Race Write Ups

Royal Parks

I first became aware that some of London’s finest Royal Parks lay host to a half marathon around the same time I started running in 2012. A couple of guys that I indirectly worked with were taking part and people seemed impressed by it so I wanted a piece of that action for myself. I used to fantasise about coming across a fictitious Royal Parks finish line that I had drawn up in my head. The motivation lead me to book my first half marathon, in the not quite as glamorous, town of Eastbourne in early 2013. Little did I know that one day, those fantasies that fuelled my runs back then, would culminate under slightly different circumstances 5 years later. 


Fast forward to 2018, a deluge of water had since passed under my metaphorical bridges, my body had been been through the wringer and I was still chasing the PB of 1:27:40 that I set in 2013 in Eastbourne, so when I found out I had secured a ballot place at Royal Parks I knew this was going to be a perfect opportunity to go for it. I spent the summer doing some speed work and when I hit sub-40 at the British 10k in July, I knew my legs were returning to their glory days and that this dream may well come to fruition. Before there was even time to draw a breath, the summer had rolled out the door and October was on our doorstep begging to be let in.

My alarm rang at 6am on the morning of the 14th October, its chimes were redundant as I was already awake, overthinking the days events. I got up, got ready, and did what any self respecting runner would do, diagnosed myself with multiple ailments and loaded my excuses as to why today wouldn’t go to plan, I had the flu, food poisoning, my feet needed amputating, I had sleep deprivation, and also I had forgotten how to run. All in all, pretty standard pre-race antics from my brain.


I arrived in Green Park at a time that is irrelevant to this write up, the sun had barely got out of bed, and it was raining. I joined the march of hundreds of other sleepy runners as we made our way to the starting arena. I decided the theme tune to this race was going to be “This is the One” by the Stone Roses, so I played that, a lot, to get me in the mood for the big occasion. I got in the queue for baggage, and the heavens opened. If there’s one way you want to start a race, it’s getting absolutely soaked trying to remove your trainers in a queue full of people, perfect race prep. I handed my bag in, and then set about getting warm, regretting the day I decided wearing a vest in October was a great idea.


I found my race pen, it wasn’t hard to find, everything was colour coordinated, what I was surprised about is that I was in the very first wave of runners to set off. I did some professional looking warm ups, which i’m sure struck fear into the very core of my fellow runners and I was ready, this was it.


Katie Piper, from the world of mildly famous individuals started the race, she was giving nothing away about her previous evenings eviction from Strictly and I can only commend her for that. The klaxon sounded and we were off. I was feeling fairly good for the first few miles, the race took us out through Green Park, past Trafalgar Square and down to where Theresa May pretends she is running the country from. This was when the heavens decided was a good time to part their doors and chuck everything they had at us, which is strange behaviour considering how nice heaven is supposed to be, anyway, I digress. I didn’t mind the rain, it makes your actions feel more heroic and very cinematic. The intervals were ticking off nicely, I was on pace for a PB, a little faster than I had planned for, but I felt I could stick it out. After 5 miles puddle dodging our way around the city’s paved streets we headed back in the direction of those Royal Parks from which the race was named. I didn’t know it yet, but this was going to be my favourite mile of the race. It’s like a carnival as you enter Hyde Park, the charities are all placed here and luckily they had brought all their top cheerers with them, the noise was incredible. Members of the public lined the paths and it sent a wave of pure joy right down my vertebraes. I’m not sure if it was the come down after such a high, but at just before the 7th mile I could feel myself starting to flag a bit. Seeing loved ones, and members of the Instagram running scene out cheering provided me with short bursts of energy, but I was now starting to wonder if this is where the wheels were going to fall off.


I sipped on an energy gel and had a little word with myself, but nothing could shake the feeling. The course had gone from the euphoric party atomosphere to feeling like a park run. My pace was also starting to drop and I started to think about how this blog post would look if I wasn’t to hit my long awaited goal. The next few miles were just about trying to not let the race get away from me, and to cling on to that dream. 


Mile 10 seem to take forever to show it’s face, but when it did it was warmly welcomed. Knowing I had 3 miles remaining did wonders for the mental battle I was having. I ticked it off and placed it nicely on the discard pile. Mile 11 and 12 found me convincing myself I was probably going to die, and then I was there, I was in the final mile. 


There isn’t much blog worthy about the first part of the last mile, that is untill I reached the 800 metre marker. 800 meters feels so much further when you’ve been running for 80 odd minutes. I was still at war with the lazy part of my brain which was begging me to quit and walk. Then out of the corner of my eye I spotted a falling leaf, I reached out and grabbed it from of the air. Was it a sign from god? I doubt it, a message from a passed love one? Who knows, but it felt special. Leaf in hand I passed 400 metres, I could see it, the clock at the end, it seemed to be displaying numbers that were suprisingly less than 1 hour 27, I could not believe it. With 50 meters to go I broke into a sprint, I was going to do it. I was flipping going to make it. I was overcome with joy and from deep within me came a big ugly dry cry, it was over, I was home.


A sea of confused faces stared back me, I wanted to tell everyone what had happened, not just the in last 90 minutes, the last 5 years. 2051 days had gone by since I last ran that fast that far. In that time, 3 rounds of chemotherapy had poisoned me, 2 operations have left me scarred and I’ve endured endless blood test and countless scans. I wanted to prove to myself I could come back and be better than before just so I could write these 3 cathartic words...Fuck You Cancer. Life is fragile, Every start line is a gift, we should all be greatful that we are able to do what we do, and that our body allows us to go on these journeys. To be able to push ourselves to places we once dreamed of, is such a privilege, and we should always, always treasure that.  


The Westminster Mile

I conjured up a few loose goals in my head at the start of this 2018th year. The first one was to get a fairly respectable time in London. The second was to get my feet moving slightly faster than they usually do. When I saw the Westminster Mile advertised I thought it would be the perfect race to see where my ability to run at speed was post marathon training. 

In the weeks leading up to the race, I did a few faster runs and managed to clock up a new 5K PB so I knew the pace hadn't completely evaporated from my legs. I was hopeful that I'd be able to get somewhere near my 5:39 fastest mile on race day.  


On the morning of the race, I boarded some over priced public transport and headed into the city. I arrived at London's Green Park with time to spare so I took to a park bench, listened to some tunes and admired how Green the park really was. Copious amounts of 90s tunes later and the race nerves were starting to build. I deposited my bag in the designated area and headed off to get my bearings and to find the start line. Simple plan right? Wrong. I could not find the start line, well, I could see it - this race started on the historic Mall and you can't miss that, I just couldn't physically get to it. After spending a good few minutes wandering around outside Buckingham Palace looking like a lost child, I found out where I was supposed to be and headed to the warm up area. Now, If you add an N into area you can spell arena and that sounds way cooler than area so I shall from now on call it the arena. I entered the warm up arena and thought this to be a perfect opportunity to show all the other runners I was not here to simply make up the numbers I meant business and that business was running slightly fast. I was feeling pretty damn confident, which was fresh state of mind for a guy who, moments earlier, struggled to find the start line. I did some strides, violently lunged and aggressively threw my knees into the thick morning air. I looked like a complete pro. It was then that a voice boomed from a set of speakers suspended halfway up a lamp post. It was time to congregate in our starting pens. I was wave C, which I think was short for Cuick, a drastic misspelling of the word fast. The wave system at the Westminster mile is pretty nifty, there's seemingly hundreds of waves throughout the day of varying ages and abilities making it a perfect race for just about anyone who fancies doing it. 


The klaxon sounded at 9:30 on the dot and the first wave disappeared into the distance. 10 minutes after the initial wave left I found myself on the start line. This was so damn cool, because I was actually on the line, holding my Garmin with one hand, doing that little lean that everyone does on a start line, I couldn't have looked more like an real life athlete if I'd tried. Our turn had arrived, we were off, I had no race plan, sod it, just go all out, that'll do. I went all out. 400m quickly passed, I did some mental maths and figured that I had already reached the quarter mile mark and going strong. Suddenly it felt like someone had stuck a hoover in my gob and sucked every last drop of moisture out of it. Blimey it was dry. I continued to the 800m mark and I was feeling good. The end was nearly in sight. I picked off another couple of runners, who had obviously not seen me warming up, their race vests rippling in the micro gust I'd created as I gasped past them. It was at this point I started to feel light headed, I knew if I could hold it out here I was on for a good time. I entered the last 100m and I could see the clock dangling below the finish line. I entered into a convincing sprint alongside another runner. To my surprise I managed to increase my speed, rather than just flail my limbs around. Then as soon as it had started, it was over. I clocked in at 5:22, a new mile PB. I was elated and somewhat knackered. 


A few slow deep breaths later, and after watching other runners cross the finishing threshold, I took my stunned feet to go and collect our medal. It's always a lovely feeling, sticking a your head through a ribbon with a bit of metal on it, you feel like you really achieved something with your day, and all before 10am too. I then joined the queue to collect my bag, this is probably the only race in which it takes longer to get your possessions back than it does to run the actual distance. That queue was long. It was now time to head home and bask in the glory of running a new personal best.


I really enjoyed the Westminster Mile, those short sharp bursts of energy really ignite something in me. Just absolutely going for it was really fun. As soon as I can i'll be signed up for next years race, and hopefully I'll remember how to get to the start line.