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.

Goodbyes are not usually happy occasions but, in this case, no one was actually going anywhere. John, the Southampton parkrun Event Director for the last three years and his wife Rachel who’s is a regular Run Director, had decided to step down. Overseeing one of the biggest parkruns in the country, regular Run Directing and being chairman and welfare officer of a running club while holding down full time paid jobs are far more work than most people realise. John and Rachel were well overdue a bit of time to rest and relax.

John’s favourite band, Ukulele Jam, had turned up to surprise him and there was a general air of festivity about the event. Before RD, Kate, got into her pre run briefing, Rob presented John and Rachel with a beautiful framed map of the parkrun course. Rob is one of Southampton parkrun’s most experienced RD’s and he will now he be taking over the ED reigns.

As soon as the goodbyes and hello’s were over I tramped across the grass to the Old Cemetery. This is always my favourite part of Saturday morning and, with the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I coming up, I had more than an inkling there’d be something interesting to see. The still misty morning light burnished the autumn leaves and turned the cemetery paths into a cathedral of colour.

My aim was the chapel at the far end of the main path but the scatterings of bright berries, the moon in the deep blue sky and dappled sun on interesting graves threatened to distract me with every step. The Old Cemetery is difficult to walk through with any purpose, there is just so much to see everywhere.

It was well worth persevering and ignoring all the things that caught my eye along the way. When I reached the chapel I discovered one of the interesting commemorative sculptures that have popped up all over the city. These cast iron figures were created by the Royal British Legion to mark the centenerary of the armistice as reminders of all those who died.

This one was a suffragette. She caused a bit of a stir amongst those who didn’t fully understand the role the suffrage movement played in World War I. Before the war some women waged a campaign of civil disobedience, violence and hunger strikes. In 1914, when war broke out, the suffragists and suffragettes put aside their battle for equality and did all they could to help the war effort. They set up hospital units in France and helped at home by taking on jobs that would previously have been done by men. Their actions proved, once and for all, that women were capable of doing men’s jobs and more than worthy of the vote.

While the statue in the Cemetery was no surprise to me the tea lights candles and lanterns all around the war memorial were unexpected. There were dozens of them, many actually alight, in all different shapes, sizes and colours. Who put them there is a mystery but it was a beautiful and moving tribute to those who died. For some time I stood looking at them and thinking about the sacrifices made in those dark days.

Much as I’d have liked to stay a little longer and maybe visit some of the other war graves, I had to get back to parkrun. There was just time for a quick look at the Belgian soldiers memorial. This too was surrounded by glass lanterns.

A few spots of rain were falling as I walked back across the grass. They didn’t come to anything though, apart from a rainbow over the parkrun finish funnel. Tempting as it was to go off in search of a pot of gold on the trail around Cemetery Lake, Commando and I had to leave quick smart. We had another race to go to in the afternoon.

The race in question was the next Hampshire Cross Country League event in Aldershot. Commando had never been there before and my only experience of it was a brief visit in June 2012 to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Aldershot football stadium. Suffice to say we got lost. It also began raining torrentially which didn’t help matters much.

Eventually we found the place but couldn’t find a way into the car park. In the end we parked up at the side of a lane some distance away and traipsed through the rain and mud to the start line. It didn’t look like it was going to be a fun afternoon in the slightest.

The course could best be described as a quagmire, there had been two earlier races so the wet ground was well churned up before the race even began. The rain was so hard I abandoned any thought of getting my fancy camera out and, instead, stood dripping, squinting through my foggy glasses and tried my best with my phone. Commando was almost gleeful at the sight of it. He’d just bought some new spikes for his running shoes and was pleased to be able to test them out. Have I mentioned that runners are very strange people?

If lap one had seemed bad, lap two was even worse. The rain had been falling steadily and the runners had turned the mud into a dirty pond. Photos were getting harder and harder to take, mainly because everyone was so covered in mud it was difficult to recognise them.

There was a third lap, but, by then, I’d put my phone away and given up trying to take pictures, although I did whip it out once, to capture a very wet, muddy Commando heading for the finish. This was undoubtedly the muddiest cross country race I’ve ever watched. Later I learned there was a small stream on the woodland part of the course. On lap one it was easy to step over. By lap two it required leaping. On the final lap the stream had grown to such proportions the runners had to wade through. Still, it did wash off some of the mud briefly.

At the start of the day, in the soft mist and dawn light, putting on a jumper, hat and gloves seemed like a pleasant novelty. What I hadn’t bargained for was needing a dry robe and waders by the afternoon. Suddenly autumn and cross country race spectating didn’t seem quite so charming after all.

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. If you’re worried about privacy or data protection, please see my privacy policy here.

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.

Getting into Southsea at all proved quite problematic. We left stupidly early but the traffic was terrible and we sat in a long jam wondering if we’d ever make the start line. We did of course, but too late to really enjoy the VIP changing facilities in Southsea Castle. 

Commando had just about got his pacer shirt, ears and flag on when the call came for official pacer photos. While the professional photographer faffed around arranging everyone in different poses and fiddling with his ultra fancy camera, I took a few shots of my own. 

After this the pacers ran off for a warm up and I grabbed a quick coffee from the VIP changing room. There are some advantages to being a pacer’s wife, although the coffee wasn’t all that great.

They all arrived back just in time to go back out again to the start line. Here there was a bit of hanging about, waiting for a TV interview that never actually materialised. Things were rather crowded and I knew there’d be no chance of start line photos so I wandered off to find a good vantage point somewhere on the course.

As it happened I found an almost perfect spot at about mile six, or maybe seven, close to the Jolly Sailor pub. Moments after I arrived the fastest runners began coming past. The lone, rather young and inexperienced marshal on the corner seemed glad of my company and we stood chatting for a while, with one eye on the trickle of runners coming past.

It was all very pleasant and companionable until a driver, who obviously believed the road closures didn’t apply to him, pulled up and began rudely asking the marshal to remove the cones and let him through. Quite rightly, the marshal refused but the large and aggressive man was having none of it. He got out of his car and began to move the cones himself. There was little the poor marshal could do to stop him. Unfortunately, in his anger, the man had forgotten to put his hand brake on and his car began to roll onto the course. In the nick of time he jumped back in, ran over the remaining cones and drove up the course towards the runners. Luckily, at this stage there weren’t many runners on the course and no one was injured but the man was extremely rude and intimidating and it could have all been far worse.

Not long after this disappointing and rather scary incident the first of the Spitfire runners began to come past. Now I was too busy taking photos to dwell on what had happened. It would be a while before Commando arrived but there were other pacer shirts and bunny ears to cheer on, including Gerry and Nick.

There were also a few pretty odd looking runners to amuse me. One was dressed as some kind of Star Wars character, at least I think that was what his costume was. It looked a bit on the hot and claustrophobic side to me. He was followed by more familiar pacer faces, Big Dave and John, who both gave me a wave.

They were both bang on their target times but no one would have blamed them if they’d been running a bit faster than they should. Right behind them was the Incredible Hulk! Behind the Hulk came two more Daves, one of whom was running under the name Daniel for some reason, closely followed by a gorilla. It was hard to imagine how hot it must have been in that furry suit. Now the sun had come right out I was roasting in my thin parka.

After a few more pacers and friends, including Pacer Rob who totally ignored my shouts of encouragement, came two ladies dressed as flowers. They looked absolutely lovely, if a little wilted by the heat.

The flowers were followed by more pacers, friends and what I’m fairly sure was a Cookie Monster. Going by the times on the pacer flags passing by I expected Commando along fairly soon. By now the runners were coming thick and fast though so spotting him might not be easy.

Then Abi came past with a one hour fifty flag. This was the pace Commando was running and I expected him to be with her but he wasn’t. Several minutes of worry passed, along with several friends and a Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle, apparently called Mark. Part of me thought I might have missed Commando in the crowds, another part was worried something had happened. We have had way too many injuries and illnesses in the last couple of years and the idea of another was truly scary.

What I didn’t know, mostly because I’d left the start line before he set off, was that there were one hour fifty pacers in two separate waves starting at different times. Abi was in the first wave, Commando was in the second, more than ten minutes behind her. They were a very, very long ten minutes, filled with thoughts of all the possible disasters that could have happened. Then I spotted him in the crowd. Right behind him was Tony, the chimp and a ship called Victory with two sailors.

Of course there were still pacers and friends to try to spot but I was far more relaxed now I knew Commando was OK. Of all the weird and wonderful costumes that passed me by, the strangest came right before I headed back towards Southsea Castle. It was, of all things, a portaloo! Now I think I’ve seen everything.

So I walked back along the course, stopping every now and then to snap the last of my friends on the course. Past experience told me there was little point trying to find Commando in the crowds at the finish line. Once he’d collected his medal and got changed he’d have his phone and would call me. After a quick visit to the VIP changing room, hoping to find some coffeee left (I wasn’t in luck), I climbed up the hill behind the castle, looked out over the tents of the race village and enjoyed a snack and some water. Even though I hadn’t run a single step, it had been a long, hot day.

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. If you’re worried about privacy or data protection, please see my privacy policy here.

All about races

October 2018

October seemed to be all about races. First there was the Ageas 10k. Actually that one was right at the end of September but let’s not quibble about a day or two. Commando was pacing a very slow, for him, fifty five minutes and I was supposed to be taking photos. As I was still suffering with the lurgie this was not as simple as you’d think. 

Runners are quite a germ phobic lot, mostly because they always seem to have important races coming up and don’t want to get sick. This meant I had to try to stay away from everyone so I didn’t spread my germs, whilst still getting as many photos as I could. There was some degree of success and a lot of coughing.

The next weekend was taken up with the Bournemouth Half Marathon. It was a stupidly early and slightly chilly start but, once I’d taken team photos and watched Commando walking towards the start line, I had a nice walk through Boscombe Cemetery.

You all know how much I like wandering through a cemetery, and this turned out to be the best part of the whole day for me. The Cemetery, designed by architect Christopher Crabbe Creeke, was opened in 1878. Entering from Kings Park, my first view was of the Jewish Chapel, looking rather atmospheric in the early morning light.

From there I took the main path towards Gloucester Road, stopping to admire the chapel in the centre of the cemetery. This beautiful building with its central tower and spire, looks more church than chapel. It was built in 1877, before the cemetery was opened, and contains both the Church of England and Nonconfirmist chapels. In the golden morning light the Purbeck and Bath stone almost seemed to glow. Unfortunately for me, the door was closed so I couldn’t get a look inside.

Frankly, I could have happily spent the whole day wandering around the cemetery looking at graves. There are more than forty three thousand to look at though and I had a half marathon finish line to get to at some point. In the end I had to content myself with a quick walk around the war plot. As Remembrance Sunday was fast approaching, this seemed fitting.

The plot is enclosed by a low box hedge with the war cross on the west side. The rows of plain white stones made sobering viewing. Most of those buried here died in Bournemouth’s auxiliary and private hospitals and are from World War I but seven are from World War II.

While my route to the finish line was going to be far shorter than Commando’s I knew I was bound to get tangled up in runners at some point. A quick look at my watch told me I really should get a move on so, rather reluctantly, with a quick stop to photograph the little stone lodge, I headed for the gate.

Luckily, I more or less knew the way due to previous Bournemouth Marathon adventures. Now my main plan was to get to the centre of Bournemouth as quickly as possible, get a coffee and find somewhere to watch the finish. Once I’d crossed the railway bridge and Christchurch Road I took what I hoped would be a shortcut through Woodland Walk. This turned out to be a mistake and gave me rather a longer, but probably prettier, walk than my previous route would have.

When I eventually got back on track I met with the first runners. Commando was not amongst them and I had no idea whether he’d already passed by or not. What I did have was quite a long and frustrating detour to get around them and onto the beach side of the road.

Eventually I made it and the cliff path was in sight. It was just a matter of walking down it onto Boscombe Promenade. In theory, this should have been when things got far simpler and my progress much faster. At first, getting to the finish line before Commando looked like it was going to be a breeze. There were barely any runners on this part of the course and I could almost taste the coffee. The sun was shining. There were beach huts, sea and sand to enjoy…

Things didn’t go quite to plan though. When more and more runners began to appear I had to decide which side of the course to walk on. I made the wrong choice and ended up at a dead end by Boscombe Chine Gardens. Only runners were allowed in the gardens and spectators weren’t allowed to cross the course. I had to turn and walk all the way back, past Boscombe Pier, and find a way across there. If only someone had thought to put up signs for spectators this frustration could have been avoided, along with the extra walking. On the plus side, I did see Commando and Rob twice on this stretch of the walk.

After the Boscombe Pier debacle I was stuck firmly on the beach side of the course and, fairly soon, there were so many other spectators I couldn’t see much of anything. So much time had been lost on the various detours I now had to rush if I wanted any chance of making the finish line before Commando. I might have done it too, if it hadn’t been for the chaos by Bournemouth Pier.

The crowds around the pier were so thick I could barely get through them. To get to the finish line I needed to cross the course but there were impenetrable barriers stopping me. The pier turned out to be a dead end. The only way past was to walk onto the shore and under it. On the other side there were no runners or spectators but the promenade was lined with barriers in preparation for the full marathon later in the day. On and on I walked in the sandy beach, getting further and further from the finish line. My legs were tired and I was looking desperately for a gap in the barriers. For a while I thought I was going to have to go all the way to Sandbanks. Eventually, after about a mile, there was a crossing point but now I had to walk all the way back up the other side of the course. By the time I reached the finish line again Commando had already crossed it. After lots of dashing back and forth, pushing my way through crowds, I finally caught up with him and a few other friends in the Lower Gardens.

The pleasant beachside stroll and relaxing coffee I’d anticipated never did materialise. Commando, Rob, Kim, Nicole, Mark and I had a quick bite to eat in MacDonalds. On the plus side, Commando enjoyed the race and got a half marathon PB. On the minus side, I walked over twelve miles trying to catch up with him and I never did get my coffee.

The next weekend it was back to Bournemouth for a Hampshire Cross Country League Race. As Bournemouth is actually in Dorset it seemed like quite an odd choice of venue. Thankfully this wasn’t such an early start but we did get stuck in a horrible traffic jam on the motorway and were almost late. Commando enjoyed the race. I’m not sure I enjoyed standing in the mud taking photos of him running round the same tree three times but I got some good photos, even if there was no chance of a walk.

Of course, in between the races there were all the normal Saturday morning parkruns too. All in all, October seemed to be nothing but one long whirl of runs. The biggest one came at the end of the month but it really deserves a post all to itself…

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. If you’re worried about privacy or data protection, please see my privacy policy here.

Winchester and Storm Ali

23 September 2018

At the end of the driest, hottest, sunniest summer since 1976, it was a touch disappointing when the day of the Winchester Half Marathon turned out to be one of the wettest, windiest days of the whole year, thanks to Storm Ali. The doom and gloom weather warnings didn’t exactly fill us with confidence but Commando was pacing the race so we wrapped up as best we could and set off bright and early. Continue reading Winchester and Storm Ali

Messing about on the river

16 September 2018

Usually on a Sunday morning the fast boys are up early and out running somewhere. Normally somewhere off road and muddy, as my washing machine can attest. This Sunday was a little different. Actually it was a lot different. Someone, possibly Rob, had the bright idea to go kayaking instead of running. Obviously this was something I couldn’t possibly miss, even if I had no plans to actually get into a kayak, being seriously deficient when it comes to balance and agility and not inclined to swin in the Itchen. As it turned out, watching the kayakers was the most fun I’ve had for ages and I got a nice walk into the bargain. Continue reading Messing about on the river

Southsea rock garden

2 September 2018

There was no sign of the fast boys by the Pyramids when I got there. It was still a little early and running is not an exact science so I wasn’t overly worried. Knowing they’d be back fairly soon, I didn’t want to stray too far but, right next to the Pyramids, is Southsea Rock Garden, the perfect place to while away the time.  Continue reading Southsea rock garden

Winchester, the last of the parkrun tourism

1 September 2018

We ended our month of parkrun tourism with a trip to Winchester. The original plan had been to run every August parkrun somewhere different but we squeezed an extra one in to help a young lad called Leo celebrate his hundredth run. As usual, getting to Winchester involved an earlier start than normal but we parked up close to Winnal Moors with enough time for me to dash past the Willow Tree pub, along Durngate Terrace to the High Street and grab a coffee and croissant to make up for missing breakfast.  Continue reading Winchester, the last of the parkrun tourism

Lymington, parkrunning and fairy doors

25 August

For three whole days after my last Running School session, I could barely walk. On day one, Commando laughed every time I groaned and winced as I tried to get out of the chair. It was slightly better on day two but I still looked like an elderly lady who had lost her walking frame. Yesterday I managed to get up the big hill without stopping, but it was slow, painful progress. Oddly, my Achilles hadn’t hurt at all, throughout this epic DOMS extravaganza, my calves were the problem. Today, apart from a little residual calf tenderness, normal service was more or less resumed and we were off to Lymington for another spot of parkrun tourism.   Continue reading Lymington, parkrunning and fairy doors

Parkrun tourism, a return to Cams Mill

11 August 2018

There are hundreds of parkrun venues all over the world and, in Hampshire alone, there are nineteen different parkruns to choose from. Usually we go to the Southampton parkrun because it’s easy for us to get to and we know almost everyone there. For ages though, we have been talking about doing more parkrun tourism. This weekend Rob decided he wanted to see what Fareham parkrun was like. We had actually been before, back in June last year, but we both liked the venue so we said we’d go along too.  Continue reading Parkrun tourism, a return to Cams Mill

Thunder Run miles and miles

21 & 22 July 2018

When the runners finally began to emerge from their tents, blearily rubbing the sleep from their eyes, I was sitting under the gazebo in a garden chair alternately reading Joanne Harris’ Runelight on my kindle and dozing. My dawn walk of the course felt like a strange dream but there were a handful of photos on my phone to prove it had happened and my leg and back felt better for it. Now there was a burst of activity. A big, one pan, breakfast of sausage, bacon, tomatoes and eggs was cooked, mostly by Kim, hot chocolate and coffee was consumed. Running gear was put on along with race numbers and timing chips were strapped to ankles. At midday the race would be starting. Continue reading Thunder Run miles and miles