The final race of the season brought out 8 hardy athletes for a bitterly cold race on the coast. Good preparation does not prevent all problems however and Rob was fighting off a sore throat, whilst Steve was recovering from a gastric flu bug which hit just 8 days before the race, leaving him unable to eat for 4 days. Medical advice suggests it is not good to race in those circumstances. What do those doctors know anyway?
Most race organisers understand the 'smell of fear' concept. For those who don't I would not suggest going near any nearby toilets just before a race. This race was the exception, there were virtually no toilets. In fact it turned out there were more massage ladies available after the race than toilets beforehand. That didn't stop Kev, who was into the ladies like a shot when the opportunity arose, barging desperate women out of the way to shed a few pounds before the start. The rest of us looked elsewhere and found a toilet block, but the cold water feed had frozen so there was no flush! Did we give up and look elsewhere - NO - stack it high, flush later! I can only imagine how bad it got.
The race got underway at 9.30, with the air temperature still below zero. The course is about as pancake flat as it is possible to be, but for all that this was a tough race. One third of the course was pavement or tarmac, one third was gravel tracks which were not too bad apart from the puddles, and the other third was downright cross country. It was those sections which made it hard. There was mud, narrow slippery wet paths, rock strewn paths, shingle beach sections, and grass and large puddles. You could get back up to speed on the good bits only to have another strength sapping section to knock you right back. In addition there were no marshals except at the (very good) feed stations. When you are tired it is too easy just to follow the person in front, and whilst it was generally easy to follow the course there were odd sections where it was easy to go wrong. I don't think any of us got round without errors. Jim certainly went wrong about 4 miles from the finish, and there was one section where the entire field went wrong. A steep path on this section finished at a river edge with a 4 metre drop into the water. I wasn't expecting it and had to pull up sharply to avoid going over the edge. The race times illustrated how challenging it actually was. Only 8 people finished under 3 hours.
Jim, Steve and Kev stayed together for about 4 miles but then Jim pushed up the pace and dropped the others. By the half way mark he had a good minute advantage over Steve, who was as far ahead of Kev. Rob decided to pace Rachel round because of his bug and Emma was taking the race at a sensible pace whilst Kay and Julienne were going along steadily.
The views and terrain of this race were quite amazing and I can quite understand why it was voted in the Top 10 of 'must do' marathons in the UK. There were marinas and harbours, marshlands and parklands, rivers and estuaries as well as the seafront views. However when it comes to the second half it becomes apparent that most of the view is a patch of ground just a few feet ahead of you as the fatigue starts to set in, pain starts to intrude and the real challenge of marathon running hits home.
Jim was probably the only one who wasn't feeling it too badly. He always looked strong and powered through to finish 29th just under 3h15m. Steve did get Jim back in his sights at about 22 miles, but then an old problem with his right knee suddenly triggered. It was like turning a switch from running strongly to being in severe pain and virtually being unable to put the right foot to the floor. This led to a comical running action of lightly stepping on the right foot and doing an exaggerated left stride to try to keep the pace up. It worked after a fashion but cost him 30 seconds a mile. Frustratingly it cost him a few places, including the second lady who was being dragged round by what appeared to be a husky! He was still delighted with 38th place and a 3h17m finish, and can only imagine what he could have done without the bug during the previous week.
It turned out Kev had dropped back for a reason. He has done 3 marathons this year and was very well prepared and fit. Sometimes however you just know it is not going to be your day, and this was such an occasion. He realised he was struggling and sensibly backed off in the second half to finish in just under 3h34m, still a very respectable time.
Rob and Rachel continued running together for most of the way, although Rob did find the cold weather and constant reminders of water a bit too much for his bladder, resulting in him stopping three times! Rachel however was running superbly and was on target to be way under her PB. Similar to me though, she suddenly hit problems at about 22 miles and from then on was really struggling. Nevertheless she remained a full 5 minutes inside her PB at the finish for an excellent time just under 3h46m. Rob, gentleman that he is(!) did manage to get a time 3 seconds faster, although clearly he didn't really get out of the comfort zone all the way round, and he even included his comfort breaks. They even managed to befriend an odd bloke called Dave!
Emma was running a steady pace and thought she might be able to break 4hrs. Her PB is 3h51m but it was 10 years ago so sub 4 would have been quite a feat. Like Rachel and Steve she also ran into problems late on and really suffered. She even went through a phase of wondering if she would finish at all but soldiered on for a 4h11m finish. As a training race for her true goal of the Brighton Marathon in April though, this was an excellent performance.
Kay got into trouble with a stitch relatively early. Clearly that makes proper running almost impossible so she had to resort to power walking and jogging. Husband Steve was trying to support her by riding round the route on his mountain bike, but wandered off somewhere towards Chichester and had to return to base to wait for her there. She finished, still smiling and cheerful, in 5h25m, probably looking in better shape than the rest of us.
Julienne had her usual steady pace. I did feel quite sorry for Darren at the finish, waiting in the freezing cold. On a positive note he always knew how she was doing because of the stream of text updates. She finished in 5h48m which I have huge respect for because it is an awful long time to be out there working hard.
Once we had finished most of us had a massage from the 'Pompey Pummellers' - I have to say it was the most painful post-race massage I have ever had, and easily the most effective one. She found every knot - although it felt like it was all knot with a bit of leg underneath. The difference it makes is staggering. The next day you can walk virtually normally - incredible!
Special praise must go to Tim and Claire who came to support, and stood out in the cold along with Darren and Steve Mac. However painful it is doing this sort of race I always prefer to be taking part rather than watching, if only for that sense of relief and achievement at the finish.
Men WINNER 2h51m29s
Jim Graham 3.14.48 13.39% 10points
Steve Alden 3.17.07 14.94 9
Kevin James 3.33.59 24.78 8
Rob Hoodless 3.45.50 31.69 7
Women WINNER 3h00m54s
Rachel Baker 3.45.53 24.87 10points
Emma Goodhead 4.11.03 38.78 9
Kay McMenamin 5.25.15 79.79 8
Julienne Stuart-Colwill 5.48.12 92.48 7
Author: Steve Alden