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Disappointment – Brighton Marathon

What went right? Well, I finished, I ran the race 1 minute quicker than my spring marathon last year, and I didn’t shit myself.

What went wrong? …

I’ve been listening to the podcast of Steve Scullion (Irish international marathoner) and he always says; run the race you know you can run, not the race you think you can run. Execute your goal plan at whatever cost.

I’m in pretty good shape, as good as I have ever been in. But last year, I ran 3 terrible marathons. London, I was struggling from mile 4 in the heat. Berlin, I got to halfway before I started getting serious stomach issues (polite way to say I was shitting myself). Chester, I was on 2hr20 pace until around mile 16. I had bruised my foot after crashing into another runner. I had to stop for abit, then stumble home.

So this time, I was just gonna step back, run the time that I knew, knew, I could run, play it safe. I decided I was going to run a 2hr22 marathon. I did know I could hit that time. But I didn’t.

It was a sunny morning, but cold, and I hadn’t warmed up properly. I don’t usually warm up much before a marathon, but this time it meant I started the race with frozen feet. I was running on blocks of ice for those first easy miles, so was worried and uncomfortable until they thawed out. There was a strong group of around 10 good runners ahead of me, but I stuck on my pace and let them go. In the first 5 miles we were skipping around the city streets, and were sheltered from the wind, but as soon as we hit the seafront, it became apparent the wind was much stronger than I had anticipated.

In Brighton marathon, there are areas where spectators (including my family) can see the runners 3 times in quick succession, which is really exciting and brilliant, so obviously they congregate around there. As soon as you get out of the town, the route gets very exposed, with very lonely stretches. Miles 6-7-8, straight long road, slightly uphill, and head-long into the wind. I was having to fight to stay at my 5.25 min mile pace. Way too early in a marathon to be fighting.

All of a sudden, I found myself completely on my own, running into the wind, no one in front or behind, and no spectators. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “am I even in a race?” I’ve never experienced this before in a marathon. Not good with 19 miles still to go.

The group were now too far up the road for me to reconnect. I was beginning to regret my decision to hold back.

This 2hr22 target time was supposed to be like a stepping stone. Get a respectable time in, and then nail a pb in the Autumn. But you can’t disrespect the marathon in that way. 2hrs22 is never going to feel like a stepping stone for someone at my level. It is still going to take full commitment. You’ve got to take the whole thing seriously, get your mind fully invested, and have everything working with you. Maybe I hadn’t done that fully.

I was still pretty much bang on pace at halfway, few seconds off, but I had never really felt comfortable. When I turned back into the wind for the third time, around mile 16, my pace was starting to slip. I hadn’t put anything in the bank when the wind was behind me, and now I was feeling tired, mentally and physically. Willing myself to keep fighting, keep pushing.

The way that I run, it has to feel smooth. On my legs not with my legs. I try never to claw the ground, never force it, erase all tension from my body so that it looks easy and smooth. That’s the most efficient way to cover the ground. People talk about ‘rhythm running’. It gets derided abit, left leg, right leg, left leg, right leg, that is a rhythm right!? But I think about rhythm a lot when I’m running. I’ll often run 2 hours or more, listening to the same song 40 times, locked in to the beat of the tune. The more you do that, the more you develop a consistent rhythm. It gets stronger and stronger with practise. When the wind is in your face or on your back it gets harder to find a rhythm. When there’s a group of guys it helps to mediate the pace, smooth out the idiosyncrasies of the individual. When one person is feeling weak, the others are still strong. The pace evens out with the power of the group.  When you’re running on your own, you’re not resounding with everybody else’s rhythm.

My initial plan was to get to mile 20, at 2hr22 pace, and reassess from there, hopefully put the hammer down. Instead, at mile 20, my right soleus cramped up, very quick and painful. I haven’t had a single niggle in the last 3 months. I think this one came because I had been leaning into the wind, and trying to toe-off to keep momentum. Now my pace dropped straight to 5.35 miling, then 5.45 miling. And these miles were wind assisted. I knew that when I turned around I would be in trouble, as the last 4 miles were square into the wind.

I have really amazing long range eyesight. I actually once googled; ‘jobs you can get with amazing long range eyesight’, there aren’t any. But there used to be, a long time ago.

You could stand up on the ramparts of castles and look into the distance and see baddies coming. This was like a long time ago, before there were binoculars. Maybe in Game of Thrones times. But now, there are no jobs like that.  Infact, here it was definitely a disadvantage, cos with 4 miles to go along the seafront, already struggling, I can see in clear HD, how far away the finish is. One guy blasted past me. I tried to hang onto him, but calf said no. I went from dropping 10 seconds a mile to losing a minute every mile. So my finishing time went from around 2.23-2.24, to a 2.28. Which is just abit shit for the shape I’m in right now.

We went for pizza after with the family and that was great, lovely to have them all around me. Later, I was lying in the grass square with the kids running around, lovely party atmosphere with lots of happy finishers wearing their medals. I saw a balloon in the shape of a unicorn, float up into the blue sky, and I thought, I don’t really have anything to complain about.

I had been worried that another bad marathon result was going to hurt me, psychologically, because I ran three bad marathons last year. But, it turns out , family are all you need. Sounds like a bit of a corny platitude, but as long as your family still love you, it gives you everything you need to get up and get going again. I tried a few things out, they didn’t work, you live you learn.

So I’m already up and going again. I had allocated myself 24hrs to mope, I didn’t need it. Tuesday, I ran 3 miles easy, the sun was rising, the birds were singing, the blossom was falling off the trees, and I was just happy to be alive and to be a runner. Although it was incredibly frustrating at the time, in those last 6 miles at Brighton, my calf prevented me from going to the well. So I’m already feeling recovered and fresh.

It’s great to be the guy who everyone asks, straight after Brighton, if I will do another one 2 weeks later.  I love being the kinda guy that does that kinda thing, so, I’m going to kinda do it.

I’m booked into London Marathon in 10 days, I’ll let you know how I get on.

Brighton was an impeccably well organised race, with some super fast times coming from everyone (except me)! The 10km race, which was held before the marathon, was insane! Brilliant hospitality, finish line atmosphere, and views. Well done to Cal, On running ambassador and training partner, who went through hell and back to tick off his first marathon, aged 21, he wrote a much better blog than mine here.

Thanks loads to everyone for all the cheers on the course, “love the blog, Russell Runner!”, that always feels nice. Also, for the amount of lovely supportive comments on social media, thank you.

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Russell Bentley
Russell Bentley
Track runner. Trained in Kenya, Won the Snowdonia Marathon 2018, PB Berlin Marathon 2:20:20

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