Mara-Done!

Brighton Marathon 2015 MedalAt last! I’ve finally done it. I’ve completed my very first marathon! As predicted, it was long and slow and painful, but I got there… eventually.

The day started well. The sun was shining and there was a cool breeze as I walked to Preston Park for the start of the Brighton Marathon. I could have got the train, but it was only a 30 minute walk from my flat, so I figured the walk would be a good warm up.

The park was already busy when I got there, so I decided to head straight for the porta loos where I met my first 5 minute friend for the day in the queue – he was doing the 10K but had done the marathon a couple of times before and gave me some good advice. After that, there was the warm up, a pep talk from European 10,000 metre champion Jo Pavey, and then another visit to the porta loos before heading to the start pens.

I was in the green pen, which was the last to go off, but I didn’t mind. It was actually quite nice because we got to see the elite runners as they ran past (the first mile is a loop of the park), so we were able to cheer them on too.

Before long though, we were off and, with a high five from Jo Pavey, my Brighton Marathon journey was under way. The start was pretty slow, so I decided not to use my run/walk ratio until after the first mile, and just jog along and enjoy the atmosphere. I wasn’t particularly bothered about the pace, although I kept an eye on my Garmin to check how I was doing.

At around 10K, I spotted a row of porta loos and decided that it would be a good idea to pay them a visit. I wouldn’t normally, but as it was quite warm I had been taking a lot of water and the old bladder was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. It would mean queueing for a few minutes, but I figured it would be worth it in the end.

I had completed the 10K in around an hour and ten minutes, but this unscheduled stop meant that it took me over 16 minutes to complete the 11th kilometre. Still, it was worth it as I felt much more comfortable as we headed up the hill and then down to the roundabout that leads to Ovingdean.

This was one of my favourite parts of the race as there was a live band at the roundabout to entertain us and the residents of Ovingdean were incredibly generous with their support – lots of high fives from small children gave me a bit of a lift too.

The mostly downhill run back into Brighton was brilliant and, although my pace was starting to drop, I still felt pretty good and was able to stick to my run/walk ratio. I knew I from the way the runners coming the other way had thinned out that I was fairly near the back of the pack, but I was having a great time so it really didn’t matter.

When we got back into Brighton, the crowds were amazing and really kept everyone going, but round about the half way point I realised that my energy was waning. I knew that I couldn’t keep going the way that I was, so I decided to drop my ratio a bit with slightly shorter running sections and longer walk breaks. This kept me going, but it wasn’t easy as my stomach was starting to feel a bit dodgy. I put it down to the Gatorade that I’d picked up at one of the aid stations, so I promptly ditched it in a skip and tried to focus on the ratios.

Once we got on to New Church Road though, I saw a couple of friends from work who had turned out to support. This gave me a massive lift and made me smile and laugh a lot, which carried me through for a bit longer. Around the 27K mark though, I knew that my stomach wasn’t happy. Fortunately, as I was so close to the back of the pack, there weren’t any queues at the next porta loo and I was able to get in and out fairly quickly, only adding a couple of minutes onto my already quite slow split for that kilometre.

As the miles and kilometres plodded by, my stomach started to feel much better, but my legs were getting more and more stiff and heavy with every step, so I decided to drop my ratio even further to one minute running and one minute walking (depending on how I was feeling). There were moments when I was able to push myself a bit further, and there were moments when I just had to stop and stretch, but somehow I made it through the ‘road to hell’ around Shoreham Power Station and onto Hove Promenade (my regular running route) for the final 5K.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was on familiar ground, or that I was so close to the finish, or that there were smiley faces painted on the ground to remind us that there would be TV cameras there, but somehow I was able to find it in myself to start extending my ratios again, just by a little and keep things ticking over for the last few miles.

By the final mile, the crowds were really livening up and I started to enjoy the support once more. My feeble thumbs ups became waves and smiles as I thanked the supporters and ditched my ratio altogether, to run in the final 400 metres, with a massive grin on my face.

And then it hit me as I crossed the finish line: I just completed a marathon! How cool is that?

My official time was 5:44:50 which is a fair bit slower than I would have liked, but I’m not complaining. I came away from it with a huge sense of achievement, considerable aches and pains, and the knowledge that I did my best on the day and had an amazing time doing it.

The medal is pretty cool too. It features The Peace Statues next to Hove Lawns, which I’ve run past quite a lot in training for this, so that makes it extra special too.

For those of you in the UK, the highlights of the race will be shown on Channel 4 next Sunday; for those of you elsewhere in the world, it is sure to appear on YouTube at some point if you want to check it out.

Finally, thank you to all of you who have encouraged and supported me throughout these last few months with your comments on this blog. Knowing that I’d have to come back and report to you after the race really helped when things got tough. You kept me accountable, and that means a lot.

I’m going to take a week off to recover and reflect now, but I promise to be back soon with a new challenge.

Thanks again and happy running! 🙂

Brighton Half Marathon 2015

HM LogoYesterday was the 25th annual Brighton Half Marathon, and my very first Half Marathon. Ok, so I have run the distance before and taken part in virtual half marathons, but this would be the first time I had ever taken part in an organised event of 13.1 miles with other runners.

Naturally, I was a bit nervous, but very excited about the whole thing. My main concern was getting to the start line on time, but as I live fairly close by, it wasn’t a problem. I had laid everything out the night before, set my alarm for 6:00 am, and checked the bus timetable and weather forecast the night before. All I had to do was get up, get dressed and catch the bus. So far so good.

I arrived at the race village just before 8:00 am, which gave me plenty of time to relax and soak up the atmosphere, drop my bag off, use the toilet and find my start pen. Despite the fact that there were around 12,000 people there, it didn’t feel overcrowded as everything was spread out enough along Madeira Drive to give people space to mill around, stretch and warm up.

The start pens were easy to find with different coloured flags to match the colours on the race bibs according to your estimated finish time. I was in the 2:15:00 to 2:29:00 pen and stayed close to the back. My PB for the distance was around 2:27:18 and, although I was hoping for sub 2:25:00, given my recent bout of flu, I told myself that I would be happy with anything under 2:30:00. After all, it’s a whole different ball game when you’re running in a crowd.

As far as I could tell, the race got underway on time, but being so far back I didn’t cross the start line for another 9-10 minutes. Still, it wasn’t a problem as everything is chip timed, so I started the Garmin as I crossed the line and reminded myself to relax.

BHM7483-1024x683I had planned to use my usual 3:1 run/walk ratio, but as the pace for the first few hundred metres was very slow due to the crowds, I decided to just keep running until things thinned out a bit. I figured that I wouldn’t worry too much about my pace, but I’d try to keep it at around 6:50 – 7:00 minutes per kilometre (including walk breaks) for the first half of the run at least.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I was feeling really good and the weather was much nicer than it has been on any of my long training runs so I decided to not worry about easing off and just run at whatever pace felt comfortable.

I checked my Garmin after the first 5K and noticed that I was around 33 minutes. This was a good sign as it meant that I was well ahead of time for a PB. Nothing to get excited about, of course, as I still had over 16K to go, but it was good to know that I was on track as I ascended the only hill on the course.

To be honest though, the hill was not as bad as I had imagined, so much so that at one point I even skipped a walk break. I wouldn’t normally do this as it doesn’t really do anything for my time overall, but at that point the route was getting crowded again and it would have been more hassle to pull over to the side to slow down and stop than it would have been to keep running – so I kept running.

At 8K I took my first gel. I didn’t feel that I needed it, but I’d planned to take one at 8K and 16K to make sure that I refuelled before I got in to trouble. This meant taking a slightly longer walk break, which did slow my average pace down a little, but I figured I would make up for it later.

As we ran back down the hill and into Brighton, the support was amazing. I never realised before, when I was out there cheering people on last year, just what a difference that makes – especially when you are starting to feel tired, which I was at around 16K.

By that point though, I was on familiar ground, running along Hove promenade past the beach huts as I do pretty much every time I go out for a run – one of the advantages of running in your own city.

2015-02-22_Map

Still, I took a slightly longer walk break for my second gel and reminded myself that I was still on track for a sub 2:30:00, and might even manage to get under 2:25:00 as long as I didn’t let the pace drop too much.

Of course, the pace did drop, but I ignored it. My legs were hurting, so I just tried to focus on the ratio. Three minutes running, one minute walking, nice and easy until I got my second wind, which came just as we turned off the promenade by the Peace Statue and back up to the road.

We had just over 2 kilometres to go and my time was around 2:08:00, so I knew I was in with a really good chance of beating my goal of 2:25:00. All I had to do was keep moving and pick up the pace where I could. And somehow, I did.

HM Medal 02 (2)As we approached Madeira Drive, the crowds gave me another huge lift and I decided to ignore the Garmin, ditch the walk breaks, and try to pass as many people as possible in the final kilometre. I knew by then that I was going to get a PB and it was going to be under 2:25:00, but imagine my surprise when I crossed the finish line, pressed stop on the Garmin and saw that I’d finished in 2:21:27.

My official chip time was 2:21:23 and, although it’s not a fast time by most people’s standards, I couldn’t be happier. And the medal isn’t bad either, even if it is pink!

How’s your training going? Did you run this weekend? Do you have a race coming up? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

BM10K Race Recap

Today was the big day. The day that I have been training for, through wind and rain and the occasional spot of sunshine. Today was Brighton Marathon Day and, most importantly for me,  the day of the inaugural BM10K.

It was to be an early start for the 10K runners, heading off at 8:30 am, 45 minutes ahead of the Brighton Marathon itself. As usual, the organisers recommended that we arrive an hour before the race to give enough time to drop our bags off at the baggage truck and make use of the porta loos.

The start line was in Preston Park, about a 30 minute walk from where I live, so I had to make sure I was up and out by 7:00 am to give myself enough time. I had packed my kit bag the night before, including a waterproof jacket as we were forecast for rain.

When I left the house, I was happy that the rain seemed to have stopped for the most part – there was a little bit of drizzle, but nothing to worry about.

Everything went pretty smoothly at the park. After finding the correct baggage truck for the 10K, I had plenty of time to wander around and have a good stretch before heading to the start line.

There were about 1,500 of us doing the 10K, which was nice as it meant that no one had to start too far back, and the atmosphere was pretty friendly. People were chatting to complete strangers as if they had known them all their lives.

After a few minutes of hanging around the start line, we were introduced to our official starter, none other than Paula Radcliffe herself, who wished as well and clapped and waved as she sent us on our way.

As I expected, my plan to run the first 5K at a 6:45 minute per kilometre pace went completely to pot. I set off much faster than I should have and, despite the fact that it was pretty crowded for the first couple of kilometres, struggled to keep my pace down.

That being said, the quicker pace felt ok. I was pretty relaxed and really just enjoying being able to run through the streets of Brighton without having to worry about the traffic.

There was, however, somewhere between 4 and 5 kilometres, as real bastard of a seagull who seemed intent on bombing us. Luckily though, we were all a bit to quick for him and managed to reach the 5K mark completely unscathed.

At 5K, I checked my time and saw that my pace, although a still a little quicker than I had planned, had eased off a bit. This was a good thing as I wanted to preserve some energy for the second half and try to pick things up for a strong finish.

At this point, the rain started, which was perfect timing as far as I was concerned. It didn’t last too long though. Just enough to cool me down a bit as I picked up the pace a notch or two.

Although I was quite near the back of the pack, I noticed that I was starting to overtake some of the runners in front of me. I didn’t want to push it too hard, but just allowed my pace to creep up enough to pass them and keep going.

The crowd support on this final stretch along the seafront also really helped. Even though most people were probably out to see the marathon itself, their clapping, cheering and shouts of encouragement gave me a much needed lift as I ignored the pains in my legs and ploughed on.

With only 1 kilometre to go, I was starting to feel pretty tired. I knew the finish line was close, but I still couldn’t see it. Part of me wanted to start kicking, but the other part of me wasn’t sure. I didn’t have much left in me and I wanted a strong finish, so I tried to keep it steady until the clock appeared around the corner. And then I went for it!

I didn’t exactly sprint to the finish line, but allowed my legs to just go steadily faster and faster until I crossed the line.

I checked the time on my Garmin and it looked like a new PB, but I wanted to wait until I got home to check my chip time. And, sure enough it was. 1:06:10 on the clock and 1:05:20 on the chip. Either way, it beats my old PB hands down! And, to celebrate, I get this lovely shiny new medal and a BM10K finisher’s t-shirt!

BM10K Medal

Although my race experience is very limited, I have to say that the finisher’s area was absolutely brilliant. As well as getting our medals and t-shirts, we were also given water, a pack of Belvita Breakfast biccies, a banana and a bottle of Gatorade to help rejuvenate us after the race.

So, would I recommend this race? Absolutely! Will I do it again next year? Well, that depends. If I’m not doing the marathon, then yes. Either way, I’ll definitely be running a race in Brighton this time next year!