The Beautiful South

The Great South Run, the Great North Run’s younger sibling, celebrated its 25th running on the 26th October 2014 and two Claremont Road Runners were there to join in the fun – myself and Chris Jones.  I really like this run and I’d done it twice before but it was a debut for local lad Chris.

It is a flat, 10 mile run that starts and finishes on the sea front in Southsea, Portsmouth.  Gill and I have friends in the area but stay in a lovely guest house that we know about 10 minutes walk from the start line.  So the plan was for a light, early breakfast, get ready, stroll down to the sea front, meet our friends and join the 25,000 other runners in time for the start.  However the day didn’t start well – at 07:30 am I was sitting in our room having a nose bleed (I’m prone to them every winter and they had started during the week, but this was the worst yet!).  However I was ready to go for breakfast half an hour later.  I don’t like eating much before running but settled for fruit, porridge and toast – the toast was a mistake!

We met our friends at the sea front, the weather was fine but there was a fairly stiff breeze coming off the sea.  Despite exchanging texts and messages, Chris and I managed to miss each other, so I had lost my pacemaker.  Standing at the start, I wasn’t feeling very positive.  My head felt bunged up and I wasn’t convinced that breakfast had settled, but tried to convince myself that my legs were fine and I would be OK once I started.

The start isn’t quite as crowded as in the North Run and the entusiastic crowds along the promenade mean that you are soon into your stride.  The course then leaves the sea and goes through Portsmouth Old Town, past the Cathedral and then we head towards the Historic Dockyard.  I was now feeling fine and about 10-12 minutes into the run, I heard a few cries of “Go on, Iwan”, “Well done, Iwan” etc and noticed that I was immediately behind Iwan Thomas.  He was chatting away to his friend, talking about times of other runs they had done together but as he was saying 44 minutes for a 10K, I thought “He’s slower than me!” and overtook.

The course now enters the Historic Dockyard, past HMS Warrior, the Victory and the Mary Rose (though you can’t see the Mary Rose) before turning onto the streets and a section up and down each side of a dual carriageway.  As I was just starting on the “up” side, I saw a Tyne Bridge vest coming down the other side, obviously very high up the field.  With a sudden feeling that there should be solidarity between North East runners on the South Coast, I shouted “Go, Tyne Bridge” but don’t think he heard me.  Our other friends were at the 4 mile marker and I was feeling good enough to smile and wave – it wouldn’t last!

The run now heads back towards the start and finish area, but passes on the road the other side of Southsea Common.  This stretch of the course is packed with spectators from 5 to 7 miles.  It then heads out through the residential area of Eastney and although the crowds are thinner, the local residents give great support, one house had Status Quo blasting out as I passed to provide a mini “boost zone”.    I was starting to feel tired and knew that the last 2 miles along the sea front would be into the wind, so I was trying to keep it steady.

Just after the 8 mile marker, the course is back on the sea front.  Last time I ran, I loved this section even though there are very few spectators as I like looking out to sea, but this year I started to struggle as we were running into a headwind.  I was still bunged up and was finding it harder to keep my breathing right, then shortly before the 9 mile marker I suddenly thought I was going to be sick.  The toast was fighting back!  I forced myself to slow for a bit, took deep breaths and gradually got going again and even kicked on a bit.  The 15k sign was a very welcome sight, and I was pleased to get back into the well supported area as that meant the the finish line was close, though I was now running on will power.  I’ve never possessed a fast finish, but the last 400m were slow even by my standards and it was a great relief to cross the finish line just under my target of 70 minutes.  As soon as I crossed the line, I was retching again and took a few minutes to gather myself before heading through the funnel for the t-shirts, medal and goodie bag.

In the finish zone, I finally met Chris.  He’d really enjoyed his first South Run and looked much better than I felt.  We compared times on our watches which had me ahead by 1 second, though the published results gave me a 6 second advantage.  The difference was that Chris had run very steady 7 minute miles, whereas my first 5 miles all started with 6 but the last 5 all started with 7 and the very last one was nearer 8 minutes.

I met our friends again and we waited for my wife to come in.  Gill doesn’t consider herself a runner and doesn’t normally like going further than a parkrun, but she came home in 1 hour 35 minutes, fully 12 minutes faster than her previous time in the same race.  This was a much better achievement than my time and cheered me up no end.

Although this year wasn’t my most enjoyable running experience, I would fully recommend the Great South Run.  It is an interesting course in a great location with fantastic support from the locals.  It is also flat and more than 3 miles shorter than the GNR!  I think that it has a more relaxed, friendlier feel than the North Run and dare I say that I prefer it.  It is a long way from home, but if you fancy a bit of running tourism then you could do a lot worse than have a weekend in Southsea.  I’m sure that both Chris and I will be back.