When I moved to the seaside four years ago, it soon became obvious that even as a life-long, obstinate non-runner, it was only a matter of time until I joined the Lycra-ed masses for the traditional weekend trot along the prom.
Brighton is a city of runners. The birthplace of legendary athlete, Steve Ovett OBE, who won gold and bronze medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, each day thousands of Ovett wannabes pound the streets, from the neon-clad octogenarians who give a wink and smile as they effortlessly bounce past to the serious, sweat-drenched triathletes desperate to beat their personal best.
And we’re not just a bunch of fair-weather runners either; even I’ve been known to embark on a gentle New Year’s Day jog to clear my hangover. February is the start of our official race season with the Vitality Brighton Half on Sunday the 28th. Now in its 26th year, it’s one of the most popular half marathons in the country and attracts some 13,000 runners and thousands of spectators to the coast each year. The start and finish line is next to the statue of homeboy Steve Ovett on Marine Parade and the 13.1-mile route takes in legendary Brighton sights including the Royal Pavilion, St Peter’s Church and both the Palace and West Piers.
“Brighton is a great place to run,” says Lee, a veteran runner who is taking part in this year’s half. “The seafront routes are very popular and at times can get really busy, but it’s lovely and flat and has gorgeous views of the sea,” she says. “I’m also a fan of hilly routes such as Dyke Road to Devil’s Dyke, which can be pretty hard going but you’re rewarded with some stunning views. Also being close to the South Downs National Park we have lots of good routes for off-road runners too.”
But training for a big race doesn’t always have to be a solitary affair. In the months running up to the big races many of the city’s sports shops offer group runs and training sessions, and there are organised Park Runs every weekend in Hove Park and Preston Park.
The biggie, the Brighton Marathon, is the UK’s second most popular marathon event and is traditionally held the week before London; this year it falls on the 17th April. In the past it has attracted running legends such as Paula Radcliffe and Sally Gunnell, as well as various local celebrities including Katie Price and Norman Cool aka Fat Boy Slim. “The route can be mentally challenging,” says Lee, who has run the marathon twice, “as the section between the Marina and Ovingdean double-backs onto itself, which can be tough going after 17 miles!”
But it’s not the only marathon we’re hosting this spring. Now in its second year and attracting barely a couple of hundred competitors, the Moyleman Marathon on the 13th March is a challenging off-road race over the scenic South Downs which surround the charming market town of Lewes (6 miles from Brighton) and ends with a free pint at the Harvey’s Brewery on Lewes High Street.
If all that sounds a little too energetic, why not join me as I dust off my neon-pink legwarmers and take part in this year’s Brighton Chicken Run, a 5k fun run in Hove Park on March 20th? Plucky competitors wear chicken costumes and are rewarded with an Easter egg and a Nandos goody bag as they pass the finish line. While it might lack the crowds of Brighton’s bigger races, it still has a egg-cellent (sigh) atmosphere and like all British sporting events, it’s not the winning that’s important, but the taking part.
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