4.30am is not my favourite time of the day, but needs must etc.! The Sunday train service is somewhat lacking in frequency and speed, and there was no train available that would get me to London in time to get organised for the start of the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Luckily, husbando was driving up to London for a bookfair, sadly he wanted to be there before 6.30am.
I set off, armed with a thermos of hot porridge and several bananas! By the time we got to London I was almost too nervous to eat, but managed to force some food down. I headed down to Hyde Park early, getting there at about 8am. It was raining. The thought of running just over 13 miles in quite heavy rain was not a joyous one! I made my way to the baggage drop and exchanged my bag for a wrist tag and a plastic poncho. The it was on to the UNICEF tent. As I walked in one of the wonderful coordinators recognised me from the UNICEF Facebook page - which was lovely. UNICEF had a huge marquee - just as well as there were around 450 people running for them.
I took myself off to the start line just after 8.30 - I'd much rather not do an organised mass warm up thank you very much! There were very few people at the start, I spent some time chatting to the guys from British Military Fitness who were running as pacemakers. When I entered this race I thought I might run it in about 2.10mins, and was placed in a starting pen accordingly. I had revised my expectations over the last few weeks, and decided to try to wheedle my was into the next starting pen. No one seemed to mind, and I had a lovely chat about parkrun with a gentleman from Wandsworth (local council there are unwilling to allow their ratepayers to use the Common unless money changes hands). It had stopped raining by now, but was still overcast and cool. Ideal running conditions!
The start gantry was fairly narrow, but once through there we could spread out a bit. I ran the first 3 miles faster than the first three miles of Paris-Versailles: 23 mins 27 seconds. The atmosphere was amazing. Between 5 and 6 miles we came back into Hyde Park and the route was lined with thousands of people, all shouting and cheering us on. I hit 10k in 49 mins 46 seconds, faster than my 10k PB.
I thought I knew Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens pretty well, but the course looped round and about so much that I became totally disorientated! I am 99% certain that I saw one of the mums from the children's school watching the race, probably at abound 7 miles into the race. Soon after this I saw a runner in trouble being helped by his friend. There didn't seem to be any race marshals or St John's Ambulance people around, so the next time I saw an ambulance (about 200m further on) I ran up to it waving my arms, shouting and pointing in the direction I had just come from.
I lost track of timings around now - pressed the wrong buttons on my watch somehow and couldn't work out how to get the display I wanted back - but I know that mile 11 to 12 was really hard work. I wasn't tired so much as bored! I had been playing cat and mouse with another runner from my local parkrun, and towards the end of the 11th mile I lost sight of him and decided that I'd not kick on too fast just in case he had developed a huge turn of speed and I would be in danger of killing myself trying to catch up! (He finished 40 secs ahead of me). I'd seen several people collapsed at the side of the route and I didn't want to join them. As it the way with lots of these races, you see the same people again and again. Two girls had been talking about entering a marathon in the first few miles as they dashed past me. I passed them at about 11 miles and asked them if they were still up for it!! We kept pace for a while, then , just past the 800m to go marker one of them stopped completely! Her friend told her to dig deep, I told her she had to finish - she was to close and if an old fart like me (I was probably 20 years older than her ) could do it then so could she! I hope she finished. Last time I looked she was plodding slowly on. I saw one man being dragged across the finish line by two of his friends. By about halfway through the race, all hint of rain had gone, and it was starting to get really warm - I think this took a lot of people by surprise and this could account for the number of people suffering.
Crossing the finish line, I noticed that the gun time was 1hr 53 mins 28 secs. Well inside my target time of 2 hours! The chip timing came through later at 1hr 52 mins and 6 secs. Thrilled is an understatement - although I do worry that I have set the bar too high to improve upon it! Once past the finish medals were handed out (see photo!) and chips removed. Then it was on to the goodie bag section. Possibly the best goodie bags in the world. Loads of stuff - Oreo cookies (full size packs) Hob Nobs, Shreddies, tooth paste, sports bars, drinks, tea bags etc.
After collecting my bag, I made my way to the UNICEF tent again, and got myself a free massage! Utter bliss! Food was laid on - but I wasn't ready to eat yet. That would wait until I met up with husbando. Even then I didn't think I was hungry until I started eating! The guys from UNICEF were fantastic! Great support and yet another goodie bag!
Walking down the stairs to Hyde Park Corner tube station was somewhat trickier than I remember it being in the past. I'd made the wrong shoe choice (going with the old pair that turn my toes numb rather than the new pair that don't turn my toes numb but just feel weird), and my feet were still protesting even though I was now wearing FitFlops rather than trainers! I met up for lunch with husbando at Carluccios - devouring my food and wine with gusto, before setting off for a little retail therapy. It was lovely to share a knowing look and a smile with other runners toting medals and goodie bags.
Hopefully I'll get to run this again next year. I love the support a London crowd gives its runners. I haven't run anywhere else in England (well in places and races big enough to draw a crowd) but the support in London is so much more vocal and enthusiastic than in Paris. Chatting with an Italian, who has run marathons and half marathons all over the world, informs me that the English crowds are the best!
Back to Earth with a bump now! It is nearly 10pm and I still have 2 more lessons to plan for tomorrow! Oops!