Monday, 26 October 2009

Great South Run 2009

The day started off with a few last minute decisions – what to wear and whether I wanted to take anything with me that needed to be left at the baggage drop. The forecast had been for a wet and windy day just a few days earlier, but this had now been revised to sunny and breezy, so I decided that I wouldn’t need my thermal top or sweatshirt, or my raincoat, so if I could manage to carry all the other necessary things on my person that would be more convenient. I wasn’t happy last year leaving my blood monitor and insulin pen at the baggage drop as it seemed so chaotic and largely unsupervised – you just left your bag in a big room with everyone else’s and, although only runners were allowed access to the room and runners are generally honest and trustworthy, anyone could have just walked off with what is vital equipment to me but worthless to them.

So, I managed to cram my Aviva Nano meter, finger-pricker (why do they make them so big?), half a dozen test strips (to save carrying the bulky pot they come in!), my insulin pen and three needles, money, railway tickets, house keys, and a dozen jelly babies into my tiny back pocket and waist belt (a Spibelt). I have larger ‘bumbags’ but they tend to bounce around when running whereas the spibelt doesn’t.

One thing that was causing me stress was trying to decide what and when to eat. As I had to travel around an hour and a half to the race, and also be sure to arrive there in plenty of time, I decided to leave my breakfast as late as possible before setting off. The problem would be that the insulin I injected with the meal would be more or less exhausted long before I was, and I wondered if this would affect how I felt towards the end of the race. I still had my ‘background’ insulin, so hoped that would be sufficient. I took a banana with me, but didn’t really want to be injecting more insulin shortly before the race in case it made my levels drop too low. I’m sure things would be far more straightforward on a pump. I don’t normally have to worry about things like this as my training runs have been within a couple of hours of taking my insulin and – due to injury sustained at the beginning of September – all much shorter.

As I set off for the train station the weather was very pleasant – completely different to last year’s more typical autumn rain and cold. There was quite a strong breeze though, which did chill me a little and I did wonder if I should have worn my thermal top. Too late to worry! I nearly made an error at the station when I was waiting at the wrong platform, but a kind gent asked where I was going and told me the correct one. On the train I got into conversation with a woman who was running the race for the first time and raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. I was able to reassure her and describe the course so she would know what to expect. The conversation made the journey pass very quickly.

Once we had arrived in Portsmouth there was a twenty minute walk to the start area on Southsea Common. There were thousands of cars parked on the grass – I didn’t envy them trying to get out later! As I approached the seafront the wind became stronger and blustery, plus there was quite a chill to it so I was starting to feel cold. I knew that, once the race got underway, I would quickly warm up so I wasn’t too worried. I joined a huge queue to use the portakabin toilets, taking about 25 minutes to reach the front. By this time it was practically time for the race to start so I found my way amongst the huge throngs to the start section for my wave of runners. There were three waves in total, and I was in the middle wave which meant that they thought a lot of people would run slower than me! I tested my blood before the start and was showing at 9.7 mmol/l, which I thought was a good level to be starting at – not too low or too high. If it had been too high, I don’t know what I would have done as you’re supposed to wait for it to come down before starting exercise.

At last we were underway! I knew the course pretty well, having run it twice before, so had a good idea how far the various landmarks were along the course. The first one to be reached was the Spinnaker Tower, about a mile along, followed by the Historic Dockyard where HMS Victory and the Mary Rose are situated. My pace was very gentle as I was nervous about causing a reoccurrence of the calf injury that had caused me to miss so much of my training the previous month. This year I felt under much greater pressure to finish. In previous years my sponsors had all been family and friends who had known me for years, but this year a lot of the sponsorship had come from new friends I had made on the forum. With this in mind I wanted to pace myself slower than in training as I had twice the distance to cover. The first three miles came in around 35 minutes ad felt fairly effortless. The Sun was very bright though, and in amongst the crowds of runners there was less of a breeze to cool me so I was happy to come to the first drnks station. I walked for a little while as I’ve found that trying to drink and run doesn’t really agree with me – I take in too much air ad it can affect my breathing if I’m feeling the need to belch!

There really were people of all shapes and sizes all around me – some petite young women and some huge men providing the widest contrast. As is my usual practice, I found an attractive young lady to run behind – it always makes the journey more pleasant! I got slightly annoyed by several runners who were clearly much faster than their start position had suggested, and they dodged and weaved around and in front of people which was very distracting. There’s an interesting section of the course where you run for half a mile down one side of a dual carriageway and then up the other side. This means that you can get a really good idea of how many people are in front of you and, as you come up the other side, the surprisingly large number of people behind you.

The good thing about the Great South Run, is its length. At ten miles in total you find yourself very quickly at the halfway point. From there it is just a case of picturing the ever declining distance to the end. By now I was thirsty again, but the drinks station at 5.5 miles was only providing sports drinks. I didn’t want to risk drinking half a litre of fast-acting carbs with all the consequences of that for my blood sugar levels, so had to pass by. It would have been better if they had provided more water for people in my situation. As we approached six miles I got a pat on the back from a young lady who congratulated me on running for such a good cause. She was off and away before I could ask her, but I’m guessing she was either a Type 1 diabetic herself or knew someone who was. I did spot a couple of other JDRF runners on the course, plus one or two Diabetes UK runners. The best supported charities in my ‘local’ group appeared to be Cancer Research, Leukemia Research, Alzheimer’s Society and Macmillan Nurses.
As seven miles approached I was desperate for a drink. I felt like walking but decided to keep going until I got to the water station, then I would sit down and take my blodd sugar levels. I couldn’t tell whether I was dropping low although it did feel like it. The problem, of course, is that most of the hypo symptoms are how you feel anyway when running – sweating, heart racing, light-headed etc.! I sat down at the side of the road with my water bottle and tested – 5.7! I was quite surprised, but pleased because with only three miles to go I felt sure I would be OK. To be on the safe side, I ate a couple of jelly babies to top up the levels.

The final couple of miles were tricky, with quite a strong breeze in my face as I ran along the seafront to the finish. It felt ever-so-slightly uphill, although I’m sure that was just my imagination. It’s a pretty flat course, although there are a few rises and falls as my GPS tells me that it +315/-340 overall. I struggled a bit over that last couple of miles. I wasn’t sure if it was lack of insulin playing a part or what – I just felt very queasy. I found I could run quite fast for short distances – my legs felt remarkably good – but then the nausea would force me to slow right down and walk for a while until my stomach settled. Thus, I continued in this manner to the end. As the 200 metre marker came up and with the finish line in sight, I performed a very impressive sprint, flying past many people. I guess I always have plenty in reserve but don’t like to expend it until I am sure of finishing! My final time, according to my stopwatch, was 1:57:17 which was about eight minutes faster than last year. I was very pleased to have broken two hours, and didn’t realise just how close it had been until I saw the official ‘chip’ time later in the evening. This put me a 1:59:48 – so I had only just managed to do it! Not sure why there was such a discrepancy in times as I can’t believe that my stopwatch would lose a minute a mile.

Measuring my blood sugar at the end came in at 4.8 mmol/l, still nicely within range so the jelly babies had done their job but I hadn’t under or over-treated myself. Hurrah! I will definitely be back next year, but hopefully with more training runs under my belt, and more experience of running with diabetes. Who knows? I may even be wearing a pump! I calculated later that, since I had to walk to and from the railway stations at either end I had actually done about 15 miles, which helps to explain why my legs are feeling so sore today!

GSR 2009


  1. Well done to break the 2 hours Northerner.
    You did really well with your control. I watched the race on televison, but unfortunately they only showed the elite athletes.

  2. Thanks guys! The television coverage is really poor I think, particularly when you compare it to the Great North Run which is covered for several hours. I didn't even see the elite race as my recorder recorded the wrong channel! Grrr!!!