Sunday arrived, bringing with it blue sunny skies and my final chance to get a decent half marathon time this season. I went from worrying about hailstones and gales to thinking it might actually be a little too warm. Donning sunglasses and a layer of suncream, I headed off to Trafalgar Square, to find an assortment of people taking selfies with various landmarks and dayglo yellow and pink props.
The worst thing about the event came right at the beginning: the start waves. There seemed to be no organisation to this whatsoever. A solitary woman was standing at the exit to the square telling waves 1-5 to move forward and 6-7 to wait. After a while she called wave 6 forward, and I was expecting to find some pens to wait in on The Mall. But there were none, and there was nowhere to go but forward, so I found myself lining up with wave 3 and a 2:15 pacer! I tried to tell a marshal I was in the wrong place but he just told me to go with this wave. I did worry about getting trampled to death but then I noticed all the people around me were wave 6 people who had been told to move forwards when I had. So it actually wasn’t too bad for me, but I feel for those people who were actually in wave 3 getting stuck behind people moving at 7-8 mins per km…
Start line worries aside, the race soon got moving with a route reminiscent of the Winter Run, through Trafalgar Square, Aldwych, Kingsway and the Strand (where I saw my mother spectating for the first time), then a switchback which took you over Waterloo Bridge for a blatant photo opportunity. The view must be really breathtaking for non-Londoners but less so for people (like me) who have worked in Waterloo for over a decade.
Halfway across the bridge I was overtaken by a man with a karaoke machine strapped to his back singing “Wonderwall”.
“Can’t believe I’ve just been overtaken an old man singing karaoke,” grumbled a fellow runner.
“It’s better than having to run near him for 13 miles,” I replied.
Crossing back over the bridge, I heard someone bellow my name and looked up to see Alan (who I know from RunThrough) providing cheer squad duties. It was nice to see a familiar face after being surrounded by a sea of strangers since the start.
Along the embankment, and karaoke man overtook me again. This time he was singing “Break in my Stride” and then “Blame it on the Boogie”. This time it took far longer to get out of earshot. I wished someone would break his stride, preferably by tripping him up. I distracted myself by admiring all the charity mascots that were supporting (and in some cases running) – various dogs and cats, a few Big Bens and the like, one Bagpuss, a giant heart and a dancing poppy.
I hit 10k at 1:16-something which was bang on target. I was sticking well to my plan of aiming for 2:45 rather than a PB and my pace felt quite comfortable and relaxed, no puffing, panting, swearing or wanting to die, etc. The next bit was a disorienting spider’s web around the City where I completely lost my bearings. Just how many directions can one approach Bank station from anyway? At the halfway point there was a church with “bow bells” ringing, which was a nice touch, and various people in historical London themed costumes doing stuff. I also noted various signs on the route pointing out London Landmarks and giving interesting facts about them, though I have totally failed to retain any of this information. Obviously I was moving too fast to take it in.
My one and only period of walking came at about 13km when I found I lacked the necessary co-ordination to get my lip balm out of my pocket and run at the same time.
I was very pleased to note that I had hit 15km and 10 miles quicker than I did on my track training run the other week, my fastest times for both since Brighton. Ten miles was at 2:03 so I’m hoping that I can get under 2 hours for the Great South Run this autumn. Around this point I was overtaken by a stream of pacers, one of whom was a Vegan Runner. I was about to feel despondent about this until I realised they were 2:30 pacers. Admittedly, I’d had a ten minute head start on them. Thankfully, none of them ran backwards at me.
I should have some photos of me in front of these landmarks, but I can’t find them, so I got these off Google instead.
Right on cue coming up to Tower Hill, someone shouted “Just a parkrun to go!” This turned out to be a bastard parkrun with an uphill start, a tunnel that stank of Lucozade and vomit, and direct sunlight that made it feel 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the route. On the uphill bit, karaoke man passed me for a third and final time, singing “I will survive”. I had absolutely no patience for these antics now and wished that he wouldn’t survive. Fortunately, the trek up the hill seemed to render him breathless and unable to sign, and I noticed him dart into a local cafe, apparently to have a little sit down. I was just glad he wasn’t doing it near me. I’m all for people doing silly things in races to raise money for charity, but I really think doing it in a way that intrudes on other people so much is a bad idea. Had I been struggling with the distance like I did at the Olympic Park, I think his warbling would have tipped me over the edge.
After a last burst of energy to get over the hill, my pace dropped below 8 mins per km and my gait took on a definite shuffling quality, but I still didn’t walk. Unfortunately it seems like a lot of people ran out of steam at this point and I was dodging a lot of walkers. It is quite hard to dodge people when you are only moving a little bit faster than they are. I spotted another vegan vest and tried to say something encouraging at its owner. “Everything hurts!” was his reply. I agreed wholeheartedly, and was very glad we were coming to the final stages. I was definitely starting to near the point where I fancied a little walk.
The final stretch involved one of those cruel turnarounds where you pass the turn off to the finish but have to keep going down a never ending stretch only to turn around and go back the way you came. Presumably the purpose of this exercise is to see Big Ben, but I did not care as I have already seen Big Ben a million times already. This was the section in which there was the most crowd support, and I had a flashback to those posts on Facebook where people running marathons and halves say they are “carried along by the crowd” and appreciate the cheering at the end. I’ve never had that before, by the time I get to my home stretch usually all the crowds have buggered off home and the mostly empty streets are punctuated with the occasional medal-wearing runner who finished hours ago cheering me in sympathetically. The constant attention is very different – it certainly makes you forget any ideas about a sneaky walk break – but also quite imposing and very very loud. I can’t even tell you which song I finished to because I couldn’t actually hear it. This made me think that this must be what it is like to run the London Marathon. It was good to experience this just the once and I loved the feeling of not being left behind, but I would have hated that last stretch if I’d been struggling. I think this race is probably more suited to groups of friends and charity runners than the running-obsessed circles that I move in, and I’ll be glad to go back to quieter local events.
Finally, I was rounding the corner to Whitehall and the finish line. Rob and my mother were there to cheer me on, and Alan and a random Vegan Runner with a camera were just in front of the finish line. I realised that I had succeeded in my goal of running the whole way (lip balm incident excluded) and crossed the line with a big grin on my face. I looked at my watch…
2:45 (and 47 seconds). I’d done it! Bang on target and a whole eleven minutes and seventeen seconds faster than six weeks ago!
For some reason, the organisers had thought it a great idea to put the bag drop at the top of a flight of steps, and so I struggled up there to meet my mother and Rob (spectating), and Zoe, who was having a small mental breakdown because she’d had two “official result” texts, one telling her that she had a PB by one minute and another telling her she was one minute short. I am pleased to report that the faster time was correct, and so we headed to a local establishment to stuff our faces and drink Prosecco.
I was very pleased and relieved that it had gone so well – now I feel I can put the half marathon thing to bed for the summer and concentrate on getting triathlon fit (ie. learn to ride my bike without falling off). Maybe next year I’ll actually beat that PB from 2016.