Brighton Marathon: the journey of a lifetime

Fitness blogger Tess Agnew at the 2014 Brighton Marathon finish line

It’s done. I can’t believe it’s done. The day I worked so hard for finally came. And then went, and left behind it a trail of post-race blues and the worst DOMS I have *ever* suffered from.

My name’s Tess, and I just ran a marathon. 

Brighton Marathon 2014 finishers medal
When I started training it was always touch and go whether I’d actually make it to the start line let alone the finish. My waddly-crossover running gait, wonky knees and imbalanced muscles were all against me and I had my work cut out to be able to actually run comfortably alongside increasing mileage and improving strength without doing further damage. I didn’t give myself time before I started training to rehab my knees and strengthen my legs so had to do it as I went along, and it wasn’t easy.

I can honestly say, hand on heart, that running the marathon was the absolute hardest thing I have ever done, no doubt about it. I don’t know what made me bite the bullet last year and enter at the last minute but I’m so glad I did – nothing will ever beat that finish line high.

So much more than 26.2

There’s so much more to a marathon than the actual race. The months of hard training, from the 5:45am Sunday alarm to bosh out the long runs with the RunBrighton crew to those frustrating threshold runs where I couldn’t catch my breath properly and didn’t have the stamina to stay with the faster pace for the intervals.

The continuous hill sessions at the beginning of the training cycle that took it out of my knees and forced me to rethink my weekly programme. The two hour missions up to the downs in the battering February wind, pouring rain and driving hail, forcing myself to keep going even though my whole body was screaming at me to stop.

Brighton Marathon 2014 finishers t shirt

All those sleepless nights and stressful days where I couldn’t think about anything else but the marathon.

Will I be able to do it? What if my knees don’t get better? How come that run was so painful? What’s wrong with my hamstrings? What if I can’t finish? How the hell am I supposed to run any further than I did today? Will the last 6.2miles be as bad as everyone says they are? I’ll look like such a twat if I fail, I’ll let everyone and myself down… 

All my friends and family (especially my Chris) who had to put up with me going on about it 24/7, boring everyone with my tales of carbolicious Saturday night dinners, early bedtimes and ‘really filling’ post-run protein shakes.

The monumental amounts of money spent on running kit, physio appointments, sports massages, foam rollers, KT tape, GPS watches and trainers, not to mention the £70 for the actual race itself. (I’m totting up the total cost of my first marathon and may share in a separate blog post later on!)

Just another long run… just another long run… just another long run…

But despite the pain, frustration, fear of failure and significant hole in my wallet, it’s been such an amazing journey and I will never, ever forget it. I’ve learnt so much about myself along the way and I’ve met some amazing people – together we’ve pushed ourselves further than we ever thought possible.

The lows at not quite hitting the mileage or pace were more than surpassed by the highs of the good runs. I’m fitter, stronger and more confident in my ability than ever before, and even though there’s still so much more room for improvement – I know now that I can do anything.

But anyway, enough gushing… how did it go??

The good, the bad, the ugly

Everything was going well until two weeks before the race. I entered the taper with a nice and slow 10miler and somehow stressed out my left hip flexor to the point where I couldn’t lift my leg. Several panicked tweets, phone calls and a couple of appointments with Tom at the Physio Rooms assured me that all I needed to do was rest and it’d be fine on the day.

Well I did rest, and it did settle, but then I cycled to work the Thursday before the marathon so Mr Hip Flexor came out to play again. I stood on that start line having not run for two whole weeks, armed with a pouch of paracetamol and knowing that it was gonna be painful.

Brighton Marathon 2014
Me and my running buddy Jodie @ the start

Despite this, I was so excited that the day was finally here, I didn’t really care that much. I’d spent the previous two days bouncing round the expo squealing at anyone who’d listen (or not) at how excited I was that I’d actually made it.

I let go of the terror and was ready to take on the marathon. It’s a strange feeling, acceptance. There’s nothing more you can do so you just let it happen, and it’s really liberating. I wasn’t even that nervous getting into Preston Park before the start, and luckily managed to find my RunBrighton running buddy Jodie at the baggage lorries. We rushed over to the blue coral to start warming up and before we knew it we were shuffling over the line. (I missed out on a high-five from Paula Radcliffe though!!).

You know that feeling you get when you’re strapped in to a rollercoaster and there’s nothing you can do but let it take you? That’s what it was like at the start. I just kept saying ‘Oh my God, here we go.
This is it. We’re running the marathon.’

Brighton Marathon start line

Of course, I went off far too quickly, and spent the first couple of miles panicking about my pace but feeling good (bar my niggling hip but nothing I couldn’t run on), still in denial that this was actually it. Two miles passed, only 24 and a bit to go! I’d planned to split the race into three sections as advised by my uncle: two 10 milers and a 10k. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Hmmm.

I lost Jodie just before three miles. She was just ahead of me and I didn’t want to spend the race hanging on for dear life so I cut back and let her go before settling into my slow and steady pace. We’d trained at 10.30min/miles with RunBrighton and in theory my marathon pace was meant to be faster than that, but since my hip niggle showed up I knew I would have to take it slow to get through.

Miles four and five came and went and I was feeling good. I had one earphone in, the crowd support was great (especially the Mind cheering points) and was settled into a comfy pace so it was just a case of hanging on.

Brighton Marathon Mind UK photos
Thanks to the Mind photographer who papped a happy Tess at Miles 5 & 12 🙂

Mile five took us up St James Street which was a slight incline but no problem, before we joined the seafront road along to Ovingdean. The crowd thinned out up here and soon there was no one much at all on either side, but as it was a route we’d done so much in training I just kept telling myself it’s just another long run.

The closer we got to Ovingdean the more runners were passing us on the way back out – I kept an eye out for Jodie and called out as we passed each other – she was looking strong.

Selfie central

Back up towards town and passing mile 10 and I was still feeling strong, so pulled out my phone and took a selfie (as you do). I decided then that I’d try and document how I was feeling by taking selfies throughout the race.

I even managed to post them on Facebook and Twitter whilst running, which either proves I spend too much time on my phone or I wasn’t running fast enough, you decide. You can see the deterioration of my mental state as the race went on:

Brighton Marathon 2014 in selfies
Mile 10                   Mile 16                 Mile 19                   Mile 23

I saw my first lot of cheerleaders just before mile 13, which was really unexpected as I thought they were gonna be at 15. I ran up to Chris and gave him a hug because I was so glad to see him and was still feeling great. Continuing down past the Pier and under the Panda bridge with the roaring crowd was absolutely amazing. It was so loud, people were screaming my name, I pretty much welled up there and then before remembering there was another whole 13 miles to run!

I saw my second lot of cheerleaders at mile 14 on the turn up to Church Road – and high fived them as I went past. They managed to get this epic photo:

Brighton Marathon 2014 Mind crowd  

Still feeling strong I ran on to mile 15 where my old bosses were in the crowd – another unexpected cheer which really pushed me on. Just before mile 16 though I had to stop and take my shoe off as I had pins and needles in my left foot and my toes were hurting. I could barely bend down to rub my foot to get the feeling back so lost a lot of time faffing about trying to put my shoe back on, and then couldn’t quite pick up the pace afterwards as it was still not comfortable.

Unchartered territory on the Road to Hell

This saw the first of a few brief walking breaks, and a dip in my stamina to keep up the pace. I gave myself a talking to and remembered what that amazing write up I shared said about Mile 16 meaning it was only single digits left and ploughed on back onto the seafront to pass my third lot of cheerleaders at Mile 19.

This was a significant mile marker for me as it was the furthest I’d ran in training and I was feeling pretty shit-scared at the pain that lied ahead. I went in for hugs from my two favourite fitties and started the real marathon into the unchartered 7.2miles that laid between me and that medal.

I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty horrific from then onwards – my endurance took a nosedive and my confidence fell dramatically. I stopped for half a banana and a hug from some BOSHers (thanks Michelle & Amy!) and tried to run on but only managed about another half a mile before stopping to walk again.

There was a point just past the lagoon on the straight down to the power station where I didn’t know if I’d be able to run any more and contemplated walking the rest of the way. They don’t call it the Road to Hell for nothing. We’d done so many training runs down here with the RunBrighton crew but today it all seemed so much harder.

I alternated between a desperate, lump-in-throat walk and a determined-but-painful shuffle until the turn point at the bottom where there conveniently lied a bank of portaloos. I stopped for a wee (which took far longer than it needed to as I couldn’t move at that point let alone sit down and get back up again!) and as I stumbled out of the toilet found another couple of RunBrighton friends so stuck with them for as long as I could.

We walked a few metres to the Saucony arch and started to run again once we passed through – just kept saying to each other, it’s only four miles now. Just four miles. We can do this.

Just don’t stop

I unfortunately just didn’t have it in me to stay running with them so let them go and broke down into a walk again, trying to work out how long it’d take me to finish if I stayed at that pace. Something kind of snapped inside me after the 23mile marker when we joined the seafront again though and I knew there was just a Parkrun in it so gave it my best plod through gritted teeth.

The crowd support began to return and I ran through two sets of my amazing cheerleaders at Mile 24 – this was it now, I was on the home straight. I was gonna finish. That medal was mine.

Brighton Marathon 2014
High-fiving my cheerleaders at Mile 24 🙂

Running along the seafront and joining the road where the crowds got thicker and the noise got louder, with everyone shouting my name and clapping and whooping was just the best boost ever.

Fuck knows how but I managed to pick up the pace and pull off an almost-normal run whilst alternating between a grimace and beaming smile for the last stretch, tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. This was it. Just one more mile to go. Don’t stop moving.

Passing under Panda Bridge and the crowd were going mental for everyone, it literally felt like I was the only runner out there though, like they were all there for me. With a few hundred metres to go I saw Chris and my third set of cheerleaders for a final boost and pushed on to the finish – crossing the line in 5:07:28. Nowhere near my 4:30-4:45 secret time goal but really, who cares.

I fell into the arms of a few RunBrighton ambassadors, got my medal and wiped my tears as I waddled down in a daze to collect my bag.

Brighton Marathon 2014 finish line

Nothing will EVER beat that finish line high. Everyone’s been telling me the first marathon is special – it’s more than special. I’m bloody invincible.

Edit: Take 2 – Brighton Marathon 2015

**Big thanks to my amazing family and friends who came to be my personal cheerleaders, everyone on Twitter and Facebook who’s been so supportive and put up with me banging on about this for the past six months. Also to the brilliant Miss Drewbies for her excellent cheering and great ‘touch here for power’ sign, all the bfitters and other friends I saw along the way, DigDeepDolly who did some stellar cheerleading and gave me a real boost, and also to the few other runners who recognised me from my blog but who’s names I didn’t catch (probably because I was too concerned with not having a mental breakdown at that point!) Of course a humungous thank you to the RunBrighton crew and Nick and Phoebe at Run Lounge for an excellent training plan and Sunday long run programme, and also to Tom (RunningPhysio) @ The Physio Rooms for sorting my legs out and showing me how to get strong enough to run 26.2miles. 

Oh, and everyone who donated to my fundraising page for Mind and Cancer Research. You guys ROCK! x x 

Sorry to everyone for this massive long post but I just had to get it all down or I’ll forget. Did you run Brighton, Paris, Manchester or Taunton last Sunday? Are you running London this Sunday? BEST. FEELING. EVER. 😀 

Oh and if you fancy a nose at my Garmin stats to see exactly where the wheels fell off, come and have a looky over here…