19 November 2017
All through the summer the Spitfires have been working their way through the club championship races. They’ve battled for parkrun PB’s and tried to better their times at races over distances from a mile to a marathon. There have been triumphs and disasters, along with a lot of early Sunday morning starts. In some cases injury or health issues have meant some Spitfires, like Commando, have lost all hope of winning in their age category. Most have battled on anyway, happy in the knowledge they’ll get a finishers medal at the end, while others have had to drop out altogether. Today was the last early start and the last chance to pick up points.
The race in question was the Gosport Half Marathon, one Commando has run many times before. It’s a relatively flat course, if a touch boring, taking in the coastal road between Stokes Bay and Lee-on-Solent. Usually this would be good news for anyone hoping for a PB, but the weather, in particular the wind, can be both friend and foe here. In all the years Commando has run it there have been some huge weather contrasts, from bright days with high temperatures, through gale force winds and heavy rain.
This morning, as we set out to pick up Sam and Andy, there looked to be perfect conditions. It was cold but dry and, most importantly, there was hardly a breath of wind. For those who were still trying to grab those all important final points, this could make all the difference between winning and losing. Commando, who had no hope of winning anything this year, had offered to pace Tori and Teresa to get them close to a two hour finish.
Although the race didn’t start until ten, road closures meant we had to get to the school on Gomer Lane before half past eight. This meant there was a lot of hanging around. Luckily the school building was nice and warm but we couldn’t stay in there forever. At around nine thirty we all piled out into the icy air for a group photo by the school gates. Even wrapped up so much I could barely move my arms I was cold. The runners, in their shorts and race shirts, must have been frozen half to death.
With the group photo taken we all walked down the road towards the start line. At least moving helped to warm us up a little but there was a long wait once we got there. Due to some kind of technical glitch the race started fifteen minutes late. The runners huddled together in the start pens and I walked up and down taking photos of the Spitfires I managed to spot. To their credit they all tried hard to smile, even if their teeth were chattering.
Finally the race did start and the relieved runners could get moving. This is usually the point where I go off for a wander on my own. There is a trail near the start line that follows the River Alver through the Alver Valley Wildlife Park. It’s a fairly pleasant walk, if a touch muddy in places, with a few interesting things to look at along the way. Today though, I had a little group of Spitfire cheerers with me and the only thing anyone had on their mind was a nice warm cup of coffee. Of course I knew exactly where the nearest Costa was, so we gave the wildlife park a miss and headed there instead.
By the time we’d walked the mile and a half to the Costa on Grange Road, ordered, drunk our coffees and walked back, Gerry was running up the road towards the finish line. I just managed to capture him. After that it was the usual game of spot the Spitfire and try to get their photo.
Our vantage point on the corner of Browndown and Privit Road was on the half way loop, so some of the runners going past still had six miles or so to go, while others were on the finish straight. It always seems like a cruel twist to a race tantalising the slower runners with a glimpse of the finish line near the half way point and it makes it hard for spectators to tell if they’re cheering finishers or not. Today a Spitfire, David, was riding the tail bike. Once we saw him go past we knew everyone we saw from then on would be finishing the race.
When Commando appeared around the corner with Teresa and Tori hot on his heels, I glanced at my watch. They were right on track for a two hour finish, give or take the odd minute. For the ladies, this would be knocking several minutes off the two hour ten minute PB’s they set last year at the same race with the same pacer. They both looked pretty pleased with themselves, and rightly so.
In true Spitfire spirit, the runners who had finished joined us on the finish straight to cheer on those still running, so our little cheering group seemed to get bigger and bigger. At least all the cheering kept us warm.
Once every last Spitfire had crossed the line all there was left to do was go back to the car park, find the car and head for home. This turned out to be easier said than done. The car park was so crowded just finding the car was a difficult task. Getting out onto the road again was a long, torturous process. Maybe next year we will leave home later and park somewhere away from the race?
So that was the end of the Spitfire Championship for this year, at least for the runners. Poor Gill now has the task of collating all the times and working out percentages to see who has improved the most in time for the awards event at the beginning of December. Rather him than me!
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