Tired legs from the marathon, a tired mind from jet lag and being back at work coinciding with a 6am start, cool and windy conditions and a 2 hour commute. To say I wasn’t up for the 2017 edition of the Great South run would be right on point. A miscommunication earlier in the year and through fault of my own suggestions, Dan Reynolds had signed up to the race thinking I had also done the same, unfortunately I hadn’t as I had changed my mind and hoped he had forgotten about it or not bothered. Thankfully meeting up before our trip to Chicago it came to my attention that Dan had entered on my suggestion therefore I made sure I did the same and got my entry in.
The Great South Run is a hugely popular annual 10 mile race held in Portsmouth which attracts 25,000 runners to the south coast of England. The main attraction of the race is its flat profile and personal best potential, however the elements can affect the race with a famous strong head wind for the final two miles of the race. Having participated 3 times previously I have suffered at the hands of the wind twice however in 2015 the conditions were perfect allowing to easily run a 6 minute personal best. 10 mile was the only distance I had yet to improve on my time from the previous year and I would be lying if I didn’t say I was pretty confident I would beat it heading into the race even if Storm Brian was still lurking and had led to the previous days events being cancelled.
On paper things looked easy, my plan was for a PB and knowing that I was still feeling the affects from the marathon I decided on a 5:45 minute mile pace that would see me improve on my personal best by a minute and hopefully enjoy a reasonably comfortable race………..
We set off at just past 6.00 am and made our way down the dreaded M11 and onto the car park that is the M25 heading south to Portsmouth. Thanks to Dan’s efficient driving and the obscene hour we were up on a Sunday morning the roads were traffic free and the 133 mile journey only took us around 2 hours. Having been a previous participant and talking to a fellow runner Malcolm Muir prior to the event I knew that the roads and parking would be very busy so we decided to park at the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre just a mile away from the start.
It was my first time running the event without my usual cheer squad/support crew so without my family in town I had to make use of the bag drop for the first time. I was actually very impressed with the ease of use for such a large race and although marshals were very minimal it seemed to work quite well having someone manning the doors and allowing runners to sort out there own kit, placing it by a corresponding letter. Unusual for me and feeling a little lethargic from a mixture of long travel and early start I decided to take one of tried and tested SIS energy gels an hour before the start of the race. Containing caffeine I had hoped it would pick me up and help get me up for the race ahead. We made use of the plentiful portaloos before heading to the starting pens around 20 minutes before the race start.
After a brief warm up hosted by Great Run series veteran Roy Gale, 25,000 of us were on our way down Clarence Esplanade heading past the Naval memorial, towards the Spinnaker Tower. The tower being just over a mile away, always looks a lot further to my naked eye. The well supported and wide road start was still heavily congested and I struggled to get into my stride properly for the first mile clocking an already behind schedule, 5:51 as we passed the first mile marker. The next few miles see the field split up and allow me to pace my own race as the course entered the Naval dockyard. I managed to get my splits back on course 5:44, 5:41 and 5:42 before halfway and although not 100% I was actually feeling pretty comfortable.
5k – 17:57
The next mile is one of my favourite parts of the course, which although is just a boring A road, I really enjoy seeing the lead runners pass me in the other direction. It not only makes me focus more when I see how far in front the fast boys are but it also makes me work a little harder knowing that they are probably working that little bit harder than me. Distracted by the lead runners I almost forgot to take my energy gel at 4 miles, although it wouldn’t have been a disaster in a race of this distance it could have played on my mind in the later stages of the race. The route becomes very well supported again towards half way and I was pleased to see Sarah Payne at the side of the road offering some encouragement, wrapped up for a winters day, rather than the mild autumnal day we were experiencing. I passed through 5 miles (half way) feeling good in 28:40, a decent start but still plenty of work to do.
10k – 35:50
Miles 6 & 7 sees the course head east and boasts great crowd support and this reflected in my splits 5:42 & 5:45. I felt very comfortable but I suspect we must have been enjoying a tail wind in this section as although occasionally feeling wind in my face it was no where near as strong as it had been a mile earlier. Mile 8 begins to head back to the sea front and having run this race before I began to fear the famous westerly wind and what it would have in store for us today. I think this reflected in my pace as not feeling tired and for no real reason my pace dropped by a few seconds and my watch displayed 5:48.
The closure of the race similar to the Great North Run exposes you to the elements along a drawn out straight beside the sea. The final two miles was quite simply brutal and saw the end of me chasing a time and just wanting to get to the finish without stopping. The conditions in mile 9 were really tough and led to some poor decision making and finally a rush of blood to the head moment. Within metres of running into the strong headwind it became evident that I was being drafted by a fellow runner. The realisation that I was tiring and that the end of the race was going to be an uphill struggle I think made me more concerned of what was going on behind. Trying to shake the runner behind I found myself weaving on the road to which he mirrored every step, at this point I had given up on the race and was just turning around at every opportunity telling him to do his own work. He didn’t oblige, so the weaving continued but this time I exaggerated the twisting and turning but he just didn’t give up. My next action was frantic and naive, desperate to get rid of my passenger I jumped to the side and come to a complete halt for a couple of seconds. This led to a confrontation between the two of us before he ran off into the distance to seek shelter from another runner. Running is an amazing sport and I am gracious when I’m beaten and also genuinely pleased for others in the achievements regardless of their times or positions. However this runners actions really frustrated me and I just felt at the time it wasn’t in the spirit of the race but on reflection maybe he was just being sensible.
15k – 54:13
The final mile was tough, eyes watering and legs and lungs capitulating I was really hanging in there. 800m to go, 400m to go I still doubted if I could do it, focusing on the gantry and the clock reaching 58 minutes. I hung in there and crossed the line wondering if I had done enough for a PB that I had been so certain I would be achieving just an hour ago.
I finished in 58:16 in a disappointing 55th place overall. Thankfully I had just about secured a new personal best meaning the mornings graft hadn’t been for nothing.
Although a PB I couldn’t help but be massively disappointed with my time, having ran through 10 miles quicker in my last half marathon it was a tough race to swallow. Having a bad run, although a slight confidence knock, it is also a great reality check motivating me to train harder, but also try to allow my body to recover as there is no doubt i’m still feeling the affects of Chicago and a holiday in Miami in my legs. The final consolation from the performance was that both the winning times for the Men and Women were the slowest in the history of the race which may help to show how tough the conditions were in the later stages.
Breakfast – Fuel 10k Protein Cereal & Maximuscle Promax Shake
Energy Gels used – SiS Go energy + Caffeine
Kit – Inov-8 Race elite shorts, Karrimor running socks & Saucony Fastwitch 8 Shoes