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

Earlier posts can be found on Adventures of a Lone Bass Player, where this blog began life. Recent entries can be found here.


London Landmarks Half Marathon 2024

by Russell Turner - 13:04 on 09 April 2024

London Landmarks was something I had to try again after running it two years ago with a poorly heel which led to much walking in the second half and a 2:26 finish. Very disappointing. This year, after 2:24 in Inverness and 2:14 in Alloa, my target was 2:04 if everything went perfectly, or under 2:10 if it didn’t. But that was before Storm Kathleen.

The journey to London was the usual slog: after three marathons, three halfs, and two Rick Wakeman concerts since 2018, the novelty of travelling to The Big City has definitely worn off. At least we had only a five-minute walk from Victoria Station to our chosen accommodation at the Victoria Premier Inn, the cost of the Rochester having risen past sensible. There, Matchgirl and I were greeted by Ex-triathlon Cathy, who had come along to offer support at the first half of my London Double for Young Lives vs Cancer. The reunion was brief, because we’d taken a late flight and sleep was a pressing priority.

It was not to be. The room was too warm, with no way of adjusting the temperature, and a mysterious car horn-like noise randomly shattered our peace during the night. Heating? Water pipes? No idea, but very annoying. Sleep was hard to come by, and not ideal preparation for a half marathon.

Next day, after a late start, the intrepid trio battled through the metropolis on foot and tube to the Aldwych Theatre for a matinee showing of the Back To The Future musical, then a little further to the Albany Theatre where it was actually playing. Doh! Fortunately it was worth the effort. Then back to the hotel through too many people, wracked by increasingly strong winds. Dinner was a very good pizza around the corner at Stone & Grill, then an earlyish night, during which the car horn was mostly absent.

Race day began with a 7am alarm and (for me) a breakfast of flapjack, energy bar, banana and half a bottle of fruit smoothie. With Matchgirl (Cathy the machine was out running) we wended our way past Buckingham Palace, up The Mall and across to the assembly area on Pall Mall, warm in the sun, cool in the shade, all the time battered by the wind. This would not be a PB run. Matchgirl left around 9am to meet Cathy and choose their first spectator spot; I did some warm-up and prepared for the start at 9.50.

My cunning plan had been to follow the 2:10 pacer for three or four miles then speed up if things felt good, but the solid mass of runners that separated us at the start meant that a Plan B was required. The 2:15 pacer was closer, although well outside touching distance, so I kept an eye on her and waited for the off. When it came, she disappeared rapidly while I was still waiting to run, the throng between us being more than I’d estimated. By the time I set off there was two or three minutes between us, she was nowhere in sight, and I’d resigned myself to being my own pacer.

London Landmarks markets itself as being a sightseeing tour of the city. Maybe it is if you’re strolling round but you don’t see much when you’re concentrating on keeping up pace, passing slower runners, making 180º turns around the zig-zaggy course, keeping an eye on a sometimes uneven road surface, and watching the crowd for familiar faces. I saw Nelson’s Column near the start and Big Ben near the end but not much else. I didn’t even notice St Paul’s Cathedral. Doubtless I saw other landmarks without knowing what they were.

There wasn’t a huge amount of fancy dress. A Christmas tree walked past me before the start, and a multi-coloured elephant kept popping up around me. It was only at the end, when I saw four lined up together, that I realised how he’d been so omni-present. Most notable was the Pink Panther, who was within my orbit for a few minutes while I pulled past him, long enough to twice hear spectators greet him with “da dum, da dum, da dum da dum da dum…”. I hope it was an inspiration for him.

Early on I kept a good sub-2:10 pace and caught the 2:15 pacer at around three miles. I was tempted to stay with her but decided to press on as I was feeling good despite the wind, the twists and turns and occasional undulations. I passed 10k in an hour (and a minute) and 15k in 1:33, by when I’d begun to slow. I didn’t realise how much until the 2:15 pacer caught me near Tower Hill, between 9 and 10 miles. This was to my benefit: without a pacer I’d have probably continued to slow; instead, I hung on to her for the rest of the race, knowing that as she’d crossed the start a few minutes ahead of me I was guaranteed to finish in under 2:15.

The final stretch along The Embankment, lined with spectators, was as good as completing the London Marathon. My official finish time was 2:12:47 – faster than Alloa on a tougher course in worse conditions – so I was happy, even if (like last time) the course was slightly short: 13.05 miles according to the official LLHM app. I’d run it all. Even better, I didn’t faint or feel woozy, unlike the guy I saw being wheeled away strapped to a stretcher.

There were 24,514 finishers, 9,305 of them men; why it’s such a female-dominated event is a mystery. The winner (a man) finished in 1:09; the first female was 13mins behind.

I thanked the pacer (of course), collected my medal (fine) and goody bag (very poor – T-shirt, can of water, granola bar and some calcium supplement chews; not even a bag of salty crisps or an electrolyte tablet) then hobbled through the finishers to the pre-arranged meeting point with Matchgirl and Cathy, who turned up after a few minutes, so that worked well. My quads were sore (and still are a little, unusually, two days later) but I was in better shape than the rugby player-sized guy being helped down steps by a friend. He’d suffered foot cramp since Mile 3.

At least he finished; I’d seen a few runners around Mile 6 who’d dropped out, and a paramedic car negotiating its way past runners on Westminster Bridge, less than a mile from the end. Getting so close and not making it must be tough.

The one-mile walk back to the hotel helped with recovery, unlike the lack of stretching. Maybe that’s why the legs are taking longer to recover. A burger, which was what I craved, helped too, then a lazy afternoon of doing little before a final evening meal in a nearby Thai restaurant. Having so much choice to hand is one of the plus points of city living.

Next day, after saying a fond farewell to Cathy, our luck held and despite the rail strikes we were able to take the train to Gatwick rather than the slower emergency back-up coach. That meant a long wait in the airport, partly compensated by landing in Inverness 25mins ahead of schedule. It was still that windy. Today, of course, is mild with just a breeze. Plus rain – there’s always something.

I doubt I’ll enter London Landmarks again – good atmosphere but too many twists and turns – but I’m glad I’ve done it and wouldn’t try to put people off. I was happy with my performance on the day and that’s the most anyone can ask. A bonus is that since posting on Facebook I’ve added £150 to my fundraising and am within sight of my (very arbitrary) £1,000 target. It’s less than two weeks to the virtual marathon. So far, so good.

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