I love seeing a rhino at a race. That way I know we’re getting close to London Marathon time. So here I was at the start line of the Original Hampton Court Half and a few thousands others, the rhino a little ahead in the pen.
My mate, Peter, had picked me up a few hours earlier and we’d traveled from southeast London to the pre-arranged carpark at Giggs Hill. It was going to be an unseasonably warm day which was a lovely change to the snow and sleet of the week before.
After the bag drop and the all important pre-race bathroom break, we put ourselves in the 2 hr 20m pen. This was going to be more of a training run than a race.
A hundred or so metres away, the speedier folk were off.
We waited for the waves to move and walked down to the start line. We were off. It was a slow start as it is in a crowd – some already trying to take over, most of us just trying to find our pace in that first mile or so. The crowd started to thin, making it easier to get to the all important 11 min mile pace.
We ran on roads and then footpaths, some quite narrow. The roads weren’t closed off so it was time for a bit of patience. For the first 3 miles, the route was unfamiliar. It was at about mile 4 between Surbiton and Kingston that I knew those paths from previous races, flat and scenic which is perfect for a half.
I realised the error of my ways at about mile 7 when my legs started to feel not quite as fresh as I would’ve liked. I saw a guy up ahead, walking and limping. Both to give myself a tiny rest and to check he was OK, I stopped and walked with him as he hobbled. Ahh, the people you meet. I asked if he was training for London. No. He was training for a 100 miler. WHAT!? I can’t wrap my head around the concept of running 100 miles. But a calf injury for him at mile 4 meant walking. He was fine, obviously not happy – I left him with good wishes for a speedy recovery.
And on I went, across the Kingston Bridge onto the towpath. By mile 9, my stomach was feeling a little squiffy. While jelly babies have never caused an issue, I was trying out caffeinated Bloks energy chews. Thankfully my stomach settled down and no emergency pit stops were needed. Yes, imodium is my friend on long runs!
To provide a little distraction, I started chatting to a chap who seemed to welcome it. For this race, he’d managed to raise a fantastic £1,000 for a charity for kids with special education needs. We ran on and off together for the next few miles.
I struggled just a little over those last few miles. I’d done Parkrun the day before and 30 miles in the preceeding week so my legs weren’t what you’d call fresh. However, it didn’t mean for that last ¼ mile or so I didn’t run almost as fast as my legs would carry me. Clearly there was some energy left and I finished. Oh happy days!
It was time to stretch, pick up my bag, eat, drink coffee and head home.
Would I do this race again?
That is a yes.
OK, so just before the start, the queues for toilets were a nightmare but hey ho. I found the race really well organised – the bag drop took seconds, it was clear which pen to go into, the route was well signed and the goodie bag was full of ‘wholesome’ treats. The marshals and pacers were great – cheerful and supportive the whole way round so a huge thanks to them.
And the bling and technical top – love them! The medal is by far the biggest and heaviest I have weighing in at 200g.
Having said that, from others feedback I’ve picked up two issues which I don’t think can be addressed but are good to be aware of. First, the paths are narrow in parts which if you’re wanting to pass means potentially running on the road. This leads onto the second point, that many of the roads weren’t closed off. I’ve found not having the roads closed off is common in a lot of races and it’s something I’m used to but I do know a few found it a little nerve wracking.
- I’m starting to get a little less nervous with races which results in better sleep the night before. Exposure therapy seems to be working!
- The importance of sticking to the plan and that includes pace.
- Practise, practise, practise on refuelling strategy.
- Breaking the race down into chunks is a must. There’s something lovely about thinking for the second half how many Parkruns left to do. It’s ‘let the good times roll’ when there’s only one left.
- It’s essential to have at least a little fun – this might be high-fiving kids cheering us runners on, saying thanks to marshals, chatting to other runners if they look open to it or taking in the scenery.