Roo Pitt meets the UEA runners at the Brighton Britain’s fastest growing marathon.

The smell of the sea air fills my lungs as I feel the sun on my skin and a soft breeze as the sound of thousands of trainers striking the ground is drowned out only by the noise of the crowd. I set off from a chilly Preston Park, the feeling of determination is all that carries me through the next five or so hours as I make your way round the winding streets of Brighton and Hove before the elation of crossing the finish line hits me harder than the pain all over my body. 

That is my memory of the Brighton Marathon from four years ago. 

Now in its tenth instalment, Brighton Marathon, is the second largest in Britain and eighth largest in Europe. 2019’s event will see almost 20,000 participants across three events. The Brighton Marathon and 10kmass participation road races alongside a newforthisyear event, the BM Ride, where participants will be able to cycle in the city’s first ever closed road cycling event totalling a staggering 50km. 

The first ever Brighton Marathon was officially started by Olympic gold medallist (and former Brighton resident) Steve Ovett, that year a total of 7,427 crossed the finish line. The event has significantly grown since and saw over 10,000 cross the finish line at this very special tenth anniversary race. 

Reflecting on the last ten years, The Grounded Events Company (who organise the weekend) highlighted how the event has grown to become so popular, with over 3,000 people taking part in the BM10k and over 2,500 children in the Mini Mile races. Across the weekend approximately £6m was raised for charity. 

I went to catch up with some of our community taking part in this year’s event, Sophie Thomas and Alice Eddy who both completed the marathon on Sunday. Along with Hazel Farman, Max Cullen and Sam Farmer who volunteered as part of the medical team with St John Ambulance 

Sophie Thomas, Student Performance Sport Manager for UEA Sport, completed Brighton Marathon in 04:58:06. 

When discussing her motivation for taking part, Sophie said: “So… I was taking part in the Brighton marathon because when I was 21, I set myself a target of completing a marathon by the time I was 30… a few years went by and there was no chance of doing one because of my intense training schedule. I had to retire from Javelin throwing when I was 28 due to a recurring shoulder injury that required an operation I wasn’t prepared to have and it was then I realised I didn’t have a lot of time left to complete one.  

Adding: “I tried entering London without success and realised I could enter Brighton in a paid capacity, knowing I’d struggle to fundraise a good amount for my charity of choice – the MS society. I have vowed that if I do any further marathons, I will definitely be raising some money along the way, but I wanted to know I was capable before putting other people’s money on the line. 

 Talking about the high and low points of the marathon, Sophie added: ”I knew I was going in to the marathon with pretty poor preparation – a quick trip to Croatia to see all of the sports teams on tour mid-week didn’t exactly help but I felt pretty good at the start so thought things would be ok. I made it to the 10mile mark feeling really good but stopped to take on some water and it went downhill rapidly from there!  

Running back into Brighton, the halfway mark felt like it was a full marathon, not just half and the flat profile landscape was really monotonous. The few miles around Hove was the hardest part – a real mind over matter experience – it was the response from my dad after a quick text to say I was going to be late to the meeting point we’d arranged, that kept me going, ‘you can’t be late, there is no time set. There are thousands behind you.’ Eventually I made it to the 23 mile marker and someone from the crowd shouted ‘you’re all superhero’s’ and from that point it all felt possible.  

Passing my parents on the way to the finish line, along with all the other well-wishers and other supporters was just amazing and the atmosphere is something I’ve never experienced before which, when you’ve competed in the London Olympic Stadium, is saying something. 

Discussing what’s next: “Immediately after I didn’t know whether I’d ever do a marathon again but as time goes on it seems like a no-brainer. The hardest thing for me to overcome was that I didn’t need to be the best, I just needed to try. When you’ve spent most of your sporting life trying to be the best, that competitive instinct comes naturally, the ability to complete a marathon is a very different thing. Being able to put myself in the shoes of the students I get to work with on a daily basis is so important in order to understand what they’re going through. 

Finally adding: “My body and mentality have benefited from a complete overhaul and I look forward to many physical challenges ahead. 

Alice Eddy, 3rd year pharmacy student at UEA, completed the marathon in 05:31:28. 

Prior to Brighton Marathon we discussed what drove Alice to undertake a marathon and travel to Brighton for the challenge: “Basically, I ran short distances like 5k through high school I stopped through sixth form and only really started again in the second year of university (Sept 2016)! I would go out just to clear my head. One day I said I would run until I had to stop. I ran 20km. This was September 2017 since then I’ve wanted a challenge and felt I already had run half a marathon why not do a full? So, I entered the ballot for London marathon. 

Afterwards I thought about how many people had entered the ballot and thought if I really wanted to do this then I should really enter Brighton as I will definitely get in. This was May last year. Fast forward to October and I got a place in the London ballot so I had to decide which one I would defer till next year and decided I would defer London as I would hopefully get a better time. 

The reason Brighton was second choice was because I liked the idea of finishing by the sea and also it was another popular marathon so would have great support around the course. 

Alice’s motivation for running two marathons is to raise money for two charities over the course of her running journey: “I’m running for CLAPA and British Heart Foundation. This is due to my uncle passing away from an aortic thoracic aneurysm and following this it was identified my dad also had an aneurysm from the root of his aorta for which he underwent open heart surgery. 

CLAPA as my dad was born with a cleft lip and with social media constantly promoting perfect faces and body image, I wanted to support something that helps those with the most common facial deformity in the UK. With a mum that works within the CLEFT team at Addenbrookes I knew they had a real impact on people’s lives. 

Speaking during her recovery, Alice said: The highlight has to be all the kids that were out, hearing them cheering your name and giving you high fives, I even got shouted you’re my hero which although I know they say it to everyone still spurs you on to keep running. 

The low light probably was actually crossing the half way point and thinking I’ve got to do it all again! 

Relaxing for a bit before taking on the Colchester zoo half marathon in October and then London next year. Only onwards and upwards from here! 

Joining over 500 medical personnel were some volunteers from UEA’s LINKS society, which trains students in first aid and enables them to join St John Ambulance (SJA) a national first aid charity. Six students from UEA joined a 260 strong force of volunteers from SJA who worked alongside in excess of 250 NHS staff giving up their time to look after the runner and spectators of the BM weekend.  

Speaking at the Brighton Marathon Medical conference the day before the event, Martin Houghton-Brown, SJA’s CEO, said that this partnership that sees the volunteers work alongside specialist healthcare professionals is what makes Brighton Marathon “Not an average volunteering duty, but a fantastic volunteering duty.” 

Hazel Farman is a final year medical student at UEA, she volunteers with St John Ambulance because: “I love helping events go ahead safely and smoothly, whether they are large events like the Brighton Marathon or smaller events like gigs and club nights at the LCR. I get a lot of experience from volunteering as I can become a better clinician and learn how to work in a prehospital environment. 

“I’m happy to give up my weekends as all of the volunteers are great to work with and it’s great to see all the events that go on, both on our campus and beyond. I have volunteered at the Brighton Marathon since my partner ran it in 2015, I loved the atmosphere and have been back ever since.” 

Hazel has volunteered for St John Ambulance for 13 years: I joined because my best friend and I wanted to do something together even though we went to different schools and I’ve stayed because I have such a good time. 

Two ‘freshers’ joined the band of students that traveled the 140 miles from Norwich to volunteer providing medical cover for the event. Max Cullen, studying Biomedical Science, and Sam Farmer, studying Medicine, agreed to talk about why they do what they do. 

Why do you give up your spare time to volunteer for St John Ambulance? 

Max: “I find medicine and first aid interesting, I [also] wanted to gain some experience to get into medicine following my current degree” 

Sam: “Likes going out on duty, helping people and gaining hands on experience that compliments my degree” 

What makes volunteering fun? 

Max: “variety of patients” 

Sam: “It’s unlike anything else, you get to see behind the scenes, part of the event and helping people out” 

What do you get from volunteering? 

Max: “I find first aid and treating patients rewarding and have fun when on duty” 

Sam: “Working with experts especially in pre-hospital medicine, meet specialists from different fields and get experience.” 

Why did you travel down to Brighton for the weekend? 

Max: “There was a special conference about how to treat the types of conditions at marathons and this is my first large event wanted to see how it works and how teams from all over come together.” 

Sam: “Brighton is a large event with a cool team and a great conference, pioneering research such as the use of ECMO in the pre-hospital setting and causes of exercise associated collapse” 

Taking place across the weekend of 12-14 April 2019 the Brighton Marathon weekend consisted of a 10km road race, a mini mile challenge for children and teens (in aid of cancer research), the inaugral cycling event and the headliner of the weekend the marathon. Alongside the sporting challenges is an event village erected on the beach designed to bring the community into the event for all to enjoy whether a participant, spectator or part of the wider community. 

Whilst for many running it may be their first and only marathon, for those determined and loyal participants at this year’s event the organisers awarded a special 10/10 medal and t-shirt to anyone who has completed all ten marathons to recognise the prestige of their achievement and ongoing support for the event. 

Event Director Tom Naylor says, “Every year we are truly grateful to all those who return to show their support or take part again. We would like to say a special thank you to those that have been with us since the very beginning; it is an honour to welcome you back. Above all, we are humbled by the sheer volume of people that have been able to positively change their lives or the lives of others, through taking part. Whether fundraising for charities, volunteering or improving their own health & fitness, many thousands of people have found strength, inspiration and motivation at the Brighton Marathon Weekend. We look forward to building on the last ten years to continue to make the Brighton Marathon Weekend a bigger and better event.” 

For more information on how to join UEA LINKS, the first aid society at UEA, check out their page on the SU website https://www.uea.su/opportunities/society/8037/ 

The rest of the photos from Brighton Marathon taken by Concrete can be found here https://flic.kr/s/aHsmCxK7rH  

If these stories have inspired you to take part in the Brighton Marathon in 2020 entry is available through the following link http://www.brightonmarathonweekend.co.uk/ 


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Roo Pitt

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August 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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