Brighton Marathon: When ‘Fun Runs’ Go Bad

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Congratulations to everyone who took part in the Brighton Marathon yesterday down by the sea – I salute you troopers! It would have been hot and heavy work for you guys as well – the sun was blazing, which makes for gorgeous photos, but not-so-great running conditions. You know what else doesn’t make for great running conditions? Freezing wind, miserable drizzle, and absolutely zero training.

About five years ago, I did the Brighton Half Marathon with my younger sister (see her gear above). She said it would be fun. Ha! What a twisted little mind she has. Anyways, she diligently got on with her fitness regime, and I sat on my fat ass watching Corrie and consuming copious amounts of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coke. I honestly thought I’d be fine – because, in my head, I’d kind of internalised this thing as a ‘fun run’.

A few years earlier, I’d donned my fluffy bra and trainers for the London MoonWalk, powerwalking (read ‘strolling’) 13 miles past the city’s iconic landmarks in the dead of night with about 15,000 other enthusiastic participants in the name of breast cancer research. I thought this was going to be the same kind of gig. I was wrong.

The first time I twigged that there might be a teeny-tiny issue was when I realised there wasn’t a fancy-dress costume in sight – no comedy pantomime horses or Spidermen here. Just lots and lots of expensive-looking lycra, fitness wearables, and serious trainers. You know the ugly, untrendy kind that only die-hard athletes could love. These guys weren’t going to be powerwalking anywhere – they were looking to take down Usain Bolt.

There was going to be absolutely nothing fun about this run. I was going to die.

But it was too late – we were here now. There were funds to raise. I had my number pinned to my chest. We were on the starting line, and there was no going back. So when they sounded the horn, I began to run. I had no choice.

After about 10 minutes, it became painfully apparent that youth was no longer on my side and I really should have at least attempted a couple of block runs before just rocking up on the day. I’d barely done five yards but I had to press on – people were watching. It was so, so cold – the drizzle was just freezing onto my face with the driving wind. My breathing was shallow and raw, my lungs were heaving, and it felt like someone was driving nine-inch nails into my shins with every step.

The other runners were flying past on all sides at 100mph as I trailed behind like a three-legged donkey in the Grand National.

I told my sister to go on without me – I was only holding her back, and she’d worked so hard for this. “Save yourself!” I wheezed. “I’ll see you on the other side.” I was referring to the finishing line, not the afterlife, although it almost ended up being the latter.

It felt like I’d been limping along for days. Everyone else had dashed past me twice over – it’s two laps – and yet I was still miles from the finishing line. First there was lots of company… then a few stragglers… and then suddenly just me, for miles on end, dragging my sorry carcass along the stormy coastline. But still I hobbled on, my tattered, sodden number just about clinging to the safety pin.

I must have looked in pretty bad shape because after a while, concerned passers-by began asking whether I was lost. “No – I’m doing the Brighton Half Marathon,” I’d respond. “Really?” they’d say, eyebrows raised. “But that went by hours ago!” But I wasn’t ready to give up – I’d started, so I was bloody well going to finish, even if I had to crawl over the finishing line.

Only there was no finishing line by the time I arrived six hours later – the organisers had already packed it away and gone home for their tea.

All the crowds had disappeared. It was almost as if nothing had taken place there that day – like a mirage. But in the gloomy distance, I could still see one lone little figure patiently awaiting my return – my sister, with a medal round her neck, and another in her hand. “I did it,” I gasped as I collapsed in her arms. “Well done,” she said as she supported me.

I’m not sure how long we stood there like that, holding each other in the drizzle. But it was a nice end to a disastrous day.

: )

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