As I previously mentioned, I had fairly ambitious (for me) goals for this marathon. I was going to “go for it”. I haven’t done that for a marathon in a good while! I was going to start at 7:50s and see what happened, with the ambition to speed up as I went along (not crazily but enough to get close to my PB of 3:24:06).
But after chatting to James a bit the night before I decided to go out a bit faster. He made a good point that if I was going to go for it I should actually go for it with a pace that was a bit scary and was genuinely a risk. At least then if I blew up or it went wrong then it happened because I had the balls to try a tasty pace, not halfhearted one that wasn’t as tough. It needed to be a true test.
So anyway. The morning of the Brighton Marathon… woke up at 6.30am, had a black coffee, got my gear on and drove to a road near to Charlotte’s flat where parking wouldn’t be an issue with the road closures. Paddy, Charlotte’s hubby, was ready in his gear. Charlotte would be spectating (while simultaneously looking after their six week old baby, what a superstar!) as her road was literally next to the course.We made and ate our breakfast (porridge) at Charlotte’s and then headed to meet our taxi, to avoid having to have left super early to have walked the three miles to the Preston Park start. I almost drank my two year out of date Beet It! shot but decided to err on the side of caution and give it a swerve. It saddened me to throw it in the bin (I’m quite reckless with out of date stuff).We got to Preston Park where Paddy and I said goodbye to James, who would be heading to the fast start up the road (due to his fast predicted time – it gives the elites and faster runners a flatter first mile than the rest of the marathon field). I stupidly left my gels by accident in his bag, the numpty that I am. That was fine because though as I knew there would be High 5 gels on the course and I’m fine with them. In fact, it was nice to not have to carry any gels in my Flipbelt to be honest.Paddy and I then separated as we headed to our respective loo queues, which were SO long it was ridiculous. But hey ho, what else are you going to do? Then I made my way to my start pen, where I proceeded to stand in line for another portable toilet. I saw Stephanie briefly and we swapped pleasantries having only ever conversed through social media. So that was nice.The start went without a hitch and I was over the moon when Paul Sinton-Hewitt yelled “go Anna!” to me as I ran past (I had my name on my vest – he doesn’t really know me sadly). It really buffered me along though and I was smiling happily to myself, the parkrun nut that I am.
As we started we straight away hit an incline to climb. Oh man, I knew our first mile wouldn’t be flat but this was quite demoralising. Already my legs felt tired. My dream goal pace of 7:40 quickly disappeared as I was over 8 minute/miling up that bad boy. The incline (it was definitely an incline) went on for 0.6 miles. But then we had a nice downhill that, to be honest, probably evened up the first mile in the end. But it was a shock to the system to start that way.
I straight away found myself wanting to go too fast and had to focus on not getting overly excited. 26.2 miles is a lonnnnng way and though a pace might feel easy now it most certainly would not feel easy later. Keep focused on the goal Anna. Annoyingly I had cramp in my side. Nothing to stop me or slow me down but I did have to do some weird arm stretches and change my breathing up a bit, but it didn’t really shift.
At around three miles a runner friend, Matt, sidled up next to me. I know him through social media and we also ran together at a London 10k a year ago – I remember him dropping me half-way round as he was a lot stronger than me. He’s been having a crummy training time due to a niggly hip so had said he was going to take it easy as he also had the London Marathon the next Sunday (I mean, whaaaaaat). After chatting for a bit I glanced at my watch and realised we were running 7:10s so told him I was going to slow down as this pace was too fast for me. So he headed off into the distance. Happily my cramp had gone away too.
Part of me was a little sad to lose a chatting buddy but I knew I needed to be sensible and focus. I just find the first 10 miles of a marathon very dull. I don’t let myself listen to anything other than the environment around me. The crowds were great and the course was interesting enough to let my mind just wander.After five miles we hit the seafront and started to make our way along the coast past Brighton Marina and up to Ovingdean. It was somewhat undulating but not hilly. Eventually the front runners starting coming back the other way. The lead runner was so far ahead of the pack. It was fun watching them storming down at wincingly fast speeds.I picked up a gel from an energy station ready to take at mile eight. My plan was to take three gels. I can manage on one now in a “normal” marathon but because I was going for a speedier time I decided to go back to how I used to do it and have one at 8, one at 13 and one at 18. I remember taking to James about gels beforehand and how he had his orange flavoured High 5 ready and I poo-poo’ed it as I’m not an orange flavour fan at all, smug with my tasty Honey Stinger that I then didn’t get to use. All the High 5’s were orange. Wonderful.
As I came up to the turning to head into another mini out and back in the Ovingdean area I heard someone shout my name and spotted James heading back down the other side. It was a shame really that I’d been caught unawares because I’d been thinking of all the cool things I could shout to him if I did spot him during an out and back. All I managed was a pitiful “Go James!”. Ah well.
Then someone else called my name and I spotted the lovely Rob and Fi, friends from last year’s Marathon Talk Austria Run Camp.At first I just thought it was just a random supporter cheering my name because it was on my vest so I just smiled and waved. Then I spotted them properly and did a little screech and cheer. Always graceful and calm, me. Ha. It was lovely to see them.Then we finally headed back down the way we’d come. I heard someone next to me say “well that’s the last of the hills” and felt a huge relief. I mean there were a couple of undulations as we headed back down, but nothing to really kill you.
I was easily maintaining a 7.30-7.40 pace and feeling really comfortable. I was looking forward to allowing myself to listen to some music at mile 10 but otherwise I felt fresh and happy. In the back of my mind I knew I might crash later but as it was I was good for the moment and kept with it. Nothing risked, nothing gained. Mile 10 ticked by and I put my pre-planned playlist on. These were songs I was enjoying but weren’t GO GO GO tempo so wouldn’t suddenly rev me up or make me want to break out a 7 min/miler. I could lose my mind to the music and just drift along. The music would be low enough so I could still hear the crowds and marshals though.
Along the front the crowds were fantastic. I mean the crowds were great everywhere but especially this front. I honestly lost count of how many people cheered my name. I’m a bit of a loser in that I will try and smile at people and get them to cheer as well because it HUGELY helps me. Plus if you’re a supporter I know how nice it is to see someone genuinely happy that you’re there clapping them.
As we got towards half-way the crowds were quite thick and I felt buzzed along. People cheered my name over and over and I was so pleased to have chosen to wear my vest with my name on. I smiled at everyone and just fed off of the support. I’ve read a study somewhere where it says there are some runners who are super motivated by external factors, like music and crowds. That is me 100%. Give me cheering and music and I will truck along happy as anything. I was going a bit too fast for my original plan though but I decided to just go with it. It didn’t feel harder per se. But that said, I did have the voice in the back of my head saying “you’re going to crash soon…”.
I saw the lovely Lauren from my club and I squealed again. It was lovely to see her and have her cheer me on.What helped was knowing that there were people “watching” my progress through the Brighton Marathon app. Every time I ran over a mat I knew my times would be zooming their way to people’s phones who cared to track me. Especially my dad who I know would have loved to have supported me in person – especially as I was going for a time. I felt like I was doing him proud each time I ran over a mat as my times were consistent and I was well on track to my goal time.At mile thirteen I took another gel and started pouring water on my head as it was getting warmer. I was looking forward to reaching mile 15 as that’s where Charlotte would be. The miles just seemed to fly by at this point – where normally they’d be dragging. I always find 13-19 a real grind. There were so many people standing on the residential streets and waving to them, high-fiving and hearing them cheer passed the time so well.
At this point though I realised I probably could do with a wee. Now once you’ve thought that you need a wee it takes a lot for that thought to go away. It reminded me of the podcast I’d listened to a few weeks ago from BBC Five Live film review where Simon Mayo was discussing how his son said that runners in a marathon just pee and poo as they run. It was such a funny discussion I remember laughing literally out loud as I was running listening to it. Mark Kermode was so aghast.
To be fair, so was I. I’ve never considered just peeing as I run and certainly not pooing. I also don’t think I’ve spoken to any runner where this is the norm during a race. That said, you don’t talk about these things that often so who knows? Maybe I’m the minority. Anyway, as this discussion flitted through my head I momentarily thought, I could just pee as I run. But the sheer embarrassment of a) someone seeing b) someone SMELLING and c) then running along covered in pee just wasn’t worth the SECONDS I’d probably save myself. I didn’t want a PB that badly. I spotted a portable toilet on the other side of the road (for the runners coming the other way on the out and back) and relaxed knowing in a mile or so I could use an actual toilet.
I saw Charlotte on the other side of the road just after mile 15 and it literally made me squeal and cheer. She had Arthur strapped to her front (what a legend) and she waved and shouted. Ahh it was SO nice. Honestly, nothing beats someone you care about cheering you along in a race. It peppered me along nicely, especially as I knew I’d see her at mile 17 on the way back along the same road.
I also saw a man holding up a large sign for someone called Felix and he cheered me on saying he couldn’t believe I was smiling, which was nice.
(I took this photo before the race)
Sadly I passed Matt, who was suffering from hip pain. I tried to give him some encouragement as I passed. He still looked in reasonably good spirits though (and FYI still finished 3:35!). Then I was back to passing Charlotte again. Ahhh such happiness. And she had a proper crew with some friends and her neighbours who all cheered me along. I also passed the Felix man again and he laughed that I was still smiling. Weirdly I saw this man TWICE more before the end of the race. He laughed each time he saw me and called me “smiling girl”. I hope Felix did well!I jumped into that portable toilet I’d spotted and had a very quick wee before jumping out. Ahh relief. The next section was heading off towards the dreaded power station. I’d heard a lot about how depressing and quiet this area was. But I was feeling good, my pace still strong, nothing niggling and no issues. Without sounding arrogant, I knew that as long as I didn’t suddenly get an injury I had a PB in the bag. I took another gel at 18, made sure to keep sipping water and pouring it on my head (I liked that they were in paper cups – easy to squash up and create a small funnel to drink out of, easy to run over if there were loads on the floor and more environmentally friendly). At 20 miles I decided to wait until I was heading back to the finish area before switching my music over as I didn’t want to use all my energy with a spurt of speed too soon. Plus there were enough crowds to keep me going.
I smiled and waved to everyone I could. As I got to a turning point I smiled at a cheering squad and they gave me a huge cheer. Then later when I came back round to head back they were literally CHANTING my name. I’m not kidding. It was probably one of the best moments in the race for me as silly as that sounds. Anyway, as we ran through the power station bit there were all these stacked bits of timber and the smell was amazing. It was like one of those candles trying to be like a woodland forest. It was a nice smell.Then as I turned back to head to towards the finish (still about 4-5 miles to go) I switched my music to my “GO GO GO” playlist. As I got my phone out to do this I thought “ahh might as well” and snapped a selfie and a few pics. Had to be done!
I was passing people and feeling good. I remembered last week’s run where I was able to up my pace after my 10 mile run for the five mile race and that gave me confidence. I remembered the sub 7 minute mile I did at the end of the undulating Iron Bridge Half Marathon. I could DO this. We ran onto the prom and the crowds were solidly cheering and shouting. I literally smiled at everyone. I was in Happy Anna Marathon Land. I literally remember thinking “I bloody love marathons”. Yes I was tired, yes my legs were feeling like they’d been running for far too long, but I knew I had this and just had to HOLD ON.
I got to 23 miles (“parkrun to go”) and was able to up the pace. Just finish. Just get to the finish. Not long. I tried briefly to think about the time I might finish but I couldn’t work it out. Would it be a sub 3:20? Could I push for 3:18? I kept smiling and occasionally fist pumping (I know, what a muppet, but it works for me) which helped get the crowds to cheer me. I got to two miles to go and I was firmly on the pain train. It became harder to smile, harder to wave. I could just about nod to people and grimace smile my way along. The weather was turning slightly, a few drops of rain and a lot cooler. This was good.I saw the finishing straight and was overjoyed. ALMOST THERE. Not as long as the dreaded Dubai finishing straight which went on F.O.R.E.V.E.R. And right at the end I saw my other friend Mark, the Run Director of the Hove Promenade parkrun, and he gave me such a fantastic cheer. It was such a great way to cross the finish line. As I went underneath the timer I spotted 3:19:45. Omg sub 3:20!
I stopped my watch and did a double-take. 3:16:28 – WHAT??? I was literally in shock. And then, I walked straight into Paul Sinton-Hewitt – the parkrun founder. The next few minutes were a highly embarrassing fan girl flurry of gushing “omg I love parkrun” sentences of which I can only hope flattered him rather than terrified him. My phone was suddenly going off with James ringing me and my dad ringing me but I just had to get a selfie with the legend. He happily complied and honestly was the NICEST. He congratulated me on my run (and reassured me that if my watch time said 3:16 it probably meant I’d run that time and not the gun time on the board). He was so nice.
I then spotted another guy from my club who I’d managed to just pip at the end (I finished first in my club overall amazingly – OK there weren’t that many doing it but I will take it!). A guy then said hello to me saying he knew me from Twitter after photo bombing a previous photo of mine. How funny to see him at the finish line again then!
I probably made no sense to anyone I chatted to because I was literally on cloud nine. I spoke to my dad and he just cheered down the phone at me. He was over-the-moon, saying he knew I had it in me and how proud he was. I honestly could have cried. I got my medal and a water and then went to meet James.
James had finished in the CRAZY time of 2:56:38. Yeah. I know right. INSANE. So he was over-the-moon too. In my haste to meet him and in my PB haze I completely missed the goody bag pick-up!I could have gone back but I wasn’t that bothered. I had a water which was exactly what I needed at that moment.
As this has gone on already too long now, I’ll just say that James and me, both in euphoric PB happiness, hunted down some decent post race food from a fabulously lovely Mexican restaurant called Dos Sombreros where yes we did indeed wear our sombreros as we ate.
Sadly our eyes were bigger than our tummies and though we easily polished off the delicious chicken wings, we were both overwhelmed by the main course (I had fajitas while James had a burrito).My tummy felt somewhat delicate, but it’s OK because I was far too happy to care.Have you ever “gone for it” at a race with a time goal?
What’s your ideal post-race cuisine?
Do you like people to cheer your name when you race? I thrive off it.