Today marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, the largest seaborne invasion in history. 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, 277 minesweepers, 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel, 10,000 hit – 4,414 dead Allied soldiers, 1,000 German soldiers dead, over 3,000 civilian casualities.
Southsea Beach and Portsmouth Harbour were vital embarkation points for these D-Day landings.
On this day, 70 years later, I viewed the Portsmouth 2015 D-Day 10K Run.
621 runners from ages 18 to 68, of all body types, from all walks of life, participated with dozens of volunteers and spectators.
Among the runners were my hosts, Iain and Samantha.
As I wrote in A Sense of Accomplishment (My favourite SOB) I have been exposed to athletes for much of my life.
I have respected their dedication and zeal towards their chosen sport, but I can never claim to understand the determination or the self-sacrifice required to reach their desire.
They will train to the point of pain and beyond.
They will starve their bodies, sacrifice their leisure time, push themselves to their breaking point all in the name of challenge – man against himself, man against nature, man against other men, and in testing their mortal limits – an uneven challenge of man against the gods of fate themselves.
Well, at least this is true of professional athletes, but there were no Usain Bolt types in this crowd of running enthusiasts.
There were underweight and overweight runners, past their prime runners, yet they ran, with the proceeds going towards Cystic Fibrosis.
Numbers pinned to their chests, timing chips affixed to their shoes, determination upon their faces.
Some were speed itself, others…
Not so much…
The first runner’s time was 32 minutes, the last runner struggled past the finish line 1 hour and 30 minutes.
There was sweat, salt stains, bloody noses, scraped knees, torn calf muscles, runners looking like this race was their last moment of life before total collapse.
And, damn it all, if I didn’t find myself cheering each and every one of them onwards.
We wandered about Portsmouth, the United Kingdom’s only island city.
64 miles / 103 km west of London and 19 miles / 31 km east of Southampton, Portsmouth has a greater population density than London even though it only has a population of 205,000…more people crammed into a smaller area.
A significant naval port for centuries, Portsmouth has the world’s oldest continuously used dry dock and is home to some famous ships, including the HMS Warrior, the Tudor carrack Mary Rose and Lord Nelson’s Victory (the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission).
It remains a major dockyard of the Royal Navy and one of the most fortified cities in the world.
The freedom to run peacefully in the park has been hard won…