I had an absolute blast returning to Portsmouth for my first ever Great South Run earlier this month. It has always been a bucket list race for me and it was lovely to go into it with no time pressure and just to focus purely on enjoying it.
I headed over to Portsmouth the day before to catch up with some local friends, so didn’t have too far to travel on the morning. I planned to use the city’s park and ride service (which I’d actually never used before) and was pleased to see a lot of runners had decided to do the same when I arrived. Due to road closures for the race, the bus dropped us off quite a way from the start line, but I was able to follow the crowd easily towards the seafront. When I got there I joined the queue for a last minute wee straight away, conscious that it was a pretty big race and the row of portaloos didn’t seem very long! It was the slowest moving queue EVER, and me and the lady waiting behind me eventually realised that our queue only fed into about three toilets, whereas the next queue along had at least double that. It didn’t really matter though in the grand scheme of things as I’d allowed plenty of time before the start and I wasn’t too desperate!
Next I headed to the starting pen for a quick group warm up before setting off. At this point the sun was actually starting to feel quite hot, despite it being the middle of October - quite different from the forecast rain I had been preparing to run in. Once I was through the start line I reminded myself this race wasn’t about PBs and just eased through the first couple of miles, letting others pass me by. I smiled at the crowds lining the roads cheering us on and made sure to take in the sights of Portsmouth after a few months away. Around two miles in we headed into the Historic Dockyard, which was very scenic, but suddenly seemed silent, all I could hear was other runners’ feet hitting the ground. From the amount of security guards and policemen, I’m guessing that this area was off limits to everyone except participants.
The support along the rest of the course was absolutely amazing. I loved hearing my name called by strangers, but it was brilliant to spot a few insta-friends along the way too, either supporting or participating. It made a big difference as my family hadn’t been able to come and support this time. I really did smile my way round and loved the familiarity of the streets and sights - and the pancake flat route of course!
The only section where I did struggle slightly mentally was around miles 7 and 8, in other words the dreaded third quarter. This is not uncommon for me in longer distance races, especially since Brighton Marathon earlier this year. It was nowhere near as bad as in how I felt during the New Forest Half Marathon in September (where the wheels off my PB attempt completely came off), but I think that was down to having taken the pressure off the pace. There was a man with a megaphone spurring the runners on as we reached the turning point to run the last two miles along the seafront, and it made me laugh when he said “Hands up if you’re regretting signing up to this event right now!”. It reminded me that it’s a common time to struggle during a race for many people, not just me. I thankfully didn’t have any issues taking my gels this time either (I switched to Torq instead of High5) and I was ready to head back to the finish line feeling stronger.
A lot of people I spoke to before the race warned me about the last two miles being a big struggle, waiting to see that finish line come into view and being right on the seafront and exposed to the elements. I’m definitely grateful that it wasn’t too windy, but I absolutely loved running along Southsea esplanade where I’d run so many times before, with Max in the buggy, with running friends, as part of virtual races and at Southsea parkrun.
But then, at about the eight-and-a-half mile point, a male runner collapsed to the ground right in front of me. Although it seemed to go in slow motion, I didn’t really register it until I was a few metres ahead, unsure whether I should turn back. As it was such a big race there were plenty of runners and volunteers around, but I would like to think that if something happened to me people would stop to make sure I was alright. I'm still feeling guilty about how I dealt with the situation, but another female runner who was next to me reassured me that he hadn’t fallen heavily, in fact he had sort of just sat down in the road, and that he would be taken care of by the wonderful marshals out on the course. He wasn’t the only runner taking ill that I saw during the race, I saw at least three others sitting being looked after on the side of the road. It definitely was warmer than I’d been expecting, especially for mid October, so maybe that was the most likely reason.
I went for a bit of a sprint finish from about 600 metres to go and finished the race in 1:34:23. I had no time goal but I imagined I’d finish somewhere between 1:30 and 1:45 so I was pretty chuffed. It wasn’t until later when I checked on Strava that I realised it was actually almost a 5 minute 10 mile race PB - although I’d only run one other official 10 mile race back in 2018.
With my medal around my neck I was ready to head home. The race village was buzzing but I was looking forward to seeing Max. The only real disappointment about this event was the complete lack of signage back to the park and ride stop. No matter how many people I asked, from people directing traffic in high vis jackets to random passers by, no one seemed quite sure which stop would be running or which direction I should go. Eventually I made it to the right station, but I definitely wasn’t the only one to struggle finding it, as another man arrived who seemed as relieved as me while we were waiting for the bus. It felt like a bit of a let down after an otherwise really positive experience. Despite it being more than twice the price, and the race being pretty pricey already at £46 per entry, I would probably bite the bullet next time and pay to park in the car park put on by the race organisers in the field next to the start line.
Besides a couple of minor logistical issues my first Great South Run really lived up to its name! I’m already very tempted to sign up again for next year.
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