After a year of pretty much no races, the time had finally arrived to be back marathon racing. Manchester was the intended race, but after that was postponed, and I was unable to go on the new date, I booked a place on the Brighton marathon instead. This was back in October 2020. After another postponement, the race was put back to September 2021, which is where we find ourselves now.

With not much racing going on, I had been doing plenty of training. I did have a 10km booked but stupidly booked it a week before our wedding. Hannah would not have been happy if I’d come back with COVID, so I decided it was probably best to just cancel my entry. I did dabble about jumping into a half marathon, but the training was going so well I just decided to focus on the full marathon instead. This was the first time I had made it through a training block injury-free, and felt really good going into the race.

We set off on the Friday, making the long drive down to my parent’s house in Essex, as a pit stop, before heading down to Brighton on Saturday. We arrived, parked up and headed over to the expo to pick up my number. The expo was a little disappointing to be honest compared to some of the others I’ve been to. It was nice being next to the sea, although the strong winds were not ideal, so I was hoping they would ‘do one’ come race day!

We wandered around Brighton taking in the sights. It was nice to see so many people out again enjoying the sunshine. We made our way back to the room so I could rest up and most importantly catch the second half of the Arsenal game. First win of the season! Hopefully, this good fortune would carry over to race day. In the evening we set out to get some carbs in me, which went down a treat. Lasanage and garlic bread, just what you need before a race.

Race morning started with a 7:00am alarm, as we had to be out by 8:00. We headed down to Preston Park where the race would start. My arrival time was not till 9:00 but I wanted to make sure I got there with plenty of time. A quick warm-up with multiple toilet stops and I was ready, though I was definitely feeling the nerves at this point. It had been a while since I’d raced a marathon and the first one that I genuinely thought I could break a big goal of mine, which was to run a sub-3-hour marathon and qualify for the London marathon. Running under 3 hours would not guarantee me a qualifying time, so all my training had been aimed at finishing at around 2:50.

The wait for the start seemed to take an eternity. I had left Hannah at 9:00 and the race didn’t start till 9:30. My wave eventually made our way to the start line. I was in the red wave which was for anyone running under 3:30. I tried to make my way to the front, but due to the mass of people that was not an option. I had to stick with where I was and pass people if need be when the gun went off. There was a white wave which was for sub 3:15 which would have been better for me, however, but this was by invite only.

As the gun went off, I took a few deep breaths to gain some composure and made my way over the start line.

The first mile was a strange one, normally it would involve me going off way too quickly. There wasn’t really an issue of that here. Due to the roads being quite narrow and because of the fact I was a fair way back in my wave, I was stuck running at the pace of the people in front of me. I just had to bide my time and look for any openings which gave me time to overtake. I soon caught up with 3-hour pacers and managed to overtake them just after the first mile. The first mile came in at 6:36 minutes which was only slightly off race pace. I was happy with that! The goal was just to now get set into a rhythm and tick off the miles one by one.

I reached the first 5 km at 19:57 which was exactly on pace. I felt really good at this pace and unfortunately, there wasn’t really much to report over the next 20 km, as my 5k splits were 19:50, 19:47, 19:51 and 19:48. All pretty much identical. The only thing of real importance to mention was that around mile 10 I was on the lookout for the mile marker so I could lap my watch. Unfortunately, the mile 10 marker was nowhere to be seen. I just assumed that they didn’t put a 10 mile one down for some reason and that the 11 mile marker would be the next one. I was wrong. About 500 meters further down we eventually came across the mile 10 marker. All I could hope for is that maybe another one of the markers was incorrect and the course would work itself out in the end, but more on that later.

As I said I felt really good, coming in at the 25 km mark at 1:39:13. The sun was really beaming down and was starting to get hot out there. Around the 15/16 mile mark, I was starting to get some uncomfortable stomach cramps. I’m not really sure what caused it, I don’t think it was the gels, but I decided at that point just to back the pace off slightly and leave the group I had been with most of the way round. Instead of running at 6:20/mi, it was now around 6:35/mi pace. Running at this pace seemed to keep the discomfort at bay, and by around mile 18 it had pretty much gone.

My pace had dropped but my main goal was still very much alive. I knew running at this pace would still get me way under the 3-hour mark. The two 5 km splits since the stomach cramps were 20:19 and 20:35 respectively.

With only 12.2 km left I was starting to tire, the heat was definitely having an impact. Mentally I felt great but my legs were starting to get very tired. As the 21-mile mark went past I had slowed down again, I just didn’t have anything left in the legs to push any harder. The mile splits had dropped to around 6:45/mi now but as I got to the 23-mile mark I knew this was in the bag. I was working hard but the final couple of miles compared to previous marathons were a breeze. There was nothing that was going to stop me now as I entered the finish line straight. The support was amazing. At this point, I was running on my own so it felt like everyone was cheering for me as I crossed the line in 2:53:46 and 18th overall.

I had done it! I had been training for this goal for over two years, and with COVID putting a slight delay on that, I was so happy I was able to achieve a goal I thought was completely unrealistic when I started running. I even remember saying when I finished my first marathon that I would never be able to run under 3 hours, that it would be impossible. Not only was it under 3 hours, but based on previous London qualifying times, my time should guarantee me entry into the London marathon for 2022. I couldn’t have been happier, but it doesn’t end there, unfortunately.

Since the race finished it came to my attention that there were two major flaws that the organisers of the Brighton marathon seemed to overlook. The first one being the course length. As I mentioned when I was out on the course I noticed that the mile 10 marker was about 500 meters longer than it should have been. It turns out that due to human error, a cone was placed in the incorrect place, leading to the race being 568 meters too long. Even though this didn’t really affect my time towards getting a London QT it would have meant I finished roughly 2 minutes quicker. The second major issue which in my case could very well affect me, is that the race went ahead without a UKA license. This license is what other major races look at when accepting qualifying times for their entrants. This means if the race has no UKA license then I can’t use my time to qualify for the London marathon or any other big races. It seems inexcusable that a marathon of this size would go ahead without one. Brighton has since been in touch with all the runners and is hoping to get a license retrospectively, but at the time of writing, I have no idea if this will happen or not.

Although the race was great, the support was amazing and I was really happy with my time, these two major issues have definitely put a slight downer on the whole experience. Hopefully, they will get the license and I can run the London marathon in 2022. If not I will have to get the time again in Valencia, which will be my next marathon, and then wait until 2023 to compete at London.