Race Review: Royal Parks Half Marathon

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Due to a family emergency, I was unable to take part in the Royal Parks Half Marathon this year.  It always gets rave reviews from my fitness friends as one of the prettiest courses in London.  My Mill Hill Sports Centre co-worker, Anna, took part in the event this year and loved it.  Here is her race review:

In the start pen
Having not run more than 10km in over a year, I made my way to the starting line a little pessimistic. What was I doing?  I was in no way ready for a half marathon.

With the help of my Dad, back home in South Africa, I signed in to enter the ballot for the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon in early April. I was so upset about missing the beautiful Two Oceans Half Marathon back home in Cape Town that my Dad, a fanatical runner, made a deal with me. He would pay the entrance fees, as long as I got myself from the start line to the  finish line, preferably in the same day.  At the time I was so excited, now, standing amongst all the thousands of keen London fitness fanatics just before the starting gun was about to go off,…not so much. My ambitious plans of regular endurance training in preparation for the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon had slowly slipped away as the weather grew dimmer and the days shorter, leaving me at the start line with little more than 5 training runs under my belt.

The tube ride into Hyde Park was relatively easy and stress-free; it took me a little under an hour from Mil Hill East tube Station, where I am currently doing my gap year. At every stop more and more runners would hop onto the tube. We were a sea of bright blue t-shirts, brand new Nike shoes and top of the range sportswatches all humming with excitement, the adrenaline starting to kick in. By the end of the line you could hardly move between the mosh of bouncing athletes and bulky tog bags.

As we all hoped off the tube at Hyde Park Corner and made our way to the festival area, you could feel the energy. The Festival area was packed with food stalls, private tents, toilets, stages and thousands of people jumping from one leg to another in desperate attempts to do a last minute warm up. Our time had come.
It being my first Royal Parks Fountain Half Marathon, I was seeded in the Yellow group, second to last. The first group started at promptly 9am, something one would never experience in South Africa where “on time” means 20 minutes after the advertised time.  The Green, Blue, Yellow and Maroon groups followed at 5 minutes intervals. The moment I set off to join the infectious rhythm created by thousands of determined footstep the nervous ball in my stomach dissolved.  I turned the first corner towards Wellington Arch and forgot all about how little training I had done. I couldn't help but be memorized

by London’s beauty. It was such a breath-taking morning. I couldn't think of any better way to experience the magnificence of this country’s capital city.

From running past the guards at Buckingham Palace to checking my watch against Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament, to exploring London’s beautiful Green and St James’s Parks and enjoying Embankments exquisite riverbank. I hardly had time to feel tired. Before I knew it I was on my way back passing under Admiralty Arch and then Marble Arch.

Then came Hyde Park…

I had been warned that this last stretch was always a lot longer than anticipated. Having saved up some final energy I started the long zig-zag in-between the beautiful lawns in high spirits. The hundreds of spectators and Sunday picnickers scattered throughout the park, ensured that you were never alone. The camaraderie between fellow runners also made the race that much more enjoyable.

With 2 miles to go I took a look down at my watch. Where had the time gone. I didn't feel tired at all. 

Look kids- Big Ben!
With the finish line in sight I began to pick up the pace. With every step being cheered on by the fantastic crowd, I crossed the line in 1:52:45.  I couldn't believe my eyes, despite my lack of training I had managed to beat my personal best. I wore my medal and cheesy smile with pride. What an incredible experience, one that I would remember as an unforgettable highlight from my year abroad in England. London with its beautiful old buildings, amazing gardens and infectious friendly atmosphere had inspired me to achieve something I thought was quite impossible on a gap year characterized by little to no physical activity.  I am proud to call London home for the year. 

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