This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Brighton Half marathon, and by jove was it a memorable one. Not least because of the 45mph winds buffeting runners along the course.
It’s not often I travel out to a non-London based race that I’ve already done, but I enjoyed the Brighton Half in 2019 so much that I really wanted to give it another go. Last year was a very different race than this year though. It was sunny and calm, and as a result, the streets were lined with cheering crowds.
Read more: The best half marathons in the UK
This year was almost the opposite of that, with ridiculous winds battering the coastline, often at points in the race where you least wanted it to, and a spatter of cold rain coming down later in the race. The roads were quieter, especially towards the outskirts and the whole thing felt like a very different experience.
Changeable weather is the nature of the running beast though, and some of my favourite ever events have been in the worst conditions. It may not be the time to get a PB, but there’s a nice pride in knowing that you took on a race in tough conditions.
Anyway, the awesome Sussex Beacon invited me down again to join the team and give it another go. Here’s what you need to know about the race:
The Brighton Half Marathon: The Start
The start line of the Brighton Half takes place a little further down the beach from Brighton Pier. It’s a 20-minute walk from the station and there’s a Wetherspoons on the way, which is well worth nipping in if you need the toilet.
The start village is essentially a row of marquees that lines the long Madeira Drive that follows the beach for quite some way. The start line is a bit of a walk down there and it gets really busy as people move back and forth along the thin walkway. In 2020 there were around 8,000 people, along with their families and friends – so expect a fair bit of crowding.
The race starts at 9.30, but you need to get there at least half an hour earlier to make sure you have time to take your bag to the storage area right at the bottom of Madeira Drive and then get back to your starting pen. This year I didn’t take my own advice and I ended up jumping in at the 2.15 runner pen, which isn’t ideal if you’re aiming for a good time
Although the race starts at 9.30, expect a wait if you’re in the later waves as they send each out with a gap in-between. Depending on the weather, it’s well worth taking something warm to stick on while you wait.
The Brighton Half Marathon: The Course
I’ve run both the marathon and the half marathon in Brighton and I much prefer the half marathon route. Trying to fit 26.2 miles in a smaller city is always tricky and route planners are generally forced to add in less interesting areas to make up the distance. Brighton is the perfect size for a half marathon and the whole course takes place in lively or scenic areas.
The first 10k of the race is by far the hardest with the initial couple of kilometers taking place on a steady incline. It’s also quite a thin stretch of road for a while, which can make it really tricky if you’re behind slower runners in a different wave. It took me almost 5k to get to a point where I felt like I was in the right place.
Once you’ve run the first 5k out along the coastline – probably the most scenic part of the race – you spin around and head back to the pier. This section is a really nice flat/decline that’s probably my favourite section of the race. By this point, you’ve broken the back of the race and the halfway point isn’t far off. You’re also coming back into the central crowds and the excitement starts to build up nicely.
Once you’re back into the town centre, you do a big loop through the central area. It’s the only part of the race that doesn’t take place following the coastline and makes for a nice out and back through the more built-up part of the course. During the 2020 race, it was also a really nice chance to avoid the pounding wind coming in from the English Channel.
Before hitting the home straight, you have one long section which takes you out east for a good few kilometres. I’d say this is the toughest section of the race by far because it seems to go on forever. You can see the faster runners coming back down the other way on the coastal path but you can’t quite see where the turning is in the distance. It is flat though – unfortunately, it was also the way the wind was blowing during this year’s event and a major effort to maintain your pace.
Now comes the nice bit – the home stretch. This last 3 kilometers largely follows the coastal path along the beach and it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the route, apart from the fact that you’ve already done a lot of miles so by this point you’re probably struggling. The pier also seems ridiculously far away in the distance and doesn’t appear to get closer for quite some time.
Finally, the finish. The area outside the pier is the part of the race with the most crowds, largely because if spectators stay here the runners pass them three times during the race. As you come up to it the excitement of the crowds and the realisation that it’s nearly over give you a push over the last kilometre.
Unfortunately, due to the heavy winds, there was no big inflatable finish line this year so you couldn’t actually see where the finish was, which made it seem like a significantly longer way than it did the last time I ran it.
Here’s the course overview from Strava.
The Brighton Half Marathon: Summary
I’m a massive fan of the Brighton Half marathon it’s a brilliant race on a number of levels. For those looking for a nice fun challenge in a beautiful setting, it’s pretty much spot on.
There’s a vast range of abilities, from those walking the course to some high-level athletes getting some really impressive times. I’ve also always had a soft spot for coastal races, especially doing most of my events in central London. There’s a feel of community and enjoyment that you tend to get at the seaside races. They seem to have a more relaxed feel about them
The other reason it’s nice to finish a race at the seaside is that you can really enjoy yourself afterwards. Fish and chips is a personal favourite post race treat when I hit the coast.
The race is far from the easiest I’ve taken part in, and there’s a lot of strategy in running that course well. Basically you need to play to your strengths, especially on the first 8km or so when there’s a chunk of ascent to deal with.
If you’re traveling from London, you can pick up train tickets fairly cheap (mine were £13 return) and the trains go really early so you have plenty of time to get to the start line.
A massive thanks to Sussex Beacon for letting me on the team for this year’s event. Always a pleasure, especially for the bacon sandwich at the end. To find out more about the work that the Sussex Beacon providing a range of services for men, women and families living with or affected by HIV across Sussex, click here.
And to find out about next year’s half marathon head to the website here and make sure you follow on social media for updates.