It's been a long time coming - but I finished the Great South Run | Matt Mohan-Hickson

Let me tell you a story.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 12:22 am
Updated Friday, 22nd October 2021, 12:22 am
Great South Run, the Elite runners and first wave sets off. Picture: Keith Woodland (171021-0)

It is January 2019 and I have agreed to do the Great South Run in the autumn.

I had never really been a runner, aside from a brief spell in early 2016 which petered out after a few half-hearted weeks.

But at least that previous failure to launch meant I was in possession of a pair of barely used running shoes – near mint in the parlance of collectors.

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It is a dark midwinter night and I am hitting the streets: my feet crashing down on the pavement over and over.

The going is hard for the first few attempts.

But having learned from my sporadic runs a couple of years earlier, I realise that at least this time I have to try and run each day – otherwise my training will float away on the waves of complacency.

My body is tired and my feet are sore, however the mechanical repetition of simply being in motion is a balm for my mind.

Ironically I had also spent much of 2018 running – trying to get away from the gaping wound in my psyche that was caused by being made redundant.

I slowly slip into a habit. Get back from the office, put on my exercise gear and run out into the cold.

But then it is March 2019 and I go away for a long weekend.

I decide not to take my running shoes and then forget to put them on again for months.

My old friend inactivity was eager to welcome me back into his embrace.

The days trickle by, turning into weeks and months and my running gear simply gathers dust.

Now it is the summer and I am hit by a sense of urgency, I NEED to train.

But I am out of shape and utterly unfit.

I try to pick up where I left off, but my body rebels and I am greeted by a sharp pain in my Achilles.

I have to pull out of the race and end up spending the day sat in the office instead, trying to hide from the sense of failure.

It is October 17, 2021 and I am running along the seafront in Southsea.

I see a sign that says 400 metres to go and the old memories come flooding back to me.

I am redeemed.

Race day is not the time for dietary experiments

If there was only one thing I could tell to pre-race Matthew, it would be – leave those gels at home.

I decided to do a bit of last minute reading up on doing a 10-mile run. Inevitably this turned out to be an absolutely terrible idea, nearly as bad as checking your ‘symptoms’ on WebMD.

So I got it into my head that I would need to ‘fuel up’ and bought a couple of packs of orange energy gel.

Quite why I decide to experiment with this product on the day of my first ever proper event run, I have no idea.

Now, you might be wondering what was quite so terrible about this idea. Well, it turns out my stomach was not a fan of this new source of nutrition.

Having set off out of the blocks like a madman, carried away by the atmosphere, I ran the first couple of miles faster than I would normally dream of.

So I decided to wolf down a gel to make up for that mistake – and within moments I felt as if I was about to collapse as pain exploded in my stomach. Thankfully it went away, but what a truly awful time to experiment.

The supporters really did lift me

I heard from previous people who had taken part in the Great South Run about the energy the crowd gives you.

But I wasn’t sure if this was just one of those things that people say.

Thankfully, everything I was told was correct – in fact I don’t think it went far enough.

Every time a stranger called out ‘go Matthew’, I managed to find yet another wind.

The near-constant sound of clapping and cheering, spurred me on even in the moments when I was feeling it the most.

I didn’t realise how much I was gaining from the crowd until we reached Eastney, when the absence became suddenly apparent.

Luckily that is only a brief section of the course.

I can’t even bring myself to grumble too much about the man on the scaffolding who was announcing to the runners that they only had ‘two miles to go’ – despite the fact that the eight mile marker was quite a way away.

Even the smell of food being barbecued managed to give me a brief extra burst of energy, since it reminded me that once I finished I could actually eat food.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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