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.