Photos from Saturday at the Race Village
I’ll get the important bit over and done with: the weather on the day of the 2018 Brighton Marathon turned out almost perfectly. It was cool and grey for the majority of the race, with an hour of not-too-heavy rain, and a little sun round about the time it would take a slower runner to finish.
I arrived in Brighton bright and early on Saturday morning and checked into the Jury’s Inn. This is probably the best placed hotel for the marathon and it cost an arm and leg to stay there. All hotels in Brighton ramp their prices up for the marathon and I figured I’d rather pay an arm and a leg for somewhere nice than just a leg for a shithole.
I then went to the extremely foggy beach to the race village where I collected my number and met with my friends Jim, Allison and Dawn and also bumped into Rick and Rebecca from the Brighton Marathon Virgins group. There was a lot of nervous running talk. Then Dawn’s friends, also marathon runners appeared. These are scary people, the kind of people who do obstacle races for fun. They made my “fast runner” friends look like Jade Goody. One of them drank two pints of beer in the space of half an hour (more than I have drunk in the last month) and another announced that she had done no long runs over ten miles and therefore expected to get a really slow time – maybe over five hours! I’m sure they are all lovely people but I was very conscious that they all seemed to be extremely casual about the whole thing and yet still expecting to complete it in what to me felt like Mo Farah kind of times and this made me feel a bit out of place with them. It’s my own fault really, this is what happens when you choose a hobby you are no good at. I also reminded myself that this is probably how my classmates felt when I passed my Psychology A-level with an A grade despite not having attended any classes for three whole terms. The universe always pays you back.
After a while Dawn’s scary friends left, Abby arrived and I ate a whole pint of ice cream which in retrospect wasn’t the best idea because I ended up not wanting any dinner. After this I became paranoid that I had forgotten something so returned to the hotel to check the contents of my suitcase for the third time that day. (The first, as predicted, had been on the way to the tube station). Everything was there. I went to sleep.
Six months ago, an old friend of mine named Zara died suddenly. I put True Faith by New Order, the song she chose to be played at her funeral, on my ipod shuffle and had been wondering at what point in the marathon she would choose to make an appearance via this song. Maybe she’d pop up at the finish line or distract me from the grotty power station stretch? In the end Zara had the last laugh by popping up in my pre-marathon dream. I dreamed I was at a pre-marathon party in a nightclub and spotted her sitting in a corner. She beckoned me over and whispered “I came to wish you good luck for the marathon”. Of course I got over excited and shouted to everyone “Look everyone! Zara is here! She came back as a ghost to wish us good luck for the marathon”. But no one could see her except for me so they called an ambulance and tried to get me sectioned, thinking the marathon stress had finally got to me, and by the time I had convinced the ambulance that I wasn’t mad I had missed the start and got lost in a forest and had to take a tube train to the finish. This is exactly the sort of thing that would end up happening if Zara really did decide to come back as a ghost.
I woke the next morning to this sight, just in case I hadn’t realised I was in Brighton. I dressed in my running gear without incident and followed the stream of runners to Preston Park. This was the point where nerves set in – seeing the hoards of “real runners” with their compression socks and skinny legs. At least this time I felt like I had a right to be with them, I may not have their talent but I had done just as much training, and I felt pretty confident of my ability to finish the race, just not of my ability to finish it in a sensible time.
I met Nic (my friend who ran Brighton last year and had to pull out at mile 20 due to a combination of a leg problem and overheating, and therefore had a score to settle) and Mel (official supporter and runners’ taxi service) in the park. Mel kept trying to talk to me about things that weren’t the marathon. I looked at her blankly.
After two visits to the portaloo we were off! Paul Sinton-Hewitt, founder of parkrun, was the official race starter and he was the first and last person that I high-fived on the entire course, as you would not believe the amount of effort it takes to high-five someone after running for two hours.
As a side note, it helps to think of the Brighton Marathon as a 5 part race (distances are rounded and I’ve lost a couple of km somewhere but you get the picture):
- 10km around the inland part of the town
- 10km along the clifftops to Ovingdean and back
- 10km through Brighton front, out to Hove and back
- 5km Power Station Loop
- 5km along the seafront to glory
The beginning of the course is an awful uphill. I have heard people say that they barely noticed this uphill, but for me this was the only one that really bothered me. I wasn’t warmed up at all and I wanted an easy start bearing in mind there was a long long way to go. It felt like a very awkward start and not very marathonlike at all. But once I got to the top of the hill, the race feeling started to set in! I reminded myself that this was the day I had been working up to for so long and that I needed to enjoy it and be sensible and keep sticking to the “walk/run” plan. The first five miles just flew by in an excited haze. The only thing I really remember from them was going up Franklin Road, where my horrible ex boyfriend used to live when I was going out with him. This is possibly the steepest hill on the course, but it’s over very quickly and doesn’t really rate a mention, and I think this is a good metaphor for the ex in question.
Just before mile 5 there was a wonderful surprise, my friend Amy waiting at the side of the road. I knew she was coming down but hadn’t expected to see her until much later in the race. I gave her a big smelly hug and went on my way. My mum was round the next corner so I gave her a big smelly hug too.
Miles 6 to 12 were the hardest part of the race for me. This is the section where you leave the town and have a beautiful scenic ride over the cliffs to Ovingdean and back. Although I had plenty left in me, I felt really daunted by the fact that I had already run 10km, the equivalent of a “normal race”, and still had 32km left to do, longer than I had ever run in training. I started feeling a bit wobbly and overwhelmed. The hills also started messing with my walk/run schedule and I started to feel a bit panicky. Sometime during this bit, Zara’s song came on and this was a sharp reminder to pull myself together and to enjoy the experience because you never know how long you have left etc. I concentrated on taking it easy and enjoying the spectacular views.
Everyone complains about the hill out to Ovingdean but I actually thought this section was pretty flat, more of a gradual climb, certainly nowhere near as bad as the hill in Preston Park. Perhaps they meant one of the hills on the cliff top road instead? The highlights of Ovingdean were seeing a bit of countryside, cows etc, a cheer squad composed of nuns, and my friend James in an ambulance! (Don’t worry – he was driving it. He’s a paramedic!) After Ovingdean there is a tiny dog leg up a steep hill, which is a new addition to the course for this year, and I really wondered why they bothered with it, until I got to the top and turned around and saw a stunning view of Brighton and beyond all the way to the power station which made me shiver thinking of how fucking far away it was (8.3 miles in a straight line).
On the road back to Brighton, my right foot started to give me some bother. This is a new thing, out of all the body parts that have bothered me previously, the right foot was not one of them. It felt like there was a cut or a blister on the ball of the foot. After a while I decided to sit on a verge and take stock. There appeared to be absolutely nothing wrong with it, so I put my shoe back on again and recommenced running. It felt even worse. I sat back down and, not really knowing what else to do, put a blister plaster over the location of the imaginary blister. I don’t know if this helped or not, I certainly forgot about the pain but that might just have been because soon everything else started hurting too.
At mile 12, I was met by my mother again and shouted at her for a jelly snake.
“Snake!” “What?” “Snake!!” “What about a snake?” “Jelly snake!” “oh!” I ate a lot of the jelly snake and hoped for a photographer to catch me running along maniacally with it hanging from my mouth. Annoyingly, I must have completely missed the photographer who took this photo, where you can see the half eaten jelly snake in my hand. I saw Amy again shortly afterwards and muttered something to her about being behind schedule and having a hurty foot but not to worry as I would get round eventually. Some time that week.
At this point I decided to abandon the 2 mins run/30 seconds walk thing because two minutes was starting to feel like a very long time. I decided to do a 50/50 run a lamppost, walk a lamppost strategy, and this successfully got me through the next seven miles – through Brighton seafront, Hove and out to Portslade – though at times I did curse Brighton’s town planners for not spacing their lampposts more evenly. The Hove bit is quite strange, it’s a residential area with respectable looking semi detached houses, and the residents seem to have adopted the marathon as an excuse to have a little street party all of their own, with some setting up sound systems and picnics. There were kids handing out jelly babies (I was so sick of fucking jelly babies by the end of it but it felt rude to say no) and adults handing out orange slices (delicious). By the time I left Hove I had consumed so much sugar that I was craving sausages.
A good thing about the course, this part in particular, is that it doubles back on itself, so you get to see runners of a similar speed to yourself again and again and there is a bit of camaraderie as you cheer each other on. I spotted Ali from the Brighton Marathon Virgins at this stage, we kept passing each other as we were both doing/run walk although she eventually lost me at the Power Station. It was nice to say hello but I was physically incapable of conversation.
Just as I was leaving Hove and approaching Shoreham, I had a Mysterious Emotional Moment. The song which brought this on was Maniac by Carpenter Brut which is a song I only heard for the first time a few weeks ago and therefore had no emotional associations whatsoever. It is not in the slightest a deep or emotional song. Neither do I have any particular memories tied in to Hove or Shoreham. I cannot account for this period of emotionality at all, but once it started then I started thinking of my dream with Zara and all my training and the Thames Path and Homerton Hospital and foam rollers and painkillers and how unfair it was that some people couldn’t run marathons and would never have to chance to suffer the way I was suffering and I wiped a big snotty tear from my face. A concerned looking race official on a motorcycle pulled up beside me and asked if I was ok. I couldn’t exactly explain that an irrelevant song had reminded me of my dead friend and the unfairness of life so I sniffled a “yes, just a bit sore” and he handed me a bottle of water. From this point onwards I was offered at least five hundred bottles of water. Race officials think a bottle of water will fix anything.
Coming into the Power Station Loop, I spotted Allison with her running club! “Mile 20, not far to go now!” she told me, which filled my head with mixed emotions and a lot of maths. On one hand, there was 10km to go which is a whole normal race. On the other hand, I remembered earlier when I was thinking “I’ve run 10km and still have 32 to go”… now it was the other way round. Those first 10km had gone so quickly, maybe the last would too?
Of course they fucking didn’t!
The power station loop was hell. I have absolutely no idea why it is included. Surely when one plans a marathon route, one likes to showcase the most beautiful sights the city has to offer? Why would the people of Brighton want to show off two miles encased by concrete walls, a bunch of speed bumps, the stink of fish, some blokes moving crates around and a power station pumping out noxious fumes? Could we not have had an extra loop round Ovingdean or somewhere else in the country with farm animals and trees and nuns and stuff? Or even a hill with some hippies and dogs on strings – what could be more Brighton than that? People made this bit sound bad, but it was actually worse than I imagined. Right on cue, the sky turned dark and the rain started. I became aware of the pain in my legs, the ache in my back and the cramp in my elbows. Can you even get a cramp in your elbows? I walked pretty much all of the 5km power station loop. I’d definitely had enough marathon at this point. I would have been far happier for it to end at the 20 mile mark. The Loop felt never ending, like I was trapped and that someone had sneakily moved the roads around and made them longer. It felt like a half marathon, not 5km. I was aware that I was losing time and missing my target, but I simply could not go any faster. Then suddenly, it ended, and I was out.
Brighton Seafront! The beach huts, people drinking and eating ice cream, long-finished marathoners proudly wearing their medals, the sun glinting off the sea and the Palace Pier – where I knew the finish line was – glowing in the distance. Suddenly everything was beautiful again. Except the pain in my feet, and my legs and my elbow. The running crowd was very thin now, I’d been left behind a bit when I walked the power station bit, but the remaining runners were willing each other on, too tired to exchange a conversation but communicating in ughs and thumbs up and points at the pier. I couldn’t quite manage “run a lamppost, walk a lamppost” but someone had kindly put out traffic cones about 10 metres apart so I managed “run a cone, walk a cone” instead, albeit at a painful shuffle slower than my usual walking speed.
Just like at Dublin, the last two miles were peppered with people shouting “[random distance] to go!” at me, in a completely made up order with no bearing on how far there actually was to go. By this point I was aware that I was quite a long way behind my target time, quite a long way ahead of my 7:07 Dublin time and that nothing I could do now would make a lot of difference to my result, so I had to just keep shuffling along, watching the pier get closer and closer and dreaming of my medal and being able to finally have a fucking sit down and a beer.
I passed the Sea Life Centre (where Jesus was inexplicably standing with his cross, despite the fact that I’d overtaken him at The Level and not seen him again) and there it was, the finish line! And there was my mother! And Abby and Jim! I stumbled slowly towards the finish line, looking all round me trying to take in the sights and sounds (and completely forgetting to go for a flying feet photo) as for the first time, I crossed a fully assembled marathon finish line. It was the best moment of my life. And I felt like absolute death.
I then walked another 26.2 miles (it felt) to receive my medal/crap goodie bag/unwanted attention from St John Ambulance/possessions/pint of delicious but alcohol free beer. I actually thought that I might not be able to make this bit.
“I think I might just have to lie on the floor!” I lamented to another runner.
“Don’t do that,” she said “you’ll never get up”.
“I don’t care”, I said, “I’ve done it now, I’m done. If I lie here long enough eventually someone will come and sweep me away. Just make sure the medal stays on my corpse”.
Eventually I stopped being melodramatic and went into the race village where to my delight and surprise not only was my mother waiting for me but also Amy, Deb, Stella, Neil, Abby and Jim! I was so pleased that they were there for me, especially Jim who had just run the marathon himself, in a far more impressive time. In fact all the friends I had cajoled into running the marathon had finished in 4 hours something. That’ll teach me to cajole people into doing things.
The first thing my mother said to me was “You’re not wearing a coat!”
Afterword: My time was 6:50:03 and that was the part of the day I was least pleased with, though after the fantastic experience of running the marathon, it suddenly didn’t seem to matter much after all. I will write more about my thoughts on my time in another post but I don’t want to detract from the happy tone of this post. My total raised for Hounds for Heroes was a much more impressive £785.23!