Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Race Report: Brighton Marathon

Since I started running marathons in 2014, the London Marathon has been a race I'd been wanting to do for the longest time.  But, as most runners know, the ability to get in via lottery is nearly impossible, with a very low percentage of runners (particularly from the US) getting in. I was set on trying to get the UK checked off, or at least England, in 2018.  Despite the general entries application period having closed already twice for the 2018 Brighton Marathon, they reopened them once more in early November 2017, which happened to be the same day of the NYC Marathon -- I set an alarm to try to get on the list as soon as I finished my race, and got an entry into the race for April!

Flying Delta One to London!
Fast forward to April 13, 2018 -- I excitedly left work on Friday night for my overnight flight from JFK to London Heathrow on Delta One!  I flew in Delta One on my return flight from Europe back in February when I went to Malta, but that was on a Boeing 767.  This flight would be on an Airbus A330, which has a different configuration of Delta One seat than the 767.   Despite some pretty heavy turbulence in the first couple hours of the flight, I got through a delicious dinner and watched two movies - Coco and Pitch Perfect 3 - then slept for about 3 1/2 hours on the lie-flat seats.  We arrived at Heathrow around 7:30am. After getting through immigration and customs, I headed straight to the Virgin Atlantic Revivals lounge just after the arrival hall, which I'm able to use because of my Delta Diamond Medallion status, and took advantage using shower facilities, having a full breakfast, and also getting a complimentary spa treatment!

Arrived in Brighton!
At 10:30, I walked over to Heathrow's Central Bus Station and waited in the station's main hall until boarding was announced for my 11am bus to Brighton.  I slept for part of the way and we encountered a bit of traffic on the highway headed out of Heathrow (also while we were driving through Brighton itself), but we arrived at the Brighton Coach Station around 2pm. After disembarking, I walked over near Brighton Palace Pier to the marathon village set up on Brighton Beach, where after snaking through throngs of people, I picked up my bib and t-shirt for the race.

The rocky beach... not what I was expecting! LOL
Mmmm... Fish and Chips!
I made my way to a CityStasher location about a 15 minute walk away from the pier to drop off my bags so I could walk around unencumbered for a few hours.  I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the street art and graffiti that Brighton is famous for, among which is a Banksy (or now, a reproduction of a Banksy) on a side wall of the Prince Albert Pub on Trafalgar Street. I also walked around the grounds of the Royal Pavilion Estate, and explored The Lanes and North Laine. I grabbed an early dinner facing the seafront along the Kingsway - a quintessential meal of fish and chips, a Brighton favorite.  At 6pm, I returned to the CityStasher location and picked up my bags before heading to my Airbnb to check in.  After a whole day of travel, I was exhausted, so I stayed in and crashed for the night.

Some of the cool street art that can be found all over Brighton

Stormtroopers can run! Bib #50198
beat me to the finish by 35 minutes!
The following morning was the race, with a rather late start of 9:45.  The skies were overcast, and the temps were in the low 50s.  I easily walked from my Airbnb to Preston Park, following the flow of people walking down the middle of the already closed street. As we made our way up the southwestern edge of the park, we saw all the minis and motorbikes parked in front of each other, ready to lead the way for the race, almost like a parade.  I went straight to the American Express corralled area, a part of the park they set aside for AMEX holders who paid for their entry using the card, a lead sponsor of the race.  We had a stretching station as well as an enclosed area that had coffee and water - unfortunately no snacks other than some packaged energy bars.  There were chairs everywhere, though, so we were able to sit and prep before going into the corrals.  After I checked my bag into gear check, I decided to go into the actual yellow corral for which I was assigned rather than stay in the AMEX area, to be among the masses of people prepping for the race. I got there early enough to have a pretty close to front row view of the massive jumbotrons showing presenters doing pre-race interviews with random runners, as well as the countdown to the start.  Also got to see many of the crazy costumes that some UK runners would be wearing to the race, as they call "fancy dress," like a runner dressed in a full Stormtrooper costume.

Running up the hill at the start!
The founder of the wildly successful Parkrun program, bringing runners to parks all around the UK every Saturday for a timed 5K race, was there as the honorary "grand marshal" to wave the runners off with the checkered flag. Soon, our corral was off, and we made our way down the asphalt pathway within the park down to its southern "tip" and onto Preston Park Avenue, where we made a hairpin left turn and began a grueling ascent to the highest point of the entire race.  The climb was rough, and while I made it in a little over 10 minutes, it was not easy!  On the way up, a male runner dressed in a nun habit passed me by, just as we were passing what seemed like a nursing home facility, where some of the residents were out cheering runners along with their caregivers... actual nuns! It was funny to see their reaction as a man dressed as a nun ran past them.  Preston Park Avenue finally crested, and then as we turned left onto Preston Drove, it was a nice steady downhill as we made our way past the park's cricket grounds and velodrome to the northwestern edge of the triangular shaped park and Preston Manor at the corner of the park, a two-story former manor house of the ancient Sussex village of Preston, built in 1738 that happens to be considered one of England's most haunted houses.

Passing under the London Road Viaduct
We turned left, and eventually, we were then running along Preston Road, the main road that forms the western border of Preston Park.  I began to slow up during this mile, as my leg muscles were feeling pretty tight, a sensation that seems to have been plaguing me since the beginning of the year.  I continued to run a bit, but would end up walking sporadically over the next several miles. As we passed the park, the road became London Road, as the route continued past the 172 year old (but still regularly used) London Road Viaduct, a brick railway viaduct that carries the East Coastway Line between Brighton and London Road railway stations. London Road south of the viaduct is a heavily used commercial corridor leading to the city center of Brighton, but is also currently undergoing extensive redevelopment in the form of new housing and commercial properties.
Running down London Road
A Banksy reproduction along London Road
Running down Church Street
I ended up slowing down markedly over the next few miles, as I tried to get my legs back under me. We ran past the western facade of St. Peter's Church, a pre-Victorian Gothic Revival Anglican church undergoing a facade renovation.  Then the course becomes a series of big switchback-like loops running past each other. We turned right onto North Road and into an area known as The Lanes, a collection of narrow lanes famous for their small shops and narrow alleyways.  We turned left along a narrow street (Jubilee Street) next to a Starbucks I went to the day before, and then left again onto Church Street, past the Church Street facade of the Brighton Dome, an arts venue linked to the Royal Pavilion Estate in Pavilion Gardens. We headed back along the road northwards alongside Victoria Gardens and past St. Peter's Church's eastern facade, before making our way around The Level, another large open space in the centre of town recently restored in 2013.

Running past the Royal Pavilion
We were only 3.5 miles in by this point, and I was going painfully slow as we headed northeast along Lewes in to the largely residential area of Elm Grove before turning right onto a rather steep uphill section on Franklin Road.  Thankfully, it was short, and we ran down hill along Wellington Road past the St. Joseph's Church, a Catholic church marking the bottom of the Elm Grove area. We continued along Lewes Road, and onto the Grand Parade and Pavilion Parade, running right past the Royal Pavilion's iconic facade.  We finally passed the fountain in Steine Gardens, before turning left onto an uphill section along Marine Parade as we make our way through Brighton's shorefront Kemptown community, past grand Regency style building all the way toward Ovingdean.


Overcast skies heading out eastward toward Ovingdean
Fun signs along the route!
As we made our way east, we began to see the faster runners coming in our direction.  The road was hilly, rolling up and down, and seemingly more up than down.  Past the Brighton Marina, the beautiful Regency style architecture gave way to fields of green to our left, and the English Channel to our right.  In the distance, we could make out the white cliffs in neighboring Saltdean.  Along the way, the 5:00 pacers had caught up, including one of the pacers who was a friend/"adversary" of my British buddy Foxy. 

Entering Overdean
At mile 8, we turned onto Greenways and made our way onto the 1/2 mile long out and back in and out of the quaint fringe village of Ovingdean.  Here, I got my first taste of Jelly Babies, a British candy treat much like the American gummy bear, but sweeter, juicier, and with a chewier texture.  Notably, jelly babies manufactured in the UK tend to be dusted in starch, which is left over from the manufacturing process where it is used to aid release from the jelly molds.  After hitting mile 9, we continued eastward along A259 road toward Rottingdean on another dumb uphill, but only for about 1/4 mile, before we hit a turnaround point (with a partial view of Rottingdean's Beacon Mill, a black wooden windmill on the hill of its western side) as we made our way back on the rolling hills toward Brighton.
Beautiful shot heading back toward Brighton
A BOAT running a marathon.
With my legs finally feeling a little looser, I began to run a little more, playing a bit of leapfrog with several runners.  As we continued westward, I got to see a bunch of fancy-dressed runners on the other side of the road - including a group of ladies running together in what looked like a makeshift boat, as well as a guy dressed as a green rotary telephone.  Seriously.. the inventiveness of British fancy dress is unmatched!

Apparently NYC's subways aren't
the only public transit that suck
We also finally got a better view of Brighton Marina as we ran closer to the coast, which was at quite a lower elevation, separated by the chalk cliffs that looking down into this area.   The large marina has a working harbor and residential buildings made of townhouses and apartments, some of which have their own moorings.  It seemed that more expansion was underway in the area as well.  After passing through Kemptown, we got back toward the point where we had originally turned off, we were treated to a nice downhill as we passed Brighton Palace Pier, opposite the Old Steine.

Passing Regency style buildings
There was considerably more crowd support as we passed the pier making our way westward on the Kingsway toward the seafront of Hove. Being near the sea, the wind started to pick up a little bit. Just like as we came through Kemptown, the residences west of the pier were beautiful and grand, featuring more of the decorative and fashionable Regency style.  As we continued west, we passed by the British Airways i360, a 531 foot tall observation tower that opened in 2016, a defining landmark of the Brighton seafront. At the same time, we reached the halfway point of the race, in which I ran in a rather slow 2:43.

A bit of champagne!
We ran another mile westward into Hove, before turning right onto Grand Avenue. but then turned left again through a commercial strip of Hove.  Eventually, the scenery around us turned gradually residential. It was essentially a two mile run westward, a loop around a block, with a two mile run back to Grand Avenue.  The residents of Hove were out in droves (haha, I made a rhyme!) to cheer us runners on, and I happened upon a couple of folks drinking champagne out of glass champagne flutes...  I gave a “me want!” face, and they obliged, providing me a swig!

Royals out to cheer us on!
As we made the loop around Boundary Road (forming the unofficial boundary between the community of Portslade-by-the-Sea and Hove), I ran into a couple of royal impersonators, wearing masks of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  Of course, I had to stop for a selfie.  I looked for corgis everywhere during the race, but they were nowhere to be found.  Very disappointed in not finding a corgi in its motherland.

Passing through a lumberyard (?)
We retraced Church Road back to Grand Avenue, and then is started to drizzle a tiny bit.  We then turned right and continued along the Kingsway, proceeding further west, and seeing the Shoreham Power Station in the distance.  The course veered toward the Wharf Road, abutting a small watersports lagoon, before following the Basin Road past runners returning in the other direction, as we ran on the barrier island that's part of the town of Southwick in West Sussex.  All along this road, I noticed a few other runners who I had been running with since we left the main strip in Hove - including two guys in curly green wigs, one with the name "Crispy" written on his shirt; as well as two brothers running in honor of their late granddad whose photo was emblazoned on the back and front of their shirts.  I also ran into a gentleman who I met while running the Malta Marathon, Andy from British island of Guernsey, who was wearing the same kit from that race!


So windy at this point!
Along Basin Road, we started to experience some of the windiest parts of the race, as we were practically right next to the water.  The skies were quite grey, and there was a chill in the air. Starting at mile 21, it began to rain, and it was downright miserable for the next two miles, as I shivered while we rounded the power station (and the lumber yard along the inland River Adur, it seemed, that marked our turnaround point) then headed back in the direction of Brighton. It didn't help that the rain was also saltwater rain from the English Channel, so it stung our eyes.

Hove's bathing chalets to the left
Eventually, we made our way back, and the rain began to subside by about the 23 mile mark, as we ran along the Hove esplanade and its hundreds of colorful huts that run right alongside the stone beach.  These wooden bathing chalets have had a history in Hove since 1800s, rented out to beachgoers during the summer season. These beach huts, a seemingly quintessentially British invention, provide splashes of color in winter and base camps for countless families throughout the summer.

So hungry.  Want roast.
Over the last couple miles, I was able to pick up the pace a little bit, improving my speed for the short segments I did run.  After nearly two miles of running along the esplanade, the course brought us back onto the Kingsway, just after passing the Angel of Peace statue, which commemorated the commemorate the reign of Edward VII. The final mile was run with so many cheering spectators, as I made my way past the Palace Pier and toward the finish line, completing the race in 5:27:47.  I nearly negative split the race, after running the first half in 2:43 and the second half just a hair under in 2:44.  I quickly wrapped myself in a heatsheet, and as the rain began to fall again, I made my way to bagcheck to grab my jacket.  I was able to get a great headstand photo of me on the stone beach, before making way back into town (eventually, across the busy street, where the race was still being run) back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower.

BLING!

Victory Headstand on Brighton Beach, with the Pier in the background
Originally, I was planning on going to a restaurant that hosted one of Brighton's famous Sunday roast dinners, which apparently are a huge thing in Brighton -- restaurants are VERY competitive with their offerings. Unfortunately, I was a little late with dinner, and three places near my Airbnb had shut down their kitchens already by the time I got there. I ended up celebrating that evening with a delicious Greek meal, and a pint of "Stay Puft" Marshmallow Porter from Tiny Rebel Brewing, a brewery based out of Newport, South Wales.  I also ended up learning that British currency had recently changed, and that the pound notes and even coinage I brought with me was obsolete now, so I had to use an ATM in order to get some appropriate money to pay for my drink.

The next morning, I slept in a bit before walking back through town, stopping by a Poundland (essentially the British equivalent to a Dollar store) to grab a bag of £1 jelly babies - I had to, they were delicious during the race; as well as some vanilla clotted cream and butterscotch flavored Devonshire fudge from Roly's Fudge Pantry in North Laine, before boarding my coach to take me back to Heathrow Airport for my flight home.  I got back to Heathrow relatively early, as I wanted to get some time to take advantage of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, one of the nicest airline lounges in the world - getting to have a meal as well as partake in another spa treatment at the spa inside the lounge.  It was a fun trip, and I'm glad I got to check off the UK in the process for my marathon journey!

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