Beachy Head Marathon

On Saturday, I ran the Beachy Head Marathon. This was my third marathon of the year, just 6 weeks after the Nottingham Marathon. While the two other marathons were road races, this was a cross-country marathon, featuring an appalling number of hills.

It was perhaps a little ambitious to attempt such a gruelling marathon so soon after my last one. In addition, my preparations were shambolic. To reach Eastbourne in time to register required me to get up at 6:15. I forgot to prepare any breakfast and the pasties at Brighton station looked particularly unattractive, so I started the race on an empty stomach. To add to the stress, I was relying on my phone and Google maps to find the starting line, since I don’t know Eastbourne. I found myself in a deserted Saturday morning town with no 3G and little idea of where to go. But things went all right. I registered, dealt with the slightly shambolic toilet facilities and was ready to race at 9am.

The Beachy Head Marathon is a tough race, with the organisers suggesting that it adds about 40 minutes to a runner’s usual marathon time. It starts with a steep hill, which makes a fairly serious statement of purpose (while providing a great view of the runners up ahead starting). I was less mentally prepared than for my previous two marathons, so I took things as they came.  The route is a constant series of ups and downs (you can view the course map and profile), with some amazing views of the coast, although I unable to enjoy them as much as I would have liked. The hills were incredibly hard work, made worse because I’d neglected to do any hill training. There were even a couple of woodland step sections late on, which were particularly tough.

By 6 or 7 miles in, my hunger was starting to bite. I don’t normally eat when running but decided to break the rule about not changing strategy during a marathon. Each of the rest stops had a supply of Mars Bars – in fact, some had cake, tea and coffee, sausage rolls, all an improvement from the sickly sports drinks handed out in Brighton and Nottingham. I started eating the Mars Bars at the stops, glad of sustenance, even though I was nervous about eating so much – I’ve heard stories of people ‘doing a Radcliffe’ after eating unfamiliar food in a long race. I’m happy to report no untoward effects.

Even as I was running, I knew that few of the sections would stick in my memory, rather that it would blur into an overall impression. A sunny day, wide views of the coastline, and the line of runners in the distance, pointing out the route. The course was surprisingly busy, considering how remote much of it was. I was very grateful to the supporters although I’m not sure that I put on a good show. I was in a fair amount of discomfort in the last third of the race and it was hard to smile or even acknowledge people. I was also a little grumpy about the event photographers – I don’t really want graphic evidence of me trudging my way up another bloody hill! I ended up hiding behind other runners as I passed, even when that meant having to run for a bit.

I’ve blogged before about how a marathon doesn’t start for me until about mile 18. This is the place where the trouble began for me in Brighton and Nottingham. It’s difficult to train for this stage of a race, since it takes 3 hours to reach. I found an interesting quote on Mr. Spratt’s weblog by Robert de Castella: “The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.” I guess I am going to need to do some research on training for the marathon’s later stages.

I put in a decent pace for the first 18 miles, with a few 9’30s ,so that it looked as if I might even beat my Brighton marathon time. Sadly the wheels fell off as I climbed out of Cuckmere Haven. My pace was falling and I had little energy left. My legs hurt and I wondered if I would finish at all. By the time I reached the Seven Sisters my spirit was broken and I wanted nothing more than for the race to end. I wanted to lie down and had to pause a few times on the upwards slopes. For a mile or so on the Seven Sisters I found it hard to run at all and had horrible flashbacks to slow school cross-country runs.

When I reached the final checkpoint, I stopped for some of the very tasty cake and set off again feeling a little better. I dragged myself up Beachy Head, the final hill of the course, and managed to run the final stage. The race ends with the same steep slope as it started, and it was good to have gravity on my side, helping me towards the finish line.

I was delighted with my final result of 5 hours and 3 minutes, which had seemed impossible at one point. And, despite the difficulty of the course, one good thing was that my feet were in better condition at the end of this race than in the Nottingham marathon. I don’t think I would do the race again, as it was incredibly hard work (I can’t imagine it in bad weather conditions), but I’m glad I’ve done it once. The medal I’ve received was the hardest won yet, and I was very grateful for it.

The Beachy Head marathon is a small race, with about 1,500 entries, and it was a lovely, friendly event. The marshaling stations were friendly and well-stocked, and the cake was a delight. Thanks to the  supporters and the organisers for a fantastic race!

The Nottingham Marathon

After running the Brighton marathon in April I was eager to run another – not least because I was a little disappointed with my time of just under 5 hours – holidays, work and injury had all interfered with training. As well as signing up for the 2012 Brighton Marathon, I looked for another race later in the year, settling on Nottingham as it was relatively flat and close to my parent's house.

As usual, training didn't go to plan, culminating in missing my last long run with a spectacular hangover. I had hoped to do the race in under 4½ hours, but that seemed a little ambitious. But, when I thought about it, I realised that it was my legs that slow me down, not my heart and lungs. So, if I could keep up a decent pace, I might be OK. I set off for the race last Sunday with no idea what time to expect.

The first 18 miles were pretty easy. The Nottingham marathon is in two halves. About 10,000 people run a half-marathon through the town. The course splits at 13 miles with about 1,000 people running a full marathon. Coming up to the split point, a woman was cheering the runners, encouraging each one, "Nearly there, nearly there." She saw me approach, with my marathon number. "Not you! Come on, nearly half way!"

The second half was a strange contrast, with a smaller number of runners and the course changing to back streets and tracks. I knew I was fit enough to run 16 miles without a problem; which meant that my race would only really begin about 3 hours in. I stayed strong until about 18 miles and kept running for almost 21 without a break, despite the pain in my feet. It was the lap of the National Watersports Center lake that broke me. Running into the wind here broke me, as it did a lot of other runners, and walkers outnumbered runners on that section.

The last few miles were very hard work. I dragged myself through it, running a little, walking a little. It was at about 23 miles when I decided that I would quit running after the race. Barring a disaster I was on track for a 4½ hour time. I'd proved my point, I could stop with honour.

In the last half-mile I was easily on track for the 4½ hours, but I told myself to run to see if I could lower the personal best that little further. I don't think I've been happier to stop doing something as I was when I crossed the line of the marathon. The pain was impressive, particularly when I finally took the weight off my feet. But, after about ten minutes, I was feeling better and already looking forward to the next marathon (which is the Beachy Head marathon five weeks from today). 

My final time was 4 hours, 23 minutes and 49 seconds, which I am very happy with. It was a good race too. I appreciated the support from family and friends. I was also particularly impressed by the marshalls, who must have been out for ages by the time I passed them, yet were still clapping and encouraging the runners. Good work, folks!

Marathon training

Yesterday I accidentally ran 24½ miles. 

Well, not entirely accidentally. It started with an invitation to Sunday lunch from my old friend, @redjules. Her family live in mid-Sussex, about 14 miles from my house. I decided to run there and posted a parcel of clothes ahead of me so I could change when I arrived. 

The problem was picking a route that looked safe and that I could follow without a map. By now I was too excited about the run to mind that my new course was about half as long again as the original distance. Another couple of miles were added by the inaccuracies of my route-planning software. But, despite the hard work, it was an amazing run, and an amazing Sunday lunch.

I started by heading to Brighton beach where the last few people were celebrating Pride. I don't know how people could still be looking so fresh at 9am –  I can only assume they had taken an early night so that they could start clubbing again first thing in the morning. I headed west to Shoreham where I picked up the Adur river and turned North into Sussex.

According to wikipedia, the Adur's name is a relatively recent one, recalling a Roman fort that was thought to be nearby, but that it turned out wasn't. But the river's name makes me thing of the Basque concept of Adur. Back when I worked in Madrid, a Basque colleague told me about this: everything that exists has a name, and everything that has a name exists. Adur is a force that connects objects with their representations.

The Adur led me to Henfield, the village where I grew up for about 12 years. I've only returned a couple of times since leaving Uni, and it's always strange to be back. The roads look so small and narrow. Despite knowing the place incredibly well, I feel like a stranger there. It's as if my memories of the place happened to someone else entirely.

After 17.5 miles I switched to run/walking – I mostly wanted to test that could stay moving for 4 hours rather than do a fast run. Despite this lack of effort, by the end I was about 10 minutes ahead of my pace in April's Brighton marathon. I want to cut off about 25 minutes from my time when I do the Nottingham marathon in September and this suggests that I can do it.

Of course, such a long run so near the event is not a great idea, but I don't seem to have suffered any significant ill effects (although my legs ache a little).

At the end of the run I was rewarded with a lovely lunch from Jules and her family. Afterwards we sat in the back garden, serenaded by an Elvis impersonator a few doors down. He even sung my favourite Elvis number 'Sweet Caroline'. It was the perfect way to recover from the exercise.

Holy Shit, I Ran a marathon

It's been a couple of days since the Brighton marathon and I can barely believe it happened. For many years, the idea of me running a marathon was laughable. I've worked towards this for three and a half years. Injuries have beaten me a couple of times, but last weekend I finally made it to the start line and beyond.

Tom Roper recently wrote a post about running and memory, in which he mentioned how quickly memories of a run can fade. Late on Sunday afternoon I passed parts of the route and couldn't remember seeing them earlier in the day. Now, the day seems something like a dream.

Most of the course is spent travelling back and forth between Shoreham and Rottingdean, with various detours to make up the distance. While it was good to see people running in the opposite direction, some of the errands, particularly the hill after Ovingdean, seemed gratuitous. 

Here are my feelings during the marathon, as best I can remember.

It took about 10 minutes to reach the start line, but we got to see the race leaders come by. Mile 1 was a lap of Preston Park, with an early uphill section. I started out running as slowly as I could. My legs didn't feel strong and with 26.2 miles ahead I had to be patient. Miles 2-4 went around the center of town then we headed out towards Ovingdean. Most of my training was along the seafront so this was familiar ground. At mile 8 I realised the remaining distance was longer than I had ever run before, and could feel the distance already done. Mile 9 I took a pit stop at the toilets at the Orpington fete, Mr. Punch squawking in the distance. Saw the saddest gorilla in the world. I walked most of the hills, stingily reserving my energy for later miles. At 13 miles I felt OK – I'd comfortably managed 10.5 minute miles – but I was definitely tiring. Through the center of town towards Aldrington, which felt a slightly pointless detour, running towards a stage then back again. Grateful for the spectator who sprayed me with a hose. Talked briefly with a friend was suffering from a busted knee. At about 17 miles I felt good for a couple of miles. Smiled, kept going. 18 miles – only 8 miles to go, I thought, I've run 8 miles before. 19 miles, the pain intensified, and I knew I would be walking much of the remaining distance. As I hit 20 miles the distance really hit and I was in a great deal of pain. It was hard to keep going when all I had to do was sit down and the pain would stop. Shoreham harbour was a weird section, few spectators or landmarks. I didn't mind it, as I've enjoyed running it in training. Passed a transport ship where silent spectators lined the rail. At 21 miles I almost burst into tears when I realised how close I was to completing a marathon, how unbelievable this would have seemed as a teenager. 23.5 miles, I passed an old flat so I was on familiar ground. I knew whatever happened, I would finish the marathon. The only question was whether or not I could do it within the 5 hours I'd set for myself. 24 miles, I stopped to hug a friend. Kept forcing myself to run sections, sometimes managing as few as 100 steps. On to Kings Road, the last mile, then the 800-meters-to-go marker. Determined to run the last section, buoyed by another friend's greeting. Then over the line and it was done. I'd run a marathon.

I'm signed up for the 2012 marathon and am also hoping to do one in the Autumn. I'm delighted that I've run a marathon but now I want to reduce my time. The discomfort is fading and I'm hoping to manage a very short run tomorrow. 1 year and three days until the 3rd Brighton marathon.

Some other recent marathon blog posts:

Brighton Marathon

I'm only a few days away from the Brighton marathon. My training has not gone particularly well with holidays, injury, illness and work all conspiring against me. I've managed to do little more than the long runs, and those have not gone well. Last week's 17 mile run was excellent for the first 13 miles but I then faded quickly. Which does not bode well for running 26 miles.

I'm still hoping to manage to complete the course in 5 hours, but I'm aware that anything beyond 3 hours is unknown territory. I suspect that it will come down to not getting carried away and running too quickly at the beginning. I don't expect the last hour or two to be particularly pleasant, but I hope I enjoy the day despite any physical discomfort.

Anyway, if you're spectating, give me a wave. I will certainly appreciate the encouragement.

The Brighton Santa Dash 2010


Last Saturday, I entered the Brighton Santa Dash for the fourth time. This was my first race and it's a fun event. Despite better weather than some previous years, my time was quite slow. Drinking a couple of bottles of wine the night before may not have been the best preparation!

It is good to be running again, following some physiotherapy for my ongoing injury. 2010 hasn't been the best years I've had for running. While I ran 600 miles in 2009, I am likely to manage about 400 by the end of this year. As someone who loves long distances, it's been frustrating that the longest run I have managed this year is only 10 miles, and that back in January.

But I am now in training for the Brighton marathon, and did a fantastic 6 mile run with Mr Spicer on Sunday. My body is coping well with the increasing distances and I'm hoping to ward off any problems as I work towards April's marathon.


Brighton and Hove Parkrun

I'd been meaning to attend the Brighton and Hove Parkrun for a while, but I finally made my first visit yesterday. My old friend Mr Spratt was visiting and suggested that we get together for the run then go for coffee. 

The Parkrun is a great idea, enabled by modern technology. You register on the website and receive a barcode to print out. Then any Saturday morning, you turn up at one of the Parkrun events and do a 5K race. At the end of the race you receive a positional chip, which this is scanned along with your personal barcode. A few hours late the statistics from the race are put online. Best of all, the event is free.

I was suprised at how slick and organised the event was. The course, two and a half laps of Hove Park, is well marshalled, with a clearly marked finish line, and lap timings. The group is friendly, applauding the volunteers and first timers at the start line. Free T-shirts are given to regular attendees, for 10, 50 and 100 races run. 

The run itself feels halfway between training and a full-on race. Sharing the same route with 180 people is a good experience. Even on a drizzly August morning, after being up too late the night before, the Parkrun was great fun.

The results were released a few hours after the race. There are a wealth of information for the Parkrun (Average run time: 00:25:47; Total Distance Run at Brighton and Hove: 95,790 km) as well as race reports, and photos. There are also personal statistics, I managed 25:22 and came 119th, 11th in my age category with an 'age grade' of 51%. 

I'm impressed at how simple and well-organised the Parkrun was, and even more that it was free. After yesterday's session I feel more excited about running than I have in a while and, despite the trek to reach Hove Park, I'm looking forward to going again. 

The 1st Brighton Marathon


While I was visiting Brighton, the town's first marathon took place. Obviously I was supposed to be entering this. Sadly, for the second year running, I put myself out of a marathon through injury. This year my back gave out on me while I was lugging around a heavy bag while on holiday.

As much as I wanted to do the marathon, it seemed sensible to drop out. With the cold snap, travel and the injury I was falling far behind in my training. I could probably have made it round the course but it seemed more sensible to defer my entry. All the official guidance suggested I risked a serious injury competing with insufficient preparation and I wasn't sure I wanted to limp in around the six hour mark.

One of the things I love about running is that it is inclusive. And it should be. All you need is a pair of trainers and even the least healthy person can start run/walking their way to fitness. I'm hardly a paragon of athleticism, and I'm happy to have found a sport I can enjoy. The important thing is that you are out there training, rain or shine, not how fast you are. And some of the slowest people in are race are those facing the greatest personal challenge.

But, knowing this, I still felt a twinge of annoyance on Sunday when I watched the marathon. Even near the four-mile mark, where I was watching, it was obvious many of the competitors were aiming at a post six-hour time. I regretted not doing the same thing and wished I hadn't given up my chance to enter the inaugural event.

Despite my jealousy of those running, it was still a stirring occasion. The runners received a great response from the crowd, particularly those in fancy dress. In the skies above, empty from the ash cloud, a single propeller plane flew, trailing a banner reading GOOD LUCK BIG BIRD I♥U. If I ever make it to the event's starting line, I want a plane urging me on.

Everyone involved in the Brighton Marathon deserves congratulation – not just the finishers, but everyone who made it to the starting line – something I failed to do. I've deferred my entry to 2011 and will be taking my training very slowly this time. I'm already looking forward to the second Brighton Marathon.

The Brighton Santa Dash 2009

Today’s training run was a little different, as I was entered in the Santa Dash. This is one of my favourite runs of the year. How can you not love charging along the seafront with hundreds of people, all dressed in Santa outfits?

The Dash has a great atmosphere. Someone had a tape-recorder at the start line playing Christmas songs, and I loved seeing the man pushing a pram decorated as a sleigh. The spectators are also very friendly – I particularly enjoy passing people who hadn’t realised the race was on until they see the runners.

The 2007 and 2008 races have featured appalling weather so I was delighted to have a dry, calm day. This meant I could run a little faster. Last year, despite being fitter, I finished in just under 26 minutes. This year I finished in under 24 minutes, which I’m very happy with.

I will now wear my Santa outfit for the rest of the day.


The 2009 Morecambe Cross-Bay Run

On Sunday I ran in the 2009 Morecambe Cross-Bay half-marathon. Last year’s race was turned back half-way due to poor weather so I signed up soon afterwards for this year’s race, determined to complete the crossing. The race goes from Flookburgh to Hess Bank directly across Morecambe Bay at low tide. It’s an amazing location for a race, although the lack of scenery means there is nothing to stop the wind.

The race itself was hard work. The first few miles went well as the wind was behind me and I put on a good pace. We forded the river Kent, which was up to my thighs, about 4-5 miles in I think. This slowed the pace down to 2 mph, but allowed me to catch my breath. After that came several miles running into the wind.

While the wind wasn’t as bad as last year, it was still hard and unrelenting. I had to force myself to slow down, giving up the good time I’d made at the start of the race. By the time we reached the 8-mile stage I was exhausted and felt strangely sad – probably because I knew I had another 45-60 minutes left.

My spirits lifted at the final water station, when the route went with the wind for a bit. I stopped for a drink then set off on the final stage. The final couple of miles were into the wind again and I ended up going as fast as I could near the end, just wanting to get the race over with. I was shattered by the time I reached the finish line.

I’m not sure I enjoyed the race, as such, but it was an amazing experience. I was pleased with the pace I set, just over 9 minutes a mile despite wind and water. I came in 111th out of 239 with an offical time of 1 hour 50 minutes and 57 seconds (note that my GPS had the race distance as 12.15 miles)

Below are a couple of photos of the race. In the one taken at the finish line I’m smiling because I’m so happy it’s almost over.