Brighton Marathon 2017 – Feel the Heat!

At 22 miles in this post was shaping up to a little different than the one I’m about to write. I’d pretty much run out of gas on the infamous Shoreham Power Station loop and despite my hopes of running all the way around I was starting to cramp up and my pace was slowing so I started to walk. At that point I’d pretty much decided to walk all the way back, I’d decided to give up marathons, I was pissed off that I’d been undone again by a combination of unseasonably hot weather and my old nemesis stomach issues. Then I got to 24 miles, and I decided I had nothing to lose by at least trying to run, and to my surprise I got going again. I didn’t get too far as I could feel my quads cramping again, but from then on I found that with the odd 100 yard walk thrown in, and a bit of stretching I was able to run all the way to the finish. I’d set myself a target of sub 4:30 pre-race, which I missed by a fair margin, but in the circumstances I’m happy to take 4:49:59 as a qualified success, on a day when it felt like finishing was an achievement in itself.

It’s been interesting to read some of the comments and blog posts that have been written since the race finished, and the race organisers have come in for some criticism on a number of fronts. I’ve been involved in the organisation of a number of smaller races, so I know how difficult it is to organise a low key event, let alone such a huge event as Brighton, but there are a few things that could be improved both from my experience and others. Rather than talk about them now I’ll do a separate blog post later in the week, and just concentrate on my race experience today.

As forecast race day dawned with bright sunshine and clear blue skies, and even at 9am standing in Preston Park I could feel the warmth building, so I decided that I should definitely look for a slow start and see how things developed from there. Looking back at Strava I was pretty consistent with my pace, averaging around 10:15 to 10:30 minutes per mile for most of the race until the 20 mile mark, which was around my pre-race target pace. The first half of the course is probably best described as gently undulating, with a couple of short sharp steeper climbs thrown in as you loop around the city centre before hitting the seafront. From there the route heads east, with a short out and back section that takes you away from the coast before following the same route back in a westerly direction. We benefited from a gentle sea breeze on the outward leg, but once we started heading back west that disappeared and I could feel the temperature rising, which gave me the first indication things might be a little tough later on.

Heading back into Brighton at this point I still felt in control, and I went through halfway in 2 hours 14 minutes, which I was happy with in the conditions, but I knew the most mentally challenging sections were coming up – the Hove and Shoreham Power Station loops. The Hove section is a 4 mile stretch up and down a fairly anonymous dead straight surburban road away from the seafront that seems to go on forever. You don’t even see the turn around point until you’re almost there, all you can see is a sea of bobbing heads stretching out in front of you.

Having said that I felt like I coped with that section better this year than I did in 2015, but heading back onto the seafront towards Shoreham I began to feel the first signs of cramp. I’d been taking on water at most of the drinking stations, and I’d eaten 3/4 of an Eat Natural bar by that stage, but it seems that the introduction of hot weather throws out my nutritional strategy whatever I eat! My stomach didn’t feel as bad as I had done with gels, but I still didn’t want to eat anymore, so that may have been a factor in how my legs were feeling at that stage.

I was also experiencing a slight tingling in my finger tips, which I was worried might be a dehydration issue, and that combined with the possibility of cramp, the sight of quite a few runners needing the medical services and the general drudge of the power station loop all eventually ground me down by the 22 mile mark and so the long walk home (or so I thought at the time) started. Even coming back out onto the promenade and being able to see the pier wasn’t enough to get me going again, and I spent the next section figuring out if I could at least finish inside 5 hours.

Then 24 miles arrived and I somehow got going again. I have asked myself if I could have forced myself on at 22 miles, but I don’t think I could have, I needed to regroup and take on some more liquid. The drinking thing is always a tough one on a hot day, the advice seems to be to drink to thirst and don’t drink too much as that can be as dangerous as not drinking at all, but in those temperatures it’s hard to judge how much is enough, and on reflection I feel like I maybe should have drunk a little more.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see a finish line when it finally came into view! I collected my medal, t-shirt and the other bits and pieces on offer and shuffled slowly back to the beach to meet my daughter, my partner and her dad who had come along to support me. And go shopping whilst I was slogging around the route! I’d really wanted a beer on the beach to celebrate finishing but given my stomach issues I actually ended up nearly being sick, so the beer had to wait until the evening, and did it taste good!

I’ve had a couple of days to reflect now, and I think that was probably the toughest marathon I’ve done. I’m also glad I wasn’t running in Paris, where it was even hotter, so in some ways I was a little lucky we were by the coast. My legs aren’t too battered, I do seem to recover fairly quickly from marathons, although I’ll definitely be taking it easy this week. I actually have a race this weekend, the ‘Hanham Horror’ in Gloucestershire, which the race website describes as:

“Have you been down to the woods lately? I’m sure you will be in for a big surprise, because every year on Easter Sunday there’s a great race of mass suffering. Where runners pit their wits against each other, the muddy water, the hills, the 100 plus steps, and just when you thought you had finished, a steep rope climb!”

It’s only 6 miles though, and it sounds like it could be a fun way to spend a Sunday morning, even if it is only a week away!

I’m off to carry on eating and drinking whatever I like, because I can – will be back later with part 2 of my race review.