My first race report - Royal Parks Half Marathon, 12 October 2008

I got up this morning at 7.30am, an early start for me on any day, but particularly early for a Sunday! I'd been pretty good last night, mostly avoiding alcohol, although did succumb to a couple of very small glasses of wine as I figured I wasn't in it to win it, and it probably wouldn't do my time to much damage. I started the day with a coffee, a bowl of muesli and a couple of slices of peanut butter wholemeal toast.

I got Peta up at 8.30am, and we left the house shortly after 9am, to head to Knightsbridge, for a short walk to the start. I'd missed the warm up by this point, but had recently read (in the Competitive Runners Handbook) that in mass starts, you can get away with treating the first couple of miles as a warm up, so I just put it behind me. The mass start was pretty busy, and after the cannon announced the start, we pretty much walked in a throng towards the start line. As this was a chip timed race, this aspect really didn't concern me.

When I signed up for the half marathon, they may well have asked me my expected finish time. At that point I was in the earliest stages of starting to run, so had no idea what time I could expect. I knew novices had done 4 hour marathons, with quite a bit of training, so figured I'd just aim for half of that and added a bit of slack (I think I suggested 2h10). I don't know whether that affected my position in the start funnel, and whether I'd have had to overtake fewer people if I'd given a better estimate. However, I probably benefitted from starting slow, so it's swings and roundabouts really!

I saw Peta in the crowd just before the start line, which gave me a boost as I started the run proper. From this point on, for the next few miles, it was really a matter of maintaning a comfortable pace, and overtaking where I could. The run itself was gorgeous, passing under Admiralty Arch, past Buckingham Palace, then Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, over Westminster Bridge and back, along the Embankment as far as Temple, before coming back along the Embankment as far as Northumberland Avenue, into Trafalgar Square, then along the Mall back towards Buckingham Palace, before heading into Hyde Park again.

Shortly after reentering Hyde Park, I passed Peta again, giving her a wave, and smiling as I passed. From then on it was really a lot of winding around Hyde Park. I tried to maintain a reasonable pace, and most of my kilometre splits were consistenly around the 5m30 mark. I saw Peta one more time in the middle of the run, and blew her a kiss and gave her a high five. There was a lot of support from Unicef folk around the course - towards the end, I even spotted Charley Boorman with a big group of Unicef supporters, so I acknowledged their support (as I tried to do with anyone who was cheering Unicef on).

I was hoping at the 10 mile point it was going to get easier (forgive the constant switching between metric and imperial - I keep my watch in metric, but the mile markers were, well, in miles), because the Competitive Runners' Handbook makes the point 'now you just have to do a 5K run'. I was flagging at this point, but just wanted to keep going - breaking into a walk wouldn't be a failure in itself, but breaking into a walk without actually needing to would have felt like slacking. Anyway, I just kept going, it was hard work, but somehow I did it. I'd hoped the last mile would feel easy too, but no, it was uphill, and the last few hundred metres were a nightmare. Peta was waving here too, which helped a little but really I just had to dig in and just concentrate on keeping going - I really did feel that collapsing before the finish in a dramatic manner and having to crawl over the line would not be totally out of the question.

However, I did get over that line, and my watch said somewhere around 1:55 (I forgot to stop it!), the chip time isn't yet available but it was definitely sub 2 hour, so I totally made my goal, which rocked! I sat down just after the finish line to avoid falling down, had a little water, but not too much. The weather was a real factor today - the forecast said it would be 18C, but it may have been more - for an Autumn's day, it was gorgeous - unless you have to run 21.1km. Because of the heat, and resulting sweat, and desire to avoid hyponatremia, I wanted to make sure I wasn't diluting my body's water too much, so poured water over my head to reduce the need to sweat, and looked for the nearest energy drink over the finish line.

After a bit more sitting down, I gave Peta a call, and we met up to head for the Unicef tent. After a sit down and bit [sic] to eat, we headed home, although there was a minor diversion as I did the Superchicks' very useful cooldown routine while Peta enjoyed the Deckchair Dreams deckchairs!

I'm now elevating my legs while enjoying the breeze on my toes as I enjoy the recliners in our lounge, making the most of the unusual Autumn weather in shorts and sandals. All in all I'm very happy with today's race, especially given the temperature.