Last Sunday, the British public awoke – refreshed from that extra hour in bed – with the hope of a beautiful day. Instead, a grey miserable sky greeted them. No doubt, this prompted various groans about the ‘typical British weather’. But in the South, 24,000 people breathed a sigh of relief. No one likes running in the sun and after months of training, they were glad that the English weather hadn’t let them down on the day of the Great South Run.
After waking up at 7:30am – difficult enough on its own – showering and wolfing down some Weetabix, I set off. When people say to leave with plenty of time, they mean it. The race is held in Portsmouth, only 20 minutes away, and didn’t start until 11am, but the early start was necessary as the motorway was blocked with traffic.
It was at this time that my body began its purposeful vendetta to try and stop me from putting it through the 10-mile pain. My stomach started to feel odd and the nerves crept in, as I began to stress that I was going to miss it. This was to be expected though; even doing the 100 metres at school made me shake with fear. It was a while before I realised how irrational this nervousness was too – if I was going to miss the run, so were all the other thousands of competitors around me.
2 hours later, after driving down hundreds of roads and many attempts to squeeze into gaps, we found a space and the car was parked. Outnumbered star Hugh Dennis was not so lucky, having to park 2 miles away and run to get to the start of the race. My entrance was less grandiose, consisting of trying to support my hobbling twisted-ankle girlfriend and watch my sister drag the dog. However, as we approached the seafront, you could feel the energetic atmosphere building with people in their running gear, spectators in rain coats and stalls blowing air horns at the runners supporting their charity.
In the starting area, my nerves dripped away as all the runners got into the spirit of it. I personally didn’t join in with the bizarre megaphone-led warm-up – as it pretty much consisted of punching your arms in the air like you were a gig – but it was good fun soaking up the atmosphere. My body started on me again; this time, I was desperate for the toilet and went three times in the space of 10 minutes.
And then, the race started.
Now, you probably imagine it’s a sprint from the start line, jostling for position with a few falls. Well, at least I did. Instead, I started 800 metres back from the start line and it took me around 5 minutes to get there. I then spent the first mile tiring myself out by trying to dodge around the crowds. It wasn’t until I got home afterwards that I read the pre-magazine that stated this was a bad idea.
It was a bit of weird experience running with all these people, I had only run alone previously. At different stages, another competitor seemed to be running at the same pace and you sort of just fell in line with them – James in the Might Boosh t-shirt got me through the first few miles.
The route certainly lived up to expectation; we passed the iconic Spinnaker tower, HMS Victory – the ship where Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar – as well as past Southsea Common and Portsmouth Guildhall. And the atmosphere was buzzing; there were marching bands playing umusic on the route, children wanting high fives and thousands of people lining the street. Running is quite a boring sport, both to compete in and watch, so it was amazing that Portsmouth’s residents turned out to support the runners. They really do spur you on with their clapping and encouragement (I even got a few “Come on Alex”s) which makes you feel like you have to finish.
The last 2 miles took us along the seafront, where a few volunteers were handing out jelly babies which, no joke, actually felt like they gave me an extra burst of energy. And then came the final 400m, 200m and then the final bend. I did have to shout at my family to get their attention – they were searching intently the crowd so hard that they missed me. And then went for the good old sprint-like finish.
In the end, I finished in 1 hour, 36 minutes and 2 seconds in 7838th place. It was all a bit of a blur. I woke up the next day, stiffed-legged with chaffed thighs and blood-blistered feet, but it was worth it.
Overall, the Great South Run raised more than 3 million pounds for a range of charities across the country, with professional athletes, celebrities, club competitors and fun runners all partaking in the event. Entries for the 2012 Run are already open.