It’s two years since I last ran the Brighton Half Marathon. In 2015 I ran 6 minutes faster than I ever had before and finished in 1:27. Last year I ran the Half Marathon World Championships race in Cardiff and managed to improve again, coming in at 1:25.
This year, having not long completed the Arc of Attrition 100 mile race, I was nowhere near as fit. Not for short speedy races anyway. I knew this and I knew there was no way I’d be trying to beat my PB. I set out with the intent to finish in under 1:30, which is always a decent benchmark time for a half.
Brighton in mid February was cold but not freezing, cloudy but not raining and windy but not howling. It’s a really popular half marathon with around 20 000 runners taking to the streets and often some of the UK’s best taking part. It always feels like a big event, although it would have to go some to come close to the buzz of Cardiff last year, running with the world’s best, including Mo Farah.
I was lucky enough to be quite near the front with club mates Tom, Kev, Matt, Lee, and Jason, all of whom are way faster than me. They were all hoping to finish between 1:18 and 1:22. If I ever get anywhere near that I will happily retire! Phil was also with us. He and I are generally a similar pace although Phil does have youth on his side!
We took the mandatory photos and waited for the off. Now, much as I love The Housemartins and Fatboy Slim, I have to say I think it’s probably about time Brighton found a new celebrity to kick off these kinds of events. I think Norman Cook has fired the starting gun at every race I’ve been at since I ran the Sainsbury Sport Relief Mile back in 2010.
The route for the Brighton Half Marathon is fairly flat. Starting on Madeira Drive we head out past the Aquarium, round the roundabout and up towards the Royal Pavilion. Turning at St. Peters Church to head back to the seafront. I soon realised that the wind was slightly too strong for me to be wearing a cap, so I handed it to my wife, Victoria, stood on the pavement, as I turned left on the coast road out to Rottingdean.
If there is any point on the course where you might argue there is a hill, it’s on the road between the Palace Pier and Rottingdean. There are two small inclines, one just after the pier and one almost opposite the Brighton Marina a little further on. This section of the course is quite exposed on the cliff top. It’s also the least well supported part of Brighton Half Marathon. The wind was behind us on the way out which helped up the hills!
I felt pretty good, but I knew any faster and I would crash and burn. The 1:30 goal was a sensible option, given my current level of fitness. I was running at just the right pace I felt able to maintain for the full distance, and luckily that was pretty much 1:30 pace. However, we reached the notorious turn point to head back and that’s when the wind hit. I could immediately feel my pace drop as I struggled with the resistance coming in the opposite direction. I say notorious because this turn point at the far eastern end of the course has had its problems.
Back in 2012, the turn was placed way further down the course than it should have been. This led to the course measuring long. In 2013 all seemed well, but then by 2015 the course seemed to measure marginally short and the turn point looked to have moved further west. What’s going on?!! The video below shows what I mean and more on this at the end.
Most of my Worthing Harriers club mates were all flying along ahead of me. Phil was about 50 metres behind me at the turn. I had to dig in to try and maintain pace all the way back along the seafront. It’s a really long drag of about 5 miles, back to the pier and then out past the King Alfred Leisure Centre to Hove Lagoon. The crowd support is fantastic coming back into town, but it does thin out again heading to Hove.
Once you get to King Alfred Leisure Centre things are really starting to hurt and it feels like it’s still ages before the final turn for home. I did eventually arrive at Hove Lagoon at which point the route leaves the road and I started the final 3 miles back along the promenade. This is either really good because you know you’re not far from the finish, or horrible because you’re completely knackered and you still have a parkrun to go. Thankfully for me, it was good. The wind was now behind me and I could start to pick up the pace a bit to try and meet my target.
You can see on my stats that kilometre 16, the final one before the turn, is my slowest. My pace immediately picks up after this and my final kilometre is the fastest of the whole race. The route rejoins the road at the Peace Statue, the unofficial border between Brighton and Hove. From there it’s 2 kilometres to the finish line. The half marathon is a difficult distance because it requires you to be in threshold and anaerobic HR zones for the entire hour and a half. At least with a marathon you are not really going to hit anaerobic at all and threshold only partially during the race. For a 5k and 10k you will be in those top two HR zones, but for a significantly shorter period of time.
I was doing maths in my head the whole way round. Occasionally I’d think, “I’m not going to make it”. Other times, I would be fairly confident of getting there. Coming into the final 2km, it was still touch and go. I was still unsure if I was going to hit my target of a sub 1:30 time. I pushed as hard as I could and with encouragement from various friends along the final few hundred metres of the route I saw the finish line and sprinted with a minute or so to go.
I crossed the line in 1 hour 29 minutes and 33 seconds. My third fastest half marathon time. It was never going to be a PB day for me, but I am very pleased to have notched up another sub 1:30. Club mate Phil faded a little in the second half and came in at 1:33. Jason suffered a stomach cramp from mile 4 but still finished in 1:26. Five minutes slower than his Worthing Half Marathon a couple of weeks before but still a great time. Tom, Matt and Lee all finished around 1:22 and Kev got in under 1:20 by one minute. Overall a very decent performance by the speedy Team Green boys. I do NOT count myself amongst the speedy boys!!
Now, back to the turn point and the actual measured length of the Brighton Half Marathon course. It is short. There are no two ways about it. Generally when you run with a GPS watch and the distance of the course is correctly measured, your watch will tell you you have run further. So, with a half marathon, the distance is 13.1 miles or 21.08km. Your GPS watch should read more than this. At least 13.2 miles or 21.40km, often more. This accounts for you not following the exact line of the route and weaving round other runners etc. Many people finishing the Brighton Half Marathon 2017 found their GPS watches reading 13.1 miles or fractionally under.
Yes, GPS watches are not 100% accurate, but that means they can over-estimate or under-estimate. In general, over a long distance, these inaccuracies balance themselves out and what you are left with is indeed a fairly accurate measure of what you have run. So, in my humble opinion, we can definitely conclude that the Brighton Half Marathon course is short. It may not be by much, but it is short. Furthermore, it looks like it’s been short for the past three years.
To explain further, in 2013 the course start line was moved by one lamppost, to account for some building work on Madeira Drive. The easterly turn point was also moved to account for the difference. What happened in 2014 I don’t know as I didn’t run it that year and I don’t have any GPS data. But certainly, from 2015, the amendment to the easterly turn point seems to have been ignored and the course has been short. How short I don’t know. I have seen 146 metres banded about. It doesn’t seem very far really. But perhaps, to UK Athletics, it is a significant distance which would mean the course cannot be used by elites to qualify for other events.
That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. Suffice to say that if the course had been 146 metres longer I may not have made it under 1:30!! Other than that, I really enjoyed Brighton Half Marathon 2017. It’s a great race, well supported by the Brighton locals and well attended by a mix of fun runners and club runners from all over the country. I will, of course, run this event again as it’s on my doorstep.
POSTSCRIPT – As a result of this blog I was invited to share my views on local TV and local radio here in Sussex, UK. So here are interviews I did for BBC Radio Sussex and for BBC South East Today TV.
If you have found this Brighton Half Marathon race report interesting, please do share it with friends and give it a ‘like’.