Royal Parks Half-Marathon

I ran my first half-marathon at the weekend. It was a much more pleasurable experience than the 10k earlier in the year.

Start time was 9am with runners scheduled to enter start funnels at 8.40am. Fearing having to stand around for a long time getting nervous before the start I rolled up at 8.15am figuring I’d have plenty of time to dump my bag and use the toilet before heading for the start line. As it was, bag drop and loo were two 20 minute queues(!) so I wasn’t able to head for the start funnel until 9.15am. No bother… it turns out I could still get into the 2nd funnel of runners. I crossed the line around 9.30am.

The first half of the race was a lot of fun. We headed out of Hyde Park, down the side of Green Park, in front of Buckingham Palace before tracing the outline of St. James’ Park, a quick jaunt over Westminster Bridge and back before running down Embankment to Blackfriars. It felt good to be running in a large field and with runners that were, for the most part, travelling at a pace I was comfortable with. I was pulled along with the pack – probably travelling a little faster than I had planned, but still at a comfortable rate and  with lots of room to run in.

When I’d started training for this distance I’d picked up Jeff Gaudette‘s “Sub 1:55” plan so that was the vague aim I had in terms of time. I’d actually abandoned the plan when it got too demanding in terms of frequency & intensity of training sessions. In the month or so leading up to the race I was running three times a week – two runs to work (around 10k / 6.5 miles) with a longer run at the weekend which I was extending a mile each week. I’d run 15 miles a week before the race so I knew I had the distance in my legs, but in my training runs I’d rarely run faster than 9mins/mile. I’d also discovered that I managed better times by starting slowly and gradually building my pace – often this happened naturally but I also found it easier to step up the pace once I’d run a few miles.

So my strategy for race day was to start slowly and build the pace as the miles went by, As it turned out, this wasn’t the most practical approach. The second half of the course was entirely in Hyde Park on footpaths. After the wide roads of the first 6 miles , this meant there was much less room for everybody. It makes perfect sense for the route to pack the narrower paths into the second half of the race, and I was grateful for that, but I’m not sure this race can take many more participants without a much more staggered start.

The plan to build the pace gradually also went to the wall. After starting strongly, I didn’t focus too much on my time – I was ahead of schedule! – but then found myself really speeding up around the 8 mile mark.

In my head I was calculating on 9 minute miles (which equates to 1hr 57mins finish time) and trying to hit the cumulative time for each mile marker: 8 miles (72 mins – 1 hr 12), 9 miles (81 mis, 1 hr 21) …and so on… But as I tired my brain struggled more and more to do this basic mental arithmetic. I’m really good at my nine times table too!

The last 2 miles was painful – in my knees, thighs and ribs. Courtesy of marathon-photos.com I’ve watched video footage of me crossing the line. I’m running faster than most of the people around me (which is pleasing) but my form looks really odd – I’m leaning forward, my head thrown back, shoulders drooped and my stride is almost a hobble. It’s the oddest thing. Like a dead man flailing around. I;m pretty sure I donlt run like that all the time.

Overall it was fun. The course is mostly flat, on good surfaces and takes in the major landmarks – it was a particular pleasure to run along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Once in Hyde Park there’s several tight (almost hairpin!) turns and places where the pathway narrows to only allow four or five people to run abreast, but I suppose that’s only to be expected. The course was extremely well marked and the mile markers exceptionally visible. The medals were nice too – tasteful, wooden, oak-leaf-shaped affairs – much nicer than the cheap, generic metal medals I;ve been given in the past.

The field, that I was exposed to seemed satisfyingly able and committed. I saw only 2 or 3 runners in unsuitable clothing (plus one gentleman in a kilt) along with two people dressed as dogs and one as a squirrel. I also didn’t experience competitors walking until after the 7-mile mark.

My final time was 1hr 55mins 02 secs. Just two seconds outside my most optimistic target! In truth, I’d have been happy with anything under 2 hours and my own watch (which I failed to notice I hadn’t stopped properly at the finish line) suggested I was closer to 1:56, so I was pleasantly surprised when the email with my chip-time arrived.

Full Timing Breakdown

Distance Time
1km 0:05:41
5km 0:28:39
10km 0:56:50
15km 1:23:42
20km 1:49:35
Finish 1:55:02

And split times…

Section Time
0-5km 28:39
5-10km 28:11
10-15km 26:52
15–20km 25:53

The race was so much fun, it might have been easy to forget the sometimes demanding (and sometimes painful) training plan I battled through in August & September. But I had a quick skip through my RunKeeper activity log just to remind myself. I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep up a sensible, fun level of running without the pressure of a race-day, but, well, we’ll see. I’m actually looking forward to getting back on my bike again, so maybe a Duathalon next year?

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