In three weeks time, I’m going to be running the Brighton Half for the second time. The first time was one of the best days of my life. I’ve never actually written a post about it before, because it sounds a bit like a twee inspirational fat girl running story, and I hate those, but what the hell.
Before I started running, I had a boyfriend. He was not a very nice person. (I could say more, but this isn’t the place). I nearly gave up everything to move in with him in Brighton. In the end, this never happened, and there was a hideous break up which left me a gibbering mess.
Taking up running was one of the things I did in “operation sort your life out”. Pounding the Lea Towpath until I was too exhausted to think was the only thing that made me feel better. But I wasn’t quite better because I was still haunted by thoughts of my horrible ex and was absolutely terrified of the thought of bumping into him. I used have nightmares about him, and they were always set in Brighton. As a consequence, I refused point blank to set foot in the place, even for friends’ birthdays. I knew something had to be done about this. He didn’t even live there any more. There was no danger of bumping into him there. I had to go back there to say goodbye to the life that I nearly lived and realise that I had a lucky escape. And what better reason to go back than for the half marathon?
So two years after this horrendous break up, I set foot in Brighton again. The walk from the station was the hardest part as there were memories on every corner. (It is funny how you can hate someone and yet retain some residual affection for the person you thought they were). I spent the night in an overpriced, grotty B+B in Kemptown with a lovely view of the West Pier through a window that hadn’t been cleaned since the 80s. By morning, I was in an utter panic, had had about three hours sleep and kept measuring my pulse on some kind on antiquated heart rate monitor to determine whether I was likely to suffer a sudden cardiac arrest mid race. This was all before I had any problems with my leg, but I had missed a bit of training due to a niggly knee and wasn’t feeling particularly confident. My previous half marathon PB was 2:59:30 and I’d set a target of 2:45, which I thought my chances of meeting were slim to none.
I don’t know what actually happened that day, but I ran faster than I ever had before. The route took me past the pavillion, round the town centre, places I had visited a million times with my ex, then along to the marina, a place I’d only been to via train. The view from the clifftop was so much better than the view from the train. I remember the song playing on my ipod as I passed the marina, “Close Enemies” by Example. I loved us, but I love me more.
There was a hilly section at this point and I remember remarking to a fellow runner “I thought this was supposed to be FLAT” but actually they were just the right sort of hills that kept your legs awake and made you run faster. I crossed 10km at 1:12 something, knocking two minutes off my 10km personal best, something I definitely hadn’t intended to do that day.
The route went back into the town, where it was nice to see a bit of crowd support. We passed the cinema, which is where the ex and I had our first date. (I hate the cinema and I hate films. He knows this). The song on my ipod, chosen by one of my closest friends (Yasmin): Lying Sack of Shit by Combichrist. Perfect. I thought of all the times we’d walked down that seafront – the happier times and the not so happy times – and how walking to the ice cream shop was all the exercise I ever did in those times and now look at me running a fucking half marathon there in February.
At fifteen kilometres I still hadn’t walked a step or even slowed down much and was fully expecting the wheels to come off, but they never did. I did tire a bit on the final seafront session, but I was still way ahead of target and realised that even if I had some walk breaks now, I’d still get my 2:45 target. I never took a walk break. As I reached the final sprint along Madeira Drive, there was still part of me thinking “This can’t possibly have gone so well. Remember what always happens. Just when you think you have it in the bag, everything goes to shit. Don’t trip up. Don’t die. Don’t fuck this one up.”
And the finish line got closer and closer and finally I allowed myself to believe. I waved at the photographers like Mo Farah winning the Olympic 10,000 metres. My grin is evident in the official photographs. My finishing song was “Love Is Reason” by a-ha and every time I feel rubbish I put on this song and remember the feeling as I crossed the line. I think I would like this song played at my funeral. In seven thousand, five hundred and forty second place, with a time of 2:35:28, I’d won the 2016 Brighton Half Marathon! I felt like a superhero and as I clutched my medal, my demons disappeared and Brighton turned back into a friendly seaside town where there was nothing to fear.
Three days after the Brighton Half, I tripped over in the park doing intervals and broke a rib. I guess the running gods thought they’d let me have my moment of glory before I returned to my usual levels of outstandingly poor luck.
My personal best from this race has gone unbeaten to this date.