My Comfort Zone Challenge: Brighton Marathon

Brighton Marathon

Things I knew in my head before the marathon:
– I would finish
– It wouldn’t be easy
– The crowd would be helpful
– My body is going to hurt

After casually assuming the challenge of a marathon 6 months ago – during my phrase of being a yes man – the day finally came around to run 26.2 miles. Can I first say, this was one hell of a commitment. As a guy who had never attempted any kind of distance, trying to complete 15 miles a week quickly became a chore.

We’ve all heard the story, do one marathon and you catch ‘the bug’… Well, I didn’t. Not even in the slightest. Apparently, it’s not that contagious. Don’t get me wrong, going out for a quick half hour to an hour jog, that’s really nice… A great chance to clear your head whilst getting a bit of exercise. When I had to start running 10 miles and upwards, my body just did not agree. First, the knees –dodgy at the best of times, yet alone without the relentless pounding onto concrete. Then, the shin splints – Christ, if you’ve ever had this, you’ll know what I mean and won’t need me to elaborate. For those who haven’t – consider yourselves lucky. Finally, the mind – The boredom and constant plea with my body to stop running was often my most painful injury – the hardest to prevent and sooth.

It’s said you should get up to about 20 miles distance in your training, ahead of the big day. Well, I got nowhere near this distance – 14 miles was my best effort. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

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I started the day with my new trainers on, my new vest, and with a sense of optimism. This was only enhanced as David Bowie – Heroes was played minutes before the start of the race, which then I quickly added to my running playlist. I was inspired and ready to smash it. The first 13 miles, whilst hot, I found easy. I had run this far and was used to the distance. I really enjoyed the experience.

You’re told before the race you’ll hit ‘The Wall’… around 20 miles, a part of the race where you feel you can give no more. I didn’t hit The Wall. I smashed into The Wall face first, and got flattened like a pancake upon impact. I had nothing left to give. Every muscle in my leg got attacked by cramp. I’d try and stretch one out, for the opposite muscle to cramp. Like a game of whack a mole that you can’t win, and except it wasn’t a game. It wasn’t fun. It was a pain unlike any pain I’ve had before.

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What comes with pain and exhaustion, is the mind playing tricks on you. With a rough goal of trying to finish under 5 hours, as I was cramping, I was convinced I had messed up and was on for a 6 hour time. I was gutted and  convinced I’d failed. It only took my work colleague Lisa, who was there for the final stretch to give me some motivating words, as I was on the edge of breaking down, to keep me going.

I’d accepted every sweet, drink, gel, biscuit along the way but it was half a mile from the end, where I saw my good friends, Jake and Holly, who were there with my favourite chocolate Minstrels, that I knew “this is the last of the on route treats” and I was metres away from finishing. I shoved the minstrels in my mouth in the least polite fashion. I then continued with my walking pace jog and lapped up the applauds to the finish line. The exhaustion brought tears to my eyes. I have no idea why, I had finished and there was nothing to be emotional about. Perhaps tears of joy? It was over – 6 months of training for this moment. It was brilliant.

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I didn’t get the bug, and I couldn’t walk for a good week after finishing. After promising myself a few days after I would never do a marathon again, I sat there watching the London Marathon, and thought ‘Never say never’. There really is something about achieving things that is addictive. My mum told me a good analogy, it’s like giving birth – after the first time a woman will say never again, but 5 years down the line she will sit there with two kids. Pain is temporary.

A lot of people told me a lot of different things in the lead up to the marathon. Some true, some not. My advice to anyone doing a marathon, try to ignore the advice. Get yourself a half decent pair of trainers, and work the rest out for yourself, it’s part of the fun. Everyone is a different standard, and it’s not a one size fits all approach – just get out there run. My second piece of advice, don’t do it!

Things I learnt from the marathon:
– I did bloody well just to finish
– Running 26.2 miles is BLOODY HARD
– The crowd are simply incredible
– Cramp in every single muscle in my leg is the most painful experience I’ve ever had

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Week 15: Brighton Marathon (Water boy)

Week 15 of my comfort zone challenge, and this week I volunteered down at the Brighton Marathon. Not quite in the physical condition to do a marathon myself, I thought I’d at least help out those who are!

My role would be to be at the drink station at mile 19 of the marathon. This meant setting up, filling up, giving out and clearing up.

The briefing time for the volunteers was 8am, so this meant a 6am alarm, and me being completely sober on a Sunday morning. That alone constitutes outside the comfort zone.

I met at the King Alfred Leisure centre, signed in, received my volunteer bib and packed lunch and then waited for instructions. I was told my team were going to be short, which didn’t make me happy when I looked at the items we needed to move (below). We were briefed and the first instruction from our leader was “we need a couple of strong guys to take the Gazebo to the mile marker, about a mile away.” Somehow I ended up with Gazebo, despite not meeting his qualifications.

Station 19 Boxed up
Station 19 Boxed up

We moved all the gear to the 19 mile mark, set up the Gazebo, all the tables and separated the Gatorade and Water to each section. The next thing to do was to pour all the drinks, from the bottles, into plastic cups. This would need to cater for the 16 000 people that run Brighton Marathon. We started working in pairs, one placing and holding the cup, the other pouring. You’d need two people as the wind was a nightmare, and it was a comedy show trying to do it by yourself. Don’t worry, I tried.

Before...
Before…

As a team of about 15 volunteers, there was soon as sense of camaraderie as we soon started getting on whilst pouring the water/gatorade. The highlight of this being a sing-a-long to Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chilli Peppers together, amongst other 90s rock tunes. Fortunately, for the volunteers not the runners, we were blessed with sun. This made life a lot more pleasant as we sang in the sun and poured water.

... and after!
… and after!

10.40am the elite runners would start to go past, our volunteer numbers had doubled, and all 30 of us stood holding our arms out with water hoping the elite runners would take one. It was a bit of competition to begin with, as the runners were so few to begin with.

The Front Runner
The Front Runner

Slowly but surely, the pack started to build and the job started getting harder. The faster runners would get you drenched as they’d try and take the water as they’re moving too fast. You’d be turning as quick as possible to make sure both hands are full of water, all the while you’d be shouting as loud as you can to encourage these guys. This continued for hours, and as time went on, people seemed more and more grateful. Shouting out someone’s name on their shirt always got a smile. I may have shouted “Well done” a few thousand times, once I had started shouting it, I felt everyone needed some of my motivational shouting.

I shouldn’t write this, as it’s so wrong considering the runners ran 26 miles, through complete pain and agony, but I have to say my arms and back were aching like mad by the end of the day. Not to mention my voice going. This was by no means an easy day out, and ironically despite handing out thousands of drinks, I didn’t stop for a drink myself.

What I loved about the marathon, is the sense of community that it brings out. Everyone, is out there cheering people on, people they have never seen before, and may never see again. They may even pick up the phone and be rude to them tomorrow, but for one day, the whole of Brighton are in it together.

Once the majority of people had gone past our station, and it was time to clear up. You wouldn’t believe how many plastic cups were on the floor. Snow ploughs we needed to clear it all up. Half an hour of scraping plastic cups off of the floor and the station was stood down. 2.30pm, I ate my lunch and returned all our gear back to HQ.

I happened to watch my mates play football the day before the marathon. One of the opposition team was injured and needed to come off. They called for a substitute to come on to replace him, and asked “Can you bring some water for him as well please?” To which the sub replied “I ain’t no f***ing water boy” and ran past the water, onto the pitch. Well, I’m proud to say I was a water boy at Station 19 today, and bloody enjoyed it. We received at Brighton Marathon 2015 hoody for our work, but the sense of doing good and well being was the real thing we all took away from it.

I guess what’s clear is that I should do something like this myself – WATCH THIS SPACE!