Happy Birthday Southampton Parkrun

6 July 2019

This Saturday was Southampton Parkrun’s seventh birthday. As there was a music event going on on the flats where parkrun usually starts and finishes, the run was moved to the alternative course, beginning and ending close to the Cowherd’s Pub. Of course, this meant a bit of a longer walk for us to the start but, as that also meant more steps in the bag for me, I wasn’t complaining.

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Parkrun tourism, a return to Lee-on-Solent

22 June 2019

As the Race For Life was being held on Southampton Common this weekend we had to find another parkrun. There was a great deal of discussion about which one, with suggestions of various events we haven’t been to before. In the end though, we settled on a return to Lee-on-Solent, mostly because it was fairly close to home and didn’t involve getting up at silly o’clock. At least not for Commando and I.

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Moors Valley parkrun revisited

25 May 2019

Our normal Saturday usually begins with a quick drive to Southampton Common followed by parkrun. This morning though, a whole group of us were heading for Moors Valley parkrun instead so we had an earlier start than normal. At least we didn’t have any worries about getting lost. This was our third visit, although, for Kim, it would be a first. In fact, Kim was the main reason we’d chosen Moors Valley as she missed out last time due to work.

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Southampton marathon

5 May 2019

After months of training, hundreds of miles run in all weathers, nutrition plans, hydration plans and lots more, Southampton marathon day had arrived. Commando, Rob and Mark had all run marathons before but this one was meant to be special, not least because it was in their home city. The training had gone well, they were all set for a record breaking run. Well they were until the bike ride in the last two weeks, during their tapering.

In hindsight, going for a ‘nice easy’ bike ride with Mr G, who is a cycling legend, was probably not the best of ideas. Mr G doesn’t know the meaning of nice and easy. There were lots of miles and lots of hills. Male pride meant they tried to keep up. They came home broken. Even a sports massage from the amazing Paul Bartlett at The Running School didn’t fix things completely. This race would be run on determination, with teeth gutted against pain.

At least the weather was nice, although it looked like it might turn out to be a bit too warm for running 26.2 miles. Commando and Rob’s new running group, Hamwic Harriers, looked marvellous in their new shirts. Some were pacing, which is what Commando and Rob usually do, some were running the 10k, some the half marathon and a few the full marathon. As usual, not everyone made it to the team photo. There is always one!

With the team photoshoot of the way, we hung around in the VIP changing room for a while. All the pacers were there and Sammy Saint, (A.K.A Matt Dennis) the Saints mascot who was running the 10k. The amazing Saints legend Francis Benali was in the room next door getting ready for the final marathon of his seven iron man’s in seven days to raise money for cancer research. We saw him and his family but didn’t disturb them. The last thing he needed was people asking for his autograph or wanting a photo at this stage. Knowing Franny, he’d have been all too obliging but he needed all the rest he could get.

Other than the team photo, I had one really important job to do. I was in charge of Commando’s own mini water station just before the end of the first lap on London Road. There were two small bottles of water in my rucksack ready to swap for the ones in his water belt. When the runners had all headed off to the start pen I was left with quite a bit of time on my hands.

On a normal marathon day I’d have some kind of planned walk, a kind of whistle stop tour of the city. As this city was Southampton though, and I could see it any day uncluttered by thousands of runners, I just wandered through the crowds. With so many people watching, there was no chance of seeing Commando cross the start line, although I did see Kim and Vicky, the half marathon tailwalkers, waiting to set off.

There was a bit of strolling through the parks, a coffee stop in the London Road Starbucks and lots of chatting to friends, marshalling this part of the route. It seemed no time at all before the first runner came zooming past. After that I had to be on my toes trying to spot the Hamwic Harriers and keeping an eye out for Commando.

Steve and Ian, both pacers for the half marathon, were the first Harriers I saw. Not far behind them was Rob, looking set for the time he wanted despite still being broken from the bike ride.

Next up was pacer Luis, closely followed by Helen and Andy. Then there was Arron, heading for the 10k finish line and Sean at the end of his half marathon.

It was something of a relief to see Commando and Mark, not least because I could finally get rid of the water bottles. They were bang on their target time for the first half which was quite a surprise given that Commando had been limping from the outset. Unfortunately, the water bottle exchange meant I didn’t get any good photos of them.

After that there was a lot more waiting around, a coffee with my friend Kylie and some chatting until the next Harriers appeared. As it happened, Ian was the first I spotted heading for the marathon finish. He’d run the first lap as a pacer, then quickly changed into his Harriers shirt to run the second half alone and earn his marathon finisher’s medal. Only Ian could get away with such shenanigans, but race organiser Nikki Rees had agreed to it so he did get his medal.

Not long after Kate and Ian, the Harriers cheer squad, came past with their bikes, I spotted Rob heading for the finish line with Massi. The second half of his race hadn’t gone nearly as well as the first but he’d finished, even if he didn’t get a PB.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, Commando and Mark were still on their second pass of the Itchen Bridge at this point and not enjoying themselves in the slightest, even if they were waving for the cameras.

Once I’d seen Rob come past I headed down to Above Bar, hoping I’d get to see Commando cross the finish line. Helen and Andy came past, then Kim and Vicky, but there was no sign of Commando or Mark.

Pretty soon there was a little crowd of us waiting for Commando and Mark. Rob had got changed and joined me, along with Ian and Kim and a few other Harriers. Of course, as time went past I started to worry. He’d finished the first half so well, despite being injured, I began to imagine all sorts of horrible things. It was now clear a PB was out of the question, but I was getting worried about him finishing at all.

Eventually, just as my panic was rising to maximum level, Commando and Mark limped across the finish line. They were smiling, but that was mainly because they could finally stop running.

Later, in the VIP changing room, Commando told me the second pass of the Itchen Bridge had been where the wheels fell off his race. His hip had been hurting on and off since the bike ride, now it finally gave out. He kept going and, to his great credit, Mark stayed with him and gave up his chance for a good time, The rest of the race was a painful run walk affair, made worse by knowing this would be the slowest marathon ever. Most people would have given up but, of course, Commando is made of sterner stuff.

It had been a very long, painful day but there was still one thing left to do. Rob and Kim’s granddaughter, Emilia, was entered into the children’s mile race. Sammy Saint was there, victorious after running the 10k and the mascots race and still looking full of energy. Rob looked less than enthusiastic about running another mile but Emilia had enough energy for both of them.

It had been a long, tough day for two slightly broken runners. The only records they’d broken in the end were for their personal worst marathon times. On the long limp back up the Avenue to our car Rob and Commando both agreed this would be their last marathon. Of course, I’ve heard that before so I’m not entirely sure I believe them…

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Parkrun tourism Southsea

6 April 2019

This week we decided to go for another spot of parkrun tourism. There are eighteen different parkrun venues in Hampshire to choose from but our rather random choice for this week was Southsea, around twenty miles down the motorway.

Obviously, it was an earlier than usual start and a rather crowded car, as we picked up Rob, John and Ian on the way but we arrived in good time, parked up in the Pyramids car park and quickly found the start on the far side of the Rock Gardens. Although the Southsea course, along the seafront to Eastney and back, was pretty familiar, being part of the Great South and Portsmouth Coastal routes, only John had actually run the Southsea parkrun before. It was also the first spot of parkrun tourism for Rob and Commando’s new running group, the Hamwic Harriers. Commando was even wearing his shiny new Hamwic Harriers shirt!

It was a touch on the chilly side on the seafront and, even in my warm coat, I was shivering. The runners in their shorts and thin shirts looked positively frozen. As it happened, we weren’t the only ones trying out the relatively flat, fast Southsea course. While we were waiting for the start, we bumped into Gerry.

The first ever Southsea parkrun was held on 5 October 2013, with 276 people taking part. These days it averages around theee hundred runners each week, a touch smaller than Southampton, but then almost every UK parkrun is. Weather plays an important role in the number of PB’s here. The course may be more or less flat but a windy day can make running one half a little tricky. Luckily today was relatively calm, if cold, but then, as all of our group were in the final stages of marathon training, none of them was planning on going flat out. Well, that’s what they told me anyway!

Frankly, it was quite a relief when everyone set off along the Esplanade and I could finally warm up with a little walk. As I’ve spent quite a lot of time wandering around Southsea while Commando has been running various events, my main plan for the morning was to dash to grab a coffee and dash back. Unlike most of the other races, parkrun doesn’t really leave much time for wandering anyway, even on a slow day Commando was likely to finish in twenty five minutes or less.

Although there are coffee shops on the seafront, past experience made me wary of trying any of them. The last time I tried that the coffe was so bad I threw it in a nearby bin after just two sips. There is only one Costa in Southsea and I reckoned, if I walked fast, I’d be able to get there, get a coffee and get back before any of the runners crossed the line. As plans go it was fairly unambitious. The most direct route is just over a mile there and back. Of course, I was starting off from a slightly different place than normal and, in typical fashion, managed to take a wrong turn which added a few extra minutes but did show me a rather interesting piece of graffiti I’d not encountered before.

For a moment I thought I’d stumbled upon a crowd of strangely dressed locals queueing outside a building. Closer inspection told me they and the building windows were all painted, along with a map of Southsea. Given that I was now technically lost, the map was quite handy.

The mural, near the roundabout between Clarendon Road and Granada Road, is the work of The Lodge Arts Centre, overseen by Mark Lewis. It’s constantly being updated with new characters so I may return another time for a closer look.

In the end, my coffee was not to be. I made it to Costa but found a rather long queue. There was no time to wait so I simply turned around and headed back towards the parkrun finish line. As walks go it wasn’t one of my most interesting and there wasn’t much time for photographs, although I did snap the slowly rising sun over Southsea Common.

My timing was impeccable. As I walked towards the finish line I could see the first finishers approaching. Moments after I reached the end of the funnel I spotted Commando, Rob and John heading along the Esplanade together. They’d obviously stayed true to their word and had a fairly gentle run. Ian, however, was nowhere to be seen. This was puzzling, as he is the fastest of the group.

Just as I began to worry that something had happened to poor Ian, someone tapped me in the shoulder. When I turned around, there was Ian grinning like a Cheshire Cat and holding up his finish token. He’d actually crossed the line first!

None of the Hamwic Harriers got a PB today and there are no prizes for being first finisher at parkrun but, all in all, I’d say our parkrun tourism adventure to Southsea was a success. The only downside was the distinct lack of coffee. Next time I think I’ll take a flask!

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Whiteley parkrun

23 February 2019

It’s been a while since we’ve done any parkrun tourism, so, when Mark and Nicole said they were going to run at Whiteley this weekend, we decided to go along. It’s a relatively new parkrun and has been on our list to visit for a while so today seemed as good a day as any. As it turned out there were a few things we should have known beforehand.

Commando has run several CC6’s and RR10’s at Whiteley. One of the things I remembered most clearly about it was the Costa Coffee near the car park. This was obviously a huge bonus to my way of thinking. The other thing I remembered was the route, a fairly narrow track, with lots of gravel, trees water and even little bridges. While they were running I thought I might enjoy having a wander if I could find a trail that wasn’t part of the parkrun. Of course I didn’t say any of this, which was just as well because I might have looked a little foolish.

When we arrived the first thing I did was get my wonderful reusable take away coffee cup (thanks for that Commando) filled up at Costa. I was then expecting us to turn left, cross the road and head into the trees. We didn’t. It turns out the parkrun isn’t in the same place as the cross country series at all. It is, in fact, behind the shopping centre on a large L shaped field surrounded by houses.

Finding the start was relatively easy. There was a parkrun flag and a small knot of people in bright coloured Lycra. We had a little while before the briefing and the start so I took a team photo and we stood around chatting and people watching. Before very long we began to notice a lot of the runners seemed to be in fancy dress. There were several superheroes, people in Christmassy gear and even a couple of chaps dressed as beer bottles. It was all very odd.

In normal circumstances, the only people dressed up at parkrun are the ones completing a milestone run, unless, of course, it’s Christmas or some other special occasion. Either there were an awful lot of people with milestones, which would be quite a coincidence, or we were missing something.

We puzzled on this, thinking perhaps the people of Whiteley were just an odd bunch who liked dressing up for no particular reason, until the RD started his briefing. This was when we discovered we’d accidentally turned up on their hundredth run! Suddenly it all made sense. We also all felt slightly underdressed.

Luckily there wasn’t much time to worry about it because, in a very short time, the running began. From my point of view, as a spectator, it was both good and bad. The good part was that I had a great view of the stream of runners as they made their way around the outside of the field. The bad part was there was no where for me to go for a walk. Of course I could have gone for a wander around the shops but that isn’t really my thing.

So I stood and watched the runners go around the field until they disappeared around the corner. Then I watched as they appeared again. Commando and Mark, are both quite fast runners (although Commando would tell you he is slow), but today they were both running with Nicole who is a little slower. They all appeared around the corner more or less together. This wasn’t the end of it though.

Unlike Southampton which is basically a big figure of eight of the Common, Whiteley is three laps of the two adjoining fields. From a runner’s point of view this is not ideal. Commando, in particular, isn’t keen on courses that are several laps. He likes a change of scenery. On the plus side, it’s more or less flat. On a different day Commando might have been tempted to go for a PB, although all those sharp corners might not make this as easy as it looks on the face of it.

Once they’d gone past on their first lap I went for a little wander across the field. It was muddier than expected and quite slippery, so I didn’t go quite as far as I’d planned. Commando, Mark and Nicole all spotted me as they came around the corner from the second field. They’d all started off wearing sweatshirts because it was quite a chilly morning, now they all ran up the bank to meet me and throw their, by now, unneeded clothing at me. This is not the first time I’ve been a runner’s clothes horse and I’m fairly sure it won’t be the last.

Once they’d all gone past I thought I’d better head back towards the finish funnel. Their next lap would be their last. The finish funnel at Whiteley is very short, at least when compared to the monster funnel at Southampton. As I stood waiting I could hear the RD talking about finish tokens, wondering if they would run out as they only had four hundred or so. As a contingency plan he’d brought some raffle tickets to use. As their average attendance is just over two hundred this morning was probably a record breaker for them. They had 347 finishers in the end so the raffle tickets went unused.

The final plus point about Whiteley was that we had Costa just around the corner for our post run coffee. Would we run it again? Maybe, but next time we will make sure we have all the facts beforehand.

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Dismal day

5 January 2019

The second parkrun of 2019 began with a first. Young Cameron Sommerville-Hewitt, aged just 16, was trying his hand at Run Directing for the first time. This fine young man has somehow notched up more than one hundred runs and has a PB most people would envy (Commando certainly does). He’s been learning the ropes for a few weeks now and today, under the watchful eye of Event Director Rob, he donned the RD jacket and did a great job of organising things. When he turns eighteen he will be able to officially Run Direct on his own and will probably set the record for the youngest RD ever.

Despite all the brightly dressed runners, the morning was a dark, dismal affair but it quite suited my mood. The last few weeks seem to have been filled with losses. The first was my lovely neighbour of almost thirty years, then came a mother from my days waiting in the playground for my boys. They say these things come in threes and this was proved when we learned of the death of our martial arts instructor and friend, George. The first two deaths were not unexpected, both lovely ladies had been ill for some time. George’s death, however, was quite sudden and, although he was 83, it was a shock. His funeral was yesterday and today we planned to take some flowers to put on his grave. First though there was a parkrun to get through and some other graves to visit.

A walk in the Old Cemetery under a leaden, drizzle laden sky in the biting cold felt like a fittingly melancholy way to start a mournful day. While the runners were racing round with joyful abandon, I slowly wandered among the graves. Some, like that of William and Zillah Gear, felt like old friends. How many times have I passed by, smiled at the unusual name and wondered about the woman who once bore it?

The narrow path I chose turned out to be muddier than I’d expected but it led me to another familiar grave, that of Rebecca Arabella Dimmock and her husband, Charles. This grave first caught my eye because the name reminded me of TV gardener Charlie Dimmock and Rebecca Arabella seemed like a name that ought to be in a novel. Perhaps one day I will write it?

With no real aim I wandered this way and that, surprised to find Christmas baubles still clinging to some of the trees. Then I came across the grave of George Staur Madge, a wonderful name and an intriguing story. George was born in Southampton in 1834 but, at some point, emigrated to South Africa. Why is a mystery but he lived in Port Elizabeth, probably amongst the four thousand British settlers who’d set up home there in 1820 to strengthen the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. How long he stayed there is unclear but, in 1881, when he died, he was living back in Southampton.

Close by I stumbled upon the grave of Ethel Bertha and Hector Young. Hector was mayor of Southampton between 1929 and 1930. He accompanied Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) when he laid the foundation stone for the Civic Centre and was involved in the planning of the Sports Centre in the early 1930’s. Poor Ethel Bertha was killed in the Southampton Blitz on 24 September 1940 and Hector never forgot her. In 1962 he donated a window to St Michael and All Angels Church in Bassett in her memory. The window, showing the Archangel Michael defeating Satan, was designed by Francis Skeat. He also formed a charitable trust, The Berta And Hector Young Trust for the relief of hardship for members of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

My meanderings were taking me towards the oldest part of the cemetery and, as I approached the chapels, I came upon a bench overshadowed by a tree whose branches were positively weighed down by festive baubles and trinkets.

This is not a part of the cemetery I visit often so there were a few interesting graves I hadn’t spotted before. One belonged to Hubert Napoleon Dupont. Born, Alphonse August Dupont, in France in 1805, he studied in the College de Valogues and the theological school in Coutances and was ordained as a catholic priest in 1854 but later abandoned Catholicism and became an Anglican minister. Whether this decision and his marriage to Suzanne Charley in 1857 were connected is unclear. Between 1856 and his death in 1876 he was minister of St Julien’s, the French church on Winkle Street. The inscription on his grave shows he was held in high regard.

The next belonged to Andrew Lamb, although the decorative script made this difficult to fathom. Born in 1803, he was Chief Engineer of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, later better known as P&O. Lamb was an innovator. He introduced, among other things, a boiler system to stop the build up of salts, patent life boats, a boiler with flat sided flues, a steam superheating device and an improved method of feed water heating for boilers. All these things would probably be of great interest to Commando Senior, who would understand them far better than I.

Lamb didn’t confine himself to engineering feats. In 1861 he became the first chair of the amalgamated Isle of Wight Steam Packet Co and Red Funnel Steamers. Ten years later he became the chair of the publishing company producing the Southampton Times and he was a JP and alderman. He built St Andrew’s Villa off Brunswick Place, and raised funds to build St Andrew’s Church on the lane near his house. Lamb was, undoubtedly, a very clever and philanthropic man and his death in 1881 must have been a loss to the engineering world and the town. Beside his grave is the grave of his son, Andrew Simon Lamb.

The grave beside these two was intriguing. It is a simple wooden cross surrounded by a kind of low wooden fence. The cross is engraved with the name Hugo P Hickman. The really curious thing is a painting of a house leant up against the cross. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a painting on a grave and I couldn’t help wondering if this was Hugo’s house or if Hugo was an artist. Sadly Googling didn’t satisfy my curiosity. All I discovered was that the grave belonged to Hugo Pendennis Hickman, born 23 June 1925, who died on 30 July 2003. Still wondering I headed back towards the cemetery gates and parkrun.

As if the day hadn’t been filled enough with graves, after a coffee and a bite of lunch, we headed out again to visit George’s grave in Shedfield. The drive there was a sad reminder of so many other, happier, drives to George’s gym on Black Horse Lane. This one ended with a pretty Church and a lych gate, beyond which was a graveyard.

The grave was already heaped with flowers but CJ bent to add ours to them all the same. George was a very popular man. So popular it had been standing room only in the church the day before. He was a real character. In his youth he joined the Royal Marine Commandos and became an instructor in unarmed combat. In later life he turned to teaching martial arts and this was where he met Commando, CJ and, much later, me.

Commando and CJ were rather good at martial arts. Commando learned Kung Fu before CJ was born and, under George’s tutelage, along with CJ added jujitsu, Karate and mixed martial arts to his repertoire. Fighting has never been my thing but George insisted on teaching me self defence. He found it amusing that I could only bear to train with Commando, as he was the only person at the gym I wasn’t scared to hurt. I can still hear him saying, “I’m going to teach you a naughty little trick now, in case someone comes out at you one dark night.”

George was a tiny man, not much taller than me and slightly built. Looks can be deceptive though. Even in old age he was more than a match for even the youngest and strongest of men. He was also full of interesting stories. The little grave seemed far too small to contain such a giant personality.

We couldn’t linger too long in Shedfield because, predictably, Commando had a race at Fairthorn Manor in nearby Curdridge. It was his last race as a Spitfire and my last stint as Spitfire photographer. We went. He ran. I took photos. There is little else I want to say about it except that a chapter has ended and our integrity is intact. So far this year seems to be all about endings.

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The Five parkruns of Christmas

Christmas 2018

For runners slightly obsessed with collecting parkrun milestone t-shirts, the parkruns of Christmas must seem like an extra Christmas present. There’s no other time of year when you can squeeze in a cheeky midweek parkrun or even two in one day and those extra runs certainly help rack up the numbers.

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Goodbye, hello, Remembrance and mud

10 November 2018

The end of October brought the end of the warm weather. It had been one of the longest, hottest summers in living memory and getting out jumpers, hats and gloves seemed like a welcome change of pace. So, wrapped up warm against the chilly autumn air, we set off across a Common softened by mist and bathed in golden light for our second parkrun of the month. It was going to be a day for goodbyes.

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The Great South Run

21 October 2018

October came to a close with one more race, the Great South Run. This is probably the biggest race of the year in the south of England, although it is by no means the longest, being just ten miles. Yet again Commando was pacing and would be running far slower than normal. He would also be wearing bunny ears and a flag.

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