So, Sunday was the Royal Parks Half Marathon in London. I entered the ballot and got a place for the second year in a row (first year I did it for charity). It really is THE London half marathon and is pretty over-subscribed each year, and I am so pleased I got to run it again.
The alarm was set hideously early for a Sunday morning.
I got up, made a cup of coffee and had some porridge. I just had a single sachet of Oats So Simple, as I couldn’t face anything more at that point. Eaten in bed, pretty much in the dark. People who don’t have children should not have to get up this early on a Sunday.
We headed towards Hyde Park where the race starts, and en route I found my appetite.
The race village was pretty packed, and the queues for the toilets are always insanely long. For the third year in a row, I didn’t get to use one as there just wasn’t time.
It frustrates me that people who aren’t racing use the toilets 15 minutes before the start. Selfish bastards. In reality, there just need to be about twice as many toilets but I presume this isn’t possible. Anyway – this is the only negative thing I have to say.
At 8.55am I got into my green funnel (can you spot me?)…
…and a 9.00am on the button the race began. I crossed the start at two-and-a-half minutes into the race, which really isn’t bad at all given that I was one of 16,000 people running!
We immediately headed out of Hyde Park, exiting through at the south east corner and headed through Wellington Arch. From there we head through Green Park, down constitution hill to reach Buckingham Palace just after the first mile. This bit is slightly down hill, and I was running a bit faster than I would ideally like. It’s hard to hold back when the adrenaline is flowing, and you’re feeling fresh and ready.
After that, we skirt the outside of St. James’s Park and take Birdcage Walk up to The Mall just past mile two. We go through Admiralty Arch and then turn right onto Whitehall. We run down towards Big Ben, passing Horse Guards Parade and the war memorials, before turning round at Downing Street and heading back up to Trafalgar Square by mile three.
We then head East, and run along The Strand, round Aldwych, and back along the Strand to Trafalgar Square. After a quick loop that took us up to the Institute of Directors, we headed back through Admiralty Arch, this time heading West, and along the Mall which gives a fantastic view of Buckingham Palace. If you picture the Palace at the end of a long road lined with flags – for special occasions – that was our route.
We then headed into Hyde Park at mile six to burn out the final 7.1 miles.
Matthew was waiting to cheer me on at mile six, but didn’t spot me until I waved at him like a loon. Hence this photo of my back.
Re-entering Hyde Park is the best bit for crowd support. Everyone ran a little bit faster for the first half of the seventh mile, spurred on by seeing their supporters. I had just taken my first gel, and was feeling good. At mile seven though, the crowd thins out, everyone flags a little, and this is when it became HARD WORK for me. I started to doubt I could do it. Every step felt like hard work. This was entirely mental, as my legs felt fine, and I wasn’t even out of breath. I know I can run 13 miles, but at that point, I started to worry.
The run through the park is notably less interesting than the first six miles through town. You run out to a point, and back again a few times. It’s almost best not to try to figure out the route, and to just follow the person in front of you – but when you see runners heading in the opposite direction to you, it’s hard not to realise you’re going to turn around at some point and run back the way you just came.
A key problem for me was that I didn’t find a pace runner. Normally, I find someone who is running at roughly my desired pace, I follow them, and switch off entirely. When I ran the Wimbledon Half Marathon back in June, there were three of us who ran together. Without any communication at all, we each took it in turns to run in front and drive us all forwards. I really could have done with this person on Sunday – but everyone seemed to be running at a totally different pace from me.
Anyway, the miles passed by – albeit not as quickly or easily as I would like. At mile 10 I had another gel, and it got a lot easier after mile 11 when I finally felt sure I could finish it. (I had absolutely no reason to think I wouldn’t finish….I was just fretting) and felt confident enough to put my foot down a bit.
As we entered the final 1/2 mile, I realised it would be touch and go whether I would make it under 1:50. The way my Garmin is configured, it shows me current pace, average pace, time and distance on one screen. All this on a little screen means that after one hour, the time becomes hh:mm – with no room to show me seconds. So when the watch said 1:47 I had no idea if this was 1:47:01 or 1:47:59. Anyway, I somehow decided I was on the threshold of 1:50 and ran as fast as I possibly could for the final 400m – so much that my lungs hurt for about 30 minutes afterwards and I have a sore throat still today.
Well, somehow I got confused as I finished in 1:48:45. Matthew told me that was my finish time, and we spent a while considering how this could be so different from what my Garmin told me. Then I checked my Garmin, and it told me exactly the same time. Whoops.
Note to self: create a second custom screen with just time and current pace for the final stretch of a race so you can see seconds!
Anyway. 1:48:45. Not a great time – but it could be worse. My PB is 1:42:03 and I am not sure I will ever beat that. I would so love to come in under 1:40 but I am just not sure I want it enough. Matthew thinks I should go for it and put in the effort. Strangely, it is the strength and speed work that I lack motivation for.
The race is brilliantly organised, with so many volunteers. Thank you to all of them for their hard work!
Once I’d polished off my banana and grabbed my medal we headed to get FOOD. We actually ended up having a really disappointing experience in Brewster, which despite its name has virtually no beer on tap. These sliders cost £12 and the nachos £11 and neither was worth it. Best of all “add onion rings for £1” – and you get two fucking tiny onion rings. What a joke.
Here’s Matthew’s arm for scale. A miserly portion, with soured cream and guacamole from a squeezy bottle. Bleugh.
After that disappointment, we hit up the froyo. Well, Matthew went to the fancy Italian ice cream place next door, but it was “too legit” for me (i.e. not enough smashed up Oreos involved) so I went to Snog.
We ate this as we crossed the river to get the train home. It was lovely weather and London was looking pretty great. Incidentally, I love this coat for racing as it’s machine washable leaving me free to sweat.
We got home and found the sofa.
I had spotted a Netflix original version of Scream which I fancied checking out. It was pretty good; like Gossip Girl, but they all get murdered. Good enough to watch, but not so good that it mattered that we were both kind of tired and Matthew played Carcassonne on his phone the entire time. Perfect.
Later on, my brother came round and we ordered a gigantic curry, which almost made up for crap lunch. Needless to say, we will have leftovers to eat all week – but I am just fine with that.