Brighton. We’d talked about this one a lot. Not just me and Alex, but most people I know in the running community. It’s a big one. The proximity to London, the coastal route in the famous city. Many runners start out on their marathon journeys here. Many, myself included, use it as a plan B and middle finger to the rejection of London Marathon.
For months now Alex and I have eagerly awaited the marathon. Officially my tenth and his first. The journey was a long anticipated path. Friday before we met for a run and shared our thoughts. Me, I purposely hadn’t tapered. I wanted to be tired and run the race at an “enjoyable” pace. Alex was feeling good. He was well prepared. He’d trained and done everything right. We agreed to run together. A pro and con list of why he should tolerate me for 4 hours. The selling point… I’d be his personal hype man.
Saturday morning and a trip down to Brighton to register and collect the kit. I dropped a t shirt off for some printing and went to check out the start lines whilst I waited for Alex and Amy to arrive. Here lay our first challenge. I’d qualified for the elite start, this was a mile away from the mass start. The idea being a straight down hill into Brighton, by passing the uphill lap around Preston park. Giving the runners a chance to get ahead of the 12,000 others. This wasn’t going to work, with the staggered starting for mass runners I’d probably be well ahead of Alex before we could meet around mile 1-2. We agreed a plan but hoped I could just default to the mass start on the morning.
Heading back to London my foot was hurting. A sharp pain on the outside, slightly underside of my right foot. Great, just what I needed. I did then realise I’d walked a solid 14mikes that day. My legs were going to hate tomorrow.
It’s 5am and the alarm is breaking my slumber. All the usual pre-run activities follow and I’m soon on a rammed train down to Brighton. The atmosphere was building. I arrived at Preston park and smiled. There would be nothing stopping me joining the mass start. The only concern now was my bag, there was no orange bag drop at the mass start. Not one of the volunteers could tell me what/where my bag would end up if I put it in another colour bag drop. I was about to risk it (I’m sure it would have found it’s way safely) when I spotted a table of spare bags of all colours and pens, labels and tape to add your bib number. Genius. Such a great piece of planning by the organisers. Although I can see why, I was amazed how many people had turned up not expecting to use the official bags for the bag drop. Come on guys! Think it through. There is plenty of information, for all events, as to what you can/can’t do!
Bags dropped, Alex found. Time to frequent the urinals and get this started. My tshirt had “hype man” written on it. And I was determined to live up to it. Starting with the urinals. Whopping and cheering Alex as he unloaded. Nerves relieved and the excitement built as we hit the starting pens. A slow walk (few hundred meters) towards the actual start. We couldn’t resist another toilet stop on the way and ended up at the front yellow wave. A prep talk from the marshals and we were cleared to “go”. There were supporters, family and friends, lining the initial few hundred metres. Standing there. Some clapping. Most just silently looking for familiar faces amongst the runners. I was having none of that. As quick as my legs started moving I found my voice “come on Brighton”, “make some noise!”, “woooooo”, “Come on Browner” (as it read on Alex’s tee), “we’re running!” These would be my staple cheers this day. The crowd reacted. The clapping and cheering started, although reluctantly. I realised being a hype man was going to take some effort. But we were off!
The first few miles were fairly quiet. 10k runners coming the opposite way to finish their races. Forest Gump out ahead of us getting plenty of cheers and the crowded narrow streets creating some bottlenecks. Then came the first water station. Paper cups. Hundreds,thousands of them. I grabbed one. Alex had a hydration pack. We continued. You can’t run and drink from the cup at the same time. Specially not with other runners all around you. Fuck it. I just threw it in my own face “Wooooo”. The crowd loved it. They were my goal. Interact with and wind up the crowd. Bring the hype. However I could, I would.
Coming round the corner a recognised a face in the crowd, Emma who I’d recently met through the Cool Cats group. A sound came from my mouth “Yeeeaaahhwwooooooooooo” it went. Just noise, rounding the corner and hitting the crowd with the already faithful “come on Brighton!!” The smallest of reactions. This was harder than I’d thought. We continued out and round before heading east out of Brighton Pier. Already we were noticing the several hills and inclines the route had in store for us. These would be felt at somepoint later on for sure! This stretch was a bit boring. It was long and gradual. Soon enough we were met by the orange and red runners coming the other direction, heading for the halfway mark. It was crowded. There were cones separating the running directions and there was a need to dash around them on several occasions. I saw at least 3 people fall over the cones (you can’t see them with all the crowding). One was quite spectacular, and silly. A guy in front cheering his partner running the other way. As they were both looking behind themselves she stacked it. His reaction was to stop and run back into the crowd of oncoming runners. I thought Alex was going to lose it with him as they came face to face!
Anyway. Boring stretch mostly done we were coming back to the pier. 12 or so miles done. Big crowds now and the hype was in flow. Here it was much more receptive with the crowd roaring with each cheer. “Come on Browner” being repeated. Rounding a corner there was a shout from the crowd and a High five from Jon (supporting the runners from Mind). We bounded over the half way point and felt good. We’d been occasionally chatting. Letting each other know how we were. Mile 14 saw us turn up to the infamous residential stretch. As I rounded the corner I belatededly saw. The cowbell cheer squad massive. Too Late for cheers.
Church street lived up to expectations. People lining ether side. Kids with sweets and oranges everywhere. The oranges were awesome. And then I started to notice, Alex was in trouble. His face looked like that of a marathoner! He was going through pains, emotions and thoughts not experienced before. The biggest telling point was hilarious for a bystander – up ahead a spectator was holding out two bottles of lucazade. Lids opened and ready to go. Alex made his move. As he closed in…arms outstretched… the bottles raised. Higher and higher. Vertical above the dudes head. He was focused beyond Alex. This wasn’t some generous supporter. This was a specific supporter. His friends and intended recipients of the sugary goodness were somewhere close behind us. Alex’s face. The disappointment. The muttered annoyance. It was too much. I cracked up and couldn’t stop laughing at the cruelty he felt. Temptation dangled right in front of him. The oasis in the race. I shouldn’t have laughed. But I’ll forever remember how funny it was to watch unfold.
The effect, not of lucazade-gate, but of the whole thing so far, hit home around mile 16 or so. Alex was spent. We pulled up and We had a little walk. Some sweets. A chat with some supporters. He had some (a lot)of pain in his hips. But even more determination in his face. Church road feels infinite when you’re in this condition. Stop-start we went. Adjusting the plan and goals. We were going to slow the pace which wasn’t a problem in the slightest.
Coming out of Church road and winding down the seafront our towards the infamous ‘power station’ loop we heard the biggest of cheers. It was Amy. Alex’s wife. I picked up up her cheers and echoed them. Let’s make some noise “come on Browner!”
On we went. I must say, the power station part was no where near as bad as people had made out. Yes it was annoying to still be running ‘away’ from the finish line. Yes it was quieter. And yes it was narrow and crowded. But there was a good buzz. Still plenty of supporters and for me, the smell from the timber yards was great!!
We did see a few runners on the floor receiving medical treatment. They looked confused. This brought back some uncomfortable memories for me and I hope they are as fortunate to but fit and healthy as I was when they recover! We continued the walk-run strategy out and down to the seafront. Just a ‘few miles’ remained. Alex was in and out of good and bad places. He was strong. I could see that. He knew he’d conquer this challenge.
It was the straight road home to the finish now. Along the sea front where the crowds had started to thicken, lining both sides of the street. Cheers and bells coming at you from every side and a shouts of ‘Alex’ and ‘Dai’! We turn to see Chris who we know from the London burger run meet ups. The cheers helped and we power on. It starts to rain as we are Heading up towards the pier. I’m in good mood whooping the crowd into a frenzy with great response. The sensation is incredible as the roar of the crowd follows us like a crashing wave. The finish is in sight and I’m screaming at Alex, at the other runners and at the crowd. I leave Alex to go get his photo finish and we cross the line to embrace in a big sweaty hug! Well earned and well deserved.
We collect our medals, take some pictures and head out the exit. Joking about he masses of family and friends crowding by then entrance. Why?!?! And then we spot Amy. She was one of them 😂
We wrapped Alex like a human burrito and headed off in search of warmth and food.