Royal Parks Foundation Half-Marathon

I’m not sure I should write this blog post right now because I can feel myself descending into the gloomiest post-race blueness ever – you train for ages and focus on something so closely that you feel a bit lost once it’s over. The fact that it didn’t go swimmingly doesn’t help either.

But enough of that! I was woken a bit earlier than I had hoped (6am) by Junior Coach and tried hard to keep him contained for another hour by hugging him really tightly and hoping he might go back to sleep, but was kept awake by the incessant chattering until we all just gave in and had our breakfast. It was grey out there, pouring with rain in fact and I felt a sense of foreboding at the thought of having to run 13.1 miles in the rain, my least favourite running conditions. I had been very organised and laid everything out on Saturday night, so simply had to put on my kit and go, but not before I had sat with Hector for a bit and listened to the Jacqueline Wilson ‘The Mummy Cat’ audio CD that was free in Saturday’s Guardian (Edward and Hector listened to the rest of it when I had gone and it was apparently very, very sad). As I walked briskly under an unloved cheap umbrella to the train station, I did a mental check of all my body parts to make sure they were in working order, things felt good apart from the still achy Zumba hip.

The journey was straightforward and I started to see runners once I got to London Bridge, always reassuring. The rain had stopped once I got to Hyde Park, so I dangled the umbrella on a railing for a spectator to make use of and headed to the loo queues. I stood there for ages, not moving at all and eventually gave up as the start time drew closer and joined another queue and then gave up and walked to the blue start. I chatted briefly with a friendly fellow runner and she said it was her first half-marathon and she was aiming for 2 hours 30 minutes, I had a time of 2 hours 10 in my head, having run a similar time at Cardiff last year. Eventually we were off, shuffling forward in our waves and being released onto the streets of London. I did forget to set my Garmin to search for satellites so ended up starting my clock a few metres past the start – oops, my first race with the new Garmin, I used to switch the old one on when I reached the race, knowing it took an age to get a signal!

It is a lovely route and I had a great feeling running with all these other people through the sights of London with a big smile on my face. My race high point was as we ran towards the Houses of Parliament. I watched the hands on the clock turn slowly and felt a rush of excitement as Big Ben struck ten, there was a collective ‘ahhhh’ around me as we all enjoyed this uplifting moment, what great timing! Everything felt good running along the Embankment, looking up and waving at spectators on the bridges, and feeling a little like a London Marathoner again. Here we started to see faster runners who had already turned around, but I was soon one of them heading back towards Hyde Park. I pondered for a moment on the mounted guards who sat, motionless as thousands of colourful runners rushed past them in a wave of excitement, how do they do it? After an enjoyable run up the Mall, we were soon weaving our way around Hyde Park on a route that, at times became slightly irritating, especially when I started to struggle. I can see why the road sections are at the beginning, so that roads can be re-opened quickly and normality resume, but it would be so much better to run the park first and have the sights of London to get you through the second half of the race.

This part of the race takes you through a beautiful autumnal scene with colourful leaves falling at your feet and huge crowds of supporters cheering everyone on. It does feel slightly disheartening to see faster runners looping back towards the finish line though and I had a moment of bewilderment when I saw JogBlog on the other side of the barrier and I couldn’t remember if I had already run that way or not. It was unfortunate that she saw me at that point, the point where things started to go downhill for me. I was guzzling water and attempting to suck a gel whilst walking for the first time in the race. It wasn’t a hot day really, not like last Sunday, but I felt hot and thirsty and found myself repeating my experience at London Marathon 2009, where I drank so much that I ended up collapsing in a heap with cramp. I managed not to collapse this time but, at one point I had such a painful stitch that was radiating over my chest, that I thought I was having a heart attack. I didn’t want to say anything though, because I didn’t want to get carted off in an ambulance! It’s interesting that I saw so many people being attended to by medics during this race, far more than at Brighton Marathon earlier this year, I wonder if it’s because some people take the training less seriously for a half rather than full marathon.

So, I had by now consumed both gels, guzzled a load of Lucozade Sport and topped that up with water but I was still struggling, time to plug my headphones in. Once again, Florence and the Machine came up with the goods and made me smile with these words from ‘Hurricane’:

‘I brace myself
Cause I know it’s going to hurt
But I like to think at least things can’t get any worse’

It worked for a while anyway. By this point I was walking regularly because the cramp was so bad that my toes were curling and making it hard to keep going. It was so frustrating, knowing how well my training had gone. Even though it all felt like agony, the miles did pass quickly and I was soon in front of the Albert Memorial, stretching my calf muscles (‘Are you alright ma’am? said a friendly marshal) ahead of the run to the finish. Here I passed the woman I had spoken to at the start and watched as she was cheered on by her family and how this support gave her enough of a boost to sprint towards the finish (I could have done with some of that myself) and I crossed the finish shortly after with a sense of relief and also happiness when I saw the beautiful medal, the nicest medal I have ever received.

There were quite a few of my fellow bloggers running the race as well (JogBlog, Helsbels, Fairweatherrunner, Fortnightflo, Abradypus and Plustenner – I hope I haven’t missed anybody out there!), and they had arranged a post-race pizza/beer/cake meet-up, but I had to rush/hobble home to a delicious roast dinner and friends, who had arrived before me -oops! I would say, it’s good to take you time recovering, I would like to have had a look around the food festival and refuelled straight away, but instead I jumped on the tube and felt slightly nauseous. Edward pointed out yesterday that things always go wrong for me in races, not in training (apart from Brighton Marathon, where I had a splendid time). I can see what happens now: during training I carry a small bottle of water or sports drink or nothing at all, and I sip this slowly throughout the run, but during a race there is water/sports drink everywhere and I feel the need to drink as much as I can, thus depleting all the salt in my body and becoming a wobbly mess. So I either stop going to races, or I put on water-station blinkers. Watch this space!

Here are the stats from my Garmin:






Cardiff Half-Marathon 2010

Where were the mile markers?! I saw one marking four miles and I think another at seven, but no others, a bit odd for such a big race and a bit frustrating if you like to pick up the pace when you see a mile marker in sight. A minor niggle in an overall lovely race.

We set off on Friday on the Mega Bus. We used to catch the Mega Bus years ago and decided we could just about cope with the ordeal for the sake of a tight budget, but forgot to check where to catch the bus from…things have changed since we last caught it, so there we were, with a small child, our heavy bags and a massive car seat, legging it through Victoria with two minutes to spare until our bus was due to leave. Thank goodness Mega Bus is crap and the coach was delayed. So, three and a bit hours later we were over the ‘minty bridge’ and sipping refreshing drinks in Chapter with Jackie. I felt ever so grown up drinking cherry Timmerman’s on a Friday evening and chatting about art while Hector happily doodled and played and asked why the lady in the room was giving people hugs.

On Saturday, we headed over to Swansea where we played on a sunny and sandy beach, not at all what I expected.

We also went to see Jackie’s work at the Waterfront Museum, really worth a visit. The work was originally looking out to sea, but still works beautifully here in a slightly different setting. It was nice to watch people interacting with it, and children delighting in its playfulness.

When I booked my place in the Cardiff Half-Marathon, part of me was thinking mostly about the lovely weekend we would have with Ben and Jackie, and I didn’t really think through the practicalities of race-day morning. Fortunately, we have such amazing friends that they were happy(?) to get up at 6.30am to get us all safely and on time to the city centre, and to traipse around the city, hot on my trail to whoop and cheer for the few seconds that I spent passing them. I’m a lucky, lucky lady.

Brrrrr, it was cold on Sunday morning but, as I found my place in the crowds, we were so snuggly huddled together, that we kept each other warm. It’s a big race and I found myself standing very far away from the start line, but asked the tall man behind me if we had started yet. Eventually we did start moving, and were soon passing through the enthusiastic supporters and on our way towards the city centre. Shortly after I crossed the start line I thought my race was over: for no apparent reason, I went over on my ankle, twisting it painfully. ‘Shit, shit, shit!’ I said (I like to get it all out when I’m not with Hector), and I decided to just keep on running, hoping the next thirteen miles wouldn’t result in a huge, swollen ankle.

We had agreed that my support team would be around the three-four mile point, so I was surprised and delighted to spot them within the first mile, pausing before picking up some coffee and pastries to keep them going. The next section of the run headed into the beautiful Bute Park. It was here that I wondered what I had paid my entry fee for – I hadn’t seen a single mile marker yet and the crowd of runners just seemed to instinctively head in the right direction, with no apparent guidance from marshalls, in fact I only recall two marshalls during the whole race! Thank goodness it was crowded anyway.

I was glad that I had run through Cardiff previously, this gave me a sense of distance, and a feeling of enjoyment knowing when and where I would reach certain points in the race. My next big cheer came at about mile six where I saw a contented little boy persisting in trying to eat a chocolate muffin with woolly gloves on 🙂 Now we headed towards Penarth and a slightly less scenic section, improved by the jolly crowd of Ikea staff cheering from the roundabout in their yellow and blue uniforms. I was also distracted by the amazing new watersports centre with a group of young people screaming and shouting as they tried their hand at white water rafting.

A slight uphill challenge took us up and over towards the barrage (I wonder how many runners spotted this subtle artwork). It was a beautiful and bright day and my pace was lifted by the stunning view across the bay to the Millennium Centre, its copper roof sparkling in the distance. Here, of course, I was beginning to flag a little and it was not helped by a man who kept going: ‘argh, urgh’ in pain, I had to get away from his pain to deal with my own in peace! Having walked along this path before, I knew how long it would take to reach the home stretch, but what I hadn’t counted on was the nasty trawl towards a loop that took us to the finish line. We rounded the corner and could see the red finishing arch, but soon realised that we had to run a lot further than it seemed. I couldn’t see through the crowd where we would turn, but instead saw the runners on the other side of the road who were that bit further forward and were waving their hands in the air as they clocked their finishing times. Things slowed down a bit here. How cruel. I took the corner and picked up my feet, crossing the line in 2.12.

This is what the boys did when they weren’t cheering me on:

Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Distance: 12.93 miles (my chip time is the same, and records 13.1)

Average Pace: 10.13

Best Pace: 7.24

Calories: 1408