So I am now five days AFTER the marathon, rather than four days before. Similar to my last post, I thought I would put the quick and obvious FAQs at the BOTTOM of this post, feel free to skip to those. I will draw out some wider reflections in the middle as well as the Ten things I have learnt. For me, the marathon was never really a sporting target (although the next one may be!).
I am blown away with the level of support for my chosen charity – even yesterday I got a further donation, going way over my modest target. That in itself is a fabulous thing and raising money for charity is addictive (but don’t worry, kind donors, I will not be making further demands on your pocket!).
Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on death – it was something I heard on Radio 4 about people deserving a ‘good death’, professionals working with the dying, and saying that ‘You only get one shot at it’. It’s a little like a marathon – okay you don’t only get one shot at that, but there is something ‘peak’, something extraordinary, something indefinably edgy and memorable, about running your first marathon.
I attended a Good Friday service earlier today and there were some meditations on Christ dying on the cross, and how all his friends had left him, apart from just a few. How difficult that must have been, how unbearable. I’m not at all confident that I would have kept on going the last couple of miles of the marathon, if it weren’t for all the support. The knowledge that someone cares about how you do helps you to keep going mentally. A good death must include the presence of your loved ones, and others, cheering you on, rooting for you. Heavens knows, Christ didn’t die a good death in THAT sense, although in another kind of sense it was the best death of all.
Whereas most life events pass everyone else by, if someone is passing away, they deserve some attention, a squeeze of the hand, a prayer, a word of comfort or recognition. Similarly – yes this is connected with the marathon! – if someone is running a marathon, doing something unusual, it is often enough for the most hardbitten loner to claw their way out of their shell, to give a clap, a cheer, a ‘You’re nearly there’! A ‘Come on, you can do it!’ A sense that somehow there is life on the other side of the marathon – was there? I hadn’t even realised! I certainly wasn’t prepared to think too much about post-marathon until I had got there.
I also am secretly glad that I managed to complete it, as there is always that tiny fear that you’re an impostor, that you can’t actually do it, that you don’t have the will to succeed, that you will badly misjudge it. For a gripping, blow-by-blow marathon account of last week’s marathon, just published, nice and technical for runners, see here. This lady chose to start off in the blue 3:30 – 4 corral, whereas I went for the 4-4:30 option – how did she do? Read to the end to find out!
What did I learn and what AM I learning through running? They do say that:
‘Everything you want to learn about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles’.
I think I have learnt something, and I DO feel different about myself. Let me try and codify it for my own benefit. Ten things I have learnt:
ONE: I generally need to hydrate more by drinking water more regularly. Regular sips works on the marathon, but in the build-up, regular glasses.
TWO: I have learnt that when you run regularly, your body tells you what fuel it needs, and what fuel it DOESN’T want. I am now a firm lover of nuts, porridge, bananas, pasta, and especially overnight oats. Yes, running is good for the diet!
THREE: I have learnt that I can achieve more than I thought I could, through writing things down, and by sticking to long-term commitments. Essentially I now feel that almost anything is possible provided a careful, wise approach is taken. No doors are closed!
FOUR: I have had to revisit how I prioritise my life, and been less selfish about my time – so when I’m NOT running, to give more time to my family, and to ensure that my work does not squeeze out time for keeping healthy spiritually and physically.
FIVE: I have learnt that you make great friends through running, and you get to know the people you run with quite well!
SIX: I have become aware of so many different stories of for what and why people run, and have met so many inspirational people who humble me and help to train me at the same time.
SEVEN: I have also noticed that often the most significant advice for coping mentally with long distance running is shared on a club run, or in a one-off conversation, and always to be on the look-out for it. I may have read some material about running, but I always check it out with actual runners I know.
EIGHT: I was overwhelmed with support from friends and family – it’s a fine opportunity to receive support, and to accrue social capital; in other words, to strengthen bonds with colleagues, friends, loved ones, running buddies. All that capital can be recirculated and help to enrich others’ lives
NINE: There is something about the endurance required for a marathon that I find helpful in many aspects of life, especially spiritually – we all like a good sprint from time to time, but the marathoner has to keep their eye ahead on what is to come, not just on the stretch of ground in front of them. I read somewhere to ‘run the mile you’re in’, which is also true so that you don’t fall to bits, but a steady temperament and not too much bravura is something I feel I have learnt.
TEN: In a similar vein, I have learnt something of my limitations which is just as good as being more willing to take risks: probably an Iron Man or Marathon de Sables is not for me.
So to put it more broadly, if asked ‘should I consider running a marathon myself?’ my suggestion to you would be not to write it off. We are so conditioned by our own experiences that anything ‘out of the box’ can be ignored; but actually being open-minded might be the first step on the road to a fresh discovery. But don’t start with a marathon! I spoke to someone earlier today who remarked that in his younger days, when he did plenty of sport, he decided to have a bash at a marathon – for the first 13 miles he kept up with the front-runners, and then he dropped further and further back, until the last mile he was moving his legs and arms, but didn’t seem to actually be moving forwards. After he finished, he spent about five days in bed recovering. Respect the distance!
Even when I began parkruns a couple of years ago, a marathon wasn’t really on the cards for me – just a slight question mark, but I don’t think I would have been bothered if I never got there. Then it gradually became more of a reality – a 10 mile race here, a 10k there, a half-marathon… and I bit the bullet and signed up last April. I would warn you that running is a little addictive, and that there is a regular need to rein back and say, Hang on, I’ve got other things to do with my life.
It had quite a deep meaning for me as way back I put it on a life-ambition list, and I had always pricked up my ears when someone talked about it. As a side note, I have noticed that not everyone wants to talk about running, and that’s okay too! There is a slight tendency for people to move aside, and to leap to the assumption that you are some kind of sporting fanatic, some supernatural breed, simply because you have run one marathon.
More broadly speaking, is there a question you have been asking about your life, and you have simply said: No, that’s not for me? And actually it is! It might be finding a life partner, or new friendships. It could be getting out more. It could be confidence in social situations, or taking up a sport. It could be making a career change, after sitting in one job for too long. Could that be you? Yes, it could! And my experience is that very few people are going to look down on you for ‘stepping out of the boat’ and taking a risk. Make sure you count the cost, weigh things up, take it one step at a time, and you will surprise yourself what can be achieved.
For me, the marathon symbolises the focus for the ‘second half’ of my life – no I’m not going to spend the rest of my days running marathons (probably not) but has given me a real uplift and a sense of achievement. I have discovered I have a good level of grit and determination after all, and enough discipline to achieve something worthwhile – provided I am alongside wonderful, supportive people (and there are plenty out there). Not bad for a four and a half hour experience on one Sunday in April!
Frequently Asked Questions
Did you finish it and what time did you get?
I am proud to report that I DID complete the Brighton 2019 marathon, and also to say that I came in under my outside target of 4:30 hours, with a time of 4:26:25 but did not hit what I had been hoping to, which was 4:15. However, I am very happy with it overall, like my son in the photo below!
Did you hit ‘the wall’?
No, I did not hit a point where I couldn’t go on any more. But I would say that with a qualification. The first one was that I think due to ingesting TOO many gels and electrolyte drink which was all a bit too sweet (I had coped with this up to 20 miles but found it got worse over more), and also that my tummy wasn’t quite in the best state due to a very early start, I felt a little nauseous and headachey most of the way through the run. The second qualification, was that I kept hitting LOTS of little walls after mile 23, and it was only thinking of my family, and why I was running, and the extraordinary support from complete strangers (mainly) along the route that helped me to finish it. I literally had to pump my arms to convince my legs to carry on running.
Did you have a lot of support?
I had my name printed on my running shirt front and back, and this meant that lots of people kept calling out to encourage me, which I tried to acknowledge. I also had my wife and sons cheering on, with a large helium Batman balloon to stand out above the crowds – they caught me at three points, once just by St. James’ Street, one before the 13.1 mile arch, and then also just before the final stretch. The adrenalin, and distraction, and joy, of seeing people you know gunning for you, especially your children, is more wonderful than I can say unless you have experienced it. Very importantly, I ran for the first 22 miles with a runner from my running club, and that was brilliant to help keep me steady. Not only that, but my Club had a strong team of supporters at the notoriously difficult part of the race just after the Shoreham power station, as well as others dotted further along the route, who got some brilliant (free!) photos and also gave fantastic encouragement. They gave up their Sunday to come across to Brighton and support in the cold and the wind. Thank you so much!
Would you recommend the Brighton Marathon?
This is where I mention the route – the undulations in the first half I misjudged and I took a bit too casually. If you’re looking for a great time, it may not be the best one to run because of this. Also, coastal marathons are prone to suffer from headwinds. I would also say that the volume and level of support at times was off-putting.
BUT overall I would recommend it – particularly for an early marathon, as you can’t beat the sense of anticipation, the camaraderie of all the runners, the sense of being a celebrity as you power past all the crowds (that was early on!) and the fantastic views of Brighton and the sense of occasion is also wonderful. I believe that many Brightonians must deliberately put it on their calendar, carve out the time, go and buy boxes of jelly babies at their own cost, and stand out in all weathers to support. All five races I have run so far have been well-supported, but this was by far the largest crowd.
You do need to know that around mile 20 you have to run round Shoreham power station and back, and that support thins out here for a while – this is the hardest slog of the route. This is by no means a definitive ‘review’ of the Brighton marathon, and it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience will be different. This video gives some idea of the route and atmosphere. There are some logistical issues that are harder because it’s such a big event, such as picking up the race pack in advance, getting there on the day with all the ‘in’ roads closed, and timing your baggage drop and arrival at Preston Park well so that you have a calm start to the race. They give you plenty of information in advance, however, and another plus point is the ‘Active Experience’ app which means that loved ones can track your progress throughout the race through your chip and number.
Would you run another one?
The answer to that question as I was running the last few miles would definitely have been a NO! But on reflection, looking back over my performance (see above for more on that) I would like to have another go at some point, probably not immediately. I am planning to continue running, because I have made good friends from it, it makes me feel good, and it is now firmly part of my life.
Are you going to try something new?
I am not planning on extending my reach by going for an Ultra, or branching out into triathlons, or anything like that. I love hearing (on runs) about people taking on new physical challenges. It is brilliant to hear of fellow club members setting themselves new targets and achieving them. It’s more about the journey, the adventure, the discipline required, than about hitting the goal.