ABP Southampton Half Marathon & 10K Review by Dan Slayford
The weekend, of course, began with Southend parkrun Saturday morning, the plan being to run at a nice, steady pace… which lasted about 1 minute. To be fair my pace was pretty steady, just much quicker than I should’ve been doing a day before my second half marathon (as Keith very kindly shouted at me as I passed). Another parkrun sadly came to an end as we packed and got ready to depart to Southampton with the family at 11am for what was to be an eventful weekend. Three hours later we arrived at the hotel and unpacked our gear (including a neon tutu and new name-printed Flyers top) which consisted pretty much of purely bright orange gear. After settling in we went for a short shopping trip, and stumbled across a park containing roughly ten thousand portaloos and came to the conclusion that this must be the start of tomorrow’s race. Meeting up with another two families at Pizza Express, we enjoyed our pre-race night-before pizzas (if Calzone is on the menu there’s only one thing I’ll be ordering) before returning to the hotel for an early night, in dutiful preparation for the first ever ABP Southampton Half Marathon & 10K.
7am on Sunday morning and we were ready! It took me until immediately after we’d reached the event to realise I’d forgotten my drinks, leaving me to set off for a 2 mile 7min/mile ‘warm-up’ to find the hotel again (leading to other problems including magnetic number clips and forgetting the room number and attempting to unlock every door on the floor!), get my drinks and return to the start line for my Dad’s 8:30am 10km race, meanwhile receiving dodgy looks around Southampton as I ran solo in fluorescent orange and a tutu. I did, however, pass two ladies also wearing tutus and we exchanged compliments regarding our dress choice (no need to excuse the pun). The day will come when I take part in an event with nothing going wrong!
The event itself was brilliant. Loud music blaring, people dancing, local groups displaying mini shows, the helpful and entertaining marshals (one of which complimented my legs) and the ‘fun’ dancing group warm ups which, not saying much, added up to the biggest event I have done so far. After a slight delay a countdown began and the 10k was off, complete with the more serious looking runners at the front and fancy dress including the cookie monster! As the last of the 1,000 runners crossed the starting line I set off to St Mary’s to watch the runners pass before moving on to Guildhall square to cheer the runners home. Well done to my Dad, Clive Slayford, on a brilliant 2 minute pb despite the two lengths of the tough Itchen Bridge (must’ve been the excitement of seeing Matt le Tissier at the half marathon). However, despite the pb, it is still pretty embarrassing to have been beaten by the cookie monster… who was also running the half marathon straight after! I guess two medals is better than one.
After the 10k finish it was time for me to return to the start for the half marathon where there were now 6,000 runners ready to race. As we all gathered into our predicted finish time pens (I’d gone for the back of the 1:30-1:45 area) with ‘I Will Survive’ appropriately being played over the speakers followed by Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now,’ the large TV displayed an interviewer asking a couple of questions before handing over to Francis Benali, famous ex-Southampton full back (whose one and only premier league goal came from a le Tissier free-kick in 1997). He murmured a response, inaudible from my area of the crowd, before the camera then turned on the great Matt le Tissier! “Are you ready for this?” the interviewer asked. “Err no.” Can’t say sitting behind a desk at Sky Sports at the weekend gets you into good shape, unlike Benali who completed a three-week 1,000 mile challenge of running to all 20 premier league grounds last year. Again there was a 10-second countdown as le Tiss started the race and we were off! My plan of purposefully running extra slow once again was out the window as I felt very comfortable at 7min/miles and the support from the thousands of locals who came out to cheer (complete with banners and noisy things) was brilliant, as well as the hundreds of volunteers who gave up their day to point the way and shout encouragement. First challenge was the Itchen Bridge; a 96ft climb to a pointed top, straight down, round a roundabout and straight up and down again (where I passed le Tiss going in the opposite direction). My hip was in pain after the incline of the bridge, however it was soon numbed as 4.5 miles in I reached St. Mary’s stadium complete with water stations and plenty of supporters cheering everyone on enthusiastically. The benefits of standing out, both the full orange, the name on the t-shirt and of course the tutu encouraged extra support from the sidelines, from people shouting “Well done Dan, keep going!” to “Nice dress!” from a builder (it’s a tutu actually), and a little boy asking “Mummy, why’s that man wearing a tutu?”
The uphill part of the race went on for miles (literally), and the downhill wasn’t much of a relief when it finally came as it was very steep! Burgess Road was a great boost and distraction from the continuing hill at mile 8 was courtesy of some live bands including the City of Southampton Albion Brass band, the Life Link Pathfinder Drummers and some bag pipers. At the top of the road came Southampton University complete with entertainment from the Southampton University Student Union (and a very thoughtful BBQ that we HAD TO RUN PAST). After the University, we were reaching the 9 mile stage of the race where I started feeling the effects of not having enough (or any) nutrition, and thoughts of a sweet that I tried earlier to take from a boy’s hand but missed, plagued me somewhat. Pathetically, I managed to hit a ‘lack of sugar’ wall before the 10 mile stage and slowed from a fairly comfortable 7min/pace to a 12+min/mile stutter, my vision going blurry and swaying, struggling to keep in a straight line and feeling incredibly faint. The course seemed to come to a complete standstill as my feeble legs apparently weren’t carrying me anywhere. A friend and his running instructor, targeting to run in around 1 hour 40-45 minutes, passed and checked if I was ok running at such a slow pace, his coach ordering me to pull out after I mentioned I felt as if I was going to pass out. Unfortunately, however, I’m the kind of competitor who would probably die before I give up, and while (which I ended up doing for a mile) walking at 20min/miles was embarrassing, it would not be nearly as embarrassing for me as pulling out would have been. And to be fair, the only way back to the hotel was to follow the route anyway.
I could’ve sworn the route took me past every single fast food restaurant in Southampton, ending up jokingly asking volunteers to get me a burger every time we passed one (which was a lot of times!). This happened less and less jokingly after this 10 mile mishap as I literally almost begged for sweets, stealing a whole handful from sweet buckets multiple times and pretty much clearing out the whole bucket in one go! Greedy, maybe, but I needed the energy, and this clearly did the trick as I slowly increased the pace before the final mile at East Park, once again regaining my 7min/mile and beyond, until I reached the final couple of hundred metres and sprinted in at under 5min/miles and overtaking at least 20 people, demonstrating the tremendous powers bestowed to me by the wonderful jelly babies! Upon finishing I was greeted by my biggest (and heaviest) medal yet, which unfortunately was exactly the same as the 10k medal but no less glorious. I was also welcomed by an endless supply of sweets, a heaven in normal circumstances let alone at the end of one of the worst 3-4 miles of my life, plus other goodies (and a “nice legs” comment from the same girls that saw me at the start). To be fair to them I was pretty hot, however more to do with the effects of the race more than anything else. The weekend closed with a pleasant trip to Banana Wharf to catch up with both grandparents who were kind enough to offer their support for me during my run (thanks!) before it was time for that 3-hour trip home back to sunny Sarfend. To anyone not planning on entering the London Marathon for next year (or who don’t get a place), this event is definitely worth a try if you’re up for the travel as it was very well organised, the support throughout was fantastic, the route was brilliant and of course the medal is pretty delicious too. Anyone put off by the medal being the same in both events, fear not! Next year the organisers have promised to offer two different prizes for finishers of the different races. If I don’t manage to get a place in next year’s London Marathon I will be thoroughly looking forward to another (hopefully more successful) stab at next year’s ABP Southampton Half Marathon!