Yesterday saw me complete the 2012 Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon. At this moment in time I can quite honestly say that it is the hardest thing I have ever done to date.
This was the 3rd year for the Portsmouth coastal waterside marathon and as the website states “if you like to run something slightly different then this is for you”. It’s a full Marathon running from The Pyramids to the end of the Hayling Billy line and back, with some fantastic views across Langstone harbour if you’re of a mind to be looking out that way (more on that later). It’s a very flat course which should in theory be pretty quick being, this was not the case for many on this day because as well as being flat it’s also multi-terrain, having to negotiate shingle beaches with bonus clay bog, flooded gravel tracks, tarmac pavement, muddy paths and plenty of puddles! To say it was challenging would be a fair statement though not having run any other marathons I have no grounds for comparison.
The week prior to the race wasn’t the best for me both physically or mentally, the weather was miserable with lashing rain, localised flooding and strong winds. To make matters worse I ended up in bed for two days solid with some bug that had been sweeping the office which knocked me for six, not surprising given that I am still on immune suppressing drugs for my Psoriasis. This left me in a state of mild panic about the upcoming challenge, not helped by the fact that I was suffering some mild form of tapering madness, not trusting or believing in my training and the large reduction in miles during the two weeks of taper. I had to keep convincing myself that I had to stick to the Sub 4 hour training plan that I was following. “Trust the plan, trust the taper” was the new mantra!
Race day came around quickly, the weather had improved, well it had stopped raining at least and no sooner than I knew it I found myself on Southsea Seafront, senses being assaulted with the all pervading smell of Deep Heat and a cacophony of 1000 neon garbed racers, me being one of them! I kissed my loved ones goodbye and shuffled my way into position, lining up next to lots of seasoned runners, them looking the part, me feeling somewhat like a phony. I was stood behind some members of the “100 Marathon Club”, a club where entrance is only granted once you have run 100 marathons which made me wonder what sort of race this was really going to be. Fortunately for my spirits a quick glance to my right to see a 7 foot tall gingerbread man, Scooby Doo and a host of Santa’s and Elves soon made me feel a bit more comfortable and at ease.
As 09:30 arrived them was some sort of noise towards the front of the crowd that I couldn’t hear back where I was due to the buzz of race chatter going on around me, but that was it we were off! I pressed start on RunKeeper on my phone and stashed that away in my pouch and then hit start on my Garmin as my foot landed on the first timing mat, this was really it, I was on my way, my first marathon had started. Rochann and the kids were a small way ahead in front of the start line and took this video of the whole of the field starting, you can spot me behind the Gingerbread Man (roughly a minute into the video).
As you can see from the video it wasn’t the nicest of days, but in for a penny, in for a pound. The seafront soon passed and the next thing you know we were upon Eastney, 2.5 miles and the first section of beach. There was a bit of a queue and a stop to get down onto the beach and then back to areas of single file whilst trying to navigate around the various boggy clay sections, the worst of which had fortunately been cordoned off by the race organisers. Roughly a quarter of a mile later we reached The Thatched House pub and back on to dry land, at least for the next quarter of a mile or so, then we hit some rather treacherous mud before hitting the much better puddle strewn gravel track along the Eastern Road. This brings us nicely to my next encounter with the ‘PJ appreciation society’ behind The Harvester at mile 4.
With my spirits lifted even at this early stage I trudged ever onwards, grabbing the occasional glance across the harbour at where we were heading. It seemed a very way away so I soon stopped looking over there and focused on the job in hand, putting one foot in front of the other, avoiding mud and puddles and trying not to bump into anyone or get in anyone’s way! Half a mile on and that didn’t matter as it was back down to single file running along a muddy track. This is a lovely little path that takes you away from the heavily used Eastern Road and through a small wooded copse which is a breath of fresh air in such a built up area and takes you all the way along to the motorway bridge roughly 5.5 miles into the run. I was feeling strong at this point and pretty much bang on target time wise. As I’d followed a Sub 4 hour plan I always had that target in the back of my mind, even though my real goal was just to finish and given the weather and conditions I’d let the idea of running my first ever marathon sub 4 hours go out the window, but it was always there in the back of my mind.
Anyway, I was now onto segment 2 of 6, I’d broken the run down into 3 sections, Southsea to Broadmarsh, Broadmarsh to Hayling and The Hayling Section. The Southsea to Broadmarsh segment was done and I was onto the cycle path/walkway between the motorway and the marshes, this is roughly a 2 mile section of smooth paved running. A bit of a reprieve from the single file mud track running we’d just been through. At this stage I was roughly an hour in at the 6.5 mile mark, feeling good and feeling strong. Next thing you know we hit the end of the path and we’re back off road onto somewhat wet and muddy trails again and a much needed water station. There had been one at around the 5 mile mark, but I’d skipped that as was feeling fine and it was rammed with people and there looked to be no water ready. I stopped at this second one though and grabbed a cup of water and a gel that a kind helper shoved in my hand, I stuck this in the back of my shorts for later use as I still had the two gels that I’d brought with me in my pack. Coming out of the water station brought me out an onto pavement again and along the ‘bumpy road’ which was accompanied by a nice surprise that I wasn’t expecting at that point, the appreciation society were out in force again! Another great lift!
This was very much welcomed as I knew that just around the corner was another beach section and more muddy trails. At this point I was really starting to warm up, the buff I was wearing was sodden and my HJC beanie hat wasn’t fairing much better! Onwards, onto the footpath that takes you down between the sewage works and the tarmac plant, which given what is either side of it is a pleasant little trail round the point to the beach. On the mornings that I run down there on my way to work and there aren’t 100’s of runners in front of me the path is usually littered with bunny rabbits that dart off as you approach. Putting that out of my mind, time to focus on the beach and not twisting my ankle or for that matter going for a burton on the wooden steps leading back up onto the trail. This feels like home turf as we run a stones throw away from my offices, such nice hot warm showers there, I push that thought out of my mind and push on into the wind along the shoreline dodging puddles before the next big mud encounter and slow down to single file again to get through the ‘kissing gate’ and onto the nice solid gravel path down to the Hayling Island bridge, mile 10 water station and then the Hayling Billy. At this point I take my hat off as I’m getting really warm and I stuff it into the band of my pack with the intention of handing it over to the guys who will be waiting for me at mile 10.
I completely forget to hand over the hat and go for the high five option instead before grabbing a drink of orange at the watering station and on to the bleak run across the Hayling Island bridge. I go over this bridge quite regularly on my lunchtime runs and I always hate it, regardless of the weather it seems to always be really windy across here. With that soon behind me and an hour and a half into the marathon I’m onto the Hayling Billy. I run down the top half of this track on a regular basis and have to say that I’ve never seen it as flooded as it was that day. Just a short way onto the Billy and the lead runner cyclist comes flying back down the path towards us, shouting for us all to keep to the left as the lead runner is coming through. He came flying down the track past us looking wild and ragged, I gave him shouts and cheers of appreciation as did the other runners around me, he was motoring. This continued on for the next 10 or 20 runners that came past us, anything to take the mind off the freezing cold muddy puddles we were running through I guess. Towards the bottom of the Billy, the muddy puddles got a whole lot worse and really started to sap my strength and energy, even though I hit the turn around point at bang on 2 hours I knew for certain at that point that 4 hours was out of the window. I don’t think the shot of brandy or run or whatever it was I had at the water station there helped me much either!! There it was though, 2 hours gone and 13.1 miles done, I was half way there.
Running back up the Billy was hard work, through all the puddles and mud again, looking over to my left to see across the harbour where I had come from and where I had to get back to was both impressive and daunting at the same time. I was doing this and pushing myself to new levels of endurance whilst trying not to barf from drinking whatever the hell was in that shot!! All I could think about at that point was getting back to the water station at what would now be the 17 mile mark and getting another drink and possibly a hug from the missus and be spurred on by their cheers! I tried not to think about going back over the bridge and all the mud and puddles and focused solely on that. I got there at the 2 hour 40 mark and they were nowhere to be seen, oh, I grabbed my drink and headed onwards back up towards the ‘kissing gate’, the muddy path, the strong coastal breeze, the wooden steps of delight, the beach and back round the point and onto the bumpy road. Legs are screaming at me to stop at this point, especially after having to practically walk through some of the mud sections before the beach, walking didn’t seem like such a bad idea, NO NO NO, stop that, get those thoughts out of your head Paul and keep running! Then, what was that I can see in the distance, Rochann and the kids parked up at the side of the road bearing drinks and cheers!
Perfect, buoyed by their support, another SIS gel (I’d consumed the two that I’d taken with my by that point) and a bottle of sports drink I trudged ever onwards, 18 and a bit miles done only another 8 to go! I’d also remembered to hand over my buff to Josh at that point, though I’d forgotten to hand over my hat. The lady in front of me, who later I found out was called Alison, commented to me on how nice it was for me to have that bit of support from my family and that it really must help. It’s actually hard to describe how much of a boost it gives you, it really is something else. Onwards, back down to the end of the bumpy road, back into the car park at the end, back to the watering hole, this time to grab some jelly babies, soak up more support and back onto the Broadmarsh section. To say that it’s getting really tough at this stage is really an understatement. I reach the 20 mile stage at 3 hours 11 minutes, this is the furthest I’ve been before and when I did that during training it was in 3:10 and I felt a damn sight better then that I did now. The mud and puddles along the Billy trail really did take it out of me, I was shattered. Onwards, onwards, onwards, ever onwards! I got to the end of Broadmarsh and back onto segment 1, this was the final stage, 21 miles down only another 5.2 miles to go.
Back over the Eastern Road bridge and back onto the single file mud path, people in front of me stopping and walking, my body screaming out at me to do the same. Must keep going, but wait, what’s this, the sudden urge to pee is now the only thing that fills my thoughts. All the fluids I’ve consumed up to that point deciding that they’re sick and tired of the incessant jiggly-jiggly and want to come out. The little wooden copse is just ahead, I couldn’t have timed it any better. I slow down to a halt and head off into the trees to avoid an indecent exposure charge and let nature take it’s course. This takes longer than expected and my legs feel like they’re going to seize up! I get moving again, back onto the track and catch up those walkers that I’d been past already. I weave around them where I can and then it’s back to another single file section before the next water station. I grab another quick drink and some more jelly babies and continue on towards The Harvester and my next encounter with the cheering squad. I get to the barriers there and they are nowhere to be seen, I guess that they are down at the car park a little further on at roughly 22.5 miles.
I was right, there they were, though the words of encouragement were somewhat more aggressive this time around. Funnily enough the lady that commented on my support squad was there again and commented again, we had a little chat as we ran and I continued on ahead. The goal was in sight as it were, only a mere 4 miles left! Down the end of the Eastern Road, back through the mud with one poor lass going over in it, though she was in good spirits about it and was helped up by a friend who almost went over himself at the same time. Out of the mud, back onto the path round to The Thatched House and back onto the beach section. I was really struggling at this point and to be honest the beach was the last thing that I needed at that point and I slowed to a walking pace, got that last gel out of my shorts, the one that I was given at mile 7/8. I struggle with the packet and am now walking trying to rip it open. I manage to get it open and pop it into my mouth. Oh what horror is this, what is this flavour supposed to be, it’s downright disgusting, I look at the packet and see that it is in fact supposed to be Cola flavour. I make a mental note to NEVER EVER buy these gels as they are rancid, and then continue to consume it anyway. The beach is really churned up and I’m not feeling motivated to start running again as I pick my way through sections of the beach not too dissimilar to sections of mud in the Grim Challenge. At this point Alison catches up with me and gives me a much needed bit of encouragement and off I go, running again, chatting with her along the rest of the beach, laughing about her attempting to keep her trainers clean on the first encounter with this beach what with us both being caked in mud to the knees at that point. We make it up the final incline and off the beach. We’re on the home stretch, just the seafront to contend with.
We run along side by side chatting before hitting the seafront at Eastney Baths, so near to the finish yet so far away! The usual headwind along the seafront is there in full force, so even though it is flat and smooth it’s not easy going. There is a chap sat by his car right there, wearing his medal, we chat briefly about mugging him for his medal but decide that’s too much energy! We continue on down the seafront, past the beach huts and the coffee hut. I find out that this is her second marathon, her first being the Beachy Head marathon, a ridiculously hard and hilly trail race. We chat about Christmas and what a bright idea running a marathon 2 days before was! The pier is now in sight, just a half a mile or so left! Obviously sub 4 hours went out of the window a while back, but sub 4:30 is there, in fact sub 4:25 is on. Alison encourages me to go on and not wait for her, feeling guilty about doing so I thank her and push on, giving it all I’ve got left. There are people in sight, a crowd, a finish line, cheering, shouting, waving, I run harder and harder and there it is, my goal, the finish line!
I’ve done it, I’ve run a marathon!! Official chip time 04:23:13!!! I’m filled with a huge sense of achievement and more than a modicum of pain! I wait for Alison on the rails and cheer her in, if she hadn’t encouraged me to keep going on that beach section I don’t think I would have finished in under 4:30.
I also have to give all my praise to Rochann for putting up with my training schedule over the past 3 months or so, the increased amount of washing, coming to races with me and for the huge amount of support that she gave me on the day as well as the videos!
If you would like to view my run you can see the map here – Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon – RunKeeper
I ran this race in honour of my friend Jason Denham, I like to think he would be very proud of me and what I’ve gone through today to raise some money for Macmillan Cancer Support who cared for him in his final days.
If you want to sponsor me and read more about why I ran this marathon please visit http://www.justgiving.com/PJ-TeamJD
I also have to take a moment to give a huge thanks to Rob Piggott from Believe & Achieve for putting on such a good event and to all the marshals that gave their time and stood out in the cold cheering us all on. Thank you guys.
Sorry it’s been a bit of an essay, but thank you for taking the time to read my race report.
Will I run this race again next year, watch this space…