ABP Southampton Half Marathon

Yesterday, I ran in the inaugural ABP Southampton Half Marathon. This was the first major mass-participation running event in the city for over 2 decades and was organised by TryTri’s experienced team including Chris Reed and Ben Cook.

I’d known about the event for well over a year and had signed up early knowing it would be a popular event. As there was to be both a 10K and half marathon race on the same day, the event would suit many runners. The only negative was that it fell on the same day as the London Marathon. However, this didn’t stop the event filling up in the weeks and months leading up to the event with 6000 runners.

The course for the half marathon meant an ambitious plan of road closures and interruptions to bus timetables. Fortunately, Southampton City Council were supportive and helped to ease the process. With some big sponsors on board, the event looked like it was going to be a success. Chris and his team has their work to do as it was a big step up from any event they’d put on before.

My preparation hadn’t gone quite to  plan with a weight gain and a reoccurring foot problem that threatened my arrival at the start line. I had managed to run the course a couple of times and tackled the worst of the inclines so knew what to  expect.

Due to a car breakdown on Friday I had to cycle the 5 miles to the event. A good opportunity for a warm-up I guess. Fortunately, the forecast rain had held off and I left home at about 7:45am and arrived at about 8:10am just before the 10k warm-up started.

The race village at Hoglands Park looked great. A big marquee for t-shirt collection, another for baggage and a stage with large screen for the warm-up, footage of the start and a few interviews with celebrities and other runners.

I collected my technical t-shirt and meet a few friends and wandered around the village. Before long I met up with fellow Lordshiller Chris Brown and chatted to him for a while before being accosted by a lady trying to ‘sell’ charity places for another event. She was persistent.

We watched the 10k runners start (a little later than expected) and then more Lordshillers started to arrive. One of my friends, Carlo, was running both the 10K and half marathon for the charity MIND. What a nutter/inspiration.

Once the club had a group photo taken and I’d consumed some flapjack provided by Rob (thanks), chatted with a few more friends, it was time to drop off my bag (pretty painless) and then head to the start area. I was walking along with friends Gary and Lisa but lost them as I got to the hordes of runners.

The start area was handily signposted with expected finish times so I headed forward to the sub 2 area. I’d not really set myself a goal time due to the fact that the course was more challenging than Gosport where I have a PB of about 2 hours and not being sure how my right foot would be especially later in the race.

As I walked along, another friend, George, caught me up and we chatted until the start.

By some coincidence, the sub-2 hour pacer ended up stood right next to us as the countdown to the start commenced.

We were off. The first bit of the course was a slight incline before we turned left and left again and then right down the pedestrian high street of Southampton. With no real pacing plan in place, I stuck to sub 2 hour pacer like glue. I felt ok generally at the pace but could feel my foot and knew that things could change at any moment.

The race had started 10 minutes late due to the delay of the 10k race and I hoped this didn’t mean that I’d still be running during the heat of the day.

As we passed through Ocean Village, there was a bottleneck where the path narrowed and we ended up walking for about 20 seconds. Can’t complain. It gave a brief break before the first real challenge of the event; crossing over Itchen Bridge and then turning around before running back over it.
Although this was part of the course I was dreading, I’d run it a few times and knew that the return leg was kinder than the outbound leg. It was also a great opportunity to see lots of other friends and give them and receive some encouragement. It wasn’t long until Paul Eves and I met and we tustled for position a little.

Once safely back to the western side of the bridge, it was time to head north around the back of St Marys stadium before crossing Northam Bridge. Still feeling ok, my pace was steady and things were going pretty well. I knew I was ahead of the sub-2 hour pacer but not by how far.

Once over Northam Bridge there was a small incline before heading towards Bitterne Triangle and Riverside Park.

The first 10k was complete. As we ran along the water’s edge in Riverside Park, my foot started to ache. This was not good news. I knew that the worst of the course was yet to come. To make things worse, the sub-2 pacer passed me and my race started to unravel.

Having got to Woodmill, with 10K to go, the most challenging bit of the course hit me head on. With every stride my right foot ached and I started to have doubts about finishing.

I had to adopt a run/walk strategy to get through the rest of the event and didn’t enjoy the latter half. It was unfortunate that it was the bit of the event where I saw the most friends spectating and for most I gave them plenty of opportunity to give me encouragement as I walked by :-S It was good to see several juniors from Southampton junior parkrun as well as their parents and members of LRR and Southampton Tri Club (Julian and Steve to name but two) on the hill up towards the Common.

It wasn’t long until we reached the Common for the short (but energy-zapping) incline of the top loop before the gradual descent to the finish.

My Garmin was giving me a predicted finish time of between 2 hours 15 minutes and 2 hours 20 minutes Stopping in the Hawrhorns for breakfast crossed my mind as did just walking to collect my bags. Fortunately, I dug a little deeper and carried on as best I could.

It was great that there was so much support on the course. Southampton had come out in force to cheer on its runners.

The finish was about 4km away and it was great to see Kirsty, Tony, Alice and Lou. I took the opportunity to walk and take some jelly beans before setting off again towards London Road.

My Garmin was gradually decreasing my estimated finish time as I walked less but was still showing 2:11 at that point.

The last part of the course wasn’t great for me as my foot ached and the finish line grew closer.

Finally I crossed the line in just under 2 hours and 9 minutes. I don’t feel too happy at this point but was really glad I’d got to the finish.

There was a lot of congestion to collect water, goodie bags and a seriously impressive medal. Fortunately, there were space blankets being handed out so I wrapped one around me. Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes.

By the time I’d part-shuffled, part-hobbled back to the race village, I was in somewhat of a grumpy mood. Of course, that was when I bumped into many fellow club members looking euphoric about their PB successes. I tried not to sound more disappointed and think I managed it. Just.

The queue for baggage was going nowhere fast and I was almost cooked through thanks to the space blanket. I took it off and immediately felt cold.

After a long wait for baggage, it was time to collect my bike to cycle home. At this point I noticed the 3 serious chafing injuries from my race belt/bag and HRM strap and started to feel the pain from that. Oh happy days.

As I cycled back home cycling through parts of the course my mood darkened and I developed a bad case of cursing under my breath.  Fortunately as I cycled past the discarded gel wrappers on Northam Bridge, I started to reflect more positively on the morning. I’d completed the race and enjoyed over half of it. My foot was painful but no worse than it had been in the previous month which meant that with some golf ball massage and some reduced mileage, it would ease.

I got home to an empty house and showered. The pain of the hot water on the chafed patches took my mind off my foot. Every cloud!

Overall, it was a great event. The organisation was excellent. The course was ok given its location. The support from spectators was great. It felt like a much bigger event than it was and could well support 10,000 if the bottleneck  at Ocean Village can be resolved. The only other little niggles were the congestion after the finish and the baggage collection queue. Neither was really too much of an issue though.

Having spent a couple of hours doing chores and massaging my foot, I signed up next year’s event vowing to myself to be injury free and give it my all.

On Monday evening, I was hoping for a chance to relax a little and lead the LRR training session from a fairly static position. Having golf-balled my right foot for most of the day, I guessed I’d be ok for a short warm up run. However, the session morphed into a 8-9 km run through areas of Southampton I’d never seen before. My Garmin reports the route as ‘hilly’ and I’m not going to disagree. My previous day’s bout of cursing returned at about the 7km point where there was quite a hill to climb. I shouted ahead for the rest of the group to carry on as I scaled the mountain ahead of me at a walking pace.

Having got back to Winchester Road, I ran back through the Common and caught up with the group as they were completing their stretches.

As I finish off this blog post at 1:40am on Tuesday morning, I’m stretching  out my right foot and lt doesn’t feel too bad. Hopefully a day of rest today will  help and then I’ll be fit for Monday’s Sprint Triathlon.

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