As we set off for the Wyvern 10k this morning I felt unusually light of heart. Previous versions of this event have felt a little like hell on Earth, standing in blistering heat, camera in hand, desperately trying to get photos of runners crossing the finish line. They had to be good photos too, no funny faces or wobbly flesh, just flying feet and smiles. There was never any time to go wandering, just an aching back, arms and legs from standing still for so long and maybe a bit of sunburn.
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.
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.
Spring was a reluctant visitor this year. May, usually all sunshine and spring flowers, was wet and chilly. All coats and jumpers rather than ever decreasing layers and sun cream. Summer, so far, is much the same. With so much rain the bright spring greens seemed somehow brighter and greener this year and have lasted well into June, so I guess it’s not all bad.
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.
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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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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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.
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.
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.