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Part 1: By Steve Kimberley
It was that time of the year again. As the winter months were coming to an end, half-marathon season was starting up again and for a third time I would be running the Vitality Brighton half marathon.
Since the first time that I ran it, Brighton has been my favourite half marathon course for a number of reasons. First of all, the course is just an ideal layout of gradients and bends, which allow you to pace yourself perfectly. Then there is the ease of taking part, with Brighton offering quick access from London, many easy places to park and a race village by the seafront. However, in my opinion, what really makes Brighton half marathon the amazing race that it is, is the city itself. And by that I do not mean the buildings: I mean the people. I have noticed that Brighton half marathon has a huge percentage of the participants being locals, who take a strong sense of ownership for the race, while thousands of other local residents take to the streets to cheer runners on and support the race in their own way.
Having said all of this, Vitality events are always extremely well organised and reliable, and without this high level of dedication and organisation, the race just simply couldn’t be the high standard that it is. So with a race as large-scale as the Brighton Half marathon, Vitality did a truly excellent job again this year.
The race starts off with a mostly flat first mile or so, allowing you to take the first few minutes of the course to acclimatise yourself to the weather, the road and the surrounding runners. From starting with the elite runners, I unfortunately did not pace myself particularly well and went off way too fast, resulting in an awful stitch around the start of mile two.
Shortly before mile 3 you start the uphill, which continues up for the next few miles. While any long distance runner will tell you that up-hills are not your friend, I genuinely feel that this uphill is perfectly positioned for a half-marathon distance. Fully aware that around mile 5 there is a downhill that continues for a good while, I used this knowledge as an incentive to spur me on. The sea air was rich in my lungs, the sounds of the watching crowd and a choir of drummers were welcome encouragement, and the upbeat tide of my fellow runners was my motivation.
Somewhere in these latter stages of the race, as we were approaching the final turn-around at the lagoon, I experienced something that has never happened to me at a race before. As a long-distance runner, you are always aware of the crowd around you, yet aside from the odd remark or even short conversation, you spend most of your time in a solitary pursuit towards the finish line. So when I heard someone say, “I can finish this race,” I genuinely though it was them just making a bit of a sarcastic joke about how tired they were. I though this so much so, that I actually laughed, just to give my nod of approval that I understood what they were saying. But when I looked around and saw that I had totally misjudged the intention of the remark and that this was someone who really was looking for encouragement. I genuinely felt awful and proceeded to tell them how awesome they were doing, and how the pace they were at would put them way quicker than their target of sub-two hours.
While this kind of encounter has never actually happened to me previously, it was a humbling realisation that sometimes you can be there for your fellow runner, even if it is with something as small as encouragement.
At around mile 10, the course enters its final stage and becomes truly amazing to run. After a long bend to turn back on yourself after the lagoon, you start heading back towards the finish line, however this last stretch of just under three miles takes you along the beach itself, with the sea on your right and all of Brighton on your left. It is in this pancake flat section of the course that you can feel most of the runners around you getting that second wind and quickening up in their pursuit for the finish.
So the Brighton course is my PB half marathon. For the last two years, I have set new personal bests each time I have ran Brighton, and I was hoping for a third year. In the days leading up to the race however, I thought that I hadn’t trained enough, so went out for one last run to stretch myself out a bit more. However, while doing some deep leg stretches a few miles in, I felt a tightness in my right calf muscle that would stay with me until race-day.
It was because of this muscular pain in my leg that I decided not to go for a PB this year, and to instead aim for a time around fifteen minutes slower. But where I was not running using a GPS watch, this would have to be entirely guesswork. So you can imagine my horror when I came across the finish line with a time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, being only a few minutes off of my PB. While I was partially quite proud of myself for having made much better time than I expected, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that I hadn’t pushed myself that little bit harder.
At the finish line I decided to cheer on those runners who were still finishing and really loved the atmosphere. There were people celebrating their first halfs, there were tears of joy and some of pain, and even I saw a couple who finished together while holding hands. All of this in a wave of noise and colour at the finish line of what was once again, a truly great race to have taken part in.
Part 2: By Vijay Algoo
I had never been to Brighton and have only run one half marathon almost a year before this, so at the beginning of winter in 2015 when I first agreed to do the Brighton Half Marathon I was really excited. I had plans to train relentlessly and run my best ever race for this Half Marathon.
However, not surprising in the least, this was not the case. Fast forward to the day of the race, I have not even been out for a single run this year, truly out of shape with a back injury from the week before and bout of Man flu that had just started. I thought the best way to mentally prepare for this race was flat out denial of the task I was about to take on.
Once we arrived in Brighton we set off walking in the direction of the pier, the closer we get the more signs of the Half Marathon we can see until finally we get to the sea front which is full of people both waiting to run and supporters a like. Once we reached the start line we quickly changed into our race gear and dumped our bags got to the start line and awaited the race.
After an intro at the start line, the race commenced and we were off. We set off briefly down the seafront before turning away from it into the town. I had heard it was a flat course but from about a mile or so in we started heading east near the coast line on slight but constant incline for a few miles. Now I hate hills, anyone who has ran with me before will know this and are probably sick of hearing me complain about them, but even I have to admit the uphill was only slight and not too noticeable once you were going.
Now giving that I haven’t run at all for some time very soon into the race a few aches and tightness had started to kick in and made the first few miles a battle against my own body. But once I reached around the 6-mile mark, the incline had stopped and we turned back towards Brighton city centre and my body started to loosen up. I’m not sure if mentally, my attitude changed at this point or if everything came together at once, but either way, this was my favourite part of the race.
Between miles 6 and 10 there was a lot of downhill, the route was packed with supporters and the views went from seeing for miles high up over the sea and the harbour to the busy centre of Brighton and every bit with a great atmosphere. My mind went from any aches I had before and I was able to really enjoy the run and take everything in for the first time. This part of the route took me from high grounds to the east all the way down into the centre past the pier and the Brighton Wheel and then close to the sea front until you do a sharp U-turn at the 10-mile mark at which out you right by the beach and on the home straight back to the finish line.
On the home straight, the last 3 miles, this is when I started to struggle and had to really dig deep to at one point to keep going. Fortunately, we had crowds of supporters cheering everyone which was the only thing keeping me going. There was a guy in front of me with his name (Iain) scrawled across his bright orange top, the crowds loved calling out his name and cheering him on, at this point I started using him to pace myself, so to give myself a bit of a boost for the last coupe miles I pretended my name was Iain and convinced myself all these people were cheering for me! A bit of a weird tactic I’ll grant you but none the less it seemed to work and before I knew it I was once again passing the Pier and the Wheel and I saw the finish line.
I tried to kick up the pace as much as I could and crossed the line feeling good and fuelled with endorphins, at least until any post-race aches set in. Considering how ill prepared I was before the race I was happy to cross the line in one piece. At this point I was a little confused as I couldn’t find where or how I could get a medal, in all honesty, I managed to get back to where my bag was and meet up with some other runners before I realised I hadn’t got a medal!! This was the only part of the whole day I couldn’t get my head round as I joined the crowds of finishers to find where the medals were it seemed an endless walk after the race to get a medal and finishers t-shirt only to be turned around at the end and squeezed onto an overcrowded walkway by the beach going back towards the finish line on an equally long walk. I’m not sure of the reason for such a long and seemingly unnecessary walk but there was no chance I wasn’t getting my finishers t-shirt and medal.
All in all, I would highly recommend the Brighton half marathon. It was a really good and relatively flat course with great sights and an amazing atmosphere and for me an awesome way to see the city for the first time.
I’m now determined to get back to Brighton next year and beat my 2016 time! I think this could become a PB course for me in the future.