Well it was no half marathon but it might as well have been given the gruelling intensity of the relatively flat 10 mile course that was the 24th annual Great South Run. Three months of physical and mental preparation got me to the historic city of Portsmouth, ready to tackle the longest distance I was yet to run. The Great South Run of course wasn't just an indulgence to test my physical and mental fortitude but to raise money for a worthy cause and come the day, having endured some pain and an unforgiving Mother Nature, I did more than enough to make my efforts worthwhile.
Sitting in my hotel room the night before the race I studied the route very carefully, making a note of each magnificent landmark that I would pass from the war memorial to the naval dockyards and past the HMS Victory all the way up to the Esplanade with the famous Yomper Statue towering over us all. I had been previously warned that at mile 8, as you turn onto the Esplanade one would face a gruelling cross wind and was advised to save some energy for this. My strategy therefore was simple; find a comfortable, steady yet speedy pace (not too fast) and hold it for at least five miles. This would allow me to take advantage of the drinks stations, to get hydrated and restore my energy levels for the big push. I would hold my pace until midway through mile 6 when I would slow down to give myself a rest until that dreaded 8. After that it was to be a case of play the rest by ear but if there was one thing I was determined to do it was to finish the race on a sprint.
It was an unfortunate coincidence that on the weekend of the run Britain was possibly facing the worst storm since 1987, one that would cause untold damage not to mention injuries and even causalities. At one point it was even likely that the run was to be cancelled amid safety concerns, and I considered the possibility of hitting the hotel gym to run the 10 miles on a treadmill. After all I raised nearly £700 for crohn's & colitis, it would have been a shame not to have at least attempted a run even if it meant doing so indoors. Luckily we were greeted with sunshine and blue skies although the occasional windy gust reminded us that it could all turn hellish at any point. I spent the hour leading up to the race amongst the other stable of runners, stretching, running on the spot and jogging up and down making sure every part of me was suitably loosened and warmed up. Come 11.05am it was time for the green wave to make its way to the START and head off.
So far everything went to plan, having quickly found my pace. The first 3 miles were easy enough, despite the occasional gust of wind knocking me ever so slightly to one side. It was an annoyance but not distracting enough to put me off my stride as I quickly regained my pace. Passing the memorial and running through the naval dockyards was truly breath-taking and added some eye pleasing scenery to the race. The cheering crowds and performing bands conjured that much anticipated thrill and excitement that always comes hand in hand with these events and why I love to participate in them. Mile 4 passed with no problems having taken on water for hydration, smiling as crowds cheered us all on and children held out there hands for high fives for which I was happy to oblige. Reaching miles 5 and 6 brought a big grin to my face in the realisation that I had passed the half way point with no inkling to slow down or even stop. It was the ultimate rush of adrenaline and enthusiasm that carried me all the way through mile 7 and I smugly smiled to myself in the knowledge that this was the furthest I had ever ran. .
The 8th mile of the race took us all from the eastern loop of the course from Henderson Road onto the Esplanade. To the left we were treated to a beautiful sea view, and on the right, The Royal Marines Museum with the hugely impressive Yomper Statue. All the splendour of these wonders soon diminished as we turned the corner and suddenly I found it difficult to keep my pace. It was as if the Westerly wind was waiting for us with all the maniacal glee of a super-villain. The strong gusts whistled past my ears drowning out my inspirational tunes as we all waded through the barrier placed before us. I pushed, breathed hard and even growled to keep running albeit at a pathetically slow pace but Mother Nature proved to be a formidable nemesis that day. The feeling of pushing through such an intensely strong wind was the equivalent of pushing a car up the steepest hill. I could feel the pain in my legs and cramp in my ankles as I forced my way through the heavy gusts but I knew it was hopeless. For the first time I had to reduce to walking speed, along with majority of the other runners, and I felt defeated. I maintained a walk run pace throughout the remainder of mile 8 trying to keep some semblance of the race in me alive, ignoring the pain and bouts of cramp. Having crossed the 9 mile mark I maintained a pathetically slow pace determined that at the very least I was going to cross the finish line on a sprint. With less than half a mile to go and the finish line in sight I gritted my teeth and sprinted as fast as I could. The giant clock above flashed 2:02:38. I raised my arms in victory and "whooped" at the top of my lungs. Spectators and other finishers clapped and cheered as I did so. I had finished the longest race of my running life to date.
My initial feeling of joy quickly turned to sadness as it suddenly hit me that the race was over. Despite those gruelling two miles and the pain that accompanied them I did not want to stop. I have an expression that I try to live my life a mile at a time, because for those ten minutes or less I feel free, nothing can touch me and I am kept completely in the moment. It is the closest to a pure moment of Zen that I can attain and before any snarky remarks are made yes I did pinch a line from The Fast and The Furious. Yet the sentiment is very applicable to my running especially during the race. Once my mixed feelings of joy and sadness passed there came the realisation of what I had achieved. My official race time was 1 hour 59 minutes 44 seconds and at the end of it all I raised £690 (including Gift Aid) for crohn's & colitis. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.