The remainder of the afternoon was one where the smile from my face was irreplaceable. I had written the previous night that if we were motivated simply by time and performance, running lost its soul. It needs something much deeper to drive you within. For me, that is being able to support the charities that I do and help to change lives in the way mine has been. However, that doesn't mean we can't derive immense pride and satisfaction from personal achievement; in fact, we would not be human if we didn't.
Personally, I would give my time back and take 3:00:01 or any other time above three hours for the opportunity to spend time with a couple of dear friends, Emma and Andy, on Sunday. That I was able to enjoy this most special moment with them was the very icing on the cake. As always, the Events Team from Mind were incredible in their support both on course and afterwards, and I am also so in awe of the incredible performances and efforts of fellow Team Mind runners, many of whom were running there first marathons in this brutish heat. They should be so very proud of themselves, and my only regret of the day is not having spent more time with them.
As for Brighton ... you rocked!!! Yes, there were some later problems with water which should not have happened but by and large the organisation was of the highest order and the crowd magnificent. I can't wait to be back in 2019 ... 2018 will hopefully see me in Boston that weekend!!
Running is this most precious thing which frees the mind and soul, in which we share the joy and pain of others, where competitors don't exist but allies do, where we are all on an identically different journey. It is the ultimate oxmoron of painful joy My 26.2 miles were so different to those someone else may have run on the same road. This is what makes running unique. the leveller where someone's 5:59:01 is an even better achievement than my own 2:59:01.
I will cherish this wonderfully sun drenched day in Brighton, and yes it will be partly because of what I achieved, but also because of every single person with whom I shared it, because of the deep sense of contentment that filled me even before running, because God bestowed on my a blessing of which I am not worthy but one which I treasure. Next step is London, and I can't wait to share it with runners from Mind and the Connection at St Martin's. It's going to be a hoot!!
"Just once in his life a man has his time, and my time is now, I'm coming alive"
Those of a certain vintage will recognise those lyrics and the title of this blog post from the title track of the film St. Elmo's Fire. It seems that a song with the subtitle "Man in Motion" correlates aptly with a Sunday morning run of 26.2 miles which most definitely took me to new horizons and was run under the cloudless blue sky of Brighton on an unseasonably warm spring morning.
Coming just a week after the Maratona di Roma and a mere fortnight before London, Brighton was always in the diary as a long training run with a medal at the end. As my mate, Michael, had said, you'll be running that far on the Sunday anyway (in preparation for May's London to Brighton Challenge) so why not get something in return? Yet even a week ago, I hadn't fully committed in my own mind to running.
In truth, I returned from a wonderful holiday in Rome, having run a good 3:02:34 and thinking to myself that if I sidestepped Brighton, I could perhaps attack the holy grail of a sub-three hour marathon on one of the biggest stages of them all in London. Publicly, I had always said that I would not attack this particular milestone until October's Birmingham International Marathon and that helped take any kind of pressure off me; however, I knew deep inside that I was probably in the shape of my life.
It was after a CoD (Crack of Dawn) training run on Thursday that I realised just how strong my recovery from Rome had been and began to think of running Brighton with purpose ... I certainly didn't have a PB in mind but felt I could go circa 3:05:00 which would be a really good run to follow up the Italian Job. And that was it, I went about a busy schedule at work for the next two days, rested my legs and began to get excited about getting to the Expo to pick up my race packet on Saturday morning.
The two Instagram posts from Saturday morning (above) are not just random; they betray me in the best way. Once I got down to Brighton Pier and on to the beach on Saturday morning, I found myself in such a relaxed frame of mind about the race ahead, perhaps borne of knowing that I was under no pressure to run a time, I could just enjoy it ... well that's what I was telling myself. I also knew that I felt as physically strong as I did mentally. There was always a chance that my legs would go in the second half of the race so soon after Rome, but deep inside I knew I had a free pass to attack a quick time:
The second photo, with kit laid out, is the real kiss of Judas to my protestations of not being out to run a quick one. As my friend Natalie would later point out, the moment she saw my new girls on the bed, she knew I was going for it; my protestations of wanting to be colour coordinated in all blue didn't really wash!! (the new girls refer to the Adidas Adizero Adios 3, bought from the great team at Runners Need Clapham Junction with London in mind, and nothing else. They are the shoes in which the World Record had been set, they were the ones in which I was going after the Grail.)
And that was it, on the outside cool as the sea breeze, on the inside really feeling an excitement and a nothing to lose mentality. In truth, my only concern was how I could possibly match the carbloading of Rome with my own pasta and pizza in Streatham Hill!!
I did eat well and had the relief of a relatively trouble free early morning train down to Brighton on race morning. I did decide to get a very early train from Victoria; catching the 5.47am instead of 6:39am to ensure no panic with any delays, a quieter train on which I slept, and the ability to relax and take my time when I arrived in Brighton. That is exactly what happened; I was able to walk straight over to the lovely Café Coho and relax over strong caffeine, morning carbs in the form of a sumptuous brownie, and also avoid a long bathroom queue! That done, I was immensely relaxed as I took a gentle half-hour stroll up to the start in Withdean, at once in my own world of relaxation yet taking in the excitement of other runners and their families around me making their way on London Road to Preston Park or to the same destination as me. Never on race morning have I felt so at ease.
Once at Withdean Park, it was into a marquee to change, no issue on such a beautifully sunny morning before the usual pre-race rituals; runners tend to be creatures of habit and by the time I had changed, put gels and vertigo medication in short pockets, Mind headband on head, BOSH wristband (erm ... on wrist!) and moisturising screen on bald dome, I was ready to part with my kit bag (and yes Brighton, it was small!), next to be seen after 26.2 miles.
Last pit-stops and intakes of caffeine were negotiated before a gentle warm-up and the opportunity of a hug with friends in the form of Steve Edwards and Kevin Betts. Before I knew it really, but not in a way that rushed me, it was time to get it done in the beautiful spring sunshine. As I stood in the start area, there was absolutely no doubt that I was going for it; sub-3 could happen today, of that I was sure. In running 3:01:34 in Florence and 3:02:34 in Rome, there was a pattern emerging of very even paced races with the slowest splits being from 1-5k and 21-25k, and I knew these two periods of the race would be key.
From the very first mile, I just felt really good. I did go out to a first 5k of 20:58 which was over a minute quicker than I had in Rome the previous week, The first few miles of Brighton winds its way back down London Road to the outer part of the town centre, around the stunning Royal Pavilion, with a slight incline up St James's Street into Kemp Town at which point you will hit Marine Parade going East towards Rottingdean. Before knowing it, you have run 7 miles and are heading on the undulating higher part of the coastal road out to the furthest part of the route.
Throughout, I felt in total control of myself, running my own race and oblivious to much of what was going on around me. The introvert in me is a great ally on race day and leaves me alone with my own thoughts, relaxed internally and just able to enjoy everything going on around me. In no time, those seven miles had become the half-way point and, boosted by seeing close friends in Emma and Michael, in the crowd, I really felt great. Through half way in 1:29:15, I knew an even split would achieve the "I'm possible" although I was still very calm about that prospect, safe in the knowledge that I didn't expect my legs to last the distance so soon after Rome.
Of course, the next split was going to be critical ... as I said earlier that point between 21 and 25k (i.e. miles 13 to 16) had been the weakest part of my race in recent events but this time it would not be the case. It says something about the relaxed concentration and comfort zone that between miles 10 and 16, FOUR of my miles splits were identical in 6:51 with the other two at 6:42 and 6:56, consistency of which I could only dream. It was getting warmer and let's not avoid the inevitable, it was time to dig deep.
Hove and Portslade came and went with great crowd support and a welcome bottle of water and support from Michael. As I hit the twenty mile point, it was black and white; 10km in less than 43 minutes and 12 seconds, I would break 3 hours. If I ran 6:57 minutes per mile for the next 6,2 miles, I would break 3 hours. If I could maintain the pace I had run so far, I would break 3 hours. What I also knew was that Rome was still in my legs, the hitherto very pleasant sunshine was getting hotter by the moment, and I was about to enter the part of the course leading out to Shoreham Power Station which has been fabled for breaking the will of so many over the years. This much was clear ... I may never have a better opportunity and the time was now. If I didn't achieve that goal today, I would have absolutely no recriminations but would not be able to live with myself if I hadn't given every ounce; I was leaving it all out there in Brighton.
"Just once in his life a man has his time, and my time is now, I'm coming alive"
That stretch into the power station is difficult to describe; it's not brutal but it's lonely. The crowds are not what they were, you are open to the elements of the sea to one side and the non-too scenic industrial estate and power station to the other. It doesn't break people because of its difficulty but because it places you in isolation with your thoughts for an extended period at a time when you are hurting. There's no crowd to dim the demon inside you saying "No Más" ... and as I said, my introversion can be a massive benefit to me!! I am so used to being able to 'zone out' and lose myself even running through the busy streets of Central London, I am certainly able to do it in Shoreham and, moreover, can very easily ignore the voices. As I completed the loop and re-entered the throng of people on Western Esplanade in Hove, the equation was simple ... 5km at seven minute mile pace was what I needed.
The next two miles felt like an eternity, hemmed in on a narrow pathway with people either side, but more pointedly running into a stiff breeze. It turns out that I ran those miles 24 and 25 in 6:53 and 6:44 respectively. It's difficult to describe my emotions as the course merged back onto Brighton's Kings Road at Mile 25. Barring a meltdown, the impossible was about to become "I'm possible", but this was not a time to ease off; I summoned everything I had in that last 1,2 miles and unusually can remember much of it vividly. I was waiting for a last steep little climb which never came and before I knew it was running under the sponsor's bridge with just the descent onto Madeira Drive to come. I heard the voice of my friend Paul shouting out in the crowd and just tried to savour those last few moments.
The finishing line seemed to stand still for a split second with me getting no closer to it. And then just like that, it was all over; no elaborate celebration, probably one of the lowest key finishes of any of my 16 marathons as I signed myself with the cross (without Him, none of this means a thing) and stepped over the finish line with a short shout of delight and relief. I didn't need to look at my watch, I knew; I didn't need an elaborate outward gesture, the smile inside was enough. Never married and without kids, this was about as good as it gets to this point in my life ... I hope all of that will change one day!
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New Horizons, Blazin' Sky
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