The Big Half
Today I ran the Vitality Big Half, in what has seemingly become my annual race at the half marathon distance. It was my first time running in such a big event though, with over 10000 people competing, which seemed unthinkable only a couple of months ago. It was an amazing experience and I loved the whole thing.
Having said that - it was almost a disaster. My alarm has gone off at 7am every day for months, and I change that very rarely. On Friday night, my neighbours were still blaring music at 12:30am, so I switched my alarm to 8am, and promptly forgot to change it before this morning. My bag drop time was meant to be between 8:10am and 8:20am, so when I saw the time, a sense of mild panic set in. Fortunately, the start line is pretty much on my doorstep, so after sorting out my race number and inhaling a bagel, I was out the door. Not having time for my usual pre-long run ritual had some major drawbacks though; firstly, no coffee. Sad face. Secondly, and much more importantly, I didn’t tape my nipples… they didn’t quite reach bleeding point, but my god they are sore now.
Obviously, the start at such a big event is pandemonium. There were supposedly starting waves, but I’m not entirely sure I started in the right one. I lined up next to a man wearing a submarine, which stretched out a couple of feet both in front and behind him. I made a fresh goal to beat him. Even walking up the start chute, I wasn’t entirely sure if the wave in front was starting or if it was us, but fortunately I’d already taken a caffeine gel to make up for the lack of coffee and so when we rolled across the start line, as the MC cheered us on accompanied by the sound of Liam Gallagher’s Wall of Glass.
I don’t feel in great shape, and so the plan was to take it fairly easy and dip under 2 hours, which would be a health PB in an official half, albeit not the quickest I’ve ever run 13.1 miles. I set off at around 5:30/km pace and actually thought I was potentially going too fast, but decided to stick with it until the first water stop at 5km in. As I warmed up more, I felt good, and was soon down to cruising at 5:15/km and then 5:00/km, still not really thinking about my finishing time. When I got to 15km in, I looked at my watch and did the math on what time I was on track to finish in, and realised that I was on course to come in sub 1:50… if I tried hard for the last 6km. Sigh. So I did, closing out the last 5km in roughly 23:30, only a minute slower than my 5km PB, for a finishing time of 1:48:50 for a solid 16 minute chip-time PB. A great success - I guess I am in much better shape than I’d thought, which bodes very well for my first 50km effort in 3 weeks time.
Obviously I was really happy with my time, but there were so many things that made this race a great experience. The support was incredible - there were live bands, DJs, people lining the streets for the majority of the route, a cheer contingent from London City Runners at around 8 miles in who really boosted my spirits. A small child gave me a high five as I went over Tower Bridge, seemingly giving me the go-ahead to push for a PB. The amount of effort that must have gone into organising this is mind-boggling, to have so many major roads closed in multiple London Boroughs, to manage the logistics of barriers, supplies and marshalls, the latter of which were all amazing and had given up their time for free. At one point during the race, I began thinking about how I felt more like a legitimate runner now, to be among everyone else bedecked in their running club atire, going at a respectable clip over a respectable distance. But in retrospect, that’s hugely missing the point. Like I said, people do this race dressed in bulky submarine costumes. I saw multiple visually impaired runners running with guides. Perhaps most inspiring was actually the runners who I saw when I was almost back home, as I came out of Bermondsey tube station over 2 hours after I’d originally ran past it. There were still people running and walking their way along the course, being cheered by the marshalls, but the atmosphere was totally different. I’d spent the whole of my race running in a crowd of people, constantly being motivated by everyone around me, but these runners were few and far between, engaged in a much lonelier journey to the finish line, especially given many of the supporting crowds had already left.
I think all those people are the real runners.