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Full of Smiles Approaching the Finish

April 15th finally reared its 26.2 mile head and I was up nice and early to tiptoe downstairs so that Mrs Dan and The Son could carry on sleeping while I quietly sat eating my porridge. Thankfully I had slept as normal through the night without any running related dreams so felt refreshed and ready for the day ahead. My bags had been packed 2 days earlier but I had to go through quadruple checking the contents *again* to make sure nothing had been stolen overnight by the monster that lives under the stairs. My TomTom was fully charged, as was my Garmin, so I silently drove away from the house towards Brighton.

With military precision I was a good 45 minutes ahead of schedule and this time I was heading to Brighton with a full tank of petrol. The journey was uneventful and I was soon approaching the Brighton University Falmer Campus to grab a pre-paid parking space in the park & ride scheme with the added bonus of a great view of the The American Express Community Stadium as I parked. There was already a couple of buses sitting at the bus stop with people slowly boarding the first one but I decided not to rush and slowly took my kit bag from the car to run through my check-list to make sure the monsters who hide under the car seats had not rummaged through on the drive down. I was happy to see that the first bus was still sitting there and I was one of the last to board before the doors were closed and a bus full of runners and their friends & family made the short journey down to a sunny Preston Park. The overpowering smell of deep heat on the bus was a dead give away that a bunch of runners were aboard!

My determination to get to the start area early paid dividends as I was able to use one of the many toilets without having to queue before I took a stroll around the site. I spotted a large stack of ICONIQ water pouches in the centre area, which were to be provided throughout the route instead of the traditional water bottles, so I took the opportunity to try one out rather than fiddling with one for the first time while running. This proved to be a wise decision and I certainly felt better knowing that I could successfully hold it the correct way and gulp down some water without any problem. After a tour of the various stalls, the music stage, and another visit to a toilet I was making my way to the male changing tent when I bumped into some family friends who were there to cheer on their husband / father. I had no idea that they would be there and it was great to bump into a friendly face.

With the weather seeming sunny but cool, I decided to go with my normal spring / summer running kit of technical t-shirt, running shorts, running cap, and running sunglasses. I had taken a few contingencies with me just in case it was cold and / or wet but I packed these back into my bag as I chatted to another runner in the changing tent. His view was that a marathon was basically a 20 mile run followed by another 6.2 mile run at the end and this would be prophetic a few hours later as I approached the final stages of the race. However, I am getting ahead of myself so back to the beginning of the race… after dropping my bag off at the luggage trucks I was gently jogging down towards the green start pen as a warm-up all ready to join my fellow marathoners.

I slowly edged my way through the green pen and the crowd soon joined in the PA system led countdown and the race was under way! Except it wasn’t for us because this just marked the start of the elite race followed by all the other coloured pen starts before they reached the last group, which of course was the green runners. I made it a good 10 minutes before I made it to the start line and I was fortunate enough to be on the far right so passed directly under the official starter Gustavo Augusto Poyet Domínguez, current Brighton manager and former Spurs player & coach, and I could not resist giving him a high 5 and shouting out “you’re Spurs and you know you are” as I crossed the start line, which produced a laugh from the great man. Fortunately I glanced down and spotted that I had not started my Garmin in my exuberance to  slap the hand of Gus and quickly hit the start button with only seconds wasted. My Brighton Marathon was now officially under-way.

Leading During the Early Stages

 The route performed an immediate circle of the park and the announcer received a loud cheer as we were told that this was the highest point of the route. I was then immediately caught up in the general rush of people sneaking into the bushes to take a comfort break. I felt sorry for the women braving the bushes, very much still within view of runners and spectators, but it turned out to be a wise choice because there were not a huge amount of toilets during the early stages of the race and those that had to stop faced a lengthy queue.  I then had a minor flap as a buckle on my gel belt broke and I had to perform some emergency surgery on the elastic to make sure the belt stayed in place. The crowds drove me comfortably through the early miles and I was cruising along at my planned just over 10 minute mile pace.

With the 6 mile mark approaching I found myself slowly overtaking those that had gone off too fast and I received a timely boost as I spotted a work friend had put up a sign with my name on his apartment window, which directly overlooked the route. I was also extremely grateful to all the people who called out my name thanks to the letters I had stuck onto my running top the night before the race. A few miles later we had completed a loop along the coastal road and I had caught up with the 04:45 pacing group, which I slowly passed as my splits remained in the just over 10 minute mile bracket. I also remember passing a couple of guys at this stage who I had seen race off quite quickly at the start but did not really look like runners; they appeared to be running in casual summer clothes rather than anything designed for running and I suspect they suffered from a lack of training and too fast a start because they were both huffing and puffing.

I ran past the sign with my name on again, although my friend was not around and was probably doing something a lot more interesting than watching thousands of runners trudge past, and both the Brighton Pier and half-way mark were soon in sight. I still felt good, my pace was bang on, I had stuck to my hydration & refuelling strategy, and the buzz of the larger crowds carried me along. It was great to see other runners spot their supporters and stop to grab a brief but emotional hug and one of the spectator held signs caught my eye: “pain is temporary, pride is forever”. I decided to hang onto that sentiment and use if during the later stages of the race.

I was still reeling in a lot of runners, who by the 15 mile mark were increasingly stopping to walk, and I grabbed various jelly babies and assorted biscuits to pass the time from the very vocal spectators. My favourite food grab was from a little girl holding out a bowl of grapes because the artificial taste of gels and jelly babies had left a horrible sugary taste in my mouth and those few grapes went down a treat. The route passed the massed crowd again and I was soon running back along the seafront. But. This is where the wheels started to go wobbly for my race. I could feel the slight tug of the gingerbread man and while starting to keep a watchful eye out for a toilet, I could also feel my legs starting to ache.

I spotted a small cluster of toilets ahead but there was quite a queue for them all so I half zipped up my man suit and carried on into miles 19 and 20, which took me into the Shoreham part of the route (officially aka ‘road to hell’). The crowds were suddenly gone, runners were now walkers, the industrial landscape seemed oppressive, and the gingerbread man was about to take me down. I carried on running with the hope that there must be another batch of toilets ahead and thankfully I was right and praise be to all that was good and holy – there was no queue! I did experience some jelly legs trying to get myself back into shape as I left the toilet but I immediately felt better and was once again running back through the hellish area known as Shoreham Harbour.

Full of Awesome & Medal

The route finally turned back onto the seafront and I was hit by a wall of noise made by all the spectators. At this point I need to doff my hat to all those that cheered, held signs, watched out and hugged their loved ones, and even called out my name to give encouragement. My legs were aching but with gritted teeth I zipped up my Yuki suit and set my eyes firmly on Brighton Pier, which admittedly looked further away than the 2-3 miles it really was. The spectator sign I saw earlier of “pain is temporary, pride is forever” came into play and I started to repeat it over and over in my head as a mantra. However, I did suddenly burst out laughing, which hopefully did not make everyone nearby see me as a demented idiot, as I realised that my new mantra had turned to “pain is forever, pride is temporary” in my head.

With a new lease of life and the uplift of the noisy crowds in the home straight, I was suddenly approaching the finish line and with a few more rotations of my heavy legs the race was over. There were plenty of volunteers on hand to put my medal over my head and then to tie the space blanket firmly around me to keep warm. Some of the volunteers were offering hugs to the finishers and I must admit a tear brushed my eye as I saw people break down with emotion as the enormity of their achievement hit home. I had thoroughly enjoyed the race, although was mentally beaten down a bit by the Shoreham section, and even though my splits slowed at the end, I never doubted my ability to complete the race. I will definitely be taking on more marathons in the future and I know that I have a sub-4 hour race within me.

There will be a follow-up post in the next few weeks to go over some of the lessons learnt from my first marathon and some advice for anyone planning to run the Brighton Marathon in the future.

Gun time: 5:03:29

Chip time: 4:47:58

Garmin time: 4:44:10 *

Split time 2:17:27

Position: 6654

* I mistakenly left my Garmin on auto-pause if I stopped and my encounter with the Gingerbread Man and not hitting start as I crossed the start line cost me just over 3 minutes.