Earlier this year I took part in the first ever Brighton marathon. It was my first attempt at running 26.2 miles and I wanted to post a decent time so I took my training seriously. Starting in the beginning of January, I completed three runs each week - two of between seven and nine miles and then a gradually-increasing longer run at the weekends.
By the end of March I was feeling good even if some of the training had been particularly brutal thanks to the harsh winter. One run that sticks out was a 10-miler I did from Ditchling Beacon to Lewes and back over the very hilly South Downs. It was freezing cold and absolutely pissing it down with rain and by the time I reached my car back at the Beacon my hands had seized up. I had to wait a while before I could even begin to untie my laces.
In contrast, marathon day in mid April was gloriously sunny. I woke early and had a large bowl of porridge before getting into my kit. As I joined the thousands of runners all making their way to the start I began to see what a big deal this really was. And that's when the doubts started to creep in. Have I trained enough? Have I taken on enough carbs? Will I be okay in these conditions? I lost count of the number of times I went to the loo during the hour before the race.
We got underway and I deliberately went off slowly at around nine minute mile pace. Four miles in and I bumped into an old school friend and we ran with each other for a while which helped me to relax. By the ten mile mark I was feeling comfortable and enjoying being part of such a great occasion. I crossed the half way mark in just over two hours and felt confident I could keep my pace up during the second half.
It was at 16 miles that I felt the first pangs of tiredness so I made a point of getting as much fluid and energy gels down me as possible in preparation for what was going to be a painful last hour and a half. The sun was getting more intense which was great for the crowds who came out in their tens of thousands to support us, but not so good for us runners. As I looked around I could see people were starting to feel the pain. This was getting tougher by the minute.
I passed my wife and parents at mile 18 which gave me a much needed boost but by the time I hit mile 20 I was hurting big time. It didn't help that the business end of the course was the bleakest - a dead straight road with an ugly power station at the end of it. "The road to hell" said a sign draped across the tarmac. It wasn't joking.
The final six miles were sheer agony. I had never run this far in my life before and my body simply didn't know how to cope. It felt like the bones in my legs were bursting through the top of my pelvis they were so sore. But with each step, the closer I was getting to the finish. I could see it opposite Brighton pier. Come on Ben. One last push.
As I crossed the line, the relief was immense; and when I spotted my wife the emotion and mental exhaustion became too much and I burst into tears. I'd done it. I had completed my first marathon in a time of 4 hours and 15 minutes. Was I happy with that? Oh yes. Over the moon, in fact.