It’s 4:30am and my alarm has just gone off. Must be time for the Brighton Marathon.
The first thing you might wonder is why the hell have I gotten up at 4.30am for a marathon that doesn’t start until 9.30am. Well I would like to say it is because I like to be super organised, but the real reason is a much longer story. To save you from all that, lets just say that I was supposed to stay locally to Brighton for the marathon, but due to one of my kids being ill and a few other unforeseen circumstances I had to stay at home in Portsmouth. So the early alarm call was to give me time to drive to Brighton and get parked before they shut the roads at 7am.
So following my drive to Brighton I was all parked up at 6.30am and meeting with Nicky from Chestnut Tree House for a taxi up to the marathon start, which is at Preston Park. Whilst loitering around on the street waiting for her, there was an unusual mix of people about. Littered amongst the lycra clad, bag carrying marathon runners were a few guys and girls who were just getting home from their night out. I fondly recalled that I used to be one of those revellers. Now I get my kicks from getting up early and running marathons. Funny how times change.
Anyway, soon enough I had met up with Nicky and some of the Chestnut volunteers and was on my way in a taxi to the start.
We were soon set up in our spot by the clock tower, and in dribs and drabs my fellow runners started to arrive. Some were running the 10k, with others running the marathon like me. As I watched everybody go about their pre-marathon rituals, pinning numbers to their vests and chatting about how much training they had done, I was delighted to see so many runners supporting the charity which I love. Chestnut and St Barnabas had over 300 runners this year, which is hugely impressive.
Soon I was deep into conversation (well mainly banter really) with Mark, Martin, Dave and Josh who I have all met through Chestnut. None of us are expert runners, but we are all equally dedicated to Chestnut / St Barnabas and fundraising for such a great cause. It was lovely to talk to them before the race. Martin was only supporting, as he has London Marathon in a couple of weeks. Mark was running the 10k with Dave, Josh and I all running the marathon.
Soon it was time to make our way down to the start corrals and await the off. There were a lot of people around. Having not run at Brighton in 2016 I was amazed how much more busy the event had got since 2015. There were literally 10’s of 1000’s of runners in all shapes and sizes. I said goodbye to Dave and Josh (who were in a different starting group to me) and made my way into the yellow starting wave. Each wave is seeded depending on your predicted finish time. I had gone for a very ambitious 4-4.30 finishing time group. A 4.30 marathon would probably be my best possible effort, but nothing ventured nothing gained……..right?
Once the white and green waves had gone, the yellow group shuffled slowly towards the starting line. There was a real buzz in the air, with people cheering and shouting. Despite this, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness wash over me. I run to raise money for Chestnut Tree House. Chestnut care for children with life shortening conditions. The children they care for rarely make it to adulthood. I was thinking about those kids, what their lives must be like and the wonderful work that Chestnut do to enrich them and a tear formed in the corner of my eye. It is an honour to run for Chestnut, and the weight of this honour fell deeply on my soul at this moment.
Slowly as we inched closer to the start it was time to start jogging and over the line I went. 2 years ago I started the marathon far too fast and paid the price, so I started nice and slowly at my target pace of 6:30 per km. We were off and running, and as we made our way round the park and off towards Brighton the sun was shining and it was a great day to be a runner. I felt fit (despite my lack of training) and was excited about the race.
Sticking closely to my pace through the first 5km, and then past 10km I was running well and feeling good. The crowd was noisy and all was well. Rather amusingly, due to wearing a back pack you could not quite see my name properly on my top. As you can see from the pictures, it looks like I have Nooky written on my top rather than Snooky. This lead to many smiles from me as the crowd shouted out “go on Nooky”. Some people were a bit quizzical about me having Nooky on my top, but never the less the crowd were cheering and shouting my name.
All of this was brilliant. All except for one thing. It was very very hot. For so early in the morning (around 10:30am at this point) it was really warm. The forecast had been for up to 23 degrees. I had no idea how hot it was, but it was easily 20 degrees at this point and was only going to get hotter.
As we proceeded out onto the seafront for the long slog towards Ovingdean, the heat became very real indeed. There was a light breeze blowing into our faces, but the sun was relentless and I was ploughing though my water bottle and topping it up at every aide station. Others were clearly suffering in the heat too, and you could hear the mutterings of other runners all around, all saying how hot it was. Having almost no experience of running marathons in the heat, I decided to keep my pace steady, concentrate on drinking a lots of water, and keep on going.
Turning around at Ovingdean and back towards the pier to complete the half marathon, I was still feeling good but was very worried about the heat and the impact it might be having on me. For the relevant pace I was going, my heart rate was about 15-20bpm higher than it should have been. I took this as a sure sign that the weather was taking it’s toll on me and was starting to fear that I was running into trouble. Sometimes, it sucks to be right.
Running relatively strongly past the 15 mile marker I started to suffer. I was so hot. Ridiculously hot. It must have been in the mid 20’s (or it certainly felt like it) and I was struggling. There was no choice but to start a walk/run strategy. Giving my heart rate a chance to slow down a bit whilst walking was a good idea, and God. knows I needed a bit of a rest. I continued this strategy through the 18 mile mark, started to feel a bit stronger and picked up the pace.
All the way round my friend Sarah (who was there supporting her girlfriend Liz) had been bumping into me and she gave me a little pep talk as I approached the dreaded power station section. My hip flexors had given up by this point (as they often do) and I lamented to her that perhaps one day I will get them sorted. Haven’t managed this yet in 3 years of endurance racing, but you never know.
As I got to the power station the heat started to become very real. There were fellow runners conking out everywhere. People were laid on the ground. Many were repeatedly being sick and there were St Johns Ambulance people all over the place. Those volunteers do a great job, but I definitely did not want to see one up close. I knew my wife would be worried about me running in the heat, so I gave her a call at this point. Usually I would not have my phone whilst running, but I have been practicing wearing my race backpack that I will use on the ultra marathon, so had my phone close at hand.
Cat was very glad to hear from me, and as I walked along talking to her she reminded me that this was my first marathon of 13 this year, and all I needed to do was finish not “kill myself” on the first one. I took her counsel well, and proceeded with my walk run strategy round the power station. As we got to mile 22, I tucked in behind a couple who were running together. The man had an M-dot tattoo on his left calf, meaning he had completed an Ironman triathlon in the past. I have a very similar tattoo myself, so decided that I would stick with him and he could pace me to the finish. Sticking close behind the couple for a couple more miles, I then walked the first half of mile 24 before deciding to run to the finish.
As the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”, and I could not maintain the run for that long. I was clearly way more dehydrated than I had thought, so after one more brief walk I ran the final mile and crossed the line in 5:07.
Bearing in mind the ridiculous heat, I was very pleased with the time. Sadly I felt absolutely awful when I stopped running and had to make my way to the Chestnut Tree House tent in the event village for a well earned packed of crisps and a nice cold coke. Following on from this I felt OK again, and reflected back on what I now consider to be my hardest ever marathon. I have run much hillier races, an also run a marathon at the end of an Ironman after swimming 2.4 miles and cycling 112, but Brighton this year was definitely physically my toughest.
I guess I just don’t do too well in the heat. Still I have learnt some valuable lessons from this marathon, and will take these with me into my next marathon, the Three Forts Challenge, on the 30th April (3 weeks time). This will pose a whole new set of problems, with over 1000 metres of climbing over the 27 mile course. Let’s hope it’s not so hot!
As always, I would like to say a massive thank you to the amazing Chestnut Tree House supporters who turned up in the heat to cheer us all on. Also a huge thanks to my wife Cat, who was busy spamming Facebook with updates as my race unfolded, trying to get the sponsorship money flowing.
So with one marathon under my belt, and 12 more to go (including two ultra marathons), it is time for me to sign off and get my head into gear for the next short burst of training before the 30th. Hope you are all well.
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