Where to begin with this years’ Brighton Marathon? It’s been over a month since I ran my second marathon and I’ve still not got round to posting about it. This is in part due to a genuinely hectic few weeks at work (often up at 5am and not home until nearly 8pm, eat, sleep, repeat), as well as some busy personal weekends. Thankfully, due to the wonders of my memory and my Garmin, the race is still pretty fresh in my mind! So I’ll do my best to share what this years’ experience was like.
The race itself was on Sunday the 6th of April, but we had to head over on the 5th to go to the Expo (short review of the expo: was a bit better than last year, good food freebies) and pick up our race packs. When I say ‘we’ I’m referring to myself and my brother-in-law Ben, who was running his first marathon. We also had support from my wife Becca, his fiancée Sarah and my parents-in-law who had moved back to the UK after 4 years working Papua New Guinea just the weekend before and were still recovering from jet lag. After Ben and I had got our race packs and numbers and been to the Expo, we went back to the flat my in-laws had someone arranged for themselves through a friend.
Yes, the flat they had was directly opposite the elite start! Not a bad view for them and only 10/15mins walk from the main race start. After the evening there we were off to bed. Pre-race sleep is always tough and this time wasn’t an exception, not sure if it’s nerves or adrenaline (most likely a bit of both) but I only got about 5hrs sleep before we were back off to the flat so Ben and I could get ready to run. A brief walk down to the start line and we were there and ready to go.
Last year, I was part of a group running for charity and we were at the start at least an hour before the start with a lot of waiting around. This time we were there with about 25 minutes to go, and I spent 24 of those minutes queueing for the toilet. Now, without going into too much detail, I’m nervous before a run and my digestive system does funny things, so I’d taken an Imodium to try and avoid any mid-race hiccups. I got to my start pen with about a minute to spare, joining the very back of the 3:15-4hr group, knowing that I would never get anywhere near the 3:30 pacer that I wanted to guide me around. Last years race was started by an England cricketer, this year it was Paula Radcliffes turn, the world record holder at the marathon, she was privileged this year to get not one high-five from me, but two. I’m sure 12,000 people down the line her hands were sore! We were off!
My target for this year was 3:30, which, having done a 1:39 half marathon recently was a challenging target but not out of the realms of possibility given that training has gone pretty well, despite work commitments making the last couple of weeks a challenge to taper effectively. Last years 4:07 was definitely going to get beaten and sub 4hrs was my minimum goal. To achieve 3:30 means averaging around 8minute miles for 26.2 miles. Much like last year, the first mile at Brighton is a struggle to set off at race pace due to the volume of people, some sharps turns around the park, and one of the sharpest hills on the course. Weaving in and out of the people saw my first mile include a little walking and an average pace of 8:55. I’d already lost nearly a minute of my scheduled pace!
Luckily I remembered from last year the problems I had with trying to catch up too much pace too soon. There was still 25miles to go, averaging 7:58 for those miles would have got me back to 8min miles by the end of the race, I didn’t need to do a 7minute mile and catch it up instantly.
The next 10 miles all were safely within the 8:05-7:48 minute mile range, and the average pace was getting close to 8mins, I was well on track to finish strong. Due to some changes to the route early on, one of the biggest hills around mile 10 was removed, and there followed 3 nice gradual down hill miles to the sea front, clocking in at 7:58, 7:53 and 7:54.
Unlike last year I was running alone this time around and really looking forward to seeing Becca and family at the half way point. I passed them feeling strong and gave the pre-arranged ‘two thumbs up’ meaning I felt strong. At Mile 13.1 I did feel strong, I’d fuelled according to plan with a couple of Jelly Babies every couple of miles and the pace just under 8min/mile was feeling comfortable. Then, all of a sudden, it didn’t.
I’m not quite sure why but just after halfway and seeing Becca, everything began to feel difficult. Maybe adrenalin had got me to that point, but suddenly, things weren’t working as well as they had and much earlier than last year when I’d crashed around mile 19. My legs felt strong, but I had no energy, surely it couldn’t be the wall? I also felt like there was a massive rock inside my stomach, maybe it was the Imodium? I still think it was the right thing to do given the stomach issues on the day, but something I’ll try and avoid in future.
I struggled manfully on and the next 3 miles were 8:05, 8:09 and 8:18, getting steadily slower and each mile used up more effort. 3:30 was definitely not on the cards, whatever had happened, I was utterly spent. The last 8 miles were a bit (a lot) of a slog, I ran/walked the rest of the way back, averaged around 10:30mins/mile with a fastest mile of 9:19 (mile 26, for some reason I found the energy) and even ended up doing 7:08 pace for the final 0.2, showing my legs still had the pace in them, but something was wrong with my energy.
I crossed the line in 3:51:03, despite the horror of the last 8 miles, a 16minute PB/PR and was looking forward to meeting up with the family. I met Becca soon after and she brought me a mini Mars bar, something that both tasted amazing and gave me a massive energy boost last year, this year it made me throw up within minutes of the race finishing. More evidence that my stomach wasn’t in a good place. However, I was craving a cup of tea and that absolutely hit the right spot.
Next up on my list is the 100km Race to the Stones in July. I’m going to try a different approach for that, especially around the fuelling given what I experienced here. My plan is to eat differently, eat far less carbs and processed food and train according to heart rate. Teaching my body to burn fat for fuel instead of carbs, and hopefully avoid the dreaded ‘wall’ for a race nearly 2 and half times the length of a marathon!
What have you done to avoid ‘The Wall?’ Any tips and tricks to avoid it?