As I have mentioned before, I had signed up to run the Lee Valley half marathon on Sunday. The main reason was that my dad decided he wanted to run a half marathon. I had suggested a lot of different ones to him, and in the end this one ticked the boxes- local so we could go there on the morning, late enough in spring so that he would have time after his holiday to train, an interesting sounding route, and he would be allowed to raise money for a charity of his choice. He had run a half marathon before when he was younger (the Berkhamsted half for anyone local, although back then it was two laps so the awful mile long steep hill was repeated) but had really struggled and not enjoyed it at all.
He has been keeping me updated on his training (and our family via his Just Giving Page- raising money for MNDA as his cousin has recently been diagnosed)- he’s been sensible as he has a slight ligament issue (he had around a year when he couldn’t even run a parkrun as his knee had to heal, he had to give up tennis because of the twisting and turning, and now he runs with a knee brace the whole time) and also he does a lot of cycling so was making sure to have rest days and not run long the day after a long bike ride. He’d managed an 18k run a week and a half ago, a bit later than he had planned because he’d had a virus, and although he’d completed it he had to walk sections of the final few km. I felt like that was plenty but he was a bit apprehensive on the morning of the race.
I had toast for breakfast, and even put on suncream as it was already very sunny. Dad picked me up just after 8am and drove to the water park. Lee Valley is where the water sports were held in the Olympics, and now it is used as a sports venue for white water rafting and kayaking. There are also miles of pathways by rivers and canals, lots of bird spotting hides and picnic areas. We had to park on a field but as it was so dry this wasn’t an issue. It was a short walk to the main building- the reception was downstairs and there were clear signs directing you upstairs to the cafe and sun terrace, where you could collect your number.
It was a gorgeous morning for a race – sunny but quite chilly first thing. We had to collect our numbers in the morning and that was very easy with about a 5 minute queue, and then we waited outside on the terrace looking out across the fields and waterways. We decided to visit the toilets (as it was a building they had real ones and not port-a-loos which means I will actually use them) before finally going to the bag drop so we could keep our jumpers on for as long as possible. The bag drop was right next to the registration desk, so it was all very handy. We bumped into a few girls from the club- lots doing the 10K and a few doing the half. The 10K started at 9.45, so they all headed off to the start. There was a little confusion as the 10k start was in a slightly different place to the half, added to that the inflatable finish arch having the word “Start” emblazoned across it. But they have said they were aware of this so would sort that out next year (this was it’s first year).
The half began at 10am, and we started off fairly near the back. A while ago we were thinking of around 2.10, but after Dad was ill and then had a bit of a struggle at the end of his longest run, we took all time off the table and just said we would run steadily- he didn’t want to need to walk any of it. We enjoy running parkrun together, and this was just extended really. We kept at a pace where we could chat the whole time, and just enjoyed the scenery. The Lee Valley park was lovely and well worth a visit- I was so impressed that instead of being left to rot, something good for the community and nature has come of it. We ran along canal towpaths, by the side of rivers, past a huge weir, past wetlands and through little wooded areas. We saw plenty of people out walking and cycling and at one point there was even a sort of dog training park with A-frames and hoops and things for the dogs to jump over and through.
The course was two laps, although they weren’t identical as you didn’t run through the finish area in the first lap- there was a bit of an out-and-back before you joined the loop, which you then repeated in reverse at the end of the second loop to get back. It was clearly signposted and there were mile markers (and km markers for the 10K)- it is never good seeing the 8 mile marker when you are only a few miles in, but as it was so flat and so pretty it didn’t ever feel too long. There were lots of marshals out on the course, and arrows all over the place too. We stopped at three water stations for a sip of water (around mile 4, 8 and 11) as it was fairly warm and at the final one ended up chatting to a girl who was struggling- she told us many of her injuries and illnesses that had happened during her training, but at least by this point there were only a few miles to go so we could encourage her with that thought.
I just felt so happy during the run- the sun was shining, the breeze was keeping me fairly cool, I was chatting with Dad and thanking all the marshals. One of them commented (in a jokey way) that we weren’t running hard enough as we were still talking, and at the end Dad asked if the time was OK for me. It’s hard to explain, but (despite my moan about Brighton half last week) I don’t run for time. I could have run faster, but then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, and sometimes it is just good to properly enjoy the race. At 10 miles I said “just a parkrun to go” which Dad found very amusing. When we got to 11 miles Dad mentioned it was uncharted territory for him as this was beyond the 18k he had managed in training, but he was still feeling fine (a bit achey) and we didn’t need to walk.
As we neared the finish line we saw a group of OH ladies (who had run the 10K) and gave them a big shout.
One of them took a few photos of us as we were running and they are just great as they totally sum up the race- we just enjoyed the whole thing.
The finish area was right by where people were canoeing, so it was brilliant to see everyone using the rapids and flipping upside-down. They had a cool conveyor belt thing that people sat on in their canoes, and it carried them to the top of course so they could then canoe downhill through the rapids, and then repeat.
At the finish area we had a drink (I’d packed nuun tabs in my pocket) and they gave us a banana so we stretched and watched other people finish for a bit. Of course we had to attempt a sweaty selfie- it is not easy to take a photo as neither of us are good at keeping our eyes open when there is a camera about!
We then walked back to the cafe area (bumping into two of the club half marathon runners- one had managed a pb despite it being a training run for the London marathon!), picked up our bag, and then we decided to have a drink in the cafe. The car park didn’t close until 2pm and we didn’t end up leaving until around 1pm (we did some more stretches on the grass by the car before heading home).
The medal is lovely too (although I do sort of wish it wasn’t the same as the 10K one…). It was their first event and I hope they do it again next year as it was well organised and such a pretty route. One I would look at doing again for sure.
Our finish times were 2:17:42 (and 4), but that wasn’t why we did it. Dad was totally chuffed as it was a pb for him, but he was over the moon to finish feeling strong and not struggling, not needing to walk at all, and of course raising money for MNDA (£600 at last count).
What do you most enjoy about races? How was your weekend?