Eilidh goes sub-4 at Brighton Marathon



I entered Brighton marathon in the spring of 2023 after, shocking to no-one, I was unsuccessful in the London marathon ballot. My first marathon the year prior was Edinburgh, which I had run with a group of friends, all of us in the dawn of our love affairs with running. Edinburgh had left me chasing the high of such a gorgeous, sunny, buzzy, vibrant race weekend ever since. Happy that Brighton would most likely tick one of those boxes at the very least, I set my sights on going sub-4 for the first time. My PB stood at 4:11 from the 2023 Manchester marathon, which I struggled round in immense pain after a pretty poor training block marred by what I now realise was quite severe Long Covid. I was determined to get my fitness to a level where I could actually enjoy a marathon again, with a little PB on the side. (Or, as it turns out, quite a substantial PB, as I was about to find out how humbling a task shaving 10+ minutes off a marathon time can be.)


I followed a free Runner’s World sub-4 marathon plan, which I modified from 16 weeks down to 12, because, like the rest of the world, I started training on January 1st (not ideal, but life dictated that marathon training in December simply was not happening this time). Feeling old school, I decided to write up my personalised training plan by hand, stuck it to my wall and ticked off each day before I went to bed. This did wonders for holding me accountable – no sneaky deleting or editing of sessions! Each week I did three runs, with one long run every Sunday, lifted weights in the gym twice with a focus on single-leg and running-related exercises, and did one hot yoga session. Occasionally I threw in an extra short run if we had a club cross country fixture or a relay. My mileage was admittedly light – I peaked at 50 km/week and my longest run was 3 hours (just over 30km). This was all part of my plan to stay free from injury and slowly build up my resilience to training. I also almost always hit my 10,000 daily steps goal, save for a few recovery days. Overall, I really enjoyed my training block and remained very consistent, missing only one run due to illness, which unfortunately was my planned tune-up half marathon at Carlisle. This slightly knocked my confidence to go for sub-4, as I had really wanted a sub-1:50 half under my belt and my existing PB trailed 6 minutes shy of this. However, I had been getting gradually but noticeably faster across every distance and running a few short fast relays with the club (at paces I had never before been in the realm of) really gave me a boost. By the time Brighton marathon weekend rolled around, I had never been more in love with running and was so excited to get out there.


Thanks to having the type of brain that writes a colour-coded marathon plan by hand, I had booked an Airbnb almost the day I got a place. The location was bang in the middle of Preston Park (the marathon start line) and Brighton seafront. I had managed to gather a small but perfectly-formed support crew comprised of my step-mum and two of my sisters, one of whom I had also persuaded to run the marathon! I would have been feeling absolutely fantastic, if it wasn’t for the nasty things the Met Office was saying behind my back. Predicted conditions were 10-14°C (nice) with sunny intervals (lovely) and 25 mph winds with 40 mph wind gusts (almost laughably horrific given at least half of the course is fully exposed to the sea). I vividly remembered some of my most miserable moments in training being battered by savage winds along the Tyne and the thought of tackling this for a marathon’s distance was sobering. My only plan of attack was to get my little sister to tie my hair down in French plaits so I wouldn’t repeatedly ponytail-whip myself in the face at 20+ mph. The event organisers had sent an email warning to prepare for inclement weather and adjust time goals and paces accordingly, which did not help my newfound wind anxiety. In my heart of hearts I knew I had the capacity to run sub-4 on a perfect day. I also knew this would not be a perfect day. I just had to hope a portion of that sheer grit I’d shocked myself with at Manchester the year before would make an appearance and carry me through.

On race morning, we got up at 7 and had a breakfast of porridge/cereal and electrolytes. I popped a caffeine pill and felt about ready to kick a door off its hinges. We made the easy 30-minute walk over to Preston Park and dropped off our kit bags seamlessly. The sun was shining, and I realised I was already ready to lose a layer, which was foreboding of things to come. There were plenty of loos and ample space in the open field for runners to mill about/ stretch/ warm up before getting funnelled into the start corrals. We saw the flags of the sub-4 pacers as they walked towards the start line and joined a mounting horde flocking towards them. Like obedient school children, we gathered round and listened to their briefing. They acknowledged the wind situation and explained their strategy was to go out faster in the first half, despite this being the hillier section, because of the anticipated challenge once we got down to the coast. This made me feel a little worried as I’d initially had grand plans to negative split this marathon, but I ended up taking this plan on board and, well, running with it.

We soon lost the sub-4 pacers anyway because we’d chosen to start in the 4:15 wave (so the two of us could start together, and because of my sensible attitude of “start slowly”… which I completely disregarded after 1km). This didn’t bother me much as, firstly, I like to be in control of my pacing, and secondly, they were pacing in miles which was going to scramble my head (running for 4 hours while doing my 9 times table? No thank you). Everything ran smoothly getting to the start line and the waves seemed to be set off exactly to schedule. We managed to go to the loo once more on the start line, which was a godsend for me because I then didn’t have to stop during the race.


Kilometre 1-10

Almost straight off the start line the course hit a fairly steep hill, which was expected based on my cursory study of the route’s elevation map, but quite an affront all the same. Combined with the general start-line bustle, my first km came in at 6:05, 25 seconds over my goal pace. Taking what the pacers said to heart, and noticing that the weather felt almost perfect – clear skies with a manageable breeze – I kicked to complete the rest of the first 10k at an average pace of ~5:35 min/km. The route looped around Preston Park and then weaved down through Brighton city, passing some iconic landmarks including the Royal Pavilion, with a few small but steep hills in the overall downward trajectory towards the seafront. The support was amazing and well dispersed throughout, although I was quite shocked at the amount of people attempting to cross the course, often with dogs or children in tow. Despite nearly tripping over some unruly pets, I was feeling very fresh and happy to have banked a little bit of time to spend in the business part of the race.

Kilometre 10-21

The course hit the coast and, of course, another steep hill. It was about this point I noticed it was really quite hot, and although the sun felt glorious, there was not a cloud in the sky and absolutely no shade for the next 20km. I was actually grateful for the wind, which was not anywhere near as bad as I’d been dreading (save for a couple of occasions where my feet nearly got side-swept out from underneath me by a powerful gust coming off the sea). However, the most notable part of this section was the view: it was absolutely stunning. The white cliffs gave way to the sparkling sea on our right, while a large expanse of green countryside lay to our right. I felt elated and kept looking around to drink in the atmosphere and appreciate what an amazing day this was. I deliberately slowed my pace a little, wary of overheating and being that person who goes out too fast. My watch told me I’d hit the halfway point at 1:57:30, which reassured me I had a couple of minutes spare in case of emergencies, and for the inevitable generosity of the course distance.

Kilometre 21-30

Turning back West along the coast with the sea to our left, fatigue began to creep in, and the stretch felt interminable. The midday sun was really beating down at this point and there was little relief from the wind which was starting to take its toll on my momentum. I kept seeing abandoned caps sacrificed to the wind strewn across the road and inwardly thanked myself for electing to leave my visor at home. As I noticed pink shoulders and rosy cheeks emerging on people around me, I prayed my SPF50 had not completely dripped off my face. I was taking water and electrolytes at every station, of which there were plenty of in my opinion – dispersed approximately every 3km. There were also refill taps at a few of the stations which is an excellent idea (at least for those who’d given themselves time enough to stop). My legs were starting to feel sore a little earlier than anticipated, probably a combination of the heavily cambered road, which meant it was almost impossible to run on level ground, and the continuous gentle but noticeable undulation. Spectators began to line the course again as we came back into the city and eventually I ran past my support crew to a massive cheer – after the addition of some gorgeous friends and family the group had tripled in size since I last saw them at 10km! As my watch buzzed 28km I registered that I had rapidly turned a corner in the race: we had transitioned from the Fun Phase to the Pain Phase. Mental gymnastics like “4 more K until only 10K to go” started happening unprompted in my mind, and I tried to ignore the fact I had approximately 1.5 hours more to endure this pain. I had to make a real effort to choke down some glucose and salt tablets and took another caffeine pill, hoping for a miracle.

Kilometre 31-42.2

The final quarter of a marathon is about as hard as water is wet, but knowing this did not stop this section violently humbling me. We turned off down a long residential stretch which took us through the neighbourhood of Portslade and back. I was reminded of the stretch through Altrincham in the Manchester marathon, perhaps comparable to me mainly being the two places in my life I’ve been closest to death. I lost the ability to make eye contact with any supporters and my focus remained fixed on the road. Any wide-eyed hopes of a negative split or a 3:55 were fully out of my mind now as I fought with all my might to keep my pace in check. There were a few merciful stretches of a couple of minutes of shade, and for the first time I spotted the 4-hour pace group coming back past me, not far ahead, which fuelled me to keep going. They appeared to be actually talking to one another, which made me feel a little ill and grateful I was flying solo – at least my pain would not be compounded by having to make small talk. It didn’t matter how hard I pushed my legs, it was so hard to keep my pace under 5:40 – every split I managed under was followed by one over. As I was about halfway back to the coast (which would signal the start of the final 5K stretch), I caught sight of my sister for the first and only time, only around half an hour behind me by my estimation! We yelled each other’s names and reached out for each other like comrades across the battlefield. This gave me the final boost I was looking for, as I knew she was going to smash her first marathon and I certainly wasn’t ready to put a downer on the day by screwing mine up.

We rounded back onto the seafront, where, somewhat maddeningly, the spectators had begun to encroach on the course, creating a very narrow funnel of runners who by this point were at least half walkers. It was plainly obvious most people were massively struggling; I was not alone in the pain cave. The strength needed to weave past people who had stopped to walk when my legs were screaming to give up was draining. Just before the final straight there was a lonely little segment right along the seafront with few spectators, beach huts on one side and beach on the other. The wind whipped up a wild sea spray which might have been pleasantly cooling, had I not felt minutes away from life support. I finally saw the finish line, which looked awfully far away given I could’ve sworn the pace I was hanging onto was a sprint already. I knew I was going to have to dig deep, so I managed to grab my phone out my pocket and jabbed at the first absolute banger I saw: Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely) – Pink. I did something I’ve literally never done while running and started singing along. I’m not a naturally gifted singer at the best of times, so can only assume the spectators thought I was shouting abuse at them. Somehow, it helped. I was so beyond being able to sprint to the end and pose for the finish line cameras (which I inexplicably managed on my previous marathons), but with about 20m to go I finally let myself believe that I’d done it and managed an unselfconscious little fist pump and “YESSSS” face.


Almost immediately I got a text through with my chip time – 3:58:52! Although it’s the result I had been working towards for months (not to mention had told everyone who’d listen I thought I could manage), the actual experience on the day was so challenging that the feeling of pride and relief was immense.

I staggered through to pick up my kit bag (so well organised it took about 15 seconds) and got my gloriously flamboyant medal, very Brighton. Apparently Paula Radcliffe was handing out medals, but Jesus himself could’ve anointed me with me medal at this point and I probably wouldn’t have noticed. The finish funnel through to the charity village had unfortunately become so overrun with spectators that runners were literally shuffling out single file at a snail’s pace, getting shoved around by the mass of the crowd, which felt a bit insulting after 42K. There swarm of people was so dense I could not see a thing, so I stumbled to the first charity tent I saw. I shared a moment of solidarity with another woman who had just finished her first sub-4 marathon, we congratulated each other in an over-emotional frenzy, she gave me a thumbs up which I tried to fist bump and then just ended up grabbing with both hands, explaining I wasn’t normally this weird. As I sat there are waited for my sister to finish and support crew to come and rescue me, I let it wash over me that I had accomplished each of my goals. My legs, while obviously sore, could actually move, and I felt confident I hadn’t majorly hurt anything. I had all my toenails and not a single blister (huge flex – sorry). I didn’t feel worryingly sick like I had after Manchester. I had zero phone signal so I couldn’t update my Strava (yet more pain, oh cruel world), but I knew that given the conditions I’d done a pretty damn good job of pacing my way to a sub-4. For about 20 minutes I was so exhausted I thought maybe I’d end on a high and leave my marathon career there… then I remembered I’d signed up to an Ultra in August.

My sister crossed the line at 4:45, which given her frankly abysmal training was truly impressive, and we shared a massive hug and a few tears at the end.

Our experience at Brighton did truly feel like everything a marathon should be. It’s hard to be objective, and of course there are so many variables, but I firmly believe Brighton was a tougher run than Edinburgh or Manchester. Strava estimates I ran an elevation of 274m, compared with 127m at Manchester and less than 100 at Edinburgh. Having never spent a single second of my life thinking about road camber until running Brighton, I hadn’t really taken heed to how much difficultly it (in combination with the hills and wind resistance) would add. The weather difference of training through the Northern winter to racing in the sunny Southern spring also cannot be underestimated! I still struggle to believe it was only 14°C that day.

However, the crowd support was fantastic, even if their sheer volume did create a few extra challenges. Having a personal team of genuinely thrilled supporters is not a given when you decide to run your third marathon hours from home on a train strike weekend, but my family pulled through hard. My little sister even asked how old you have to be to enter a marathon – I may have hooked another one!

We left Brighton full of joy, only a little sunburnt round the edges, with our Garmins bursting with new records. Would I recommend the Brighton marathon? Absolutely – but unless you’re a true sucker for punishment, probably not for your first time. Having recovered well, I’m now certain that there is a lot more left in the tank for my marathon journey, especially when I’m able to commit to a higher-volume training plan. Now that the pain has subsided, I can see myself coming back to run Brighton again in the future – with any luck a bit fitter, maybe even a bit faster.

Race Information

  • Race: Brighton Marathon
  • Date: 7th April, 2024
  • Distance: 42.2 km / 26.2 miles
  • Location: Brighton, UK
  • Time: 3:58:52


Goal Description Completed?
A Sub-4 Yes
B PB (sub-4:11) Yes
C Enjoy the race and finish uninjured Yes


Distance (km) Time Pace (min/km) Pace (min/mile)
5 27:49 5:35 8:58
10 55:39 5:35 8:58
15 01:23:4 5:38 9:03
20 01:52:49 5:50 9:21
Half 01:59:00 5:40 9:05
25 02:21:02 5:40 9:05
30 02:49:35 5:43 9:12
35 03:18:15 5:44 9:14
40 03:46:50 5:43 9:12
Finish 03:58:52 5:29 8:50