The Portsmouth Coastal Marathon is one of my favourite races of the year. It’s local, it’s festive and it’s a great time of year when there isn’t much going on in terms of big races. This is the fourth time I’ve run it and it didn’t disappoint.
This was going to be a special kind of marathon for me because on Thursday 15th December we lost Alfie, our 13.5 year old dog. Words can’t describe how much I’ll miss him and how much of a hit this has been to us. So, as silly as it might sound to some, I decided to run this marathon in his memory and use the time to just reflect and mourn.
The race started at 8.30am. This was fine as having a toddler means lie-ins don’t exist and we’d been awake since 5.30am anyway. This meant a relatively leisurely morning of breakfast, tea and us all getting ready. The weather was looking to be a bit pants… rain scheduled and nippy.
After Kyle’s mum had arrived, we got down to Southsea for about 8.15am where we met up with my parents. I hurried off to go to the loo (the great thing about Southsea is how many toilets they have around the place so I didn’t have to use a portaloo). Then I said goodbye and hurried to the start.
It was cold. It was windy. Rain was scheduled to come. I felt really sorry for my family because it’s one thing running in these conditions but an entirely different thing standing around in them. But they weren’t going to be standing outside the entire time. They would be driving to two different locations and then spending some time in The Ship Inn, which is literally on the course.
As the race begun I was just keen to get warm. I probably started faster than I’d intended but my mission was to make haste in the first few miles so I wouldn’t get bottlenecked when we hit the small path to get on to the pebbles. Having run this race three times before I was well aware of these things.
To be honest, I had zero plans for this race (do I ever?). I was just going to see what the legs did and sit at a comfortable pace and see how long that lasted. The wind was a south easterly one so while it was annoying in the first couple of miles to have it against us, I knew I would be grateful at mile 24 to have that behind me for the end.
I made a very rapid pitstop at mile two for a wee. I needed to get it done fast as to not hit the bottleneck which came just after. Thankfully I was super speedy and hadn’t lost much ground. We got to the little path to get onto the pebbles and it was plain sailing. The pebbles at this point aren’t that annoying, but the wetness of the sand and mud here made for slippery and soggy work, but it doesn’t last long.
Then back onto more firm ground and off we went. I was in familiar territory now as we were cruising along routes I regularly use during the week. I had my phone and headphones with me but was quite happy just letting my mind wander and listening to the outside world.
I was still clipping along at a relative speedy pace (for me) but decided to just embrace it because the wind was in our favour as we headed north to Farlington Marshes. I knew it would be harder on the way back so I might as well use the wind while we had it. As such, the first 6 miles flew by. Annoyingly though the rain had started a lot earlier than I thought.
I saw my family at Farlington Marshes (a great spectator spot) and they cheered me along. I saw big smiles from Isaac which were lovely. And then I was off again past the marshes to get to the more boring and less supported part of the course.
I really like this course because you can break it down into different sections. I love an out and back as well because once you get to the turnaround point you know you “just” have to make your way back the way you came and you know exactly what is to come.
There were some precariously muddy and slippery parts which I knew would only get worse on the way back and I questioned by choice of road shoes. That said, I’ve never worn trail shoes on this marathon and it’s only brief moments that they’re needed I think.
Then we hit the another pebbly bit. This is a real ball ache in the marathon. It’s a significantly long distance to be running across uneven terrain and really does sap the energy. Knowing you have to come back that way is mentally hard as well.
Eventually though we were back onto easy terrain and heading towards the road again. This part of the race is very dull because it’s through an industrial bit. However as most of the race is relatively scenic going along the coastal paths, it’s actually quite a nice change.
At this point a man, who I now know is called Justin, was running next to me and we started polite conversation. To be honest, at the start of the marathon I really didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was in a bit of a low mood and just wanted to be in my own head with my thoughts. But this was now at mile nine (I think!) and it was nice to chat to someone.
We actually ran together for a good few miles (I think it was 6 or so?) and it really did make the miles fly by. We chatted about all things marathons, training, races and even children. We ran past my dad and Kyle (the mums and Isaac were nice and snug in the warmth of the pub) and they cheered us on. Then we headed down to the turnaround point.
I can’t actually remember much about these miles because I was so lost in conversation. I was aware though that we were clipping along at quite a speedy pace. We decided to pull back just a little so not to burn ourselves out though. But I remember feeling that this just felt really nice and comfortable. Of course we still had half the race to go though!
We headed back past my dad and Kyle once again and then off we went back to where we’d come. As we hit the industrial estate bit again Justin said I should go on as he wanted to pull back a bit and I was speeding up. We said our goodbyes and I gradually pulled away.
I felt really good. I was so chuffed that we’d hit 16 miles and I was feeling strong.
OK I still had over 10 miles to go but I knew what I had left in the course and knew at some point the wind would help. I’d also decided at mile 20 I would pop some music on which I knew would keep me going. The rain was definitely picking up and it was getting colder though.
I saw my family again at Farlington Marshes, only 6 or so miles to go now. I then went to mission Get Music On. This involved taking a glove off, taking my Airpods out of my FlipBelt, popping them in, then grabbing my phone and getting to the Spotify playlist on. It was really raining and really cold now and this wasn’t pleasant. Then trying to get my glove back on afterwards was a near impossible feat. The glove fingers had gone inside themselves and peeling them out was taking so much time, while trying to run and not let my hand freeze to death.
Anyway, I got it done and then went into “go go go” mode. I had some good music. I had thought we’d be going the winding route round the houses as I’ve always done in the previous races because the tide comes back in and makes the pebble route impossible. However we were sent back to the pebbles as the tide wasn’t in. This wasn’t a welcome thing I have to say. My legs were tired and the pebbles were handwork. This was my hardest mile.
I knew I just needed to get to the seafront as then it would be two miles left and plain sailing with the wind behind us. I could convince myself that it was the last half of the Southsea parkrun as well (a particularly hard parkrun!).
It was such a relief to hit that seafront and I just knuckled down and pushed as much as I could. I knew my time was looking pretty good and I just had to hold on. I was almost nearing my PB but realistically I knew that wouldn’t be possible now in the final miles. But faster than my Goodwood time earlier this year? That was looking possible.
I got past the Pyramid centre and suddenly my mum was on the pavement waving. I almost collided with her! It was lovely to see her but I could barely manage a smile as I was pushing so hard and was now so cold in the biting rain.
And round the corner, Kyle and my dad cheering me on, and I was finished! Whew! 3.17.37 – my second fastest marathon! And what a marathon to dedicate to Alfie.
I was so cold at the end, I was grateful for the foil blanket I was given (and firmly told to put on quickly). I felt so grateful to those volunteers, they were true legends.
Then we got in the car quickly, I headed home for a very quick and hot shower before we headed out for lunch.
I’m so pleased with how this race went. It means a lot to me, because of Alfie, I while I was definitely giving my all by the last four miles, the previous 22 felt really relaxed and comfortable. A completely different story comparing it to Goodwood at the start of the year where most of the race I was pushing hard with concerted effort. So it’s nice to finish the year with a race like this!
Now time for Christmas!