As is becoming a habit, I felt unprepared for this race. I’d run at the Bowiethon Challenge just two weeks before and was pretty knackered afterwards. As well as the usual sore bits after a marathon I’d developed a pain in my lower abdomen that wouldn’t shift – joy. I’d taken things easy the week after to get myself back together (as I would anyway) and then delayed the one interval workout I was going to do. I moved it from the weekend between races, to a few days later, to let things settle down some more. It hadn’t really worked though; I’d got through the session but the pain had intensified through the reps. I should have stopped, but didn’t as I’m a idiot. I tried to rectify that though with some rest, and managed to not run for 4 whole days (my longest break without running for some time) before Brighton in the hope it would help…
We decided to treat ourselves to a night away in Brighton on the Saturday so we had minimal travel on the Sunday morning and Claire had pulled a blinder; she found a lovely apartment right on the seafront and, more importantly, literally 5 minutes walk from the start. Our host with Airbnb was lovely too and very accommodating. She said we could check out late the next day so we could use the flat after the run to have a shower and general tidy up. Result. We were running the race for the charity Scope, as our friend Sarah was running for them (with her friend Jenni) and talked us into running with them too. We got a place, for just the £40 entry fee and a modest fundraising target, when all the general entry places had all long been snapped up.
After a leisurely Saturday morning Claire drove us down to Brighton, and we arrived at lunchtime and dropped our bags off before hitting the town and the Lanes, and had a very carb-y lunch. The weather wasn’t great (wet and windy – not unusual in February by the coast to be fair) but it wasn’t too cold and a bit later we hit Brighton Pier with Sarah and Jenni. As dusk descended we risked life and limb on the Waltzer. It started off ok but by the time it got going both me and Claire where pinned to our seats and the screams were very real! Suitably shaken up we retreated to the warm embrace of Wetherspoons for a restorative beverage, and on to another carb-y meal of the Italian variety.
One early night later and we awoke to a grim view from our apartment. The weather had got worse and the seafront was covered in a foggy blanket, with the odd rain shower and some gusting wind thrown in for flavour. I’m not sure if it was nerves about the weather or the impending race (or the mountain of carbs I’d eaten the day before) but my digestive system did its normal pre-race routine of freaking out entirely (if not more so). Pushing through (ahem) I got myself in order and tried to remember all the stuff needed for a smooth race and post-race comfort. We left it as late as possible to wander to the start line so we wouldn’t be out in the elements for longer than need be.
This is the biggest race I’ve run at for some time, since I ran the British 10k in 2013 (I think) and was definitely the biggest race for Claire so far. There was around 10,000 people signed up for this race (although only just over 8,000 actually ran – the scaredy cats) and it took a bit of shuffling and pushing to get to the baggage drop points and then find shelter from the rain. It was in marked contrast to the SVN events we have been doing recently, where 150-odd people running at Bowiethon felt a bit crowded!
We faffed about for a while (I did a token warm up of 150 metres) and then decided to brave the crowds to get to our relevant pens for the start. I kissed Claire goodbye and good luck, and slowly made my way through the sea of vibrant clad runners to the 1:30-1:44 section. I hadn’t run a half marathon race for ages, since March 2015 at Brands Hatch where I set my half PB of 1:33-odd, so wasn’t sure what to expect or what time to go for. I was a little worried about how my stomach would hold up (and how my legs would be just two weeks after a marathon) but I wanted to get a new best time. Despite the weather it was a flat course and I knew I was pretty fit (if slightly broken).
I saw the 1:30 pacer at the front of our pen and I decided to try and keep him in sight if I could. But my plan was not to worry about him too much and instead concentrate on getting near to 7:00 minute pace, in the knowledge that would get me a PB and a quick time. After the usual wait (and starting to shiver a bit) we finally got set on our way. I didn’t actually cross the line for a minute or so though, as all the runners ahead had to squeeze through the start gantry first. I started my Garmin as we crossed the start line but the first half a mile or so was a frustrating jog/run trying to get round people and find space to get going. With a bit of elbowing and the widening of the route, the crowd gradually thinned to more manageable numbers and I could get going properly. The first mile still took nearly 7:20 however, and I was behind time and the 1:30 pacer was a good few hundred metres up the road already. Poo.
My stomach was a little sore but apart from the odd twinge I didn’t really notice it after that first mile. Now on the flat and open seafront road I felt comfortable picking up the pace a bit. Without much effort I ran 6:50 for the second mile and was making good progress, picking off people slowly but surely. The crowds were out despite the overly moist air and offering encouragement, and mile three was more of the same (and at the same 6:50-ish pace). At the beginning of the fourth mile (I think) we went past a band of drummers who were making a welcome racket and decked out in cool top hat and suit outfits. A little further on the elites and quick club runners went past on the other side of the road in rapid succession on their way to speedy glory.
We turned back on ourselves near Ovingdean and the beginning of mile 5 and we were suddenly running into the wind. We were that bit more exposed as we were on the side of the road closest to the sea and, although it was definitely tougher going, I felt ok and just kept trying to go past people and not get stuck fighting the wind by myself. I got a much needed boost at around this point, when I managed to pick out Claire in the crowd of runners on the opposite side of the road for a ‘keep going’ and a wave. It amazing how that little bit of contact can gee you up. I pushed on again.
I went past the second drinks point and snagged a Lucozade Sport to top up my sugar and fluid levels. Just as I went to take a slug I saw Sarah and Jenni opposite; their hearty shouts of encouragement nearly made me throw the bottle over my shoulder in surprise, and I only just got a reply out. Either with the adrenaline from the shock, or the sugar that was hitting my system, I felt pretty good. I was reeling off sub 7 minute miles with relative ease and now finally caught up with the 90 minute pacer and the crowd of runners clumped around him. Just past the halfway point I nestled into the pack and used the power of the runners around me to keep moving me forward. I settled into a rhythm and even relaxed a little bit in the cover of the crowd.
Things were going well and I tried to relax and just concentrated on not tripping myself (or anyone else) up, and enjoying the shouts of the crowd and the Scope ‘cheer point’ we went past at about seven and a half miles. I had a bit of a dilemma though; with less than half the race to go, but still a fair few miles to cover, did I try and crack on and leave the safety of the 1:30 group? My breathing was fine and my legs felt ok… There were no more hills left to worry about… I’d be able to take on more fluid and carbs at the last drink point… Should I stay, or should I go?
After a minute’s indecision I decided I didn’t want to settle for the safety of the pack and a sprint finish to ensure a sub 90 minute finish. I might have to brave the elements a bit more on my own but I done that in the first 5 or 6 miles anyway, and I needed to take advantage of feeling so good to get the best time possible and risk slowing down towards the end if things went wrong. So at the beginning of the ninth mile I began to drift off the front of the 1:30 pack and started picking off the runners in front of me. I was conscious of not suddenly just accelerating and burning out, so I let my pace increase steadily until I found the same rhythm that had got me on to the sub-90 minute pack in the first place.
With the freedom to run as I wanted I immediately felt better than when wedged in the pack, more in sync somehow. I had a stream of runners to focus on and I kept latching on to the next runner as a target and was making good progress. I had half been looking to see the front runners turn back for the finish but hadn’t seen them and wasn’t sure if I had misremembered the route. But after a slight bend I saw we were actually turning left off the road onto the seafront path and that’s why we hadn’t seen them coming back past on the main road. At the turn we did a nice comfortable looping turn back for home and went past the final drinks point. I snagged another bottle of Lucozade, took a few swigs before chucking it away (wasteful, I know).
Now there was just 3 miles to go, 5k at most, and we were running on the path by Brighton’s pebbly beach. Luckily the wind had died down and the cloud had lifted, so we didn’t have to fight the weather anymore. I found myself in step with what looked like a local club runner (he had a vest on despite the weather) just after the turn and we were maintaining exactly the same pace. We gradually went past more runners (include someone dressed as a cow, much to spectator’s delight) and after a few hundred metres I think there was a mutual agreement we would work together. I was grateful to have someone to help maintain the pace to the finish, so although we went our separate ways to go round the runners in front we kept coming back together as our own little pack.
I was finally feeling the effort now and although my breathing was only increasing slightly, my legs were definitely getting heavier and I was regretting wearing a long sleeve top and a cap. My new running partner seemed to be upping the pace though and coupled with other runners slowing down meant we still had a few people to go round. I concentrated on not getting caught behind anyone and sticking close to my impromptu pacer. As we went round a clump of four runners I had to follow behind him to get by. I saw my pacing pal looking for me and came back alongside with a strangled ‘I’m back again’. He said something encouraging I didn’t catch; our partnership was sealed.
We kept on keeping on and I heard my Garmin beep to signal we had completed the twelfth mile in 6:20; no wonder I was feeling a bit knackered. The crowds were increasing as we got closer to the start/finish point and people were clapping and a few kind souls even shouted my name (which I had written on my fetchingly purple Scope running vest). We went past a mile sign saying 12 miles, but that was definitely wrong as I had 12.25 miles on my Garmin by this point (and thought that was short). I could see the other guy looking at his watch and reassured him that the sign was wrong and we were further along. I then proclaimed from nowhere ‘let’s see how many people we can catch before the end’ – I felt strong and thought we probably only had a kilometre or so to go. I wanted to get all my effort out of me before the finish.
We began to push the pace again and I tried to hold on; I couldn’t talk big and then not put the effort in. There were still a few people ahead to get around but there was fewer now, and the crowd lining the route was growing and offering louder encouragement as we tried to speed up. I was feeling tired and a bit winded but I concentrated on sticking beside my pacer. We took the slight bend in the road by the pier and we could see the finish gantry, which was a relief. We both sped up further although for me it was just to get things over with as quickly as possible, as I knew I was beginning to redline. I tried to sprint and was surprised when I actually sped up a bit! The line couldn’t come quickly enough though and I desperately tried to hold my form as my body finally gave up and my stride went all over the place. As if by magic though we crossed the line, at the exact same time.
I was gone, gasping, hands on knees. But I was very happy. I managed not to slump to the floor, or lose my breakfast banana, and stumbled on to thank my running mate. It turned out his name was Vesa, and he had just got under 90 minutes for the first time too. We had a little chat after we claimed our medal and walked through the finish area collecting all the goodies on offer (a plethora of food and drink). Vesa really pulled me along that last 3 miles and I’m very grateful for his help. I felt better pretty quickly and the long walk of half a mile or so to the baggage area helped get some life back into my legs. I claimed my bag and the result had already been text to my phone; 1:26:46! I was (still am!) over the moon with that time, and taking 6 and half minutes off my previous best. When I got back to the flat later I found I’d run a PB not only for a half marathon, but also bests for 10 miles and 10k (and 15k and 20k). I must like the sea air 🙂
After I had thrown some clothes on I wandered back to the finish area to try and catch Claire as she finished. I was pretty buzzing from my result and fairly skipped back there (it might have also been due to all the sugar I had dumped into my body). I managed to find a spot on a curb to see down the finishing straight and watched the finishers coming in (while eating some crisps and a protein gel). I saw the 2:15 pacer come in and saw they were quite a bit behind the gun time on the finish gantry due to the delay crossing the start, so tried to work out roughly where Claire would be. As I waited I began to get a bit nervous about whether she would get inside her target of 2:30. Well I shouldn’t have been! The tension mounted as I saw the 2:30 pacer flag in the distance, but just after I saw Claire safely ahead of them. I felt myself roaring her name and scaring everyone within 50 foot of me, and caught her eye for a split second. She was going to do it!
The finish was a hundred or so metres further on behind hoardings so I didn’t actually see her finish, but knew she was ahead of her target. Go Claire! I then made the mistake of trying to jog to the finish area to join her; ow! My stomach was now in agony and I almost couldn’t walk, let alone run. Mercifully it eased as I hobbled on and the pain subsided to a more manageable level, but it still stung. I stopped being a tart and managed to get alongside Claire as she walked through the finish area and exchange a long distance well done. We were 2 for 2 in terms of PBs run and targets hit! And that was added to later when we caught up with Sarah and Jenni to find they have crushed their personal bests too, and got well under their target times as well. 4 for 4!
I think the race was a bit of a breakthrough for me. I’m aware I was a good 3 miles behind the winner and finished behind a couple of hundred other runners (so don’t worry, I haven’t lost all perspective!) but it was very quick by my standards. If Strava is to be believed (oh go on) I ran just 20 seconds off my 5k PB to the finish (after 10 miles of hard effort) and overall ran faster than my previous 10k best pace, for over double the distance. That’s a speed I didn’t think I was capable of and has immediately got me thinking of new goals to aim for (sub-19 minutes for 5k, sub 40 for 10k, sub 1:25 for the half…).
Thankfully my stomach issue has kept me nice and grounded! It has become much less painful in the last few days with rest and a break from running, so hopefully it is just a pull or strain rather than anything too sinister (I made the mistake of googling the symptoms and now am a bit scared it might be a tear or hernia… :S). I’m being patient (surprisingly so) and will see if I can run without pain at the weekend, if not though I may have to seek some medical advice. (I may be paying the price for racing 2 marathons, a half and an all-out parkrun in just over a month). If things don’t improve I may have to pull out of the Dartford Half which is on the 12th, which would be a shame but I’m not going to be stupid and properly break myself, particularly when my running is going so well. So in summary it’s a high followed by a low really, but overall an upward surge (I hope). Why did I go on so much then…
I will of course bore you silly with more of my petty trevails soon. Thanks for listening and all the best with your running.