About 11 months ago I convinced my girlfriend Katie and one of my best friends from uni, Helen, to do their first ever marathon in the spring of 2015. It was surprisingly easy to talk them into it, probably because at the time the event seemed so far away and they assumed I’d have done something in the intervening time period to ruin our relationship/friendship and therefore give them an easy get out card. Not wanting to let them off easily, I’ve been on my best behaviour for the past year or so, which meant they’d have to hold up their end of the bargain and run a marathon. Seems fair enough to me.
I’d decided in the build up to the event that I’d take on the role of ‘Coach’ Spraggins, offering (mostly useless) advice and guidance through the winter months. However, unlike most coaches, I’d get a first-hand opportunity to see how they were both getting on, as I’d also be running the marathon. Two weeks before the main race of my year, the London Marathon. Probably not the best move on my part, but I was going to enjoy it and hope that the legs would recover quickly and be ready to go again in 2 weeks.
The race requires you to register the day before the event and pick up your number at the ‘expo’ held at the Brighton Centre on the seafront. The 3 of us got the train down from London on Saturday, meeting my Mum and Dave the Lion for lunch when we arrived. Mum did her standard ‘let’s embarrass Joe as many times as possible’ while we ate, and afterwards we headed to the expo to get our numbers. This process was really easy and we were in and out in about 15 minutes, ready to go and check into our hotel.
Unfortunately, I’d booked us into what can only be described as Brighton’s version of Fawlty Towers. The reception room was in fact some sort of laundrette, and when we got to our room we later discovered that water was leaking from the ceiling. It had been a struggle to get a room in the first place, with the marathon brining an extra 20,000 people to town over the weekend, so after Helen convinced me the ceiling wasn’t going to fall in on us, we dumped the bags and headed for a wander along the seafront.
After spending the afternoon jumping from coffee shop to coffee shop (wanted to give the legs a bit of a rest the day before), we met up with my sister for dinner who was also in town to come and support on marathon day. We had some incredible pizzas at a lovely little family restaurant (VIP Pizza) before heading back to the slightly damp hotel room for an early night. Luckily, our room hadn’t turned into the unofficial indoor swimming pool in our absence, and we put our heads down to try and get some sleep.
The alarm was set for 6, but I was up before then (I never seem to sleep well before a big event) so I had my Alpen and waited for the girls to wake up. When they did, I treated them to some ‘motivational’ music while we got ourselves sorted and ready to go. The start is located at Preston Park, a 20 minute walk from the centre of town and about 35 minutes away from where we were staying. We arrived at around 8 (the start was at 9.15) and the park was already really busy. Dropping our bags was really easy (we’d been given bags at the expo the day before and it was a simple case of handing them in at the appropriate lorry) but the toilet queues were already pretty lengthy. We queued up with about an hour until the start and it took half an hour to get to the front, but by the time we had the queue behind had nearly doubled in size, so I wouldn’t have arrived any later.
By that time we had fortunately managed to avoid the very cheesy aerobics class style warm up, and made our way to the start to line up close to the front of the blue ‘wave’ (there were four coloured waves allocated based on predicted finishing time, blue being the second of four). By complete chance we found ourselves right next to the two lads from football I knew were also running – Chris and Will. Chris made up some excuse about a dodgy knee (jokes aside, he hadn’t been able to run for 5 weeks, and still dragged himself round in a respectable finish time) whilst Will seemed quietly confident he’d sneak under four hours.
After introductions were made and good luck messages exchanged, the red (first) wave had been set on their way, and we were being walked up towards the start line. Both girls looked understandably nervous about the day ahead, with Helen letting me know she wouldn’t be running with Katie and I as she couldn’t think of anything worse than spending 4 hours in my company. Totally fair point.
The start system at Brighton was brilliant, as there were a couple of minutes between the start of each wave, giving a bit of time for the road ahead to clear to ensure the first few miles weren’t really congested. Each runner had a timing ‘chip’, so they would receive an accurate time from when they crossed the start line, and not just a time measured from when the first runners began.
We were set on our way by GB athlete Jo Pavey, and the opening section of the route involved a lap of Preston Park before heading in towards the town centre. The first 6 miles took place in and around the centre of Brighton and the support here was amazing – I couldn’t believe how many people had come out to watch this early on a Sunday morning. Our friends Charlie and Nick from university were also down from London to spectate, and we got some great shouts from them early on (in fact, they seemed to be everywhere on the bloody course!) There were also a number of out and back sections where you would see the runners ahead/behind you coming in the other direction, and we all gave each other a friendly shout.
We then headed east out of Brighton and towards the village of Ovingdean. I haven’t managed to negotiate the first few miles of a marathon without needing the toilet and Sunday was no exception. Letting Katie go on ahead, I crossed the road when I spotted a decent looking bush to pee up against. Unfortunately, at exactly the same time, the Kenyan women who in the lead was coming the other way, and she received a fairly unwelcome view. I’ll have to sort this problem out before London, as I’m not stopping in 2 weeks’ time, no matter what…
We got to the turn point in Ovingdean, with the miles ticking by nicely. From here it was a lovely run on a slight downhill back into Brighton, with some great views of Brighton from a couple of miles away. An added boost was that this represented the half-way point, and also a chance to see both of our families for the first time. The support in town now was crazy with so many people lining the route by the pier. We went through halfway in 1.58.36, nicely on for a time of around 4 hours.
Soon after the half-way point, we spotted Katie’s mum, dad and brother as well as dog (Harry). We gave them a wave and thumbs up and then did the same thing when we spotted my mum, Dave the Lion and my sister a further half a mile or so up the road. We got the usual reaction, with Mum attempting (and succeeding) on being the loudest person on the entire route, but only emitting noises and shrieks that no one can quite decipher into words, whilst Dave politely applauded as if we has at the snooker. Meg, as always, was doing a superb job of being the photographer and keeping everyone updated on our progress via social media.
Just around the corner, I also spotted the Layer’s – Alex (an old friend from when we were kids) as well as his wife and parents, in Brighton to watch his brother Kieran run his first marathon. He did brilliantly, finishing in 4.58, which for someone who’d done hardly any running prior to signing up to the event, is a great time. Well done Kieran!
Miles 14-18 took us on an out and back through Hove, and at this point things started to get a bit tougher. It was much hotter than anticipated, and a great perk of supporting Katie meant that I was allowed to chuck water over her head at every water station (roughly every mile or so). Unfortunately, she’s said I can’t to do this on a regular basis, although I might give it a go at some point in the future and see what happens. I’m currently supporting some fantastic running vest tan/burn lines, which highlights how strong the sun was towards the end of the race. We saw lots of people who had come into a bit of trouble and were being treated by paramedics – I just hope everyone was ok.
Coming back onto the seafront, we turned right and headed out towards the dreaded ‘power station’ – something people had been talking about during the build-up. We spotted both families for a second time, and I managed to let mum know that Katie’s mum and dad were only a few metres down the road, which led to a meeting without me being present – a horrifying thought. However, it seems that the meeting passed without incident, and I can only assume this was because Dave did all the talking.
Miles 20-23 take place in the previously mentioned ‘power-station’, and it really is a pretty soul destroying place. The route takes you past various factories and warehouses, and there is little to no support aside from the volunteers at drinks stations doing their best to create some atmosphere. Katie was really starting to hurt by this point so I did my best to try and keep her mind off it by chatting about other things. Understandably, I only got a few grunts in return – if I was in mile 23 going flat out in a marathon, I don’t think I’d be in the mood for a chat.
On the way out to the turn, I spotted Will and gave him a big shout. He was looking incredibly strong and he went on to deliver on his promise, running 3.58 in his debut marathon, a brilliant run. Once we turned around we saw Helen looking like she was working hard, and Chris completely destroyed with only one working leg. Fair play for seeing it through mate.
Coming out of the power station section, it was a final 3 miles slog down along the promenade back to the pier. By this point loads of people had blown up completely (a running term for ‘walking’ or ‘limping’ along at a snail’s pace – they hadn’t physically exploded, obviously), so we were passing a number of people, with Katie determined to hold the pace until the end. We saw Charlie and Nick, followed by Katie’s family, followed by mine in quick succession, who were all quite brilliant on the day and it was great to have everyone there to give us some massive encouragement.
We were into the final mile now and it was all about taking in the crowds, which were amazing down by the seafront. We got into a bit of a battle with a chap going for the world record for ‘fastest marathon dressed up as a trainer’. Unfortunately, the trainer had the edge and went on to beat us by a few seconds, securing a world record in the process.
We came into the finishing straight, and I did the gentlemanly thing of letting Katie cross the line first (more on this in a minute), before making sure she was ok and not about to collapse on me. As it turns out, she was doing her usual best impression of looking like someone who’d just been for a leisurely stroll around the park, and not like someone who’d just run a marathon. We were given our medals, t-shirts and a few bits of food in a goody bag before getting a quick finishers photo. Katie then decided she had in fact run a marathon, and had a little lie down on the grass covered in a foil blanket while I waited for Helen to finish.
Soon enough, Helen came over the line, found me, a promptly burst into tears (sorry mate, had to share it). It was a cracking effort by both girls, who can now safely say they’re in the 1% of people in the UK that have completed a marathon. They both trained really, really hard, and I’m really proud of them both.
My finishing time was recorded as 4.09.50, with Katie finishing 1 second behind me despite crossing the line first – something that I promise was completely unintentional… However, she’s smashed my first marathon time out of the park and I’m sure there is a lot more to come. Helen finished in 4.36.51, and I knew she threw absolutely everything at it on the day, so well done mate. She’s since told me that she 100% won’t be doing another marathon, so I look forward to seeing her on the start line in London next year. Chris finished in 4.48, not bad at all for a guy with only one working leg.
As soon as we finished my thoughts turned to Paris, where a number of friends had been running the same morning. I loaded up the results on my phone and was delighted to see everyone had finished in really decent times. I was especially happy for my good mate Will Richards, who I think will be happy to be described as an unlikely runner. He slogged his way around his first (and I’m fairly sure last) marathon in under 5 hours. If you’d have told me 2 years ago he’d have completed a marathon I probably would have told you to stop being so ridiculous. How times (and people) change – well done mate.
The 3 of us made our way through the finish area and out back towards our ‘hotel’ (we needed to collect our bags, assuming they hadn’t been washed away). The rest of the day/evening was spent celebrating with a few beers before going out for one of the best meals I’ve had in years with Katie’s mum and dad.
The only problem I now have is I’ve lost all use of my legs. Normally post-marathon this wouldn’t be an issue, but muggins here decided to sign up to two marathons in the space of 14 days. On top of that, I’ve decided I’ll be trying to run the second one over an hour faster than the first. People won’t have long to wait to find out how I get on in London in under 2 weeks’ time, and rest assured I’ll bore people to death with another lengthy report afterwards..