On Sunday 27th October, eight of us went down to Portsmouth to take part in the Great South Run. While Jacqueline Chang was still expecting her and Joe’s second son Thomas in November 2012 she’d set this race as her post-baby target and a few of us decided to join her. With 30,000 people running and the route being flat but windy, it’s unlikely to be a PB course and is more of a “big day out” event. It’s also very expensive at £41 for a 10 mile race, so a few of us were wondering if it was going to give us our money’s worth, but post-race I can confirm it’s certainly worth it.
Jacqueline and Joe kindly taxied myself, Kev Stone, Matthew Pritchard and Maria Cenalmor in their new 7 seater Changmobile down to Portsmouth. Meeting at 7am wasn’t so bad as the clocks had changed on Saturday night giving us an extra hour’s sleep, but the weather forecast was for strong winds in Portsmouth and possible rain ahead of “St.Jude’s Storm” heading across the Atlantic. Luckily when we got to Portsmouth the BBC weather website was right for once and a band of rain had moved away leaving the conditions bright and sunny, but very windy. After parking in a city centre car park for a bargain special race rate of £4 for the whole day, we met up with new Portsmouth Uni student Chris Wilson who showed us a shortcut down to the race area on the sea front.
The race really does have a “big event” feel about it with big TV screens up, live commentators, music and TV coverage. After dumping our bags at the baggage drop, Maria picking up her race number (where she sweet talked them into allowing her to start in the Orange pen with the rest of us, rather than the Green pen) and the inevitable loo stop (which went remarkably quickly although Jacqueline and Maria did use the baby change cubicle in the Ladies I hear) we headed off to the start pens. With 30,000 people running there were colour coded pens which had start times 20-30 minutes apart, so Maria being bumped up to the Orange pen was a bonus as we wouldn’t have to wait too long for each other at the finish. Joe Chang was in the “Fast Paced Club Runners” pen that was only about 20 metres long and directly behind the elite ladies pen, whereas the Orange pen must have been about 200 metres long. When I asked Joe what he’d put on the entry form as his estimated finish time to get him in that pen he said “I don’t know, Jacqueline did my entry form”! Proud wife overestimating hubby’s abilities maybe? As the rest of us had sneaked into the Orange pen through a gap in the barriers rather than the official route we ended up right at the front of it. Looking around at our fellow athletes it was pretty obvious we were starting too far forward, but never mind!
On cue, about 10 minutes before the race start there was a short, sharp rain shower that most of us managed to avoid by crouching down behind the tall runners in front of us. When the shower passed we resorted to huddling like a group of penguins, then temporary bin bag clothing was discarded before it was torn away by the wind and we were off. My attempt at trying to look cool for the TV cameras was immediately ruined as the lady running next to me pointed out that I had a stray bin bag trailing from one foot, then as soon as I remedied that a side-on gale force wind hit me, ruining my posing and making me look like a drunken sailor staggering along the docks. Myself and Matthew still had the Bournemouth Marathon tiredness in our legs, Kev Stone didn’t feel like pushing himself too hard and Jacqueline had targeted 1 hour 30 minutes, so we decided to run together as a “26.2 RRC Peleton” with Maria tagging on the back until she realised she’d set off too quickly and dropped back (which was a very wise move as she PB’d at the end of the race – good pacing!). After about half a mile running into the wind the route goes into the historic docks area where Dave and Lizzie Wilson were waiting to cheer Chris on. By this time Chris had bounded of gazelle like into the distance and they’d just missed him, so had to console themselves with some high-fives from the 26.2 peleton.
The course is pretty much flat as a pancake with the wind being the only real challenging part, although it’s a very crowded race so you constantly have to jockey for position, shift your stride pattern when someone slows down ahead or to overtake someone. There were two water stations and one Powerade station along the way which was excessive but nice although they were giving out full sized bottles, so most people were taking two swigs then throwing the bottle into the sea of plastic already rolling around in the road. I also have to tip my hat to one of the enterprising locals who I saw filling his hold-all with nearly full Powerade bottles – good economic sense in these hard times! The hardest part of the course is the final 2.5 miles when you come back along the sea front, running into a gale force wind. The 26.2 peleton was still intact at this point and being the gentlemen we are, we did our best to break the wind for Jacqueline (note careful placement of “the”), although I don’t think it really made much difference. Kev Stone was doing his best to get any walkers running again with some encouragement and before we knew it the 800 then 400 metres to go signs were in sight. I took a glance at my Garmin and realised it was touch and go whether we were going to get under 01:30 but we dug in and crossed the line with 31 seconds to spare. Maria finished 5 minutes behind us, in a new 10 mile PB time and we later found that Joe had run 01:08 and Chris Wilson had also PB’d in 01:14. Chris was so delighted with his time that he’s already planning out which half marathon he’s going to pick as his first one.
The goody bag at the end of the race was one of the best I’ve had, with cotton t-shirt AND medal, as well as about 5 things to eat, a bottle of Powerade etc. All in all a really great event. The only negative was the baggage, which involved dumping your bag in a pile with everyone else’s in a hall then having to dig through them to find it afterwards. Although only people with running numbers were being allowed in the hall there was nothing to stop someone walking out with other people’s bags.
Although it costs more than the London Marathon I’d definitely recommend the Great South Run to anyone that wants to experience a big race day event with all the trimmings, but might not necessarily want to run a marathon.