Comrades Qualifier – Brighton Marathon

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Probably a cliche, but I will never forget this experience. My first Marathon. To qualify for Comrades, you must run a marathon in under 5 hours so I chose the Brighton marathon to be my qualifier. It was a bit of a gamble because of the logistics involved and the timescale in which to submit my qualifying details for Comrades – but I am elated that I chose Brighton.

Brighton is a great town. It is full of great people and never needs an excuse or a reason to have a party. Having over 900 pubs is testimony to that! So when an event like the Brighton Marathon comes to town – they masses are out in force!! I used to visit Brighton regularly when I was younger and I always enjoyed her charm. So when the opportunity to run what in fact is only the second Brighton Marathon, I jumped at it. I was fortunate enough to also be able to run for The Stroke Association and by the day of the race had raised ┬▒1500 GBP for their cause.

The race started at 9am so by 8am I walked along from the hotel to the start of the race, soaking up all of the atmosphere. Hundreds of people were making the same journey along the streets, to the start. Some were dressed as pacman characters, tigers, fairies and there was even a Spongebob Squarepants! The inspirational music was being blared out from the park and just before the gun, Steve Cram was there to give some words of advice. I was in absolute awe of all of this.

Somehow I had managed to get to the front of all the runners. It only took me 8 seconds to cross the line at the start! As we waited for the gun, I was thinking of all the plans and race strategies that I had been working on for months and replayed all of the advice that everyone had given me, but in the end I made what almost could have been a catastrophic mistake by ignoring it all, right as the countdown began!

One week earlier, I had gone out for a little run while I was visiting my parents house. I clocked 20kms in 1hr 19 mins. I was absolutely flabbergasted that I was able to run that pace and feel so comfortable. The training in the heat and humidity of Lagos seems to have been a huge benefit. So pleased was I, that I thought, as the countdown began, … conditions are good… I feel positive… let’s ┬ástart off at a comfortable pace and see how that takes me to the half way point and make a decision then as to what to do with the flat second half.

BANG! Off we went and I settled into a pace of about 4mins 20sec / km. My heart rate was 76% and I felt fantastic. The route through the streets of Brighton and then out along the cliffs to the quaint village or Ovendean was stunning. I was absolutely blown away by the support of the crowds. I had never expected to see so many people cheering everyone on, making the whole event a wonderful spectacle. By the time we reached Ovendean at the 16/17 km mark, the spectators were in deck chairs, enjoying the sunshine and quaffiing ale!!

My family said they were going to be at the 25km mark, so it was a surprise to me when they screamed out my name as I blitzed past them at the halfway point. I was more in shock than anything else and for the remainder of the race I was constantly wishing I had stopped to give them a big, sweaty hug! And because I went past them earlier than expected, the only photo they could get of me was this (pictured right):

Halfway… 1hr 33mins and Cruising… From here on in the race was flat or downhill. I thought to myself that because my HR was still 75-76% and that I felt full of energy, I would maintain the same pace. But then, for the first time in my life, I got cramp in my right calf at the 25km point. I was devastated. I tried stretching it out, but to no avail. I had to hobble along for the remaing 17km! Every time I felt that I had to stop though, the crowd gave me a boost to keep on going!

For this long 17km, I was thinking about the journey I had made to run this race and what I had put my family through just to be there. I also thought about all the people that had supported me with their advice, training tips and kind words of encouragement as well as all those, from all parts of the globe, who had sponsored me by pledging to The Stroke Association – and that also contributed to helping me through the pain. But most of all I thought about seeing my family at the finish line. When it hurt the most, I would think about seeing them and then just grit my teeth and power on. I am sure there is a formula to work out what percentage of the race is driven from your own ability, the crowd cheering, the support and sponsorship and finally that finish line feeling! Someone far smarter than me can probably work that out though.

After seeing the 3hr:20mins bus pass me with a few kms to go – I was suddenly inspired that i might even finish within 3hrs 30mins. I trudged along until I saw the big clock at the top of the finish line. As I was not wearing prescription glasses, I thought it said 3hr 29 – so I started to seriously rally to get in under 3.5hrs, only to realise, when I got closer and my eyes could see properly that it was 3:26 when I went under the arch.

The whole experience for me was truly wonderful, something I will cherish my whole life – but served as only a taster for what is come at Comrades.

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