The annual Havens Hospices Southend Half Marathon is one of the most enjoyable races of the year. It is a very well organised event, with thousands of spectators lining the route, and has a very flat and scenic course along the seafront at Shoebury.
This year nearly three thousand runners entered the race and those taking part assembled at East Beach on the morning of Sunday 8th June. It was a very warm day and the organisers were very careful to advise us just to enjoy the event, not to attempt a Personal Best time in the conditions, and also to take on lots of fluids.
The start was chaotic because the pre-race warm-up took place just to the left of the starting area – this caused the whole area to become congested and resulted in lots of slower runners starting out of position near the front, which was particularly awkward as the first few kilometres are very twisty and there were many close calls before the field spread out.
I quickly settled into a comfortable rhythm and worked my way up through the field until I was surrounded by a group of runners who were running near my target pace. The conditions were a lot warmer than I was used to in training so I took on regularly small amounts of water and didn’t push too hard too soon.
There were water stations throughout the course with each station manned by a number of keen and helpful volunteers, some with plastic cups of water and others with soaking sponges, and there was water for everyone who needed it and no issues with access to the stations or congestion at them.
I have run a lot of half marathons, both in races and in training, and so am mentally well prepared for the distance and know how to break it down. Also this was my third Southend Half Marathon so I am now very familiar with the route, hence it was quite easy to pace myself, stay in control, and conserve energy for when I needed it most.
Early on there was an ambulance driving slowly back along the seafront towards the start and so I assumed that someone had suffered from the heat in the first few miles. I have never seen medical attention so early in the race and so was aware that other people might be finding the conditions challenging.
As a runner you always appreciate every shout of encouragement from spectators and this event felt like it had most of the local population standing by the road, or standing on their balconies, cheering us all on. I always try to acknowledge anyone who encounrages us on but it is not always possible at this event due the number of spectators.
I knew that I was just starting to fade at about halfway but decided to just run at the pace I was able to, with occasional short bursts of energy, to see how things went. I had worked out very early on that a Personal Best was out of the question but I still wanted a respectable time and wanted to push myself a bit as more races are coming up soon.
The second lap of the sea front felt tough because of the conditions but I knew there was now less than 10 kilometres to go and that is a distance I know very well and complete regularly without any problems. I tried to maintain a good rhythm and run at a steady pace.
The closing stages of the race are challenging because the road away from the sea front is a sudden steep climb and then the final kilometre back to the finish is always far longer than you think it is. I really focussed hard on rhythm, pace, and being mentally strong and in control – I didn’t want to fade towards the end.
Shortly before the finish a medic was rushing against the flow to get to a runner who had collapsed and was described by one of the volunteers as ‘delirious’. There were also several faster people who were now walking to the finish as they were unable to run any further and so it was clear that some people were really suffering.
I completed the distance in a chip time of 1 hour 37 minutes and 44 seconds. I was slightly disappointed because I was four minutes away from a Personal Best, two minutes away from last year’s time, and six seconds away from my best time of the year, but had finished in under 100 minutes and so was happy.
As I crossed the line I was struck by the heat and suddenly felt very dizzy and wobbly. I looked around for some water but the marshals advised that it was several metres away in one of the tents – this seemed sensible as it avoided congestion, although I really was quite in need of some water there and then!
Within about five minutes I had warmed down and recovered enough to head home so we decided to leave before the car park became too congested. More and more runners were finishing the race and I couldn’t see any car park marshals around to help people leave.
I saw rumours on Twitter soon afterwards about an incident at the finish line and a few hours later was sad to see the news that someone had made it to the finish but no further. I don’t know what happened or the circumstances around it so cannot comment or speculate.
The event was extremely well marshalled though, the runners were well watered, the local residents were out in force as always, and it was a very enjoyable race to take part in. Also it was good preparation for the Torbay Half Marathon later this month and I know what I need to work on over the next three weeks.