by Dave Sherman and Steve Kimberly
Photos by Dave Sherman and Sportcam
Part 1, by Dave
In February 2014 I completed the Brighton Half Marathon in 1h35m 06s and looking back it was one of the highlights of my year. The whole day had been an amazing experience and Iâ€™d enjoyed every moment of it and gained a new personal best, but Iâ€™d been gutted to have missed out on dipping under 1h35m by just 7 seconds. Of course this meant I needed to come back in 2015 and this time I had a target time to aim forâ€¦.
Now before I start talking about the race I have to say how much Iâ€™d been looking forward to this event, not only because I knew what to expect from the previous year, but also because when Vitality are involved you know you can expect a great day from start to finish. Yes the events can be slightly more expensive than smaller-scale Half Marathons organised by local running clubs (Â£34 for an unaffiliated runner), but in return youâ€™ll be receiving excellent race organisation, comprehensive pre-race communications (everything from where to park to detailed layouts of the race village and surrounding areas), friendly Marshalls manning well stocked drinks stations throughout the race and most importantly the fact Vitalityâ€™s races always follow scenic routes which seem to make the miles fly by, and attract literally thousands of people along the entire route â€“ not an easy feat over a distance of 13.1 miles! Plus of course Iâ€™m a sucker for the all-important â€˜race blingâ€™ and Vitality never disappoint with a bespoke medal awarded as you cross the finish line at each event â€“ something I feel is important as a symbol of your achievement when completing a long distance event.
Itâ€™s also worth a quick mention about Vitalityâ€™s efforts to make the Brighton Half Marathon â€œa sustainable raceâ€ â€“ something we at Trek and Run feel strongly about and were over the moon to see addressed on this particular eventâ€™s website. Anyone who has taken part in mass-participation events will have seen the huge piles of rubbish discarded along the route so as well as ensuring all cardboard and bottles used are recyclable and recycled post-event, Vitality also pledge to use local suppliers when possible to reduce delivery miles, left-over Lucozade and water is used to support local running clubs and charities, and all lost property (which I assume also refers to t-shirts discarded at the start-line) are donated to local â€˜Sussex Beaconâ€™ charity shops. Although these are only simple changes and pledges, if all race organisers made the same level of effort towards sustainable operations practices the cumulative effect would be dramatic so I really do hope other event organisers take note!
Race day arrived and as with all events around the Brighton area we chose to park a bit of a walk away from the race start so we could avoid traffic when we chose to leave. As we walked along frosty streets towards Madeira Drive it was initially very quiet with very little signs of life (partially due to the fact weâ€™d arrived on-site very early to avoid any potential M25/M23 traffic), however it wasnâ€™t long until the crowds arrived and after a while the start village was heaving with the usual signs of a great event and that electric buzz of atmosphere in the air which draws me towards these mass participation events! Charity supporters were out in force with a variety of different coloured morph suits (Iâ€™ll still never understand how people can run in those!) while at the front of the field PB hunting elites and club runners were limbering up ready for the race. Heart Radio had been given the task of the pre-race atmosphere build-up and it wasnâ€™t long until the magical countdown began, the air-horn blasted, a confetti cannon showered the crowds with multi-coloured pieces of paper and we were off â€“ thousands strong ready to storm the streets of Brightonâ€¦
Now the easiest way Iâ€™ve found to describe the course is as 3 separate races in the shape of a letter T with Brighton Pier at the top-middle and the race start slightly to the East of the pier. This means the route is split into three out-and-backs which in any other race would normally bother me immensely, yet on this course each of the three sections offer some great views and sights, and each has its own reason why the out-and-back layout of this particular event is a good thing considering the distance youâ€™ll be covering â€“ more on that in a momentâ€¦
So after the starting horn sounds you leave Madeira Drive into the initial section which I feel offers a great chance to stretch your legs and ease into the race and is also the most scenic section as within just 1.5 miles you pass Brighton Aquarium and Brighton Pier (with the huge Brighton Ferris Wheel alongside it), and then as you turn right towards the town you first pass the breath-taking Royal Pavilion, then Victoria Gardens and when you finally reach St Peterâ€™s church, the turnaround point, you head back towards the seaside, nicely warmed up, towards the hardest section â€“ the long uphill climb that is Section 2…
Now I have to admit that sentence is unnecessarily melodramatic as in fact, this section isnâ€™t really hilly, but more a case of that fantastic word â€˜undulatingâ€™ which Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ve only ever heard runners use. However Iâ€™ve described this section as â€˜hardâ€™ because of the sheer number of people Iâ€˜ve seen walking this part both times Iâ€™ve taken part in this race! To be fair to them yes, this particular section is just shy of 5 Â½ miles long and is uphill/downhill/uphill/downhill all the way, however the climbs are gradual and if you manage to slow your pace a touch for each climb the downhill parts really are a great chance to widen your stride, open up and run free before you reach the next climb. This section is also the location of the first of three water stations spread throughout the course, and features the first musical section as a troop of drummers provide a nicely distracting rhythm which you encounter on both the out and back. Then before you know it youâ€™re heading towards the flat, final, fast-finish which is Section 3!
Itâ€™s worth pointing out here that as you begin the final section and pass the 7 mile marker you still have 6 miles remaining, however after a slight climb as the section begins the rest of this section really is pancake flat and the level of support seems to grow and grow throughout the final miles which is testament to how well organised this race is and how much thought was put into planning the route. One slight let down was that last year Iâ€™m sure there was a lot more musical support throughout the course as during this part we encountered our second and final live music section at the Hove Lagoon turn-around point as a group of up-beat percussionists performed just before the 10 mile marker. However they were a welcome sight as Iâ€™d remembered from last year how their rhythmic beat signified the finishing straight and the knowledge that this final turn signified the final 5km!
Now this return section really is one of the most enjoyable sections of any race Iâ€™ve taken part in as the final few miles just seem to melt away! At first you fly along the Brighton Promenade for two miles with crowds all along the route and the sea beside you, and then the course re-joins the mainÂ road and the 12 mile marker tells you youâ€™ve got just over one mile to go and before you know it youâ€™re heading towards a finish line that really does make you feel like a real athleteâ€¦
As you make that final turn onto Madeira Drive you catch sight of the bright pink Vitality road hoarding and as you pass Brighton Pier and the Giant Ferris Wheel one final time the crowds of people at the side of the road seem to grow and grow as you come closer and closer to the finish line. Before long you catch your first sight of the bright pink finish gantry complete with giant clock showing your race time and then you make that final push across the finish lineâ€¦ Youâ€™ve done it â€“ youâ€™ve conquered the Brighton Half Marathon!
After crossing the finish line I stood around for a while watching the people behind me pass under the gantry and over the line, and although most expressions showed a mix of pleasure and pain, every now and then youâ€™d see someone with that pure spark of the awesomely addictive â€˜runners highâ€™ lighting up their face. A giveaway sign that despite the fact theyâ€™ve just run with thousands of people this was their race and theyâ€™ve had their own special moment as they crossed that finish line and accomplished their personal best, or met that goal theyâ€™ve been training towards and working hard to achieve, or managed to run further than theyâ€™ve ever run before. A look that says â€˜this is why I runâ€™â€¦
After meeting up with Steve we walked through the finish area and were handed a goody bag, a bottle of Lucozade and finally one of the biggest, chunkiest finisher medals Iâ€™ve ever received for a Half Marathon. The race this year was celebrating 25 years of the Brighton Half Marathon and Iâ€™d initially been disappointed to see how low key this milestone had been, but I was glad to see the medal reflected this achievement with â€œ25th Anniversary Raceâ€ around the outside offering us a great memento of a great event.
So did I manage to achieve my target time of sub-1h35m? Unfortunately not as despite a strong start Iâ€™d found my legs had gradually grown heavier and heavier towards the end which had slowed me down in the final few miles (my own fault for over-training and not resting adequately in the lead-up to the event!), however as I passed over the finish line in 1h37m I was still smiling because despite the fact I wasnâ€™t celebrating a personal best, Iâ€™d just completed a race which I can confidently describe as my favourite Half Marathon and one which I look forward to tackling again next year when, of course, Iâ€™ll be back to again attempt to beat my previous course PBâ€¦
Thank-you again Brighton, and weâ€™ll see you again in 2016!
For more information about the Vitality Run Series visit http://vitalityrunseries.com/events
Part 2 by Steve
As the final weeks of winter slowly melted away into the faintest dream of spring, I was excited for a much needed trip to the coast and one of my favourite ever half marathons! Following on from a valuable lesson we learned last year, we made sure to park a fair distance from the actual race start. This meant we were able to avoid traffic and skip navigating around any roads that would be closed off for the race.
My first impression of the fresh Brighton air that filled my eager lungs was that it was most certainly a lot colder than last year. We checked that parking would cost us around Â£8 for the 6 or so hours we would be in Brighton for and headed off on a merry trek past the alluring Royal Pavilion and the many quirky little nooks that give Brighton its charm. There were a few cheeky patches of ice lining the streets as we were headed to the race village that threatened to put us on our backs before the race had even started.
After playing ice patch minesweeper, we found our way to the race village at the seafront where we were hoping to find the bustling and frenetic atmosphere that I have held onto from last year. However the race village greeted us like an icy ghost town with only the cheery security guard who allowed us into the media tent. It was at this point we realised we had arrived far too early. We kitted up (me realising I had forgotten my best shorts and having to use my much heavier back up shorts) and spoke to two stewards who were far too chipper for that hour of the day. They gave us each a bacon roll and a cup of tea to warm us up, but it was genuinely so cold we barely felt the effect of the tea, welcome though it was!
As we spilled into the final hour before the start of the race, as if it were something out of a flash mob from 2010 the crowds suddenly appeared and the bustling atmosphere that makes Brighton such a memorable and colourful race seemed to very quickly blossom. The warm up lane was crucially important to me because, like a plum, I left it to the last minute to stretch out.
Like all good half-marathons Brighton had assigned a troupe of five pacemakers to finish every 15 minutes from 1 hour and 30 minutes. From what it seemed, these pacemakers did an excellent job in finishing at their assigned time and for anyone aiming for a PB, these pacemakers can be absolutely crucial! In my experience there have been some races where the pacemakers all set off at the start of the gun time rather than sticking with the actual time waves, so this showed a huge credit to the overall organisers of Brighton.
A few miles in and I was feeling good. I experimented with taking an energy gel before the race for a change and was hoping my recent bouts with cramp would not be rearing its ugly head today. However a huge draw back was that I foolishly fell into the same trap I did last year where I judged our starting temperature as a benchmark and wore an extra layer. This decision was a regrettable one barely a few miles into the race, when the sun was out to mug me right off with a spring time warmth. After what felt like a pretty good start I was excited about the faint whispers in the back of my mind that I may get a PB. However, the course turned out to be a lot hillier than I remember from last year and our pace took a noticeable dip while trying to tackle the nonstop barrage of hills. But we struggled hard and used our fellow runners as the spur that we needed to summit these mini Everests.
After the 5 mike mark we breathed a sigh of relief in the knowledge that the hills were all but done, only to be blasted by an enormous wall of sea front wind that seemed to remind us that this was still a half marathon and it would still be hard. The water stations were well spaced out with plenty of golden hearted volunteers passing you a welcome bottle of water or Lucozade. Just a tip for anyone who cares, I took water at the first station and tried to drink plenty of it, then stuck to Lucozade for the remainder of the race taking only occasional sips every mile or so. I was also experimenting with a new energy gel (Viper gels by Maximuscle) which seemed to do the trick nicely. I was planning to take three over the course of the race to see how I felt on them, but ended up only taking another one. After hitting the ten mile mark and heading off back down the promenade, we checked our progress and I was back in the game! If I could hold onto 7 minute miles for the last three I was well in for not only a PB, but I wasÂ well in with a chance of beating a few of my mates PB at the same time.
I fought against some ankle pains and a horrible cramp in the balls of my feet and pushed on as hard as I could. Feeling like I was running my first ever race all over again I clawed my way through the blissfully flat final three miles. I nearly cried when I could first make out the clock on the distant finish line as I thought it read 1.38, which would put me a few minutes behind my mates. Yet as I edged ever closer, slowing down a bit in disappointment, I realised that I had misread the time, which had actually only been on 1.35!
The finish line was absolutely incredible. After a final surge down the promenade we re-entered the race village and I crossed the biggest, pinkest race arch you could imagine in a PB of 1 hour 36 minutes and 19 seconds. The finishing area was pretty large giving you ample time to stretch off and catch your breath without the risk of some finisher crashing into you.
The medal this year was a huge improvement on last years. While clearly manufactured by the same company, it is far larger and much prettier than last years. The only drawback to it is that it seemed about half of them were stitched up wrong meaning that the ribbon will not sit properly on your neck. A huge tip for anyone who runs Brighton (or any large half marathon) in the future: when you finish, join the crowd and spend a little while observing the finish line. There is something spectacularly moving about the finish line of a half marathon, and the sheer positive energy that surrounds the Brighton half marathon makes it very special. There is such a mixed collection of reactions, expressions and characteristics of people crossing the finish line, that this is truly people watching at its finest. In a mere ten minutes or so spent at the front, we saw people sprint across the line or crawl across. We saw beams of achievement and tears of accomplishment. There were solo runners smashing their PB, completing their first big run and even couples crossing the line holding hands. Truly remarkable Brighton. Thank you and I hope to see you next year.
For more information about the Vitality Run Series visit http://vitalityrunseries.com/events