28 years of Brighton Half Marathon fever    

Oisin McKeown

Oisin McKeown

Meet the man behind the scenes who helps to make it all happen.

On February 25, 2018, The Grand Hotel Brighton Half Marathon will take over Brighton and Hove for the 28th time. The race is among the first major half marathons in the running calendar and a hugely popular event in the UK with over 13,000 runners taking part.

It is the biggest annual fundraiser for organising charity The Sussex Beacon to support its essential health and care services for people living with HIV, alongside many other worthy charities and causes. One of the event’s longest-serving organisers, Oisin McKeown, gives his unique insight into what happens in the run up to the big race.

Racing from the Sussex Beacon to Madeira Drive
Originally from Blackrock, Republic of Ireland, Osh settled as a Brightonian in 2005 and has since become one of the Sussex Beacon’s most knowledgeable and experienced crew members. Working in his current role as Operations Manager is a hugely diverse role in itself, making sure that the staff and facilities are looked after so that the charity’s services continue to run smoothly. There is a definite shift in Osh’s workload every autumn when he starts to prepare for the Brighton Half Marathon as part of the events core organising team. 2018 will be Osh’s fifth year as Site Manager since getting involved as a volunteer in 2011.

Due to his long-standing history with the race, Osh has become a walking encyclopaedia of each and every detail of Madeira Drive. “I could tell you in my sleep the exact length and width of Madeira Drive, how many lamp posts there are, and how far apart they are”, he laughs, running through a long list of objects that one might never notice on a Brighton seafront stroll. With the race growing in popularity every year, it now takes the team a full 10 days to build and take down the race village, after several months of careful planning.

The calm before the 08:59am storm
For Osh, Half Marathon day starts with a rather early wake up call. “I arrive on site at approximately 3am, have a quick brief with security, and most importantly, put the kettle on”, he laughs. The main contractors arrive on site from 3.30am, and there is a lot of activity at Madeira Drive.

The weather at this time of year is always a consideration, and finishing touches to marquees need to be completed, banners and barriers set up, the power has to come on, “and before you know it, the sun is up”, Osh adds. By 6am, runners’ essentials such as drinks blankets, snacks and goodie bags are ready to go, and by 07:00am, staff and volunteers arrive, and the roads start to close down. Then comes the exciting part, with buses arriving and thousands of runners filling the streets of Brighton. In what feels like no time at all, the clock strikes 08:00am, and the big countdown begins.

In the final minutes before the runners take to the streets, there is a short moment when time slows down for Osh. “I experience it every year, about 15 minutes before the race, when the runners are warming up, the music plays, I listen to the radio for final updates, and then there is nothing more you can do except to enjoy this great buzz and excitement”. If you want to catch Osh at this time, you’ll probably find him at the start line. Waiting for the starter horn to go off, and seeing streams of people run together, “it makes the hair stand up at the back of your neck, it is such a massive adrenaline rush”, he says.

As soon as the first runners have set off, the events team prepares for their return. Drinks and medals need to be ready, first aid is on standby, the radio is constantly busy, and everyone works hard to make sure that the race stays enjoyable, safe and clean. Seeing the runners come back, and their emotions at the finish line, is what makes it all worthwhile for Osh. He says, “It is inspiring to see people from all walks of life taking part in this challenge, and watching runners share the last 100 metres with their children really makes you feel that you’ve done something special”. And as quickly as the race has started, it is over, and the team begin the three day clean up operation.

With the excitement of the race still fresh in everyone’s mind, it is back to business as normal at The Sussex Beacon, where staff are looking forward to a busy year of providing vital support services for people living with HIV, and engaging with Brighton and Hove’s vibrant community.

New year, new beginnings?
Is there anything different that spectators can expect from this year’s race? “Having the Grand Hotel, one of Brighton’s most iconic local businesses and historic buildings, as new sponsor this year is fantastic”, says Osh. The course layout has changed too this year, which will give onlookers at Marine Parade a great view of the start, and the chance to see the runners go past three times. With less than 4 weeks to go, the anticipation and excitement ahead of the Half Marathon is growing, as Brighton prepares for what is sure to be another memorable sporting event.

The Grand Hotel Brighton Half Marathon takes place on February 25, 2018, starting from Madeira Drive. The Wheelchair race starts at 08.57am, The Grand Brighton Half Marathon starts at 9am and the Brighton Half Youth Race starts at 9.15am.

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