Great South Run - A magical experience
This weekend saw the Great South Run take place in Portsmouth for the 26th time and what an event it was!
Living in Portsmouth, it was a good 7 days before the race that the course was starting to take shape. Slowly, signs went up informing local motorists of the impending mayhem that was due to hit the city, barriers were being delivered around the route to keep vociferous supporters out of the path of the sweaty participants and it felt like more and more people were out running along the seafront on a last minute training run to get themselves ready.
In the world of social media that we now live in, our feeds seemed full of people showcasing their preparation in the build up. Runners were tweeting and instagramming pictures of their race kits proudly laid out with the number already pinned on it. TomTom’s were being charged, running shoes cleaned and race ‘snacks’ were being stockpiled. It was also clear that a huge amount of the 25,000 entrants were running for a charity and the array of colours that the vests and t-shirts were in would make for a very colourful race!
As we got to the race weekend, the city started buzzing with excitement. People had travelled from far afield to take part in what the Great Run bills as the ‘world's leading 10 mile running event’. Hotels were at capacity, restaurants were full as the carb loading was taking place and the nerves were starting to set in ready for the start.
Saturday saw the first of the action with the Great South Run 5k and Junior & Mini Great South Runs take place. Strolling around the race village, families were out in force to cheer the runners on and there were a lot of excited faces, on both adults and children! The weather was proving to be ideal which made for a great occasion. The sun was out but there was a chill in the air which kept the runners from overheating. Being from Portsmouth, when the wind blows from the west, it can be a treacherous last 2 miles of the route so we were pleased this wasn’t the case! As kids finished and left the race area, they proudly hung their medal around their necks. This huge piece of treasure wasn’t going to be taken off any time soon!
Then up next was the big race day.
In #TeamRunr, we had around a dozen of us running. What’s great about the Great South Run is that it attracts runners of all ages, abilities and experience. And in our group of family and friends, it was no different. We had people running 10 miles for the first time which meant the nerves and adrenaline were pumping on the morning of the race. Setting a PB was the aim for a few, whilst building up to the Portsmouth Marathon in December meant the timing of the Great South was perfect to include in the training program of one. Others were just there to take part, have fun and enjoy the experience without worrying too much about the time. Then the starters hooter sounded and we were off.
One great thing about the GSR is the support. For 10 miles, the course winds along Southsea seafront, through the historic dockyard passing the Warrior and Mary Rose, then up the only incline in the city on Winston Churchill Avenue (Portsmouth is generally flat as a pancake so this made the muscles work!). From there, the course headed back to the seafront and Southsea Common, along past Canoe Lake up to Eastney Barracks, before turning 180 degrees for the final 2 miles along back along the seafront to the finish.
At every point of the course, supporters were out watching, cheering, shouting and generally making the atmosphere as motivational as possible. Kids dug out their vuvuzelas to make an enormous honking noise, bands lined the route ranging from steel drums to bagpipes. Even locals rolled out their enormous speakers to blast out the latest dance tracks to keep the legs moving. When you’re feeling the pain the your muscles and you’re mentally tired, the support of the crowd can really spur you on for an extra few miles and this year was no different.
As the course turns back on itself a couple of times, it’s great to see fellow runners and look out for familiar faces. It also gave you the opportunity to see the different running clubs that were in attendance. The local club, Portsmouth Joggers, did a sterling job of manning the water stations but they still put out a large field of runners. The blue and white club tops were easily recognisable amongst the rainbow of charity vests. Gosport Road Runners also radiated yellow as they had a large contingent mixed in with other local runners from Stubbington Green Runners, Fareham Crusaders and many others.
Then you can’t but notice the array of fancy dress outfits on display. Everything from a flamingo to a rhino, a bride and groom ready to tie the knot, a larger than life sumo wrestler and a postbox!! Next year maybe?
Running the final 800 metres was a brilliant feeling. The crowd were 3 deep as they all looked out for their family or friends to give them one last shout of encouragement before the end of the race. The commentators were providing a running commentary on those completing the last few steps. Names and numbers were read out, runners were encouraged to smile and wave as they were snapped by the haunching photographers. Grimaces were replaced with smiles and waving hands as the finish line got closer and closer.
As each runner crossed the finish line, they all had one thing in common. They’d completed the world’s leading 10 mile road race and that was when the smiles broke out! Hugs, high fives, pats on the back. Any way to congratulate each other on the accomplishment was gratefully accepted! Volunteers were waiting with arms full of water, bananas and most importantly, the bag that contained your reward for the past 10 miles - your medal!!
One by one, as runners finished, collected their belongings and started their journey home, they still took the time to clap and encourage those out on the course. With some runners enjoying the experience so much, they were lapping up the applause directed solely at them and were grinning from ear to ear. Their medal was still waiting for them.
Looking back on the event, it’s clear to see the enjoyment running gives people. You don’t have to be setting the world on fire with the quickest time. It’s all about the taking part, having fun and feeling like you’re part of something really special. The medal is a great reward. Some people will hang it on their medal stash with the others they have earned over the years. Some will tuck it away somewhere safe and get it out now and then to remind themselves of the experience. Some may well still be wearing theirs now as you read this!
Even though the legs are a little sore, it still brings a smile to our faces. The magical feeling on the day of the sense of community, happiness and achievement is what people will have taken away from the Great South Run and long may that continue.
Now, where do I sign up for next year?!.............