Herald writer, Dave King, was one of the pacers for this weekend’s Eastbourne Half Marathon. Here’s his account of the race from a runner’s perspective.
NEVER mind the fact that Herne Hill Harriers’ Mark Dooley won this year’s Eastbourne Half Marathon by 39 seconds in a relatively modest winning time of 1 hour 18 minutes and 22 seconds, and let’s discount the fact that Emily Proto from the Brighton-based club Arena 80 won the women’s race in 1:28.06 for 36th overall. Well done to them both, but let’s move on.
No, the real story of the race can be found further back in the field of 1,582 runners - the unheralded hundreds who turned up, paid their money and went home with a nice medal, a chocolate bar and an immense feeling of satisfaction at having completed the 13.1-mile event.
For many, they were raising money for their own causes. One chap ran past us by the Western Lawns with a t-shirt proudly bearing the photograph of a relative who had died and whose cancer charity he was supporting.
There were the familiar multi-coloured charity vests of Diabetes UK, Cancer Research, Leukaemia Busters and CLIC Sargent among others forming a caterpillar queue of runners streaming along the promenade.
For the first time this year, organisers introduced pacers into the race - experienced runners tasked with completing the course in one hour 30 minutes, one hour 45 minutes, two hours 15 minutes and my target group - two hours.
We were dressed in belisha beacon orange running vests with pace and our target time emblazoned on the back, and trailing an orange balloon tied to waists, although these were soon dispensed with as we passed the pier after a mile.
It was bitterly cold, with a strong easterly wind hitting our faces as we headed along the prom towards Sovereign Harbour.
Earlier runners had struggled up the gruelling hill towards Beachy Head Road where you could have heard a pin drop. No-one was talking as runners gasped for air up the stiffest of climbs.
A few walked, as I tried to bellow encouragement to those who were struggling, cajoling those who were walking to ease into a trot.
But what goes up, soon comes down, and the descent to Holywell past St Bede’s School was joyful as the run headed towards the prom.
The crowds were enthusiastic - many kids were handing out sweets and high-fiving, the marshals along the route superb and the bands really added a sense of occasion and atmosphere.
But it was the cameraderie among the runners which made the race - everyone pulling together, strangers encouraging each other.
Jon, my fellow pacer, and I had gathered quite a crowd of runners in our wake keen to dip below the benchmark two hours.
One group of three runners from North London were anxiously keeping on to our tails for a good finish to make a swift getaway to White Hart Lane for this afternoon’s Premiership clash between Spurs and Arsenal.
There was a group of ladies from Shepherd’s Bush who were sticking close to the pacemakers each on a day out to the coast and each looking for personal bests.
As we weaved our way through Sovereign Harbour and over the blue bridges, so the miles ticked by - 10 miles, 11 miles and then 12 miles past the sewage treatment works and then the Sovereign Centre.
There was Sally and her husband Trevor from Burgess Hill Runners working together and desperately wanting to dip under two hours. “How are we doing?” they asked. “Stick with me and you’ll make two hours,” I replied. They pressed on under the underpass and towards the entrance of Princes Park where the finish line beckoned.
Another lady Katie behind me was struggling with pain etched on her face. I left Sally and Trevor as they collected their new pbs, and ran in with Katie. We crossed the finish line in under two hours - my chip time was 28 seconds shy of two hours and Katie ‘s joy on her face was immense. “I am so happy, that’s a personal best by six minutes, thank you ever so much. I knew I could do it once I’d got passed eight miles. I’m elated.”
There are, of course, countless other individual stories. There were the two blind runners further back courageously tackling the course with the help of guides, and those who were on their feet for over three hours, but who still had the gumption to finish. And it is truly the finishing that matters.
This was a day of success - 1,582 individual successes and it was an absolute pleasure to be there.