Last weekend was pretty epic. On Saturday morning I was up bright and early (and it was bright, an absolutely beautiful day) to Swim Serpentine (I’ll post about this later in the week, it needs a space all of its own!) then, once I’d refuelled, recovered and fuelled up again, I was off out to take part in the Shine Night Walk. As I wrote about previously, I had initially signed up to walk the full marathon, but realised I would be unlikely to make a volunteering commitment the next morning, so went for the half-marathon option instead. I popped on my official Shine t-shirt, along with some quite, erm, eye-catching tights a friend gave me and headed off to Southwark Park.
The train was crammed full with people heading off out for the evening but, when I hit Surrey Quays, I discovered where the party really was! I was greeted by brightly-coloured marshals, pointing everyone in the right direction and found a park full of groups of friends and family, helping each other pin on numbers, adding fairy lights to rucksacks, fitting hairbands with LEDs and adding a splash of colour to faces with neon paint. There was a lovely buzz of excitement and anticipation as people got ready to walk.
I collected my rather cool flashing, lit-up wristband, prompted by seeing everyone else waving their arms in the air and headed over to meet #TeamSole in the backstage area. It very quickly went dark and the air became cooler (though conditions at this point were perfect) and crowds gathered to warm up and watch some short films, reminding us why we were doing this. The park looked so pretty, with lights twinkling and sparkling and a Mexican wave swept the first group out towards the start area and off out onto the streets of London.
A quick catch-up with my team, some final adjustments to my outfit, a last-minute sugar-boost with an orange Club biscuit and it was time to join in ourselves.
Now, I have run very many races (some with a bit of swimming and cycling added in for good measure), of varying distances, but I can’t recall having a done a walking ‘race’ since school, so I was unsure of what to expect and how to pace it. A very practical and motivating goal was to be able to catch the last train home (I know), so I estimated I would need to pace myself to finish in three hours. I take just under two hours to run a half-marathon, so this would take quite some brisk walking! There was a bubble of excitement as we headed out of the park, lots of chatter and a lot of strolling. The race is walked on open roads (apart from a short stretch outside the park), so you have to use your common sense and negotiate other pedestrians and obstacles. This is easier in some places than others of course and, it being Saturday night in London, became more challenging in the centre of town, where there was a fair bit of encouraging banter going on!
All that marching kept me lovely and warm and I found I really did need a bottle of water when I came to a fuel station (and the chocolate-covered biscuits were welcome too!). One of the things I enjoyed most about walking through London at night was seeing everything lit up (not just us walkers), with the London Eye being a rather warming shade of red.
With a few bridges traversed, we got to enjoy sweeping views of the Thames to boost our energy when we might be flagging.
My photos turned out to be quite blurry, due to the blistering pace I was going at, though I wasn’t at all bothered by blisters, wearing my Sole double layer socks (they’re lovely and toasty too, perfect for long walks). I found myself walking largely by myself, tagging on the tails of speedy walkers, who paved the way through the crowds, but never felt alone, dipping in and out of overheard conversations. The miles ticked down steadily, marked clearly by big signs and it wasn’t long before we made our way through the slightly maze-like Victoria (what is going on there?!) and took a turn towards the finish. Of course, there were still a few more miles to cover, but psychologically, this was a lovely turning point.
Landmarks caught my eye, Big Ben struck eleven (I had passed by earlier, when he was striking ten!) and I kept on keeping on. A walk across Westminster Bridge, the Saturday evening strollers along the Southbank to negotiate and the end really was in sight! By now, I had a feeling I wouldn’t make that last train, but this didn’t slow me down at all! I skipped along, eager to cross London Bridge and, when I did, I smiled as I saw a row of balloons bobbing at the edge of the river. Another friendly marshal (they were all so super and encouraging around the course) told me ‘Not long now! You’re so close!’ and I swept along, boosted by this touch of friendliness.
Turning a corner, I saw Monument ahead of me and leapt down a short hill to this sign:
Outside the Old Billingsgate Fish Market were crowds of supporters, a red carpet, a tunnel of twinkling lights and lots of music. I thought I had finished, so stopped to take some photos, then realised the finish line was actually inside! I passed through, hands in the air, looking around the vast space to see many walkers, now warming themselves back up with hot drinks, taking group photos and hugging family and friends. Such a friendly and supportive atmosphere! I was presented with my medal and soon heard a voice I recognised…
I turned around and saw a friend who lives nearby, a big hug and she introduced me to her team (they all work in an intensive care unit), telling me they have done this for years now, having also tackled the full marathon, check out all these medals!
It really does seem like people come back to this event year after year, loving the organisation, the support, the route, the atmosphere and the opportunity to raise money for a good cause, remember those who have been lost and, best of all, celebrate those who have overcome cancer and are maybe even taking part themselves. Entries are already open for next year, why not get a team together and start training now?!