Anyone wondering what perfect running weather looks like should have headed to Portsmouth on Sunday for the Simplyhealth Great South Run 2018. Bright, fresh, still and cloudless, conditions were tailor-made for PBs.
Now in its 29th year, the 10-mile race attracts more than 20,000 runners. While it’s particularly popular with runners on the south coast, it’s also easily accessible from London: I left the capital at 6:15am and was parked up in Pompey before 8:00am.
While not quite London Marathon proportions, the Simplyhealth Great South Run is a huge operation. There’s a sizeable race village, numerous food stalls, massage areas and, crucially, hundreds of porterloos.Related: Everything you need to know about running the 2019 London Marathon
Runners are allocated starting pens based on their predicted starting times, with Orange at the front, White in the middle and Green at the back. The early miles head west along the coast and I score an early victory for amateur runners everywhere by overtaking former Olympian Ewan Thomas. (Granted, his distance of choice was somewhat shorter than this, but I’ll take what I can get.)
The route showcases Portsmouth’s military credentials, with runners heading past the Historic Dockyard and HM Naval Base. I’m hoping to run inside 1:05 and begin to ponder whether the early pace might be a little too quick. Then, at the switchback at mile 4, I see Chris Thompson and Andy Vernon heading back the other way at 4:30min/mile pace and feel like a jogger by comparison.
In the middle ground between Ewan Thomas and Chris Thompson, I find myself running alongside a cluster of club runners. We go through the halfway point in about 31 minutes – and so begins a series of soon-to-be-broken promises to myself. 1) “If you keep this pace to the 8-mile mark, then you can jog it in from there. Deal?” 2) “Did I say 8? I meant 9.” 3) “Mate, it’s the last mile. You can’t slow down now.”
Instead of making deals with myself, I should have been thanking the weather gods. The final two miles of the Simplyhealth Great South Run, west along the promenade, are often run into a headwind. On Sunday, you’d struggle to fly a kite along it.
As the finishing clock comes into view, I’m delighted to see it beginning with 1:01, although a non-existent sprint finish means I finally cross the line in 1:02:12. A little further up the field (translation: a good 15 minutes), Chris Thompson makes it three Great Run victories in 2018 (Portsmouth following victories in Birmingham and Glasgow). In the women’s race, Eilish McColgan, her debut at the 10-mile distance, takes the win in 54:43. In doing so, she follows in the footsteps of her mother, Liz, who won the race in 1995 and 1997.Related: Eilish McColgan on running, rest days and the secret to getting a PB
Further back in the field but no less inspiring, Kate Farley, who has cerebral palsy, completed the final mile of the race. And then, of course, there’s the thousands of runners raising money for a plethora of good causes.
With the sun still shining, I begin the post-race shuffle to my car for the drive back to London. The event has been a wonderful advert for Portsmouth, the Simplyhealth Great South series and distance running in general. If you’re looking to test yourself over the 10-mile distance next year, you know where to head. Here’s hoping you get the same kind of weather…