account, but in terms of the actual course I found it a case of great in parts, dull in others, but almost always enhanced by tremendous support from very lively and noisy crowds.
‘Great’ comes from a mix of landmarks and sea views, especially once you reach the highest part of the course at around 10 miles and look back down onto Brighton seafront. ‘Dull’ comes from the endless switchbacks (run up a road, u-turn, run back down it again, and repeat) and the notorious industrial estate and power station section which begins during mile 20.
But, as I say, that crowd support does make a big difference. Not quite on the scale of London; not far off it in parts though.
My actual run splits roughly into three sections. Through to about mile 12 it was spot on. I was disciplined with my pace, hitting 5k and 10k in the times I should for a four hour finish. Yet on the downhill section heading back to the seafront and the half distance marker, I was getting concerned about how tired I was feeling. The drop should have been helping me recover and give my legs a rest, whereas in reality it was tough keeping up with the required nine minute miles.
Nevertheless, I crossed the 13 mile timing mat in bang on two hours and knuckled down for the next stint. From here to mile 20 was largely uneventful. My pace was consistent, but not quite good enough for four hours (yet alone sub), as confirmed when I clocked the 20 mile marker at 3hr04.
The weather had changed by this point. Sunshine had blessed us first thing in the morning and then, almost on cue, it went dull as I started plodding around the industrial estate en-route to the power station. Grey surroundings; grey skies. And the wind really whipped up once we hit the seafront.
My focus shifted and the target became completing the final 10k in ten minute miles. It would earn me a comfortable PB and hopefully keep the dreaded wall at bay. A good plan, but one I sadly couldn’t execute.
The first problem was needing a toilet stop (upset tummy again – I’ve been here before); after that, calf pain and my left leg seizing up in response. At the time I assumed muscle injury; post-race and with no obvious signs of damage, I’m calling cramp.
Either way, run/walk was the only answer I had and looking around me I genuinely wasn’t alone. Four straight miles to home into an icy headwind; the finish line by the pier always in sight, but never seeming to get any closer. The latter stages of a marathon can be miserable. This one, for me, definitely was.
I forced a continuous run to the line, probably the final half mile or so, and it was worth it as the crowds grew bigger and louder. Brighton’s seafront finish is every bit as good as people say it is, rounded off with a very nice medal, a re-usable water bottle and as many snacks and Erdingers as you can stomach.
Overall feelings? For me, I can’t help but be disappointed about the slow finish. That said, conditions were not easy and I was pleasantly surprised at my actual finishing position when I looked a few days later – well within the top third, so I guess plenty found it tough out there.
A massive congratulations also goes to brother James. He set himself a five hour goal, ran much of the race with a pacing group, then broke free to nail an impressive 4hr50 finish. You can see how much it meant by watching this:
Would I run Brighton again? Probably not given the fact it involves stopovers and race pack collection. Travelling and staying all adds to the cost, plus the race entry itself is far from cheap.
But I would still highly recommend it. A high profile, big city celebration of running with an atmosphere that’s hard to beat.
And for the record, I decided to Google the supposed effects of the aforementioned bird ‘deposit’.
Bird poop brings good luck! There is a belief that if a bird poops on you, your car or your property, you may receive good luck and riches. So next time a bird poops on you, remember that it's a good thing.
I wish it had landed on my head after all. That way, I'd have nailed a four hour marathon for sure (!).
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