The Royal Parks Foundation half marathon is a race I'd hoped to run last year, but as it is so popular, they operate a ballot system for entries and in 2014 I didn't get a place. Fortunately, I did get one for 2015. The race has been going since 2008 and the course winds through four of London's eight royal parks: Hyde Park, The Green Park, St James’s Park and Kensington Gardens. Along the way runners pass Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Downing Street, and are given glimpses of the Houses of Parliament and Marble Arch. You can't really ask for a better central London route.
The race was on the 11th October, which was 2.5 weeks after we returned from Italy. I planned my training schedule accordingly but knew I wasn't going into the race with a 'perfect' running lead up (not that there is really such a thing). I was also very aware of slowing my pace down for the London marathon back in April. Whilst I'd tried to speed up again over the subsequent 6 months, I was't expecting to get a personal best in this race. At the same time, having run four previous half marathons and one full marathon, I did have more confidence in my capacity to finish.
|Waiting to start|
All of this culminated in me reaching the start line surprisingly relaxed. My only pre-race anxiety came from a very long queue for baggage drop off, and worrying I may still be queuing when the race started (I am sure some people must have been). The weather was mild (7'C - 13'C) for autumn and whilst I was cold in my t-shirt, the long wait to drop off my bag did at least mean I wasn't standing around in it for too long.
The whole course was stunning but the start was particularly dramatic as we left Hyde Park, ran through Hyde Park corner (normally jammed with traffic) and down Constitution Hill between Buckingham Palace and The Green Park. From there we skirted around the back of St James' Park and up around the bottom of Trafalgar Square, down and up past Downing Street almost to the Houses of Parliament, and then along the Strand. After looping back we were graced with running down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace and around into Hyde Park again. I liked that the race was roughly divided between the city sections and the park sections, which also helped make the time pass quickly and allow the course to feel shorter than its 13.1 miles (21.1km).
|Course route - copyright to https://royalparkshalf.com|
My fastest half marathon time is smack on 2 hours, and my slowest (involving the massive Great Orme in Conwy) 2 hours 9 minutes. I ran my other 2 halfs in exactly the same time - 2 hours, 5 minutes and 51 seconds. My only goal for this race was to keep my time within the range I'd run, and I thought if I came in under 2 hours 5 minutes I'd be doing well.
Given this, I was very pleased to be at the halfway point in just under 1 hour 2 minutes. At that point I was feeling the urge for a bathroom break but with the possibility of a second-best time I decided to hold on. The last half of the course had lots of crowd support and lots of autumn scenery so there was always lots to focus on.
As I approached the final mile I knew I had enough energy to finish strong. I picked up my pace slightly at that point, and again when I saw I had just 800m to go. I started to feel light headed as the finish line came into view, but this was definitely my strongest end to a race yet. It was also my first negative split (I ran the second half slightly faster than the first half) and I came in with that second-best time - 2 hours 2 minutes and 51 seconds.
|Taken after the race, but these were the sorts of race paths in Hyde Park|
I think this run is testament to not over-thinking things. I hadn't fixated on time, I hadn't trained to an overly tight schedule, and I had started in a relaxed frame of mind. Everything came together to give me one of my best runs, ever.
I will definitely be entering the ballot for this run in the future, and if you get a chance to run it, it comes highly recommended by me! Other than the lengthy bag drop queues it was also impeccably organised - lots of toilets, great t-shirts and medals, and lots of pre and post-race stalls.
Do you have a favourite race or sporting event that you've participated in?