Southampton Marathon – possibly the best race I’ve ever had!
April 24, 2017
When I heard that there was going to be a full marathon in Southampton, I immediately wanted to enter. I’ve never been lucky enough to get a place in London Marathon, so this is the next best thing (for me). I also thought Southampton Marathon would be a good comeback race after having Baby M. There’s nothing like the fear of failure (and a hungry baby) to get some ‘quick’ training miles in.
Reflecting on my training and race prep
My training plan was somewhat unconventional. Previously, I’ve relied on the FIRST three runs a week training plan. This year, my schedule was 1 STC swim, 2 Buggy Mums classes, a parkrun and a long run combined with leading fortnightly half marathon training runs.
I tried to rest a bit this week and had a 90-minute nap on Saturday afternoon. This was just as well because although Baby M went to sleep at 9pm, she woke at 10pm, 11pm and midnight. After that, she woke up half hourly until 7am. Not my best race prep!
We picked up my training partner, Pete, and drove into town. On leaving the car park, I was surprised (and pleased) to see that mist had descended. Hurray! I can’t bear sunny weather for running.
We walked to the Sir James Matthews building, where the pacers were congregating. There we met up with my friend, Kate. After a last-minute snack for M, I hurried out passing Sandra and Barbara from the Tri Club, but there was not enough time to chat.
We walked past the warm-up and lined ourselves up in the appropriate area. It was nice to see my old friend, Dave. He was tackling his first marathon as part of a series of challenges this year. There was also enough time to chat with my lovely sports masseur, Becky, who was taking part in the half marathon.
The start of Southampton Marathon
All too soon, it was time to go.
On leaving the park, I stepped on someone’s dropped gel. It exploded and covered my legs – yuk! That is not how I wanted my race to start! I also realised that I had tied my shoes too tightly, but it was too busy for me to stop and adjust them.
We looped around and then went up the High Street where various friends from Lordshill Road Runners were watching the start of the marathon.
Our marathon plan
The agreed plan was to maintain a 6:00/km pace to the Uni and then press on a bit at the downhill. The plan for lap 2 was to hold on for as long as possible and to walk up Church Lane.
The route to The Common wasn’t exactly as I had expected, but there weren’t major changes, so it was fine. When we got there it was lovely to see some friends who were waiting to cheer us on.
The first real hill of the course is on The Common and we tackled it well. We were still in a group and Pete warned me that we were going a bit quickly. We slowed a little and after turning at the crossroads, we saw Jo, another running friend. That’s what I like about local races – seeing familiar faces running and spectating.
Ups and downs
We then had another slight route change before a lovely downhill section. However, at the end of the downhill is the toughest hill on the course: Church Lane. Kate and I pushed up it, but Pete had a slight breather to save his legs, before catching up with us.
After passing the University of Southampton, we were onto a fantastic long downhill section. At this point, we were able to let go a bit.
After an ugly urban section, it was great to be in Riverside Park. My favourite race photographer, Paul, was waiting there.
Three become two
Kate had a comfort break in Riverside Park, so Pete and I pressed on alone. I was feeling a bit enthusiastic, so Pete had to keep telling me to slow down. I was trying not to go too quickly, as I hoped that Kate would catch us up again.
We saw our friend Di who was on her bike. She commented that we must have passed her husband, Mike. I was fairly sure that we hadn’t, so we must have started ahead of Mike.
Unfortunately, by the time we got to the 10-mile marker, Pete started getting calf cramps. These got worse as it got hotter. He had trained really hard and prepared perfectly this week, so was very unlucky.
We had a short walk at the start of the Itchen Bridge and then started running again. I love race sections where you see others who are taking part. It doesn’t bother me seeing how many people are ahead of me as I know that on the return, I will see people behind me (or at least, that’s how I always hope it will go!)
At the far side of the bridge, I saw Steve Doncom. I used to do karate with his sons and haven’t seen him for about 5 years, but he recognised me and shouted out, which was nice.
As we were finishing the bridge, Pete and I saw the lead 10k runner (Abdi Mahamed) starting to cross the bridge. He was looking very fast.
We ran through a small park, where lots of children were cheering and offering water bottles, before turning onto Below Bar. I could see my in-laws and Baby M at Boulangerie Victor Hugo. We were ahead of schedule, so they didn’t expect us!
We ran past the Bargate and then turned into the park, ready to begin the second lap. In the park, I heard Sergio cheering us on, which was a nice boost.
Half marathon done; half marathon to go
The first half took 2 hours, which is far too fast for someone whose marathon PB is 4:29, but I was still feeling comfortable. I think that if I had been doing the Half Marathon, I could have gone for a PB.
As we got towards the Cenotaph, we were passed by the lead 10k runner… but he was on the wrong course. Oh dear. Apparently, several people took the wrong course during the race, which is a shame for them.
The route up to The Common was hot and felt hard. At this point, Pete and I were joined by Mike and Patrick in their Beefeater costumes. Pete and I stopped for water and lost Mike and Patrick at that point.
Pete in pain
As we went past the pond on The Common, I saw a familiar face – my friend, Isabel from Buggy Mums. She had been out cycling with Laura earlier in the day and was doing a brick run as part of her training for an Olympic distance triathlon. It was great to have her company all of the way up the hill.
Pete’s calf was starting to hurt, but he was able to pick up the pace a bit on the downhill towards the crossroads, passing Patrick on the way. We went through the subway and then walked up the slope. I heard Patrick talking to us and assumed that he was ‘telling us off’ for walking, but then realised that he was saying he had fallen in the subway. His back and legs were covered in mud, but he seemed to be uninjured, which was good.
When Pete and I got to Church Lane, we walked up it again. There were quite a few students there cheering people on. It was hard to ignore them and walk, but I didn’t want to leave Pete.
Seeing the motivators
There was a water station by the University. Pete and I had another drink, before starting the downhill section. We hadn’t got far before we spotted the bright orange shirts of the motivators.
It was lovely to say hello to Kim and Vicky and have a bit of a laugh.
And then there was one
As we got towards Bitterne, Pete was struggling more. He kept telling me to go on. I felt bad as he had kept me going through all of our training runs, even though I was very slow when we started in January. At 31k, not far from Cobden Bridge, Pete finally convinced me to leave him.
I was feeling good on my second run through Riverside Park and spoke to a few other runners, which was nice. However, the section out of Riverside Park and back to Bitterne Triangle was very hot. I managed to get a pebble in my shoe and hoped that it would work itself into a less uncomfortable position. I passed the first-placed wheelchair half marathoner on this section and was impressed by how hard he was working as I imagine the course must be very tricky in a wheelchair.
As I got to the ukulele band at Bitterne Triangle, I saw Kim and Vicky again. I wasn’t expecting to see them, so I guess that their last place walker must have dropped out.
I enjoyed the section towards Bitterne Station. There were some shady areas and I was feeling strong. As I passed the pub, there were people outside with pints of lager that looked really refreshing.
Pebble in my shoe
I was getting annoyed by the pebble in my shoe. My friends think it’s funny that I always get pebbles in my trainers. I even picked one up in my hallway before I went on a training run with Pete. When I shake them out they are often tiny, but definitely big enough to be seen and not figments of my imagination.
I started looking for a bench or wall that I could sit on. I didn’t want to sit on the kerb as I have low blood pressure and I worried that if I sat down that low I might faint on standing. After a while, I saw a wall that was the perfect height. I stopped, took off my shoe, shook the pebble out and then retied it more loosely. If I’d thought about it, I should have done the other shoe at the same time as I then had one comfortable shoe and one that was a bit tight.
The Saints stadium
After crossing Northam Bridge again, I headed towards the stadium. It was sad to see a female runner sitting on the ground by the underpass. She didn’t have any obvious injuries but was in tears. Luckily, there were people with her.
This time, there were very few people with me as I went through the stadium, so I imagine there are loads of terrible photos of me taken by the automatic cameras.
As I headed towards the Itchen Bridge, I saw fellow tri club member Sandra. She had been a bike marshal earlier in the day and was now enjoying seeing the runners. It was lovely to see a friendly face.
The Itchen Bridge felt like a bit of a slog the second time around. I had a brief walk and then forced myself to start running again. I saw Paul and Chris from LRR on the other side of the bridge. For a few seconds, I wondered whether I would be able to catch Chris. Unlike the first time around, the crowds of supporters on the bridge had thinned (and I definitely don’t think they were as vocal as last year, which was a shame).
On my way back across the bridge, I saw Tim from LRR and was also surprised to see super speedy former SUTRI team-mate Flo. She caught up with me and we ran together for a while, but I think we were both quite emotional at that point. It was Flo’s first marathon and I realised that even if I ended up walking, I had a strong chance of getting a PB.
Slowing down again
As we got to the park by Ocean Village, Flo really picked up the pace, but I was unable to run that quickly.
I wondered whether Stu and his parents would be by the cafe where I saw them earlier, but there was no-one there. As I got to the Bargate, I realised how busy town had got. It was a little disorienting as there were a few people in the way who didn’t care about the race.
I then headed into the final park and saw Stu, his mum and Baby M. I gave them a thumbs up, before continuing towards the finish.
Heading to the finish line
The last half mile seemed to go on forever. The streets were lined with crowds. There were lots of familiar faces (and strangers) shouting my name. The barrage of noise for the last 200m was overwhelming and I managed to break into a sprint.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was immediately in front of my friend Dave who had spoken to me at the start. He had called out to me, but I think I assumed it was people in the crowd – sorry Dave!
Success – a huge PB!
My time of 4:14:44 was a massive improvement on my previous PB of 4:29:33. I didn’t quite manage to make the top half overall. I was pleased to finish in the top 25% of females.
After the race, I caught up with a few friends before meeting Stu and the others. I got changed and then Pete arrived back. Although his race hadn’t gone to plan, he still finished in 4:26, which is great. We then waited for Kate who got a PB, before heading to Nando’s for some food.
We also had time to watch the mascots race, which was quite funny.
I have no idea which mascot won.
Overall, I had a great day and would do this race again. I didn’t train as much as usual, but managed to knock 15 minutes off my marathon PB!