“The last 10K will be the hardest 10K of your life” / “A marathon starts at 20 miles” / “Don’t start too fast or the last few miles will be bloody awful.”
Three phrases of advice from people who have run marathons! It’s kind of hard to take in those words until you actually experience a marathon though… but my god they were right. The last 10K were the hardest 6.2 miles I have even run. Let’s start at the start though, as it’s always a good place for a race to start from.
I had entered Brighton Marathon (my first one – read more about the training here) nearly a year ago in order to raise funds for a charity cricket trip to Uganda with Cricket Without Boundaries. Nearly 2 grand of fundraising, 600 miles of training and two months of no booze later – it was race day! I got to Brighton with my girlfriend on the Saturday to hit up the Expo and get my race number. I also popped into the Alton Sports stand to see the team and they were all very busy! After a day of carb loading, pizza and pasties being the food of choice, it was race day. I reckon I’d had a solid 4 hours sleep after waking up every 30 mins to check if I was late for the start. I am glad I got a safe 9 in the bag on the Friday night!
6 a.m porridge and a black coffee and I was good to go. Luckily I had been given a fast start at Withdean Park as I had ran a half marathon time in January of 81 mins. Very kind of them! I watched some of the elite lads and lasses warming up as I spent most of time anxiously wondering around not really sure what to do with myself. I managed a short jog, several toilet trips and many gulps of water. I bumped into a couple of fellow Vegan Runners and we made our way into the pen for the start. The starting klaxon sounded and we were off! A surge of adrenaline shot through me, not to mention emotion (definitely a couple of tears) and we started our very long jog down to the seafront.
I had never seen so many people watching a race! The only crowd heavy event I had done previously was the Great South Run in October. I had to cull my natural showing off tendencies and focus on the job in hand. I had set myself a target of a Sub-3 time… but it being my first marathon, I was going to be happy to finish the bugger and do my best. Training had gone well and I had ran the Cranleigh 21 mile race, 3 weeks previously, at 6:45 mile pace, which was my target pace for the marathon. I think it’s good to aim big but I didn’t want to be cocky and think I had it in the bag, as I knew it was going to be tough. The first 6 miles sailed by and I was through the 10K mark in 41 mins.. prob a min faster than I was aiming for.
The route was now taking us away from the busy crowd filled streets out towards Ovingdean / Rottingdean (something with dean in) and a few short inclines. I was still feeling ace and the ten miles sailed by and I was at my target time of one hour and seven mins. I love a chinwag whilst running and around the 12 mile mark started talking to a lad called Graham, who was also aiming for Sub-3. He’d done it on one previous occasion, four years ago, and was looking strong as we both ran through the half way point. I threw my sweaty gloves towards my girlfriend and friends (I am generous gift giver) and was happy to be through the HM at the 1:28 mark. Surely I could run a half in 1:32 and make my dreams come true?!
The good thing about Brighton is that there’s a load of vegans there. The support was incredible! I hadn’t written my name on my shirt as I knew that the shouts of ‘Go Vegan Runner’ would keep me going. My retorts of “I’m doing it for the tofu” lasted until the 15 mile mark when I began to feel I was in a race. Everything was getting tighter and running was getting harder. I kept up my race pace and the odd few words of motivation with Graham before we lost each other around the 18 mile mark. I knew the run out to the Power Station would be hard but I also knew there was a VR stand with sweets and friendly faces. My friend, Goncalo, came out with a water bottle and ran with me for a 100m or so. He also did this on the way back! I couldn’t communicate at the time how much this meant but it really helped.
21 miles crept up to 22 miles and my hips were sore, my glutes were tight and my hamstrings were screaming. Was I heading towards the dreaded wall? I could feel my pace dropping and mile 21 was my first mile over the 7 min mark… two more 7 min miles followed as everything started seizing up. My back hurt! Why was my back hurting?! The Sub-3 pacers skipped by me at the 22.5 mile mark, telling me to run with them but unless they were offering a piggy back, it was never going to happen. The 24th mile was into 8 mins and mile 25 was a late 8 minute mile… I was holding on for dear life and there was no way I was going to stop. The Sub-3 dream had gone but I was still alive and waddling towards the finish line with a stoic grimace upon my face. I was too tired to even look at my watch! I could see the finish and my lactate heavy shuffle got me over the line in a time of 3:05:58. I saw Graham again, and he’d finished a minute before me. The Isotonic Alcohol Free Beer and water soothed my dizzy mind as I lay on the shingle for 20 minutes, soaking in the feeling of running a marathon for the first time.
When we left the beach, I am proud to say my girlfriend had to dress me as everything had cramped up. Two months of no booze meant an immediate trip to the pub with some fellow Vegan Runners. Poncy IPAs were quaffed, much food was eaten as we all revelled in our achievements of the day. My VR friend, Brendan, had come home in 2:34 and a solid 14th place! Another friend, Dan, finished just behind me in 3:08…his first marathon, too. A massive congrats to everyone that finished it – you’re all awesome.
So, was I disappointed? I had set a time of anything beginning with a 2 and I had missed it by nearly 6 minutes. I wasn’t disappointed though as I had ran as hard as I could! I told myself that I had only been running 18 months and nothing could have prepared me for the last few miles (except better preparation). I had only got as far as 21 miles on my training runs and this was only the third time I’d ran over 20 miles. I was happy! I’d ran a bloody marathon and had a great time doing it! 3:05 is a solid first time & I have only improved after running countless HMs and 10Ks. It also means I have to run another one now… I’m planning on Manchester next year and will try for the Sub-3 dream again. My plan is to add a few more 20 mile runs into training for it, as well as doing some strength & conditioning to make my little vegan hips and glutes a bit stronger. Maybe a 3 hour training run would help, too! Whatever happens, I am looking forward to another marathon for sure! I have to say, Brighton was super well organised, and a great event. If you haven’t ran it before, it’s now the second largest marathon in the country (apparently there’s a bigger one in London – who knew?).
The day after, I was in my local supermarket and Mark Owen strolled in. We said hello and I resisted the temptation to tell him I had just ran a marathon. I did tell him I was vegan though.*
Cheers for reading! Check out my Strava here.
Jhon Cosgrove 🙂
PS: I ran in Brooks Levitate Black – from Alton Sports of course.
*Not necessarily true.