The Brighton Marathon is one of the biggest in the land (supposedly the 2nd, and at the race the MC bragged it had better support than the others. What? Than London? Dream on, brother), and, because it does not suffer from needing/using/ruining everything with a ballot like London, people can just sign up – but you need to be quick. Last year a LARGE #UKRUNCHAT contingent made their way down to the south coast whilst I recovered from the Manchester marathon the week before. I had considered the Brighton Marathon before signing up for Manchester but the problem I have with the race is that, whilst there is an early bird price (yay!), unless you get in quick the pound signs go up steeply, and I was too late to the party.
Brighton sells out in record time in April-May the year before the race and you think that is it, game over, man, game over.
But it is actually not. Around the time about 200,000 people are told they didn’t get into the London Marathon ballot (clearly delaying the result to force people into taking a charity place – as VLM is a mass participation charity event and NOT a marathon in their eyes) the Brighton Marathon says it will release a big chunk of places, a few thousand places that just happened to get freed up at the same time people are looking for a new spring marathon. HOW CONVENIENT!?!
They ask you to sign up. But this is not entry. You then get an email a week later, saying that the email application has closed and that then you can apply for race entry. It is not a ballot, it is a first come-first served email race to get a place. But then, as I found out, the price is hugely elevated, £30 more than the original price – so £85 I reckon. To which I say, “Nooooo, that dog won’t hunt, monsignor!”
No Brighton Marathon 2016 for me, so instead I did the half, which I liked (other than the obvious annoyances you get at hit-or-miss Vitality races). Fast forward to April 2016 when the early bird window opened for this year’s race and I was in there like swimwear, day one, early bird price locked in, job done.
Now there’s something else that irks me about Brighton Marathon, along with the profiteering of the race, and that is the profiteering of the local hoteliers. I have been to Brighton many a time and have stayed at several hotels along the waterfront. Some are good, modern, wannabe chic, others formerly grand and now wet dog smelling shadows of their former glory. None of them are worth £300 a night, but that was how much I was paying for a room at the Hotel du Vin. £300? That is more than the race and my trip, flight and hotel in Zermatt. But, onto better things. Happy place. Happy place. Happy place.
I ran Brighton, as I said, last year at the half and did ok. I felt a bit ropey at 10 miles but had very little sleep and no breakfast, so there was a decent enough reason. Still, the buff-tastic photo of Jude, Jeff and me won a competition and Jude would end up enjoying a spa day for it. Oh, and I got a 3 minute PB. Although apparently the course measures 170 or something yards short so it doesn’t count.
The route for the marathon would not be massively dissimilar to other races I have done. After all, Brighton is by the sea. For coastal races, and I have run Portland, Bournemouth, GSR, Eastbourne/Beachy Head, Southend, Bexhill-on-Sea as well as Brighton, you can really only do there and backs along the coast, back to the start, then up the other way and back again, as there is nowhere else to go – without the aforementioned swimwear.
It was part of my original 2017 plan and I think the first race I signed up for back in the Spring, before even deciding on doing the 12 in 12, and certainly before getting a spot in London (that I will run two weeks later). It was hoped, at the time of signing up, that this would be one of those races where everything clicks. Can be quick, weather could be nice, and I have already run 3 marathons this year, two of which being tricky ones, so there was a lot of hope. But then, following hope, comes doubt.
Doubt number 1. I have had a chest infection and a cold since Barcelona and the ill-thought out time spent in the steam room of my hotel straight after. Training since Barca has therefore been quite limited.
Doubt number 2. Said training was limited to dreadmill at either Champneys spa or the Virgin Active gym on Finchley Road. Dreadmill training is not ideal for a road race.
Doubt number 3. Said dreadmill time has given me a tightness around the right knee, something I developed when I first started running, but that went away when I got to run more, then solely, outside.
Doubt number 4. It was supposed to be hella hot. Original rumblings from the Met Orifice had it at 23 degrees, but in the end it was barely 21. Hold on, what?
Doubt number 5. The course. I have heard so much about notorious parts of the course, with no support and no fuel stops, that are just miserable. The area I was most concerned about was not on the half route I ran last year and so I asked running ledge Jenni Morris about it. Here is her description, and thanks for that Jen, it reads like it came out of the mind of Stephen King:
“You turn right, away from the finish line, which isn’t the best feeling at 18 miles… then you come into the industrial park which is awful-it’s like walking into a twilight zone where the happiest of runners are found walking & crying their way through it. You come out the other side wanting fuel.”
This is a laugh though. I have run A LOT of races in A LOT of different places. Can you imagine a half around a NASCAR arena in a North Carolina hailstorm, or the zero support at Portland, or Sheffield!, and what about the long dark hellish fields of RTTS? And let’s not mention the Reindeer 5 Miler on Southend Seafront. So I am ok with the dismal industrial estate bit in theory. We shall see how I do on the day, but until then my aims are – as they were in Barcelona:
- Finish (obvs)
- Finish well and healthy (again obvs)
- Finish having run most of the way
- Finish having run ALL of the way
- Sub 5 (it may sound easy, but given the muddy, hilly, difficult marathons I have run since November, it is not)
- Within 20 mins of my PB
- Within 10 mins of my PB
- Sub 4
- All of the above
Let’s see how I do? But first…
As I was preparing to pack for Brighton I received a message from BBC Radio Sussex who asked to interview me about the race and the potential impact of the Southern Rail/RMT strike. In preparation I wrote some soundbites about the race and how the strike would add to the stress people were already feeling, about how the running community would blame Southern and the RMT and not the race. But I was constantly being led down that route. It was obvious the Beeb wanted me to say that the travel difficulties would damage the reputation of the race but I wasn’t biting. I am not even sure if they used the recording. But, to be honest, I don’t really care.
Finally, to the race. As mentioned, the weekend started on the day of YET ANOTHER Southern/RMT strike, although, fortunately, I am closer to the Thameslink and so got that from West Hampstead all the way down. The train was comfy, roomy and I had a table to myself the whole way.
Checked into the hotel, and then collected my bib. American Express was one of the sponsors and, as I booked with mine, I got to be one of two people sauntering through, as others queued, for the bib collection version of priority boarding. This was a little odd in itself, but then when I got to get my bib they had several options and I could have said any time when they asked my expected finish, as they just handed the bib over. The bib gained entry to the Amex tent (although I didn’t go), their priority bag drop (although I didn’t use it) and other things that I didn’t make use of at all. The bags the race issued were far too small for most people’s kit bags, and I had a suitcase with me, so it definitely didn’t work.
There was nice race village down on the beach, with beer and food stalls and I met up with Carl for a couple of cheeky pints before a chapter in the story I like to call “The Debacle of the Vest.” Running Twins Keith and Colin were both suffering and so, with the message from Leeds being that they were too ill to run, I offered to wear the vest of their chosen charity, Motor Neurone Disease Association. I am always happy to help and contacted the charity to organise meeting to collect the vest. I was told the location of their tent but, wandering around in the sun, couldn’t find it. After chasing around and then finding a steward who knew, MNDA were not down ‘til the next day, which was odd as I was in communication with them. The ladies were stuck in traffic and, after waiting around for a while I asked they drop it off at my hotel reception, which they did. Is blue my colour? What do you think?
Pasta party with Kev, his friend who’s name I don’t recall, JK, Clare, Carl, Audrey (from Barcelona), and Katie (from Berlin) and a very early night.
The Race Day…
It was a 9.15 start up in Preston Park, about 25 mins walk from the hotel and I was up at 8 to make porridge. Although, I seemed to just have a Nespresso and no kettle so tried to make porridge using the larger cup setting and it effectively ruined it, turning my breakfast into a soupy mix of raisins and oats. So no fuel for me for the 3rd of 4 marathons this year. I should really get better at making breakfast, that or Nespresso need to add a porridge option.
Carl was running the 10K before and well done, sir, for your second Brighton PB of the year! The first being the half. And I managed to see him off before joining Paul, Katie, and the UKRUNCHAT crew for a meetup at the start. A strong looking team, and a team that would need to be strong given the heat. It was supposed to be 17 degrees, but it was hotter for sure, you could tell.
The waves were supposed to be based on time, I was in the 4-430 yellow wave with Alison but it was quite obvious people were going where they wanted. There were no marshals stopping people going into the wrong wave and so, as we faced the very 1984 Big Brother screen and saw Chris Houghton (Brighton and Hove Albion manager) interviewed, and were (I want to say) entertained, with a rendition of Sweet Caroline (I am assuming this is the Brighton team anthem, but am not sure), we were disappointed with the lack of respect for the bib given to you.
And then after a big screen countdown Chris Houghton waved a flag and wave one was off, high fiving him on the way over the start. Then the same countdown and the second wave went. Then us. Alison and I were in the 3rd wave and it took nearly half an hour to get over the line.
To the race…
The race can be looked at in several parts. It starts in the city at Preston Park, and you loop the park, then do a few large blocks around the town, including loops round the park by the Pavilion, going out and back on ourselves. I find this part of the race disheartening as you see people going out then back and alongside, then on the other side of the road, or the other side of the park, and you don’t know how they got there.
There were more water tables, but no JBs or anything, just High 5 energy drink and gels. We had been told there would be more water tables, making them closer together and were advised to drink little and often. This is something I do anyway. I tend to rinse the mouth, spit, drink a couple of gulps and then pour the rest over my head. Now, discussing this later people tell me that just water and gels is normal but that can’t be right. I have run all over the UK as well as abroad and always have more of an option. Manchester was just JBs and water. Big international marathons you get fruit etc on the way around. You don’t rely on the crowds for sustenance. But back to the race…
Once you get out of the town and finally hit the seafront you head out east, up a long slow hill towards the race course and golf course. This was a nice long there and back and you could really feel the KMs ticking over. I took a pee break here against some random concrete structure that turned into a well used urinal and kept going past the Blind Veterans building and as far as a tiny village before turning back on yourself. It was blisteringly hot. People were walking on the pavement and being shouted at by a marshal on a bike to get back on the road. And me? Well I was enjoying the waves and cheers from fellow MNDA vest wearers as mile 11 became 12 and we were descending back into town.
It was around this time I was supposed to see the awesome UKRUNCHAT cheer team of Jen, Carl, Kaya, Baz and Clare. Jen had even tweeted a map showing exactly where they would be. Apparently I am clueless and didn’t spot them or hear them as they screamed my name as the first of two tough parts of the course started.
The first nightmare started after I realised the MNDA vest was rubbing the crap out of my underarms. It was a looooooong there and back into the more residential parts of Brighton. There was good support, drum troupe’s etc, but it was hella boring. I got through this bit by high fiving a lot of kids and Whatsapping Jen to ask where they were.
They were at the bottom of the turn and therefore mile 18 and I was so so so happy to see them cheering me. I ran that bit after dawdling a lot to get there. I saluted the team and applaud their awesome efforts with the banners. This was my favourite.
A little way along the seafront, as we headed ominously towards the chimney stack of the power plant in the industrial estate in the distance I saw Matt Bodkin and Redfacedrunner from Instagram. Another shot in the arm for me. I do love seeing the peeps. And then…
After a very long run along the front you turn left and into the industrial area Jen described. There would be no support and only one water table. It would be horrible. But TBH I was ok with it. I saw both Colin and Keith, although I got them mixed up again. Keith was in a bad way but soldiering on. We chatted for a while, he had tripped and had a cut hand. I wanted to make sure he was ok and he said he would keep going but I was cramping up and needed to stretch my legs or I wouldn’t be able to continue.
The only water table in the industrial estate had run out of cups. Yes. Seriously, it had run out of cups, which is a little annoying and people were drinking out of bottles. I drank from one of the High 5 bottles, 10 gulps. That shows how dehydrated I was and then I was off again, turning finally to head back out of the estate. People were dropping like flies too. People were vomiting because their salt levels had dropped and they had taken on too much water. It was carnage, but carnage that I would finally break free of and finally get onto the beach path that would take me back to the finish.
I saw Jen and Carl, and Bodders and Redfacedrunner again, trying to keep moving as best I could before jogging back onto the main road that led to the finish.
Music ran out with just over a mile to go. My ipod had hinted at it back in the industrial estate with the robot voice telling me “battery low” but just as I spied the pier on the final stretch before the finishing straight the dreaded beeps meant that I would have to go it alone, and rely on the crowd. I ran along next to a Joe, and a Jenny, and was cheered on as part of a “keep going, Jenny, and Jenny’s running friend.” I saw a lot of people on the ground including Shamoon, a guy who had gotten in my way a few times and with whom I had played the overtaking game for much of the race. It is always sad to see people on the ground, and more so if you have seen them on the race. It must be terrible if it is someone you know. I think that would devastate me.
And then, running the whole way, and after seeing that there were so few photographers on the route, I was faced with the 200 yard finish and a row of photographers either side. They (Marathon-Photo or Marathonfoto) did this at the half. So despite a poor showing before you all get your £40 finisher pic.
How did I do in the end? Slow but… 8574th! out of 20,604 Although that does include those who dropped out and DNSd. I think the actual number is closer to 12,000.
When I ran the Brighton Half last year I did say that the finish area was a total disaster, and it was. This year, it was even worse. After you finish and collect your medal first (yay!), t-shirt (another good one), and a tote bag (??) you can get a banana, Jacobs sweet Thai crackers, and those thick Weetabix milkshakes (probably not the best thing to drink on a crazy hot day, but made a change from water). You limp past the bag drop, they have the bags outside at this point and looked after by army cadets before you hit the race village and discover IT IS A DISASTER! Yet again they have let in every family of 10, from a clueless grandma doddering about, trying to (unsuccessfully) control several unruly toddlers, to mothers with numerous pushchairs, dogs on string, swollen pink grandads moving at a snail’s pace loudly moaning that there are a lot of people here. It took me half an hour to get out of the race village and then into a bigger disaster, the PANDA BRIDGE.
Definitely a BRIDGE TOO FAR, this was ridiculous. With two ways to get on the bridge either side the aforementioned masses just crowded the entries, stopping those who were on the bridge from getting off, and therefore stopping people from getting on and crossing, and the stalemate lasted so long I bypassed it and crossed the road further up.
There was a heartening moment though, people were climbing the barriers and crossing the road in front of runners and a supporter called them out on it, telling the climbers that they shouldn’t do it, and the people are running the last mile of the marathon and to give them some respect. Big ups for that lady.
Wearing my Oofos, having changed in the disabled loos at my hotel the day turned to beers and food at the Spoons with the crowd and then the most difficult challenge, getting home. The walk to the station was ok but when we arrived the concourse was full of people. Also, people had gone through the turnstiles and crowded the platform areas waiting for delayed London trains. After a disagreement with a couple of women we tried unsuccessfully to get on a London Bridge train. Uh-uh, not a chance. Then I realised that there was a Gatwick bound train. If we could get there, then there would be lots of options. We legged it and not only made the train, we moved forward and had a whole double table area to ourselves.
But our joy was short lived. We got to Gatwick and crossed platforms to get the next train to London and… it was so full we couldn’t get on and the next train in was the one coming from Brighton. We needed an escape route and fortunately found one in the Gatwick Express. Straight shot to Victoria, albeit delayed by 25 mins, but we all ended up getting home before 10 nevertheless. It had just taken us the best part of 3 hours. Yay for public transport.
I was a fan of the Brighton Marathon medal last year, it had a statue on it, and I am a fan of this one. Bespoke, unique, nice size and colour. Great little race tee too.
Ok, let’s look at the scores on the doors shall we?
- Finish (obvs) – TICK
- Finish well and healthy (again obvs) – TICK
- Finish having run most of the way – TICK
- Finish having run ALL of the way – NOPE
- Sub 5 (it may sound easy, but given the muddy, hilly, difficult marathons I have run since November, it is not) – NOOOOOOOOO!
- Within 20 mins of my PB – FUCK YOU!
- Within 10 mins of my PB – AND YOU!
- PB – DON’T MAKE ME TAKE OFF MY BELT!
- Sub 4 – YOU ARE ASKING FOR IT!
- All of the above – GET TO YOUR ROOM!
So a pretty dismal 3/10 that is a bit of a gut punch for me. I did ok (for me at least) at Barcelona and wanted to build on it. But this didn’t happen. I failed to achieve a fraction of what I could. I knew people who had a lot of issues. Keith fainted at the end. Shamoon collapsed before the end. I didn’t do that, but plenty of people (Alison, Dolly, Bambi) got PBs. I didn’t get a PB. Far from it.
Do I suck at this? Maybe a little. But I did finish my 4th marathon in 4 months this year, my 10th marathon (11 if you include ultras) in 18 months and it really was hard. It was an achievement to finish in that heat.
There was a lot wrong with the experience. The village was a clusterfuck, the panda bridge was an utter disaster, but more importantly, the water situation was terrible. Sure, there were more water tables deployed, someone said every two miles, but at some stations they ran out of cups, others they run out of water and on a day like Sunday, it was very dangerous. For a race that brags about being one of the premier marathons of the UK, you should get the water tables right. It is the most basic of things. I am quite surprised no one died. They ran out of t-shirts too, for both the 10K and the marathon, giving people extreme sizes. And apparently the parking was astonishingly expensive. However, the Brighton Marathon organisers, who were getting slated on FB apparently, did email an apology. No discount yet for next year though, but they are money grabbing sheisters.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE BRIGHTON MARATHON – Yes, but don’t leave a bag, and book the race and the hotel as early as possible.
WOULD I RUN THE BRIGHTON MARATHON AGAIN – No
NEXT UP: THE VIRGIN LONDON MARATHON
And my current state?
The Brighton Marathon Apology