By Steven Tagg
Hollywood loves a comeback and so too, it seems, do the fair people of Bramber village. As I shuffled back to Upper Beeding on my second training run for this marathon (a measly 3 miler at a woeful 11.09 minute-per-mile pace) a group of teenagers walking home from school serenaded me with the ‘Rocky’ theme tune! “The cheek of it!” I thought, but then realised that I was wearing an old jogging suit and a black beanie hat and probably did resemble a washed-up boxer trying to get back into shape. I returned their jeers with a couple of ‘strong man’ fist pumps and some shadow punches and sped up, leaving their giggles behind. It was on! Training for the 2016 Brighton Marathon had officially begun!
Of course two weeks later it was Christmas and the whole thing fell apart; I stopped running, put on about a stone in mince pies and wine and wondered if I should contact the Sussex Wildlife Trust and admit I’d made a huge mistake in signing up to their team. How on earth did I expect to run 26.2 miles on 17th April?
I ran the inaugural Brighton Marathon five years ago but I was only 30 then and had the naivety of one who had never run any kind of distance race before. Fast-forward to present day and I have haunting memories of how painful it was back in 2010. It took over a year to recover from the tendonitis I suffered in both Achilles, many more months of yoga and swimming before I could properly run again and I’ve never forgotten how low I felt when I hit the ‘wall’ stupidly early in the race. I was only 12 miles in – it’s supposed to happen at around 20!I since learned that I had made all the classic mistakes typically associated with a first marathon; I trained too far ahead of time, got bored and all but gave up by March. My footwear was wrong, and my diet plan for race-day was, well, non-existent. Despite all these errors, there is one positive thing I take away from my previous marathon experience and that is that I completed it. I may have struggled to walk for a week afterwards but I got across the finish line and even achieved my goal of never once stopping to walk or rest – I ran 26.2 miles non-stop and just shy of 4 hours 10 minutes. That’s not bad for a first-timer.
It wasn’t pretty, but I proved it was achievable. This gives me hope and is why I’ve decided to run it again. This time I’ll be better prepared and this time there is more at stake – I’m running for the Sussex Wildlife Trust charity. I’ve joined Steyning Athletic Club and run with them once a week. Everyone there is really supportive and I’ve been given a proper training schedule, plus advice on what to eat during training and on the day itself. I’ve teamed up with a friend for my weekly ‘long’ runs. This is working out well as we motivate one another to keep going when it gets tough or when the weather could easily persuade me to just stay in on a Sunday and watch telly.
Motivation is a funny thing and I’m always amazed at what gets me out of the door when it’s bitterly cold or lashing down with rain. Those teenagers singing at me in December spurred me to speed up and improve my time that day. The incredible Sussex countryside is also a brilliant motivator.I’m lucky to live close to the River Adur and the Downs, both of which provide breathtaking views every time I head out to run. The Adur is especially rewarding as there is always so much wildlife on and around it; swooping gulls, gliding swans and crows traversing the water en route to farmers fields, flap-flapping their wings as they go. I love how they flick the tips of their wings upwards with a flourish when they come into land. It’s a pleasure to be among it all and keeps my mood upbeat when the legs are feeling achy and fingers and toes are chilly.Perhaps the nicest advantage to having this natural playground on my doorstep is the myriad options available when choosing a running route. Often I simply leave the house, start running and let the route reveal itself. As soon as I’m on the river pathways the choices soon present themselves and I just head off wherever it looks most appealing. With bridleways and footpaths signposted it’s never difficult to find my way around and the miles quickly clock up without me even noticing them! At the time of writing I’m running in excess of 12 miles for my Sunday outings and managing three to four mid-week runs of between three and five miles each. My pace has improved significantly since December and I’m sticking to a healthy, balanced diet. If I keep it up then the nightmare that was my 2010 Brighton Marathon shall not be repeated and come April I’ll go the distance in much better shape. I wonder if the Sussex Wildlife Trust can arrange for the ‘Rocky’ theme to be played as I cross the finish line…?