Sunday 6th in central London. Glorious blue skies with highs around the late teens expected once the morning sun had warmed the world up, perfect running weather. Like most half marathons, the race had a nice 9am(ish) start.
After watching the Ultra’s start their 50KM run, I proceeded to the correctly colour coded funnel to begin the long process of crossing the start line. Of course, when one is taking part in an event with 16,000 runners then the long process of crossing the start line takes just that little bit longer. I had never run in an event this big before so the 17minutes I waited to begin this half marathon was particularly frustrating.
At 9:17 I crossed the start line and began my 13 mile endeavour. Constantly surrounded by tens of runners, on a course braced by thousands of spectators, when you realises you are running too fast, part of you also says – go on, just a few more kilometres at this pace won’t kill you – but experience assured me that this pace would definitely sabotage my race in the closing stages, so I put on the breaks and got my pace down to a good 9minutes/mile.
The opening stage of the Royal Parks Half is spectacular and the sites we ran past were as exhilarating as the buzz generated by the cheering crowds and charities. Big Ben, London Bridge and Embankment within the first 5K’s before heading through Admiralty Arch and running up The Mall, towards the Royal Palace. Queenie wasn’t in.
The second half of the race took a convoluted route around the paths of Hyde Park, the course a constant throng of runners and spectators. In fact, one of my major bug-bears were the sheer numbers of runners which meant your average endurance runner – a 2 hourer – couldn’t get enough clear space, I spent the entire course dodging not only the slower runners in front of me but the ones who cut me up as they slipped in front and put on their breaks – which totally destroyed my rhythm, my cadence data for this run is not the usual slightly undulating line of around 88spm but a graph resembling the distant skyline of a modern metropolis. Still, the Royal Parks Half is promoted as one of the biggest Charity Half Marathons in London and the running masses did have a ‘doing this for…’ look about it, so maybe they were not up-to-speed on good running etiquette.
The crowd thinned around mile 9 for a few, brief moments which brought a sense calm to the field as the sound of heavy breathing and rubber on asphalt in the mid morning sunshine spread through the group of 100 or so runners around me. This did not last for long though, at mile 10, the course joined the main path that circles Hyde Park and the crowds, once again, erupted into view. Up until this point, I had been able to keep up with the 2 hour Half Marathon pacer but with 15KM under my belt, my energy levels began to fade and my pace dropped slightly. I began to despair as the pacer glided away and there was nothing I could do about it For a few kilometres I entered that self-doubting, dark place where runners sometime find themselves, however I possessed the discipline to ignore the ghouls, keep my feet under me and legs moving. At around 17K’s, my heart and my pace lifted. I had 4K’s to go, I was averaging 6minutes/kilometre and I had 25 minutes until the 2 hour mark, I was still on time for a 2 hour half marathon.
I crossed the line at 2:01:53, a cool 3 minutes faster than my previous PB for this distance. The hydration point, course marshalling and crowd support had been incredible, but post-race needed some work. After crossing the finish line, runners had to walk a further 500 meters before a gap had been opened up in the railings to let runners through. Unfortunately the gap was much smaller than the number of runners that wanted to get through it, plus it opened up onto paths used by the spectators which meant a lot of standing around, getting cold and stiff before one could sit down and relax.
Overall, the race itself is a brilliantly fast and flat course, there is plenty of crowd, water and medical support. I passed quite a few runners who were wiped out, throwing up, or in pain from pulled and twisted limbs being attended to, admirably by the emergency services. Running on the roads of central London and past some of London’s most iconic landmarks is something that every runner should do and if you are not quite ready for a full marathon, then this is the event for you. As I wrote earlier, this is marketed as a Fundraising Half Marathon so the emphasis is on the charities – like the London Marathon. However, unlike the London Marathon, it is still relatively easy to get into this event as a standard, run of the mill, distance runner.