Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Brighton Marathon

Sunday 14th April 2019 - The 10th Brighton Marathon.

Spoiler - I finished it. I am officially a marathoner and I could not be more proud of myself!

The Day Before

I travelled down to Brighton the day before, arriving about 2pm, and went straight to the Event Village for my race pack collection. It was a bit of a walk to go from the station, down to the seafront and then all the way along to the very end of the event village on the beach, but at that time fortunately the queues were moving pretty quickly once I got there and picking up my number was really easy. I also collected my t-shirt - it felt a bit weird to be getting it before having completed the race but the system worked! 

After I got my number I spent a little bit of time just sitting on the beach and taking it all in. I was listening to the presenter talking over the loudspeakers and he was interviewing someone about their tips for the race. They were talking about the weather and the fact it was going to be a cold start in the morning (somewhere between 1 and 4°c) and advising people to wear what they'd been using for long runs during winter training. This slightly unnerved me because I hadn't actually brought anything very cold-weather appropriate. But then I remembered that I'd done cross country races in exactly the same clothing in -1°c and had been fine. I did buy some running gloves because cold hands can get pretty painful (I sometimes get Raynauds phenomenon where cold weather can cause blood vessels in hands/feet to spasm and temporarily shuts off the circulation to my fingers) but otherwise stuck with my decision to wear shorts and my club vest.

Then I checked into my hotel, went out for some pizza - my carb loading dinner of choice - before coming back for an early night.

Race Day

I slept well and was awake at about 6am, slightly earlier than intended but I think I was just really excited! This left me with plenty of time to get ready, plait my hair and eat my breakfast - normal race day affair of porridge with banana and a coffee. Then I checked out of the hotel and walked to the start which was about 30 minutes away.

Preston Park was already buzzing with people as the 10K race was starting at 9am. I was there early as usual, but everything felt pretty well organised - toilet queues were short, bag drop took me literally seconds and we were into the start corrals shortly after 9. It didn't feel like I was waiting around for very long at all before we were moving towards the start line. 

I deliberately positioned myself away from the 3:45 pacers before we began. Pacers do an amazing job, but I really wanted to run my own race and not to stress out if I had a slower mile and couldn't keep up with them. 

I started steadily, knowing that the race began with a hill and that there'd be a lot of jostling around as everyone settled into their own pace. I'd decided not to look at my watch for the first three miles and just to warm up, settle into a rhythm and enjoy the atmosphere. Going up the first hill I had very slight pain in my left shoulder/trapezius which is something I do get occasionally when I run and have done pretty much my whole life. Two years ago I let it massively get the better of me in the Oxford Half and it ruined my race, but I've learned to just breathe, try and relax my shoulders and it should pass - which it did.

I spotted my dad and sister around the mile 2 marker which was a nice start as I had absolutely no idea where they were going to be! As we passed the mile 3 marker I checked my watch and saw I'd done an 8:29 mile which was almost perfect pace. At this point I felt relaxed, comfortable and in control. We came back down again and I just about recognised my friend Adam when he called out to me as he was running in the opposite direction! The race involved lots of bits where we doubled back on ourselves which meant lots of opportunity to try and spot other people - I actually didn't see anyone else all race but it was a fantastic way of distracting myself.

I continued trying to just keep to a comfortable pace without looking at my watch as we passed the five mile mark. During training runs I'd actually found it quite hard to regulate my pace, but with other people around me I found it much easier and was able to run to feel. The route went out west with some beautiful views of the sea on one side and green fields on the other - so you can bet I was enjoying myself at this point! I'd describe miles five to twelve as "gently undulating" - probably mostly uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back, but nothing too taxing. 

Somewhere around mile 7 I caught up to the 3:45 pacers so I knew I was ahead of target, even if it was early on. At first I thought maybe I should now just stick with them, knowing I'm actually ahead, but I was feeling good and overtook them without really meaning to.

As we came down back towards Brighton the wind was behind me and I knew I was picking the pace up a bit. I checked my watch at the end of mile 12 and saw I'd done a 7:57 mile. I was a bit concerned that I was starting out too fast and might end up paying for this towards the end, but I was feeling strong and it felt sensible to bank a bit of time while the conditions were in my favour with the wind and downhill. I think miles five to twelve were my favourite bits of the whole race and I was genuinely loving every second of it - I couldn't stop smiling!

Just before the halfway point, the crowds suddenly became absolutely huge and the noise and support was incredible. At this point I was reminding myself to try and soak it all up because this isn't an everyday experience. I crossed 13.1miles in just under 1:48 which I knew was bang on target for my sub 3:45 goal (allowing for positive splits). I also managed to spot my dad and sister for the third time - I was doing well at picking them out in the crowd.

Coming up to mile 14 I knew some of the instagram cheer squad should be around but I managed to  miss them. I got to mile 15 and remembered I'd been meaning to have my second gel before then. I didn't really feel like having it, but that's what I've been doing in training and it worked so I stuck to the plan. There was a split second when I thought I might be bringing it straight back up again, but luckily that didn't happen! Miles 12, 13 and 14 were all sub-8 minute miles - unintentionally, but I'd sort of expected that I'd probably run my fastest in the middle of the race before slowing down as  I tired towards the end and it was helpful mentally to have banked a bit of extra time.

I actually started to find things a bit tough after mile 15. Brighton's a lovely course, but there are some very long straight bits! I could see runners ahead of me for another mile, while also having the faster runners coming back the other direction so I knew that as far as I could see ahead, I'd also have to run back. I managed to keep going though, keeping the pace faster than target. However somewhere towards the end of mile 16 I was starting to really notice discomfort down my left leg. I went into the race with gluteal tendinopathy - basically inflammation of the tendons of the gluteal muscles - and the last three or four weeks it had been causing pain right the way down the outside of my leg when I ran longer distances. I'd been ignoring it easily enough from about mile 6, but now as I began to tire it got harder not to focus on it. I was carrying ibuprofen with me on the suggestion of my physiotherapist, but I was a bit nervous to take it in case it caused any stomach problems. I'd done a parkrun after taking ibuprofen and been fine, but I'd actually forgotten to test it out on both of my final long runs and didn't want to risk it now.

As we hit mile 17 I finally gave in to the thoughts in my head telling me to stop and walk. I'd incorporated some walking into my long runs during training mainly as a mental strategy to reassure myself that even if I had to walk on race day it didn't mean my 3:45 goal was over. I'd been practising walking for 0.1 mile and getting going again after that and the strategy worked perfectly - I was able to treat it as a tactical rest and a not a failure and actually got running again before 0.1 mile every time. At the end of mile 17 I saw I'd run 8:39 - the first time I'd gone slower than target pace (apart from the 1st mile) and only by 5 seconds, so I wasn't too worried.

Mile 18 I was starting to dig deep. Two ladies from Medway Runners were running together and encouraging each other along to try and stick to 8:30min/mi and I stayed with them for a bit. This was the one and only point where I missed my dad and sister shouting to me - shame really because that's probably when I needed them most! I can't really remember, but I think it was around this point that I took my third gel - a caffeine one to help me through the hardest bits. I must have been desperate by then because I actually thought it tasted nice and I usually hate those ones!

Then it was out towards the power station and the industrial bit that everyone had warned be about as being pretty boring and having very little crowd support. Exactly as they had all said, it was hard and I think I ended up walking a little bit of nearly every mile during it. For mile 20 though I was determined to bank just one more good mile and ran 8:14 which again really helped mentally. Miles 21-22 people around me were starting to struggle, pulling up with cramp, stopping to walk and it did really show me that I wasn't the only one finding it tough right then. But I continued to push, just keeping putting one foot in front of the other and staying determined.

We finished mile 23 and of course I spotted a sign saying "just a parkrun to go!". Three miles have never felt so tough. I started to hear people shouting for the 3:45-ers and realised that they must be catching up to me again for the first time since I'd passed them at mile 7. By mile 24 they were with me and I was almost going to just let them go and wave goodbye to my 3:45 target. But then I remembered everything I've put into training for this, how much I'd love to get that London GFA time and the fact that I'd said to myself that I wanted to push right to the end. With about 1.5 miles to go I managed to dig deep, find an extra little bit of speed and get myself moving again. I caught the 3:45 pacer, passed him and kept going. I'd checked my watch and knew that I was going to make it. My legs hurt, but there was absolutely no way I was stopping now. The finish line came into site and suddenly all the pain just disappeared - all I had to do was get there.

Crossing that finish line was pretty overwhelming, especially when I stopped my watch and saw my time of 3:42:52. In that moment I was so, so happy with myself! I managed to keep moving despite all the muscle pain suddenly flooding back into my legs. I'd done it. First marathon completed, 3:45 goal achieved.

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