Last Sunday was my final race of the year. It is becoming a bit of a tradition to take part in the Believe and Achieve Portsmouth Marathon / Ultra Marathon. The option of events alternate each year. This year we had the option to do the half, full or the 50k ultra marathon. I decided to go large. This year many running friends of mine were attempting their first ‘more than a marathon’ run. A difficult yet exciting goal to set just before Christmas. The sport is definitely growing. People are running further. It goes to show how as runners we keep on improving and hitting goals and targets that perhaps were once thought to be way out of reach. Kudos!
This was the second time that I have done the Portsmouth 50k. Training has been fine but I’ve been fighting a couple of injuries which haven’t gotten worse, but are there during each race. Back in 2015 I ran the very first Portsmouth 50k, and if my memory serves me well, we had an awful time of it with the weather. It was a cold, but stunning morning this year. I decided to walk to the start. My bag was packed full of items that I didn’t really need, and additionally a few items that I did need for sure. It meant I was at least prepared with some dry kit and stuff for after the race. The most important non essential item this year was my bottle of Coke. Coke has a bad rap for being unhealthy but I’ve said it before many times – my gosh does it sort you out after a run. I was looking forward to it all day.
I had to stop and grab a few early morning photos of the sunrise while sipping on my favourite morning hot drink – instant coffee. None of this posho filtered rubbish you get these days. Good old Kenco powder. Once at HQ I found a bit of carpet that was free (surprisingly!), sat down and pinned on my number. I was sat very near the Runr guys, Matt and Craig and took the opportunity to gram my Runr beanie so I could show it off a bit. I bumped into a few other friends and had a few quick chats while the pre race nerves settled. For the run I decided to use the following kit –
UD Anton K Race Vest (my only race vest so no choice really)
2 x 500ml soft bottles with Tailwind (these would last 3 hours)
1 x 500ml bottle of tailwind (to drink initially from the start for that extra hour worth)
Hoka Clifton 3’s (my feet will refuse anything less)
Thick gloves (my hands get so cold in winter)
Neck buff (keeps you warm in the first half, and cleans up anything and everything in the second half!)
Runr beanie (everything else was covered up so may as well)
The start line was buzzing as always. I bumped into all my fellow buddies who were jumping up and down trying to keep warm and looking forward to getting going. Before long Rob was doing his quick briefing and countdown from ten …. and we were off! For those that do not know the route, it starts at the Pyramids (or sometimes the Pier) and heads out of the city up the Eastern road shore, along the M27 (not in the traffic, fear not!), and down to Hayling Island. All the races follow the same route, all with their different turning points. The ultra makes it way down to Hayling Island seafront and along to the ferry port.
I went out way to quickly after the start, running at 6:30 per mile pace, just behind the leaders but soon brought it back under control to a more sensible pace. I do prefer starting fast because it gets you a bit of space for those initial few miles where it can get quite busy. Once I’ve settled I normally get passed by the faster runners, which was no different this time. Got to see Matt from Denmead Striders who I see in most of my races passing me by early on. At the 5k mark this year we passed one of the lead cyclists who was frantically trying to fix a puncture, which had apparently happened at the start as well. What an unfortunate time of the race as the lead guys were bombing it down the Eastern road. There must have been some catching up to do. I got chatting to a couple of runners while heading out of the city. One runner had travelled over from Cambridge to stay with friends, and the other runner was from Fareham Crusaders who ended up having the best finish photo effort face I’ve ever seen. I also got to see my good running friend from work Russell who had dropped his sister off to run the marathon that day. It was high fives from Russell just before heading into foxes forest.
The middle section of the run, from the Hayling Bridge down to the front for me is usually quite a bore but the highlights were getting to see a man on a horse (yep, not so exciting but still), running with three friends from Portsmouth Joggers – Ben, Richard and Rob, being nearly wiped out by a golf ball hit from the course on the seafront, and of course seeing loads of cool runners I know heading back up the Billy Line. For the return journey I met a runner from Dorset, also called Daniel. That meant we got twice the amount of greetings as we accepted the cheers and shouts for each other as well. Two for the price of one.
The usual marathon distance pains were kicking in by the time we got onto the Eastern road again. It’s the pain you forget, but quickly remember once it starts. My pace dropped ever so slightly but was pleased not to drop below about 8:30 for the final miles. The group I had run with for a few miles was starting to break up at this point and I had caught up to a few other runners doing the ultra who were having some cramp issues. I’ve been there before – it’s not nice but it’s common over that distance. You just have to soldier on where you can. The tide was really high at that point and so we had a diversion through a back alley near Locksway road until finally getting back onto the seafront. It was down Locksway road that I caught up to my friend Piotr who is a fantastic triathlete with Portsmouth Triathlete club. He too was having some bad cramp issues, but he sucked it all up and carried on powering through it. I knew that the seafront portion of the race was going to be hard because it’s that long, straight mile and a half or so back to the finish line. It’s there that my own legs just started to show signs here and there of cramping up but some small adjustments to my stride held those off.
As I approached the finish the line I could see the crowds and more importantly, my kids waiting with their friends near the finish line. This is my favourite bit of the run. You’ve been out there for four hours in the cold and you just really want those home comforts to come soon. I got a huge lift seeing them, and knew there were ultra runners close behind and so I really picked it up to the finish line. I think about six of us finished through the line (five kids and I) and there are some really nice photos of us going through although I haven’t got any yet!. Got my medal (which the kids stole), my milkshake (which the kids stole), my goodybag (which the kids stole) and then cheered on some friends who were starting to come through while the cold and shivers kicked in. Rain started to come down shortly after and so I headed into the Pyramids to grab my bag and get dry.
The race was excellent. I keep seeing really good things being written about many runners experiences on the day. For me, it’s close to home and a perfect way to end the year. The volunteers are amazing so a huge thanks to them for helping us through the day. Well done to all of the finishers for each of the races, and thanks for the organisers for putting on the events each year. Because I run a lot of this route during my training runs it doesn’t really excite me on its own, but add the race day excitement, friendly runners and volunteers, and the thought of that coke at the end – it makes for a great day out. I’d recommend runners to come and take part in this event in two years time when it runs again, or come and do the marathon next year! See you there…