Today I was in Southend for the second time in two weeks. It’s not just the beaches that draw me to my nearest seaside town. When I’m not running, I like to do a bit of genealogy. I am also better at genealogy than I am at running. A bunch of my ancestors lived in Southend in the late 1800s. My great great grandfather was part of the rich Allen family who built a lot of the housing that is there today, and my great great grandmother, who was penniless and not married to said Mr Allen, killed herself not far from what is now Southend East station, by throwing herself in front of a steam train when my great grandfather was nearly two. Every time I go to Southend, I imagine myself walking the roads my ancestors took a century ago. And today, I ran them.
I wonder if my ancestors ever went running?
The Southend Classic 10k has been running for 34 years, not quite long enough for my ancestors to have been involved, but longer than any other 10k race I can think of. It starts in Southchurch Park, near Southend East station. This year just over 1,300 runners took part. It’s organised by Southend AC, and most of the people who run are club runners – but there’s still a good mix of abilities and ages with finish times between 31 minutes and 1 hour 45 (no, that wasn’t me). All the runners, whatever their ability, appeared to be taking it seriously though – I must admit that I get a bit irritated by the large clumps of half-hearted runners who frequent some races and walk in a line blocking the whole path, chatting away. There were none of these there, and Nic will be glad to know that there was no sign of his ultimate nemesis, the runner-dressed-as-a-postbox.
The course reminded me very much of my moment of glory at the 2016 Brighton Half, only of course it was half the distance and there were no hills. After a quick turn out of the park, it was straight along the seafront towards Shoeburyness. It had been absolutely freezing when I was on my way to Southend but as the race began it turned into a gorgeous sunny day and the temperature (as per my Garmin) increased from 13c to 21c! I went from freezing to death to contemplating tipping water over my head. (I refrained, thinking of the journey home.) There was a little sea breeze, but it was just pleasantly cooling and not very hard to run into. The view over the water with little boats and the sun shining was gorgeous. As we got to about 3km, the Fast Runners were starting to come back the other way. This reminded me of Brighton 2016 too, where I’d seen Paul Martelletti way out in front, nearing halfway when I had barely got out of the blocks. (I always look out for Paul Martelletti now, he seems to be at a lot of the races I do and I consider his presence a good omen. I also scanned his barcode when he was first finisher at Finsbury parkrun.)
Just before 5km the route leaves the road for a quick loop around Gunners Park, the site of Southend parkrun. The loop is similar to the parkrun loop but in reverse. This is the only part of the race that has some non-pancake bits, but it’s still pretty flat. As you leave the park, there’s about 500m which is on a gravel/sandy path which isn’t very nice to run on. This was my least favourite part of the race.
Up until this point I’d been maintaining my target pace of 7:30 per km but unfortunately my legs started feeling it a bit and I suffered from involuntary slow down (but no walking). I would probably have done better if I hadn’t gone to parkrun yesterday. But then I would have missed out on parkrun. Still, I wasn’t too bothered as I was still enjoying the race and enjoying seeing Southend and the pier come into focus, although it did seem like the road was a lot longer on the way back and the ninth kilometre seemed at least twice the length of the first. When you get back to the road to the park, you don’t turn up it, first you do a little dog leg along the seafront which looked like nothing on the map but seemed to go on absolutely forever, to the point where I thought maybe they had changed the course. (They hadn’t).
Finally I was back at the finish line! On crossing, I saw my watch read 9.99km and I couldn’t leave it like that so I had to do another little sprint to the medal man which made me look like a bit of a wally. There was no goody bag or t-shirt (but the entrance fee was very cheap so that is ok) but there was a chunky old-school style bronze medal which has a picture of some kind of ancient Greek person doing some running on it, whatever that is about. It looks like the sort of medal you’d get for winning a sporting event in school. Not that I ever won any sporting events in school. My finish time was 1:18:07 which I was very pleased with.
On the whole, I loved the Southend 10k, particularly for the route but also for the organisation, lack of annoyances and pleasant atmosphere. I will definitely be back.