Growing up I spent 10 years living by the sea in a Scottish town called North Berwick. It's a great place, the Biarritz of the north, famous for golf and good for chips. I could see the beach from my bedroom window, and if I ran away (which happened fairly often at one point) it's where I went. I like to see an endless horizon. I remember moving to Oxfordshire and feeling a little freaked out that the sky didn't go on forever. It was also weird there weren't any seagulls.
It's no wonder that I reckon running by water is the ultimate luxury. In London I run by rivers and canals, in Chicago I ran along the edge of Lake Michigan, and the Swansea Bay 10k was pretty special. It's no wonder I jumped when I was offered the chance to take part in the 25th Vitality Brighton Half Marathon.
I figured it would make a great race as training...13.1 miles along the coast and a medal for my efforts. Perfect. Plus I'd get to spend even more time with Elle, pacing her to PB glory (side note, I LOVE to pace people! Giving over your run to help someone else achieve their goals is one of the most special things you can do, and it's always a privilege to be asked).
In the week leading up to Brighton there were some pretty scary sounding weather reports. In fact the evening before it was snowing. Which was interesting. Thankfully when I woke up on Sunday morning the weather was glorious. Heading out for my first three mile (the half marathon was a little short...marathon training...) the fields around where I was staying were covered in a coat of glitter, the sky was clear and the day held promise.
Meeting up with Elle and Georgina there was just enough time to grab a cuppa, nip to the loo and dump my bag (we had media access so I can't report back on general efficiency/queues, although there were a lot of boys peeing at the side of the road at the start of the race, suggesting not a lot of loos). Before we knew it we were sneaking in to an early wave an on our way.
I had in my mind a pace we'd need to stick to if we wanted to get Elle a PB, which I'd plugged in to the virtual pacer on my Garmin Forerunner 10. From the off we were smashing it. By more than 90 seconds at various points. It was amazing. Elle was dictating the pace and pushing herself harder than she knew she could. I kept the specifics from her, not sharing the time and only telling her occasionally that she had time to play with or that she was killing the pace. It was awesome to watch.
Now I was under the impression (and don't ask me why) that Brighton was flat. Actually there are quite a few hills. Thankfully they were all in the early stages of the race, and what goes up must come down, but it was a surprise. No idea why, clearly I'm just not very good at acknowledging elevation on race maps.
I can't tell you a lot about what happened at each mile because the miles flew by. I was with my mates, chatting away, trying to work out why so many people have IronMan tattoos, talking about our families, getting excited about dogs, snacking on Jelly Babies. Plus there were friends to say hello to along the way. This is how we have fun, and when we're having fun we just let our legs get on with it. Letting our training pay off. That's what makes a good race.
I have to admit miles 8 and 9 were tough. Running along a seemingly endless stretch of road gets a bit dull, and the camber of the road was tough on our legs. Playing spot the water station was my salvation, and by the time we got to mile 10 I was back to having a lovely time. Plus I got to have a dance to a steel band.
The last 3 miles of any half marathon are hard. It's when your body really starts to take issue with what you're doing to it and gets sulky (I imagine this is what the final 6 miles of the marathon are going to be like). It's also where you start to get a good sense of what your finish time is going to look like. I remember exchanging looks with Georgina when we both realised that Elle wasn't simply going to PB she was going to wipe the floor. Of course we didn't tell her. But it was pretty exciting to know what was coming.
I spent a lot of the final half mile convincing Elle that I was pretty sure she wasn't going to die and she only had to make it as far as the ferris wheel. This is where pacing becomes about more than speed. You've got to forget how you feel and support the person whose race it is. With 15 miles under my belt I was knackered, but I wasn't important, it was all about getting Elle to the finish line.
Boy did we get her to the finish line - 20 minutes off her PB (and 30 seconds off mine, which I credit to Georgina who has speedy legs!) and a time of 02:01:32. Watching Elle's face when we told her was something special. Moments like that are why I run, they're why I pace and why I write about running, I love the moment when a woman realises that she can do so much more than she ever dreamt possible, and it's such a privilege to be even a tiny part of that journey.
Half marathons are gradually becoming a favourite distance. There's a real sense of achievement, but it's also really manageable and training doesn't have to take over your life. Vitality Brighton Half Marathon does seem to be particularly lovely. The atmosphere was amazing from the multicoloured ticker tape that marked the start of the race to all the people who'd turned out to stand in the freezing cold and cheer. The coastal route is a straight up loop, which is perfect if you're the type of person who likes to know what's coming (I like a few more loops and surprises, but I also like being by the sea, which this race was excellent for). Oh and the medal is so pretty, it's my favourite to date! Plus it supports a great cause, Sussex Beacon. One for the bucket list if you've not experienced it yourself yet.
Follow Vitality Brighton Half Marathon on twitter to find out when entries open for 2016!