Happily Ever After
Life in The Rural Retreat with a beautiful wife, three cats, garden wildlife, a camera, a computer – and increasing amounts about running
Royal Parks Half Marathon 2023
by Russell Turner - 12:24 on 10 October 2023
Who would have expected it to be so hot in October? My ninth non-virtual half marathon since 2019 was probably the toughest so far, which explains why it was the slowest. Having Covid the week before (although it did clear up quickly) maybe didn’t help.
Leaving my poxy hotel (a whole other story) at 8am on Sunday morning, the outlook was promising: the conditions were still and fresh – only 13ºC according to Garmin – and I found my way to Hyde Park, 1.5 miles and 25mins away, without a wrong turning. There I joined the crowd following a well signposted route to the event village.
Depositing baggage, it has to be said, was a chore. The tents were at the far end of the village, which meant finding a way through the throng, then queuing to hand over the bag in return for a wristband, then finding a way back to queue again for toilets – cut short when Wave 8 was summoned to the pre-pen area and more pushing through crowds was needed. As it turned out, I would have had time for that final pee: an omission I would come to regret.
Around 9.15, we shuffled into the starting pen, my eyes fixed on the 2:10 pacers – this, I thought, was an optimistic but achievable target – and began the slow walk to the start line. By now it had warmed up to 17º, although the conditions still felt comfortable. We crossed the line at 9.40, heading to Green Park from Hyde Park past crowds of enthusiastic spectators – always a help.
In my first London Marathon I saw no sights at all, so I did my best to watch where I was going as we passed through the City section of the run. Buckingham Palace was the first big landmark, then Big Ben after skirting St James’s Park; along Parliament Street and Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column; up The Strand and back to Trafalgar Square; through Admiralty Arch (sadly scaffolded) and onto The Mall, on the other side of St James’s Park, the palace ahead.
Ignore the elevation – city buidings will have skewed the GPS.
By that point, 4.5 miles in, I’d hung on well with the 2:10 pacers and had some chat with another runner with similar ambitions, but the lack of final pre-race pee was becoming uncomfortable so I diverted to some handy – and queueless – portaloos to relieve the pressure. It didn’t take long, but I’d lost the pacers and my running rhythm. Whether I’d have kept up the 2:10 pace if I’d not needed to stop is impossible to guess, but as the temperature continued to rise the going got tougher.
After the palace, and back through Green Park, we passed through Wellington Arch into Hyde Park and along the Serpentine. The number of supporters had thinned but there were still plenty around, plus bemused tourists watching the idiots running in hot sun with no shade. I’d expected a lot more trees in the park but they all seemed to be in the distance. A water station at 6.5 miles was a good excuse for my first walk break.
By now I’d hooked up with a similarly paced runner – Alan, a 72-year-old Chelsea Pensioner (sadly, not in uniform) – so we stuck together for a while and swapped stories until we were passed by 2:15 pacers. They were certainly from a later wave but I decided to abandon Alan (he wished me luck) and try to keep up. It was a forlorn hope – I’d walked again before the next water station, at 9 miles, then ran roughly half-mile chunks interspersed with brief walks.
After 10 miles the straggle of weary runners (passed occasionally by bafflingly speedy sprinters) entered Kensington Gardens, although I didn’t notice the difference. I also didn’t notice (or recognise) Kensington Palace. What I did see was a collapsed runner being tended by St John’s Ambulance medics who patrolled the parks on bikes. She appeared to be OK. Afterwards, I read reports of people seeing many more heat-afflicted runners. It was that sort of day.
I was alert enough to notice, after 12 miles, the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall, then the 800m To Go sign. My Garmin showed 2:27; could I make it in under 2:30? Amazingly, I summoned a pace that matched the first four miles and powered (relatively) towards the finish line, through cheering spectators, failing by a mere 25 seconds. But that was after 13.28 miles so I’ll claim that as a sub-2:30 13.1. Under the circumstances, that was a win.
Medal, water, banana, sports drink and race shirt picked up in turn, it was back into the event village where collecting my bag was much less faff than I’d feared. Finishing after the bulk of the runners can be an advantage. And I bumped into Alan, who’d crossed the line not long after me.
The village featured the usual sponsors’ and charities’ tents, plus a band on stage (decent 80s music), stretching area, and a variety of food wagons. I plumped for Vietnamese chicken and fried rice, which was exactly what I wanted – chips or bread held no attraction at all. Refuelled, and rewatered at one of several water points in the village, I made my way back to the poxy hotel. Garmin told me it was now 24ºC. I didn’t doubt it.
So that’s another half completed – harder than expected, thanks to the weather, but worth the effort. I’m glad I did it although not enough that I’d repeat the expense and travel admin involved. London Landmarks in April will likely be my final London race (unless I’m lucky again in the Marathon ballot) so I’ll target that as a PB attempt. Yorkshire Marathon is in the diary next Sunday. I’ll take a test run tomorrow and decide whether it’s feasible – forecast single-figure temperatures will be welcome.
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