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Royal Parks Half Marathon – a blow-by-blow account!

I did it!!!

Despite all the procrastination, lack of training and abundance of excuses, last Sunday I completed the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon with no injuries and with a slow but steady time of 2 hours and 35 minutes. And, I reached my target for my fundraising for ActionAid. It such a gorgeous day and such a glorious course I felt incredibly lucky to be able to trot around without any dramas. Warning: this post is a bit lengthy so if you’re not up for a blow-by-blow race report, feel free to skip to the end …

My training in the weeks before was patchy to say the least. Because I was so behind I wasn’t sure if I should be tapering or trying to increase my runs or what. We also had two successive Sundays where I’d planned my long run but was defeated by rain pouring down all day (and similar excuses) … so the longest I’d run, in preparation for the race, was 1 hour 20 minutes. That went fine – in fact it was a great run – but I was well aware that it really wasn’t enough to prepare me for 13 miles. So all in all, I was a little apprehensive on the weekend of the race, but I figured I would just do my best, and aim to complete and not compete (as those runners say).

After a quick breakfast of toasted home-made brown bread and coffee, at 8 am on Sunday, I hopped on the tube at Arsenal, kitted out in my gear including my official yellow top. I saw a flash of yellow to my right and realised there was another runner sitting beside me. And one opposite, and a few standing up. The entire tube carriage was full of runners!

As we all streamed out at Knightsbridge tube and I followed the crowd to Hyde Park, the scale of the event hit me properly. Though I’ve done it before, you forget what 12,500 people gathered in one place looks like and I felt like a bit of an atom in the midst of the multitude. But it was reassuring to see that they were all shapes and sizes and conditions – from the greyhound-like figures doing the Ultra marathon (50k up and down the Thames somewhere – eek) to older women raising money for charity. When I heard on the announcement that there were 17 runners aged 70 or over, I thought, well, if they can do it …

The gun went at 9.30 but the crowd was so massive that it was 9.50 by the time I crossed the line. But I was happy to be at the back with all the charity runners. Lots of people running for cancer charities had those ‘I’m running for Dad/Mum/my sister’ signs on their backs, which were really moving and definitely helped get me in the right frame of mind for the run – putting a couple of hours of exertion and discomfort in perspective. For the first few miles I just warmed up, listened to my guilty pleasure album (it is brilliant to run to!) and enjoyed drinking in the sights as we streamed down through Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace and along the Thames where a few bewildered-looking tourists waited for us to go by so they could cross the road. It was so exciting to see the whole of central London cleared for us runners – a bit like the film 28 Days Later (but without the zombies and plague obviously).

It was an absolutely gorgeous day – blue sky, sunny, with the trees just starting to turn golden. I was so relieved after the previous two Sundays when it had poured with rain – I just don’t think I could have hacked running in that for two and a half hours. At mile 3 I walked for about 100 yards as I drank some Lucozade and started to jog again as we turned back towards Hyde Park. I felt fine, but unfortunately my hips – always my weakest, stiffest point – began to tighten up and felt really uncomfortable, so I did some ridiculous-looking sideways strides to try and stretch them out, which helped a bit. I kept hoping they would loosen up, but – despite all the yoga and hip stretches I’ve been doing – they remained stiff and sore for the rest of the race.

Aside from that, I felt OK. I was conscious that it was a long run, but I just went as slowly and steadily as I could and tried to focus on one mile at a time. I was getting pretty tired, but I distracted myself by waving at the groups of charity supporters – they were probably getting pretty bored and they always waved back enthusiastically back which gave me a boost. It’s not often you get people cheering while you’re running! I had originally planned to stop and walk at mile 8, but I was feeling fine so I decided to push through to Mile 9 – which was also OK: slow, but OK.

But then came Mile 10, and I hit a little wall. It felt like an achievement to reach double figures but my legs were so tired and the finish line felt so, so far away. The hips were protesting loudly at this stage but all I could do was jog on grass as much as I could to avoid the jarring of the hard surfaces. And to add insult to injury, my favourite sports bra was chafing my back in quite a painful way. I managed to coax myself on by doing all the mental tricks I could think of – including imagining all the people who’d sponsored me cheering me on, and a big thread pulling me from lamp-post to lamp-post – but eventually I just had to stop and walk. Between Mile 10 and 12 I walked for much longer than I would have liked – maybe a mile in total. But I had to. I just had no more running in me. Until this song came on …

And I got a second wind. From Mile 12 I jogged steadily, passed a few people out and even picked up some speed as I approached the finish. Which made me think that maybe if I’d pushed myself harder I could have avoided walking earlier –but what the hell. The Finish was looming and within a few minutes I was there! I staggered over to get my wooden medal, heard someone call my name, looked up and there was my support team – he’d been tracking my progress on the Royal Parks app (!!) and knew exactly where to find me.

I put on my sweatshirt and we began to trail around collecting my goodies, including my bag of treats from ActionAid, my charity, before queueing up for a burger, as part of the big Food Festival that was taking place there. The entire event was so fantastic and so incredibly well run, and everyone taking part was so brilliant, from the race volunteers to the charity fundraisers – it was really great to be able to just drink it all in for a bit before getting the tube home for a hot bath, a takeaway and a DVD …

I was so happy: I had done it, slowly but with no injuries and no major torment. I saw about 7 people along the way being tended by medics for various foot/leg injuries, and I also saw the awful sight of someone going by on a stretcher. It reminded me that a race this length really is a big strain on your body, and I’m so lucky that I was able to cope with it without having trained properly.

But it also made me realise I really want to run properly, this winter, instead of slacking off now that I’ve reached my goal. Today I did a little recovery run – it wasn’t great, but I’ll be out again tomorrow. And I’ve already entered the ballot for next year …

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Well done ! Glad it all worked out and you hit your collection target !

    Barry

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