A couple of years ago I ran this race with my dad and totally loved it. I’d not been to the park before, but it’s a great place to visit, filled with rivers, lakes, waterways, parks, forests and so on, as well as the white water rafting centre that was used in the London Olympics. Last year I did the 10k, which was one lap, whereas the half is 2 (they do deviate slightly of course), and while I was running it last year I did think that perhaps I preferred the half marathon, so this year I signed back up for that distance.
I had some toast, left home at around 8.15 and arrived at 8.45. The race wasn’t until 10am, but the 10k was at 9.45, and both sets of runners had to be at the main briefing at 9.30, plus you had to collect your pack on the day and I never know how long the queues will be. This year the tents for collecting race packs were on the edge of the field (where you park)- you had to walk past them to get to the bridge to the main centre, so it was all very easy. There were port-a-loos in the field, but they also let you use the toilets in the main block (there’s a cafe in there too). As I was there early I decided to go and it was a good decision as there was no queue, but probably about 5 mins later there was a huge queue, with the car park and registration queues being busy too. I had packed safety pins, but didn’t think about anything for my bag drop bag. Handily the person on the bag drop had a stapler with him, so he could loop the label around the bag and then staple it- very clever! I met one of the OH ladies at the race briefing- she was running the half but is much faster than me- I knew a few people doing the 10K but didn’t manage to see them- I think they were in the registration queues until the last moment.
I didn’t have a race plan as such, but I thought I’d see how I felt, and decided to try and keep as close to 9:09 per mile (which was 2 hour pace). At the start line they mentioned a 2 hour pacer, and after spotting him I decided to follow him and see how long I could hang on for.
It was crowded and a lot of people were around the 2 hour pacer, so I didn’t let myself get too stressed about it at the start- I was keeping him in sight and would count when he passed a certain landmark- generally I was around 10 seconds back. I was feeling OK- it was hard work but I was not blowing to pieces or anything, and I was enjoying the scenery still. It was a sunny morning and I did wish I’d worn a visor as my face was feeling very hot at times.
The route is very flat, apart from a few pedestrian bridges that you run over- a couple are fairly steep so they do feel rather mean. I had my run leader’s voice in my head, saying “use your arms” each time I got to one of those.
Half way through I was still keeping up with the 2 hour pacer, but I was trying not to look at my watch too much as I hadn’t written down any mile splits so I wasn’t 100% sure if we were ahead or behind. Looking at Strava, we did the first few miles much faster. At around 9.5 miles, I started to get a stitch and nothing I did seemed to get rid of it. I felt like I was really slowing, and the counting from the 2 hour pacer went from 10 seconds to more like 30- nothing really bad but with the stitch it felt like I wouldn’t be able to catch up.
I always like the 10 mile point as you can think “just a parkrun to go” and know that it will be done in half an hour. At that point I looked at my watch and I think I had been running for 1:33, but doing a sub 27 min 5K would be unrealistic for me so I tried not to worry about it and carry on enjoying the race. I reminded myself to smile (it does make you feel better) and thought back to when I ran it with Dad 2 years ago.
I did fade in those final few miles (I can’t snip it from Strava but mile 13 was 9:34 with 8:31 for the .1) and as it got more twisty I finally lost sight of the 2 hour pacer at about mile 11 I think. Once you’ve finished both loops you have to run over a bridge and then around towards the rafting centre- you can see the finish funnel but you have to run away from it before you come around to it, and the final small bit is up a slope which feels very mean!
Some of the OH ladies had run the 10k and they were out cheering- I think I managed a wave as I ran past. As I crossed the finish line my watch told me it was my fastest half, and it nearly is! My chip time was 2:02:00, and although it’s 2 mins slower than 2 hour pace, it’s pretty close and I’m going to be happy with it. I could have run around in 2:15 and chatted the whole way, but I had aimed for being out of my comfort zone (and it certainly was at the end).
I was given a medal and then picked up a banana and some water (which turned out to be weird cactus juice infused or something) and had to sit on a wall as I felt a bit spaced out. I wandered down to the finish to see the OH ladies but I couldn’t find them, so I took a few photos and then headed back to the car.
In 2016 I ran the Brighton half marathon in 1:59:09, but it later turned out that the course was short, and although I worked out that if I took my average speed from the half, I would have needed another 49 seconds to finish (which would have been sub 2) it still doesn’t count! I’ve run 2:03 a couple of times since then at Brighton, and a few more under 2:05, so I’m inching closer! Maybe next year! And I suppose this is officially my half marathon pb, because my old pb was on a slightly short course?
Traffic getting home was not so good, not helped by the fact that you couldn’t turn right out of the park (I understand why, it just didn’t help me) so I had to turn left, then do a u-turn at a massive and grid-locked roundabout which probably added about 15 mins on. Anyway, shower, then a cinnamon roll (another good reason for going into London on the Saturday) for brunch.
To stretch out my legs we wandered into town in the afternoon and it was so good I got an iced drink (I even remembered to pack my metal straw- I think what I need is a bit like a travel toothbrush holder to keep it in) and we sat outside.
Which is your favourite half marathon course? Have you ever run a short race? (And I don’t mean when Strava comes up short as don’t get me started on why that isn’t the case..)