So it was back to the race where it all started for me a number of years ago. The Great South Run. For those that don’t know, the Great South Run is a huge event. It draws tens of thousands of runners and spectators, and probably just as many volunteers and organisers too. The event has an incredible atmosphere and a number of different races occur over the weekend. This year the events began on Saturday morning with a new Canine race. I don’t own a dog myself but I have a lot of running friends who do and I thought it was a great idea. Saturday also sees the competitive GSR 5k which was won in under 16 minutes this year, and then the beginning of the mini and junior runs which are some of my favourite events. I didn’t get to see the canine or 5k unfortunately, but with two kids I’ve been fortunate enough to make the mini and junior runs for the past few years and did so this year too.
This year was also a special one for us because it was last time I’d get to run the mini because my youngest will be too old next year. My youngest had a great run in the mini event and finished in the top twenty or so which pleased him to no end. They don’t time this run as it’s purely for fun but once you are out there these little kids show what they are made of and really do speed through the course very well. The junior run this year was great fun from the side lines, although my eldest didn’t enjoy it too much as she got separated from her friends during the warm up. She still had an excellent run and did very well to finish as did her friends but the experience was a bit clouded over. Hopefully she isn’t put off for next year. As we had gone down this year
with friends and their kids this year, we ended up having a walk to Southsea Castle and then back along the seafront home. On the way we stopped off for a Gyros as the Gyros counter on the Pier. If you’ve not tried these you need to. They are delicious! After a chat and bit of food on the stones, we all departed for home. It was now time to get into the zone for my race the next day.
My GSR course record from a few years back was 1:13 and my ten mile PB from Hayling Island was 1:04:49. My aim was to just get under 1:04:49 and aim for a new 10 mile record. To do that I’d need to run faster than 6:24 per mile on average. Training had gone well and I’d put myself through some tough sessions over recent weeks, always going too fast in training. However that doesn’t exactly translate to going faster in the race because in training the miles you do are usually broken up into pieces with rest periods. Going too fast would almost certainly end with a detonation of the legs. I had to pace this perfectly. 6:20 per mile average was the goal to start. I then planned to take some thoughts at mile three and mile six to ensure everything felt ok. I’d then try to pick it up at mile seven to eight, and then keep that up until the final mile and go from there. Race plans always go to shit on the day. I’ll get into how that plan was executed in just a bit. For the start of the day though, I got up early, had some Crunchy Nut and a coffee and did a lot of pacing around and deep breathing. My throat was wrecked as I’d picked up an infection earlier in the week at work. Energy levels did not feel affected thank goodness.
I walked down to the start with a friend and met up at the Pyramids with a bunch of friends from work who I run regularly with each week. Everyone had their goals. We discussed race plans and had a couple of photos taken and before long a trio of us headed to the D-Day Museum car park for some warm up laps. We got to see and wish the elites female runners good luck as they were ushered through to the start. We then stopped watches and pretty much dived through the barrier into the sea of orange race vests and we got about eight rows back from the front. There we did the extremely long warm up which was just a load of people dancing on their toes and occasionally joining in with some hand waving. There is just no room to be stretching out and doing the funky stuff. Just a lot of bouncing up and down on the toes – fun though 🙂 It was here I started to feel the sun. The morning was just gorgeous and the weather couldn’t have been any better. But standing for that period of time facing away from the start line to the warm up crew was face melting. By the end of it I was over heating. In October!
The start lines this year were interesting both for the men and the female. In the men’s race there was Chris Thompson going for his third win in a row and then Andy Vernon trying to spoil that and take the win for himself. Alex Teuten who placed fourth last year after a gruelling battle for third place was there and hoping to better last years result. Interestingly we also had Tom Evans on the start line. Tom is one of the best ultra runners on the racing scene right now, and has a string of impressive victories to his name including winning this years UTMB CCC race! I was keen to see how he got on because he’s been very focused on the trail/mountain scene for so long and seems to have made a switch to more road running in this half of the year. I predicted a 49 minutes for him based on his half marathon time of 1:06 a few weeks ago. That’s incredible based on where his running strengths lie on the trails (or not apparently!). Go Tom! In the female elite race there was Gemma Steel and Eilish McColgan who would be racing for the win, with eyes set on Eilish to see if she could win as her mother did a number of years back. Coached by her mother I am sure this made for an exciting race to watch for her family.
With the elite female runners gone we were soon walking forward for those final few steps before the run and the horn then sounded. My index finger was pressed lightly against the start button on my watch and it engaged as I crossed the start line. This was it! Go go go ….. or not. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was negotiating through the runners in that first mile! It became a complicated game of finding the right race route through the runners in front. I got boxed into groups so many times and could not get a steady pace going. I kept telling
myself to just stay calm and go with it for the first mile. If anything I’d end up slower and could make up the time in mile two. Stay calm, breathe and just enjoy it. As it turns out, mile one I ran in 6:19. Perfection. Thank you to those who unknowingly kept my pace on track. As someone who usually goes out too strong I needed it. The Great South Run in the past has usually been filled with mid race conversations and high fives to the crowds. I found that once I’d settled into the next few miles that it was really quiet. I made a comment about the lumps in the road at mile four and no-one answered me apart from a lady I was running next to who seemed to have enough to hold a conversation with me briefly. I always enjoy speaking a bit during my races. I’m used to it from the ultras where you have a lot of support from each other, even in the competitive areas of the field. Oh well – heads down it was. Mile two, three and four were run in 6:14, 6:13 and 6:17 and mile five mark was a delight to see running that one in 6:16. It was then I took a check on how I felt. It was starting to get hard now with the heat making a difference, but I was super excited to be heading quickly towards mile seven where I’d see my family and friends dotted around the course. This really helps take your mind off of things if only for a few minutes while you are looking for them and get to shout something like “It hurts!!!”. I saw my mother first and I blew her a kiss. Not sure why as I never do that, but you do weird things when in that state.
I then saw some friends around Canoe Lake and soon after I got to high five my kids and see my wife and friends. Those mile splits had come in at 6:15 and the slowest mile of all was 6:21. Then it was onto the seafront. By this time it was becomming a big ass mental battle. Time had gone quickly getting to this point however my body wanted it to end. Breathing was heavy, my head was tilting back (usually I sign I’m fatiguing) but we soon hit the seafront corner which meant just about two miles to go. I could only maintain my pace for these miles. There was not much left in my legs for the seafront stretch. All I kept thinking was “I’ve gone past the turn point for Southsea parkrun – not long to go!”. I did a lot of comparison against Southsea parkrun for those two final miles because coincidentally it finishes along the same road as the parkrun route, however for the race you are in the road, not the pavement. I just kept comparing it against the same painful places I was used to from parkrun. This really helped get me through to the end and with about 800m to go my legs went numb and fortunately they had just enough to carry me around the corner to the final straight. I knew I had already run 10 miles and my watch was about to hit 10.2 miles so there was no worry about logging a 10 mile PB anymore.
I wasn’t really concentrated on the time though and all I saw was the clock of the race fast approaching :02:45….46….47….48….and then I crossed the line with my watch saying 1:02:59. I then proceeded to just collapse to the side of the finish line and was quickly picked up by a marshal and moved on a bit. I honestly just needed a minute to sit down and get my breath back. I knew I was in the way’ish but just had to sit down. I soon moved across to where the finish box was and Chris Thompson and Andy Vernon were being interviewed there. My friend Ian had helped to get me over to recover as well and what was strange was that Ian and I had been meaning to meet in the start area that day and run together but we couldn’t find each other. Here we were at the finish and had both run a great time. I called out to Chris and Andy when they were done to shake their hands and congratulate them both on a great result. Both such nice guys. They took the time to speak with us and give Ian a towel and also get a photo with us which we grateful for. This perked me up quite a bit and by this time I was up on my feet and happily smiling.
I soon realised that about ten minutes had gone by and I hadn’t been through to get my goody bag yet. Ian and headed through and it was then I started to see loads of friends and it was really great hearing how everyone had got on. Lots of good running from everyone and some real good surprises with times too. I headed back to try and meet a friend Richard who had come down to support but I just couldn’t find him anywhere. As runners know, coming out of the finish area is manic. So many people meeting each other. I headed home with my head high and really pleased with my new 10 mile PB of 1:02:40 (Strava trace here), and new GSR PB of 1:03:01. I think that put me 175th which I was incredibly pleased with. I guess there is hope and speed after the age of 40. I’ve already entered for next year, aiming to chase down the hour mark and get as close as I can. I don’t know how many years I have left where I’ll be able to do that so I had better get on it earlier next year. My only problem is keeping myself focused at one distance. I enjoy my long distance ultras and trail runs too much. It will be interesting to see if you can have both or not. Bring on next year!
Thank you to the event organisers and everyone who came to watch and help out on both days of the GSR this year. It is a brilliant event for the city and this year really showed Portsmouth’s true colours with an incredibly brilliant weekend of weather. Next year I’ll be watching both of my kids in the race and won’t be able to run with them anymore. I hope they grow to enjoy them more and eventually follow in my foot steps and chase their own goals in these events. Happy running all…