Race Report by Cathy Keay
I’d been trying to get into the Royal Parks Half Marathon for a number of years and I was finally lucky this year. The 13.1 mile route took in some of the capital’s world-famous landmarks on closed roads, and four of London’s eight Royal Parks – Hyde Park, The Green Park, St James’s Park and Kensington Gardens. The event started in 2008 and was set up as an annual fundraising initiative raising funds for the Royal Parks, restoring monuments and playgrounds and caring for wildlife, and also allowed other charities to be involved.
I travelled down to London early on Saturday morning, so I could take part in Finsbury parkrun, which is only 8 mins away from Euston on the tube, and was a two lap route, which had one slight uphill drag and one short sharp hill. 400 ran it on Saturday; it had a good café for refreshments afterwards. That afternoon I treated myself to a West End show to keep off my feet, although some how I managed to walk the length of Oxford Street beforehand !!
I’d chosen a hotel near to Hyde Park, so that I wouldn’t have to fight on the tube to get to the start. The night before the weather forecast was horrible, predicting heavy rain and thunder. The start was at 9am, so at 7.45am I headed off wrapped up in all my wet-weather gear, at this stage it was just drizzling. It took about 20 mins to walk through the park to the baggage and festival area. The organisation was good and there were loads of helpers and people telling you where to go. I checked in my bag, and put on some warm clothes that I would throw away just before the start.
I was in the blue start so headed over to this part of the course on the South Carriage Drive, at this stage the heavens opened and we had the heaviest rain I’d seen in a long time, sheltering under the trees didn’t help much. We were then allowed into our funnels, I spotted the 1:55 pacers so thought I’d try and stay with them for as much of the race as I could. The waves were set off one by one, there were 16,000 runners and it took me 15 mins to cross the line (there were two other waves behind me) the organisation was really good, the rain had also stopped at this stage.
For this race basically the first 6 miles are around Westminster and the final 7 miles in Hyde Park. There was lots of room to run on wide carriage ways, the organisers were strict on you being in your correct pen based on your predicted finish time, which meant that most of the runners around you were doing a similar pace. The first mile flew by heading around Hyde Park Corner and along Constitution Hill (in Green Park) towards Buckingham Palace, around the front of the Palace and then along Birdcage Walk (the reverse of the final mile in the London Marathon). The route then went along St James’s Park, past Horse Guards Parade and through Admiralty Arch. There was loads to look at, lots of support and the pace felt ok (if a little fast !!). We then headed down Whitehall towards Downing Street, where there was a U turn and we headed back up towards Trafalgar Square. A right turn and we went along The Strand where again we did a big loop and back towards Trafalgar Square. Past the lions and a quick look up at Nelson’s column and we went through Admiralty Arch again and along the Mall back towards the Palace, this was at about 5 miles and I was still with the pacers (still thinking it was too fast !!) The pacer was great, telling us when the water stations were coming up, warning us about “horse poo !” and generally keeping us going. Through Green Park again and then we entered Hyde Park at 6 miles.
The noise at this stage was amazing; it reminded me of the London Marathon, loads of charity cheering, drum bands, and families waving signs and jelly babies. We ran along the bank of the Serpentine, which was great to see as 3 weeks earlier I had done the Swim Serpentine event in that lake. The route then just blended into lots of lovely parkland, I hadn’t a clue where I was, I was just concentrating on trying to keep the pacer in sight and counting down the miles. Just before 9 miles we headed back towards the really noisy part of the park and the support was still as good. The bibs had a space to write your name on, and even though my name had run slightly in the rain I still got loads of “Come on Cathy” cheers which was fab.
At 9.5 miles we went past Marble Arch and I knew I was slowing, the early pace had taken its toll and the pacer was disappearing into the distance, I took a gel and hit the 10 mile mark and told myself only a parkrun to go !! The next 3 miles weren’t great and it was a case of just keeping running (although I did have two little walks). At 12.5 miles you could hear the noise of the finish area and I knew I just needed to keep running to hopefully get a little PB, we went past the Royal Albert Hall and onto the road the race had started on, there was a 800m to go sign, and then there was the 400m to go and finally the finish gantry. Great the end, my watch registered 01:57:xx so I knew it was a PB.
We were then given our wooden leaf medals, water, fizzy health drink and bananas and a shopping bag !! we then walked towards the goody area, where there were lots of different foods to put in your shopping bag, the usual things you get in goody bags – cereal bars, pineapple chips, quark, maple syrup, breakfast drink, nuts, salad cream etc….. I then headed towards the baggage tents and just managed to get my bag and some dry clothes on before the rain came down again ! and I sheltered under a tree near to the finish line, after 30 mins it didn’t look as if it was clearing up, so I headed back towards the hotel, passing runners still finishing who I cheered on and they commented on my medal.
In summary, a great race, it was expensive but the organisation was excellent, if the weather had been better hanging around in the festival area would have been lovely – I’d definitely apply through the ballot again. Final finish time 01:57:45 (a 21 second PB !)