After a hectic journey on Friday night, we arrived in Arundel ready for the big weekend. Saturday was spent being blown around Brighton to meet up with an old school friend of Mr B&Ts and to have lunch with him and his wife. They showed us the Lanes, but it was too wet and windy for mooching about so they then took us to the Brighton Centre so I could register and collect my number. The Expo was good – lots of lovely bargains – it was a pity I’d promised not to spend any money as I’d already treated myself pre-marathon! Back to Arundel for a really delicious dinner at a great Italian restaurant. I just wished I could have had a lovely glass of wine to go with it! I tried to have an early night, but nerves, excitement, and a full stomach put paid to that!
After reading worrying weather reports all week about how hot and windy it was going to be on Sunday, Sunday morning dawned cold and grey. I felt silly putting suncream on my face, but after getting a sunburnt neck last year put it on anyway ‘just in case’. I’d been awake since 4.30 so was glad to finally get up at 5.50am and try to get dressed without waking the family up (the joys of a Premier Inn family room!). I couldn’t stomach my porridge, got about half the pot down and a cup of tea and gave up trying.
Mr B&T drove me to a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere and left me there with a slightly strange character who was the only other person waiting for the train. I was quite relieved when the train arrived, already nearly full of marathoners and families. I grabbed a seat, managed to eat a piece of flapjack on the 40 minutes journey, and listened to my ipod to try and chill out a bit.
After a quick loo stop at Brighton station I simply followed the crowds as I didn’t really know where the start was. It actually took a while to get there, must have been over a mile away, and I was trying not to walk too fast and to save some energy. Arrived at Preston Park at 8am, with just an hour to the start, and immediately joined the loo queue. 45 minutes later I just had time to strip off my outer layers, drop my bag at the baggage truck and go to my start pen.
As ever starting at the back it takes a long while for anything to happen, but after 10 minutes or so we heard clapping and saw the Elites come past us (they had a separate start). They just fly by, its beautiful to watch them run – so smooth! Another 10 minutes or so and we were off too. Walking, finally saw the start, and finally started jogging. Realised at this point that my gel belt was too heavy and loose, and was banging against my back, so as I crossed the start line I was trying to tighten it up. As we made our way around the park I spotted another couple of Runner’s World forumites (love it when people put their forum names on their shirts!) so had a little chat with them and then carried on.
First few miles were busy and crowded, and a little chilly and drizzly. I laughed at one lady peeling off and running into MacDonalds at mile 2 – I was hoping she was going to use the loo and not stop off for a quick burger! Saw runners going the other way on this section, as it was the first of many ‘switchbacks’ that the Brighton route has, in order to make up the miles. I actually find these sections hard as it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, but it helped once I realised I could work out how close we were to the turnaround point by the colours of the runners numbers. Once I was seeing Green (like me) I knew we couldn’t be far.
After 5 miles we were on the sea front and heading out to the East towards Ovingdean. Again there were already runners heading back to the West, 7 miles ahead of me. These were the super speedy runners though, and in a sadistic way it was good to see some of them looking like they were suffering (sorry – but it cheered me up. At least they looked like they were working hard!) This section seems to suddenly leave the city behind and heads up a hill. Actually, it looks like a hill and I remember I’d been assured it was a flat course, but looking at my Garmin its hardly a hill at all. Again I was watching the colours of the numbers of the runners coming back down the hill to gauge how close I was to the turnaround point. As I got closer to the large roundabout which I’d though was it, I saw we were directed off up a road to the left, which was disheartening to say the least.
I finally made it to the turn just after the 9 mile point. All was comfortable still at this point, I’d been sipping water at each water station and I’d had my first get at mile 6. I was keeping my pace at around 12 minute miles but as my Garmin was telling me I was at a mile well before the mile signs it was hard to know just how accurate my pace was. Running back down towards Brighton and the half way mark I was surprised how many people were already walking. Not surprised that they were walking, but that they’d obviously started too far ahead and set off too fast. This wasn’t planned run / walk, this was people looking shattered and broken.
The sun was out by now as we came back into Brighton and the crowds had gathered. I had LOTS of people shouting my name (the letters on my shirt were 4″ tall – the advantages of having a short name!) Maybe I just looked needy and desperate, I don’t know, but it was actually quite overwhelming as I felt I had to wave, or smile, or give a thumbs up to everyone who called my name. It wasn’t just my imagination either, at one point a runner in front of me turned around and said “So many people are calling your name??!!!!!”
Half way and I was feeling tired. Not sure if it was the lack of sleep over the previous few nights, or not enough breakfast, or the sun (or too much waving!) but despite sticking to my 12 minutes miles (and slower) I couldn’t help but think half marathons seemed a much better idea than a full marathon. I thought my family might have made it out by now, so I was scanning the crowds for them, but there was no sign of them.
By mile 15 I had a huge wobble. I had gone a long way, been out running for 3 hours, but there was still SUCH a long way to go. I’d been disappointed not to see my family, the sun was full out now, and I just felt it was all too much. They were handing out Shot Bloks here, so I grabbed some caffeinated ones and had a little walk as I chewed them. I had to give myself a serious talking to at this point, and then managed to get myself running again. Its hard having a wobble when people are shouting your name every few minutes. I did love the music that a few people were playing along this section (out of windows mainly) – although one song’s invitation to ‘Jump around’ I managed to decline.
Then I decided maybe I needed a loo stop, but of course there were big queues at all the portaloos and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing 15 minutes queuing like I did last year. I asked for Divine help and suggested to the big runner in the sky that if I would be better for a loo stop, could he make a loo without a queue appear, or even a large, secluded bush would do. Within 5 minutes, just as the road turns to loop back again at mile 16 I saw a church with its doors open and a sign saying “Open for Tea and Coffee. Toilets“. A sign!! I ran straight in, gasped ‘toilets!!??’ and was directed to a lovely, clean, real flushing loo, with loo paper and NO QUEUE! I could even wash my hands and wipe my face afterwards. See the power of prayer!!
I felt much better now, and set off feeling ready to push on. Brighton is such a great place – at mile 17 I high-fived the Queen as she sat having a picnic in the road with Prince Philip at her side. (Don’t think I was hallucinating at this point….!)
After mile 18 we were back on the coast, heading out to Shoreham Power Station which marks the West-most part of the course.It was just a case of plodding on at this point, putting one foot in front of the other. It was getting hotter, and there was a bit of a breeze now as well which was cooling but had me worried about finishing into a head wind. Again the returning runners were just on the other side of the road here, and again there were many people walking. Maybe this is why at mile 20 I had another little walk. I didn’t mean to, I just found myself walking. There were no crowds here which actually meant I could focus and pull myself together again. They were handing out more Shot Bloks at mile 21 so I had some more, sucked more water and set off for the final 5 miles. I tried telling myself it was just an hour from there, but that didn’t help so I stuck to thinking which of my runs at home were just 5 miles long.
At 23 miles we were running right along the front, past people outside their beach huts having picnics, around small children on scooters wheeling themselves right into the way of the runners.Still blazing sunshine, but the wind seemed to have dropped so it was warmer but at least it wasn’t hindering me. I was still scanning the crowds for my family, but there was no sign of them, and the crowds were still shouting my name like mad. I passed a block of apartments with a group of people on an upper floor balcony. They were on the other side of a very wide road, and STILL shouted my name out!
At 24 miles I thought “Just 2 to go!!!” but I swear they were the longest 2 miles I’ve ever run. I was so tired, and my right knee had started hurting. I had to stop acknowledging the crowd when they called my name because I simply had to focus on making it to the finish line. At this point I was telling myself I’d never run another marathon, it was just too far and too difficult to train for. Mile 25 – just one more to go – I don’t even think I was thinking anymore at this point, just keeping on going.
Past a sign saying ‘800 metres to go’, then 400 metres – but it was still taking far too long to get to the finish. I suddenly heard someone shouting my full name – I’d been blocking out the crowd, but this made me turn around – and it was my family!!!!! I gave them a big smile and a wave, but no way was I going to stop now! Suddenly I could see the finish line up ahead. My knee was hurting but I was nearly there. Then I was over it, I stopped my Garmin and I could feel my throat block with sobs. I held it together whilst I got my medal, my t-shirt, my goody bag, my banana etc, then found I was staggering past a large white tent. I just turned my face to it, turned my back to the world and had a huge bawl. I couldn’t breathe I needed to cry so much. It was just pure relief that it was over, that I’d done my very best, and I’d made it. I genuinely felt at that moment I couldn’t have run any better on the day.
It took a while to meet up with my family, and then of course I cried again.
Done! Final chip time was 5 hours 25 minutes and 41 seconds, and I’m extremely pleased with that.