23 April 2017
At quarter to eight this morning Commando and I were standing on The Avenue opposite The Common shivering a little and looking at the mist swirling across the city. Obviously it was a race day and this time no ducks of any kind were involved. For once I was the one wearing the race shirt with a number and a timing chip pinned to it.
Until today there hadn’t been a full marathon run in Southampton since the 1980’s. Back then I was in my twenties and marathon running was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact I don’t remember the last Southampton. marathon at all. Over the last few years though running marathons has become quite a feature in my life, or at least watching Commando train and run for them has. Commando has run marathons in many different cities, from London to Toronto. He’s a truly international marathon runner. Crossing the finish line after running twenty six point two miles in your own city though is something very special.
Unfortunately, by the time the Southampton marathon dates were announced Commando had already signed up to run a marathon in Vancouver in May. Two long and taxing races so close together really wasn’t practical, especially as he had been dogged by injury towards the end of last year. For him the Southampton marathon just wasn’t meant to be, at least not this year, but he did sign up as a pacer for the half marathon and help with the Marafun training sessions for those who were going to run it. He also talked me into signing up as an official motivator for the 10k running alongside the two long distance events.
Last week he ran the last of his long training runs for Vancouver, twenty two miles. He finished the run but picked up an injury somewhere along the way. Despite rest ice, compression and elevation it wasn’t completely healed. If he ran the half marathon, even as a pacer at a slower speed than he would normally run, he’d probably set himself back. If that happened Vancouver would be out of the question. It broke his heart but he had to pull out of the Southampton race.
A whole host of runners were running in the various events today, for many it would be their first marathon or half marathon. Those who weren’t running had formed an official team of marshals and mile makers to motivate those who were. Commando joined them while I went for a wander along Above Bar and the parks where the races would start, to soak up the atmosphere. With a record breaking ten thousand runners taking part, not to mention all the spectators and officials, it was a rather crowded walk but I did spot Kim, in her pacer shirt amongst the throng.
The races started at half hour intervals with the full marathon runners first off at nine o’clock. A quick look at my watch told me I’d better find somewhere to stand if I wanted to see them run past so I headed back to Above Bar and found a tiny gap between the crowds lining the streets, shouldered my way into into it and got ready to cheer. By the time the last runner came past I’d shouted myself hoarse.
There was half an hour to kill before the half marathon set off. Normally I’d have gone off to get a coffee but I didn’t want to be bursting for the loo halfway round the 10k course later on so I wrote it off as a bad idea and hung around talking to all the amazing volunteers in Guildhall Square.
On my way to to find a place to watch the half marathoners go past I bumped into Sammy Saint the Southampton FC mascot, otherwise known as runner Matthew Dennis. Matthew becomes Sammy on matchdays to entertain the crowds and got special permission to run the 10k as his alter ego. In the chill of the early morning this might have seemed like a brilliant idea but the mercury was gradually rising. Somehow I thought he was going to get a tad overheated before he crossed the finish line.
The half marathon was starting any minute so I hot footed it up to the Cenotaph, camera at the ready to see how many pacers I could bag. With so many runners it wasn’t easy but the orange pacer shirts certainly helped me spot them and I captured a few along the way. Kim and Vicky were tail running this race so, when I saw them come past I knew it was time to get myself down to the parks and get ready for my own race. On the way I dropped the camera off in the VIP changing room. In hindsight I should have probably kept it with me.
Unbelievably I found myself standing at the start line right next to none other than Matt LeTissier who was also running the 10k. He had a steady stream of people asking him for selfies but he smiled and obliged each one. I wished him luck and joked that he’d better hope he didn’t see me on the course because I would be right at the back. The motivators are basically tail runners, which, in most cases, means walking. My only brief was to finish last. If only I kept my camera with me!
Walking 10k is obviously nothing too taxing for me, it’s just over six miles after all. In normal circumstances I’d be unlikely to be last across the line either because I can walk pretty fast when I need to. The job of motivating always gives me a few nervy moments though. It’s all very well setting off on a 10k walking and slowly moving up the field as other walkers and slow runners in front drop back. What really worries me is that the last person will be a runner and I won’t be able to keep up with them without breaking into a run too. It probably wouldn’t be a good thing to have the motivator keel over and die during the race after all! The other thing I worry about is the last person being such a slow walker I feel like I’m going backwards and the race taking all day. This is, of course, the lesser worry.
As it was the two back markers were walking but they were walking at a good pace. We headed up through the centre of town chatting happily. Neither of the two were from Southampton but both were Saints fans and both had foot injuries so wouldn’t be able to run. On the back streets near the site of the Dell football ground a runner with a pushchair dropped back and I lost my fast walkers. Then a nurse, suffering from shin splints joined me for a while.
By the time I reached the parks the nurse had dropped out and the mother and child had put on a turn of speed and were ahead of me. Now I was back with my original two and that was the way it stayed to the end. As we walked we shouted encouragement to the marathon and half marathon runners we passed, especially those who looked to be flagging in the heat. Beating the Itchen Bridge, over and straight back, seemed to be a sticking point for a lot of the marathoners. It was their second pass by this time after all and the finish was almost in sight. The road was littered with discarded water bottles and lids. We yelled at people to watch their step.
The Bargate was a welcome sight even for us. For the marathoners and half marathoners who’d been running in the heat far longer it must have looked like heaven. There was just a mile to go.
When I crossed the finish line I was overjoyed to see CJ there. He ran up to me and hugged me as if I’d just run a marathon not walked six miles. Commando was there too cheering people over the line in his ABP high vis jacket.
Those six miles had taken me far longer than a normal walk of that distance and the heat had taken its toll. Much as I wanted to stay and cheer people home I needed to get something to eat and drink. CJ walked back to the VIP changing room with me and I stuffed down a sandwich or two laid on for volunteers like me. Then I picked up my coat and my camera and headed to Costa to buy a much needed coffee.
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