The Portsmouth Coastal Marathon was the first marathon I ever signed up to. Sadly I never made it to the start line as a runner, but I have supported the race so it wasn’t entirely new to me.
I was initially excited about the marathon when I finally got myself a place (it was sold out when I tried to enter it but managed to find a place from a friend of mine who unfortunately couldn’t run). But as the date got closer and the weather colder, my enthusiasm dwindled away. The night before I chatted to my parents saying I was genuinely nervous and worried about the race. I had no “oomph” to do it and felt a bit meh. Normally I’m nervous, yes, but also excited to get going. I just didn’t feel like I was about to run a marathon the next day.Happily I slept well and woke up with a renewed vigour. I’d gone over the race in my mind and was feeling a bit more ready (I find mentally going through the miles and my plans help calm and motivate me). I woke up at 6.30am, ready to leave with coffee, my Beet It shot and porridge to have en route at 7.15am. The marathon began at 8.30am, which is quite early for UK marathons but handily the start was only about 30 minutes away.My dad was coming to support (bless him) and had heated the car up ready which was divine…for all of about 10 minutes before we both found ourselves sweating. It was a very cold morning but the combination of the heaters, my coffee and porridge just made me overheat. The night before I’d umm’ed and arr’ed about what to wear before settling on a thicker long-sleeved base layer, my ever faithful thick sports bra, arm sleeves, a buff and my running club vest. Still in shorts but with my long compression socks. I was really worried about being too cold but also about being too hot. The arm sleeves and buff would be ideal as I could remove them if necessary (I did indeed remove the buff, but not the sleeves). I considered a hat but with the headphones I wanted to wear it just didn’t work. I wore my winter coat to the start and genuinely never felt cold the entire race – even when I was stood on the start line. It very much helped that up until five minutes from the start I was inside the Pyramid Centre (where the HQ was located). It’s a very relaxed affair so getting to the start minutes before we were off was about as good as it can ever get.The start is right on the Southsea prom, just a few metres from the parkrun start. The sunrise was spectacular! It was a beautiful morning and all my nerves disappeared. All I had to do was run. It was flat, I was warm and I had no time goals other than not to run like an idiot (i.e. not too fast). I was somewhat concerned with how late I’d left eating my breakfast (only an hour ago…) but actually it was fine.
I felt well fuelled running and had two SIS gels packed in my running belt.The first two miles ran up the promenade, past the pier and the cafes. There were lots of people cheering and it felt very relaxed and festive with people wearing fancy dress and familiar faces all round from local clubs and social media.I hadn’t had a chance to go to the loo before starting because the queue was too long (there was also a half marathon and an ultra happening). Plus I knew I’d need to stop anyway at some point because I’d drank that coffee so late. There was a proper loo just before two miles so I was aiming for that. Luckily no one was in it and I managed to dash in and out with no issue. It seems to be a thing for me now to always have a wee in a marathon *sighs*. Now I could relax and get these boring beginning miles past me. My dad drove past and beeped an excessive number of times – but it did make me smile. Off he went to his first supporter point.It’s a relatively small marathon, with around 900 runners. Despite this though, I was never alone. There were always runners near me. A significant part of the course at the beginning snakes along coastal paths so you’re always following someone. As we got to mile three we came to halt as there was a bottleneck to get safely down the steps onto the beach section. I was well aware of this section, having been warned by fellow runners, so I wasn’t surprised by it. And since I wasn’t aiming for a fast time I didn’t mind the stand-still moment. My only annoyance is that I didn’t make the most of the time by taking a photo! I was wearing nice thick gloves and the effort of taking on off and fishing in my belt for my phone seemed like too much effort at the time.
I felt a little sorry for the marshals who were continually shouting to runners to not try and sneak round and go an unsafe way down to the beach to beat the queue. You could feel the anxious energy around as people hopped from one leg to another, keen to get on. Finally we were onto the beach and off again…across the pebbles and sand. It only lasted a few minutes though and then we were back onto the path once more.You could see where we were heading – the course hugged the coastline – and the runners further ahead. Someone near me commented that it was like one big runner conga. You couldn’t really pass anyone but the speed was perfect for me. Not quite the 9 minutes I had told myself, closer really to 8.20-30. But I felt very comfortable (a good test for me is being able to run and breathe easily through my nose and to be able to easily hold a conversation).The course is entirely flat, but not entirely easy. The mix of terrain (tarmac, sand, pebbles, mud and trail) makes it tricky underfoot, but in my opinion it keeps you entertained. It’s an out and back route, following the Portsmouth Harbour. As the day was so still and so clear the views across the water were fantastic. The sun rising created beautiful picturesque colours and everything was very peaceful. Hands down one of the most beautiful marathons I’ve done. And believe me, I NEVER thought I’d say that about a marathon in Portsmouth…The miles ticked away fairly nicely. My first milestone was 6 miles as this would be my dad’s first spectator point.I could see the point from a distance and it gradually drew closer and closer. I listened in to people’s conversations as they chatted away, but was quite content to not get involved. I just switched off. I reached the 6 mile point and spotted my dad. He waved, I waved, all was good. As I passed him I imagined his journey to get to the next point up the motorway at 10 miles, just next to a the Ship Inn. The course is very handy that there are so many easy spots for supporters to gather.In this pic I saw the photographer laughing and knew the guy behind had done something fun, so I turned to him and said I was looking forward to seeing it later. He laughed 😉
The next few miles were along a cycle path (tarmac) and were parallel to the motorway which was just hidden away behind the bushes. Not that scenic anymore. I was familiar with this part of the route as it was where one of the Wiggle runs had gone down so I knew what to expect.What I really liked about the marathon was that you were never on one type of running route for too long. So you could segment the run into “down the cycle path for a mile” to “back onto trail and through an industrial site”. It kept things interesting – it wasn’t just a never-ending road that was always the same (oh hey Dubai Marathon…). There was another bit you run across the pebbles, but for the life of me I can’t remember when… but I’m pretty sure it was before the 10 mile mark. It was quite the grind (though not nearly as bad as it was on the way back!).I seemed to reach 10 miles in no time and spotted my dad again. There were quite a few supporters here all along the pathway which makes it quite narrow but also makes you feel a little like a famous athlete because there’s so much cheering. I had a quick stop to hand my dad my gloves (while also telling him to keep them with him as I might need them back again later). I told him I was feeling good and then headed off.After about another 0.5 mile you come to another good supporter point and lots of people were handing out Jelly Babies and water. I also spotted a guy I work with and it was nice to have him cheer me along. The next part of the marathon is probably my least favourite as you’re simply running to then turn around and come back. My dad would be waiting at the Ship Inn point again but I wouldn’t be back there until about 16 miles so I had a fair chunk to get through. To help me along I put on a podcast. I’d chosen the BBC 5 Live film review show which would have the Star Wars review in it. As I was seeing Star Wars later than day it seemed perfect.The route went down a trail path, so was a bit muddy and puddly, but otherwise easy underfoot. At about 11-12 miles the first marathoners started heading back. Some of them might have been ultra amazing ultra runners as well (as they started earlier) but I wasn’t sure. Eventually we made it to the turnaround point. I had now run all the course so there were no surprises (so I thought). Heading back meant I got to see a lot more runners – and people I knew. It kept me entertained to look out for people. I also took my first gel here (an SIS one with special ‘immune boosting’ vitamins. Can’t say it made me feel any different but the cranberry flavour tasted nice). As there was no bin around I tucked it back into my running belt. On this note, I saw a guy have a gel and then lob it into a bush. This made me REALLY angry. No one is going to be able to find that! Well done for littering the place up, you idiot. If you’re going to use gels make sure you depose of your rubbish responsibly. Rant over.As I got to 14 miles someone ran up next to me and said hello. It was a guy called Graham who I know from Twitter and parkrun. I was surprised to see him as he’s usually very speedy. I told him he didn’t have to go my pace and good speed ahead if he fancied but he seemed content at the current pace. I turned off my podcast and we settled in to some nice running chatter. This really helped the miles fly by.In the distance I could see my dad. My hands were starting to feel the chill again as it was becoming a little more overcast. I attempted to signal to him that I’d need my gloves back. Luckily he understood and handed them to me as I passed him, while he cheered us along.I remember certain parts of the route and used them as milestones to get to. We were running at a comfortable 8.30 and I was feeling positive. We quickly got to the 20 mile point where my dad was spectating from again (it had been the 6 mile point). How the miles were flying by! My dad drove past (honestly, I couldn’t escape the man. He was everywhere ;-)) and honked – off he went to the finish.Graham mentioned he ticked over to a marathon and this was when I realised he wasn’t running the marathon but actually the ultra! I just hadn’t been listening to him properly! Now a few of the things he’d said made a lot more sense now. Idiot that I am! No wonder he wasn’t speeding ahead at his usual super speed, he’d run five miles more than me!I suddenly found myself with a second wind and I gradually started to increase my speed. I gently pulled away and headed off on my own. I felt bad for leaving Graham but I wanted to push the pace. When I got a polite enough distance away I took my phone out (snapped a photo) and put some music on. In the process I managed to accidentally call my dad. I eventually cancelled the call and sorted my music out only to have him ring me back. We had a very quick conversation where I explain I hadn’t meant to call him and he said he’d see me at the finish.
Now I was grooving. The music was perfect and I felt strong. This is literally the best part of a marathon for me. When I’m IN THE ZONE and hammering it (relatively speaking of course) to the finish. In the back of my mind I questioned the increase in pace (what happened to a 4 hour marathon, Anna?) but I just went with it. I felt gooooooood. I was smiling, waving to marshals and just generally feeling the buzz. I heard a number of different people say a similar comment of, “she’s still smiling!”. This feeling in a marathon is what I live for, I love it!
I had mentally prepared myself for another jaunt across the beach but I was surprised to find us heading in a different route than we’d come. In fact, we were winding our way down residential streets. I wasn’t sure where we were but we had less than a parkrun to go now (well, so I believed). I eventually got back onto a familiar path and passed the toilet I’d stopped in at the beginning – so long ago now. The final stretch down the Southsea promenade – potentially very windy and unforgiving but luckily nice and still. With less than two miles to go I felt a few drops of rain… and then it started drizzling. Well, we had been very lucky to not have had any earlier and I was quite warm that I didn’t mind. My watch ticked over 26 miles… then 26.2 miles and we weren’t near the finish. As I passed a photographer he said “just half a mile to go”. Riiiiight. I knew we were about that away because I was familiar with this route (parkrun and GSR) so just knuckled down to that extra distance to get it done.
There were a lot of supports at the end which was fantastic. My only quibble (and this is really pathetic and moany so I’m sorry) is that as I was about 50 metres from the finish a man who was just ahead had his entire Von Trap Family of children join him to run with him to the end. This is all very lovely and ahh how cute, but I almost collided with four different children as they randomly went from supporter to runner. I then couldn’t get passed them – they were all running so slowly – and it kind of buzz killed my finish. I GET IT. You’re all so proud and want to share the moment, but there are other runners running the race as well… Meh. Rant over. Anyway, I finished, hurrah!My time was 3:45:36. second in my age category, 13th female (out of 280) 🙂 I was now fairly soggy. I collected my medal and goodie bag. I spotted my dad and he passed my coat quickly. What a hero! I saw some other freebies being handed out so headed over to have a look. A marshal was handing out free beers so I went to take one. He looked at me and said, “well I shouldn’t really, but I hope you’ll give this to your dad as you’re underage”. I stared at him, asked him if he was joking and when he said no I said, “I could actually hug you. I’m 29!” He laughed. Well, if that’s not the best thing to hear when you’ve finished a marathon I don’t know what is!We then had a bit of a length walk back to the car in the rain… My dad wasn’t able to find a space any closer. But the walk did me good – it helped stretch my legs a bit. And luckily we made it in the car before the rain really began.We drove home, I showered and got myself together and then we headed straight out again for some much needed Nando’s, followed by a ridiculous amount of sweets at the cinema watching the new Star Wars film.It was such a fantastic way to celebrate and relax afterwards. Though my legs didn’t thank me for the 2.5 hours of sitting and doing nothing… When the film finished I got up and my legs were SO stiff and awful. But otherwise, all good! I really enjoyed the film as well. I’m loving these new Star Wars 🙂
I really enjoyed this race and have already signed up to next’s years. It really was a fun and festive event – not necessarily one for a PB but more for enjoyment, which is exactly my kind of race!
What do you like doing after a long race?
Do you like running with other people in races?
Do you enjoy out and back races/runs?