At times this race felt like it would never arrive and there were times in January and February where I hoped it never did. Thankfully March came and so did some training and with each week I have felt I was getting stronger. The long training runs never really came, with a longest of 15.5 miles. I ran well at Silverstone 6 weeks out from Brighton and ran even better at the 10km in Canterbury 3 weeks later and so felt momentum building as race day approached.
The week leading up to Brighton was unusual with a lovely 3 days in Benidorm for a friend's 30th. I spent it getting burnt, eating junk food, drinking beer and doing drinking games but did also manage a 5km along the seafront one morning which was fantastic. The next few days were spent relaxing with Lauren at her mum's before I drove us home to Essex, a quick night in our own bed and I was then saying bye to Lauren and heading on the train to Brighton. Lauren has been my Chief supporter for most of my races but she had been asked to be God Mother to her friend's kid and so the lead supporter duties were handed on to my brother Luke who handled them brilliantly. More on that later.
Having got the 8:06 train from Rayleigh to Brighton, via Stratford and London Bridge I arrived in Brighton about half 10. In just two hours I had succeeded in losing my credit card and the return part of my ticket. Thankfully I had managed to retain the Out part of my ticket and so made it safely to Brighton having succeeded in cancelling said Credit Card. It was then a short walk down the hill to the Brighton Centre to collect my race number. This was much less painful than Berlin where you had to walk a mile for the pleasure of collecting your race number. I poked my head in got the number and then ducked out of the nearest Exit, back up the hill to the train station ready for leg 2 another couple of hours to Canterbury. I managed to get a good feed halfway as I was seriously flagging and arrived in Canterbury about 2pm to be collected by Luke and driven back to his and Amber's place. Amber was the perfect host, and the place was spotless for their new house guest. We decided to head to the pub before Amber's enormous Spag Bol and I had a couple of pints of Coors whilst we watched the footy. The planned early night went out the window as we stayed up late to watch Tiger finish his round at the Masters and I crashed on the very comfortable sofa at 11pm.
Luke and I were up at 5am a quick wash, change and breakfast and we were on the road not long after half 5. Luke did the driving as I did my best to stay awake. The progress was slow going even on the main roads as roadworks meant we were going 40-50mph and average speed cameras for much of it. We did make it to our Park and Ride early though and were straight on a bus headed for Preston Park and the race start. We arrived just after half 7 and so had plenty of time to go to the loo etc and get ready for the off. Luke said goodbye about half 8 as he headed for his first viewing point at 3 miles, whilst I stayed to watch Batman and Robin doing aerobics and saw Elvis have his picture taken. I then headed down to my Red start pen and was stood next to a guy in a nappy, I'm not even making this stuff up!
At 9am we were set on our way and the long wait was finally over, now I had 4 hours or so to find out just what I was made of. The first km was slow going as the path narrowed and we briefly came to almost a complete stand still but the roads soon widened enough that you could get into some kind of rhythm. The 5:30 first km was soon followed up with a couple of km's just shy of 5mins. By the time I saw Luke for the first time I had gone through 5km in 25:30 and was bouncing along and feeling fresh. I had even found time to use a portaloo just before 4km. It was good to know I would be seeing Luke again in just over a mile. I was trying to rein myself in but I couldn't slow my initial pace and so settled into pace just slightly slower than 5min km's and saw Luke again at 4.5 miles and he cheered and waved and told me he'd see me in 10 miles. Something that should have been uplifting, but after seeing him twice in the first 5 miles, 10 miles and nearly 80-90 minutes of running seemed a long wait.
We were headed West, yeah West sounds right and away from the pier and the crowds. This is by far the hilliest part of the course as you bounce up and down some fairly decent climbs. It was also a good opportunity for me to see some of the really rapid guys and girls at the front who were being paced by pacers or lead bikes as they flew past me headed back to the town centre. I went through 10km in just over 50:30 as my early pace remained. The roads felt narrower, particularly as people had different ideas of how to tackle the hills, with people you had been running stride for stride with for the best part of an hour now desperate to take you over just to come in front of you and put the brakes on. The race was far too long for me to worry about it though and I just rolled with peoples odd habits.
I went through 15km in 76:15 a slight slowing of the pace but nothing very dramatic, but something inside me knew all was not well. The pace I was going 3:30 and a PB was on but 3:45-3:50 was my most ambitious pre-race prediction, there was no LEJOG bike fitness to save me this time! I got to 20km in 1:42 and change and then crossed the half way point in something like 1:48. For much of the 5km leading up to half way I was holding on to see Luke but I knew walking was going to come into my race real soon! I made it to Luke at 14 miles without walking but after seeing him and heading on the road away from the seafront I broke into my first walk break. I tried to keep it structured walk 100m then run for maybe a mile before another short walk break in an effort to manage my poor underprepared legs. I was helped with plentiful water, Gatorade and Shot Block stations. By the end of the race I was popping those Shot Blocks like smarties. I'm not sure if it was mental or whether they really helped but they did give me a boost.
I had told Luke I was clinging on at 14 miles, but when he saw me at 18 miles he later told me I looked a lot better than he had expected. I told him the wheels were coming off and I was hoping for 3:52-3:53. I then headed along the seafront towards the Power Station and the final turn around point. The walk breaks were now becoming more frequent and unstructured but I was still trying to keep them short. The first hour and a half was quite pleasant but I was now acutely aware that this was going to be a grind all the way to the finish. I got a nice pick up as I headed for the Power Station seeing a guy I know from Southend Parkrun who was headed for home, I had him down for 3:30 and it turns out he got home in 3:28, I saw him after the race and he was well chuffed with that. I eventually got myself to the turn around point and grabbed some water and a last stash of shot blocks before the 5 mile run back along the seafront. In all the fun of writing the blog I have forgotten to write my 25km, 30km and 35km splits. Suffice to say the speed was going backwards at a rate of knots but I was still happy I would finish comfortably inside 4 hours.
The crowds along the seafront were incredible and the organisers had got it working much better than the first time I ran the Brighton Marathon where the crowds got a bit too close for comfort, Tour De France style. I was desperate to run the last 5km without stopping, but my body was shutting down and I was lucky to manage a km of continuous running. The saving grace was that my run/power walking was near as spit the speed of those around me who continuously ran. I saw Luke a 5th and final time with about a km to go and after giving him a run and a wave I caved and walked again. Apparently he chased after me and urged me on, but at that late stage I was oblivious to the world. I think I did manage to slow jog the final 800m and ran over the line with the clock showing 3:55 nicely inside 4 hours. The official chip time was 3:55:42.
I met up with Luke who was really pleased with my mornings work, and I have to admit I was too. I don't want to harp on again too much about my completely self-inflicted lack of preparation but I will just say briefly that my next marathon will more than likely be my last for a while. Pete is maddened by what he sees as my lack of application when I have some running ability, and I totally agree with him. I am looking for an Autumn Marathon this year, perhaps the Robin Hood Marathon in September where I will look to average 30 miles a week in the 13 weeks leading up to the race in a bid to find out what I really am capable of over the Marathon distance. That maybe 3:15 it maybe 3:25 and a large part of me doesn't really mind which it is I'd just like to prepare adequately and the result will just flow out of that. I read something recently and the jist of it was "The will to win is useless without the will to prepare." I have one and not the other, I hope to show this autumn that I have both. Well done for reading. Will write again soon. Thanks again to Luke for supporting, Amber for hosting so beautifully and to Lauren for allowing me to continue my stupid hobby, love you lots.