Back in 2000 I had my first daughter in New Zealand. We came back to live in the UK in the summer of 2001. My brother-in-law Phil was turning 40 and thought it would be a good idea for my big brother Paul and I to run the Great South Run with him. Did they notice that having a baby had turned me into a different person; sleep-deprived, chore-driven, in need of a goal? I think my brother-in-law Phil couldn’t stop laughing at me, and my new-found role, and took me out for a run as ‘there-there’ therapy to help me. It worked. So there we were the three of us, a little crew, for a while. The big issue was both of them were way, way faster than I could ever be. It was so annoying. Being blokes they had a distinct physical advantage. Being one foot taller than me (well one was) meant their stride length was so massive that even during our warm-ups I would be sprinting to keep up. Phil laughed at me a lot. I laughed at me a lot.
Back then running was slightly different. Primarily, it was fuelled off red wine fumes. I hadn’t quite progressed to whisky. When I came back from NZ I lived with my brother. He had no choice; I was his little sister and if he didn’t give my family a place to stay I guess I would have tried to throw a punch northwards to make him do exactly as I wanted. Having two sisters must be horrible, especially when one is extra feisty even though she is extra small. (Isn’t this usually the way?).
We would often have a mid-week glass of wine, but never two days in a row. I don’t think. Or maybe we did a few times. I can’t believe it now, but I think we even had a few drinks on the night before some of our early Great South Runs. The thought makes my stomach churn today. What were we thinking? Well we weren’t thinking as we were able to get away with it. I can definitely remember dragging my body round the streets of Portsmouth with a hangover on a few occasions. I wasn’t really a real runner back then.
The three of us would hang on for the whole 10 miles, get our medals, then usually head off to a local pub to have another glass of celebratory wine. These were the good years. There are memories on those streets, especially in Eastney, the backwater before you finally come round into the long road back to the finish. We set up a tradition – every time I had a baby I ran the GSR that same year, in some crazy bloody-minded belief it was really important to show my girls that just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you can’t still have personal goals. Even after #numbers 1 and 2 were born, and I had had blood transfusions, I was trying to run around my nearest park 6 weeks later.
I’ve had some truly shocking GSRs. But I did what I aimed for and always managed the next GSR after each birth. The three post-birth races were really awful. But the worst one was when I’d had a chest infection but forced myself to run (raising money for Alzheimer’s Society, couldn’t let them down), coughed so much all the way round that I had to stop each time. I was in constant danger of wetting myself. For the first six miles I did that run where you cough and try to not stop but pull your legs together, trying to control your bladder so you look like your running off red wine fumes…
Phil died in his 40s, losing his battle with diabetes, just before #3 was born. I ran the GSR after her birth for him. It was awful. I know he would still be laughing at me and my running, the way it goes up and down, just like the support of the American people of Donald Trump. I know he would say: ‘Tina, just enjoy yourself, don’t worry,’ and then laugh his massive donkey laugh at me all the way round. I loved that man.
Plenty of times my brother’s beaten me, too. Goddamn it, I hate that. Thing is I figured out years ago how to beat him. All I have to do is train. Because he doesn’t. He’s so laid back he eased himself out of our mother’s womb making the peace sign. I’ve been doing reverse psychology on him for years, and he has no idea. It’s OK, don’t worry, he doesn’t read my blog – none of my family do – so he won’t find out. Every week I ask him the same question: Are you coming to my running group? Every week he says: I’m too busy. So. He thinks I really want him to come. Whereas I know the more I ask him the more he won’t come. We have this weird-psychic-crazy-brain connection where I know exactly what to do to make him not do something. You only have it with the souls who were there the day you came home from the hospital, wrapped up warm and tiny, who look at your bundle of life and instantly, with their 18-month-old brain deduce ‘I know exactly what that crazy piece of life is all about.’ That’s what he’s got with me. That’s called being truly blessed.
He can still rock up to this annual 10-miler with no training and run close to 80 minutes. It’s so annoying I want to slap him every year. I have to keep up my training just to beat him. What a motivation. And the best bit is he has no idea that he’s not running because I want him to, so I can beat him. Crazy life magic right there.
Some people write such sweet things about their brothers….
Isn’t it so cute? Oh sorry, I was looking for a lovely poem about how great a brother he is and this one kept popping up… Is it about me?
Then when the race is over I say: ‘Oh, did I beat you? Ah, I didn’t realise…!’ Knowing full well I did as the moment I get over the finish line I pull out my mobile and go on to the GSR results page, punch in his name, see his time and run round that whole lower field in a glory lap, singing ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T, all I’m asking is a litt’l respect!’ Even though something like 10,000 people finished in front of me. It doesn’t matter as I beat my brother. That’s what true victory is.
This year the GSR magic weaved its way through the streets of Portsmouth. The elites were out, the supporters were out, the sun was out. There was a bit of wind, but racing conditions were set for thousands of glorious PBs. The whole of the south coast was there, nearly every runner I know – either skipping over the cobblestones in the historic dockyard or shouting on their club mates. The support is priceless and makes the quite hefty price tag of the race (expect to pay over £40) melt into a big gooey mess of happiness and love.
I set myself quite a big target this year, 72.5 minutes and I didn’t quite make it. A duathlon last weekend finished me off. I finished with a chip time of 74.42… I ran 10.11, my watch time for 10 miles dead on was 74.03. But it was a GSR PB; on that first one in 2001, aged 30, I did 84 minutes. So I was 10 minutes quicker even though I am 15 years older. Can’t complain about that.
I have one, and only one tiny gripe – the t-shirts are always so massive. Please, Great Run, please, can we have an XS?
Did I beat my brother this year? Stupid question…
You can enter next year’s race here
I’ll see you there.