Back to this race, after nine years away. When I entered, rashly, I imagined an early spring day on Brighton seafront, soft sunshine, a light breeze at most. What did I find? Cold fog at the start, a chilly wind, Doris’s last gift to us, and a tough race. There are running bloggers I know who can work miracles with their words and who isolate and describe the essence of every run, writing as if sired by Hemingway out of Hunter S. Thompson. I can only offer a chronological account, without any great themes.
I rose at 6, ate porridge and toast with some Greek honey, a present from my daughter. I left the house at 7:15, worrying about finding a parking place in Brighton. As I drove, I listened to the latest episode of In Our Time, in which Melvyn Bragg and guests discussed Seneca. This seemed appropriate preparation. The best way to approach a half marathon is with ἀπάθεια, apatheia, a state of mind in which one is indifferent to passion and suffering. Seneca wrote bloody tragedies, and ended his life by his own hand.
I seized the first parking place I could find. I had planned to then take coffee at Ground Coffee in Kemptown, but was thwarted, as it doesn’t open until 8.30 on a Sunday morning. No matter. I had read, marked and inwardly digested the advice of the International Marathon Medical Directors Association. who enjoin runners to drink no more than 200 mg of caffeine before a run of 10k or more .
I returned to my car to gaze at yesterday's Guardian prize crossword, leaving for the race at about 8.20. I went down Duke’s Mound to the baggage area. There were thousand of runners, warming up, seeking secluded places to answer calls of nature, taking selfies, worrying. This race was so unlike those I am used to. At cross-country events, I know the rest of the field by sight, if not by name. There are rarely more than a few hundred entrants. Brighton being Brighton, this was more like Glastonbury in lycra. We were blasted with music, at times too loud. I found my place, a little way behind the 2:15 pacemaker’s banner, and waited for the off.
When that moment came, we shuffled forward slowly. I don’t think we passed the start line until ten minutes after the advertised time of 9 o’clock. Progress was slow, with runners of all paces trying to find space to run their race. I stuck with the 2:15 banner, out away from the coast to St Peter’s church and then back.
The first miles always pass quickly. Before I knew if we were back on the seafront, running along the A259 on my homeward route from work. A drinks station, too soon for me to have a thirst, but I took a pouch. Out towards Roedean and Ovingdean. I saw faster runners I knew coming back as we headed east: Josh Rudd and Luke Borland looked strong.
Six miles in, the pacemaker was ahead of me. I counted the gap: about two minutes. I’d be happy with that. I haven’t done a half marathon in under 2:17 since 2012. By this point, I felt strong, but little niggles were making their presence felt. My knee tonged, my feet hurt, my ankles were not as they should be.
The run along this stretch, the central part of the seafront, was well supported, and this always lifts the spirits. But I knew how far west we had to go, to Hove Lagoon. After Hove Lawns the support is lighter, and I began to hate the tarmac. Why could we not run this on some sheep-nibbled down?
The turn at the lagoon lifts the spirits, though. From this point on I knew that I would finish, and that the finish would still be in a decent time. Back we went, along that part of the promenade familiar from the Brighton Marathon, the Hove Prom 10k and the Phoenix 10K. By this point everything was hurting at once; this is helpful, because it stops one obsessing about a particular body part. ‘Listen to your body’, some earnest runners pontificate. I’d rather my body kept itself to itself. Between miles 11 and 12 I had a very hard time. This was a pity as my supported, Mrs R, son Will, his partner Jemimah, and grandson Teddy were by the i360. They saw me, but I missed them. They said I looked unhappy, But at mile 12 I received, and upped the pace. By the time we passed the Palace Pier I was going well, and passing runners. I spotted the mighty Sweder in the crowd, who captured my efforts on camera. I managed a surge towards the line and finished in a very satisfactory 2:22:01. Nothing like the 1:43:14 of 2005, but I was younger then.
Thanks to everyone who’s supported the Stroke Association. If you haven’t yet, you still can at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Tom-Roper
Next, the Seaford half marathon in May.
I offer you some photographs, and am grateful to Ash (aka Sweder) and Mrs R for these.