So how does a bloke from Northern Ireland end up deciding to take part in the Great South Run? Alcohol, that's how.
Back in July, sitting in St. James' Park during a reunion with some running friends I'd made, and after several glasses of wine and goodness knows what else someone mentioned that it'd be nice to all get together again and take part in another race - and it was decreed that GSR would be The One.
The exact reasoning why has long since been left behind at the bottom of a glass but Portsmouth & Southsea at the end of October it was.
I'm still a new runner. Due to several leg and toe issues, not to mention age (I'm in my mid-40s) and weight (too embarrassing to reveal), I never thought running was for me but sometime in late spring 2015 I decided to give it a go - and in a moment of madness entered the ballot for the London Marathon.
Miraculously I got a place, managing to somehow get myself around on the day despite an injury plagued schedule which restricted me to barely 86 miles training.
Despite having a ballot entry I still decided to run for a charity and it was that choice that introduced me to those aforementioned friends, which led to that imbibing session on the Queen's front lawn and, eventually, lining up on Sunday morning in a part of the world I'd never been to before and know little about.
I'll be honest, I wasn't at all confident. I've been lazy since London and it was only in the run up to the Great South that I cranked up my training, and even then not going over eight miles.
Yet, now, I had to do ten. This won't go well I thought.
But, somehow, it did. It went really well. Admittedly, I'm more tortoise than hare so was never going to go round in a blistering pace. I was rightfully placed in the Green Wave but I loved that. I was with similarly paced runners and it was fun being overtaken and then returning the favour a little further on. Well, it amused me anyway!
I knew right from the first mile that I was onto a good thing. I was around 30-40 seconds faster than normal but I felt alright. If I was running solo I'd panic slightly at this stage and slow it down but whether it was the adrenaline or the support from the public - probably both - but I pushed on and more or less maintained that pace for the full distance.
That was a pleasing aspect to the day and was a good indicator that I'm getting stronger as a runner. Not faster, I'll never be terribly fast, but stronger.
I enjoyed myself throughout. It was a relaxed race, the other runners seemed a friendly bunch and supported each other.
For me, a special mention must be made to the lady sporting a red Portsmouth Triathletes vest. She was coaching a friend all the way round and unbeknown to her, she was also coaching me when I needed it.
I spotted her fairly early on and tried to apply the advice and encouragement she was giving her running partner. Then, sometime later on, I noticed them just behind me so dropped back for a little listen, took it on board and moved on .... and repeat.
I did eventually thank her in the final few hundred yards and, to my relief, she was extremely gracious about being effectively stalked. Phew!
Then there was the little lad standing holding a huge tub of Jelly Babies that was as big as he was. I needed an energy boost so lifted two out, thanked him and moved on.
I had barely gone a couple of yards when I heard him turn to his mother and, in as loud a voice as he could muster, shout: "Mum! Mum! That man took lots of sweets!"
I turned round to protest my innocence but he wasn't having any of it. If ever there was a wishing the ground would open up and swallow me moment this was it. I can laugh about it now, but I'll never feel as guilty as I did having the audacity to eat that second sweet.
Turning that corner into the final two mile straight felt amazing. It was warm, sunny and there was a distinct absence of the legendary headwind I'd heard so many stories about from previous editions of the race.
I was feeling strong and still had something in my legs so I decided to let loose and enjoy myself, upping the tempo considerably and making a very conscious effort to move over to the left to try to catch the eye of the photographers crouched down by the side of the road. Well, I wanted a decent finishing picture ..... yes, I *was* that vain.
Giving it everything I had, I sprinted across the finishing line feeling extremely satisfied with myself having whacked an amazing 11 minutes off my predicted time.
Granted, everyone has a difference experience and I've read stories of traffic issues, parking, missing waves and so on but, for me, it was a well organised fantastic day out.
Well, almost. I allowed myself a wry smile when I returned to collect my bag. I'd forgotten the collection point was at the top of two flights of steps. What sort of cruel, sadistic mind planned it like that? But, it was made ok again when I got to the top and had a chocolate doughnut thrust into my hand - all was well with the world again.
Big thanks to Martin for sharing his experience of our local race!
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