When Hamwic Harriers signed up to marshal the Winchester Half Marathon we’d all expected to be standing around in searing heat trying not to burn or dehydrate. All kinds of drinks were purchased in preparation for the long, hot day, along with snacks to keep us going and jelly sweets to give out to the runners. Commando had even bought paper dishes to put the sweets in. Today was the day though and dehydration looked like it would be the least of our worries.
This morning began with an early drive to the airport to drop Commando and Rob off. They were catching a train, not a plane, heading for Winchester and a summer social run with a small group of Hamwic Harriers. Kim and I would be conquering a few hills around Mansbridge while we waited for them to come back. It all sounded great, apart from the fact it was raining again.
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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