Although my original plan has been for Southampton Half Marathon to be one of my A-races for 2016, the chest infection that I got earlier in the year put paid to that plan. When I was offered the chance to pace sub 2:20, I was really excited. I loved pacing at Eastleigh 10k and was confident that I could support other runners to achieve that time.
I probably didn’t have ideal race preparation, but as I wasn’t ‘racing’ that didn’t worry me too much. On Saturday morning, I went to parkrun. Unsurprisingly, a lot of my friends were volunteering, but Kate was there. She had decided to take it easy and do 30-35 minutes, so I figured I’d join her for a nice sociable run. Trevor joined us and we had a lovely chat on the way around. Yet again, my competitive genes kicked in when I looked at my watch towards the end and realised how close we were to 30 minutes. I didn’t quite make it this time!
It was my 177th run, so I should be able to reach my 200th this year. If I keep going then I could get to my 250th by the end of 2017 🙂
On Sunday morning, I woke up early and had my usual breakfast, before we drove towards town. We then met Dave and quite a few of the others from the pacing team.
My new boiler is making my house quite warm, so I left the house wearing shorts and a hoodie. A few minutes of waiting around meant that I had to rummage through my bag to find my jogging bottoms as it was really cold. Just after I put my trousers on, it started to drizzle a bit. 🙁 I don’t mind running in the rain, but I don’t like getting wet before the start of the race.
The event team treated us really well. We had a lecture theatre at Solent University to relax in before the start of the race, which kept us all warm. We also had access to real toilets with no queues, which is a definite pre-race luxury. The only slight downside was that my pacing t-shirt had gone missing. Katherine leapt into action and penned me a new one!
Matt le Tissier and Franny Benali, as well as Dave, our pacing team leader, gave some motivational chats. Then, I had a chance to chat with Sheryl and Carol, my pacing buddies. We’ve all run the route before and are aware that the first section is mainly downhill and flat (with the exception of the Itchen Bridge). Miles 8-11 are mainly uphill, so we decided to go slightly faster on the first half of the course (averaging 6:30/km), so that we could ease back on the steep uphill section, aiming for a course average of 6:38/km. I know that many people will argue that you should aim for a negative split, but our plan was to get as many people around the course on time as possible.
Before the start of the race, we carried pacing flags out onto Guildhall Square before heading to the start zones with them. I hadn’t seen the buzz outside, so it was great to see how many people had congregated. My friend Inez spotted me and snapped a terrible photo!
After we took our places with the flags, we were able to go back inside for a while to keep warm. Fortunately, the earlier rain clouds had gone and the sun had started to come out.
Carol, Sheryl and I lined up on time and had a bit of a chance to talk to fellow runners.
Soon we were off. It was a very slow start, but we were able to start jogging within a couple of hundred metres and managed to hit our pace by the time we were 1km in. The crowds out on the streets were amazing and I saw so many people that I knew.
Most of the runners had heard about the Itchen Bridge. Some of them were nervous about tackling it, but the weather was kind to us. It wasn’t windy, which made a big difference. There were also quite a few spectators on the bridge. We got to watch all of the faster runners going past on the other side. I had assumed that I would see Stuart, but the 1:30 pacers were just coming down as we went up. Stu must have already been ahead of them. We had to put a bit of work in to get the spectators clapping and cheering, but I think it helped the people running with us.
There were quite a few photographers on the bridge, so I kept reminding the group to smile!
The next highlight of the race after the Itchen Bridge was running through the Saints’ stadium. Before the race, some of my friends had voiced concerns that it would be a pinch point. I thought we would have thinned out enough by that point and I was correct. We approached the stadium with a large group of runners from Pompey Joggers, which led to a lot of good-natured banter (Portsmouth are Southampton’s biggest rivals!) A lot of people paused to take selfies, but it’s a shame that there were no spectators in the stadium.
The next part of the race was crossing the Northam Bridge towards Bitterne. We passed the 10k point in 1:04, so we were feeling confident.
Then we turned off towards Riverside Park. A German student started chatting with us. Although she’s been studying here for a couple of years, she’d never seen this part of the city before, so we told her a bit about the area.
When we got to Riverside Park a few of the runners started asking us about where the nearest toilets were. I wasn’t sure whether there were any portaloos there, but luckily for the desperate runners, there were some. Further on in Riverside Park, there was an aid station with bottles of water and energy gels. I don’t like energy gels, but I had a bit of water.
It was then on past Woodmill and the first of four climbs. Although this is a short climb, it’s fairly steep and we had to encourage a few runners to keep going at this point. We then had a flat section before the main hill on the race: Burgess Road. The crowd support there wasn’t quite as good as last year, but we had a bit of time in hand. We were able to take it steady and encourage runners to stick with us.
After Burgess Road, we ran past the University. Last year I recognised a lot of staff members and students out supporting, but there wasn’t as much of a crowd, and I was trying to pay attention to the poor road surface and the water station.
It was then onto a downhill, followed by another climb. Yet again, there was a good crowd of supporters out by the church and some words of encouragement chalked onto the road. After a couple of turns, we were onto the Common.
It was a quick run through the underpass (made quicker by everyone’s desire to escape the toxic fumes from the guy sparing graffiti tags on the wall – I won’t call him an artist as there’s no merit in just spraying in your name!) and then the final uphill climb.
It was getting quite warm but as we were still a little ahead of schedule, we were able to ease off through the Common. Sadly, we passed a couple of people who had passed out, which is always really sad to see.
Finally, it was the home stretch. We kept our pace steady down London Road, feeling confident that we were going to finish dead on our target time…
Sadly, our final race results didn’t quite tally with what we had expected.
We hadn’t realised that the start mat was not under the finish gantry, but 60m before it. This meant we walked for 30 seconds before we started our Garmins. My watch had stated that our finish time was 2:19:49 and Sheryl had the same result. We thought we’d done a great job. I hope the confusion didn’t spoil anyone’s race.
It was my slowest ever half marathon. The great company from Carol and Sheryl and the feeling that I had helped others to achieve their goals means that it was also one of the most enjoyable races I’ve run.
We received a great goodie bag at the end of the race, including the latest issue of Men’s Running or Women’s running.
We each received a great finishers t-shirt. As mine is currently in the washing machine, I haven’t got a photo of it 🙁
We were also given a water bottle and a banana. I’m always grateful to have something to eat and drink after a race. A lot of people were enjoying Erdinger Alkoholfrei. One of the main reasons why I don’t drink ordinary lager is that I don’t like its taste, so I decided to pass on that! We were also given mini boxes of Alpha Bites cereal (‘multigrain cereal letters’).
I’d like to give a mention to my friend Kim who was the sub 1:10 pacer for the 10k. She got the runners around on time and got herself a PB – great work 🙂 Also, my husband Stuart managed to get himself a new PB of 1:23, despite being ill recently.
A video of the race has already been edited and shared online:
After the race, it was great to meet up with a number of friends, including Liz who finished 4 female overall and 1st V40, which is a fantastic result.
I also had a chance to chat with Chris, the mastermind behind the event. Congratulations on organising a great race, Chris!
Chris had ensured that there were enough goodie bags, t-shirts etc for people, which meant that he had some left-over items. Thank you very much for the box of bananas! Hopefully, my new kitchen will be fitted soon and I’ll be able to bake some banana bread.