Since mid December running has dominated my life. I’ve been compulsively following a training plan of 4 runs a week. I’ve planned work around it, skipped social events to make sure I was fresh enough to run, obsessed over my eating and sleeping patterns and talked about almost nothing else. On Sunday I ran Brighton Marathon and now it’s all over. I feel a bit lost if I’m honest.
On Saturday The Boy and I caught the train down to a Brighton gripped by a torrential downpour. We met my sister and her partner sheltering in a bar and they proceeded to drink large quantities of wine, while I comforted myself with several pots of tea. It turns out that laughing at your family getting drunk is an excellent way to distract yourself from pre-marathon nerves.
In the evening we headed out to our decidedly dodgy hotel in Lewes and the nerves really started to set in. I didn’t sleep. I got up at 5am to eat vast quantities of porridge, but only managed two thirds of what I was supposed to eat before feeling nauseous. I got back into bed and pretended to sleep until the alarm went off at 6.30am. We drove into a grey, drizzly Brighton to the start line at Preston Park. The park was horrendously muddy, but I can’t fault the organisation. Yes, the queues for the loos were insanely long, but they were clean and had loo roll, not an easy feat when faced with 9,000 nervous runners.
20 minutes before kick off it was still drizzling and cold and The Boy had to leave the park before the race started. Panic started to rise as I realised I was hungry, would my bumbag of jelly babies be enough to get me round? Anyway, the race didn’t pander to my anxieties and started on time, I crossed the start line at roughly 9:06am.
The first 14 miles were fantastic. Central Brighton was packed with people cheering, all the runners were in good spirits and I felt good. I felt strong and comfortable and there were signs to read and shouts of encouragement to laugh at, particularly as I was running near a man dressed as a banana. Despite the thinning crowds and undulating ground as we headed out along the coast spirits were still high and when the crowds were thin on the ground, the runners cheered each other on instead. As we headed back into Brighton the sun came out and it started to warm up, and up, and up.
Seeing my family & friends at miles 12, 13 & 14 was incredible. It made me feel so proud I almost descended into tears as I ran, which was the first of many times I nearly cried over the next 10 miles as I started to hurt, and ran out of energy, and then ran out of faith. Somewhere between 15 and 16 miles was the first time I walked for about 30 seconds and I can’t explain how hard it was to start running once I’d done that. As soon as I started running I just wanted to walk again. It was agony, but the crowd was amazing. I didn’t know a single person around this stretch, but they shouted and cheered and dished out jelly babies and called people out by name when they were struggling, so I kept running. I stopped for another brief walk somewhere around miles 17/18 but other than that I kept moving. I think. To be honest, a lot of it is a bit blurry.
It all went wrong after mile 19. The course loops out of town, through an industrial estate, to a power station before heading back to the finish. Everyone knows that miles 20+ are the hardest and on this course they are the loneliest. There were almost no crowds between miles 19 and 23 which had a huge effect on moral. Runners were dropping like flies, walking, cramping, fainting. Heading back towards Brighton centre in the blazing sun at about mile 22 I thought I was going to have to walk the rest of the way. I looked at my watch with despair knowing I was never going to break 4:30 if I kept walking, but I couldn’t imagine how I was going to be able to run it.
Eventually I managed to get running again by tagging along behind people and following their footsteps. The problem with this was if they gave up and started walking, I lost my rhythm and ended up walking again too. I felt like I walked more than I ran through these long, painful miles but looking at my time I can’t have done. It just felt like it went on forever. Luckily from about 23 miles the crowd built up again and I managed to run slightly further between each walking break.
At 24 miles the end was literally in sight and I knew that my family would be waiting somewhere along the road to cheer me on, but despite being able to see it the finish line felt further away than ever. A stranger’s poster from earlier in the race that read ‘don’t stop, people are watching’ had struck a chord and I didn’t want my family to see me walking. So I forced my legs to move and keep moving. Of the entire race I am most proud of the fact that I ran continuously for the last 2 miles because I don’t know how I did it.
My family were there at 25.5 and 26 miles cheering me on and the signs counted down the metres and I just kept swinging my legs in the least natural running style ever and then the finish line was there. I kept walking through the finishing area (rule #1 don’t stop moving when you cross the finish line), muttering to myself ‘oh my god I fucking did it’ like some crazy woman.
Thinking back on it now it already feels like it never happened, but I know it did because just sitting here typing this my back is aching and when I have to stand up my thighs will scream at me. The later miles are all a bit of a blur as I got more and more tired, but I can vividly remember my emotions swinging between elation and desperation. It’s a miracle I got through the day without crying because even after I finished I was an emotional wreck.
I finished in 4:22:55, which with 2 toilet stops, heat I wasn’t ready for and far too much walking is a really good time. If I ever do it again then I want to do it with someone. I can’t explain how jealous I was of everyone running with a friend/partner/club as I felt so lonely when I was struggling. But somehow I did it.
Throughout my marathon training I’ve been raising money for Goodgym. So far I’ve raised £750 for this tiny East London charity and if my ramblings about my 26 miles of pain have inspired you to do so, please sponsor me just £5 here. Every pound makes every ache worth it and trust me there are plenty of aches to go round.