After running the Great Eastern Run at the start of the month, I felt pretty terrible. I could feel a cold coming on that weekend, and I suspect that the run really helped to drive the cold right through my body, completely overpowering my tired immune system. Bugger. I spent the next week coughing and spluttering and generally being pathetic, culminating in being forbidden from running the Round Rotherham 50 miler the following weekend. I was very disappointed at this, since it was the final run in the Run Further series of ultras and was the second one I had missed (the first being due to impending nuptuals). Unfortunately this means that I was not able to complete the minimum number of races to get a final score, although I did somehow manage to come 76th out of 208 in my age category with only 2 of the required 4 races under my belt... Oh well, this gives me something to aim for next year, where I will be concentrating on ultras.
Even though I am still not feeling 100 % even now (an annoying spluttering cough still creeps up on me when I am running and cycling), I went ahead and ran the BUPA Great South Run which I had actually entered before even running last year's event. This is one of the top 10 milers in the world (an odd distance really), and is held in my old home city of Portsmouth. I ran last year and was annoyingly close to coming in under 7 minutes a mile, coming in only 1 minute and 7 seconds over. This year, my only goal was to crack the 70 minute mark. Even though I don't really do any kind of speed work, I do seem to be able to keep a pretty good pace going, and my increased stamina since last year should allow me to keep up the pace for the entire distance.
As with last year, I ran the race with my dad Jeff and my aunt Liz. My mum had suggested that I run with them rather than heading off to do my own thing, but I'm just too competitive for my own good and instead pushed my way to the front of the 24,000 starters to just behind the good club runners section. The weather was overcast and a little chilly, which was great for running but not great for standing around waiting for the start of the race. The horn was eventually blown by Dame Ellen MacArthur and we were off along the Southsea promenade!
Even so close to the start of the pack, it took a little time to get up to pace. There are also a couple of choke points where the road suddenly narrows which can slow you down quite considerably, so I pushed ahead to try and get there before it got too packed. I settled into a pretty comfortable pace of about 6.5 mins/mile and got into a good rhythm. Having grown up and gone to school around Southsea, it is really interesting touring the various places around the city. The race starts along the seafront, past the fairground (where an episode of Mr Bean was filmed on a day I happened to be there - about my only claim to fame...), and then into the dock yard where the classic ships such as the HMS Victory are kept. My dad used to be in the navy stationed in Southsea, so I used to spend quite a lot of time in the dock yard on some of the larger more modern ships where he worked as an engineer. I still love the smell of diesel!
As you leave the dockyard, the route weaves through the streets of Old Portsmouth and Southsea, past Gunwharf Quays where the Spinnaker Tower extends into the sky. I've still never been up the millenium tower (completed in 2005...), but to be honest the promise of seeing all of the views of Portsmouth doesn't fill me with any kind of yearning to remedy that! The route then heads past the swimming baths that we used to hold my school's swimming gala and up the main road where it doubles back again, allowing me to see how far ahead of me the leaders were - there is now way I could ever run that fast! Next it goes past some of the pubs that I used to frequent in my younger years, into the old town of Eastney, and finally back along the seafront for the final two miles of the race. The course is incredibly flat so is great for a PB, but this final two miles can be a real killer. The wind from the sea always seems to be blowing against you and today was no different. Turning the corner onto the promenade felt like running into a wind tunnel, so I gritted my teeth and tried to keep up the pace. With my blinkers on, I ran straight through the cheering crowds and past the BUPA Cheer Zone where volunteers were handing out jelly babies to help runners through the final section, and made my way towards the final straight.
Last year I made the mistake of starting my kick too soon. I think I started to sprint at the 800m mark, and nearly killed myself. This year I was going to hold off a little longer and get a good sprint finish in. I picked up the pace slightly as we ran past Clarence Parade Pier, and then got ready to sprint the final section. I had somebody in my sights ready to chase down, but as I was just about to start I saw another runner out of the corner of my eye start to pass me. I kicked up into a sprint and off I went, managing to pull ahead and cross the line first. I had a chat to the other guy, and it turns out he did exactly the same as me, picking one guy to try to take at the finish, and I was his guy. We had given each other a great finish and both got great times. I came in in 1:07:01, well within the 70 minute mark and just shy of an average pace of 6.5 mins a mile. Of course being me I could only think;
a) Damn that 1 second!
b) I could definitely have done it faster (one of the guys at the bag check said I looked like I had been shopping, not running)
I grabbed my bag and headed to the finish line to cheer the other runners through the line and wait for my dad and Liz. Dad came through the line looking really strong in a great time of 1:31:31, meaning a fantastic pace of just over 9 minutes a mile. Liz came through in 1:58:08, a faster time than last year with the added bonus that not only did she complete the entire distance without stopping this year, but she really enjoyed the whole experience! The men's race was won by Leonard Komon in 46:18 (2 minutes shy of Halle Gebrselassie's record), while the women's race was won by Asselefech Mergia in 52:55. Scary stuff!
Next up is the Brecon Beacon's ultra in two weeks, so back to long running now. Next year I have decided to concentrate on longer races, and have already entered Lakeland 100, the Viking Way Ultra (147 miles - eek!), and the Thames Path 100. I put my name in for the Grand Union Canal Race (one of the countries longest nonstop foot races at 145 miles), but was unsuccessful. Maybe next year. In December I will be putting my name in the hat for Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc so hopefully will have better luck there. And I will probably have a crack at some more of the Run Further races and see if I can get a final score next year.
At the Brecon's I will be running with my best friend Dan Park in his first ultra event. He has been running a lot recently aiming to raise money for a fantastic cause, St Wilfrid's Hospice in Eastbourne. Please sponsor him for his amazing efforts. Now I just need to make sure that I turn off my default competitive nature and PB chasing mode so I don't kill him... I'm really looking forward to it! Bring on running in Wales in the winter! :p