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Great South Run Portsmouth Sunday 15 October 2023

Travelling arrangements

My name on the race number is a nice touchOver 20,000 take part in the Great South Run (GSR) every year. My advice would be to only travel by train. The roads near the car parks are closed at 9:30am and do not open again until around 12:30pm on race day. Walking from Portsmouth and Southsea station is faster than the traffic jam cars! I would also suggest you go to Fratton station as it is a bit nearer to where the Start is. Also be aware that the walk is around 2.5miles each way, probably two miles from Fratton and will take longer than the 30 or 35 minutes stated in the Great South Run Event Guide. On a positive note, sponsors Tetley were giving free tea about half way to the Start which, on a very cold morning was very welcome.

Pre race start - Great South Run

Once on Southsea seafront, I found a complete absence of signage for the Bag Drop marquee. I asked three runners for directions, who had obviously been there. Surprisingly and stupidly, it was located in a distant corner, well away from the start arch and not much less from the finish. In addition, runners and spectators made the Start area very crowded. Some runners decided to show off (there is no need to run to "warm-up" 40 minutes before the start time!) dodging in and out of everyone trying to walk in the opposite direction! The sun was low and in my eyes and I regretted not bringing a cap, wondering if I could buy a visor or cap. I needn’t have worried as the main sponsor, A J Bell, had people handing out their red, branded baseboard caps to runners, another positive for me and A J Bell on the day.

Bag Drop:

When I finally found the Bag Drop marquee which was very well organised and surprisingly not crowded as many had already deposited their bags. I got out of my tracksuit and started to collect what I would need for the event. Headphones. Water bottle. Running belt. Gels. Electrolyte tablets. Sweat band. Phone. Money. Car keys and train ticket. Cotton Gloves.  

Start but no one is moving for another 10 minutes!The Great South Run - Start:

The Start was an organised catastrophe. The main single reason I will never run the Great South Run again. I was in the Orange wave starting at 10:35am but even when I was still trying to find the bag drop (around 10am) the PA was telling us Orange wave people to gather at the Start, shouting about the warm-up starting at 10:20am.  By the time I went down the corralled Start lane, I had to negotiate my way though thousands of the next (Green) wave runners before I could even join the Orange wave. Everyone was packed in with barely a 300mm radius of space around us. Then the over excited PA (who by the way just wouldn’t shut up) handed over to the warm up guy and to the background of "Ring my Bell" many attempted a warm-up of sorts, despite the impossibly cramped conditions. Then, apparently, the event started, not that I or anyone around me moved for 5 minutes! Gradually we edged forward a small step at a time. At about half way the access narrowed with a pinch point scaffold tower right in the middle of the Start lane! It wasn’t until I reached the actual Start timing arch which was yet another even narrower pinch point, that anyone was able to even start a small step jog! In addition, quite how the "elite" runners managed to barge through to the front I don’t know. In fact many sped past me within the first mile.  These Great Run people could learn a great deal from the excellent organisation at the TCS London Marathon, where everyone was able to run towards the much wider start arch.

Great South Run madness  Start

Running in the Great South Run:

Being 10 miles, it is aimed at "those who find the half marathon a bit too far, for those wanting to challenge themselves after running 10km events – the greatest 10-mile event in the World" as loud mouth said trying to build up the atmosphere as we edged to the start. On a personal level, it fitted nicely in my comfort zone, as I often run 10-miles, perhaps twice a week, certainly every Sunday. For the GSR, I set a target time of 90 minutes. Usually during my local runs I stop periodically to talk to people or take in water etc so they normally take around 2 hours. I had a 10-mile PB (87minutes 13 seconds) from a 20-mile run at Goodwood back in February so 90minutes was achievable target.

My aim throughout was to keep below a 9mins/mile pace which I managed well until mile 7, when I slowed down, mainly because I took short, 20 second walking breaks to catch my breath and take on water, knowing I was running at my upper limit. This confirmed when checking my Garmin and seeing an average heart rate of 163bpm, the maximum for my age being a mere 153bpm!

The GSR running surface is good and mostly flat, again great for a PB. I did choose to run on pavements at points where shade was available or the surface was less than ideal, such as the short cobbled area in the first 2 miles.

It was disappointing that the Victory, Nelson’s ship was covered with scaffolding and monoflex on the day, particularly as this was billed as one of the highlights of the GSR. We didn’t go past the spinnaker tower either about 400 metres away from the route.

As the weather forecast was for colder temperatures despite the sun (it certainly felt cold on the walk to the start), I decided to run in a long-sleeved top over my t-shirt. Initially this was very welcome as in the shade and north wind it did indeed feel like the 6degC as forecast, but later and in the sun it felt much hotter. As I progressed I wished I had opted for just a t-shirt as I was starting to feel hot, seeking sanctuary in the shaded parts at every opportunity. Despite getting hot, it was ideal "Goldilocks weather" for a PB and many runners I know actually did achieve it.

As expected, the atmosphere and encouragement from the public watching was excellent, just like London Marathon back in April that in the constant rain. Lots of small children holding out their hands for a hi-five, probably competing with their siblings as to which of them would get the most. Others offering sweets to those running.  

Great South Run - Finish

Nearing the finish line Great South RunAs I ran along Southsea seafront, nearing the finish with my target time still achievable I noted the '800 yards to go' sign in sight, then 400 yards then 200 yard markers. Each 200 yards seemed surprisingly a very long way. My hamstrings were tightening so I didn’t push it as much as I could have, certainly not a sprint finish! Glancing at my Garmin watch it buzzed and showed 10 miles in 89 minutes 55 seconds, I had done it! Actually, according to Great Run I had nearly 200 yards left to run and my official chip time was 91 minutes 19 seconds.  It appeared everyone I know posting on Strava had also run 10.13 miles – 230 yards more than 10 miles. So the official timings were out. (0.13 x my average pace per mile (8:56), equates to 1 min 11sec) so I actually completed the 10 miles in 90 minutes 9 seconds, finishing in 5,835 out of a estimated 20,000 runners - in the fastest 30%.

I collected my rather nice medal and event goody bag containing my T-shirt and other treats. After collecting my bag and changing, made my way to the station, getting lost and walking an extra mile more than necessary!

Back home I checked my statistics and my heart rate was in Zone 5, the top threshold throughout, with a maximum of 172bpm! The official photos are disappointing, all taken during the finishing straight along Southsea seafront. Of the 16 available, several were virtually identical, certainly not worth paying even the reduced £24.99 (£29.99 after 25 October!) for all, or at £9.95 each! In comparison, my London Marathon photos were £33 for 138 photos, well worth getting for what is probably a once in a lifetime experience.

Running the Great South Run 2023

Great South Run MedalGreat South Run T shirtGreat South Run Timing CertificateMarathon Photos -  Great South Run poor valueMarathon Photos -  Great South Run poor value

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